Best Jazz of 2014: Hot Tone Music

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014, Under The Radar, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , on January 12, 2015 by curtjazz
(l to r) Camille Thurman; Mimi Jones; Shirazette Tinnin

(l to r) Camille Thurman; Mimi Jones; Shirazette Tinnin

A few years ago, bassist Mimi Jones recorded her first album, A New Day. Working on the sessions for the album provided Ms. Jones with a great deal of priceless experience in the ins and outs of the recording process. She became a de facto adviser  for many of her colleagues, who would come to Mimi seeking guidance on every phase of the business; such as promotion, artwork and the other little things that novices often leave to chance. Ms. Jones realized that as major label deals for most jazz artists have disappeared, the development and direction that big labels provided, have also dried up.

When she was ready to record Balance, her second album, Ms. Jones decided to take things into her own hands. Part of doing that was a gutsy decision to start her own label, Hot Tone Music. The idea being to give gifted musicians a home and the direction that they sometimes lack. As Ms. Jones said during an interview with Bret Primack (aka “The Jazz Guy”) “With Hot Tone Music… we try to support our artists. If they… show signs of great talent we make a space for them and we teach them how to take care of themselves…and then [we] present a platform from which they can get exposure through publicity and marketing…”

In addition to Balance, Hot Tone released two other albums in its first year, 2014:  Origins by saxophonist/vocalist Camille Thurman and drummer Shirazette Tinnin’s Humility:Purity of My Soul.  All three projects strong, complex and thoroughly absorbing ; grounded in the post bop and modal tradition but also rich with the influences that the artists have adopted outside of the jazz mainstream. And oh yes, in case you haven’t noticed all three leaders just happen to be women.

The fact that these albums were so good created a dilemma for me as I put together my Best Jazz Albums of 2014 list. The exceptional music from Hot Tone was easily among the best of the year. But the fact that these three albums all came from a brand new jazz-centered label and that this jazz-centered label was started by a woman musician, and at this point featured all women musicians, was such an impressive story that I didn’t want to potentially bury it inside of a list of 25 albums. So, I decided to wait a week or so and create this separate entry, celebrating Hot Tone Music and its 2014 releases.

Balance – Mimi Jones – This album was my introduction to Hot Tone Music, as I was assigned to review it for Jazz Inside Magazine. It’s a confident blend of original compositions and covers of tunes that are well know but not done so often that they’ve become clichéd. Guest appearances by Ingrid Jensen, Luis Perdomo, Marvin Sewell and Ms. Jones’ two Hot Tone label mates, help take things to the next level. It was a long, long time before I moved this disc out of my player. Read my Jazz Inside Review HERE.

Humility: Purity of My Soul – Shirazette Tinnin –  On her debut album, this North Carolina native displays impressive skills on the kit and proves to be a fine composer, having written seven of her album’s nine selections. The two covers? McCoy’s “Passion Dance” and Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” (Nothing like going for broke!). She pulls each off in a big way with Ms. Tinnin’s hard-driving beat and labelmate Camille Thurman’s smokin’ tenor powering “Passion Dance”. On the Eddie Harris classic, Ms. Jones adds an insistent island-funk bass line to Ms. Thurman’s searching sax and Ms. Tinnin’s authoritative drumwork. It’s now one of my favorite versions of the piece. As far as the originals go, check out “Aunt Sissy”, with the ladies of Hot Tone joined by pianist Rachel Eckroth for a ballad that grows from a whisper to a shout on Thurman’s muscular tenor. Also dig “Jazzmine”, a pretty ballad with a reflective vocal setup from Thurman, followed by Eckroth’s gentle electric keyboard and some solid scatting by Ms. Thurman.

Cindy Blackman-Santana, Teri-Lyne Carrington, Sherrie Maricle, Allison Miller…The small sisterhood of outstanding female jazz drummers of our time must make room for a new member: Shirazette Tinnin.

