Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far) – Closer Look Pt. 1 – Vocal Albums

Taking a closer look at my five favorite vocal projects, so far, in 2017:

  • Dance of Time – Eliane Elias (Concord) – It’s still hard to believe that in her early years on  the American jazz scene, Eliane Elias was known strictly as a pianist. I liken her at this point to a Brazilian Diana Krall – she is still a first rate pianist but her vocal gifts, especially in her native Portuguese, have at this point, overshadowed her keyboard skills. On her latest album, she pays tribute to 100 years of samba. It is a sheer delight, with guest spots by Toquinho, Mike Manieri, ex-husband Randy Brecker, Mark Kibble and many others. Dance of Time is a true celebration and a great place to start for those introducing themselves to Ms. Elias’ work.

  • Nightintales – China Moses (MPS) – The daughter of legendary jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ms. Moses has been on the scene now, for a few years. On Nightintales, she nails down a perfect mix of modern R&B and passionate soul-jazz. The sound is like nothing else on the scene today and that’s precisely what makes it irresistible.  The angular, hypnotic “Running” and raw soul of “Hungover”, make this album worthwhile, all by themselves. But there’s much more here and all of it needs to be experienced.

  • Petite Afrique – Somi (OKeh/Sony Masterworks) Somi, the American vocalist, of Rwandan and Ugandan heritage, has gotten better with each successive release. I thought she had reached her peak with 2014’s impressive The Lagos Music Salon.  Petite Afrique, however, feels even more personal and is more captivating than the previous project. Named for the section of Harlem around 116th Street, which is home to a gorgeous mosaic of African immigrants, the music captures, the rhythms, the passion, the joy, the fears and the frustrations of that community, in some cases, simultaneously.  With top flight co-production by Keith Witty and the brilliant trumpeter Etienne Charles, this is an album that you’ll remember long after the final note.

  • A Social Call – Jazzmeia Horn (Prestige) I was first exposed to this amazing young vocalist when I decided, without previewing, to drop her version of Betty Carter’s “Tight”, into my radio show one night. The hair on my arms stood at attention, my mouth fell open and by the time she begins to trade fours with the saxophonist a third of the way in, I was an unabashed fan. I then listened to the rest of the album on the way home from the studio and by the time I got to my front door, I was on a jazz high. Ms. Horn brings us a little Betty, a little Sarah, a little Ella, a little gospel and a whole lot of herself on this stunning debut project. Jazzmeia won the right to record this project as a prize for winning the 2015 Monk Vocal Competition. I’ve taken issue with the Monk judges in the past but not this time. They got it 100% right.

  • What Time Is It? – Giacomo Gates (Savant) I was first introduced to Mr. Gates around 20 years ago, at one of the earliest incarnations of the Litchfield Jazz Festival. His set was ridiculously truncated, due to curfew rules and a previous artist running overtime. Giacomo expressed mild annoyance, which greatly displeased the festival organizers. But I dug what little I heard and vowed to keep up with this “regular guy”, baritone, with loads of charm, who exuded the cool soulfulness of Mark Murphy. Gates has released a number of very fine albums over the years and his latest is another in the series. It’s a nice mix of jazz standards, originals and a few surprises (such as “Silhouettes”, the ’50’s pop classic). Now in his sixties, Mr. Gates still doesn’t get the attention, even within our insular jazz world, that I think he deserves. If you haven’t heard him before, What Time Is It?, is a great place to start.

I haven’t heard everything released so far this year and I’m sure that there will be more to come over the next few months. I can’t wait to be back with more in December.

Up next – a closer look at my favorite instrumental albums, so far.

Until then, the jazz continues

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