Rant ‘N’ Roll: Lucky Seven (Records for You)

For his seventh album, Oregon pianist-composer Gordon Lee asks How Can It Be? (PJCE Records). Recorded during the darkest days of the pandemic, the nine tracks in a concise 48 minutes by his far-reaching piano/sax/bass/drums quartet stem from a series of front-porch duo performances for his neighbors. “It was my antidote, my personal way of fighting back against not just the virus but the fear,” he says. From the dramatic “Angry Mother Nature” to the oddball-humorous “Bozo Sulks On The Golf Course,” this college professor, 71, has a deeply syncopated touch that resounds with emotion.

Meet Keturah. Her self-titled Hen House Studios debut has the 27-year-old Malawi songstress from Southeast Africa on 10 tracks of her own World beat with delicious Afro-funk-folk-pop-soul overtones. What a cast! She has a Senegalese drummer, a Zimbabwean guitarist, Willie Nelson’s harmonica player, John Legend’s bassist, and John Densmore of The Doors – all amid percolating percussion.

They call him “Monster.” Mike Welch has been a Boston blues stand-out for 25 years with Sugar Ray & The Blue Tones, Johnny Winter, Duke Robillard, and Shemekia Copeland. Now signed to St. Louis Guitar Hero Mike Zito’s Gulf Coast Records, and produced by the in-demand producer of the day, Kid Andersen, at his Cali Greaseland Studios, Monster Mike tackles Robert Johnson, George Harrison, and Buddy Guy on his mostly original Nothing But Time.

The Rumble, featuring Big Chief Joseph Boudreaux, Jr., are Live At The Maple Leaf on this self-released New Orleans celebration. It’s Mardi Gras every day that this gets played. I did a second-line, complete with umbrella in my hand, throughout my house, as if I were on Rampart Street in the French Quarter, as my wife thought I was nuts. That’s how much this will inspire you if you’re down with that Crescent City sound.

The release of Carta (Intakt Records, Switzerland) has added new life into the old piano/bass/drums jazz trio format. Pianist-Composer David Virelles, acoustic bassist Ben Street, and percussionist Eric McPherson are an oscillating machine of conflicting emotion. Theirs is a circuitous trip that’s well worth the ride. Born in Cuba, Virelles has been a mainstay on the Euro jazz scene, adding mightily to the music of Ravi Coltrane, Henry Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith, and Tom Harrell. Somewhere in the murky depths where improvisation meets composition, these three carve out their own territory. 

Swirl (Effendi Records) by the Francois  Bourassa Quartet, recorded live, has the pianist/composer on six of his originals with bass, drums, and his one-man front-line, Andre Leroux, on saxophones and flute. It’s the follow-up to his 2021 solo piano release L’Impact du Silence. Eleven albums into an eclectic Canadian career of dizzying turns, this most-creative cat finds himself swimming against the tide as his three bandmates add immeasurable chops with stops and starts, enough to make this meandering trip worth savoring. 

You had to figure that master music manipulator Devin Gray, 40, would wind up doing a solo drum album. After all, he’s recorded a drum duet with Gerald Cleaver, 27 Licks, in 2020. His politics were evident in 2021 with his Melt All The Guns trio. He debuted in 2012 with the forward-thinking Dingo Rataplan quartet, revisiting that format in 2018. On Most Definitely (Rataplan Records), he’s alone with his drum set and his electronics, masterfully integrating the two spheres over 23 tracks in just under an hour. Divided into three segments (soft, medium, and hard), he mixes and matches in superb segues; he’ll surprise with stunning syncopation amid a dizzying flurry of electronic twists, twirls, and scrapes, pushing the envelope with colorations of improvised soundscape groove… like drum’n’bass movements (only without the bass).