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Dr. Lonnie Smith and other new jazz album releases — The Know

Here’s the best of another stack of new album releases — and I’m pleased to report there is a good deal of life in the business of producing new music, in spite of the pandemic.

Old-fashioned live albums still exist — even if many of the venues at which the music was recorded have shuttered for good. New York’s Jazz Standard closed up shop at the end of 2020, but there’s at least one more document that proves its vitality: “Breathe” from organist Dr. Lonnie Smith (Blue Note.)

Live jazz organ records were everywhere in the 1960s, but the appearance of such a thing in 2021 is noticeably rare indeed. Smith and his band burn through originals and a Monk tune, and the live performances are bookended by two charming studio cuts featuring rock legend Iggy Pop on vocals. Pop wisely doesn’t overdo it, giving his presence a casual, lounge-like feel.

The truth is, Smith was making records like this when Pop was covering himself in peanut butter and leaping into the audience half a century ago, but here the two veterans sound like they’ve been working together for ages.

Saxophone grandmaster Pharoah Sanders returns as part of the ambitious project “Promises” (Luaka Bop) with the kind of contemplative grace that only an experienced artist can provide. Many years past famous displays of ecstasy on his instrument, Sanders plays subdued lines that mesh ideally with the electronics of the artist known as Floating Points and gentle support from the London Symphony Orchestra.

“Promises” is presented in several movements that unfold like an epic film, and it’s soothing, even healing music. It’s wishful thinking to conceive of this 47-minute work onstage at Red Rocks with Sanders and Floating Points accompanied by the Colorado Symphony, but it’s nice to contemplate anyway.

A few artists have managed to record live albums during the pandemic, like saxophonist Jim Snidero, whose “Live At The Deer Head Inn” (Savant) was recorded at that iconic Delaware Water Gap locale. (Here’s hoping the eager audience members captured on tape were socially distanced.) As for Snidero, he’s a somewhat underappreciated genius on the alto, and his excellent quartet (including pianist Orrin Evans) lovingly runs through a number of standards familiar to seasoned jazz fans, kicking off with Charlie Parker’s “Now’s The Time.”

It’s reassuring to hear this material performed at such a highly communicative level.

Mary Halvorson continues to create some of the most noteworthy recordings of this era, and she shows no signs of letting up with “Never Is Enough” (Cuneiform Records) as a member of the trio Thumbscrew.  A beguiling and surprising electric guitarist, Halvorson’s interactions with enterprising drummer Tomas Fujiwara and assured bassist Michael Formanek head into the depths of their creative imaginations. This time around, the group is a touch more subdued, but not too subdued. Here’s hoping this one sells, oh, 50,000 copies.

And in other jazz news: The Denver Municipal Band is offering free music classes every Wednesday afternoon until May 5 at the Raices Brewing Company, 2060 W. Colfax Ave. Primary instruments are being provided; registration information can be found at … The Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra is scheduled to play Parker’s PACE Center on April 23. … The Ben Markley Quintet presents “Explorations of a Journey” at Nocturne on Fridays beginning  April 16. … And Kim Dawson sings from Dazzle as a live stream on April 16.

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