Archive for best jazz of 2014

Best Jazz of 2014: Hot Tone Music

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014, Under The Radar, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , on January 12, 2015 by curtjazz
(l to r) Camille Thurman; Mimi Jones; Shirazette Tinnin

(l to r) Camille Thurman; Mimi Jones; Shirazette Tinnin

A few years ago, bassist Mimi Jones recorded her first album, A New Day. Working on the sessions for the album provided Ms. Jones with a great deal of priceless experience in the ins and outs of the recording process. She became a de facto adviser  for many of her colleagues, who would come to Mimi seeking guidance on every phase of the business; such as promotion, artwork and the other little things that novices often leave to chance. Ms. Jones realized that as major label deals for most jazz artists have disappeared, the development and direction that big labels provided, have also dried up.

When she was ready to record Balance, her second album, Ms. Jones decided to take things into her own hands. Part of doing that was a gutsy decision to start her own label, Hot Tone Music. The idea being to give gifted musicians a home and the direction that they sometimes lack. As Ms. Jones said during an interview with Bret Primack (aka “The Jazz Guy”) “With Hot Tone Music… we try to support our artists. If they… show signs of great talent we make a space for them and we teach them how to take care of themselves…and then [we] present a platform from which they can get exposure through publicity and marketing…”

In addition to Balance, Hot Tone released two other albums in its first year, 2014:  Origins by saxophonist/vocalist Camille Thurman and drummer Shirazette Tinnin’s Humility:Purity of My Soul.  All three projects strong, complex and thoroughly absorbing ; grounded in the post bop and modal tradition but also rich with the influences that the artists have adopted outside of the jazz mainstream. And oh yes, in case you haven’t noticed all three leaders just happen to be women.

The fact that these albums were so good created a dilemma for me as I put together my Best Jazz Albums of 2014 list. The exceptional music from Hot Tone was easily among the best of the year. But the fact that these three albums all came from a brand new jazz-centered label and that this jazz-centered label was started by a woman musician, and at this point featured all women musicians, was such an impressive story that I didn’t want to potentially bury it inside of a list of 25 albums. So, I decided to wait a week or so and create this separate entry, celebrating Hot Tone Music and its 2014 releases.

Balance – Mimi Jones – This album was my introduction to Hot Tone Music, as I was assigned to review it for Jazz Inside Magazine. It’s a confident blend of original compositions and covers of tunes that are well know but not done so often that they’ve become clichéd. Guest appearances by Ingrid Jensen, Luis Perdomo, Marvin Sewell and Ms. Jones’ two Hot Tone label mates, help take things to the next level. It was a long, long time before I moved this disc out of my player. Read my Jazz Inside Review HERE.

Humility: Purity of My Soul – Shirazette Tinnin –  On her debut album, this North Carolina native displays impressive skills on the kit and proves to be a fine composer, having written seven of her album’s nine selections. The two covers? McCoy’s “Passion Dance” and Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” (Nothing like going for broke!). She pulls each off in a big way with Ms. Tinnin’s hard-driving beat and labelmate Camille Thurman’s smokin’ tenor powering “Passion Dance”. On the Eddie Harris classic, Ms. Jones adds an insistent island-funk bass line to Ms. Thurman’s searching sax and Ms. Tinnin’s authoritative drumwork. It’s now one of my favorite versions of the piece. As far as the originals go, check out “Aunt Sissy”, with the ladies of Hot Tone joined by pianist Rachel Eckroth for a ballad that grows from a whisper to a shout on Thurman’s muscular tenor. Also dig “Jazzmine”, a pretty ballad with a reflective vocal setup from Thurman, followed by Eckroth’s gentle electric keyboard and some solid scatting by Ms. Thurman.

Cindy Blackman-Santana, Teri-Lyne Carrington, Sherrie Maricle, Allison Miller…The small sisterhood of outstanding female jazz drummers of our time must make room for a new member: Shirazette Tinnin.

Origins – Camille Thurman – She’s a saxophonist, a flutist and a vocalist so accomplished that she was the runner-up in the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Camille Thurman places all of these skills on full display on Origins, her second album. With first-call pros such as Luis Perdomo, Rudy Royston, Enoch Smith, Jr. and label mate Shirazette Tinnin along for support, Ms. Thurman has created a rich, multifaceted work of art that is never boring and is at times, outstanding. Like Jones and Tinnin, Ms. Thurman is also a first-rate composer who has contributed a number of fine pieces to the project. Among them are the title track, which is a Shorteresque up tempo workout; “In Duetime”, a joyous tune with a cool Brazilian influence, evincing Ms.Thurman’s proficiency on the flute as well as her facility as a scat vocalist; and “Pursuit With a Purpose” a melodious jazz waltz that gives plenty of solo room to all, with a terrific piano turn by Mr. Smith. There is also a compelling cover of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz”, with Ms. Thurman throwing down on a delightfully staccato tenor lead. Because her musical gifts are so wide-ranging, Ms. Thurman’s album is the most diverse of the three and that perhaps gives Origin a very slight edge.

