FLOATING POINTS, PHAROAH SANDERS
& THE LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, Promises (Luaka Bop): 3
Rare is the album that speaks to a societal moment with this caliber of nuanced musicality. A nine-piece movement that ripples and flows continuously for three-quarters of an hour, it’s been a five-year project for octogenarian jazz saxophonist (and ’60s Coltrane sideman) Sanders and electronic artist Sam Shepherd (better known as Floating Points). Shepherd’s myriad keyboards shimmer like a mirage behind Sanders’ mystical tones and London Symphony’s orchestral tempests; together they conjure passages of genuine transcendence and benediction.
SUNNY WAR, Simple Syrup
(Hearth Music): 4
Listening to her latest album brings to mind the years when Sunny War was developing her distinctive guitar technique while busking along the Venice Beach Boardwalk, rotating from clawhammer-style percussion to melodically fluid fingerpicking. Her playing roots this ruminative set, expressing complex feeling with elegant force during the Simone-inspired “Like Nina,” filigreeing blues riffs around Matt DeMerritt’s saxophone during “Mama’s Milk,” and phrasing what words have “Deployed and Destroyed,” about a PTSD-tormented homeless veteran: “You’d believe in angels if you heard him sing/ He’s got a gift only hardships bring.”
(Secretly Canadian): 3½
Love and gratitude lead the way through the third full-length release from the Baltimore-raised R&B artist, Josiah Wise, now based in Los Angeles. Vocally trained in church and classical choirs, Wise’s quivering falsetto nimbly scales harmonically sophisticated tracks such as “Same Size Shoe,” hopeful opener “Hyacinth,” “Sailor’s Superstition” and “Heart Storm” (featuring UK vocalist Nao), giving thanks as a Black gay man in America for hard-won happiness. Nothing’s as forthrightly gospel influenced as “Redemption” (heard on his 2016 EP “Blisters”), although the celebratory “Fellowship,” co-written with Sampha and Lil Silva, comes close.
NEW MOON JELLY ROLL FREEDOM ROCKERS, New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers Vol 2 (Stony Plain): 3½
Like last year’s engaging “Vol 1,” these 11 tracks were recorded fresh off the road in 2007 during an easy-going jam with blues-roots luminaries Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, Jim Dickinson and sons Cody and Luther Dickinson. The road-seasoned crew instinctively falls into a greasy groove behind Musselwhite for his “Blues for Yesterday” before Hart leads them through Doug Sahm’s romping “She’s About a Mover.” The recording’s wish-you-were-here immediacy is as appealing as the performances. Highlights include Jim Dickinson’s earthy take on Junior Wells’ “Messin’ With the Kid”; Luther’s slinky fretwork on Earl Hooker’s “Blue Guitar;” and a Mathus-led stroll through Charles Mingus’ “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me,” with guitar and Dickinson’s piano echoing each other as the ensemble chimes in like a ragtag choir stumbling into church from the bar.