Archive for the CD Reviews Category

Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far): Closer Look, Pt. 2 – Instrumental Albums

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2017 by curtjazz

Let’s now look at my top 10 albums (and one EP), on the instrumental side:

Akua’s Dance – Akua Dixon (Akua’s Music)

Cellist Akua Dixon has collaborated with musical greats of numerous genres, from classical to Broadway; from R&B to, of course, jazz. Whatever the idiom, she brings a gorgeous tone and an unfailing sense of lyricism, to the music. On Akua’s Dance, her third project as a leader in the last six years, she plays a baritone violin, which is basically an over-sized cello.  The full and present sound of the instrument, along with her hard swinging backing trio, including the welcome addition of guitarists Freddie Bryant and Russell Malone, make this her best solo album, by far. She covers all bases, from fun jazz (“Dizzy’s Smile”), to an irresistible cover of Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo”, to a compelling, worldly-wise vocal on Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away”. This album doesn’t sound like anything else on this list and that’s a great thing.

 

Back to Earth – Farnell Newton (Posi-Tone)

Portland, OR based Trumpeter/Composer/Educator Farnell Newton is one of the hardest working cats in the music business. Over the last few years, he has released a couple of very strong contemporary jazz projects (Class is Now in Session; Ready to Roll) and a fascinating collection of impromptu improvisations (10 Minute Trumpet Jams). On Back to Earth he has come home, with his first straight-ahead album in over a decade. And it is pure dynamite. Newton shows off his powerful chops and his flawless sense of swing, in a set of inventive originals, such as the soulful “Gazillionaire” and impressive covers, like a take on Freddie Hubbard’s classic “Arietas”, that does the legend proud. I’ve enjoyed all of Mr. Newton’s work over the years but I know that I will be reaching for Back to Earth, long after the end of 2017.

Boundary Issues – Chris Greene (Single Malt)

Like Farnell Newton, saxophonist Chris Greene’s star shines mostly on a regional basis, in this case, it’s Chicago. Regardless of his address, the dude just keeps dropping first-rate projects, that make me wish I lived closer to Chi-town, or that he toured more often. Boundary Issues, is an enjoyable set, that is very accessible but not at all patronizing. Mr. Greene’s saxophone is as rich and inventive as always and I have to give special props to Steve Corley for his next-level drum work. Most memorable track: a Silver meets Marley version of “Nica’s Dream”.

Brothers Under the Sun – Steve Nelson (HighNote)

Steve Nelson is one of the three best jazz vibraphonists alive today. But you may not have heard of him because he drops projects under his own name about as often as we experience a solar eclipse. He has spent most of his career elevating the works of others but when he steps out in front, it is an unequivocally special event. His latest album, a quartet date, is no exception. It’s a swinging mix of standards and originals, many of them composed by his friend and frequent musical partner, the late, great pianist, Mulgrew Miller. Brothers Under the Sun, is an elegant, swinging, good time from beginning to end; an exquisite musical statement and a subtle but fitting tribute to a giant who left us too soon.

Made in America – Bobby Watson (Smoke Sessions)

I love the concept of this album as much as I do the music. Saxophonist Bobby Watson, has created a tribute to a number of influential African Americans; some who are well known, such as Sammy Davis, Jr. and Butterfly McQueen; and a few others, such as Bass Reeves and Major Taylor, who sent even me scrambling to Google more about them. But Made in America is not a dry history lesson; it is a living, energetic, creative and unapologetically  jazzy appreciation of those who paved the way, sometimes at great cost. It’s also quite evocative, as Watson has dropped in smile inducing references, such as quoting “Wild Blue Yonder”, in the Wendell Pruitt tribute (“Aviator”) and Lewis Nash “tapping” out the rhythm on “G.O.A.T.” (for Sammy Davis, Jr.). This project succeeds on all levels. Kudos to Mr. Watson and all involved.

