Smith and Myers review | John Fordham’s jazz album of the month

Smith and Myers review | John Fordham’s jazz album of the month

In the 1960s, Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) became a beacon for artists seeking to play a new jazz that could often sound fiercely unfamiliar, but without losing the tradition’s communal vivacity – “joyous and pugnacious” was the Guardian’s description of a show celebrating the association in 2015. AACM nurtured avant-jazz stars including Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill and the adventurous yet ever-lyrical trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, and gospel-to-free-jazz pianist and organist Amina Claudine Myers.

Album cover, Central Park’s Mosaics of Reservoir, Lake, Paths and GardensView image in fullscreen

Longtime ensemble colleagues now in their 80s, Smith and Myers have belatedly become a duo for album this elegiac homage to New York’s Central Park, whose site housed, in the 19th century, a community of freed African Americans. Smith told the Guardian in a 2012 interview that he aims to catch the psychological impressions locations make on him, rather than trying to paint sound-pictures, and Myers is a sensitive soulmate for that.

Tranquillity and playfulness mingle in Conservatory Gardens, after long, quivering trumpet tones turn to bright trills, embraced by rich low-end piano chords and glittering treble scampers; the solo piano piece When Was implies a ghostly singer humming over its underlying hymnal harmonies. A song-shape also coalesces under Albert Ayler, a Meditation in Light, with Smith’s solo sometimes recalling Miles Davis’s exquisite 1959 performance of Concierto de Aranjuez. Imagine, a Mosaic for John Lennon also touches on early-Milesian trumpet lyricism, from a solemn unison theme growing amid rich piano harmonies and glancing dissonances.

As slow-moving as ripples on a lake occasionally spooked by sharp breezes, as inviting to contemplation as a long gaze at a beguiling artwork, this is a collection of reverentially personal but never remote or cloistered pieces. The deep well of African American and European sounds Smith and Myers have been distilling for decades makes sure of that.

Also out this month

The unique guitarist Bill Frisell’s live-recorded Orchestras (Blue Note) splices his longtime trio with the Brussels Philharmonic and the Umbria Jazz orchestras. Frisell classics such as Lookout for Hope, Monica Jane, and Levees join captivating covers including an exultant We Shall Overcome – all driven by superb Gil Evans-infused arrangements from indefatigable composer/arranger Mike Gibbs.

Fred Hersch, a brilliant pianist, teacher, and survivor of multiple life-threatening challenges, plays solo on Silent, Listening (ECM) – softly stroking Strayhorn/Ellington’s Star-Crossed Lovers, exploring the melodiousness, drama and free improv within his own pieces, and uncorking a delightfully skittish dance on Softly As in a Morning Sunrise.

And young Danish composer/pianist Kathrine Windfeld slims her much-lauded big band down to a punchy sextet on Aldebaran (Stunt Records) – which foregrounds her solo-improv skills, and those of a powerful core lineup including rising Polish talents Marek Konarski (tenor) and Tomasz Dabrowski (trumpet). An intriguingly diverse tracklist might also remind listeners of her creative empathy with composing legends like Kenny Wheeler, Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue.