Archive for the Who's New in Jazz Category

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: 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.

Four “Under The Radar” Tenor Saxophonists

Posted in Under The Radar, Unsung Saxophone Masters, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by curtjazz

elias haslangerAs we said last week, there are a lot of fine, living saxophonists out there who are not getting their due. Last week we dropped a few alto players on you. This week we have four tenors. Again, there are others, these are just four that I’m listening to now. Each paragraph includes a link to the artist’s website, if any, and a link to a place to buy some of their music.

Elias Haslanger

When I’m looking for someplace to hear a great tenor saxophonist, I normally don’t head to Austin, TX. After hearing Elias Haslanger, I may have to add another stop to my itinerary. Elias has been on the scene for about 25 years. A Texas native, he attended the Manhattan School of Music and has played and recorded with Maynard Ferguson, Ellis Marsalis, Bob Dorough and even Bruce Springsteen. After paying his New York dues for many years, Haslanger decided to return home to Austin, where he has set up SRO shop at the famed Continental Club on Monday nights. Haslanger has named Stanley Turrentine as one of his major influences and you can hear traces of Mr. T all over Elias’ big soulful Texas Tenor sound. His latest album Church on Monday is a stone groove in the Turrentine/Shirley Scott mode, with Dr. James Polk, Ray Charles’s longtime musical director, on the B3.

Erica Lindsay

I first became aware of Erica Lindsay via her work with one of my favorite “Under The Radar” pianists, Sumi Tonooka. Born in San Francisco, Ms. Lindsay spent much of her formative years in Europe with her parents who had moved there during the sixties. This exposed her at an early age to the jazz of other American expatriates, such as Dexter Gordon, Benny Bailey and Mal Waldron.  Ms. Lindsay returned to the U.S. to stay in 1980, settling in New York and becoming part of the jazz scene, the performance art scene and writing music for television and dance.  On tenor, her sound is robust and powerful. The Coltrane influence is strong but you can also hear a bit of Gordon in there as well. Ms. Lindsay’s  discography is limited but quite good; the most highly recommended being Dreamer, her 1992 debut and Initiation, her 2008 collaboration with Ms. Tonooka.

Dayna Stephens

Like many fine musicians, you’ll see Dayna Stephens’ name in the credits of many of the better jazz albums of the last few years but his  discography as a leader is small. You can easily why others track this cat down. His tenor sound is a big, warm and clear, out of the Joe Henderson/Wayne Shorter school. Nevertheless, I would not call him a clone of either of these two giants as he has his own sound that is growing more distinctive. Those who he has played with include Gerald Clayton, Gretchen Parlato and Taylor Eigsti, who have all returned the favor on Stephens’ recordings. You can check out any one of his three albums but a great place to start is his most recent one, this year’s That Nepenthetic Place on Sunnyside Records.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that though Dayna Stephens is still active, he has been facing some very serious health problems. He suffers from a congenital kidney ailment, undergoes daily dialysis and is awaiting a transplant. His medical expenses, needless to say are tremendous. If you would like more information on how to help, you can go to HelpDaynaStephens.org.

Brandon Wright

The great James Brown trombonist Fred Wesley said that “Brandon Wright is a young White cat who sounds like an old Black man.” Well, I’ll leave the judgements concerning Melanin count to Fred.  I will say that Brandon Wright can play his butt off. A New Jersey native, Wright, who is now in his early thirties, is a veteran of the Mingus Big Band, Chico O’Farrill’s Big Band and an apprenticeship with Mr. Wesley. His two albums on Posi-tone, Boiling Point and Journeyman are impressive pieces of post-bop, in which Wright acquits himself quite well while surrounded by a veteran group of sidemen. Wright says that one of his earliest inspirations to play the saxophone came from seeing Lisa Simpson of the animated Simpsons, play her sax. Lisa has had a very successful run, let’s hope the same for Mr. Wright.

As always I hope that there’s a new discovery for you in at least one of these artists. If you like their work support them by seeing them live, buying their CDs or legally downloading their music. That’s the only way that we will keep jazz alive.

More “Under The Radar” living jazz artists next week. Until then, “The Jazz Continues…”

A Rich Jazz Jam at Poor Richard’s

Posted in Jazz in Charlotte, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on June 14, 2013 by curtjazz
Tim Scott, Jr.