The Music of John Lewis – Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, feat. Jon Batiste and Wynton Marsalis (Blue Engine)

John Lewis, the pianist and guiding light of the Modern Jazz Quartet, passed away over 16 years ago. For many, their knowledge of him begins and ends with the MJQ. However, John Lewis was one of the great jazz composers of his time and one of the most affecting blues pianists that I’ve ever heard. The biggest surprise is that it has taken so long for there to be a full-scale, recorded tribute to his music. Perhaps, it’s because only Wynton and the JLCO could do it right. The most pleasant surprise for me, is the stellar work of Jon Batiste on piano. I knew of Mr. Batiste and I knew he had an impressive musical pedigree but, through no one’s fault but mine,  I’d mostly heard him in his day job, as musical director for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Mr. Batiste, who is just 30, is a fantastic pianist, who embodies Lewis’ elegant swing, while adding a few of his own touches. The JLCO and Mr. Marsalis are of course, at the top of their game, the arrangements are inventive and the Lewis compositions selected, from “Django”, to “Two Bass Hit”, to “Spanish Steps”, are his absolute finest. As prolific as Mr. Lewis was, there is definitely need for a Volume 2 (and 3, for that matter). Let’s hope someone hears me.

Post Cool: Vol 1; The Night Shift – Carol Morgan (Self-Produced)

This disc appeals to me for so many reasons: First, it’s by Carol Morgan a trumpet player whose picture is in the dictionary under the phrase “criminally obscure”. Second, her front line partner is tenor saxophonist, Joel Frahm, who is next to Ms. Morgan in the aforementioned “photo”. Third, the music is fabulous. Nothing fancy, no big stars or pyrotechnics – it’s just four real pros, (Martin Wind – bass and Matt Wilson – drums, a couple of stellar musicians, round out the quartet – no piano), playing like it was the 2 am set in a small, smoky club. No frills, just damn good music. There are standards of the jazz canon (“Strollin'”, “Night in Tunisia”, “On a Misty Night”), given fresh life. There are also a couple of fine originals from Ms. Morgan’s and Mr. Frahm (“Night”, “Song for Mom”, respectively) that are very worthy additions. As of now, this set is only available via Ms. Morgan’s website (www.carolmorganmusic.com). It’s worth the trip because, while you’re there you might want to sample some of her other fine work.

Reach – Christian Sands (Mack Avenue)

Christian Sands first came on the jazz scene 15 years ago as a child prodigy who displayed flashes of brilliance that predicted a very bright future. Now at 27, with a number of high profile gigs under his belt, including his current spot as Christian McBride’s pianist of choice; Mr. Sands has dropped, Reach, his first major label album. Suffice to say those early predictions were accurate. His virtuosity on the keys has matured to the point where his runs are truly substantial.  His most impressive area of growth is as a composer. Sands wrote 8 of the album’s 10 songs, including impressive tributes to two of his influences; Chick Corea and Bud Powell. He has also composed a killer Latin track (“Oyeme!”) and a head nodding hip-hop groove (“Gangstalude”) . Additionally, there is an ominous, seven minute deconstruction of “Use Me”, the Bill Withers classic, featuring some killer jazz-rock guitar from Gilad Hekselman. Reach is a fine announcement of arrival from this young veteran.

Sabiduria – Eddie Palmieri (Ropeadope)

The greatest living bandleader in Latin Jazz has just turned 80 and he shows no signs of slowing down. As befitting someone who has been a major musical figure for six decades, the list of heavy hitters who join him for the celebration is impressive – Joe Locke is on vibes, Pretty Purdie, on the drums, Ronnie Cuber and Donald Harrison are two of the saxophonists, Marcus Miller, on bass and the list goes on. Sometimes, having so many guest stars can lead to confusion but that’s not the case here as Sabiduria is the strongest and most appropriately eclectic musical statement that I’ve heard from Mr. Palmieri in at least 15 years. There are tracks rich with history and some that explore new ground. And we’ve also got Locke and violinist Alfredo de la Fe, trading hot solos on “La Cancha”. Happy Birthday to “The Sun of Latin Music”. From the looks of things, he’s going to shine for quite a while more.

Serenade for Horace – Louis Hayes (Blue Note)

Another awesome octogenarian, Louis Hayes makes his Blue Note Records debut, as a leader, with this gorgeous, swinging tribute to his old boss Horace Silver. Thankfully, Mr. Hayes is experienced enough to not do a note for note regurgitation of the Silver classics, which are still fresh in most jazz fan’s minds and readily available. Instead, Serenade for Horace manages to capture the joyous spirit of Silver, while still making these tunes, some of which are over 60 years old, sound as if they were fresh compositions. A lot of this is due to the out in front presence of Steve Nelson on the vibes. Apart from his early work with Milt Jackson, Silver rarely worked with a vibraphonist, so Nelson leading the way on many of the tracks is invigorating. Gregory Porter drops by to sing his own new lyric on “Song for My Father”. Even if you own the Silver recording of all of these tunes, this disc is worth your while.

