It's time to pick my favorites from the stack of CD's that's been piling up over the summer. Week-to-week, I receive an awful lot of music to review, so here's the deal. Any new release gets a quick hearing on the stereo in the study, which might lead to a full rip onto my laptop, which is followed by a sync to my iPod. If a new release makes it to the iPod, it means I'm going to be listening to it everywhere.
The one album I queued up most often was organist Jared Gold's Supersonic (Positone 2010). Gold -- the musician, NOT the goth fashion designer -- has played with Dan Pratt, Randy Napoleon, and Avi Rothbard, but many people will likely know Gold's work from guitarist Mark Stryker's excellent 2007 release, The Chaser. On Supersonic, Gold roots himself in the classic organ trio combo, with Ed Cherry on guitar and McClenty Hunter on drums. Every track on the album has its rewards: uptempo numbers are clever and funky, ballads are cool and soulful, and interplay between band members is balanced. I'm sure I'm not alone in my deep appreciation of the opening track, a brisk reworking of John Sebastian's theme from Welcome Back, Kotter. With an opening like that, Supersonic grabs you from the start and doesn't let go. A thoroughly groovy time.
Gold provides support in the second release from the Dan Pratt Organ Quartet, Toe The Line (Positone 2010) , a thoroughly confident second release from the saxophonist's group, which is rounded out by trombonist Alan Ferber and drummer Mark Ferber. Powerful and precise, both Pratt and Alan Ferber carry every tune forward with a clear sense of working together, then playing off each other when the moment calls for it. Gold and Mark Ferber fill the remaining sonic space masterfully -- no easy task given the challenging nature of Pratt's compositions. The excellent playing aside, what is most remarkable about Toe The Line is the writing. Aside from the Ellington tune, "The Star Crossed Lovers," every song is a Pratt composition. From the angular bebop opening of "Minor Procedure," to the Monk-ish "Doppelganger," to the whimsical "Uncle Underpants," and to the souful, gorgeous "After," Pratt has put together a range of songs that leaves little doubt as to the prowess of his songwriting skills. Toe The Line gets better each time you listen -- on the strength of the songs.
Finally, we find a release from saxophonist George Brooks and his group Summit, a blending of jazz and classical Indian forms entitled Spirit and Spice (Earth Brother 2010). Brooks and his core group -- Kai Eckhardt on bass, Fareed Haque on guitar, and Steve Smith on drums -- are joined on various tracks by Frank Martin on piano, Swapan Chaudhuri and Zakir Hussain on tabla, and other musicians on bansuri, violin, mrdingam, moorsingh, ghatam, kanjira, and konnakol. Spirit and Spice, as its title might suggest, works effectively along two lines. When the music cleaves close to American traditions, as in the driving "Monsoon Blues" and the outstanding "Sri Rollins," the playing is familiar enough. When Brooks moves the group into clearly Indian territory on tracks such as "Spice," "Silent Prayer - Madhuvanti," and "Peshkar for Hamza" his playing in non-Western time signatures with the sitar and tabla works as well. The three remaining tracks don't really have a clear idea of what they are and where to go, and wander into a slightly too smooth feel for this listener. Overall, Spirit and Spice offers just what its title suggests -- some music that is familiar and tasty, and some that will challenge and stimulate.