Tim Scott, Jr.

“While we don’t want to come here and play a bunch of instrumental R&B, we also don’t want to be trapped in the traditions…”Tim Scott, Jr.

When I conceived the idea of writing this post, it was supposed to be about the start of something big. As it turns out, we end up writing about a brief, shining moment.

On April 8th a group of young Charlotte based musicians had arranged to come together a Poor Richard’s Book Shoppe a local bookstore, for what was to be an every Monday night Jazz Jam Session. They were led by Tim Scott, Jr. a fine young drummer (no relation to the SC Senator, to my knowledge)  and his group “Fat Snacks”. They wanted to recreate the spirit of the old jams of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, which birthed some of jazz’s greatest stars and innovations. To do something like this in a place like Charlotte which is not (yet) known for its jazz scene was, to me, very exciting indeed.

It took me a while to find Poor Richard’s but once I did, I got chills from what I saw. The jam had already started and on the stage was a quintet of musicians, all from my estimation in their early to mid twenties and very talented. They were exploring the boundaries of jazz and what it meant to them. It was clear that they all had some knowledge of jazz traditions but they were not chained to conventions that were over half a century old. These young cats were all born in the late 20th century and came of age in the 21st. Their common language is not Tin Pan Alley, Jump Blues or even Motown but it is the hip-hop, R&B and rock artists of today.

Though many of my generation and older scoff at younger players for just this reason, I for one find it very exciting. It gives me hope for growth in the music I love and a sense that maybe jazz has a chance to get out of the museums and into the consciousness of some millennials.

There was an enthusiastic crowd of about two dozen people of all races, ages, sexes and sizes, jammed into the intimate Poor Richard’s space. People grabbed chairs, sofas and floor wherever they could and the mood was very relaxed.

The ten or so musicians who dropped into and off of the makeshift stage were generally excellent. Scott, Jr. took on the defacto role of leader, making announcements and introductions but also driving the band from behind his drum kit with shouts of encouragement and most importantly, a steady, driving beat. Jonny Fung on guitar has absorbed the lessons of the jazz and rock guitar greats into a cohesive sound that is fascinating. Tim Singh on bass is already a pro’s pro at his young age, commanding the rhythm and soloing with ease. Henry Cummings (you’ll see him in a green t-shirt in the videos) plays some cool melodies on his alto sax.

There was one musician who caught my attention above all others; Marcus Jones on alto sax. Looking relaxed in his backward baseball cap as he waited his turn, he was as unassuming as could be. But when he began to blow it was with the fire, precision and unrelenting creativity of a Cannonball Adderley. I had never heard Mr. Jones’ name before that night. I will not forget it from now on. Check out the accompanying video clips, for evidence of what I’m saying. Watch out for Marcus Jones, I expect that we will hear a lot from him outside of the Charlotte area.

It seemed as if the jam was an idea whose time had come. Attendance was good the first few sessions and word of mouth had created a bit of buzz behind it. But unfortunately fate intervened in an unkind way.  Poor Richard’s was unexpectedly forced to vacate its location on May 17. The Monday Night Jazz Jam had its final performance on Monday, May 13, a scant five weeks after it had begun.  We are left with the hope that either the bookstore will find another home that will welcome the music or that some venue in the area will champion the idea of a jazz jam and start the ball rolling again. Until then, we have a lot of hope and a few lasting memories. In spite of it all, jazz is alive in Charlotte, NC.

Four “Under The Radar” Alto Saxophonists

Posted in Under The Radar, Unsung Saxophone Masters, Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on June 11, 2013 by curtjazz

tk blue - latin birdYou know what y’all? There are a lot of good saxophonists playing under the radar these days. As I set out to write this piece, I planned to scribble a few names down, pare it down to four and get it done. But a strange thing happened, as I scribbled the list just kept growing and growing. Long story short, there were so many that we’re splitting this first go around into alto and tenor saxophonists. Alto this week and tenor next.

