Listener's Notes - From the CD Stack

In fairness to the artists who have been kind enough to send me their work, I'm gonna reach back to late 2010 for some of today's music.  First up is a solid, clean set of tunes straight ahead and in the pocket with the excellent Ben Wolf Quintet, Live at Smalls.  Filled with outstanding playing -- particularly tenor Marcus Strickland -- and fine writing and arranging, Wolfe really demonstrates that he can direct a group and compose a song.  Any one of Wolfe's tune's show how a song should be built from the ground up, with "For The Great Sonny Clarke" in particular as a superlative number.

One young musician who's been known to play at Smalls from time to time is tenor Roxy Coss, whose first album appeared earlier this year.  A prodigal talent and product of the jazz education infrastructure in the US, Coss makes New York her home, where she keeps a full slate of gigs. This self-titled debut features her compositions and melodic approach to solos, joined often by Kate Miller on trumpet.  Leading a tight band through a wide range of compositions and styles, Coss does her most interesting work on fusion-tinged "The Slow Ascent" and the bright, swinging "Cherry On Top," where she breaks out the flute for a brisk, confident solo.

Pianist and composer Soren Moller assembles a fine ensemble for his Christian X Variations. named after the Danish king who tried to protect Denmark's Jews from the Nazis during World War II.  A tribute to those who would speak out against discrimination, the Variations are partly through composed, partly improvised, divided into five movements and played by ensembles that alternate between nonets and quartets.  All that complication simply means that this is an organized, thoughtful and largely moving series of compositions -- moving from tight group playing in the through-composed sections and, appropriate to the theme, lyrical passages of improvisation featuring American Dick Oatts.

A New Yorker through-and-through, the impeccably trained violinist Majid Khaliq has released The Basilisk, an outstanding first album full of excellent playing, notable compositions, and well-chosen tunes from the jazz tradition.  Joined by Charles Porter on trumpet, Ivan Taylor on bass, Jonathan Blake on drums, and Jeb Patton and Eric Lewis on piano, Khaliq is fully in charge of his group and his material --five distinctive originals and three covers, including an fresh take on "Polkadots and Moonbeams."

Jacqui Sutton appears as the face of what she calls "frontier jazz," a blend of jazz and country styles that is signified well in the title of her CD, Billie and Dolly.  A mix of the vocal sensibilities of Holiday and Parton, Sutton provides a charismatic focus for a group that manages to create a distinctive sound by blending banjo, accordion, flute, cello, and a variety of percussion with bass, piano, and trumpet.  Full of new textures and musical surprises, Billie and Dolly offers a enjoyable and moving set of songs.  Check out Sutton and company's reworking of "Those Memories of You" for a taste of their cooking.

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