Hot Tone Music is a great concept, a great business model and most important, it has started off with three great albums. Congratulations to Mimi Jones and company. We’re looking forward to more exciting things from you in 2015 and beyond.

Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 4 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2014 by curtjazz

michael deaseIn our penultimate look at our Best Jazz Albums of 2014, we have an artist who appears twice; once at the front of his familiar Afro-Latin Jazz Band and again as a part of a newly formed “super-group”. We also have a remarkable vocalist, who records far too infrequently, delivering another impressive album. A teacher-student pairing has borne fruit that is musically delicious. And a hardworking big band sideman takes the reins and shows how well he can perform when in the driver’s seat.

  • The Offense of the Drum – Arturo O’Farrill (Motema) The son of Afro-Cuban Jazz royalty produces his most eclectic album to date and in doing so, breathes a bit of freshness and excitement into a genre that has grown somewhat stale. Special guests such as harpist Edmar Castaneda (“Cuarto de Colores”) and saxophonist Donald Harrison (“Iko Iko”) light a fire. Then along comes pianist Vijay Iyer with a knotty piece (“The Mad Hatter”) to fan the flames further before spoken word artist “Chilo” and DJ Logic blow the roof off, on an anthem of Puerto Rican pride (“They Came”). Underneath it all, the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra keeps the pressure on, driving each guest and soloist to be at the top of their game. Give us more like this Arturo. Please! 
  • Promises to Burn – Janice Borla Group (Tall Grass)  Every few years, Janice Borla, IMO, one of the finest pure jazz voices alive, takes a break from her busy schedule of teaching, clinics and jazz camps to record a new album. In doing so, she reminds me of what I find so interesting about her artistry. There are many who can stand in front of a band and sing. Ms. Borla makes her voice an integral instrument in the band. Many singers use the appellation “voice” as an affectation, for Janice Borla it is a spot-on description. Oh yeah. In case you’re wondering, Promises to Burn is a terrific album. Ms. Borla and Co. take mostly unfamiliar instrumental works by jazz musicians such as Jack DeJohnette, Bob Mintzer and Joey Calderazzo and bring out their vocal best.  
  • The Puppeteers – The Puppeteers (Red) From 2006 through 2011, one of the best places in New York to check out jazz musicians as they tried out new ideas was Puppet’s Jazz Bar in Brooklyn. There, owner/drummer Jamie Affoumado and many other musicians found a more friendly environment than existed on most of the tough NYC club scene. It was also there that Mr. Affoumado first teamed with bassist Alex Blake, pianist Arturo O’Farrill and vibraphonist Bill Ware to jam. After the club’s closing, Mr. Affoumado teamed with attorney Dana Hall to form Puppet’s Records. The label’s first release is an album by the four musicians, who call themselves, appropriately, The Puppeteers. It is an auspicious debut, with each member of the collective contributing at least one tune and innumerable ideas, learned from all of their years on the scene working with  musical heavies from Randy Weston to Steely Dan to Jaco Pastorious and beyond. Their sound is definitively jazz but with the groups pedigree, there are strong notes of Afro-Latin, soul and even a little rock in the mix. Whatever it is, it works. Looking forward to what’s coming from Puppet Records and The Puppeteers.   
  • Questioned Answer – Brian Lynch & Emmet Cohen (Hollistic Music) Trumpet master Brian Lynch first met the young pianist Emmet Cohen on the 2011 Jazz Cruise, where Mr. Lynch was featured and Mr. Cohen was showcased with a trio from the U. of Miami, where he was an undergrad. As fate would have it, a few months later, Lynch became a trumpet professor at The U. They began to play and practice together on a regular basis as a duo, sharpening the musical bond that they had first recognized on the cruise. After about a year of shedding, they recorded this album, which was finally released this year, thanks to generous Kickstarter support. Consisting of duo and quartet (w/ Billy Hart and Boris Kozlov) performances, the album is another feather in the cap of Lynch, who just keeps getting better. It is also an exciting debut  by young Mr. Cohen who possesses great facility and an astuteness that is way beyond his years. I can hear what impressed Mr. Lynch so much on that cruise.
  • Relentless – Michael Dease (Posi-Tone) I should have seen this one coming but it still caught me by surprise.  Trombonist Michael Dease has done some fine work before, releasing four impressive albums as a leader of small groups. He has also been in the trombone sections of big bands led by Roy Hargrove, Jimmy Heath, Charles Tolliver and others, sometimes handling the arranging chores. So it’s a natural progression for this 32-year-old Georgian to take his best arrangements and put them on display in his own big band. The charts are complex, strong and they swing like mad. Mr. Dease has learned his lessons well and put them to good use. 

