GRETCHEN PARLATO & LIONEL LOUEKE, Lean In (Edition Records) — Is the first official collaboration between adventurous singer and arranger Gretchen Parlato and Benin-born guitarist-singer Lionel Loueke (a sometime Herbie Hancock bandmate) the most impressive jazz/world fusion recording of the year so far? It’s certainly the most effervescent and joyful, with the longtime pals and collaborators turning in shared vocals, infectious grooves and bright textures variously drawing from African, Brazilian, jazz, R&B and pop music. Each of these dozen tracks — from Loueke’s playful opener “Akwe,” with its octaved unison vocals, layered guitars, West African rhythms and clicking and snapping percussion, to a closing, percolating cover of Foo Fighters’ lovelorn ballad “Walking After You” — conveys a different, usually uplifting emotional vibe. The two juxtapose impressive originals, including the zig-zagging, color-shifting title track (is the intro a nod to the Headhunters’ version of “Watermelon Man”?) and Parlato’s spinning, hypnotic, atmospheric “Muse” with impressive remakes of bossa nova gem “Astronauta” and — wha? — an affecting, decidedly un-cheesy take on Klymaxx power ballad “I Miss You.” Didn’t see that one coming. Among the other choice tracks are Parlato’s propulsive, funk-tinged “If I Knew,” pumped by Burniss Travis‘s bass guitar and drums/percussion provided by Mark Guiliana (who’s married to Parlato), and Loueke’s bubbly, folk-ish “Nonvignon” and tuneful, melancholy “Painful Joy.” File under: Soulful feelgood music.
JEFF COFFIN, Look For Water (Ear Up Records) — Veering away from the Technicolor textures and large ensemble of 2022’s “Between Dreaming and Joy,” the saxophonist-composer goes for something rootsier and more open-ended, deploying a chordless small combo for “Look For Water.” Coffin, joined by the durable New Orleans rhythm section of bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich and their Astral Project bandmate, saxophonist Tony Dagradi, overtly references the Crescent City on bluesy ballad “Sweet Magnolias” and other tunes. Coffin (day job: the Dave Matthews Band) offers intimate duos with Vidacovich on “Milford,” honoring late rhythmatist Milford Graves, and the title track; Vidacovich, as ever, turns in trap-kit playing that seems to effortlessly encapsulate the entire history of jazz, funk and R&B drummers associated with his native city. Dagradi’s tenor spars with Coffin’s soprano on five tracks — bop bouncer “Green Light for Billy Drewes,” the rising-and-falling “New Dawn”; drunken parade crawl “Half a Baton,” which seems to quick-quote “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” ; “the prayerful “Yusef,” for late saxophonist Yusef Lateef, undergirded by Singleton’s creative arco work; and African-edged closer “Luminosity,” spiked with Helen Gillet’s tangy cello interjections.
MIKE ALLEN, To a Star (Cellar Music Group) — This part-studio, part-live project, with 7 of the album’s 10 tracks recorded at last year’s Vancouver International Jazz Festival, handily captures Mike Allen’s trio (another chordless unit) in full flight. And the voyage is consistently engaging, with the Vancouver-based tenor saxophonist joined by bassist John Lee and journeyman drummer Carl Allen on a set of originals leavened with standards and other jazz gems. Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” gets a lift from call-and-response maneuvers on the head, and the three tap into the earthy elements as well as the celestial yearnings of “Stars Fell on Alabama.” Allen’s horn brings out the stone beauty of the Ellington/Strayhorn ballad “Isfahan,” partly a showcase for Lee, and the three travel free-minded terrain on Wayne Shorter’s “Juju,” which opens up for creative trap-kit ministrations. The leader’s originals are enticing, too, from opener “Hot Stuff,” which shifts from double time to half time on a dime, to the closing title track, a bluesy mid-tempo swinger with a vintage tint.— PHILIP BOOTH, a musician and critic based in Tampa, writes for Jazziz and Relix magazines, and the Substack newsletter Screen Time With Philip Booth. He was a longtime contributor to the late, great JazzTimes. His byline has also appeared in The Washington Post, Billboard, Variety, Tampa Bay Times/St. Petersburg Times, Salon.com, Rolling Stone and many other publications. He was the pop music critic for The Tampa Tribune. Philip plays upright bass and bass guitar for the Tampa Bay area bands Acme Jazz Garage and Swan City Jazz Project. Contact him directly at email@example.com.