The summer months are typically accompanied by a slowed-down record release schedule; we decided to use that as an opportunity to focus on a label that sprang up earlier in the year. The Smoke Sessions imprint, named after New York's Upper West Side club, offers mostly straight-ahead swing. But while the language that these musicians play may seem familiar, the level of the playing is anything but pedestrian. Killer sets from the likes of drummer Jimmy Cobb (whose band includes Brad Mehldau) and pianist Harold Mabern have been popping up throughout 2014. And now we've got a new hard-swinging affair, courtesy of pianist Cyrus Chestnut. Click play on our mix to hear the instantly winning lyricism of his take on "Bag's Groove" (which climaxes with some rousing, gospel-ized chords).
Keep listening, and you'll not only hear the rest of the Smoke Sessions 2014 roster (as it stands so far), you'll also check out the mighty experiments of next-gen improviser Steve Lehman. (If you want more Lehman, we profiled the saxophonist's career in this post.) Put those records together with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's return to Blue Note -- not to mention Joshua Redman's burning interpretation of Monk's "Trinkle, Tinkle" -- and August suddenly won't seem so sleepy any longer.