David Mott Quintet – Downtown Runout
Toronto-based baritone saxophonist David Mott is one of my favourite musicians, and one of my favourite people in the music business. I know a couple of the other guys in this band, too, so this is in no way an unbiased review, but that doesn't change the fact that this is an exceptional recording. I heard the band improvise on the some of the 11-part title suite, "Downtown Runout," at the Vancouver Jazz Festival a number of years ago, and it's the kind of multi-layered, pace-shifting piece that Mott excels at. He is a brawny player, but also has tremendous sensitivity, and when he plays the blues you can tell that he was born in Chicago. Bassist John Geggie and drummer Jesse Stewart – my other two acquaintances in the quintet – are a very supportive, creative rhythm team, and this music brings out Geggie's ability to just crush a funky ostinato. It's a skill of his little heard since he anchored the quartet Chelsea Bridge and I've missed it. This is an independent release, so check out Mott's site for details about distribution.
Nathan Eklund – Trip To The Casbah (Jazz Excursion Records)
Unlike Mott, trumpeter Nathan Eklund is a new name to me, but the presence of saxophonist Donny McCaslin caught my eye in the credits. McCaslin is as strong and lyrical here as you might expect, but guitarist John Hart and bassist Bill Moring – also players I'm not familiar with – are also very impressive. Eklund wrote all 10 compositions and exhibits a nice touch with tuneful material that sticks immediately inside your head. Drummer Tim Horner keeps a crisp edge on everything with his light, responsive touch on cymbals. Eklund is a very melodic player with a sound that seems rooted in Clifford Brown moreso than in more contemporary players. Definitely someone to hear more from.
Lisa Sokolov – A Quiet Thing (Laughing Horse Records)
Singer Lisa Sokolov's last recording is one of only five that I've given the maximum five stars to in DownBeat magazine during the past 10 years, so this followup is one I've been looking forward to. Sokolov is a highly distinctive, emotive vocalist – and, as response to my review of her last album indicated, a taste not every listener can acquire. A Quiet Thing is not going to change your opinion of her. If anything, her singing here is even more highly mannered than last time out. Her take on "Lush Life," for example, put me in mind of Jimi Hendrix's "Roomful Of Mirrors," as Sokolov acts out what sounds like narcissistic psychosis; each phrase seems to betray a different aspect of the subject's despair. It's so outré that I'm not sure I'd be drawn back to it quickly, but that's the danger of pieces that are closer to performance art than mere delivery of a lyric. Like Nora York and – to a somewhat lesser extent, Kurt Elling – Sokolov inhabits a song, and when the subject matter is disturbing, as Billy Strayhorn's lyric is at its core, the performance can be disturbing, too. It's powerful stuff, though, and certainly no less affecting than her previous disc; Sokolov has tremendous control over her instrument. Definitely something you need to be in the mood for.