Arnold Hammerschlag Credit: Jenn Gavito

Every year as December rolls in, a familiar feeling of dread descends upon me. It’s got nothing to do with the holidays. Compiling year-end album lists fills me with anxiety—it’s an exercise in arbitrary ranking much of the time, but what bothers me more is the knowledge that I’ve missed out on so much stuff over the past year. Usually I start cramming, listening to albums that I’ve been putting off for months. The upside, natch, is that I often make last-minute discoveries, such as No Face, No Name (Skirl), the second album by New York trumpeter Arnold Hammerschlag—a guy I’d never heard of before. The Seattle native has worked with many of the key figures in New York’s post-klezmer/world-music jazz scene (as inelegant as that description may be), including Greg Wall and Matt Darriau. Those influences come through bright and clear on No Face, No Name.

Hammerschlag leads a strong quintet—violinist Sam Barfeld, accordionist Will Holshouser, bassist Brian Glassman, and drummer Aaron Alexander—through tunes that deftly collide klezmer and other Eastern European modes with tango nuevo and rock. They execute the material with the improvisational energy and rhythmic elasticity of a first-rate jazz band, so that despite the pieces’ stylistic variety, many of them make excellent vehicles for the leader’s melodies and his sidemen’s solos. The gorgeous ballad “Waiting for Aaron” showcases Barfeld’s honeyed yet melancholy playing as well as sorrowful, patient unison lines on trumpet, accordion, and violin; “Slow Road,” which is just as slow but feels more like a dirge than a ballad, offers similarly strong improvisation, often in shorter multilinear passages, with Hammerschlag playing terrific post-Miles Harmon-muted phrases. Most of the album is more rhythmically forceful, including the bluesy, driving hard bop of “The All New Bunny Hop” and the heavy, lurching klezmer of “Sailor Song,” where violin adds the dancing lines you’d normally get from a clarinetist. No Face, No Name is a delightful year-end surprise—and promises great things from Hammerschlag in the future.

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Today’s playlist:

Kate Soper, Voices From the Killing Jar (Carrier)
Anders Jormin, Ad Lucem (ECM)
Thomas Ankersmit, Figueroa Terrace (Touch)
Red Garland Quintet, Red’s Good Groove (Jazzland/OJC)
Annette Krebs/Anthea Caddy/Magda Mayas, Thread (Another Timbre)