A Tribute to Art Blakey [EP] – Tony Allen (Blue Note)

Hell. Frickin’. Yeah!!! This is not a full album but a four song EP with an album’s worth of badass playing, as the legendary king of Afrobeat, Tony Allen, pays tribute to another percussion monster, the great Art Blakey. I love almost everything about this project – the song selection (“Moanin'”; “Night in Tunisia”; “Politely” and “Drum Thunder Suite”); the fresh sound of all of these familiar Blakey classics, when filtered through an Afrobeat lens; the cool, Buhaina-esque cover photo of Mr. Allen; the fact that the whole disc is begging to be sampled into a hot, hip-hop groove. So what don’t I love? It’s only four songs. It was just enough to make me want more. More Tony Allen and more Afrobeat Blakey, please!

And that’s our halftime show. A great first half of the year in jazz. I’ve got a stack of  CDs staring at me on my desk and even more album downloads in the computer waiting to be reviewed and shared with y’all. Gonna be a busy but rewarding rest of the year. More to come, soon. If you missed the complete list, see it HERE

Until then, the jazz continues…

Album Review: Jeremy Pelt – Face Forward, Jeremy

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , on March 15, 2014 by curtjazz

This review first appeared in the March 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s JazzInside Magazine

Jeremy Pelt

Jeremy Pelt

FACE FORWARD, JEREMY – HighNote Records HCD 7259 www.jazzdepot.com  Higby Part 1; Stars are Free; Princess Charlie; The Calm Before The Storm; Glimpse; Rastros; In My Grandfather’s Words; The Secret Code; Verse

PERSONNEL: Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Roxy Coss, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; David Bryant, piano, organ, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer; Frank LoCrasto, Fender Rhodes; Chris Smith, acoustic bass, electric bass; Dana Hawkins, drums, drum programming; Fabiana Masili, vocals; Milton Suggs, vocals; Brandee Younger, harp; Jennifer Shaw, cello

By Curtis Davenport

While some of his contemporaries have been grabbing the headlines, Jeremy Pelt has been quietly amassing an impressive and diverse résumé consisting of some of the more compelling jazz performances of this brief century. Though his recorded performances have mostly leaned toward the mainstream, Pelt has of late begun to delve into the fusion side of his persona with musically satisfying results. I always get the sense that Mr. Pelt is seeking; looking to bring a fresh perspective to his projects. As look back at his catalog as a leader, which now stands at a dozen albums, I realized that each of his records was in some way different from the last. And his latest album, Face Forward, Jeremy is no exception.

This album can be considered a sequel of sorts to Pelt’s prior release, the moodily gorgeous Water and Earth. The same musicians appear on both albums and in each case David Bryant’s dreamy Fender Rhodes is a centerpiece; serving as an atmospheric foil for Pelt’s trumpet and Dana Hawkins’ complex rhythmic patterns. Mr. Pelt states that one of his biggest influences for this album was Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi recordings of the early ‘70’s, which would also explain the prominence of the electronic keyboards.  But whereas the group seemed at times to be finding its way on Water and Earth, their performances on Face Forward, Jeremy are more confident. They have played together for a while as a unit and they are certain of what they want this music to sound like.