So here in alpha order are four fine alto saxophonists who should get a wider hearing:

T.K. Blue

I first heard T.K. Blue (aka Talib Kibwe or Eugene Rhynie) several years ago when he was playing on a session by a drummer whose name I now forget. As I now recall, Mr. Blue was the only redeeming thing about that session. I’ve kept up with his work from that point on and he has continued to impress me both as a sideman and on his own releases. Like many alto saxophonists, Mr. Blue has been strongly influenced by Charlie Parker but his Caribbean roots add another layer to his sound that makes him unique. I strongly recommend his two most recent projects: Follow The North Star, a fascinating musical retelling of the story of Solomon Northup and his book Twelve Years a Slave and Latin Bird, which as you may have guessed is a Latin and Caribbean tinged romp through the music of Charlie Parker.

Sharel Cassity

This Oklahoma City native got her big break when she sat in at a New Year’s 2008 jam session in NYC. She followed Roy Hargrove and Antonio Hart’s solos on “Be-Bop”. She acquitted herself so well that Hargrove and Jimmy Heath, who was in attendance, both asked Ms. Cassity to join their big bands on the spot. In addition to stints with both of those bands, this graduate of The New School and Julliard has appeared with the Diva Big Band, Nicholas Payton, Christian McBride, Mark Whitfield and many others. Her greatest triumph though has been Relentless, her critically acclaimed 2009 disc. We expect to hear much more from Ms. Cassity in the future.

Tim Green

Like this writer, Tim Green was “raised in the church”; like me, he also was influenced by all kinds of music, secular and Christian.  The Baltimore native, who finished 2nd in the 2008 Monk Saxophone Competition, has played and recorded with a wide range of artists from Kirk Franklin to Kenny Burrell to Donnie McClurkin and Hubert Laws. His work on the alto  has been lauded by musicians of all stripes and Jazz Times has called Green ” a player to watch”. His most recent release Songs From This Season, has been heralded by the critics and will likely end up on a number of this year’s “Best Of” lists. Mr. Green is not likely to be under the radar for long, be the first on your block to ‘discover’ him.

Sherman Irby

A melodic alto player out of the Cannonball Adderley school, Mr. Irby has been around for the better part of 15 years; as a solo artist as well as a sideman for Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Marcus Roberts and others. He released a couple of strong albums for Blue Note in the late ’90’s, Full Circle and Big Mama’s Biscuits but they got lost in the glut of “New Young Lions” releases of that era. Of late, Irby has been a member of Wynton’s Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra and produced some very strong work on his own Black Warrior record label, of which two albums, Black Warrior from 2006 and 2011’s Live at the Otto Club, are standouts.

Be sure to use the links throughout this post to get more info about the artists whose music you enjoy and most importantly, support them by attending their concerts if they come to your area and buying their CDs or legally downloading their music.

Next week we’ll cover some tenor sax players.

Until the next time, the jazz continues…

Fred Wesley and Two Saxophonists to Watch

Posted in Jazz in Charlotte, Under The Radar, Unsung Saxophone Masters, Unsung Women of Jazz, Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , on June 9, 2013 by curtjazz

susanne altIt’s funny sometimes how a search for one thing can lead to another. During the May edition of THE JAZZ ROOM here in Charlotte, I was introduced to the talents of tenor saxophonist Phillip Whack, who was playing with Mark Rapp during the Miles Davis tribute. Mr. Whack turned in an impressive performance that night that arguably stole the show.

I spoke to Phillip after the show and found out a little about his background. He is a Carolinas native, that unfortunately he does not have any available recordings at this time and that he has spent a bit of time touring with Fred Wesley, the legendary trombonist of the J.B.’s; James Brown’s backup band.

Phillip Whack

Phillip Whack

I was inspired then to go to YouTube in search of some footage of Whack and Wesley. I found a good bit of it but I also made another discovery; on the bandstand during several of the performances was a young woman next to Whack, playing alto sax. The fact that she is fairly easy on the eyes is immediately apparent. The next thing you notice is that she is a very good saxophonist and her presence on the stand is by no means a novelty. Her name is Susanne Alt.

