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Album Reviews – A Sack Full of Sax

Posted in CD Reviews, curtjazz radio, Uncategorized, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on March 11, 2019 by curtjazz

Our first review post of the year, features four new albums from veteran saxophonists who should all, be better known than they are. Start to right that wrong, by picking up these projects, which are all recommended.

Chris Greene Quartet – Playspace (Single Malt)

The native of Evanston, IL has spent most of his career close to home, which means the Chicago jazz scene. Readers of this blog are aware of my fondness for his sound, indicated by multiple appearances of Mr. Greene’s albums on my year end “Best of” lists. On his twelfth album as a leader, Greene gives us more of what his best qualities – that full bodied, gritty, tenor attack and a surprisingly rich tone, when he switches to soprano.  Playspace finds Greene and the CGQ in a deeper soul jazz vein than usual, and I loved every minute of it. “The Crossover Appeal/Uno Mas”, locks into the pocket and doesn’t let go, with Marc Piane’s electric bass setting the stage and Greene getting into a sweaty sax duel with guest star Marquel Jordan. A Latin reading of Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil”, is surprisingly effective, with drummer Steve Corley taking center stage with a relentless groove and a killer solo. “Blues for Dr. Fear”, which appeared in a studio version, on 2017’s Boundary Issues, is back and funkier than ever, with Damian Espinosa’s cool keys weaving around Greene’s tough tenor. Playspace is another winning album from one of the true working groups in jazz today. Looks like we’re not going to get them out of the Windy City, y’all, so we’ll have to make the trip there, to experience in person, what we hear on this disc.

Nick Hempton – Night Owl (Triple Distilled)

Nick Hempton, who has called New York home since 2004, announces his intention from the first notes of this album. This a truly greasy session, influenced by the organ dates led by Stanley Turrentine, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt and so many of their brethren, in the dives and after-hours clubs of the Big Apple, since the 50’s. He has assembled the perfect cast for the date: Peter Bernstein on guitar, Kyle Kohler on organ, and Fukushi Tainaka on drums. These cats have all logged many hours, backing up similar dates and they inspire Mr. Hempton to lay down the most soulful playing that I’ve ever heard from him. Most of the tracks are Hempton originals but they perfectly capture that long-ago vibe. Mr. Hempton switches between the alto and the tenor without missing a beat and is equally effective on each horn. The standout tracks are the Latin-tinged “I Remember Milady’s”, with Hempton getting a nice assist from Bernstein; “After You’ve Gone”, with Hempton’s alto, recalling ‘Sweet Lou’, during his Blue Note heyday and Koehler evincing a Big John Patton influence; and the nasty title track, which sounds like a lost track from one of those classic Jimmy Smith; Stanley Turrentine; Kenny Burrell dates. Buy this album, pour a glass of your favorite libation and put on your best “funky face”, because Night Owl is the real deal. 

Ralph Moore – Three Score (WJ3)

Hard to believe but it’s true. Three Score is Ralph Moore’s first album as a leader in nearly 25 years. He hadn’t left the scene during that time; Moore spent the better part of the last twenty years, on the West Coast, playing in Jay Leno’s Tonight Show band. He also was a sideman for Oscar Peterson, Roy Hargrove, Ray Brown, Tom Harrell and many other jazz greats; so, he was here; he just wasn’t leading any dates. He has returned with a stellar album, on the best boutique label in jazz – Willie Jones III’s WJ3. Joined by Eric Reed on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass and Jones on drums, Mr. Moore’s sound, which for me, always landed in the niche between John Coltrane and Joe Henderson, is as captivating as ever. The band of top tier pros doesn’t miss a beat and the compositions, mostly by Moore and Reed, are uniformly excellent. If you’re going to skip around, you must first check out “Another Time”, a Reed original, which opens the proceedings and throws down the hard bop gauntlet; the infectious, toe tapping (and too brief) “Donny” and the reflective title track, which features Mr. Moore’s finest solo on the date. But don’t sleep on the rest of the disc because it’s all choice. Ralph Moore is back, y’all and Three Score is one of the best albums that I’ve heard so far, in 2019.

Justin Robinson – At First Light (WJ3)

Justin Robinson spent most of the last 15 years, alongside the late, great Roy Hargrove on some of the trumpet master’s finest live shows and recordings. His work with Hargrove, often overshadowed the impressive music that Mr. Robinson released as a leader. At First Light, is his first album in five years and his second for WJ3 Records. He is backed by a solid group of young cats, that he has worked with over the years, with Hargrove and in other settings; Sharp Radway on piano, Ameen Saleem on bass and Jeremy Clemons on drums. Mr. Robinson lists Jackie McLean among his influences and it shows in his sound, as do elements of Bobby Watson. His tone is in your face and hard swinging. Robinson composed six of the project’s eight tunes and there are many standouts: “Lamentations for R and D” starts with a mournful, wandering theme, which leads unexpectedly to a light bossa beat, while Robinson, sticks with the mood that he set in the opening. It’s compelling, and Radway and Clemons are especially good here. The beautiful “Love Thy Father”, allows Robinson to fully access his melodic side. There’s also “Cool Blues”, the Charlie Parker classic, that seems to be a rite of passage for alto players. Mr. Robinson’s take is a very good one, true to the structure of Bird but adding his own flourishes during his solos. It is Parker meets JMac meets Robinson and I liked it a lot. At First Light is another fine release from WJ3 Records. We don’t hear from them often but when we do, it’s consistently first-rate.

There’s a lot more that’s new and good out there, to tell you about. We’ll be dropping more reviews shortly. In the meantime, you can hear tracks from these albums and more on CurtJazz Radio, on Live 365. We’re always on and always FREE.

Until then, the jazz (and BAM) continues…

The Story of Helen Morgan, if You Didn’t Know Already

Posted in Uncategorized on September 5, 2017 by curtjazz

I called him morganFor those, like me, who have seen and loved I Called Him Morgan, here is an extended take on the Helen Morgan interview that serves as the film’s centerpiece. Thank you Larry Reni Thomas, for the fascinating original interview and Jason Palmer for the post that I am reblogging.

Jason Palmer's Weblog

I recieved this story in my email box many times from friends of mine and I thought I’d share this piece of debated history with those who didn’t know about the details surrounding Lee Morgan’s death.

The Lady Who Shot Lee Morgan

By Larry Reni Thomas

Lee Morgan, the fiery-hot, extremely talented jazz trumpet player, died much too soon. His skyrocketing career was cut short, at age 33, one cold February night in 1972, at a Manhattan club called Slug’s when he was shot to death by his 46-year-old common law wife Helen. At the time, Morgan was experiencing a comeback of sorts. He had been battling a serious heroin addiction for years and by most accounts, was drug free.

His gig at Slug’s was the talk of the jazz world and was a must-see for all of those in the know. There was always a packed house during his…

View original post 5,916 more words

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

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2017 by curtjazz

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

Best Jazz Albums I Heard in 2016

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2016, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2017 by curtjazz

melissa-morganLet’s start with a confession: I got to hear fewer jazz albums this year than in any year in the past two decades. Which is a shame, because there was a TON of worthwhile music released during the year. My crazy schedule in 2016 often limited me to snippets or tracks from discs that I vowed to get back to, but never did.  So, here’s my list of the best albums that I actually got to hear during the year. Also, there’s a track from an extremely promising young artist, who needs to put more on the market, ASAP; a couple of outstanding 2015 releases that didn’t catch my ear until 2016; and finally, a few of the many fine 2016 releases that I plan to catch up with in January:

ALBUM ARTIST LABEL
ArtScience Robert Glasper Blue Note
Back Home Melissa Aldana Wommusic
Beginning of a Memory Matt Wilson Palmetto
Book of Intuition Kenny Barron Trio Impulse
Chasing After the Wind Gregory Tardy Steeplechase
Convergence Warren Wolf Mack Avenue
Days Like This Melissa Morgan CD Baby
Do Your Dance Kenny Garrett Mack Avenue
Feet in the Mud Mimi Jones Hot Tone
In Movement DeJohnette, Coltrane and Garrison ECM
Jersey Cat Freddie Hendrix Sunnyside
Live at Maxwell’s DE3 Sunnyside
Nihil Novi Marcus Strickland Revive/Blue Note
Notes from New York Bill Charlap Impulse
Once and Future Brian Charette Posi-Tone
Perfection Murray, Allen and Carrington Motema
Presented by the Side Door Jazz Club Black Art Jazz Collective Sunnyside
Restless Idealism Roxy Coss Origin
Soul Tree Ed Cherry Posi-Tone
The Sound of Red Rene Marie Motema
Stranger Days Adam O’Farrill Sunnyside
Take Me to the Alley Gregory Porter Blue Note
TriAngular III Ralph Peterson Trio Onyx/Truth Revolution
The Way We Play Marquis Hill Concord
Written in The Rocks Renee Rosnes Smoke Sessions

2016’s most compelling single in search of an album:

  • “Chicken Day” – Harvey Cummings II

Two 2015 albums (heard in 2016) that deserved to be on last year’s list:

  • Back to the City – Amos Hoffman (CD Baby)
  • Some Morning – Kim Nazarian (CD Baby)

Probably excellent 2016 albums that I look forward to hearing as soon as possible:

