Album Reviews – A Sack Full of Sax

Posted in CD Reviews, curtjazz radio, Uncategorized, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on March 11, 2019 by curtjazz

Our first review post of the year, features four new albums from veteran saxophonists who should all, be better known than they are. Start to right that wrong, by picking up these projects, which are all recommended.

Chris Greene Quartet – Playspace (Single Malt)

The native of Evanston, IL has spent most of his career close to home, which means the Chicago jazz scene. Readers of this blog are aware of my fondness for his sound, indicated by multiple appearances of Mr. Greene’s albums on my year end “Best of” lists. On his twelfth album as a leader, Greene gives us more of what his best qualities – that full bodied, gritty, tenor attack and a surprisingly rich tone, when he switches to soprano.  Playspace finds Greene and the CGQ in a deeper soul jazz vein than usual, and I loved every minute of it. “The Crossover Appeal/Uno Mas”, locks into the pocket and doesn’t let go, with Marc Piane’s electric bass setting the stage and Greene getting into a sweaty sax duel with guest star Marquel Jordan. A Latin reading of Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil”, is surprisingly effective, with drummer Steve Corley taking center stage with a relentless groove and a killer solo. “Blues for Dr. Fear”, which appeared in a studio version, on 2017’s Boundary Issues, is back and funkier than ever, with Damian Espinosa’s cool keys weaving around Greene’s tough tenor. Playspace is another winning album from one of the true working groups in jazz today. Looks like we’re not going to get them out of the Windy City, y’all, so we’ll have to make the trip there, to experience in person, what we hear on this disc.

Nick Hempton – Night Owl (Triple Distilled)

Nick Hempton, who has called New York home since 2004, announces his intention from the first notes of this album. This a truly greasy session, influenced by the organ dates led by Stanley Turrentine, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt and so many of their brethren, in the dives and after-hours clubs of the Big Apple, since the 50’s. He has assembled the perfect cast for the date: Peter Bernstein on guitar, Kyle Kohler on organ, and Fukushi Tainaka on drums. These cats have all logged many hours, backing up similar dates and they inspire Mr. Hempton to lay down the most soulful playing that I’ve ever heard from him. Most of the tracks are Hempton originals but they perfectly capture that long-ago vibe. Mr. Hempton switches between the alto and the tenor without missing a beat and is equally effective on each horn. The standout tracks are the Latin-tinged “I Remember Milady’s”, with Hempton getting a nice assist from Bernstein; “After You’ve Gone”, with Hempton’s alto, recalling ‘Sweet Lou’, during his Blue Note heyday and Koehler evincing a Big John Patton influence; and the nasty title track, which sounds like a lost track from one of those classic Jimmy Smith; Stanley Turrentine; Kenny Burrell dates. Buy this album, pour a glass of your favorite libation and put on your best “funky face”, because Night Owl is the real deal. 

Ralph Moore – Three Score (WJ3)

Hard to believe but it’s true. Three Score is Ralph Moore’s first album as a leader in nearly 25 years. He hadn’t left the scene during that time; Moore spent the better part of the last twenty years, on the West Coast, playing in Jay Leno’s Tonight Show band. He also was a sideman for Oscar Peterson, Roy Hargrove, Ray Brown, Tom Harrell and many other jazz greats; so, he was here; he just wasn’t leading any dates. He has returned with a stellar album, on the best boutique label in jazz – Willie Jones III’s WJ3. Joined by Eric Reed on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass and Jones on drums, Mr. Moore’s sound, which for me, always landed in the niche between John Coltrane and Joe Henderson, is as captivating as ever. The band of top tier pros doesn’t miss a beat and the compositions, mostly by Moore and Reed, are uniformly excellent. If you’re going to skip around, you must first check out “Another Time”, a Reed original, which opens the proceedings and throws down the hard bop gauntlet; the infectious, toe tapping (and too brief) “Donny” and the reflective title track, which features Mr. Moore’s finest solo on the date. But don’t sleep on the rest of the disc because it’s all choice. Ralph Moore is back, y’all and Three Score is one of the best albums that I’ve heard so far, in 2019.

