Best Jazz Albums of 2009 – Part 2

Another Baker’s Dozen of ’09 Jazz

 Hi y’all! 

Thanks for your overwhelming response to my original best jazz albums of 2009 list.  As I wrote in that post, 2009 was an unusually strong year for great jazz albums, for a variety of reasons.  When I wrote about those first 12 discs, I could never get past a gnawing feeling that the list was incomplete.  Yes, those were 12 of the most outstanding jazz releases of the year, IMHO, but there was still a lot of exceptional music that had gone unmentioned. So here’s an addendum to my first 2009 list; consisting of another 13 outstanding jazz releases from the past year. They are in alphabetical order, by album title:

  • Crossfire – Jim Snidero – This alto master just keeps turning out gem after gem and still, he’s relatively unknown. I have to admit, I just first heard of him a couple of years ago.  I’ve been making up for lost time listening to his back catalog and I haven’t heard a real dud yet. This latest one, a fairly low-key set, featuring some interesting support lines from guitarist Paul Bollenback, is another winner.
  • Dedicated to You – Kurt Elling – If you read some of my earlier writings in JazzImprov, you know that I haven’t always been a fan of Mr. Elling. But, he has grown on me rapidly over the last five or so years.  He stepped on to dangerous ground for me (and many other jazz fans), by doing this album, which is essentially, a tribute to one of the greatest jazz vocal albums of all time, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.  Elling walks this tightrope with the grace and skill of Philippe Petit. He manages to honor the original material, while adding enough of his own take on things, to avoid slavish recreation. His version of “It’s Easy to Remember”, which features a monologue about the meeting of Trane and Hartman, is a classic.
  • Esta Plena – Miguel Zenón – If jazz is to remain relevant in the second decade of the 21st century, there will have to be more efforts like this one; music that unabashedly experiments with fusing jazz traditions with indigenous musical styles of other cultures and generating something refreshing and new in the process. To refer to Esta Plena as simply “Latin Jazz” would be placing an unfair limitation on it. Alto saxophonist Zenón and his band mates have stretched the boundaries of both genres without breaking them and in the process, they have created an electrifying amalgam, that may stop “fusion” from being a dirty word.
  • Fortuna – Roni Ben-Hur – This Israeli guitarist and student of the great jazz master, Barry Harris, has learned many good lessons from his teacher. His warm bop-based lines swing like mad and are impossible to ignore.  His band on this date includes Rufus Reid, Lewis Nash and the late pianist Ronnie Matthews, in one of his final recordings. The tunes are a nice mix of standards, originals and fabulous covers of intricate melodies that pay tribute to Ben-Hur’s heritage.  If you haven’t heard of Mr. Ben-Hur before, “attention must be paid”. 
  • Merge – Chris Greene Quartet – Another artist that I first became familiar with through Twitter, saxophonist Greene, like many jazz artists of his generation wears his hip-hop influences like the comfortable part of his life experience that it is, and not like a momentary affectation.  So when he covers tunes associated with Madonna and Black Eyed Peas, right next to “All or Nothing at All” and “Out of Nowhere” it sounds as normal as a walk in the park; because for him, it is.  Greene is a very promising talent and Merge is a fun disc full of pleasantly surprising twists and turns. The jazz police may grumble, but those with an open mind will dig it.
  • Monk – Peter Bernstein – In the first “best of” list, I expressed a slight preference for Bobby Broom’s Monk tribute album over this one. Again, it was a slight preference, as this one is also a noteworthy and creative tribute to Monk by a very fine guitarist.  You can’t go wrong with either choice, so why choose.  Get them both and double your pleasure.
  • Mutual Admiration Society 2 Joe Locke & David Hazeltine Quartet – Ten years after their first session together, Locke and Hazeltine do it again.  Time has not diminished their partnership in the least.  The marvelous chemistry and exciting interplay from their first set is still very much in evidence and they have written some hot new tunes, including tributes to departed friends Tony Reedus and Buddy Montgomery. Piano and vibes together on the front line is no small undertaking, but these cats make it look easy.
  • New Strides – Jeb Patton – The pianist for the Heath Brothers and student of the late Roland Hanna, turned in a surprisingly strong outing on his second disc as a leader. From the hot opener “Billy”, to unexpected up-tempo renditions of “If Ever I Would Leave You” and “Estate”, Patton is full of surprises.  Plus, he does a smoking version of one of my favorite Heath compositions, Jimmy’s “Cloak and Dagger”, with Tootie sitting in on drums (Jimmy also does a turn on soprano on another tune).  Don’t sleep on young Mr. Patton; his future is very bright.
  • Oriental Express Akiko Tsuruga – Who’da thunk it!  One of the most promising heirs to the jazz organ throne is a little lady from Osaka, Japan. Akiko swings like Holmes, burns like Earland and screams like McDuff, sometimes within the same tune.  Now based in NYC, Tsuruga commands the B-3 with striking  authority and a raw power that I’ve heard from no organist alive today, other than Joey DeFrancesco and Tony Monaco.  This is her third album and she has gotten better with each one.  
  • Plays the Music of Ellington and Strayhorn – Grant Stewart – The big toned Toronto born tenor player has toiled in virtual obscurity for years. Maybe this disc will help to break him out.  The song selection is foolproof; his sidemen (Tardo Hammer, Joe Farnsworth and Paul Gill) are first-rate and Stewart is at the top of his game from start to finish.  If you love Duke and Billy or if you just love the sound of a robust, swinging tenor, this is a winner.
  • Pleased to Meet You – Hank Jones and Oliver Jones – This is one of those discs that makes you wonder why it took so long for it to happen.  Though the Joneses are no relation, they are both living masters of the jazz piano in North America. Hank, now in his early nineties, is an undisputed legend in this country and the world. However, 75-year-old Oliver, has been doing outstanding work for many years in Canada, without making a much of a dent on the U.S. jazz scene. The great Canadian jazz label Justin Time, brought them together and we should all be glad they did.  A mix of duo, solo and combo (w/bass and drums) selections, this album, which both men consider a tribute to their mutual friend, Oscar Peterson, should be a revelation for jazz piano fans.
  • Simply Put Jerry BergonziIn tribute to the title of this disc, I will only say the following: Bergonzi, another in the ever-growing line of outstanding, but inexplicably obscure tenor sax players, leads a quartet on 10 selections, including 7 originals and blows me away, again. 
  • Until I Met You – Melissa Morgan – This debut album from Ms. Morgan (not to be confused with the ‘80’s R&B singer) manages to set itself apart from the overwhelming crowd of female jazz singers. It stands out partially because of her intriguing voice, which is parts Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington and Norah Jones; and partially because of her “woman who knows” way with a song, which is remarkable for a vocalist who is not yet 30 years old.  With guest spots from other up and coming young stars, such as Christian Scott and Gerald Clayton, Until I Met You, is an auspicious debut.
  • A few more that I gotta mention – Since I started writing this article, a few more 2009 releases have returned to my consciousness.  They are all fine discs, that rate much more than a casual listen.  They will remain on my personal and professional playlist well into 2010, and I think they are worth your consideration as well.  They are (alphabetically): Double Booked – Robert Glasper; Lovefool – Amy Cervini; No More, No Less – Jason Parker Quartet; Revival of the Fittest – Eric Alexander and Rise Up – Dr. Lonnie Smith

