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Undiscovered Gems

A few releases—some brand new, some a few months old—worth exploring.

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Jeremy Udden & Nicolas Moreaux, The Belleville Project (Sunnyside Records, $16.98) – The most “cinematic” and enjoyable jazz albums of the year, filled with catchy melodies and fresh instrumental colors and combinations.  Alto saxophonist Jeremy Udden and bassist Nicolas Moreaux brought together American and French players--playing tenor sax guitar and banjo, pump organ (and on one track, toy piano)—playing songs influenced by jazz, folk, and film soundtracks. Highly recommended.

James McMurtry, Complicated Game (Complicated Game Records, $13.98) – James McMurtry is a great songwriter, period, and Complicated Game is filled with narratives worthy of short stories, condensed in song. The Austin-based singer and writer is also a good guitarist and surrounds himself with a small acoustic group incorporating banjo, mandolin, accordion, violin, and piano. If you haven’t heard Mr. McMurtry, this is a wonderful introduction, and perhaps his finest work to date.


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Samuel Torres Group, Forced Displacement (Zoho, $16.98) – Columbian conga player and composer Samuel Torres wrote a 10-movement suite dedicated to “the victims of violence” in his native country. For his Latin jazz suite, he brought together some of the best players on the scene, such as Yosvany Terry (saxophone), Michael Rodriguez (trumpet), Luis Perdomo (piano), Ricky Rodriguez (bass) and Obed Calvaire (drums). Mr. Torres plays melodies on tuned congas, an Jonathan Gómez plays Columbian percussion in one of the best Latin jazz CDs of the year.

Ibeyi, Ibeyi (XL Records, $14.98) – “Ibeyi” translates as twin from Yoruba, and twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz use their Cuban, Venezuelan, and French backgrounds to meld catchy international pop.  They are the daughters of the late percussionist Miguel “Anga” Díaz (who played with Irakere and Buena Vista Social Club), and sing, play percussion in original songs with accents of Santería ritual music.


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Mary Halvorson, Meltframe (Firehouse 12 Records, $13.98) – Electric guitarist Mary Halvorson can vary her sound—from gentle to wilder skronk. She’s recorded her first solo album, and chose old and new standards written by, among others, Oliver Nelson, Carla Bley, Duke Ellington, Annette Peacock, McCoy Tyner, Ornette Coleman, and Roscoe Mitchell. 

John Zorn, Pellucidar: A Dreamers Fantabula (Tzadik, $18.98) – The perfect summer lounge music, courtesy of the Dreamers, playing music by composer John Zorn. The all-star players are all veterans of dozens of Zorn project—Marc Ribot, electric guitar, Kenny Wollesen, vibes, Jamie Saft, keyboards, Trevor Dunn, bass, Joey Baron, drums, and Cyro Baptista, percussion. Here they get to explore the gentle side of Zorn, with special kudos for Ribot’s whammy-bar-fuelled tributes to surf-rock, and Wollesen’s shimmering vibraphone cooling out the scene. John Zorn’s music is also heard in a Brazilian context in the recent Forro Zinho: Forro in the Dark Plays Zorn (Tzadik, $16.98), played by Forro in the Dark who combine forro from Northeast Brazil with rock, jazz and reggae.