This led me to widen my search for more information concerning Ms. Alt. She was born in Germany and is now based in Amsterdam. She has released five albums as a leader, which range in styles from post bop to house to J.B.’s style funk. She has her own YouTube Channel, Venustunes where you can view and hear copious evidence of her musical talents. I can recommend a trio of her albums – Nocturne, her straightahead 2004 recording debut; On Track a funk steeped 2009 release that features Mr. Wesley and Live at Bimhuis from 2011, which covers all facets of her musical personality.

So here you have two gifted saxophonists that you’ve probably heard not a lot about, Phillip Whack and Susanne Alt. The two-part video clip included here features a dynamite performance of “Chameleon” from a Fred Wesley and the New J.B.’s club date at JazzClub Minden in Minden, Germany, that was featured on Venustunes. This was the set opener so everybody gets a turn. Alt starts at about 5:25 of Part 1 and takes it to the end. Whack opens Part 2 and shows that he will not be outdone.

It’s great funk from some master musicians and a chance to make a few new discoveries. Enjoy!

Jazz Under the Radar – Four Trumpets That You Should Hear

Posted in Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , on June 5, 2013 by curtjazz

Keyon HarroldIf you’re familiar with my Twitter Feed, you know that on Mondays (#MusicMonday as it’s known in the Twitterverse), I usually at some point during the day will ask followers to check out the music of a living, working musician that they are unfamiliar with.

I do that because as much as I love the jazz classics, I realize that if this music is to have any hope of a future it will come not at the hands of Miles, Monk and Diz but with the musicians who are out there today, working and creating music that is influenced not only by the past masters but by what is happening out there now. So if by dropping that little reminder each Monday, I can get someone to dig and then support ($) someone new, maybe I will have done a little something.

As I’ve done this, I’ve had people reply with the request that I give them a few suggestions of artists to familiarize themselves with. Those who are playing  and recording great music but have managed to miss the general attention of much of the jazz public.

So even though this is a Wednesday, I’m going to start what I hope to make a Monday tradition – “Jazz Under the Radar”; in which I’ll suggest a few artists who might have missed your attention but are definitely worth checking out.

We’ll start with a few trumpet players and we’ll switch the categories up each week. There will be a video clip and a link to the artist’s website, if any, and to an album or two that you can currently purchase. Here are four, in alphabetical order:

Rebecca Coupe Franks

A protegé of the late tenor giant Joe Henderson, Ms. Franks (or “Coupe” as she is often called) has been on the scene for over 20 years, logging credits with Henderson, Kenny Barron and Herb Ellis among others. She first caught my ear on My Appreciation, a 1991 studio jam session that was released under Bill Cosby’s name. She has released a number of albums over the years, including Suit of Armor, her solid 1992 debut as a leader, which featured Henderson and her most recent, Two Oceans a two disc set on which she is backed by Luis Perdomo, Mimi Green and Rodney Green.

Check out the clip below and “Coupe” might just catch your ear, too.

Keyon Harrold

When have been sought by artists from Jay-Z to Fred Hammond to Maxwell to Charles Tolliver, to perform on their projects, you know that you’ve got it going on.  And Mr. Harrold certainly does. He counts Eddie Henderson and Jimmy Owens as teachers and Wynton Marsalis and Tolliver as mentors, so his knowledge of jazz traditions is excellent but since he’s in his early 30’s hip-hop has also had a strong pull. His technique is very strong, with the power of Morgan and the  swagger of Hubbard. Harrold has one album to his credit as of today, 2009’s Introducing Keyon Harrold on Criss Cross. Rest assured, you will hear more from him.

Melvin Jones

The 2011 Atlanta Jazz Festival had just begun. Vocalist Audrey Shakir was about 15 minutes into her set, when her trumpet player stepped forward to deliver a killer solo on the song that they were playing and then another on the next tune. I had never seen this young man before and his name wasn’t immediately announced so I put out an APB into the Twitterworld: “who is the young cat playing trumpet with Audrey Shakir? He is the real deal!” A few minutes later the answer came – Melvin Jones. At about the same time, Ms. Shakir disappeared from the stage for the rest of the set. We later found out that she had wilted under the blazing Memorial Day weekend sun. Mr. Jones and the band picked up the ball and ran with it. Most of the audience barely noticed the singer’s absence.