Tracks from all 25 albums in our 2014 Best Of list, may be heard on Curt’s Cafe Noir WebJazz radio, our free, streaming radio station, from now throughout January 2015. Click HERE to access the station.

Our next post will include the final five albums on our alphabetical list.

Until then, the jazz continues…

Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 3 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2014 by curtjazz

Brandee YoungerAs the luck of the alphabetical draw would have it, our third set of the Best Jazz Albums of 2014, comes from a group of artists who are through no fault of their own, relatively unknown. It includes a woman who plays an instrument rarely heard as a lead in jazz. On the other hand we have a woman who plays a very familiar instrument, though some are still shocked to find out that women in jazz play it. There is also a talented pianist who is now starting to make his mark with a larger ensemble; a saxophonist who took a few risks, with great rewards and finally, a bassist who has blended jazz with the music of his ancestral roots with impressive results.

  • Live @ the Breeding Ground – Brandee Younger 4Tet (CD Baby) – This album was released about two weeks after it was recorded. The audio mix is a bit rough in spots but the musical vibe is so raw and electric that I got goosebumps when I first heard it. Brandee Younger is making her mark playing an instrument that few in jazz have been able to successfully master; the harp. But like this unwieldy instrument’s most famous jazz master, the late Dorothy Ashby, Ms. Younger is doing it on her own terms and breaking new ground with every performance. Live @ the Breeding Ground is great because the tension between the naturally ethereal sound of  the lead instrument and the hard-driving R & B cum jazz groove, laid by the first call sidemen (big props to Dezron Douglas’ killer bass lines), kept me listening with a “stank face”. This is Brandee Younger’s first full length disc. Very impressive indeed.
  • A Meeting of Minds – Sheryl Bailey (Cellar Live) – Someone please tell Sheryl Bailey to stay off of my Best Of lists! A Meeting of Minds is her third straight album to land here. All jokes aside, Sheryl Bailey is one of the best guitarists in jazz today, period. On her last three albums, she has led a quartet with piano, a big band and now an organ trio. She has killed in every setting. Still, she is fairly obscure, even in the jazz world. A person who discovered her from my blog (and dug her) commented, “I didn’t know that there were any female jazz guitarists…” Anyway, A Meeting of Minds, has Sheryl Bailey, crushing it once again. This time with organ and drums. That should be all you need to know to get you excited.
  • Mother’s Touch – Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone) – 2014 was a strong year for big bands.  And pianist Orrin Evans’ Captain Black group is one of the most interesting of the newer groups. It’s not a traditional swing outfit. Though they can cook in a 4/4 setting, they really shine in the complex, post bop and modal space that their leader’s compositions place them. Their work on Evans’ “In My Soul” and Wayne Shorter’s “Water Babies” are the standouts on an extremely fine set.
  •  Music Appreciation – Chris Greene (Single Malt) – Yeah!!! That was the word that escaped from my mouth repeatedly as I got my first listen to this 2 disc set from the Chicago (actually Evanston) based saxophonist. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Greene’s work for a number of years now and it has been exciting to listen as he developed his own voice. Consider Music Appreciation the announcement of his arrival. It’s kind of ballsy for an unheralded artist to drop a two disc set but  Greene and Co. more than justify the decision by playing a strong mix of originals and covers; taking some very interesting risks in the process, such as “Equinox” as a laid back reggae groove with soprano lead. Throughout it all, Mr. Greene and his longtime band deliver the goods, with the leader’s big toned tenor and calmly expressive soprano spurring everyone else on.  Green demonstrates that he can handle the ballads and the flag wavers with equal aplomb.  Let me say it one more time: Yeah!!!  

