Rhythm Planet New Music Faves & More

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Jazz vocalist Thana Alexa Photo: Justin Bettman

I’ve been listening to a lot of terrific new releases, so this week we feature a number of them and also remember some musicians who have left us. We start with the music of Algerian-born French guitarist Pierre Bensusan. He won the prestigious Grande Prix du Disque award when he was just 17 years old for his first album Près de Paris (1975). Quite an accomplishment for a self-taught teenage musician. 

We listen to the music of several musicians who passed away recently, beginning with Jymie Merritt, an American jazz bassist who was part of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers from 1957 until 1962. Merritt died on April 10 at the age of 93. He plays on Mosaic, one of my favorite Messengers albums. Andy González died on April 9 at the age of 69 of complications from diabetes. González was bass chair of the Latin Jazz group Fort Apache Band as well as Manny Oquendo’s group Libre. We hear the song “Goza la Vida” (Enjoy Life) from the album Increible, for which González served as music director. We also pay tribute to pianist and arranger Onaje Allan Gumbs, who succumbed on April 6 to Covid-19 at 70. He plays “Waiting … in love.” The latest jazz casualty from Covid-19 is alto sax genius Lee Konitz, who just passed away on April 15 at age 92. Konitz got his start with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, worked with Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan on 1949’s Birth of the Cool, and gained fame with the big Stan Kenton Orchestra. We hear “My Lady” from that orchestra. Konitz had an understated “dry martini” sound similar to Paul Desmond’s and used to ascribe his sound to being an introvert.

I’ve been revisiting Gil Evans + Ten, a 1957 mono recording on Prestige, released before Evans became famous as the arranger and bandleader for a young Miles Davis. I love the Evans sound—his tapestry of tubas, French horns, and flutes. It features great solos by soprano sax master Steve Lacy and other stellar musicians. This mono recording sounds better than a lot of stereo albums—thanks to the engineer, Rudy Van Gelder. We hear the track “Remember.”

New York bassist Omer Avital is a powerful player with a big sound; we listen to the track “Shabazi” from his new album Qantar: New York Paradox. After that, the classic Chet Baker version of “Look for the Silver Lining” from an exquisite-sounding and beautifully produced vinyl reissue, Chet Baker Sings, from the Blue Note Tone Poet series. It’s 180 gram, mastered by Kevin Gray of Cohearant Audio, and the silent pressing is from RTI. This is the best Chet Baker recording I’ve ever heard. The mono recording puts Baker right in the middle of your living room—it’s almost spooky. Trust me, this LP is a must for the audiophile collector, no matter how many versions of Chet Baker Sings you already have in your collection.

We check out an interesting new collaboration between American banjo player Abigail Washburn with Chinese-American zither player Wu Fei, who show that traditional American folk and Chinese music can fit together like hand and glove. We follow that with a traditional Taiwanese group’s song about harvesting millet that sounds to me more like a minimalist classical piece by Philip Glass—don’t ask me how these things happen.

I really like L.A.-based artist Aditya Prakash, who just released Diaspora Kid, a fascinating blend of Indian music styles, jazz, and other elements. Prakash has won praise from Karsh Kale and Anoushka Shankar. We hear “Nadia,” a traditional song with a lovely string arrangement. I also like the new Sultans of String album with its many styles of music and guest artists. They pair up with Israeli singer Yasmin Levy on the track “Asi Soy (This is Me).”

Croatian-American singer Thana Alexa has a lovely voice. Her powerful new album ONA (the Croatian word for “she”) is an exploration of female identity and “a dedication to women” according to Alexa. We hear her version of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop.”

Malian band Tamikrest makes the playlist with a track featuring popular Moroccan singer Hindi Zahra, from their fifth album Tamotäit. John Di Martino pays tribute to Billy Strayhorn with “Isfahan (Elf)” featuring a nice tenor solo from Eric Alexander as well as trumpeter Thomas Marriott. Latin artists with new albums include Pacific Mambo Orchestra, and an old-school Colombian cumbia reissue called 12 Bombazos Bailables from the fabulous Discos Fuentes vault. Discos Fuentes was the world’s first independent label, founded in 1934 and now based in Medellín, Colombia.

French guitarist Stephane Wrembel covers a late classic of the iconic manouche guitarist Django Reinhardt. This week’s playlist concludes with Noukilla, a contemporary band from the Indian Ocean nation of Mauritius, with their mix of segaand seggae music. I hope you enjoy this week’s selections and may perhaps even take the jump to add these songs and albums to your collection. I’m grateful to be in a position to support wonderful musicians by sharing these tracks. Stay safe everyone.

Rhythm Planet Playlist for April 21, 2020

  1. Pierre Bensusan / “Fils de la rose” / Dadgad Music
  2. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers / “Children of the Night” – 2005 Remaster / Blue Note
  3. Conjunto Libre / “Goza la Vida” / Discol
  4. Omer Avital / “Shabazi” / Jazz & People
  5. Chet Baker / “Look for the Silver Lining” / Blue Note
  6. Stan Kenton / “My Lady” / Capitol Records
  7. Onaje Allan Gumbs / “Waiting … in love” / Steeplechase
  8. Gil Evans / “Remember” / Prestige
  9. Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn / “Pretty Bird” / Smithsonian Folkways
  10. Villagers from Luona Tribe / “Pray for the Harvest of Millet” / Naxos World Musix
  11. Thana Alexa / “Teardrop” / Thana Alexa
  12. Thomas Marriott / “Trumpet Ship” / Origin Records
  13. Aditya Prakash Ensemble / “Nadia” / Ropeadope
  14. Tamikrest & Hindi Zahra / “Timtarin” / Glitterbeat
  15. John Di Martino / “Isfahan (Elf)” / Sunnyside
  16. Sultans of String & Yasmin Levy / “Asi Soy (This is Me)” / CEN
  17. Pacific Mambo Orchestra / “Mambo Rachmanioff” / Pacific Mambo Records
  18. Lito Barrientos y su Orquesta / “Cumbia en do Menor” / Vampisoul
  19. Stéphane Wrembel / “Nuages (July 1950 – Paris)” / Arte Boreal Records
  20. Noukilla / “Boutique la street” / Naxos World Music