Among the cuts that I have revisited numerous times are “Stars Are Free”, which brings bassist Chris Smith to the fore for some strong Jaco-like fretwork, supported by guest star Frank LoCrasto’s insistent comping on the Rhodes, which then slides into a fleet fingered solo. “Princess Charlie”, dedicated to Pelt’s two-year old daughter, has a distinct Brazilian influence, a hummable melody line that will stick with you long after the track is done, tasty solos by Mr. Pelt and Roxy Coss on soprano sax and a Flora Purim-like wordless vocal from Fabiana Masili. In fact, I loved both of Ms. Masili’s appearances on the disc, the other being “Rastros”, a brief track of quiet beauty, which in addition to Ms. Masili, is elevated by Jennifer Shaw’s cello and the support of the finest jazz harpist working today, Brandee Younger. “The Calm Before The Storm”, a Coss composition, will grab you, starting with a soulfully compelling bass line (Chris Smith is one bad cat), with Bryant’s Rhodes layered on top, before Pelt and Coss (on tenor) hit us with a sharp melody statement and brief but rich solos. The leader’s showpiece however is “Glimpse” an uptempo romp that gives Pelt plenty of room to blow; and he does, demonstrating that a great trumpet solo doesn’t need flashy pyrotechnics, just an inspired musician with numerous ideas. Ms. Coss follows the leader with a strong tenor statement of her own. I haven’t heard her yet outside of Pelt’s group but I like Roxy Coss. She has already developed her own voice on her horns and she sounds like she is just beginning to put it to excellent use.

Though Jeremy Pelt has found a nice groove with his fusion group and turned out a very good album here, I get the feeling that we’ll hear something different from him next time. I hope so because that kind of restless creativity will help Pelt and those of his generation to keep jazz alive and relevant.

Album Review: Kris Bowers – Heroes + Misfits

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , on February 16, 2014 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the February 2014 edition of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine.

Kris Bowers

kris bowers

HEROES + MISFITS – Concord Jazz CJA-34353-02 www.concordmusicgroup.com  Forever Spring; Wake The Neighbors; #TheProtestor; Vices and Virtues; Forget-Er; Wonderlove; Forever Wonder; Drift; First; Ways of Light

PERSONNEL: Kris Bowers, piano, keyboards; Julia Easterlin, vocals; José James, vocals; Chris Turner, vocals; Casey Benjamin, alto saxophone; Kenneth Whalum III, tenor saxophone, Adam Agati, guitar; Burniss Earl Travis II, bass; Jamire Williams, drums

By Curtis Davenport

Those who run around declaring jazz to be “dead” are often purists; those who want to only hear the music as it was performed 50 years ago or more. And while the strains of swing, bop, modal and even free jazz as it was then aren’t as publicly relevant as they once were, there are a lot of exciting young musicians out there who have heard their elders and hold them in high regard but refuse to force the music to stagnate and yes, “die” in that place. They will play jazz as they hear it. For them, jazz doesn’t have to be “pure”, just good and relevant. One of those young musicians is Kris Bowers. His debut album is Heroes + Misfits.

Bowers is a 24-year-old Los Angeles native who was raised on the “old school” R&B (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Earth Wind and Fire, etc.) that was favored by his parents. Like many of his age, he was strongly influenced by the hip-hop of the nineties and the first decade of this century. Unlike many of his age, Bowers was also fascinated by the film music composed by John Williams, Danny Elfman, Howard Shore and others. Though he had been taking classical piano lessons since he was very small, he soon turned his attention to jazz instruction. In high school, Bowers discovered and was inspired by, the solo recordings of Oscar Peterson.  Moving to New York to attend Julliard, after high school, Bowers began working on the NYC jazz scene while studying at Julliard and taking private lessons with Eric Reed, Fred Hersch and Kenny Barron. While working on his Masters in Jazz Performance and Film Composition at Julliard, in 2011, Kris Bowers entered the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. He won the competition, which included among its prizes, a recording contract with Concord Records. Heroes + Misfits was born out of that contract.

I’ll tell you up front, if you pick up Heroes + Misfits expecting to hear Bowers play standards in the style of Peterson, Barron or even Eric Reed and your appreciation for jazz goes no further than there, then you are likely to be disappointed.  But remember this; Bowers is 24, he grew up with hip-hop, he has also recorded with Jay-Z and Kanye West and toured with José James. My point is this, what is a “standard” to someone over 50 is not going to be a standard to someone half that age.