ALBUM ARTIST LABEL
#KnowingIsHalfTheBattle Orrin Evans Smoke Sessions
Away With You Mary Halvorson Octet Firehouse 12
Day Breaks Norah Jones Blue Note
Habana Dreams Pedrito Martinez Group Motema
Harlem on My Mind Catherine Russell Jazz Village
Inner Spectrum of Variables Tyshawn Sorey Pi
Madera Latino Brian Lynch Hollistic Music Works
San Jose Suite Etienne Charles Culture Shock
Something Gold, Something Blue Tom Harrell High Note
Upward Spiral Branford Marsalis Okeh

 

 

 

2016 Jazz Grammy Nominations

Posted in 2016 Grammys, Uncategorized with tags , , on December 14, 2015 by curtjazz

grammy1Here they are folks; the jazz albums and performances nominated for the 58th Grammy Awards, which will be presented on Monday, February 15, 2016; at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

No real surprises here, the nominating committee basically followed their template. However, without an album this year from a living legend, it did open up a few spots for artists who don’t always get the recognition. As we get into the New Year, I will do my usual predicting and complaining about each category. But for now, I will just report the news…

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

Best Improvised Jazz Solo
• Giant Steps
Joey Alexander, soloist
Track from: My Favorite Things
[Motema Music]

• Cherokee
Christian McBride, soloist
Track from: Live At The Village Vanguard (Christian McBride Trio)
[Mack Avenue Records]

• Arbiters Of Evolution
Donny McCaslin, soloist
Track from: The Thompson Fields (Maria Schneider Orchestra)
[ArtistShare]

• Friend Or Foe
Joshua Redman, soloist
Track from: The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (The Bad Plus Joshua Redman)
[Nonesuch]

• Past Present
John Scofield, soloist
Track from: Past Present
[Impulse!]

Best Jazz Vocal Album
• Many A New Day: Karrin Allyson Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein
Karrin Allyson
[Motema Music]

• Find A Heart
Denise Donatelli
[Savant Records]

• Flirting With Disaster
Lorraine Feather
[Jazzed Media]

• Jamison
Jamison Ross
[Concord Jazz]

• For One To Love
Cécile McLorin Salvant
[Mack Avenue Records]

Best Jazz Instrumental Album
• My Favorite Things
Joey Alexander
[Motema Music]

• Breathless
Terence Blanchard Featuring The E-Collective
[Blue Note Records]

• Covered: Recorded Live At Capitol Studios
Robert Glasper & The Robert Glasper Trio
[Blue Note Records]

• Beautiful Life
Jimmy Greene
[Mack Avenue Records]

• Past Present
John Scofield
[Impulse!]

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
• Lines Of Color
Gil Evans Project
[Blue Note/ArtistShare]

• Köln
Marshall Gilkes & WDR Big Band
[Alternate Side Records]

• Cuba: The Conversation Continues
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
[Motema Music]

• The Thompson Fields
Maria Schneider Orchestra
[ArtistShare]

• Home Suite Home
Patrick Williams
[BFM Jazz]

Best Latin Jazz Album
• Made In Brazil
Eliane Elias
[Concord Jazz]

• Impromptu
The Rodriguez Brothers
[Criss Cross Jazz]

• Suite Caminos
Gonzalo Rubalcaba
[5Passion]

• Intercambio
Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet
[Patois Records]

• Identities Are Changeable
Miguel Zenón
[Miel Music]

Best Contemporary Instrumental Album
• Guitar In The Space Age!
Bill Frisell
[Okeh]

• Love Language
Wouter Kellerman
[Listen 2 Entertainment Group]

• Afrodeezia
Marcus Miller
[Blue Note Records]

• Sylva
Snarky Puppy & Metropole Orkest
[Impulse!]

• The Gospel According To Jazz, Chapter IV
Kirk Whalum
[Mack Avenue Records]


 

Unburied Treasure – Dave Lambert’s “Audition at RCA”

Posted in Never on CD, Uncategorized, Under The Radar, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2014 by curtjazz

lambertIf you read my posts regularly, you know that I’m a fan of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, the great jazz vocal group that influenced so many others, from the Swingle Singers to New York Voices to their most successful progeny, The Manhattan Transfer. Hard as it is to believe, the trio of Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross only recorded together for five years (1957 – 1962). Unlike many others, I’m even quite fond of the work of Lambert and Hendricks with Yolande Bavan, the Ceylonese soprano who replaced Ms. Ross in 1962 and recorded three albums with the group for RCA.  Dave Lambert’s untimely death in an accident on a Connecticut highway in 1966, put an end to the talk of the original trio’s reunion that had been buzzing at the time.