Justin Robinson – At First Light (WJ3)

Justin Robinson spent most of the last 15 years, alongside the late, great Roy Hargrove on some of the trumpet master’s finest live shows and recordings. His work with Hargrove, often overshadowed the impressive music that Mr. Robinson released as a leader. At First Light, is his first album in five years and his second for WJ3 Records. He is backed by a solid group of young cats, that he has worked with over the years, with Hargrove and in other settings; Sharp Radway on piano, Ameen Saleem on bass and Jeremy Clemons on drums. Mr. Robinson lists Jackie McLean among his influences and it shows in his sound, as do elements of Bobby Watson. His tone is in your face and hard swinging. Robinson composed six of the project’s eight tunes and there are many standouts: “Lamentations for R and D” starts with a mournful, wandering theme, which leads unexpectedly to a light bossa beat, while Robinson, sticks with the mood that he set in the opening. It’s compelling, and Radway and Clemons are especially good here. The beautiful “Love Thy Father”, allows Robinson to fully access his melodic side. There’s also “Cool Blues”, the Charlie Parker classic, that seems to be a rite of passage for alto players. Mr. Robinson’s take is a very good one, true to the structure of Bird but adding his own flourishes during his solos. It is Parker meets JMac meets Robinson and I liked it a lot. At First Light is another fine release from WJ3 Records. We don’t hear from them often but when we do, it’s consistently first-rate.

There’s a lot more that’s new and good out there, to tell you about. We’ll be dropping more reviews shortly. In the meantime, you can hear tracks from these albums and more on CurtJazz Radio, on Live 365. We’re always on and always FREE.

Until then, the jazz (and BAM) continues…

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“Juan’s an ‘Old Problem'” (Duke fires Mingus)

Posted in Jazz in Charlotte, JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2019 by curtjazz

For those of you who weren’t with us in Charlotte on February 22-23, 2019; well, you missed some amazing jazz, as Neil Caine honored Charles Mingus. I was fortunate enough to be the MC for the weekend and in that capacity, tell a few stories related to one of the greatest bass players in the history of jazz. Due to time constraints, I only made passing mention to one of my favorites – one from Mingus’ fascinating autobiography, Beneath the Underdog. I did promise to post the story in full, because it is a classic.

Charles Mingus idolized Duke Ellington from his youth. He always considered the Duke to be one of his greatest musical influences. So it had to be a thrill for Mingus, when, in 1953, he was hired to fill the bass chair in the Ellington Orchestra. It was a short-lived honor, however, as Mingus, who was known for his irascibility, almost as much as his prowess on the bass, almost immediately butted heads with Ellington’s famed valve trombonist, Juan Tizol (the composer of “Caravan”).

The “disagreement” was so heated, that Ellington, who almost never terminated anyone from his band, felt that someone had to go and that someone, was Charles Mingus.

Mingus gives an account of his firing, in his autobiography. Over the ensuing years, some have questioned the veracity of parts, or all, of Mingus’ version of the facts but it is so entertaining and, for those who knew Ellington, so plausible, that it has become the accepted account. Below is that story. Please note that Mingus wrote much of the book in the second person, and we will not make any revisions to his preference:

Tizol wants you to play a solo he’s written where bowing is required. You raise the solo an octave, where the bass isn’t too muddy. He doesn’t like that and he comes to the room under the stage where you’re practicing at intermission and comments that you’re like the rest of the niggers in the band, you can’t read. You ask Juan how he’s different from the other niggers and he states that one of the ways he’s different is that he is white. So you run his ass upstairs. You leave the rehearsal room, proceed toward the stage with your bass and take your place and at the moment Duke brings down the baton for “A-Train” and the curtain of the Apollo Theatre goes up, a yelling, whooping Tizol rushes out and lunges at you with a bolo knife. The rest you remember mostly from Duke’s own words in his dressing room as he changes after the show.

“Now, Charles,” he says, looking amused, putting Cartier links into the cuffs of his beautiful handmade shirt, “you could have forewarned me—you left me out of the act entirely! At least you could have let me cue in a few chords as you ran through that Nijinsky routine. I congratulate you on your performance, but why didn’t you and Juan inform me about the adagio you planned so that we could score it? I must say I never saw a large man so agile—I never saw anybody make such tremendous leaps! The gambado over the piano carrying your bass was colossal. When you exited after that I thought, ‘That man’s really afraid of Juan’s knife and at the speed he’s going he’s probably home in bed by now.’ But no, back you came through the same door with your bass still intact. For a moment I was hopeful you’d decided to sit down and play but instead you slashed Juan’s chair in two with a fire axe! Really, Charles, that’s destructive. Everybody knows Juan has a knife but nobody ever took it seriously—he likes to pull it out and show it to people, you understand. So I’m afraid, Charles—I’ve never fired anybody—you’ll have to quit my band. I don’t need any new problems. Juan’s an old problem, I can cope with that, but you seem to have a whole bag of new tricks. I must ask you to be kind enough to give me your notice, Mingus.”

