MY KIND OF JAZZ

The sounds of Chicago resonate on new albums

The fall season brings a new wave of jazz recordings by Chicago artists, each exploring a distinct facet of the music.

Some of the albums prove stronger than others, but together they attest to the depth of talent and range of expression that make this city swing:

Ryan Cohan: "The River" (Motema Music). When pianist Cohan performed the world premiere of his epic suite in 2010 in Lake Forest, the work sounded ambitious and substantial, an impression deepened by this remarkable recording. Inspired by a tour Cohan led to Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and Zimbabwe in 2008, "The River" unfolds as a series of tone poems, each evoking a different place, moment or character in Cohan's journeys. Even if you didn't know the storyline, however, this music would be riveting, from the gripping piano solo that opens it to the sprays of instrumental color he achieves in "Storm Rising" to the beautifully crafted main theme of "Forsaken." Cohan's tautly controlled yet deeply imaginative writing serves as the spine of this music-making, of course, but his septet brings it to life, with sensitive playing from reedists John Wojciechowski and Geof Bradfield, trumpeter Tito Carrillo, bassist Lorin Cohen, drummer Kobie Watkins and percussionist Samuel Torres. Five years was a long time from the original journey to recording, but it was worth the wait, for "The River" represents a new high point in Cohan's career as composer-bandleader. (Cohan will perform this music at 9 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; $12; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com.)

"Clark Sommers' Ba(SH)" (Origin Records). Bassist Sommers has been an increasingly busy figure in Chicago and beyond for more than a decade, and here he makes his belated recording debut as bandleader. Throughout, Sommers puts the emphasis on the music, rather than himself, creating a welcoming environment for colleagues Geof Bradfield on reeds and Dana Hall on drums (hence the title of the album, a kind of acronym for these musicians' names). These players speak the same musical language, but it's Bradfield who probably will capture most listeners' ears (and hearts). The depth, urgency and intensity of Bradfield's sound on "Garrison" and the profundity and idiosyncrasy of his expression on "Quanah," both by Sommers, as well as the serene poetry of Bradfield's solos on Billy Higgins' "Inga" and the searching, questing character of his tone on Sommers' "Liano Estacado" enrich our understanding of Bradfield's art. Drummer Hall, like Sommers, goes out of his way to support his colleagues, indicating the camaraderie these three musicians share and enhancing austere beauty of their ensemble sound.

Howard Alden/Andy Brown Quartet: "Heavy Artillery" (Delmark Records). Guitarist Brown, who performs prolifically across the city, has admired and collaborated with guitarist Alden for years and began partnering with him at the Green Mill Jazz Club in 2010. Their subsequent engagements have been feasts of swing rhythm and free-flowing improvisation, the two guitarists trading ideas as swiftly or contemplatively as the repertoire has demanded. Their musical conversation finally has been documented on "Heavy Artillery," a title that captures the prowess each of the players, whose work remains rhythmically nimble, melodically lithe and texturally transparent (with empathetic work from bassist Joe Policastro and drummer Bob Rummage). Yes, these musicians work within familiar, mainstream traditions, but when you're playing this well, the idiom isn't what matters most: it's the felicity with which the two guitarists communicate. They're particularly effective in Brazilian repertoire, their work on "Voce E Eu" and "Brigas Nunca Mas" a model of subtlety and grace.

Don Stiernberg: "Mandoboppin!" (Mando Traveler Music). Many Chicagoans don't realize that one of the world's great mandolinists happens to live in our midst. Stiernberg's latest release reiterates the point, the mercurial ease and technical fluidity of his playing making his feats seem a lot easier to achieve than they are. The joyousness and rhythmic chug of this music will remind listeners of the musical language of Django Reinhardt, and anyone who values that gypsy-jazz idiom will find gratifying listening here. But the mandolinist's rhythmically buoyant, high-pitched passages have a charm of their own in an album built mostly on Stiernberg originals. He's powered by Andy Brown's rhythm guitar and comparably imperturbable work from drummer Phil Gratteau, pianist Larry Harris and bassist Jim Cox. It must be said that Stiernberg's vocals, while unmistakably heartfelt, are not on par with his mandolin playing and perhaps should be left in the outtakes of future recordings. Ultimately, though, it's the instrumentals that count most here, and Stiernberg and friends convey joy in virtually every track.

Chicago Jazz Orchestra: "Burstin' Out!" (Origin Records). The title of this much-anticipated release from Jeff Lindberg's CJO deftly sums up the power of this long-running ensemble, which sounds spectacular throughout. Its range of color, control of phrase and attack and irresistible rhythmic pulse are what great big-band playing is all about. Unfortunately, all of this work has been summoned as accompaniment for Cyrille Aimee, a fine and sensitive vocalist who is artistically overshadowed by the powerhouse band. Her lithe but thinnish instrument proves inadequate for the big finish in both "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and "September in the Rain" and pallid in "Dindi." The latter's Claus Ogerman arrangement (adapted here by Lindberg) inevitably draws comparisons – and not favorable ones – to Frank Sinatra's landmark version of the tune in Ogerman's arrangement. The more intimate scale and bathed-in-strings setting of "Easy Living" serve Aimee far better, and she achieves a suave rhythmic feel in "Long as You're Living." But featuring Aimee on every track was an aesthetic mistake, overselling the singer and underplaying the CJO. Compared to the band's brilliant pairing with trumpeter Clark Terry on their milestone "Porgy & Bess" album, this project feels small, though there are pleasures to be heard in the band's corporate virtuosity and dynamic instrumental solos.

Eddie Palmieri launches World Music Festival

The 15th annual World Music Festival Chicago kicks off on Thursday with a splash, featuring Latin jazz pianist Eddie Palmieri playing at Millennium Park. Palmieri, 76, has been before the public for more than half a century and remains a formidable presence the keyboard. When he co-led a quartet with trumpeter Brian Lynch last year at the Mayne Stage, Palmieri avoided Latin-jazz clichés, toyed with rhythm, fractured phrases, sabotaged conventional harmony and otherwise delighted the ear. This time he'll lead his Salsa Orchestra on a bill with Plena Libre and AfriCaribe; 6 p.m. Thursday at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street; free. For a complete schedule of events for the World Music Festival, which runs through Sept. 22 in various locations, phone 312-744-3316 or visit worldmusicfestivalchicago.org.

To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to chicagotribune.com/reich.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

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