So what do you get on Heroes + Misfits? There is excellent musicianship, from Bowers and a quintet of creative, forward thinking young musicians, including saxophonists Casey Benjamin (from Robert Glasper’s Band) and Kenneth Whalum III (Kirk’s nephew), drummer Jamire Williams, guitarist Adam Agati and  Burniss Earl Travis II on bass. There are guest vocals from José James and others and there are many inspired compositions and compelling musical moments. What does it sound like? The best comparison would be to say that Heroes + Misfits is similar to Robert Glasper’s Black Radio but less commercially oriented. The tracks that caught my attention were “#TheProtestor” inspired by Time Magazine naming of The Protestor as its 2011 Person of The Year. Williams and Travis set a contemporary meets jazz beat and Bowers takes a rich, moving solo as he is pushed by a bit of dissonance from Benjamin’s alto. “Forget-Er” the album’s first single features vocalist Julia Easterlin singing a haunting lead line over her own multi-tracked background vocals, before Bowers and the rhythm section enter a with a commanding statement of their own. “Wonderlove”, a track obviously inspired by Stevie Wonder, is strong modern pop/soul with a Stevie Meets Donny Hathaway vocal from Chris Turner and a beat set by Williams that will remain with you after the song ends. Most impressive are the trio of tracks that close the album “Drift”, the closest to a traditional jazz track features the saxophones, with Kenneth Whalum displaying that big tenor sound that clearly runs in his family, “First” is a brief and wistful piano solo, which sets the stage for “Ways of Light”, a melancholy, reflective vocal feature for José James, who every time that I hear him, comes closer to being the definitive male jazz vocalist of his generation.

So is jazz dead? Absolutely not. Is it taking a different and more viable direction for our time, in the hands of visionary young artists such as Kris Bowers, making music like Heroes + Misfits?  I say “Yes” and in the end, those who love jazz will be better for it.

Album Review: BWB – Human Nature

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , on February 13, 2014 by curtjazz

This review first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

BWB

bwb

HUMAN NATURE – Heads Up Records HUI-34356-02 www.concordmusicgroup.com  Another Part of Me; Billie Jean; Human Nature; Beat It; Who’s Lovin’ You; She’s Out of My Life; Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground); The Way You Make Me Feel; I Can’t Help It; I’ll Be There; Man in the Mirror

PERSONNEL: Rick Braun, trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone; Kirk Whalum, tenor saxophone, flute; Norman Brown, guitar; Braylon Lacy, bass guitar; Khari Parker, drums; John Stoddart, keyboards, background vocals; Lenny Castro, percussion; Ralph Lofton, Hammond B-3 organ; Sheléa – vocals

By Curtis Davenport

BWB is a contemporary jazz supergroup, composed of three of the genre’s most celebrated artists – Rick Braun, on trumpet; Kirk Whalum on tenor sax and guitarist Norman Brown.  They first came together in 2002 to record Groovin’; an inspired album of “smooth jazz” covers of R&B classics.  That album was elevated above most similar fare because of the strong arrangements and the playing of the leaders who were totally invested in the project. The world tour that they embarked on in support of that first album whet everyone’s appetite for more from BWB.

However, over the last eleven years, Braun, Whalum and Brown have been quite busy with their individual careers and projects, so as successful as Groovin’ was; they had not found an opportunity to record a follow-up session until now. Human Nature, their new disc is another cover album, a tribute to the music written by and associated with the late pop legend, Michael Jackson.

Braun came up with the concept and he and his musical partners went through the massive Jackson songbook, stretching back from the Jackson Five through his latter days when he became the self-proclaimed “King of Pop”. Each of the trio picked their favorites and then proceeded to try to put their personal stamp on their selections. The songs chosen include a couple from the old J5 catalog but most of the rest come from Jackson’s most famous trio of albums – Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad. Personally, I would have liked to see them take a crack at some of material from Michael and his brother’s “transitional” period in the mid ‘70’s when they worked with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. Much of the material from then would have great jazz potential (“Show You the Way to Go” and “Find Me a Girl” immediately come to mind). Also there was some great material for jazz covers on Dangerous (I still remember Clark Terry’s surprisingly good version of “Remember the Time”). But BWB chose to stick with the hits for the most part and they did come up with some interesting reimaginings.

Most effective of these were “Beat It” which they’ve recast with a driving ska beat, over which each of the principles takes a nice solo turn; “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” which has been given a Latin-pop treatment over which Norman Brown cooks with some of his trademark Benson influenced guitar lines; “Another Part of Me”, which is played pretty straight but it’s such a naturally infectious groove that it couldn’t miss; and then there’s “Billie Jean”, with that iconic bassline. Braun contended in a recent interview that Miles Davis’ “Milestones” could be played over that same bassline. I admit that I scoffed when I first heard that statement. Then BWB goes out and proves it by breaking full on into “Milestones” as they trade fours during the last thirty seconds of “Billie Jean”. I’ll be damned, Braun was right! I wish that they had developed that version of “Milestones” into a full-fledged track. It would’ve been very interesting. Perhaps they will on a future BWB project.