Origins – Camille Thurman – She’s a saxophonist, a flutist and a vocalist so accomplished that she was the runner-up in the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Camille Thurman places all of these skills on full display on Origins, her second album. With first-call pros such as Luis Perdomo, Rudy Royston, Enoch Smith, Jr. and label mate Shirazette Tinnin along for support, Ms. Thurman has created a rich, multifaceted work of art that is never boring and is at times, outstanding. Like Jones and Tinnin, Ms. Thurman is also a first-rate composer who has contributed a number of fine pieces to the project. Among them are the title track, which is a Shorteresque up tempo workout; “In Duetime”, a joyous tune with a cool Brazilian influence, evincing Ms.Thurman’s proficiency on the flute as well as her facility as a scat vocalist; and “Pursuit With a Purpose” a melodious jazz waltz that gives plenty of solo room to all, with a terrific piano turn by Mr. Smith. There is also a compelling cover of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz”, with Ms. Thurman throwing down on a delightfully staccato tenor lead. Because her musical gifts are so wide-ranging, Ms. Thurman’s album is the most diverse of the three and that perhaps gives Origin a very slight edge.

Hot Tone Music is a great concept, a great business model and most important, it has started off with three great albums. Congratulations to Mimi Jones and company. We’re looking forward to more exciting things from you in 2015 and beyond.

Jazz Artists We Lost in 2014 – Part II

Posted in In Memoriam, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2015 by curtjazz

To yesterday’s list we add another group of jazz great who passed on in 2014. We remember them and we celebrate and forever cherish their artistry:

  • John Blake 
  • Joe Bonner 
  • Jackie Cain (Jackie & Roy) 
  • Roy Campbell 
  • Paul Horn 
  • Herb Jeffries 
  • Ronny Jordan 
  • Idris Muhammad 
  • Frank Strazzeri 
  • Kenny Wheeler 
  • Joe Wilder 

May they all Rest In Peace

Memories of You – Jazz Artists We Lost in 2014: Part 1

Posted in In Memoriam, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2015 by curtjazz

Before we totally immerse ourselves in the New Year, I want to look back and remember some of the great jazz artists that we lost in 2014. While they may have left this place, we are so blessed that we are able through today’s technology, to look back a fondly remember why their art will live forever.

May they all rest in peace.

  • Buddy DeFranco 
  • Kenny Drew, Jr. 
  • Charlie Haden 
  • Wayne Henderson (The Crusaders – trombone) 
  • Tim Hauser (Manhattan Transfer) 
  • Joe Sample 
  • Jimmy Scott 
  • Horace Silver 
  • Gerald Wilson 

Please not that this is not an exhaustive list. There will be additional remembrances in Part 2.

Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 5 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2014 by curtjazz

FL_KE$HAOur final post on the Best Jazz Albums of 2014, includes the latest live album compilation from a true living legend. There’s a transcendent album from a vocalist who deserves much more recognition.  We have an impressive debut album from one of the best young drum masters around. A tenor saxophonist who has made a tribute album his own and finally three avant-garde jazz legends, encountering a contemporary lion and in doing so creating some fascinating fireworks.

