I spend most of my waking hours listening to music, and I consider myself lucky. It’s a challenge and a pleasure to try to keep up with the unstoppable flow of new sounds that arrives in my various mailboxes—both as downloads and on physical media—though I admit it’s been a decade since my hopes that I’ll finally catch up have been anything but delusions. But seeing musicians perform in person can help solve the problem in unexpected ways—or at least help me decide what to tackle next. Last weekend I caught a fantastic set by New York’s Slavic Soul Party! at the Chicago Jazz Festival, where the group performed Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite in its entirety. Beforehand bandleader Matt Moran casually introduced me to one of the band’s trumpeters, Kenny Warren. His name rang a bell, but I couldn’t quite place it. Then I remembered: at home I had an unopened copy of his debut album, Thank You for Coming to Life (Whirlwind).
Warren sounded terrific at Jazz Fest, playing several killer solos that filtered postbop techniques and rhythms through the Balkan aesthetic of SSP. My curiosity piqued, I cracked the seal on his record and checked it out this week. Like most of his bandmates in SSP, Warren is a jazzer through and through, even though he’s also put his heart into nonjazz music—not just SSP but also his singer-songwriter project, Laila and Smitty. Thank You for Coming to Life is quartet album with a familiar contemporary New York sound: drummer Satoshi Takeishi and bassist Noah Garabedian provide complex rhythmic thrust while pianist JP Schlegelmilch shapes spectral harmonies. The themes are rooted in classic postbop, but they generally arrive in brisk flurries, embedded in arrangements that feel like puzzle pieces that have been meticulously assembled.
Warren plays with impressive technical prowess and improvisational agility, but he’s yet to set himself apart—not a major problem, considering that this his debut as a leader. And some extended passages here bristle with energy and ingenuity, promising great things. His tune “Hala Hala,” which you can hear below, opens with whiplash intensity, as Warren and Schlegelmilch play a high-velocity unison line over frenzied rhythms before suddenly and smoothly flipping into an irresistible swing groove that dials back the tension. For much of the piece the quartet toggle between those two feels, and thankfully they never milk the swing parts for easy sentiment. Warren delivers a fantastic, blustery solo that straddles the tune’s binary breathlessly—but as he wraps it up, the band pull the plug. A tender, probing piano solo begins with only sparse bass support, and then Takeishi returns, heating things up again. Keep your eyes on Warren.
Gary Burton Quartet, Duster/Country Roads & Other Places (BGO/RCA)
Christian Wolff & Michael Pisaro, Looking Around (Erstwhile)
Simon Kanzler, Double Identity (WhyPlayJazz)
Belcea Quartet, Berg/Webern/Schönberg: Chamber Music (Alpha Classics)
Amok Amor, We Know Not What We Do (Intakt)