The standout track however is “Who’s Lovin’ You”, a song written by Smokey Robinson, which appeared on the J5’s first album in 1969. It was the “B” side of the group’s first hit, “I Want You Back” but it took on a life of its own, based on Michael’s incredible vocal performance (at age 11, he owned that song like someone 30 years older).  It’s a blues drenched tune to begin with and so BWB just take it where it always wanted to go; to an urban juke joint.  Braun and Brown have nice, brief solo turns but this one belongs to Whalum and his Texas Tenor. Whalum feels every note and so do we, with Ralph Lofton’s organ pushing him, as his horn “sings” the song the way Michael did over 40 years ago.

Human Nature is solidly produced and well-played. It’s good to have BWB back on the scene as a group. Hopefully they will develop some of the good ideas that were hinted at here, on projects together in the near future.

Album Review: Nicole Zuraitis – Pariah Anthem

Posted in CD Reviews, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , on February 11, 2014 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Nicole Zuraitis

nicole zuratis

PARIAH ANTHEM – Self Release www.nicolezuraitis.com  Stinger; Watercolors; Try, Love; Secret; Staring Into The Sun; To The Hive; Dagger; The Bridge; If Only For Today; Pariah Anthem

PERSONNEL: Nicole Zuraitis, vocals, piano; Dan Pugach, drums; Scott Colberg, double bass; Julian Shore, rhodes, organ; Victor Gould, piano; Ilan Bar-Lavi, guitar; Billy Buss trumpet, flugelhorn; Jon Paul, acoustic guitar; Nandini Srikar, vocals

By Curtis Davenport

In my younger days, I used to frequent what we called “Wine and Cheese Cafés”, where you could usually find some very good and reasonably priced wines, a diverse assortment of cheeses and more often than not, an eclectic assortment of some of the best music around, setting the atmosphere. It was generally a mix of soft rock, mellow but funky R&B and tasty contemporary jazz of the type that was popularized by CTI Records. Often, I would hate to leave because the music mix was more intoxicating than any alcoholic beverage being served. Invariably, there would be an artist that captured that perfect mix of the genres and I would ask the waiter “Who is that playing now?” If now was then, I would have certainly asked about the music of Nicole Zuraitis.

Nicole Zuraitis is a young New York based singer/songwriter/keyboardist.  The NYU graduate has performed or recorded with Winard Harper, Jane Monheit and Don Braden. Her own music as evidenced on Pariah Anthem, which is her second album, is a well crafted hybrid of rock, jazz and R&B, which fits very well around her impressive voice. And that voice is hard to ignore. On most selections, Ms. Zuraitis hangs out in that corner of the alto range that was once so well occupied by the great Angela Bofill. Then just as soon as you’ve gotten comfortable there, Ms. Zuraitis will suddenly sweep into a glissando through several octaves that places her close to Minnie Riperton territory. I couldn’t help but stop and take notice.

The songs on Pariah Anthem were all written by Zuraitis and many of them are quite good. “Secret” is sweetly soulful, with a swirl of jazz chords and a dreamy rhodes backdrop by Julian Shore. It sounds like a lost track from Ms. Bofill’s Angel of the Night album. “Staring Into the Sun” is a lovely duet between Ms. Zuraitis and Victor Gould’s piano. It gives her a chance to show off her remarkable range to great effect.  “To The Hive” starts as an insistent jazz-rock tune that takes an unexpected turn with the addition of a Hindi verse by Indian singer Nandini Srikar. When Srikar and Zuraitis rush toward the coda in an English/ Hindi counterpoint, it is exhilarating. On “Dagger”, Ms. Zuraitis and company drop a nice neo-soul groove, led again by Julian Shore’s rhodes. This cat knows how to pull an atmosphere out of his keyboard. “If Only for Today” is a torchy ballad, performed again as a duet between Ms. Zuraitis and Mr. Gould. They are so good together that I would gladly listen to an evening of them playing duets.

