“COOL WATER” by GREG MURPHY (Whaling City Sound)
Pianist Murphy is based in New York City and this album was inspired by a 2019 trip to Nairobi, where – and this is a great detail – he was going to play hockey with the Kenyan Ice Lions. The format is built around Murphy’s core trio, with Eric Wheeler on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, with seven guests appearing here and there. Murphy wrote seven of the dozen tunes, but he’s not bound by genre, as you learn quickly after a John Coltrane-influenced take on “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from “Mary Poppins” opens the album, and is soon followed by a breezy run through Steely Dan’s “Green Earrings” with guest singer Ku-umba Frank Lacy. But Murphy’s originals really stand out, from the soaring melody of “My Life” to the smooth drive of “Friendship,” where Bill Ware’s vibes and David Kikoski’s synth lines enhance the sound. The title cut is “Enkare Nairobi,” which translates roughly as “cool water,” and derives from a Maasai greeting that was sung to Murphy on his arrival, making a buoyant, triumphant march highlighted by T.K. Blue’s flute accents. Just when you might think the sweet, slow cover of “Body and Soul” is a predictable vehicle, Murphy follows it up with a rousing jaunt through the Isley Brothers’ hit “Coolin’ Me Out.” Murphy played a lot with Coltrane sideman Rashied Ali, so his own “Cuttin’ Trane’s Corners” is surely well informed, although it may be more a tribute to Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner with its vivid, percussive melodicism, but that’s high praise indeed.
“SERENDIPITY” by JOHN STEIN (Whaling City Music)
Guitarist Stein retired from teaching at Berklee College of Music with the intention of focusing more on his performing career, starting with last year’s fine “Watershed” album. The pandemic cut his touring plans to promote that album but led to this excellent effort. Signed to play at the annual AHA New Bedford Fest in late summer 2020, the lockdown canceled that festival, but Stein and his trio played a live show for online listeners at the empty New Bedford Art Museum and this album is a recording made then. Stein plays with a superbly fat tone and wonderful articulation and his rhythm section of bassist Ed Lucie and drummer Mike Connors is outstanding. “Alfie’s Theme,” by Sonny Rollins, becomes a finger-popping canter, while the trio maintains the quirky fun behind Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t.” Stein’s own “Elvin” is the kind of buoyant strut the late Elvin Jones would love and Jobim’s ballad “How Insensitive” has never been done better.
“HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT” by DINO GOVONI (Whaling City Sound)
Longtime Berklee College of Music faculty member Govoni performs here with quintet and quartet arrangements surrounding his nonpareil sax. The quintet includes pianist Henry Hey, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, bassist Michael Pope and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, and it is a magnificent ensemble. “Thinkers Anonymous” is a treat, a sort of samba in 7/4 time, while the sax-trumpet interplay on the bop sprint “Cobalt” is invigorating. But Govoni and his band also excel at slower stuff, like the sublime melody of the smoky ballad “Ask Again” or the easy rolling momentum of “Edge Walker.” This is Govoni’s first album in almost a decade, although he has played on many other musicians works, and this is proof he should record more often.