  • Road Shows, Volume 3 – Sonny Rollins (OKeh) Nobody should mess with Theodore Walter Rollins. Nobody. (Just ask “humorist” Django Gold!)The greatest living jazz saxophonist released another set of tracks this year from his seemingly inexhaustible supply of live recordings. This set was recorded between 2001 and 2012, in Japan, France and St. Louis. As for the performances, well it shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that they are stellar. The most amazing thing for me is to realize that Mr. Rollins was somewhere between 71 and 82 years old when these were recorded. His energy level and the creativity of his ideas on his solos both seem limitless. At an age when most sax players, if they are still playing, are taking it easy, Newk is shaming younger cats every night.  There are a couple of standards a couple of Rollins classics a brand new hard-driving piece (“Patanjali”) and an eight minute and thirty second unaccompanied solo flight which will make many a sax player go out and sell their horns. And just think y’all, there are hours and hours more of this out there. Bring on Road Shows, Vol. 4.
  • Soul to Soul – Carmen Lundy (Afrasia) This is an album that is deeply, deeply drenched in soul and jazz. This is the type of album that perhaps Anita Baker would have made after Rapture if the corporate suits had left her alone. Carmen Lundy nails it. All. The. Way. It was clearly a personal project for Ms. Lundy as she wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 13 compositions and played all instruments on a basic tracks version of the album that she recorded before the final version. Her vocal performances are as rich, stunning and sexy as they have ever been and the mood is never less than sumptuous. Guest stars such as Patrice Rushen, Geri Allen, Warren Wolf and Randy Brecker add the perfect grace notes. Jazz fans should own this album. Adult R & B fans should own this album. Hell, everyone should own this album.
  • The Thought of You – Otis Brown III (Blue Note) Drummer Otis Brown III is one of the bright young talents in jazz today. You’ve probably heard him, even if you didn’t know it as he has played and recorded with Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding, Terence Blanchard and many others. For his debut album, Mr. Brown has enlisted the help of some of the other bright young cats, such as Robert Glasper, bassist Ben Williams, trumpeter Keyon Harrold and vocalist Gretchen Parlato; with labelmate and Glasper bassist  Derrick Hodge as co-producer. The music is strong, modern straight ahead jazz with decidedly spiritual overtones. Highlights include their reworking of a Shania Twain tune “You’re Still The One” with Ms. Parlato on vocals.Also check out “The Way (Truth & Life)” written by Brown and Glasper. It always excites me to hear the next generation playing jazz as they hear it because in spite of what some old fogeys say, these guys are the music’s future hope. Mr. Brown loves his jazz, he loves his family, he loves his wife and more than anything, he loves The Lord. And that’s alright by me.
  • Tiddy Boom – Michael Blake (Sunnyside) Michael Blake’s name was new to me before this album. But since I was quite familiar with all of his bandmates on this disc, I came in with fairly high expectations. They were exceeded. The Canadian born/New York based  tenor saxophonist was able to get this project off the ground thanks to a grant from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works program. It was conceived as a tribute of sorts to two of the earliest titans of the tenor, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. The compositions are all originals and though Blake does show a bit of Hawkins influence, his robust and hard swinging tone is all his own. This is thoughtful, intelligent jazz; well-played by all and more than worthy of multiple listens.
  • Wiring – Trio 3 & Vijay Iyer (Intakt) Trio 3 is back with another outstanding album featuring stellar work by a younger, forward thinking guest pianist. on last year’s Refraction – Breakin’ Glass, it was Jason Moran; this time Vijay Iyer does the honors. The results are a bit different but no less compelling. Oliver Lake’s earthy alto saxophone continues to do great things at that edge of the avant-garde. He delivers outside ideas with just enough melody to keep from losing those of us are not big fans of “free”.  Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille will always be as solid a bass/drums tandem as you will find anywhere. And their special guest, Mr. Iyer has established himself as one of the most intelligent jazz pianists around. In whatever scenario he is placed, he makes the music better.  

Tracks from all 25 albums in our 2014 Best Of list, may be heard on Curt’s Cafe Noir WebJazz radio, our free, streaming radio station, from now throughout January 2015. Click HERE to access the station.

For those who want to see our complete list of the Best 25 Jazz Albums of 2014, it is available in a previous post that you can view by clicking HERE.

May you all have a Happy, Healthy, Safe and Jazz Filled 2015. I will holler at y’all plenty of times in the next year about all things jazzy. Feel free to holler back, whenever you are so moved.

Until then, the jazz continues…

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Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 4 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2014 by curtjazz

michael deaseIn our penultimate look at our Best Jazz Albums of 2014, we have an artist who appears twice; once at the front of his familiar Afro-Latin Jazz Band and again as a part of a newly formed “super-group”. We also have a remarkable vocalist, who records far too infrequently, delivering another impressive album. A teacher-student pairing has borne fruit that is musically delicious. And a hardworking big band sideman takes the reins and shows how well he can perform when in the driver’s seat.

