Reviews and Recommended Jazz by Nick Bewsey

Category: Nate Smith


A TOP 10 JAZZ RECORD OF 2014: For listeners who want to put the usual standards and post bebop swing on pause, the 33 year-old trumpeter Takuya Kuroda stands tall on his Blue Note debut, Rising Son, a polished set of jazz tunes with retro R&B riffs and de rigueur hip hop sonics. Produced by singer/songwriter José James whose own records, particularly 2013’s No Beginning, No End (Blue Note), smartly braid jazz with pop-glazed rhythm and blues, Kuroda’s album sets an after-hours party mood that starts with the rousing title track and flows throughout. Kuroda’s compositions fuse infectious urban rhythms with in the pocket Afro-centric grooves inflated by keyboardist Kris Bowers (an artist blowing up on the national scene with his Concord Jazz debut CD, Heroes + Misfits), electric bassist Solomon Dorsey, drummer Nate Smith and the satiny tones of trombonist Corey King. Kuroda and King redefine the classic two-horn frontline architecture that Blue Note built their reputation on. As a player, the trumpeter falls somewhere between Lee Morgan’s sound and Art Farmer’s supple capacity for storytelling, especially on the closing track, “Call,” an opus of sorts characterized by a classic CTI-style arrangement melded with a Prince-like jam coda.

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The lanky, unassuming young man in street-worn slip-ons and a hoodie, fiddled with cords and gearboxes on the small secondary stage at Rockwood Hall last November, a compact room in New York’s Bowery neighborhood on the gentrified lower East Side. He could have passed for one of the tech crew, but he was guitarist Nir Felder and when he turned on his axe and started to play, everybody in that room was transfixed. Previewing songs from his debut release Golden Age, Felder interacted with his band with the casual nonchalance that comes with friendship, and pianist Aaron Parks, drummer Nate Smith and bassist Orlando LeFleming (substituting for Matt Penman) dug into this joyous material with enthusiasm.

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Trumpeter Taylor Haskins, an authoritative voice on the horn, is a member of bassist Dave Holland’s Grammy©-winning “Overtime” band and has previously made waves on his own (“American Dream,” Sunnyside, 2010.) For his third solo recording of all-original tunes, “Recombination” (19/8 Records) Haskins plugs into electro-sounds tinted with rock-era Miles pyrotechnics and the music buzzes with sonic brilliance (“Clouds From Below Us”), crunchy grooves (“Upward Mobility”) and nifty jazz-pop (“The Shifting Twilight.”) Drummer Nate Smith supplies the loose and quickening pulse an album like this requires. He roots keyboardist Henry Hey, bassist Todd Sickafoose and guitarist Ben Monder firmly in Haskins’ futuristic tableau, which blend real and synthetic sounds with astonishing vibrancy.

Haskins’ digital tinkering in and outside the studio pays off. The synthesized tunes flatter Haskins’ trumpet playing (so effectively on “Passing Through”) and enhance the emotional payoff of his music. The nimble fretwork by Monder is especially fine (“A Lazy Afternoon”) and he complements Haskins’ clean, limpid tone and inclination for ear-friendly melodies. A tip of the hat to the visionary graphics – paintings by Catherine Ross and design by Gabriele Wilson – its clever analog motif fits perfectly with the music and it’s the sort of detail that you can’t get from downloading. (12 tracks; 59:06 minutes)


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