Nicole Zuraitis is a gifted performer and Pariah Anthem is an album that will grow on you with repeated listening as the nuances reveal themselves. It’s music that doesn’t easily categorize itself.  And you know what? That’s not a necessarily a bad thing.  Keep an eye on Ms. Zuraitis, for I think that she has a bright future ahead of her.

Album Review: Rudy Royston – 303

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , on February 9, 2014 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Rudy Royston

rudy royston

303 – GRE-CD-1035 www.greenleafmusic.com  Mimi Sunrise; Play on Words; Prayer (for the People); Goodnight Kinyah; Gangs of New York; High and Dry; Miles to Go (Sunset Road); 303; Ave Verum Corpus; Prayer (for the Earth)

PERSONNEL: Rudy Royston, drums, percussion; Sam Harris, piano, Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Mimi Jones, bass; Jon Irabagon, saxophones; Nadja Noordhuis, trumpet; Nir Felder, guitar

By Curtis Davenport

Rudy Royston has put in a lot of work over the years on his way to his first set as a leader. Jazz fans have heard him keeping time behind Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, Tia Fuller, J.D. Allen and others. His versatility has made him a first call drummer for straight-ahead jazz, avant-garde, soul jazz and everything in between. On 303, the first album under his name, Mr. Royston has put together a band of mostly unknown but capable musicians to produce a very forceful debut.

While 303 (named for the area code in Royston’s hometown of Denver) is definitely a jazz album, it’s one that can’t easily be categorized, which isn’t a surprise, considering the breadth of Royston’s experience. Royston is also confident enough to let the music take its time and for the personalities of his colleagues to show through in their solos.  You don’t doubt that this is the drummer’s album but we are spared the spectacle of ten minute drum solos or of the drums being mixed way out front in order to prove it. Royston is joined by Sam Harris a strong young pianist who has also recorded with Ambrose Akinmusire and is currently playing with Linda Oh.  Yasushi Yakamura and Mimi Jones split the bass duties. They are considered two of the top young bassists on the New York scene with Ms. Jones just having released her critically acclaimed second album, Balance. Jon Irabagon, a darling of the downtown free jazz scene (Mary Halvorson, Other People Do The Killing, etc.) and Nadje Noordhuis, an impressive Australian born trumpet player with a full, warm tone, are the horns and Nir Felder, a guitarist who is new to me but has been quite busy of late with Terri Lyne Carrington, Joey DeFrancesco and Eric Harland, rounds out the band.

Most memorable among the cuts are “Bownze”, a track that Mr. Royston says was inspired by Michael Jackson’s recording of “Rockin’ Robin”. While I didn’t hear any of the King of Pop in this cut, I did really dig Royston’s drum work and the way Irabagon’s staccato tenor punctuated the performance and Harris piano added some sweet chord fills. “Play on Words” is a driving straight-ahead tune on which Felder’s guitar and Irabagon’s tenor really shine, especially as he trades eights with Harris.  “Miles to Go (Sunset Road)” is an irresistible laid back groove that rides along on Ms. Jones’ bass and Felder’s guitar, while the horns repeat a hypnotic figure. My only complaint about it is that it ended too quickly, which is too bad because there was an awesome Reggae/Jazz jam about to break out. “Gangs of New York”, which Royston says was inspired by both the Scorsese film and by the hardcore braggadocio of NYC rappers, starts out beautifully, contradicting its stated inspirations. Then, after a gorgeous trumpet solo by Ms. Noordhuis, the piece suddenly turns edgy, with short horn bursts announcing the “war” that is brought on by Felder’s rock tinged guitar. It was not expected but it was quite interesting.

Rudy Royston’s 303 is an impressive debut. It is the work of an artist who is willing to stretch jazz’s conventions as he grows but who is prepared to let others join him on the ride. I hope that Royston continues to work with this group of musicians because I think that they still have a lot more to say as a collective.

Album Review: Mimi Jones – Balance

Posted in CD Reviews, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , on February 6, 2014 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine.