The charming way he says it, it’s like he’s paying you a compliment. Feeling honored, you shake hands and resign.

[Bottom photo; L to R] Your humble blogger; Neal Caine; Will Campbell; Annalise Stalls; Ocie Davis; (not pictured – Orlando Fiol)

And that’s the way it happened, according to Charles Mingus. And who are we, to doubt him. Thanks again to the fantastic musicians, who made Mingus proud, through their efforts in The Jazz Room last weekend: Annalise Stalls; Will Campbell; Orlando Fiol; Ocie Davis and of course, Neal Caine.

Until the next time, the jazz continues.

Who’s Hazel Scott? (Unsung Women of Jazz #11)

Posted in Unsung Women of Jazz, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , on February 20, 2019 by curtjazz

I must admit, it did my jazzy little heart good to hear Alicia Keys give a shout out to Hazel Scott during her impressive dual piano stint on the 61st Grammy Awards. As soon as she sat down between the two keyboards, I thought of Ms. Scott and her scene in the 1943 film The Heat’s On which clearly was Ms. Keys’ inspiration.

“The Heat’s On” [Dual piano comes in the last 1:30]

I’ve been an admirer of Ms. Scott’s for many years. Both for her piano prowess (though she usually only played one at a time) and for her willingness to take a stand for herself, as a black woman, even though it cost her considerably in her career, at a time when women would generally not do such a thing.

I first became aware of Hazel Scott, when as a teenager, I was causally watching the TV soap opera “One Life to Live”, with my mother, who was a huge fan. There was a wedding scene on the show between the two major black characters, Ed (played by the magnificent Al Freeman, Jr.) and Carla (Ellen Holly). Black love was very rare on television in that day, so it caught my eye. When this regal looking woman sat at the piano to play and sing, my mom says to our neighbor, who had stopped by to watch, “That’s Hazel Scott, ain’t it?” The neighbor watched closely for a few seconds and said “Yeah, that sure is. I haven’t seen her in a long time!”. I was struck by their excitement over this woman, so I asked. “Who’s Hazel Scott?”. My mom’s brief explanation (I was interrupting her “stories” – a cardinal sin), was that Hazel Scott was a singer, who used to be married to Adam Clayton Powell. I decided not to push it, lest I be banished.

“I Dood It”, with Red Skelton

I filed the info away, until I got to college a few years later and a real interest in jazz had taken hold. Here again, was the name Hazel Scott, accompanied by a striking album cover photo. The album was called Relaxed Piano Moods. She was leading a session, with Charles Mingus on bass and Max Roach on drums. By then, I knew Mingus and Roach pretty well. I figured if they were on this date, she must have something to say… Yes, she did. She was classically trained with a jazz style influenced by James P. Johnson’s stride and Ellington’s swing. The bop based backing of Mingus and Roach was a little new to her but she held her own. Relaxed Piano Moods is a good album.

So, who is Hazel Scott? She was born in Trinidad, in 1920. Her family moved to Harlem, when she was four. She was a piano prodigy, who was accepted to Julliard at age eight. By age fifteen she was opening for Count Basie and hosting her own radio show. By age eighteen, her classical and jazz hybrid piano style was packing them in at New York’s first integrated nightclub, Cafe Society.

By WWII, her talent, vivacious personality and beauty, had caught the attention of Hollywood. She was invited out West for screen tests and lit up the screen. But Ms. Hazel Scott knew her worth and her power. She was a civil rights activist from the beginning and the pianist/actress, by now in her early twenties, flatly refused any film role that she felt would cast her in a degrading light. She would not play a maid. She had riders in her film contracts, which gave her final approval, over her screen appearances and costumes. On the music circuit, her swinging classics, had made Hazel a national sensation, pulling in what would be in 2019, over $1,100,000 a year, for her club work alone.

In Hollywood, she was also quite popular. Her roles were never large, she usually was singing and playing piano but she was always gorgeous, dignified and elegant – a nascent feminist and an early model of black pride. In addition to The Heat’s On, with Mae West, she appeared in I Dood It, directed by Vicente Minelli; with Red Skelton; Rhapsody in Blue, with Robert Alda and Something to Shout About, with Don Ameche, among other films. Her Hollywood career came to an abrupt end, after a falling out with the all-powerful Columbia Pictures president, Harry Cohn, over a costume that she felt was stereotypical and demeaning. Cohn wanted black women, seeing their husbands off to war, to be dressed in dirty clothes with messy hair, while their white counterparts were dressed to the nines. Scott stood her ground, on behalf of herself and the rest of the black “war brides”. The production was shut down for three days. Ms. Scott won the battle, but Cohn vowed that she would not work again in Hollywood for the rest of his life. A vow that he kept.

