Julian Lage Trio, “Atlantic Limited”
Not too long ago, Julian Lage formed a first-rate trio with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen, casting it loosely in the image of a similar unit led by his chief guitar hero, Jim Hall. The band released its debut album, Arclight, last year, coming in for some just acclaim. Now there’s a follow-up on the horizon: Modern Lore, which Mack Avenue will release on Feb. 2.
The album, a low-key improvement in most respects, covers a range of territory familiar to Lage’s admirers: melodic post-bop in the vein of Hall and Bill Frisell; reverb-drenched rock ‘n’ roll in the manner of Link Wray; countrified blues and honky-tonk, à la Lefty Frizzell. The album’s second single, “Atlantic Limited,” set at a cowpoke stroll, features a terse melody that gradually opens up to a rolling vista during Lage’s solo. (Hear how the crowd registers its approval in the clip above, which was filmed at Nashville’s storied Station Inn, and has its premiere here.)
Dr. Lonnie Smith “Up Jumped Spring”
This past summer, the Hammond B-3 organ maestro Dr. Lonnie Smith celebrated his 75th birthday on the bandstand, at the Jazz Standard in New York. His just-announced new album, All in My Mind, was recorded during that run, with an ace trio featuring guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake.
The album’s lead single, released on Spotify and Apple Music, is a version of Freddie Hubbard’s waltz “Up Jumped Spring,” both jaunty and churning. Kreisberg takes the first choruses, before Dr. Smith brings the tune home. It’s a promising taste of the album, which Blue Note will release in the middle of another Jazz Standard run by this trio, from Jan. 11 to 14.
Greg Spero & Spirit Fingers, “inside”
Unless you live in Chicago, it’s more than possible you’ve never heard of Greg Spero. The official bio on his website is of amusingly little help, so here are the basics: he’s a keyboardist and composer with a contemporary bent, and plenty of work in a crossover vein. (He’s been out on tour with the electro-pop artist Halsey, and writes music for television and film.)
Spero, who originals hails from just outside of Chicago, has a fusionesque band called Spirit Fingers, with electric bassist Hadrien Feraud, guitarist Dario Chiazzolino and drummer Mike Mitchell. The group recently signed to Shanachie Entertainment, which will release its self-title debut on March 16. The first single from the new album is “inside,” a rolling, cinematic composition whose main attraction is the polyrhythmic groove that morphs and changes like a weather system. (Listen closely to Mitchell, a former drum prodigy from Dallas.)
Lisa Hilton, “Mojave Moon”
Pianist and composer Lisa Hilton has led an expansive solo career: Escapism, just out on Ruby Slippers Productions, is her 20th album in as many years. It’s a return to ensemble work after Day and Night, the solo piano album she released last year — and the ensemble in question is some serious business. Along with Terell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn, it shares the same personnel as the excellent J.D. Allen Trio: Allen on saxophones, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums.
Hilton originally hails from San Luis Obispo, and now resides in the Los Angeles area. There’s an intimation of California in her compositions, and not just because of the cues in her song titles. (This album includes a new version of her “29 Palms,” named after the city in San Bernardino County; it’s not to be confused with a Brad Mehldau tune of the same name.) The clip above is a proper music video for “Mojave Moon,” with footage shot during a full moon at Joshua Tree National Park. The stark beauty and flowing movement of the images could hardly suit the music better.
Angelica Sanchez Trio, “Pyramid”
One of my customs at this time of year is to look through the stacks for any worthy albums that, for one reason or another, might have slipped under my radar. There are always a few contenders, and in 2017 they include Float the Edge, by pianist Angelica Sanchez. Reelased back in March on Clean Feed, it features a heavyweight trio with Michael Formanek on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. (How did I let this one slip by? I don’t know. It happens.)
This track, “Pyramid,” exemplifies the process and mood of the album: patient, exploratory, deeply invested in contingent, real-time accord. It’s a ballad, but one with a permeable frame, as Sanchez states a slow melodic theme in octaves, and Sorey fashions a rumble of texture. Formanek starts out plucking a bass line, and moves to a singing arco part. There’s a lot to absorb here, but it isn’t insistent or abstruse; the music invites you to move in closer, for a clearer view.