  • The Offense of the Drum – Arturo O’Farrill (Motema) The son of Afro-Cuban Jazz royalty produces his most eclectic album to date and in doing so, breathes a bit of freshness and excitement into a genre that has grown somewhat stale. Special guests such as harpist Edmar Castaneda (“Cuarto de Colores”) and saxophonist Donald Harrison (“Iko Iko”) light a fire. Then along comes pianist Vijay Iyer with a knotty piece (“The Mad Hatter”) to fan the flames further before spoken word artist “Chilo” and DJ Logic blow the roof off, on an anthem of Puerto Rican pride (“They Came”). Underneath it all, the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra keeps the pressure on, driving each guest and soloist to be at the top of their game. Give us more like this Arturo. Please! 
  • Promises to Burn – Janice Borla Group (Tall Grass)  Every few years, Janice Borla, IMO, one of the finest pure jazz voices alive, takes a break from her busy schedule of teaching, clinics and jazz camps to record a new album. In doing so, she reminds me of what I find so interesting about her artistry. There are many who can stand in front of a band and sing. Ms. Borla makes her voice an integral instrument in the band. Many singers use the appellation “voice” as an affectation, for Janice Borla it is a spot-on description. Oh yeah. In case you’re wondering, Promises to Burn is a terrific album. Ms. Borla and Co. take mostly unfamiliar instrumental works by jazz musicians such as Jack DeJohnette, Bob Mintzer and Joey Calderazzo and bring out their vocal best.  
  • The Puppeteers – The Puppeteers (Red) From 2006 through 2011, one of the best places in New York to check out jazz musicians as they tried out new ideas was Puppet’s Jazz Bar in Brooklyn. There, owner/drummer Jamie Affoumado and many other musicians found a more friendly environment than existed on most of the tough NYC club scene. It was also there that Mr. Affoumado first teamed with bassist Alex Blake, pianist Arturo O’Farrill and vibraphonist Bill Ware to jam. After the club’s closing, Mr. Affoumado teamed with attorney Dana Hall to form Puppet’s Records. The label’s first release is an album by the four musicians, who call themselves, appropriately, The Puppeteers. It is an auspicious debut, with each member of the collective contributing at least one tune and innumerable ideas, learned from all of their years on the scene working with  musical heavies from Randy Weston to Steely Dan to Jaco Pastorious and beyond. Their sound is definitively jazz but with the groups pedigree, there are strong notes of Afro-Latin, soul and even a little rock in the mix. Whatever it is, it works. Looking forward to what’s coming from Puppet Records and The Puppeteers.   
  • Questioned Answer – Brian Lynch & Emmet Cohen (Hollistic Music) Trumpet master Brian Lynch first met the young pianist Emmet Cohen on the 2011 Jazz Cruise, where Mr. Lynch was featured and Mr. Cohen was showcased with a trio from the U. of Miami, where he was an undergrad. As fate would have it, a few months later, Lynch became a trumpet professor at The U. They began to play and practice together on a regular basis as a duo, sharpening the musical bond that they had first recognized on the cruise. After about a year of shedding, they recorded this album, which was finally released this year, thanks to generous Kickstarter support. Consisting of duo and quartet (w/ Billy Hart and Boris Kozlov) performances, the album is another feather in the cap of Lynch, who just keeps getting better. It is also an exciting debut  by young Mr. Cohen who possesses great facility and an astuteness that is way beyond his years. I can hear what impressed Mr. Lynch so much on that cruise.
  • Relentless – Michael Dease (Posi-Tone) I should have seen this one coming but it still caught me by surprise.  Trombonist Michael Dease has done some fine work before, releasing four impressive albums as a leader of small groups. He has also been in the trombone sections of big bands led by Roy Hargrove, Jimmy Heath, Charles Tolliver and others, sometimes handling the arranging chores. So it’s a natural progression for this 32-year-old Georgian to take his best arrangements and put them on display in his own big band. The charts are complex, strong and they swing like mad. Mr. Dease has learned his lessons well and put them to good use. 

