Makaya McCraven, "In the Moment" (International Anthem) Home to a wealth of riches such as the Jazz Record Mart, the Green Mill and the ever-fertile Assn. for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Chicago's modern jazz scene continues to be one of the most vibrant in the country.
Steeped in the sound of the city is 32-year-old McCraven, a drummer who has worked with a range of artists, including Archie Shepp, Marquis Hill and Marcus Strickland. For his sophomore outing, McCraven recorded 48 hours of improvised performances compiled during a residency at a club called the Bedford, calling on nine musicians and an array of configurations that McCraven stitched together into a single album-length whole.
Though such a conceit could have easily led to a cut-and-paste sort of musical collage, the record's head-bobbing sound remains true to its title. In some pieces, such as the two-minute groove-epic "Gnawa," the all-powerful rhythm created by McCraven and bassist Junius Paul is the star, whereas in others such as "Finances" and "Lonely," a tangled blend of modern jazz and uniquely Chicago post-rock becomes the dominant touchstone, courtesy of flinty melodies from Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker and vibraphonist Justefan. Taken together, "In the Moment" captures the spirit of a city while expanding on its lineage as only the best albums can.
Chris Dingman, "The Subliminal and the Sublime" (Inner Arts) One of the rising jazz talents on vibraphone, the San Jose-born Dingman's debut album, "Waking Dreams," landed on a number of year-end lists in 2011. For the follow-up, he's upped the ante with a suite commissioned by Chamber Music America that was inspired by road trips through Northern California as well as natural wonders from both coasts.
The results are as evocative as you might hope. With Ryan Ferreira's chiming guitar building a framework around Dingman's echoing vibraphone, the 17-minute "Voice of the Ancient" coalesces into a grandeur inspired by the bandleader's trip to the redwoods of Jedediah Smith State Park outside Crescent City. Drawn as it was from open spaces, the piece allows itself room to breathe, taking time for Fabian Almazan's piano to flicker against Justin Brown's cymbals as if Dingman is encouraging the listener to admire the view.
A similar sweep rings through album closer "All Flows Forth" and the atmospheric "Pinnacles," which opens with a lingering feedback arc that gives way to Loren Stillman's slowly unfurling saxophone runs. The record may not be quite as restorative as a walk in the woods, but it comes close.
Maria Schneider Orchestra, "The Thompson Fields" (ArtistShare) Similarly colored by nature, the latest album from New York-based bandleader Schneider looks toward her home state of Minnesota for inspiration. Part album and part illustrated hardcover book in a luxuriously assembled package from the crowd-funding label ArtistShare, Schneider's latest rests beautifully along whatever imaginary line that separates jazz from classical music, rising out of evocative big band swells one moment, take-your-breath-away individual turns in the next.
Trombonist Marshall Gilkes offers a standout turn in the slow-burning "The Monarch and the Milkweed," and saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Scott Robinson gleefully twist around Schneider's image of birds attempting to court the opposite sex in "Arbiters of Evolution," which churns through a bright, propulsive melody. Frank Kimbrough's piano flickers along the center of the album's title track, and "Nimbus" expands from an ominous, almost gypsy-like melody to a series of stormy, unfettered runs by Steve Wilson. Marked by a zigzagging turn from trombonist Ryan Keberle, "Lembrança" even twists through Brazilian samba in a nod toward her parents' 1950s honeymoon in Rio.
Though dedicated to capturing the beauty of where she grew up, Schneider has also conjured a sort of artistic home here as well, carefully recounting moments, images and individuals that fed her craft. No wonder the album took almost eight years to complete; may her next one not take nearly so long.