Pianist Dave Burrell has never bothered following a script, or at least the one that’s directed most figures involved with the free-jazz ferment of 1960s New York and the expat community that spent a number of fruitful years working in Paris in the late ’60s and early ’70s. His playing has always been built from a deep understanding of hard bop, even as he bent conventions to accommodate heavy-hitters like Archie Shepp, Marion Brown, and Grachan Moncur III, among others. In the 70s Burrell worked with a younger generation of firebrands, and he forged a meaningful partnership with reedist David Murray. Yet at the same time Burrell engaged in a rigorous study of the great, pioneering New Orleans jazz master Jelly Roll Morton—on the surface, a very different can of worms.
During the last few decades Burrell has quietly and smoothly navigated these polarities—he contains multitudes, for sure. Last year he released a duo recording with the tuba player Bob Stewart—recorded back in 1994, a few years after he made his wonderful solo album Jelly Roll Joys—called The Crave (No Business). It mixed Morton classics like the title track and “New Orleans Blues” with three originals that fit seamlessly into the session, such as the rollicking “Popolo Paniolo,” a melodically delightful stride with surprisingly agile tuba counterpoint—the tune’s rhythmic interruptions suggest a cowboy ambling toward a saloon in the Wild West. “I Am His Brother,” on the other hand, pivots easily toward introspective rumination, cooling the tempo and intensity.
Burrell sounds just as convincing in a fully improvised context on Trandans (Wig), a recent recording made in Amsterdam with the great Dutch improvisers Ab Baars and Ig Henneman. The austere performance leans toward a more Eurocentric aesthetic, and Burrell excels in responding, whether offering sharp-edged clumps of dissonance to the splintery tenor honks of Baars on “Fyllevägen,” which you can check out below, or the staccato figures and elliptical phrases he uses to connect Baars’s serene shakuhachi lines and Henneman’s astringent viola stabs on “Dis vid Hulan.” Tonight Burrell makes one of his infrequent Chicago appearances, playing a duo set with bassist Harrison Bankhead at Constellation.
Dan Blake, The Digging (Sunnyside)
Kaija Saariaho, Private Gardens (Ondine)
Marijata, This is Marijata (Voodoo Funk/Academy)
LAMA & Joachim Badenhorst, Metamorphosis (Clean Feed)
Mario Pavone Dialect Trio, Chrome (Playscape)