Athletic Jazz
    Taking their cue from Talking Heads, More Songs About Error And Shame (self-released with the help of the Canadian Arts Council) by Peripheral Vision, is a an all-original seven-track meandering jazz-jam of athletic proportions. Tenor saxophonist Trevor Hogg, guitarist Don Scott, bassist Michael Herring and drummer Nick Fraser like to wildly careen around corners, crash into a few walls, get up smiling, only to rev their motors even faster and wilder. The shortest track is the 5:57 “Portrait of a Man in a Late 19th Century Frame.” It ends with the longest track: “Click Bait,” which rumbles and rambles on for a satisfying 9:31. This, their fourth, blasts through the genre wall like a bulldozer. Ten years since inception, Peripheral Vision still mixes ’n’ matches rock, funk, jazz, waltz, blues and folk, hinting at the avant-garde but remaining steadfastly accessible. Bravo!


Euro Blues
    Rhymes For Mellow Minds (Sing My Title Records) by the Steven Troch Band has 13 wildly disparate songs by Belgian harp maestro Troch who, along with guitarist Steve Van Der Nat, drummer King Berik and bassist Liesbeth Sprangers, pushes forward be it swing, rhumba, shuffles, rural blues, rock ’n’ roll or gospel. They’ve learned their American lessons well as there’s nary any filler. “Bad Taste” and “Bedroom Eyes” may be the highlights but there’s time to dance and shake as well as laugh as Troch proves to be quite the funny lyricist. Troch is on the smooth side vocally and when he lets loose lines like “She’s got bad taste/Her boyfriend looks like Woody Allen,” you have to at least smirk if not smile.



The Flapper Girl
    My grandmother was a flapper in the 1920s. She smoked in public (a real no-no for women back then), drank illegal hooch, danced the Charleston, played piano, read voraciously, dressed flapper-style and told bawdy stories. She also raised me and gave me my love of music and literature. Chicago singer/songwriter Erin McDougald would’ve loved her. McDougald’s fourth CD, Outside The Soiree (Miles High Records), continues flapper culture via songs like the 1930 Depression Era classic “Brother Can You Spare A Dime” (done as a cha-cha), Cole Porter’s 1935 “Begin The Beguine,” Lionel Hampton’s 1947 “Midnight Sun” (that Johnny Mercer added lyrics to in 1957 for Ella Fitzgerald) and 10 others. She has a great swinging octet behind her (including guest-star Tom Harrell on trumpet and flugelhorn). If you see her live, she’s fond of explaining that flappers were “suffragists with libidos, rhythm, style and social cachet.” May they live ever on.  


Musical Twins
    Meet The Maguire Twins — drummer Carl and bassist Alan, 22. They were born in Tokyo, raised in Hong Kong and now live in Memphis. Seeking Higher Ground (Three Tree Records) is their stateside debut and it couldn’t be more impressive. As produced by Donald Brown (who has been at the helm for all eight of sax man Kenny Garrett’s brilliant albums), the sound is extraordinary, filled to the brim with the kind of sudden stops and starts that would befuddle most musicians. Saxophonist Gregory Tardy, trumpeter Bill Mobley and pianist Aaron Goldberg take the kind of circuitous solos that always lead back to the main theme but go so far out on a ledge that you almost wonder how they’re going to get back. Drummer Carl takes Elvin Jones as his muse and you can hear it. He’s a syncopated fool, daring you to second-guess his thumps. With the kind of post-bop material that’s easy to listen to but hard to play, these twins have now officially joined the ranks of such historical jazz brother teams with names like Heath, Brecker, Marsalis, Farmer, Montgomery and Mangione. Welcome to the club, boys.


All Hail Franco!
    On Cheers, 76-year-old Swiss multi-instrumentalist/composer Franco Ambrosetti celebrates life with his 15th album in 39 years with Enja Records. It’s a doozy. Why? American jazz legends abound. I don’t know how he got such royalty as pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Buster Williams, drummers Jack DeJohnette/Terri Lyne Carrington, trumpeter Randy Brecker, guitarist John Scofield, alto saxophonist Greg Osby and pianist Uri Caine amongst the dozen amazing musicians on this feel-good session.

    French heartthrob Yves Montand’s 1945 “Autumn Leaves” opens with its still-haunting melody. After a complex original (“No Silia, No Party”), Jimmy Dorsey’s 1942 big-band hit “I’m Glad There Is You” sets the scene for “Bye Bye Blackbird” (first recorded in 1926 by Sam Lanin’s Dance Orchestra). A highlight is tough to choose but the closing “Body And Soul” totally transcends the hundreds of versions of this 1930 chestnut to end things on a definite swoon.


Pure Vocalese
    There was always something special about vocalist Kurt Elling. Amid his myriad of sophisticated cabaret, some hard-to-describe essence drew me to his music in small doses, a music I used to scoff at, a music that always reminded me of Bill Murray’s bad nightclub singer routine on Saturday Night Live. But when he teamed up with sax man Branford Marsalis in 2016 for Upward Spiral, his promise turned into pure vocalese artistry.

    Marsalis is back producing The Questions (Okeh Records/Sony Music Masterworks). Elling may not have the answers for America’s horrible event on Election Day two Novembers ago, but covering Bob Dylan’s prophetic “A Hard Rain’s A’Gonna Fall” is disturbingly accurate…and he sings it like Dylan himself never could. He also takes Paul Simon’s profound “An American Tune” and sings it in a laconic world-weary attitude of resignation. Ditto for Peter Gabriel’s “Washing Of The Water.” “Lonely Town,” from the 1944 Broadway musical On The Town, fits this sense of loss. Branford’s solo on “I Have Dreamed” from another musical, 1951’s The King And I, adds lightness and beauty (maybe even hope) as does the Elling original “A Secret In Three Views,” which he borrowed from a Jaco Pastorius instrumental by adding lyrics which he adapted from a poem by a 13th Century mystic known as Rumi.

    Who knew Elling was so esoteric! His voice fits each song like a character actor inhabiting a movie role, warm, expressive, to-the-point, in service to the song with no so-called soul stylings or overbaked melisma. 

    Glenn Miller had the original hit on “Skylark” in 1942 and it’s been done to death ever since. In fact, even after the song died, it’s been whipped like a dead horse to the point of me thinking that if I ever heard it again, I’d blow my brains out. Guess what? Elling has made the dead horse come back to life. Amazingly enough — despite stretching it out to what would otherwise have been an agonizing 8:12 — it’s the highlight of the CD. He sings it like no one else ever did:  not Aretha Franklin, Bing Crosby, Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt, Rosemary Clooney, k.d. lang or Bob Dylan could revive this war horse. Elling, with the help of pianist Stu Mindeman, tackles its rusty and falling-apart Hoagy Carmichael melody and not only comes out still standing but reviving a dead animal into a thoroughbred ready for the Kentucky Derby.