Take Five: Hear Norah Jones, Larry Coryell, Matthew Shipp, Mark Whitfield and Jesse Stacken

by Nate Chinen, WBGO

In this installment of Take Five, our weekly playlist, you’ll find fathers and sons, a couple of farewells, and more than one refurbished jazz standard. We’ll start with one of those, featuring a singer you may know, giving a performance you’ll want to see.

Mark Whitfield, “Grace”

Mark Whitfield made his first impression as a young torchbearer, a jazz guitarist extending the instrument’s hard-bop language with abundant style. That was 30 years ago. Whitfield has been busy since, though you sometimes had to know where to look for him: “Grace” is his first album as a leader in seven years. It features the Whitfield Family Band, with his sons Davis Whitfield on piano and keyboards and Mark Whitfield, Jr., on drums. (Yasushi Nakamura is the bassist.) The title track, a gospel-infused expression of gratitude, features a guest vocal by Sy Smith — Whitfield’s cousin, who followed him into the ranks of Chris Botti’s band. There’s a smooth-R&B texture to the song, but Whitfield brings his usual boppish flair to his solo, making sure that it all feels right.

Norah Jones, “Peace” 

Norah Jones set out to make a jazz album with Day Breaks, released on Blue Note last year — but one that feels true to her own voice, as a pianist and singer-songwriter also informed by rustic country, folk-rock and rhythm and blues. You could select almost any track on the album as a fulfillment of that idea, but there isn’t a better example than her cover of “Peace,” by Horace Silver. She gives the ballad a back-in-the-saddle groove, at a tempo that echoes its reflective lyrical tone, and her phrasing of its melody is impeccable. This performance, filmed at the Sheen Center in Lower Manhattan last fall, features Chris Thomas on bass and Brian Blade on drums, who both appear on Day Breaks. The album version of “Peace” also features a dryly elegant soprano saxophone solo by Wayne Shorter — but you won’t miss it here, because the song itself is the star.

Larry Coryell and Eleventh House, “Seven Seas”

The Eleventh House, led by guitarist Larry Coryell, was a pioneering jazz-rock band of the 1970s, and one of the more muscular workhorses in the game. A couple of years ago the band reunited for a short run at the Blue Note in New York, with Coryell alongside founding members Randy Brecker on trumpet and Alphonse Mouzon on drums. Joining them were longtime bassist John Lee and the fine guitarist Julian Coryell, Larry’s son. The enthusiasm generated by the gig led the band to follow up with a new album, Seven Seas, that will finally see release on Savoy Jazz on June 2. The title track gives a good indication of the album’s sound, which isn’t so much a recapturing as a continuation. Because Mouzon died last month, the album will also stand as a memorial tribute.

Matthew Shipp “Flying Carpet”

There isn’t another pianist in the world who produces a sound precisely like Matthew Shipp’s. Rumbling, percussive, aswarm with stormy overtones: it’s an intensely physical approach to the instrument, and he brings the full force of his personality to its execution. “Flying Carpet” is  track from Shipp’s new album, Piano Song, which will be his last for Thirsty Ear, his longtime label home. (He has said that he’ll soon stop recording altogether.) The album features his longtime trio, with bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker. On this track they work with earthy cohesion, starting out with a groove and extrapolating outward. Shipp as always acts as both pugilist and provocateur: hear the air-raid-siren figure he plays early in the track, or the bombs he keeps dropping later on. If this really is one of his trio’s final statements, that’s all the more reason to savor it. (And take note: Shipp and crew will celebrate the album’s release on Feb. 9 at the Cutting Room.)


Jesse Stacken, “Stardust” 

Last spring, pianist Jesse Stacken embarked on the 24 Standards Project: a self-directed course of study involving solo recordings of familiar tunes from the American songbook, posted for free perusal online. (Stacken has done similar things in the past, including the Daily Improvisation Project, which was as routine yet unstructured as it sounds.) The 24 Standards project has moved forward at a leisurely pace, but with purpose: Stacken just posted the 10th installment, an exploration of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.” You can listen to the track here, but for the full impact you should also visit his blog, where he writes about his process and catalogues interpretions of the song that have influenced his own. (In this case, think Bill Charlap and Keith Jarrett.) You can also scroll through the other songs in the series, including “It’s Easy to Remember” and “Oh! Look at Me Now.”


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