Tracks from all 25 albums in our 2014 Best Of list, may be heard on Curt’s Cafe Noir WebJazz radio, our free, streaming radio station, from now throughout January 2015. Click HERE to access the station.

Our next post will include the final five albums on our alphabetical list.

Until then, the jazz continues…

Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 3 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2014 by curtjazz

Brandee YoungerAs the luck of the alphabetical draw would have it, our third set of the Best Jazz Albums of 2014, comes from a group of artists who are through no fault of their own, relatively unknown. It includes a woman who plays an instrument rarely heard as a lead in jazz. On the other hand we have a woman who plays a very familiar instrument, though some are still shocked to find out that women in jazz play it. There is also a talented pianist who is now starting to make his mark with a larger ensemble; a saxophonist who took a few risks, with great rewards and finally, a bassist who has blended jazz with the music of his ancestral roots with impressive results.

  • Live @ the Breeding Ground – Brandee Younger 4Tet (CD Baby) – This album was released about two weeks after it was recorded. The audio mix is a bit rough in spots but the musical vibe is so raw and electric that I got goosebumps when I first heard it. Brandee Younger is making her mark playing an instrument that few in jazz have been able to successfully master; the harp. But like this unwieldy instrument’s most famous jazz master, the late Dorothy Ashby, Ms. Younger is doing it on her own terms and breaking new ground with every performance. Live @ the Breeding Ground is great because the tension between the naturally ethereal sound of  the lead instrument and the hard-driving R & B cum jazz groove, laid by the first call sidemen (big props to Dezron Douglas’ killer bass lines), kept me listening with a “stank face”. This is Brandee Younger’s first full length disc. Very impressive indeed.
  • A Meeting of Minds – Sheryl Bailey (Cellar Live) – Someone please tell Sheryl Bailey to stay off of my Best Of lists! A Meeting of Minds is her third straight album to land here. All jokes aside, Sheryl Bailey is one of the best guitarists in jazz today, period. On her last three albums, she has led a quartet with piano, a big band and now an organ trio. She has killed in every setting. Still, she is fairly obscure, even in the jazz world. A person who discovered her from my blog (and dug her) commented, “I didn’t know that there were any female jazz guitarists…” Anyway, A Meeting of Minds, has Sheryl Bailey, crushing it once again. This time with organ and drums. That should be all you need to know to get you excited.
  • Mother’s Touch – Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone) – 2014 was a strong year for big bands.  And pianist Orrin Evans’ Captain Black group is one of the most interesting of the newer groups. It’s not a traditional swing outfit. Though they can cook in a 4/4 setting, they really shine in the complex, post bop and modal space that their leader’s compositions place them. Their work on Evans’ “In My Soul” and Wayne Shorter’s “Water Babies” are the standouts on an extremely fine set.
  •  Music Appreciation – Chris Greene (Single Malt) – Yeah!!! That was the word that escaped from my mouth repeatedly as I got my first listen to this 2 disc set from the Chicago (actually Evanston) based saxophonist. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Greene’s work for a number of years now and it has been exciting to listen as he developed his own voice. Consider Music Appreciation the announcement of his arrival. It’s kind of ballsy for an unheralded artist to drop a two disc set but  Greene and Co. more than justify the decision by playing a strong mix of originals and covers; taking some very interesting risks in the process, such as “Equinox” as a laid back reggae groove with soprano lead. Throughout it all, Mr. Greene and his longtime band deliver the goods, with the leader’s big toned tenor and calmly expressive soprano spurring everyone else on.  Green demonstrates that he can handle the ballads and the flag wavers with equal aplomb.  Let me say it one more time: Yeah!!!  

 

  • New Song – Omer Avital (Motema) – Mr. Avital, a bassist who has been a top sideman on the New York scene for a number of years, is an Israeli with Yemenite and Moroccan roots. His Mizrahi heritage, its folk songs and its rhythms  are all over this rich and musically satisfying set. Avital’s compositions are the star. He has created melodies that are authentic, moving and dare I say it, grooving. And thankfully, he has, in his working group, a quintet of musicians who understand the music and present it with the right mix of jazz sensibility and Middle Eastern Soul. The front line of Avishai Cohen on trumpet and Joel Frahm on tenor is a good as any working in jazz today. New Song is an intelligent album that also knows how to have a good time. 

