About six years ago New York jazz pianist Elan Mehler and Parisian Jean-Christophe Morisseau came up with an interesting business model. Rather than sell individual titles for the Newvelle Records label, they instituted a subscriber series, releasing six limited edition clear vinyl LPs per season—Mehler calls them “bi-monthly events”—exclusively on 180-gram vinyl, with curated artwork and literature. The LPs are recorded and mixed at EastSide Sound in New York by Marc Urselli and mastered by Alex DeTurk, and the vinyl is pressed at the world-renowned Quality Records Pressings in Salina, Kansas. Since its inaugural series in 2016, Newvelle has cultivated a passionate community of members who commit to an entire season of new music from both veteran artists and rising stars.
Season Five kicked off with Always in the Moment, an intimate collaboration between esteemed veteran bassist Rufus Reid (recording a third time for Newvelle) and acclaimed piano virtuoso Sullivan Fortner. From the delicate, chamber-like title track to the free-flowing conversations on “Reminiscing,” the Latin-tinged “It’s the Nights I Like,” the mid-tempo swinger “Come Out and Play,” and bluesy pronouncements on the quirky “The Meddler,” the chemistry between the players is clear. Reid’s bold, resonant, woody-toned upright bass lines are highlighted on a dramatic yet tender rendition of the Charles Mingus ballad, “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” and on a lyrical, unaccompanied reading of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” And the duo delivers a poignant interpretation of Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks.”
The next album in the series is Christreza, by the Pablo Ablanedo Octet. A stirring, dramatic new work by Ablanedo, a Buenos Aires-born pianist-composer, Christreza bristles with complex rhythmic twists, buoyant melodies, moving harmonies, and stellar performances by a lineup that includes clarinetist Anat Cohen, saxophonists Chris Cheek and Jerome Sabbagh, and guitarist Ben Monder. The hypnotic “La Señal,” the triumphant “Karmavaleando,” the moody and expressive “Plaisantriste,” the evocative title track, and the tumultuous “Bipolarious” add up to an outstanding offering by the prolific pianist.
If There Are Mountains finds Mehler joining trumpeter Dave Douglas, multi- reedist John Gunther, bassist Simón Willson, and drummer Dayeon Seok on original music set to poetry and sung by Dominique Eade. Highlights include the sparse, melancholic “We Saw You Off,” the dramatic “Here on the Plains,” the suite-like “The Spring Current,” and the gently swinging jazz waltz “With Your Singing.”
Woodland finds pianist Carmen Staaf showcasing her luminous compositions like “Canons,” “Strindberg,” “New Waltz,” and “Evergreen” in a highly interactive trio setting with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Jeff Williams. The more angular “Multiple Ultimate” and the quirky, off-kilter swinger “Snap Out of It” both show a different side of the trio, as do Williams’ jaunty swinger “The Hunt” and his “Borderline,” a sprightly number informed by the drummer’s free jazz instincts. Staaf also delivers a faithful solo rendition of one of Thelonious Monk’s most tender ballads, “Pannonica.”
Multi-reedist Patrick Zimmerli fronts a trio with pianist Kevin Hays and drummer Satoshi Takeishi on Book of Dreams. From the evocative “Algo Mas” to the intricate and metrically-challenging romp through “Torsion,” a crystalline reading of Jobim’s melancholy “How Insensitive” and a moody re-imaging of the Sinatra classic “Fly Me to the Moon,” the ultra-sensitive Book of Dreams ultimately weaves a gentle spell on listeners.
Completing Season Five is Life of the Party, an August release by the OWL Trio, which consists of guitarist Lage Lund, bassist Orlando Le Fleming, and saxophonist Will Vinson. The group’s intuitive chemistry is evident on the delicate opener “French Song,” the uptempo burner “Struggle Session,” and lovely, conversational renderings of the jazz standards “We’ll Be Together Again,” “Time on My Hands,” and “End of a Love Affair.” Special guest Kurt Elling brings his patented brio to Vinson’s “Perfectly out of Place” and the title track, which incorporates lyrics by Joy Dragland along with snippets from Beat poet Gregory Corso. Like many items in the Newvelle catalog, this is an under-the-radar gem.