Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 1 of 5

CatherineRussellBringItBackAs always, we try to make our year-end “Best Of” more than just a list. But we also know that 25 albums at once is a rather formidable bite to swallow. So we’ve decided to take them a few at a time. Here are some thoughts and clips for the first 5 albums in our alphabetical group of 25:

 

  • Amalgamations – Ali Jackson (Sunnyside) The drummer for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra stepped out of the formidable shadow of his mentor, Wynton Marsalis and dropped a fascinating album loaded with creativity. Jackson takes us to Cuba, the Caribbean, 52nd Street, the prison yard and the church. And he manages to make it a seamless trip. The guest spots from many of his LCJO cohorts elevates things to the highest level. The title of the first cut sums it up: “Ali’s Got Rhythm” 
  • The Art of Conversation – Kenny Barron and Dave Holland (Impulse!) – You know that this record could not be anything but good, with two of the best in the business doing their thing. But it goes further as they approach every track with such emotional investment that the album manages to be great. A nice mix of compositions by the leaders, with a few jazz classics keep everything from sounding alike. These two gentlemen have just completed a tour in support of this music. Hopefully there will be another recording coming soon.
  • Beautiful Life – Jimmy Greene (Mack Avenue) – This album was the most emotional listening experience for me this year. As many know, saxophonist Jimmy Greene’s 6-year-old daughter Ana, was one of the 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, two years ago. Mr. Greene has turned the wrenching heartbreak of this unspeakable tragedy into the best album of his career. Anything but solemn and mournful,  Beautiful Life is a brilliant and often uplifting remembrance with guests such as Kenny Barron, Kurt Elling, Pat Metheny and Cyrus Chestnut giving their all in musical support.
  • Bring it Back – Catherine Russell (Jazz Village) – The daughter of Luis Russell, who was Louis Armstrong’s longtime bandleader, and Carline Ray, who sang and played bass and guitar with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm during WWII, this former backup singer for David Bowie and Steely Dan, who didn’t record her first solo album until her mid ’40’s, reached her full potential with this album. Using the works from her parent’s heyday as a starting point, Ms. Russell respects the swing tradition while imbuing the proceedings with a modern blues sheen. Her voice has the gritty edge of a woman who has been around but it’s leavened by a youthful lightness that shines through on the uptempo numbers. I admit to having missed her before now, but after this disc I will catch up because Catherine Russell is the truth.
  • Eight Track – Dave Stryker (Strikezone) – Veteran guitarist Dave Stryker and his organ-based trio rework some great pop and soul tunes of the seventies into a pure soul-jazz groove. What elevates this date above average fare of this type is the total investment of the trio and the stellar work of guest star Stefon Harris on vibes. Guitar, organ, vibes and drums is not standard instrumentation these days (think back to Big John Patton’s Let ‘Em Roll for a great example) but these cats make it shine. It’s all great but the “Superfly/Pusherman” medley is a damn classic. Smooth Jazzers take note. This is how it’s done.

Tracks from these and all of the other Best Jazz of 2014 Selections may be heard on Curt’s Cafe Noir Streaming WebJazz Radio starting December 27 and continuing throughout January of 2015. Click HERE to access the station.

Our next post will discuss the next five alphabetical selections in our Best Jazz Albums of 2014 list.

Until then, the jazz continues…

3 Responses to “Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 1 of 5”

  1. Curtis You have exquisite taste ! All my best wishes Nancy

  2. Curt, I love seeing your lists and columns. I was so glad to hear the mention of Catherine Russell’s mother, the great bassist, guitarist singer, teacher, and more, Carline Ray.

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