Jazz from Denmark, China, Ivory Coast, Korea and U.S. Speak diversity: CD Reviews

on the tender spot of every calloused moment by Ambrose Akinmusire (2020)

A timely release by Blue Note Records, considering the racial unrest that has exploded visibly world-wide, American jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire voices complexities of black life in America, unpacking it and breathing through his trumpet some beautiful, shape-shifting art to the ear. This album is a stunner, boasting 11 new original compositions on this, his fifth Blue Note album. It unpacks the feelings of ‘otherness’ in a racially distraught America , but, unlike the seething emotions that underlie his previous albums, this one simmers as he examines the past “with pondering eyes and not a furrowed brow”. This is a study of blues in a contemporary context, with songs that celebrate while admitting defeats, as in ‘Reset’, and the chilling ‘Blues’ and ‘Hooded procession’ which ends the album with a depiction of names of those who have suffered from racial injustices. Released as a CD in May 2020, the album will be available on digital platforms and on vinyl in August 2020. Hear some tracks on Spotify.

Peace in the World (2020) with Guo Gan (China) & Aly Keita (Ivory Coast)

This album is a gem. Well-known Guo Gan, thought to be the ‘grand Master’of the Chinese Erhu (a two stringed instrument), had studied in France in the early 2000s obtaining his Master’s degree from the National Music School of Fresnes in Paris. Recognized world over, he has performed with key orchestras, and casts his “sonic perfume” on classical music, jazz, ballet, opera, and contemporary soundtracks. Teamed up with Aly Keita from Ivory Coast, a seasoned player of the West African balafon, a musical ancestor of the xylophone and marimba, the melodic and dreamy sounds, soft and contemplative, will enthral and spin the listener into peaceful depths which the world needs now. Keita uses different sized calabash resonators to produce special sounds. Both Guo Gan and Aly Keita learned their instruments from their fathers. The Keita family practiced the griot profession (an art of storytelling) through their balafons and singing.
Peace in the World, first issued in 2016 is re-issued now for obvious reasons. It’s sure to help pacify the otherwise stressful social and political upheavals emerging in this infamous year of 2020. The album is released by Felway Records, Italy.

Racing A Butterfly (2020) by Anne Mette Iversen Quartet +1

Danish bassist/composer/bandleader Anne Mette Iversen had a touching encounter with a butterfly while jogging in southern France. “It was the fun, the enjoyment, the playfulness and lightness that was so beautiful and which nature displayed so naturally, that made me feel that I really ought to celebrate those sides of life more than I have previously done in my music.” A New Yorker since 1998, her well-established band of John Ellis (tenor saxophone), Peter Dahlgren (trombone), Danny Grissett (piano), and Otis Brown III (drums & cymbals) playfully maneuver themes always tilting toward that flitting butterfly, gently and melodically. The horns mesmerize with their chats, faithful to the composer’s wishes, sometimes exchanging opposite runs, sometimes joining in “parallel flying” along with this silent insect. This album will mellow, soothe, and even amuse. Just listen to the butterfly’s silence!

Iversen has eleven recordings available as a bandleader, including one as composer and artistic director for the Norrbotten Big Band with whom she served as Composer in Residence in 2016. She tours regularly in Europe and the U.S., and is active with the musician’s organization, Brooklyn Jazz Underground, in New York, also the name of her recording label which has released this album. Check Spotify and muse with Iversen’s butterfly!

Lion’s Den III: Arium by South Korean Rhy Dongju (2020)

Growing up in South Korea with a classical pianist mother, Dongju moved his ear and musical awareness from classical to traditional Korean to contemporary performance art to different genres of jazz, rock, blues, and World. His guitar training took hold, as did many opportunities to travel, compose, join orchestras, and hone his own styles which cross cultural, racial, and religious borders.

He started Lions Den Records to do just that, Arium being his third album on the label. His compositions depict personalities and art forms, such as ‘Picasso’, then rocking in ‘Elvis’, and a dramatic ‘Rachmaninoff’ with a bit of orchestral samba lift-off. As he says about his Label, “We promote different styles of music (Progressive, Contemporary, Classical, Jazz, Rock/Metal and World Music) with over 30,000 radio stations and more than 2,000 music magazines, reviewers, DJs and internet radio station / potcasts through our contact network system.” Ambitious as young Dungju is, he’s definitely someone to watch. Listen to track excerpts from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeqVR6woAMc

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