With the coronavirus pandemic, global economic uncertainty and the prospect of a chaotic and divisive election, a lot of us have been feeling anxious lately. Ian Carey can relate. As the Bay Area trumpeter and composer wrote in the liner notes to Fire In My Head: The Anxiety Suite (Slow & Steady 12; 49:24 ***), he’s been struggling with anxiety his “whole life,” and the music on the album is his “five-part [attempt] to translate that emotional cyclone into music.”
Recorded by his Quintet + 1, The Anxiety Suite is a tightly wound concept album, with a mix of through-composed and improvised passages that keep the music’s emotional flow focused while giving the players plenty of room to stretch. In addition to Carey’s cool, lyrical trumpet, the winds include Sheldon Brown on bass clarinet and Kasey Knudsen on alto saxophone, a timbral combination that often makes the ensemble sound bigger than it is. There’s an admirable amount of freedom in the way bassist Fred Randolph and drummer Jon Arkin keep time, particularly with the playful 3/4 of “IV. Internal Exile,” and the solos—particularly Brown’s rangy, impassioned statement on “III. Thought Spirals”—are powerful and emotionally cogent.
In recent years, trumpeter Farnell Newton’s albums have seemed to reflect a split personality. On one hand, the Portland-based brass player seems perfectly comfortable in a straightahead, post-bop setting, blazing away in the tradition of Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard on his 2017 release Back To Earth. On the other hand, he simultaneously released an album of hip-hop flavored recordings in conjunction with dance-music producer Toranpetto.
Rippin’ & Runnin’ (Posi-Tone 8206; 46:03 ***) sort of squares the difference. As with Back To Earth, the tunes are solidly grounded in the sound and aesthetic of hard-bop, but the rhythm section—organist Brian Charette and drummer Rudy Royston—powers things with the sort of groove that would be the pride of any chicken shack. There’s a nice edge to the more boppish tunes, and tenorist Brandon Wright shines on “Another Day Another Jones.” But the band as a whole is at its most appealing on groovers like “The Roots” and the fatback blues of “Gas Station Hot Dog,” where the rhythm section carries most of the weight.
There’s also organ on John Sneider’s The Scrapper (Cellar 072619; 58:38 ***1/2), but little in the way of fatback. Instead, this album—his second in 20 years—finds the New York-based session player working solidly in the ’60s Blue Note tradition, with a heavy nod to Lee Morgan, Blue Mitchell and Kenny Dorham. The playing is solid and swinging, and Sneider’s consistently tasteful improvisation is well matched by the soulful polish of tenorist Joel Frahm and rhythmic spice of organist Larry Goldings.
But it’s guest vocalist Andy Bey who takes this album to another level. He joins for the Miles Davis chestnut “Solar” and immediately assumes command, taking the first solo and raising the bar for everyone with his inventive and erudite scat singing. A pity there’s not more of him on The Scrapper.
Canada has produced a striking range of trumpet greats, from Maynard Ferguson to Kenny Wheeler. And in recent years we can add the singular Ingrid Jensen, free-jazz poet Lina Allemano, singer/trumpeter Bria Skonberg and avant-garde experimentalist Steph Richards to that list. Rachel Therrien might not have garnered as much attention as her fellow Canadians, but that could change if Vena (Bonsaï 200201; 50:21 ****) is any indication.
Currently based in New York—but much in demand across the Atlantic—the bandleader recorded Vena with her European ensemble, and makes much of her rich, dark tone and brash phrasing. Yes, there is organ featured on a couple tracks, but most of the work here relies on piano, double bass, drums and Therrien’s deeply songful phrasing. Keyboardist Daniel Gassin and bassist Dario Guibert parry her solos with grace and wit, while the redoubtable Mareike Wiening ensures that when drums are called for, the music will be swinging. DB