The notion that time flies definitely applies to Newvelle Records, a subscription-based vinyl-only jazz label. It seems we’d just discovered a new record company that stood out for its high production standards musically, sonically, and visually, and now Season Three is upon us. And while this year’s six new releases will be our main focus here, assessing Newvelle’s discography to date makes some sense as box sets for Seasons One and Two remain on sale. With sessions led by Rufus Reid, Jack DeJohnette, and Don Friedman, Newvelle has sometimes featured players who first made their mark on the jazz world several decades ago, but the label also does an excellent job of shedding light on a newer crop of A-list jazz musicians. The instrumentation is primarily acoustic, with a focus on intimate small-group sessions. Listening to these LPs, you’ll be reminded that volume does not equal intensity. In the same spirit as Miles Davis, Chet Baker, and Bill Evans, the musicians on Newvelle demonstrate that the light touch can be as expressive in its own way as more extroverted fare. The understated approach seems especially appropriate for a label that specializes in unusually clean, immediate, and warm-sounding vinyl, all qualities that inspire dedicated listening and, when every note counts and the recordings have an in-the-room presence, make for a compelling listening experience.
Such generalizations remain true for Season Three, and Half Light by tenor saxophonist Andy Zimmerman is prime evidence of that. Leading a drummerless quartet, Zimmerman coaxes the warmest of tones from his instrument, and when Dave Douglas’ muted trumpet blends in with the sax the effect is mesmerizing. There’s a brooding and haunting quality to Half Light that will leave its mark long after you’ve returned the LP to its sleeve.
A similar spirit is at work on another quartet session, Jason Palmer’s Fair Weather. On some earlier releases Palmer has soloed over electric instruments and a dense soundscape. In this stripped-down all-acoustic setting, his gorgeous tone comes to the fore. During his solos, pianist Leo Genovese takes some extroverted and highly inventive tangents, offering just the right amount of dynamics to the session. The introspective setting of Fair Weather setting suits Jason Palmer well.
Charlie & Paul features guitarist Steve Cardenas performing compositions by Paul Motian and Charlie Haden. Cardenas played extensively with both Motian and Haden, as did Loren Stillman, who plays alto saxophone on the date. While Cardenas and Stillman nimbly navigate the intricacies of compositions by Haden and Motian, they’re supported by a standout rhythm section: Motian alumni Thomas Morgan, who has a warm, deep, woody sound on double bass and a firm, supple approach that makes every note seem etched into stone; and ex-Haden sideman Matt Wilson, whose playful and endlessly creative drumming style have made him one of the most sought-after drummers today.
On Ancestros Cuban drummer Francisco Mela works with a pool of musicians in various small-group settings that find Hery Paz playing bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, and soprano saxophone. The quartet performances are highly intricate, with Paz and pianist Kris Davis both launching imaginative and inspired solos. You’ll hear the influence of Thelonious Monk and Steve Lacy on Ancestros, a spirit of playfulness, and animated interplay between the musicians. This is the type of jazz where you can tell that every player is on the edge of her or his seat, and that feeling is contagious.
Icelandic guitarist Skúli Sverrisson is joined by Bill Frisell for a series of engaging duets on Strata. Melodic, atmospheric, and introspective, these performances have a cinematic quality that may remind you of Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden’s Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories), Mark Ribot’s Silent Movies, or soundtracks by Ennio Morricone. With minimal instrumentation—just two intertwined guitars—Strata will fill your imagination as well as your listening room.
Originally from Benin in West Africa, Lionel Loueke leads a trio on Close Your Eyes, his first album devoted entirely to jazz standards. Along with interpretations of well-known compositions from the Great American Songbook, Loueke tackles works by four titans of modern jazz: Wayne Shorter (“Footprints”), Miles Davis (“Solar”), Thelonious Monk (“Blue Monk”), and John Coltrane (“Naima”). Assisted by bassist Reuben Rodgers and drummer Eric Harland, Loueke adopts a straight-ahead jazz guitar approach on some cuts and weaves in African elements on others. Loueke is a versatile player with a long discography, and the fact that this release finds him exploring new ground is testimony to Newvelle’s ability to get behind projects that have something unique about them. And it doesn’t hurt that the packaging for Season Three is exquisite, with a box set designed by Antoine Leroux and photography by Maciej Markowicz.