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Now’s The Time II: The best in contemporary jazz


by Ian Mann

July 29, 2009


Compiled by jazz journalist and broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre this is an absorbing, thought provoking and downright entertaining snapshot of US and UK contemporary jazz

Subtitled “The best in contemporary jazz” this thought provoking compilation retails at just £5.00 from the Babel label website and is worthy of the attention of any discerning music fan. The music contained on this album was selected by the respected jazz journalist and broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre and represents the kind of material played on his BBC London music show. Le Gendre is also a regular contributor to Jazzwise magazine, deputises for Jez Nelson on Jazz On Three and is also an in demand liner note writer. 
Le Gendre’ s choices come from both sides of the Atlantic and feature leading musicians from both the New York and London scenes. Although all the music is filtered through a jazz prism and is drawn from a variety of sources it is unmistakably contemporary. There are no jazz clichés here and no tired recycling of the past, this is unmistakably music of the 21st Century. 
Listening to this album it immediately becomes clear just how much of an impact hip hop has had on jazz. Although hip hop and rap are genres that have by and large passed me by their rhythms and grooves have permeated much of contemporary jazz and rendered it far more interesting as a result. Gifted players such as those to be heard here have been wonderfully inventive in the way they have incorporated these elements into their music. The lack of stock jazz rhythms in much of this material gives it an extra edge and urgency as befits these turbulent times, but the musicians never abandon the sense of adventure and the musical sophistication that made them jazz musicians in the first place. They respect the past and many of these pieces have their roots in folk or traditional sources but it’s not enough for them to recycle the bebop era or the Great American Songbook. They want to make a mark of their own on contemporary culture using contemporary frames of reference. “Now’s The Time” indeed.

Le Gendre’s informative liner notes delineate the reasons for his choices. He starts with “The Watermelon Song” by the great American bassist and composer William Parker. Parker’s music can be austere but this is anything but, a wry vocal number featuring singer Leena Conquest. Broken beats combine with warped calypso on this whimsical but vaguely sinister opener.

Lafayette Gilchrist’s “Unsolved, Unresolved” is a fascinating updating of the traditional piano trio.  Drummer Nate Reynolds’ hip hop grooves invoke a wholly different feel to conventional jazz swing and pianist Gilchrist seems to almost fight against the beat rather than going with it. Nevertheless the lyricism and inventiveness of his playing is right out of the jazz piano tradition. This is unmistakably jazz ,but jazz with with a totally modern point of view.

Le Gendre talks at length about percussionist Leon Parker’s “Every Day”. For me the piece is a perfect distillation of Afro-American music to date. Elizabeth Kontomanou’s wordless vocal sums up the tribal music of Africa, Parker’s grooves are wholly contemporary and the whole thing is shot through with the spirit of jazz. It’s economic, it’s joyous, simultaneously simple and profound and a pithy snapshot of the African diaspora.
Parker’s tune segues into “Katakusi”  by British trumpeter Loz Speyer. This piece was recorded in Cuba and features Speyer on flugel horn and Julio Cesar on alto sax improvising over the dense rumba rhythms of percussionists Arnaldo Lescay (timbales) and Carlos Guerra (congas).

Tenor saxophonist Ron Blake takes calypso as his starting point his “Sonic Tonic” bearing a passing resemblance to Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” as Le Gendre points out. However the grooves laid down by guitarist David Gilmore, organist Michael Cain plus a rhythm section of Reuben Rogers (bass) and Terreon Gully (drums) ensure that the piece has a thoroughly contemporary edge. 

More modern rhythms, this time more rock orientated are to be heard on the rousing “Captain E”  by The Bloomdaddies. Twin tenor saxes (Seamus Blake, Chris Cheek) team up with twin drummers (Jorge Rossy, Dan Rieser) and bassist Jesse Murphy in an unusual but highly effective line up.
Lost Brother’s “Departure”  is another piece that blends the archaic with the futuristic. Cooper-Moore’s home made instruments-the ashimba ,twanger and diddley bow-set up a sci fi bass pulse alongside Asif Tsahar’s squiggling tenor sax and Hamid Drake’s polyrhythmic drumming. It’s primal yet new- and utterly compelling.
On “Vapors” composer Steve Lehman’s alto sax skitters over the dub grooves laid down by drummer Eric McPherson and bassist Meshell Ndgeocello. Pianist Vijay Iyer weaves in and out of the dense structure and turntables/electronics specialist Jahi Sundance Lake drops sonic depth charges. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition of styles and very listenable.

Similar grooves are to be heard on guitarist David Gilmore’s “Music Revolutions” co-written with Sharrif Simmons. Simmons delivers a spoken word vocal that is too eloquent and well enunciated to count as “rap”. Tracing the history of black music from “bebop to hip hop” this is essentially a song rather than a “jazz” tune. Gilmore is the only instrumentalist to solo and then only very briefly but as an ensemble piece this works very well.

“Day Of Fear, Night Of Truth” by the group Lan Xang is perhaps the most authentically “jazz” piece on the record despite deploying rock style rhythms. The tune was written by alto saxophonist David Binney who is joined in a dream front line by tenorist Donny McCaslin. Bassist Scott Colley and drummer Jeff Hirshfield form a powerful but flexible rhythm section. Excellent. 
Pianist Robert Glasper’s startlingly original interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s famous composition “Maiden Voyage” features the ethereal, almost disembodied wordless vocals of Bilal Oliver. It’s a remarkable version of a classic tune.
The British contingent is represented again by pianist Julie Sassoon’s composition “44” on a previously unreleased recording made at London’s Vortex Jazz Club”. Sassoon’s unorthodox trio also consists of tenor saxophonist Lothar Ohlmeier and drummer Milo Fell. Fell’s hip hop grooves and Ohlmeier’s probing tenor add greatly to the originality of this line up. “44” is dense and exploratory, growing in intensity but without ever abandoning the sense of melody. Sassoon’s dense chording glues the whole piece together as Ohlmeier stretches out. The results are rewarding and invigorating.
To close we have something of a UK supergroup put together by saxophonist Jason Yarde. The band tackle one of Yarde’s songs “Where Will It Take You” soulfully delivered by singer Eska Mtungwazi. A couple of years ago Yarde wrote a suite to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Abolition Of Slavery Act and I suspect that this piece may once have formed part of that. The instrumentalists including Abram Wilson ( trumpet) and Julian Siegel (reeds) also get the chance to stretch out. 
“Now’s The Time II” (it’s predecessor was released in 2002) is a consistently absorbing, thought provoking, and downright entertaining snapshot of US and UK contemporary jazz. No track

outstays it’s welcome and any fan with an interest in the current scene should find something to enjoy here. It may even encourage people to check some of these artists out at greater length.

Give it a go. Quite simply, can you afford not to?

“Now’s The Time II” is available from

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