Melvin Jones returned with his own set for the 2012 AJF. As you will hear in this clip that I recorded then, the previous year was not a fluke. The Atlanta-based Memphis native has one album out. The title is Pivot. It is worth checking out.

By the way, the saxophonist in the clip is Mace Hibbard, another very good musician who’s under the radar.

Jason Parker

This Seattle-based cat is like Ms. Franks,  a 20+ year veteran of the jazz wars. He’s a fine soloist with a buttery middle tone and an easygoing swing. He writes memorable compositions that tend to stick with you after hearing them just once. He’s also a compelling writer, having written extensively about his musical life in his blog “One Working Musician”.  His recorded work reflects the indie spirit of Mr. Parker’s hometown and it’s refreshingly unconventional. I suggest that you start with the most recent two: No More, No Less, which was a Curt’s Cafe Best of 2009 selection and Five Leaves Left a distinctive Nick Drake tribute from 2011.

But don’t take my word for it, just listen to “Bashert”.  Then try to get that subtly beautiful melody out of your head afterwards.

Well, those are four but there are many more. If you’re familiar with all of them, then count yourself fortunate and look for others. If one of these names is new to you, check them out. Support the music of living, working musicians.

Next week, we’ll feature saxophonists.

Until then, the jazz continues…

Male Jazz Singers – Hope for the Future

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by curtjazz

Ori DaganIn 2008 I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Hendricks for Jazz Inside Magazine. The legendary”James Joyce of Jive” was extremely generous with his time (we talked for over two hours, including his impromptu, a capella performance of his classic lyric to J.J. Johnson’s “Lament”).  He was also not shy about sharing his opinions.

One of the topics we touched on was the dearth of young male jazz singers coming up through the ranks. While we acknowledged the formidable gifts of Kurt Elling and Kevin Mahogany, we lamented the fact that there didn’t seem to be a lot of others. The young women singing jazz seem to outnumber the men by a 20:1 margin.

Mr. Hendricks offered the theory that in our 21st century culture, jazz singing is not considered a “serious profession” even in the entertainment world and that men of all stripes are pushed toward vocations that will “bring home the bacon”. Whether that is the case or not can be debated. The paucity of guys under 40 who are truly singing jazz, cannot.

However as the title of this post indicates, there is hope on the horizon. Over the past three years, there have been a number of younger men that have showed up on the scene who are quite good. Many are as versed in hip-hop as they are in the standards and they bring to the stage a sound that is fresh and promising.

Here are five that I find interesting. These are not the only five good young male jazz singers, just a few who have my ear at the moment. I have also cheated a bit in that one is slightly over 40 but he is too good to pass up because of that minor technicality.

In alphabetical order:

Ori Dagan

Born in Israel and raised in Toronto, Mr. Dagan is also a classically trained pianist. He is the best scat singer of this quintet and his improvisations, which have at times taken him from English to Hebrew and back again, are often a joy for these jaded ears. He has two albums out, which put the fun back in jazz singing: S’Cat Got My Tongue and Less Than Three

José James

The likely breakout star of this group, Mr. James has dropped successful albums on the jazz and the hip-hop sides of the street. His appearances on Letterman, Leno and other mainstream shows have helped to juice his rise. But make no mistake about it. This cat can SANG. Think of the crooning ability of Al Green mixed with jazz sensibility of Bill Henderson and you’re on the right track.  His latest album, No Beginning No End on Blue Note, is a strong mixture of multiple genres. However to really hear José James the vocalist, you should also check out For All We Know, a duet album of standards that he did in 2010 with pianist Jef Neve, on Impulse! Records.

Gregory Porter

Mr. Porter has become an “overnight sensation” at age 41. Though he doesn’t have the mainstream profile of José James, he has turned the jazz world on his ear and with his powerful yet vulnerable tenor voice, he has even made some inroads into the adult R&B world, as evidenced by his 2013 R&B Grammy nomination. His two albums 2010’s Water and last year’s Be Good are standouts, that earned a place on their respective year’s Curt’s Cafe “Best Of” list.

