What happens when four progressive Euro cats convene at a recording studio in Spain with nothing prepared beforehand? With no composed music, no rehearsals, overdubs expressly forbidden, no genre limitations and, of course, not one inkling of commercial consideration whatsoever, these four just plugged in and played. Spontaneous combustion creates fires but this spontaneous composition creates art.

What went down that February day last year has now been released by MoonJune Records as The Stone House by Wingfield Reuter Stavri Sirkis. England’s Mark Wingfield and Germany’s Markus Reuter are progressive rock guitarists who, with an Israeli rhythm section of drummer Asaf Sirkis and fretless bassist Yaron Stavi (long based in London), jammed out on six originals starting with the 12:15 “Rush” and ending with the 13:56 “Bona Nit Senor Rovira.” In between are snatches of free jazz, ambient, psychedelic, trance, rock, fusion, folk, metal and drum ‘n’ bass amid its anything-goes mentality. Those who thirst for new sound should seek no further.


Into The Blue (Edston Records) by pianist/composer Emily Bear is a thoroughly delightful trio romp that ends with a stunning interpretation of John Coltrane’s arrangement of “My Favorite Things” from the 1959 Broadway musical The Sound of Music. The five originals preceding it are buoyed not only by Bear’s darting mosquito-like zippiness but by her two stellar mates. Bassist Peter Slavov came out of his native Bulgaria to achieve greatness with Joe Lovano’s Us Five Band. Canadian drummer Mark McLean leads his own band and has laid down beats for a multitude of superstars including Billy Joel and the late George Michael. Together, they hum like a well-tuned automobile racing around curves, stopping on a dime and never coming up short. They both seem preternaturally attuned to this gifted pianist’s detours and sharp lefts. Into The Blue is the follow-up to Bear’s Diversity debut, produced by Quincy Jones, who discovered her at age seven. Oh, did I mention she’s 15?


Sublime vocalist Jimmy Scott recorded one last album just a few years prior to his death at 88 in 2014. I Go Back ome(Eden River RecordsHomeHome (Eden River Records) is the swan song from a very special cat who didn’t get to record a debut until ’92 when he was 63. In a life filled with unfairness, racism and broken promises, Scott did at least get to enjoy a few years of success and celebrity. The story of this record has been cinematically documented with a movie of the same name. Scott had friends in high places. Actor Joe Pesci displays his own solid singing voice on two duets (“The Nearness Of You” and “The Folks Who Live On The Hill”). Dee Dee Bridgewater gets the duet slot on the Stevie Wonder hit “For Once In My Life.” Other friends include Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine, piano great Kenny Barron and organist/trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco. The highlight has to be an emotional reading of “(Sometimes I Feel Like A) Motherless Child.” Scott’s voice is a haunting, ghost-like sexless tenor that glides over lyrics like a bird in flight. This one’s special.


Multi-instrumentalist/Composer/Producer Rick Cutler is a one-man band on his terrific Daydreams (Probably) on New Dude Records. Usually, his albums are original solo piano but here, for the first time, he covers other composers like Bob Dylan (“Tomorrow Is A Long Time”), Stevie Wonder (“Black Orchid”) and Wayne Shorter (“Sanctuary”), painting beautiful colors with his own piano, organ, drums and sax (and the help of two vocalists). The 21 tracks in 55:58 keeps things moving. His originals are sparked by a series of sounds that he mobilizes to great effect utilizing delays and ring modulation in an effort to successfully approximate the grandeur of Miles Davis circa late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Highly recommended.


San Francisco singer/songwriter/producer/arranger/educator Andrea Claburn’s self-released Nightshade debut is jazz vocalese par excellence. She actually improves upon Betty Carter’s 1958 “I Can’t Help It.” She can take a 1918 chestnut like “After You’ve Gone” and infuse it with a modernized ska beat. The obligatory Ellingtonia is “Infinite Wisdom (Echoes of Harlem)” and she goes New Orleans for her own “My Favorite Flavor.” I once thought that if I ever heard the horrible “Skylark” again, it would be too soon but, truth be told, Claburn actually made me rethink my position. Plus, she dips her big toe into some swing and samba and it proves to be totally delicious. Buoyed by a wide palette of color that she mixed and matched for each track, this self-realized project—complete with piano, organ, acoustic and electric bass, drums, percussion, acoustic and electric guitar, trumpet, flugelhorn, alto sax, tenor sax, trombone, violin, viola and cello—is one Major League impressive accomplishment.


In the grand tradition of a trio—sax, bass, drums—with no chords, just the way the legendary Sonny Rollins pioneered it, comes Mike Casey’s self-released The Sound Of Surprise: Live At The Side Door, seven first-takes of Casey alternating between his alto and tenor saxophones in his native Connecticut with bassist Matt Dwonszyk and drummer Corey Garcia providing empathetic accompaniment. Casey can blow. He can also compose as his sterling “Dagobah” rambles on for over eight minutes with no lag whatsoever and his “Heartbreak” is, arguably, the highlight. Ornette Coleman’s 1959 “Turnaround” gets a modernistic makeover while Jackie McLean’s 1958 “Little Melonae” ends it all with a jam lasting over 10 minutes. Then there’s John Coltrane’s 1962 “Miles Mode” (many jazz historians swear Eric Dolphy wrote it) that zig-zags for a satisfying 8:29. Add Kurt Weill’s 1928 “Mack The Knife” plus drummer Garcia’s impeccable opener “Hydraulics,” which sets the scene beautifully, and you’ve got, quite possibly, one of the best jazz debuts of 2017 so far.

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