With Charles Mingus on bass

She was also a staunch anti-segregationist. At a time when black entertainers were expected to perform in clubs that would not welcome them as patrons, or if so, they were shunted off into separate parts of the venue, Hazel Scott would have no part of it. She would not perform in any club that did not have integrated seating. She told Time Magazine “Why would anyone come to hear me, a Negro and refuse to sit beside someone just like me?” She was literally escorted out of the city of Austin, TX, by Texas Rangers, for refusing to play in front of a segregated audience. She and her traveling companion, were refused service at a restaurant in Pasco, WA, in 1949, because of the color of their skin. Scott successfully sued the restaurant, which caused challenges to discrimination laws throughout the state and changes to Washington State laws within a few years.

The year was 1950. The new medium of television was in its infancy. A lot of work in the early days was being done in New York. By now, Scott was married, to the legendary flamboyant minister and congressman, from Harlem, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. She was also mother to a young son, Adam III. Staying close to home was a better option. The fledgling DuMont network offered Hazel her own show. When in premiered, in July 1950, The Hazel Scott Show, became the first network TV show, to be hosted by a black woman. Her show aired Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 7:45 pm – 8 pm (they had 15 minute shows in those days). It was a musical program, that featured her and her guests performing various musical numbers. It received positive reviews and it looked like a hit that was set for a long run. However, the early days of television were hampered by a rampant “Red Scare”, in which artists were accused of being Communist Party members. Ms. Scott, was not then and never was a Communist. However, her no-nonsense manner and her controversial husband, along with her color, made her a prime target of the red baiters. Her name appeared in the rag, “Red Channels”. She voluntarily appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in mid-September 1950, and vehemently denied Communist Party membership. It didn’t matter. The sponsors ran for the hills and The Hazel Scott Show was cancelled on September 29, 1950.

Hazel Scott and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

By the late 50’s the Red Scare had affected Ms. Scott’s career. Her marriage to Powell, was also crumbling, due in large part to his philandering. To escape marital troubles, racism and political stupidity, Ms. Scott moved to Paris, in 1958. She then divorced Adam Clayton Powell in 1960 and married Swiss comedian Ezio Bedin, in 1961. They divorced amicably a few years later. By 1967, Scott, struggled to make a living in Europe, despite speaking seven languages. The passage of the Civil Rights Act, also meant that life had, legally, improved in the U.S. It was time for Hazel Scott, and her son, to go home.

Hazel Scott worked sporadically, over the last 15 years of her life, including the two episode OLTL gig, that I mentioned earlier. Sadly, she passed away from cancer, in October 1981. She was 61 years old.

If a simple shout out from Alicia Keys, will lead to a renaissance for this brilliant, overlooked, American artist and pioneer, I am all for it. Not too many of her recordings are currently in print but I will list a few below. There was also a definitive biography, written by Karen Chilton, in 2008.

Hazel Scott – Partial Discography

Relaxed Piano Moods (with Mingus and Roach) [OJC]- her best album. Short in playing time but worthwhile. Get it while it’s still available.

‘Round Midnight [Fresh Sound] – An after hours style, easy listening album.

Hazel Scott 1946-47 [Classics] – a nice overview of her style, combining short classical solos and swing jazz pieces. Recording quality is spotty. OOP and hard to find.

The Book

Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist, from Cafe Society to Hollywood to HUAC – by Karen Chilton; September 2008; University of Michigan Press

2019 Jazz Grammys Overview: Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Posted in 2019 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2019 by curtjazz

BEST JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM

In the second of the two biggest jazz categories, we have a race between a great saxophonist who is finally earning a little recognition; two of the finest pianists working today; a respected veteran who is still getting it done and a true legend, admired and respected by all.

The nominees are:

DIAMOND CUT
Tia Fuller

The crackle from the moment her alto enters…twenty seconds into the first tune (“In the Trenches”), I had that feeling that this album was going to be a great one. Ms. Tia Fuller has been on the scene for over a decade. She has paid the bills for a while, working with Beyonce’s road band, but whenever she steps into the studio under her own name, she is an unapologetic jazz player. She hadn’t released a project in six years, prior to Diamond Cut. She has been missed. This project is different in many ways, from her previous four albums; for one thing, it is produced by the amazing Terri Lyne Carrington. For another, there’s no piano. Guitarist Adam Rogers handles the chordal duties. And, there are two different bass/drum duos, splitting the work; James Genus and Bill Stewart are one set and the other two, you may have heard of: Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. As for Ms. Fuller’s sound, clearly, the Berklee professor was ready to take everyone to school. She masters what she needs to be in that moment; she is at turns, gritty, soulful and even a bit on the outside. Diamond Cut is a very strong album and Ms. Fuller deserves her first Grammy nomination for it. However, this category also features someone who has been making great music since before Tia was born. Most likely, it will be his night.