There’s a handful of film footage of both of the group’s incarnations, in qualities that range from grainy but historically relevant; to clear, fun and eminently watchable. And until recently, I thought that I had seen pretty much all that was publicly available. Then a few months ago, I stumbled upon something that had been hiding in plain sight for many years – a short film from 1964, by D.A. Pennebaker, who would go on to create some of the best rock documentaries ever made. It was called simply, Audition at RCA. It features a post L, H & R (or B) Dave Lambert, as he has formed a new group, called Dave Lambert and Co., as he is trying to convince the suits at RCA Records, who had last recorded Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan; to give one more shot to the art form known as vocalese.

In the documentary, you not only see and hear Lambert as he works through “the process” but there’s also legendary jazz producer George Avakian (who was ready to produce the album if RCA signed on) and the great bassist George Duvivier among those providing musical support. The quartet of vocalists supporting Lambert, were all unknown and although they were quite capable, none went on to very prominent careers in the jazz world. The tunes are catchy, especially “Blow The Man Down” and “Comfy Cozy” (which sounds tailor-made for L, H & R). I would have liked to have heard what the finished product sounded like.

Unfortunately, it was not to be, as the RCA execs didn’t go for the project. The tapes of the music were erased and this cool, swinging music by a jazz master, ceased to exist anywhere, except for the snippets that are a part of this documentary short. To my knowledge these tunes have never been recorded again and I’m not sure if any complete, written versions of the compositions and arrangements exist. If they do, what a great project it would be to finally let them be heard, more than half a century later.

Until then, we have this unburied treasure to enjoy as we wonder what might have been…

 

Father’s Day – My Dad’s Wisdom, Louis Jordan and Integration

Posted in In Memoriam, Uncategorized, Video Vault with tags , , , , on June 17, 2012 by curtjazz

My Dad was the wisest man that I’ve ever known and that I probably will ever know.

He lived 96 years and though his formal education only lasted until the sixth grade, his perpetual thirst for knowledge and insatiable curiosity earned him the life equivalent of a PhD. And as I came into adulthood, I tried to sop up that wisdom like molasses on my Mom’s homemade biscuits.

Dad always kept pen and paper handy, so that if something caught his curiosity that he didn’t know about, he would write it down, so that he could then research it. And this was before the internet age, folks. This continued right up until the end of his life – when I was gathering his effects from his hospice room hours after his death, I found another of those scraps of paper with the name “Jennifer Lopez” scrawled on it in his handwriting (Dad also had good taste in women).

Anyway, though my father was not a big jazz fan, he had an interest in a wide variety of music. It wouldn’t be odd to hear him break out in a bit of a Beatles tune, Stevie Wonder or even Fleetwood Mac (“Don’t Stop”).  When I started to love music in my preteen years, I would constantly play the album from “The Archies” TV show. The song “Truck Driver” became his favorite. 

But as far as John Davenport was concerned, the great Louis Jordan was THE MAN.  My dad was a generally reserved man, so I would always get a kick out of seeing him, out of nowhere, burst into “Caldonia” or “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby”.  He always marveled at the big sound of Jordan’s Tympany Five, which he said could sound bigger than an entire big band.

My dad was born in Mississippi in 1911. It goes without saying that he grew up in a time that legal segregation had a tight grip on his home state.  He then moved to St. Louis (where segregation was more institutional than legal) in his twenties and then to New York just after World War II.  Not too long after arriving in NYC, he heard that Louis Jordan was going to be appearing at the old Paramount Theater on 43rd & Broadway. Of course he bought a ticket and went to the show.

Keep in mind that my Dad had never experienced integrated seating before, so he was going through a bit of a culture shock. The shock turned to overload when a few minutes after he took his seat, a trio of young white girls in bobby socks and poodle skirts bounded into his row and took their seats right next to him. They said “Hi!” and then went about their business, gabbing amongst themselves with excitement about seeing Mr. Jordan.

Dad was a bit nervous at first. Where he came from, something a simple as this was unheard of…White folks, let alone young white women, would never have taken an open seat next to a black man. And if they did, trouble was sure to come for that black man.  He remained in seat, albeit apprehensively, almost waiting for some sort of trouble to come. But it never did.  The girls never said another word to him after “hello”. They were utterly unfazed by his presence.  Which, to Dad, was the most amazing thing of all.

A few minutes later the lights went down and Jordan hit the stage “Caldonia…Caldonia…What makes yo’ big head so hard!!!” As my Dad, the bobby soxers and the rest of the throng responded to Mr. Jordan, in unison, he finally began to relax and feel at home.  Within an hour, people of all races had become one, through their love of “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”.

Hey, maybe New York was going to be okay…

Thanks for staying in New York Dad; and thanks for sharing all of that wisdom with me.

Happy Father’s Day to my fellow Dads.