With little advance fanfare tomorrow sees the release of the latest album for Blue Note by US-based Beninese jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke. Co-produced by labelmate Robert Glasper whose own record Black Radio this year has marked a turning point in his own already rocketing career and who returns to the UK for the iTunes festival next month, Heritage is Loueke’s third album for Blue Note a label that signed him after Loueke appeared on a couple of Terence Blanchard records. Loueke, who has also toured extensively with Herbie Hancock as recently as his Imagine Project tour, also contributed to the Blanchard band’s songbook, and ‘Benny’s Tune’ if you haven’t heard it, is to my mind one of the best jazz compositions across the board in the last decade. It’s like a standard in the making with a distinctively bittersweet poignancy.

Heritage has dispensed with Loueke’s longstanding trio of bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth, so instead there’s electric bassist Derrick Hodge, who you’ll know from Robert Glasper’s band, and who is himself to release a debut as a leader for Blue Note. And there’s also Mark Guiliana, the drummer who made such an impact with UK jazz lovers on Alive by Phronesis and previously when he played with Avishai Cohen. Heritage has seven new Loueke tunes, a couple by Glasper, who also plays on many of the tracks, and another distinguishing feature of the album is background vocal glimpses of singer Gretchen Parlato on a few tracks.

There’s a real warmth to the album and it sounds undeniably Loueke from the first notes. It’s interesting that in the past he has talked about liking George Benson’s music when he started out and was thinking about playing jazz, and particularly the 1970s album Weekend in LA. Well, Heritage is a world away from the Benson sound but both players share an instant ability to communicate their musical ideas however complex. With Glasper’s involvement and a new band the message will get across that bit more directly with Heritage I think and maybe Loueke’s vocals will come to the fore more and more as his career develops. ‘Tribal Dance’, the third track, written by Glasper, has a beautiful warmth to it opening up for Loueke to expand on the bed of percussion and vocals behind him, but there’s a lot of strong material throughout and above all Heritage works as a play-through album, which is always better than just a series of tracks in isolation unless you just want the thrill of a pop hit. Glasper’s input gives Loueke’s approach a new creative energy and it’s interesting that Loueke was an original member of Glasper’s band the Experiment. How recent jazz history would have been different if he had stayed. Let’s hope Loueke plays the UK again soon so we can hear some of these songs live.

Stephen Graham


Nadje Noordhuis

Nadje Noordhuis

Little Mystery Records ***

Another of the burgeoning new-melodic school, trumpet/flugel player Nadje Noordhuis, from Sydney, based in New York since 2008, was a semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk competition the year before.

In her mid-thirties, a member of underground jazz composer Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, her band on this debut is full of good players including pianist Geoff Keezer, drummer Obed Calvaire, and bassist Joe Martin, and it’s easy to feel at ease with the chamber-jazz material, instantly attractive and approachable from the first sounds of the little piano figure on opener ‘Water Crossing.’

Fourth track ‘Big Footprint’ draws the musical world of Kenny Wheeler to mind, but the record also presents a very different side to Geoff Keezer, particularly if you think of him in terms of say his Rhodes work with Christian McBride’s jazz-rock band. Keezer is instead more like the pianist on a mid-20th century prairie period drama, and Sara Carswell’s violin playing on ‘Waltz for Winter’ completes this sepia tinted impression.

The last track ‘Open Road’, Noordhuis says this about on her blog: “I was thinking to myself ‘I want to write a tune as beautiful as a Pat Metheny ballad.’" And in some ways she has, although Metheny doesn’t spring to mind as an obvious source, which is probably a good sign. It’s a record that’s hard to dislike, but could do with a bit more of an edge at times, although the young trumpeter has a very expressive narrative style that lifts the record’s appeal immeasurably.

Stephen Graham

Released on 9 October in the US

Nadje Noordhuis, pictured top

Kurt Elling

1619 Broadway – The Brill Building Project

Concord ****

An album about songs and the craft of songwriters centred around the famed building in Midtown Manhattan where for some 40 years some of the most universally loved songs in American popular music were created. Elling begins with ‘On Broadway’ and his typically knowing way with both the lyrics of a song and his rapport with the band mean it feels as if he’s making you ‘unhear’ these very familiar songs. Initial listens suggest Bacharach/David’s ’ A House is Not A Home’ and Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’ are the go-to tracks but Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ will intrigue Zappa fans as well.

Released on 25 September. Kurt Elling, with Sheila Jordan, plays the London Jazz Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 14 November

The Bad Plus

Made Possible

Concord **** SEASON HIGHLIGHT

With this release you get the feeling that The Bad Plus have come up with something radically different. It’s almost as if they have begun all over again, with synthesizers and electronic drums added to the acoustic trio setting. The album comprises a bunch of original, frequently gripping, tunes, and a take on the late Paul Motian’s ‘Victoria’. Pianist Ethan Iverson says that Made Possible “is the sound of getting together in your garage and all committing, no matter what, seeing what you can make up today.” This frequently engrossing album indicates such an approach has more than paid off.

Released on 25 September in the States, and on 22 October internationally. The Bad Plus play Ronnie Scott’s in London on 23 and 24 October.

The Bad Plus photo by Cameron Wittig

Philip Dizack

End of an Era

Truth Revolution ***

Very promising, with a high-register sense of abandon and plenty of guts, trumpeter Philip Dizack is still a new name on a crowded US scene. Slightly reminiscent of Christian Scott (circa the album Anthem) it’s been seven years since the Milwaukee player’s debut, Beyond a Dream. With tracks featuring two separate bands, one with Linda Oh, the bassist most likely to storm through from the underground jazz scene in America, Blue Note artist pianist Aaron Parks and Herbie Hancock drummer Kendrick Scott, and strings even, it’s an ambitious project that came to fruition with the help of some Kickstarter fundraising. If Coldplay ever become remotely hip it will be thanks to the likes of Dizack for covering songs of theirs such as the heart-on-sleeve ‘What If’, the fifth track here.

Stephen Graham

Released on 2 October in the US