LIVE IN EUROPE
Fred Hersch Trio

This Fred Hersch album has been nominated for two Grammys. The odds of Hersch winning either are fairly long, despite the fact that it is another excellent disc, from one of the finest pianists of our time. What is the problem? Part of it may be timing; Mr. Hersch seems to often run up against a hot project that has caught the attention of the jazz public and media. When this happens, other master musicians, like Hersch, get lost in the noise. Another issue may be his steady excellence. Hersch is not flashy. Even though he wrote an interesting and well received autobiography in 2017, and he has had some fascinating life issues over the past few years, he still generally, flies under the radar. Fred Hersch is so uniformly good, that he is taken for granted. He has been nominated for 14 Grammys. Hopefully, the voters will wise up soon. This year, I don’t think it will be in this category.


SEYMOUR READS THE CONSTITUTION!
Brad Mehldau Trio

The story behind this album’s title, is as interesting as it should be. Apparently, Mr. Mehldau has a dream, in which the late, Oscar winning actor, Seymour Phillip Hoffman, was reading the U.S. Constitution. The tune that Mehldau heard, accompanying Hoffman’s voice, became the inspiration for the title track. Despite the odd title, Seymour Reads the Constitution!, is the most accessible album that I’ve heard from Brad Mehldau, in quite a while. The trio swings hard through a collection of originals, standards, minor jazz classics and Beach Boys tunes (yes, you heard right), with gusto and without condescension. Like Hersch, Mehldau is double nominated for this album (his 9th, without a win, so far). It’s fine work but he’s likely to run into a “Shorter” wall here. In the Best Instrumental Solo category, however, he’s got a good shot.


STILL DREAMING
Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley & Brian Blade

I can’t believe that the saxophone wunderkind of the 90’s, Joshua Redman, has just turned 50. I can believe that he is still evolving and getting stronger at his craft, more than 25 years after he first floored us jazzheads with his debut album. Though he is the son of a famed avant-gardist, his early years were deeply in the tradition (as I’m sure Warner Bros. wanted it). On this latest album, which garnered his seventh nomination, he pays tribute to his dad, Dewey, and Old and New Dreams, a group that Dewey played in, from the mid 70’s through the mid 80’s. That group, which also included legends Charlie Haden and Don Cherry, itself paid homage to their mentor, the patron saint of avant-garde jazz, Ornette Coleman. Still Dreaming is excellent, start to finish – terrific compositions and it stretches the boundaries of form, without completely breaking them. It is similar to Christian McBride’s New Jawn album, also from last year. I confess that I only gave this album a passing listen upon its release, but now that I’ve returned to it, I truly dig it, a lot. Perhaps it should have been on my Best of 2018 list. However, we are talking Grammy here, folks. Redman has never won one. He is a respected veteran and his star has stretched outside of the insular jazz world at times, over the past quarter century. But, due to the presence of our next nominee, I’m afraid that his wait is likely to extend beyond this weekend.


EMANON
The Wayne Shorter Quartet

Wayne Shorter is a true musical legend. He one of the greatest jazz saxophonists and composers of our time. In addition to his work as a leader, he has been an integral part of three of the greatest groups in jazz history. He has created transcendent musical art in every decade since the early 1960s. He has been nominated for a Grammy 21 times and has, so far, won 10, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2015. He is also now 85 years old. So no one would blame Wayne Shorter, if he were to simply sit back, at this point and collect all of the accolades that are due to him, no one would be upset. So what does he do? He creates a symphonic masterpiece and releases it, in an epic three CD (God only knows how many LP) set, that includes a graphic novel. These new and challenging compositions are performed by a symphony orchestra and then live, by his current working quartet! Emanon is a brilliant work of musical art (I confess that I have not yet seen the graphic novel). I hope that Mr. Shorter has more in him and keeps sharing it with us, for at least another 20 years. If, as some have said, this is his final work, then it is a towering valedictory. Will he win this Grammy? Ummm, Yeah.