Tracks from all 25 albums in our 2014 Best Of list, may be heard on Curt’s Cafe Noir WebJazz radio, our free, streaming radio station, from now through January 2015. Click HERE to access the station.

Our next post will include albums 16 – 20 on our alphabetical list.

Until then, the jazz continues…

Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 2 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , on December 27, 2014 by curtjazz

Somi - The Lagos Music SalonThe second post in the Best of 2014 series includes a look at recent albums from two of the best trumpet players under 40 in jazz today. We also have a disc from a veteran piano great who has overcome a tremendous amount of personal adversity to continue to produce world-class music. There is a hip drum master who has teamed with a jam band king on a mix of outside leaning originals with unexpected covers. Finally, there is a vocalist who sought to get in touch with her roots and in so doing, found musical excellence.

  • Face Forward, Jeremy – Jeremy Pelt (HighNote) – While some of his contemporaries have been grabbing the headlines, Jeremy Pelt has been quietly amassing an impressive and diverse résumé consisting of some of the more compelling jazz performances of this brief century. Though his recorded performances have mostly leaned toward the mainstream, Pelt has of late begun to delve into the fusion side of his persona with musically satisfying results. I always get the sense that Mr. Pelt is seeking; looking to bring a fresh perspective to his projects. As look back at his catalog as a leader, which now stands at a dozen albums, I realized that each of his records was in some way different from the last. And his latest album, Face Forward, Jeremy is no exception. (See our full review from Jazz Inside Magazine HERE)
  • Floating – Fred Hersch Trio (MRI) – While I’ve always greatly respected Fred Hersch as an artist, I admit that I haven’t always loved his recordings. That said, Floating is my favorite Fred Hersch album, to date. The easy rapport between Mr. Hersch and his trio mates (John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums), the interesting re-imaginings of a couple of standards mixed in among top drawer originals and the overall peaceful but not languid vibe made this an album I returned to many times over the course of the year.
  • Gathering Call - Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski (Palmetto) – One thing that I’ve always loved about Matt Wilson is that he makes serious music with an underlying wink. You gotta love a cat that will cover a relatively obscure Ellington track (“You Dirty Dog”), next to a recent Beyoncé hit (“If I Were a Boy”) and manage to play them both without irony. Medeski fits right in among Wilson’s usually pianoless group and sounds as if he has been there for years. The music flirts with the outer edges of convention but like a great roller coaster, pulls you back just before you go over the edge. Gathering Call is a fun trip.  
  • Im.Pro.Vise (Never Before Seen) – Sean Jones (Mack Avenue) – On this album, Sean Jones continues to do what he does best; turn out solid, hard swinging post bop jazz in the tradition of Miles’ last great quartet, which by extension also places him in the company of his LCJO mentor, Wynton Marsalis. While others have played in this vibe before, Mr. Jones does it with an elan that few of his contemporaries have, which separates this album from the pack. And the interplay between Jones and his longtime piano partner Orrin Evans is virtually telepathic.  Im.Pro.Vise (Never Before Seen) is a terrific live in studio blowing session that crackles with the energy of a great club set.
  • The Lagos Music Salon – Somi (OKeh) – Born in Illinois to Ugandan and Rwandan parents, Somi, an elegant, captivating and criminally underheard vocalist decided after her father’s death, to spend 18 months living in Lagos, Nigeria. The result is this stunning album, which gives us a mix of various African musical styles, American Jazz and R & B. The guest appearances by Angelique Kidjo, Common and Ambrose Akinmusire are perfectly placed. The storytelling, the intoxicating beats and the memorable compositions make Lagos Music Salon an indelible album. It’s without a doubt, the best of Somi’s career.

The next post, Part III, will cover albums 11 – 15 in our alphabetical “Best Of” list.

Until then, the jazz continues…

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