You may not think of the winter months as the ideal time for hot New Orleans-style second-line stomp. But that's where you're wrong! Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith, a joyous release from the newly relaunched OKeh imprint, should fix your attitude real quick. By partnering up with organist Jimmy Smith (and Wynton Marsalis, too, on "Mojo Workin'"), Handy and his big tenor sax sound have helped put some needed zest into February. Click play on our mix to discover the best cuts from not only that album, but also a group of other worthies that includes Jon Irabagon (playing with legendary drummer Barry Altschul), John Hollenbeck's new group, and Pete Robbins (who covers "Sweet Child O' Mine" better than you might expect).
Irabagon, a tenor saxophonist in Mary Halvorson's groups, has collaborated with legendary drummer Altschul before, and you can hear their compatibility on a track like "Wherewithal," which darts in and out of composed passages (allowing Altschul in particular a lot of room to roam). Elsewhere, we've also got a corker of a large-ensemble recording from a group that includes saxophonist Ken Vandermark. The dedication of tunes underlines the ensemble's connection to the Chicago experimentalist scene. But their jamming isn't even all that out-there: There's a reliable pulse driving the opener (dedicated to Muhal Richard Abrams). Meantime, the conceptual frame of guitarist Nir Felder's rock-fusiony debut as leader is intriguing, but doesn't outshine the tunes. (Both "Ernest / Protector" and "Memorial" engage tricky rhythms, but carry warmth, too.) So click play on our attached playlist, and enjoy!