Happy Passover and Happy Easter to all. Tough week to get any writing in, but wanted to keep the ball rolling a bit with some of the less familiar players I have been listening to. I cannot call this a "Newbies" group exactly, but I bet most will be new to many reading this post (Assuming anyone is reading -- I have little way of knowing.)
First, pick up a copy of Dan Cray "Meridies" (Origin 2012) and enjoy the mellow sounds of a wonderful quartet. Cray is from Chicago and with his trio has produced a number of discs in the past decade, but he really hits his stride with this one. Cray plays a wonderfully expressive piano and has a knack for improvisation, as demonstrated immediately with his take on Charlie Chaplin's "Smile". Cray demonstrates a nice writing touch as well, with some lovely melodies for both ballads and upbeat creations. Finally, his tenor sax on this outing is Noah Preminger, a young up and coming player whose album "Before the Rain" caputred many honors when it came out in 2011. A really nice listen from a very good label.
Next, reach for a tenor player, Dan Wilensky, and listen to "Back in the Mix" (Speechless Productions 2012). Wilensky has written nine terrific songs here and presents them tastefully with a band that includes the veteran Mark Soskin on piano (who has just released his new disc on Kind of Blue "Nino Rota" with some beautiful interpretations of the great Italian composer's best known songs), Dean Johnson on bass, Tony Moreno on drums, and on four pieces Russ Johnson on trumpet. Wilensky's first album actually goes back a ways to And Then Some (Speechless, 1997), and since then he has been busy as a sideman, teacaher, and session player. Now focused on being a leader he has produced three albums, with "Back in the Mix" his lataest outing. This CD is his first to be supported with the piano and not guitar, and Soskin adds a large measure of sonic depth and more harmonies to the mix, with great results.
Finally, listen to Matt Baker on "Underground" (MBCD 2012). On piano and Fender Rhodes, he leads a trio inlcudeing Joe Snaders on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums, with support on slected songs from Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and Danya Stephens on Tenor (and Stevens has a new CD on Criss Cross, "Today is Tomorrow" which is another outstanding listen). An Australian based in New York, he has been playing with a host of well known players for a while now, and this CD demonstrates a very sure hand on some great old music -- "If I Were a Bell", Mood Indigo" -- and five originals that show Baker as a writer and player who honors the past but imbues his playing with the sounds of today.
All three CDs are great "in the pocket" listens and feature not only new and intersting leaders but also some of the best players on the scene today like Soskin, Pelt, Hutchinson, Preminger, and Stphens. With the respect of these players and their support, it is no wonder each of these leaders has produced some outstanding sounds.