Well, that does it for me with writing about 2009 jazz.  (I need to get back to wrapping presents and making “Like Crack” Cheesecake Bars.)  The good news is that there was so much worthwhile music out there this year, that I know I will sit straight up in my bed, in the middle of one of the next few nights and recall some deserving album or albums that I inadvertently missed.  The better news is that I already have a stack of discs with 2010 street dates on my desk and a few of them show great promise for the new year/decade. You’ll hear about them soon.

In the meantime, we are still featuring round the clock Holiday jazz from now until December 27 on Curt’s Café. After that, cuts from each of the discs mentioned in the two best of the year articles, will be featured as part of our 2009 year-end special, which will run until mid-January.  All this great jazz programming and more is on Curt’s Café WebJazz Radio; 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (

I thank you all for reading and listening. Your comments as always, are welcomed and appreciated.

I want to extend my warmest and most sincere wishes to all of you and your loved ones, for a Blessed, Merry Christmas, a Joyous Kwanzaa, a Glorious Hanukkah (albeit a belated wish), a happy and prosperous New Year and a Happy “Festivus”

Until the next time, the jazz continues…


3 Responses to “Best Jazz Albums of 2009 – Part 2”

  1. another great list to send to Santa (I go by nutmeg designs at twitter)

  2. Hey Curt,

    Thanks SO much for including my CD “No More, No Less” on your list! I am humbled to be in such heavy company!

    Thanks for all you do to spread the word about LIVING jazz musicians!


  3. […] I suggest that you start with the most recent two: No More, No Less, which was a Curt’s Cafe Best of 2009 selection and Five Leaves Left a distinctive Nick Drake tribute from […]

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