As for the opinions and unscientific predictions:

Should have been nominated:

Origami Harvest – Ambrose Akinmusire; Both Directions at Once (The Lost Album) – John Coltrane; The Future is Female – Roxy Coss

Who should win: Wayne Shorter

Who will win: Wayne Shorter

I would not be disappointed to see them win: Tia Fuller

2019 Jazz Grammys Overview: Best Jazz Vocal Album

Posted in 2019 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2019 by curtjazz

BEST JAZZ VOCAL ALBUM

An eclectic group in this category, this year. It includes two past winners, who must be considered the favorites. There is also a veteran performer, a member of a legendary musical family, who is still seeking his first Grammy in a career that has spanned over half a century.

The nominees are:

MY MOOD IS YOU
Freddy Cole

Truth be told, I am rooting like mad for Freddy Cole to win this Grammy. But realistically, I don’t think that it will happen. Though he has done some very fine work over his 55-year career as a recording artist, he has, like it or not, always been in the massive shadow of his legendary older brother. At 87, this is his fourth Grammy nomination, all of them since 2000. Why don’t I think he will win, even though he is clearly a sentimental favorite? In the jazz categories, Grammy has never been that sentimental, unless you are a virtual household name (Miles; Herbie; Chick; Rollins, etc.). And Mr. Cole is undeservedly still relatively obscure, outside of the jazz world. A lot of the voters are not going to know him. Musically, My Mood is You is very good but not great. At this point, the slight gravel in his baritone voice (which in his early days, was eerily like his brother’s), has become more pronounced. He will now often talk his way around phrases that he used to glide through. Still, he gives every young jazz and pop singer a master class in phrasing and interpretation, especially on the ballads. The poignant, “I’ll Always Leave the Door a Little Open”, ranks among the top 10 recorded performances, ever. Grammy, I want you to prove me wrong and give this award to Freddy Cole.


THE QUESTIONS
Kurt Elling

Kurt Elling has been nominated for 13 Grammys, winning in this category, in 2009, for his excellent Hartman/Coltrane tribute album.  I admired his work on The Questions, an album with a reflective, pop-rock undertone, on which he reimagines tunes by Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Jaco Pastorius, among others. There is impressive solo work by Branford Marsalis, who also co-produced and by the rising trumpet star, Marquis Hill. Again, this was an album, that personally, I admired but didn’t love. It is very well played and earnestly delivered, but I missed Elling’s casual swing and the wry humor that he brings to most of his work. This was by design and an artist of his stature is more than entitled to move outside of the box, when he chooses. Given his past win and his strong name recognition, he has solid chance of picking up Grammy number two on Sunday. I can see only one nominee beating him out.


THE SUBJECT TONIGHT IS LOVE
Kate McGarry With Keith Ganz & Gary Versace

This Kate McGarry’s second Grammy nomination. The first was ten years ago, in this same category. I’ve been a fan of Ms. McGarry and her easy going jazz/coffeehouse sound, since reviewing her 2007 album, The Target for Jazz Inside Magazine. This album, which was recorded with the backing of Keith Ganz on guitar/bass and Gary Versace on organ/accordion is beautifully intimate, as is quite appropriate on a work that deals with love, in all of its phases and forms. There is nothing sappy about the love songs here; this is a bright and fun work. Will it win a Grammy? Probably not. Even in the jazz world, indie projects rarely win the trophy, even if they are nominated, which is very unfortunate. So I absolutely suggest that you add this project to your collection but don’t expect to see them picking up the award.


IF YOU REALLY WANT
Raul Midón With the Metropole Orkest Conducted By Vince Mendoza

On this album, his second in a row to be nominated, Raul Midón steps fully into the pop-jazz territory that was owned by the late Al Jarreau, for the last 25 years of his illustrious career. He sounds like Jarreau, phrases like him and now, he has even recorded an album with Metropole Orkest, the Dutch powerhouse aggregation, that backed Jarreau on his last Grammy winning album, in 2012. Mr. Midón and this band were made for each other. Their big brassy sound wraps around his joyous tenor, like a glove. With a little more promotional push, this album will be a huge seller in the contemporary jazz market. It is filled with infectious hooks, punchy brass and Midón’s soaring vocals and “Al Con Salsa” scatting. However, in spite of all of that, I think Raul will go home empty handed, for the second year in a row. There is too much strong and better known competition. But this cat is going to hit paydirt soon, trust and believe.


