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July 12th, 2021

Altoizm – Altoizm (Afar Music)

The debut album for Chicago’s Afar Music is an auspicious way to kick things off. Altoizm features three of Chicago’s great alto saxophonists in Greg Ward, Sharel Cassity and Rajiv Halim. They’re joined by a fantastic rhythm section: Richard Johnson (piano), Jeremiah Hunt (bass) and Michael Piolet (drums). For people familiar with the recorded output of any of the three saxophonists, Altoizm will come as a bit of a shock, as this is a hard-swinging, straight ahead affair. “Cedar Groove” gets things started with a nice, uptempo groove and fantastic solos all around. “Bembe’s Kids” sounds like it could have easily been written by mid-60’s McCoy Tyner. “The Time Has Come” slows things down nicely, and the three part saxophone melody is quite pretty. If this is the kind of thing that Afar Music is going to be putting out on a regular basis, then I think we’ll have a lot of great albums to be looking forward to for a while.

The Mark Masters Ensemble – Masters & Baron Meet Blanton & Webster (Capri)

The Mark Masters Ensemble has already tackled the work of Charles Mingus and Steely Dan. So, for their next project, they aimed for the stars, taking on the music of what is arguably the greatest incarnation of Duke Ellington’s orchestra. It’s an ambitious project for sure, made even more ambitious by the fact that Masters routinely deconstructs and reconstructs the source material that he’s working with. But, even with all of the twists and turns that get worked into “All Too Soon” or “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” or “Take the A-Train,” they’re all still recognizable, and they’re all well executed.

Mike LeDonne – It’s All Your Fault (Savant)

While the release of any Mike LeDonne album is a cause for celebration, hearing him grooving hard with a big band might be even more of a cause to celebrate. It’s All Your Fault captures LeDonne’s organ alongside an all-star big band, arranged and conducted by Dennis Dennis Mackrel, and good golly does this CD cook. With five big band selections, and three from his regular Groover Quartet (Eric Alexander, Peter Bernstein and Joe Farnsworth), there’s no shortage of quality material here. The big band sounds great on Grant Green’s “Matador,” Lee Morgan’s “Party Time” and LeDonne’s own “It’s All Your Fault.” Meanwhile, the quartet is in fine form on Lionel Richie’s “Still” and LeDonne’s “Blues for Jed.” If LeDonne’s past efforts are any indication, you’ll be hearing a lot of this one on WDCB.