Mimi Jones

Mimi Jones Cover Shot

BALANCE – Hot Tone Music HTM 103 www.hottonemusic.com  Nothing Like You; Traveler; Speedbump; The Incy Wincy Spider; The Spinning Tree; Patriot; Someone Like You; To Be; The Edge of a Circle; Everybody Loves The Sunshine; Junk Funk; Dream

PERSONNEL: Mimi Jones, bass, voice; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Camille Thurman, flute, voice; Luis Perdomo, piano, Wurlitzer, rhodes, moog; Enoch Smith, Jr., piano; Mike Hamaya, piano, Wurlitzer, rhodes; Marvin Sewell, guitar, piano; Sean Harkness, guitars; Shirazette Tinnin, drums, percussion; Justin Faulkner, drums; Mala Waldron, vocal

By Curtis Davenport

Attractive young woman…plays a killer jazz bass… sings well…not overly concerned with genre boundaries…

If I were lazy, I would make this review about a comparison between Mimi Jones and a certain Grammy winning artist who also meets all of the above criteria. But I’m not going to do that. This is all about Mimi Jones, because she deserves to be considered solely on her own substantial merits.

Mimi Jones (birth name: Miriam Sullivan) is a New York City native who grew up with a multitude of musical influences; from the Caribbean music of her parent’s birthplaces, to straight-ahead jazz, to ‘70’s R & B to The Doors and Streisand.  She originally studied the guitar before enrolling in high school and discovering that the school did not have a guitar program. She then switched to the cello but destiny could not be denied as young Miriam was discovered by a music teacher, spinning a friend’s upright bass and playing the iconic bassline from the Barney Miller TV show.  The teacher immediately drafted Miriam into the school’s jazz band and then began to study the instrument that she excels with today. She has learned quickly; studying with bassist Lisle Atkinson and others leading to work with Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman and Kevin Mahogany and recordings with Tia Fuller, Terri Lyne Carrington and Lizz Wright, among others. In 2009, Ms. Sullivan recorded her debut album as a leader A New Day. She also adopted the alter ego by which she is now professionally known, Mimi Jones.  A New Day was, for the most part a contemporary jazz album, with a heavy dose of vocals and a decided R & B influence in most of the performances. On her new album, Balance Ms. Jones leans more in a traditional jazz direction, though there is still a nice dose of the contemporary. Ms. Jones has matured as an artist and composer in the four years between albums and it’s quite evident throughout. While A New Day was good, I found Balance to be much more satisfying for me as a listener.

Ms. Jones has an impressive list of guest stars to help put forth her vision; Ingrid Jensen appears on trumpet on a couple of tracks; Luis Perdomo, a terrific pianist/keyboardist who you should know if you don’t already, also guests as does guitarist Marvin Sewell.  Equally if not more impressive is the work of the lesser known musicians who come up strong throughout this date. “Nothing Like You” the Bob Dorough composition jumps out at you from the beginning in an instrumental trio version which allows Ms. Jones to show off her bowed and plucked bass skills.  Mr. Perdomo takes it to the next level with a fiery piano solo. “Speedbump”, written by Jones and Perdomo is excellent post-bop with Ms. Jensen blowing hard and sounding like Miles fronting his last great quintet. Perdomo eggs her on while Ms Jones and drummer Justin Faulkner are a powerful rhythm duo. Perdomo’s sudden shifting of gears into 4/4 in the middle is very striking.  A very pleasant surprise is an easygoing take on Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” on which Ms. Jones gets some formidable support from two of her Hot Tone label mates, drummer Shirazette Tinnin and Camille Thurman on flute and ethereal soprano vocals.  Ms. Tinnin is a very strong percussionist as she proves here and on a couple of other tracks. And Ms. Thurman’s vocal harmonies and scatting set the perfect groove. Though she doesn’t play it here, Ms. Thurman is also a formidable tenor saxophonist, watch out for all three of these young ladies, who are simultaneously releasing new albums. But my favorite track was “Incy Wincy Spider”, the quirkiest take on that old children’s song that I’ve ever heard. It starts with a foreboding and slightly dissonant piano line, followed by Ms. Jones’ haunting vocal. Just when things have turned as dark as possible, the sun comes out and the performance turns bright and swinging on the back of Miki Hayama’s piano, another strong bass solo by Ms. Jones and Tinnin’s perky cymbals. It looks like everything turned out okay for that spider after all.

Mimi Jones is an exciting talent and Balance is a very, very good album. It kept my attention from first note to last, which isn’t an easy thing to do. It is accessible and diverse but I never felt like the musicians were pandering to anyone’s tastes. It is an album that I expect to return to many times throughout this year.