THE WINDOW
Cécile McLorin Salvant

The defending champ in this category. Every one of her major label releases has been nominated for this award and the last two of them (For One to Love and Dreams and Daggers), have gone home winners. She is one of the most popular traditional jazz singers on the scene today, she has strong name recognition, she is a prodigiously gifted vocalist and you know what else? This album is damn good. For the most part, it’s just Ms. McLorin Salvant and the piano of Sullivan Fortner, having glorious conversations. Some were recorded in the studio and some in jazz’s cathedral; the Village Vanguard. She covers everyone, from Stevie Wonder to Bessie Smith to Leonard Bernstein and beyond. But stay until the end, because McLorin Salvant and Fortner are joined by the marvelous Melissa Aldana, on tenor saxophone, for a stunning version of Jimmy Rowles’ jazz classic “The Peacocks”. Yeah. If she doesn’t make it 3 out of 4, it will be a pretty big upset.

The comments and unscientific predictions:

Should have been nominated (and I feel very strongly about it): The Genius of Eddie Jefferson – Alan Harris; Some of That Sunshine – Karrin Allyson; Unbroken – Tiffany Austin

Should Win: Cécile McLorin Salvant

Will Win: Cécile McLorin Salvant

I Will Be Thrilled if They Do Win: Freddy Cole

2019 Jazz Grammys Overview: Best Improvised Jazz Solo

Posted in 2019 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2019 by curtjazz

We’re about a week out from the 2019 Grammys, which will be held on Sunday February 10. As is now customary, the jazz awards will be presented during the Premiere Ceremony, which is streamed live before the televised show.

As is also now relatively customary, I like to take a look at each of the jazz category nominees and make my comments and totally unscientific (but usually accurate) predictions.

Lets start with the category that is closest to Record of the Year, for jazz. “Best Improvised Jazz Solo”

The nominees are:


SOME OF THAT SUNSHINE
Regina Carter, soloist
Track from: Some Of That Sunshine (Karrin Allyson)

First off, the fact that the album that this track comes from, Karrin Allyson’s Some of That Sunshine, is not nominated for the Jazz Vocal Album Grammy, is a crime, in itself. Nevertheless, I’m happy to see it get some recognition, through violinist Regina Carter, doing her usual impeccable work in a solo as a guest on the easily swinging title track. First with a joyous pizzicato, followed by bowing, and then trading fours with a scatting Ms. Allyson in the fade-out, Ms. Carter’s work is the cherry on top a beautiful musical sundae. Due to the lack of name recognition and the fact that this is an indie production, it is not likely to take home the trophy but I would not be at all disappointed if it did.

There is no clip of Regina Carter performing “Some of That Sunshine”, but here’s a nice one of Karrin Allyson & her trio, swingin’ it at WBGO


DON’T FENCE ME IN
John Daversa, soloist
Track from: American Dreamers: Voices Of Hope, Music Of Freedom (John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists)

I love the concept of this album, on which trumpeter John Daversa’s Big Band is comprised mostly of “Dreamers” young people who came to the United States as children under DACA, and now face potential deportation as adults due the current political nonsense. That said, I don’t love this track, nor am I fond of Mr. Daversa’s performance on it. I get why this old Gene Autry tune was re-purposed for this particular album (the irony is quite rich) but the arrangement is messy and unfocused. I think this track arrived in this category on the coattails of the album, American Dreamers, which is also nominated for the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Grammy. While I wish them the best, I think that there are far more deserving nominees.

WE SEE: Fred Hersch – Soloist

Track from the album Live in Europe (Fred Hersch Trio)

Fred Hersch, is one of our generation’s finest jazz pianists. Because of this, he has earned 14 Grammy nominations, over the course of his career. Fred Hersch also happens to during a time in which cats named Corea, Hancock and Shorter, among others, are still actively working and recording. As much as we hate to admit it, in the Grammy world, your chances of winning are directly proportional to your name recognition. “We See” is a terrific performance, of the Monk classic tune, off of a very fine Hersch album, Live in Europewhich is also nominated in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category. Without any of those name recognition giants around to suck up the oxygen and with 14 nominations to get his name into the minds of the voters, I’d say that Mr. Hersch has a legitimate shot at winning in this category. The only one potentially in his way, is our next nominee.

DE-DAH
Brad Mehldau, soloist
Track from: Seymour Reads The Constitution! (Brad Mehldau Trio)

Brad Mehldau has been on the jazz scene for over two decades, as a sideman, leader and soloist but like Fred Hersch, he has also been overshadowed by the cats with greater name recognition. Like Hersch, he also has a large number of Grammy nominations (nine), without any hardware to show for it. This nominated track was also written by a great jazz composer, albeit one who has never gotten the recognition he deserved (Elmo Hope), and the album from which the track is pulled, Seymour Reads the Constitution!, is also nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. So in this tight race, I give the nod to Mehldau. It’s a longer track, which gives Mr. Mehldau more of a chance to stretch out and show his considerable skills. It also swings in an ingratiating manner, which will make it easier on the ears of a potential voter, who may be inexperienced in jazz idioms. I’m not surprised if it goes either way but I expect it to be Brad Mehldau, by a nose.

