Scott DuBois takes listener through varied landscapes on ‘Winter Light’

Photo Credit: Arek Wyderka

Scott DuBois. Photo Credit: Arek Wyderka

Nineteenth-century philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson called art an “expression of nature.” Guitarist Scott DuBois‘ Winter Light transports the listener on a day’s journey from earliest dawn into deepest night, illustrating the day’s changing light through varied landscapes and weather conditions. He has loved representations of this evolution in visual art, especially in the paintings of Claude Monet, who often worked on several canvases at once in order to track the day’s shifting light. Winter Light captures such visions in sound.

The New York City Jazz Record has described DuBois’ writing as “captivating music for the meditative thinker.” This telling expression goes quite some way towards unlocking its essence, since the guitarist composes in an associative way, through pictures. Indeed, Winter Light, which marks his debut as an artist on the ACT label, has a strongly programmatic concept running right through it. The listener is taken on a journey through a winter’s day. As we witness the progression from before daybreak right through to the depths of night, DuBois draws the listener in with sounds vividly portraying myriad shifts in the balance of light, leading us through different landscapes, and even making us feel the ever-changing patterns of the weather.

The guitarist’s first five albums have received major critical acclaim. Black Hawk Dance earned the maximum 5-star rating from DownBeat Magazine. His next album, Landscape Scripture, was one of the “Top Ten Jazz Albums of 2012″ as selected by the highly influential coast-to-coast American network, National Public Radio.

Korean vocalist Youn Sun Nah draws on influences for new album

Cover.inddFemale singers who manage to stir a whole genre are seldom found. Diana Krall and Norah Jones are such outstanding talents who gave vocal jazz a whole new colour, and Korean singer Youn Sun Nah has been equally phenomenal. In the last few years, she has conquered the music world with her albums Voyage (2009) and Same Girl (2010) released on ACT Music.

Within two years, Nah had received her fourth “Korean Music Award,” the BMW World Jazz Award and the ECHO Jazz Award for best international female singer whilst in France, her second home, Same Girl was the best-selling jazz album of the year in 2011, Nah received the “Prix Mimi Perrin du Jazz Vocal” as female vocalist of the year, the leading magazine “Jazzman” awarded her with “Choc de l’annee 2012” as artist of the year and she was granted the title of nobility “Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” by the culture secretary, putting her in the prominent company of such stars as David Bowie, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dustin Hoffman.

What is the secret of her remarkable success? Her new album Lento (available on June 11) gives an explanation by combining Nah’s unique qualities. One of them is the blending of different cultural and musical sources, in a respectful yet unconventional manner. Besides jazz and related styles, she draws on chanson, pop and folk music, and in addition to compositions by herself and her band members, there is the extremely light version of the Korean folk song “Arirang” as well as “Hurt” by the alternative rock band Nine Inch Nails, and Stan Jones’ “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” a classic country song made famous by Johnny Cash.

For the first time Nah also calls upon European classical music: Alexander Scriabin’s “Prelude op. 16 No. 4 in E minor” with its tempo indication “Lento” was a source of inspiration for the album’s title, and it also sets up an intimate, atmospheric and harmonious musical world.  Nah unfolds her expressive power especially in the peaceful and slow-paced moments – on the fragile chanson “Full Circle,” with heartbreaking grievance on “Lament” or artistic unison singing on “Momento Magico.”

Alto Saxophonist/Composer Rudresh Mahanthappa assembles new quartet for “Gamak”

The idea of hybridity has been central to the music of alto saxophonist/composer Rudresh Mahanthappa throughout his career. Most prominent, of course, has been his highly original fusion of east and west, jazz mixed with the sounds of his Indian heritage. But that’s too easy and linear a depiction of this open-eared and inventive composer, who has absorbed an enormous variety of music into his thinking and amalgamated it into a singular vision.

On his new ACT release, Gamak (available Jan. 29), Mahanthappa continues that multi-directional evolution with a bold, striking set of music that melds leading-edge jazz with innovative reinterpretations of traditional Indian and Middle Eastern approaches, shot through with an electric jolt of prog-rock complexity. Mahanthappa’s distinctly personal sound hybridizes progressive jazz and South Indian classical music in a fluid and forward-looking form that reflects the composer’s own experience growing up a second-generation Indian-American. Just as his personal experience is never wholly lived on one side of the hyphenate or the other, his music speaks in a voice dedicated to forging a new path forward.

Gamak, Mahanthappa’s 13th album as leader or co-leader, marks the debut of a new band that is both a reprise and a reinvention. The album reunites the saxophonist with bassist François Moutin and drummer Dan Weiss, the rhythm section from his long-running quartet, which was last recorded for the 2006 album, Codebook. But the group takes on a radically different sound with the addition of David “Fuze” Fiuczynski, a master of microtonal guitar whose eclectic virtuosity offered Mahanthappa a vast new territory to explore.

“Dave has checked out so much music,”Mahanthappa says of Fiuczynski in a news release. “A lot of eastern music, whether it’s Chinese or Indian or Arabic, and a lot of 20th and 21st century classical music. Not to mention that he has this rock/punk aesthetic that’s evident in his band the Screaming Headless Torsos. And Dan and Francois come from a really wide perspective as well. Dan is just as much into Rush as he is Max Roach or Zakir Hussain. So I knew those guys were going to really bring this stuff to life.”

The name Gamak is derived from the word for ornamentation in Indian classical music, an element that is far more central to that culture than the English word implies. “In South Indian music particularly,” Mahanthappa explains, “melodic ornamentation isn’t random. It’s very specific and stylized and studied.” As for the word’s relevance to his current ensemble he says, “In recontextualizing these things, Gamak can refer to any sort of melodic ornamentation. It’s as applicable to Indian classical music as it is to R&B singers riffing or anything in between.”