Best Jazz of 2014: Hot Tone Music

(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.

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