CADENAS
Miguel Zenón, soloist
Track from: Yo Soy La Tradición (Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet)

Another of our double nominees competing in this category Mr. Zenón has been making some incredible music over the last decade, much of it celebrating his Puerto Rican heritage and a rich musical tradition, beyond the popular rhythms of salsa. On the album Yo Soy La Tradición , as well as on this selection, “Cadenas”, Zenón weaves the sound of his alto sax, into, through and around the rich colorings of the Spektral [String] Quartet. This is the most different and musically compelling of the nominated pieces, by far. There is something new to discover on each of the dozen or so times, that I have heard it. The album itself, is nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album, bringing the career total of Mr. Zenón’s nominations to seven. It would be a deserving winner in either category but sadly, I don’t think it will happen.

My unscientific comments and predictions

Should have been nominated (but wasn’t): “Females are Strong as Hell”; Roxy Coss, soloist; Track from The Future is Female; “Untitled Original 11383 (Take 1)”; John Coltrane, soloist; Track from Both Directions at Once [The Lost Album] “DPW”; Kenny Barron, soloist; Track from Concentric Circles

Should Win: Miguel Zenon

Will Win: Brad Mehldau

It would be nice if they did win: Regina Carter/Karrin Allyson

A “Blowin’ Session” in the QC

Posted in Jazz in Charlotte, JazzLives!, Unsung Saxophone Masters, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2019 by curtjazz

Jazz lore is filled with stories of the “Blowing Session”; where the great instrumentalists who played the same instrument, would gather on a stage and demonstrate their prowess. Usually this would begin with the basic head arrangement of a well known standard and from there, the combatants would take things to the next level, in their solos, each vying to outdo the last. Often, these were friendly completions; other times, if some of the cats had “beef” with each other, this could be a battle nearly to the death.

Sometimes, the cats would take these battles to the studio. There, we would get a mixed bag; the constraints of studio time costs and realizing that the results would have to fit onto at least one side of an LP, could dampen some of the fancier flights. However, we still have some classic and near classic recordings, and many of these, to no surprise, involved tenor saxophone players. I’ll drop a list of some of the best at the end.

Right now, you need to know about a little bit of the revival of that tradition that will be happening in Charlotte, NC on January 17 – 19, in Jazz Arts Initiative’s THE JAZZ ROOM. We will have have some of the finest tenor players from the area, coming together to do battle. Each will appear with our all-star rhythm section (Lovell Bradford – piano; Aaron Gross – bass; Malcolm Charles – drums) and in various combinations on stage together. The musical sparks are bound to fly!

Juan Rollan

Over the weekend, our lineup will change from night to night and it includes the following sax masters: Chad Eby; Greg Jarrell; David Lail; Brian Miller; Juan Rollan; Annalise Stalls and PhillipWhack

Chad Eby

The accompanying clips are samples of a few of our tenor masters, smokin’ their way through some of their prior gigs. Now, image what we will get when we bring all of these ingredients together.

Phillip Whack

Two sets nightly, from Thursday, January 17 – Saturday, January 19, means you will have six opportunities to be a part of JAI’s Tenor Madness. Thursday and Friday, the times are 6:00 pm and 8:15 pm; Saturday sets are at 7:00 pm and 9:15 pm. THE JAZZ ROOM is located at The Stage Door Theater at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. I will be your MC for all sets but please don’t let that stop you from coming!

Annalise Stalls

Tickets are a true bargain! $14 in advance and $16 at the door, until there are no more. To get them, go to CarolinaTix.org

For further info about Jazz Arts Initiative, visit their website thejazzarts.org

Oh yeah, I did promise a list of recordings that include some great tenor battles. Here are five to get you started, in no particular order:

Boss Tenors – Gene Ammons & Sonny Stitt [Verve]

A Blowin’ Session – Johnny Griffin (w/ John Coltrane & Hank Mobley) [Blue Note]

Tenor Conclave – Al Cohn; Zoot Sims; Mobley; Coltrane [Prestige/OJC]

Tenor Madness – Sonny Rollins (w/Coltrane on the title track) [Prestige/OJC]

Alone Together – Tough Young Tenors (Walter Blanding Jr.; James Carter; Herb Harris; Tim Warfield; Todd Williams) [Antilles/Verve]