Milton Suggs

Chicago born, Atlanta bred and now living in NYC, Milton Suggs has garnered attention not only for his powerful baritone voice but for his impressive gifts as a lyricist, which he fully  displayed on his latest album, the appropriately titled Lyrical, Vol. 1 ( a Curt’s Cafe Best Jazz of 2012 selection).  Mr. Suggs lyrics evince a fearless creativity that is reminiscent of Jon Hendricks but with a hip-hop undercurrent that should help to keep those of his own generation listening. Definitely someone to watch. Also check out his previous album Things To Come.

Sachal Vasandani

Blessed with boyish good looks and a smooth, crooning vocal timbre. Mr. Vasandani could have easily opted to go the route of slicksters like Michael Bublé. Instead, the fact that he has toured and recorded with Mr. Hendricks and he has appeared as a guest vocalist on recent albums by artists such as Gerald Clayton and Don Braden, says a lot about Mr. Vasandani’s artistic integrity. Yes, he can sing “The Very Thought of You” in a style that is swathed in velvet but then he will turn right around and bop his way through an impressive rendition of “Monk’s Dream”; something that the Bublés of the world wouldn’t even try. Check out his two most recent albums, We Move (2009) and Hi-Fly (2011).

Paula West – You Need to Hear This Woman Sing

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Who's New in Jazz with tags , on September 22, 2012 by curtjazz

A while back I was roaming around Manifest Records here in Charlotte and I came across a couple of used CDs by a lady named Paula West.  I had seen them in the bins for a few months but had always passed them by.

On this day, there was a BOGO Sale; so to fill out my order, I decided to pick up the two CDs by Ms. West – Temptation and Restless.

I was floored by the richness of her voice, her masterful phrasing and her song choices, which were a nice mixture of the familiar and the refreshingly different. I became an instant fan and I kicked myself for letting those two discs languish in those bins for as long as I did.

Though she has come East on occasion, Paula West is based in the Bay Area and is relatively unknown outside of San Francisco. Hopefully that will change soon.

A few weeks back while listening to her most recent disc, Live at Jazz Standard, I impulsively tweeted that “Paula West was the best jazz singer that you’ve probably never heard”. I got a surprising number of retweets and agreements, so it’s nice to see that the lady does have a growing fan base.

But don’t take my word for it. See and hear for yourself. You can thank me later.

A Gorgeous “Mosaic”

Posted in CD Reviews, Unsung Women of Jazz, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2011 by curtjazz

As we’re in the midst of our “Unsung Women of Jazz” series, a post about drummer/composer/producer Terri Lyne Carrington’s new album, The Mosaic Project, feels rather timely.  Not because Ms. Carrington is obscure (with an over two decade career that has included gigs with Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, Wayne Shorter and most visibly, on Arsenio Hall’s late night TV show in the ’90’s, she’s anything but unknown), but because the jazz on this disc is performed by women only.

And what a powerful group of women this is: Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nona Hendryx, Cassandra Wilson, Esperanza Spalding, Helen Sung, Tineke Postma, Geri Allen, Patrice Rushen, Ingrid Jensen, Sheila E. and Gretchen Parlato all make beautiful musical contributions. Though I’ve always enjoyed Ms. Carrington’s work on the drums, I’ve found her albums as a leader to be frustratingly uneven. That is, until now.  The Mosaic Project  is Terri Lyne Carrington’s strongest album, by a mile.  Ms. Carrington’s driving, soulful rhythms are always a perfect fit with the diverse contributions of her guests.

For me the most memorable tracks were “I Got Lost in His Arms”, the Irving Berlin classic, which gains new life wrapped in an R & B groove and Ms. Parlato’s sensuously ethereal vocals; Bernice Johnson Reagon’s “Echo” with a powerful spoken introduction by  Angela Davis, Abbey Lincolnesque vocals by Ms. Reeves and a muted trumpet solo from Ms. Jensen; Geri Allen’s “Unconditional Love”, with haunting solos by the composer on piano, Ms.Postma on soprano sax and Ms. Spalding’s wordless vocal line, floating over the top; “Michelle”, the Beatles’ classic, sounds terrific in a post-bop reworking; and “Magic and Music”, a touching tribute written by Ms. Carrington, to the singer Teena Marie, who passed away suddenly last December.

Check out the accompanying videos for a sampling of more. You’ll dig Terri Lyne Carrington and the ladies of her gorgeous “Mosaic”.