 

  • New Song – Omer Avital (Motema) – Mr. Avital, a bassist who has been a top sideman on the New York scene for a number of years, is an Israeli with Yemenite and Moroccan roots. His Mizrahi heritage, its folk songs and its rhythms  are all over this rich and musically satisfying set. Avital’s compositions are the star. He has created melodies that are authentic, moving and dare I say it, grooving. And thankfully, he has, in his working group, a quintet of musicians who understand the music and present it with the right mix of jazz sensibility and Middle Eastern Soul. The front line of Avishai Cohen on trumpet and Joel Frahm on tenor is a good as any working in jazz today. New Song is an intelligent album that also knows how to have a good time. 

Tracks from all 25 albums in our 2014 Best Of list, may be heard on Curt’s Cafe Noir WebJazz radio, our free, streaming radio station, from now through January 2015. Click HERE to access the station.

Our next post will include albums 16 – 20 on our alphabetical list.

Until then, the jazz continues…

Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 1 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , on December 27, 2014 by curtjazz

CatherineRussellBringItBackAs always, we try to make our year-end “Best Of” more than just a list. But we also know that 25 albums at once is a rather formidable bite to swallow. So we’ve decided to take them a few at a time. Here are some thoughts and clips for the first 5 albums in our alphabetical group of 25:

 

  • Amalgamations – Ali Jackson (Sunnyside) The drummer for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra stepped out of the formidable shadow of his mentor, Wynton Marsalis and dropped a fascinating album loaded with creativity. Jackson takes us to Cuba, the Caribbean, 52nd Street, the prison yard and the church. And he manages to make it a seamless trip. The guest spots from many of his LCJO cohorts elevates things to the highest level. The title of the first cut sums it up: “Ali’s Got Rhythm” 
  • The Art of Conversation – Kenny Barron and Dave Holland (Impulse!) – You know that this record could not be anything but good, with two of the best in the business doing their thing. But it goes further as they approach every track with such emotional investment that the album manages to be great. A nice mix of compositions by the leaders, with a few jazz classics keep everything from sounding alike. These two gentlemen have just completed a tour in support of this music. Hopefully there will be another recording coming soon.
  • Beautiful Life – Jimmy Greene (Mack Avenue) – This album was the most emotional listening experience for me this year. As many know, saxophonist Jimmy Greene’s 6-year-old daughter Ana, was one of the 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, two years ago. Mr. Greene has turned the wrenching heartbreak of this unspeakable tragedy into the best album of his career. Anything but solemn and mournful,  Beautiful Life is a brilliant and often uplifting remembrance with guests such as Kenny Barron, Kurt Elling, Pat Metheny and Cyrus Chestnut giving their all in musical support.
  • Bring it Back – Catherine Russell (Jazz Village) – The daughter of Luis Russell, who was Louis Armstrong’s longtime bandleader, and Carline Ray, who sang and played bass and guitar with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm during WWII, this former backup singer for David Bowie and Steely Dan, who didn’t record her first solo album until her mid ’40’s, reached her full potential with this album. Using the works from her parent’s heyday as a starting point, Ms. Russell respects the swing tradition while imbuing the proceedings with a modern blues sheen. Her voice has the gritty edge of a woman who has been around but it’s leavened by a youthful lightness that shines through on the uptempo numbers. I admit to having missed her before now, but after this disc I will catch up because Catherine Russell is the truth.
  • Eight Track – Dave Stryker (Strikezone) – Veteran guitarist Dave Stryker and his organ-based trio rework some great pop and soul tunes of the seventies into a pure soul-jazz groove. What elevates this date above average fare of this type is the total investment of the trio and the stellar work of guest star Stefon Harris on vibes. Guitar, organ, vibes and drums is not standard instrumentation these days (think back to Big John Patton’s Let ‘Em Roll for a great example) but these cats make it shine. It’s all great but the “Superfly/Pusherman” medley is a damn classic. Smooth Jazzers take note. This is how it’s done.

Tracks from these and all of the other Best Jazz of 2014 Selections may be heard on Curt’s Cafe Noir Streaming WebJazz Radio starting December 27 and continuing throughout January of 2015. Click HERE to access the station.

Our next post will discuss the next five alphabetical selections in our Best Jazz Albums of 2014 list.

Until then, the jazz continues…

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2014

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2014 by curtjazz

ali jacksonThe Pop Music press went apoplectic when Beyoncé and a few others, dropped their latest projects online in the middle of the night, with no advance promotion.When I heard that my first thought was: Oh, please! In jazz, we call that “Tuesday”.

The fact that an eclectic release schedule has become the norm, did force me to play catch-up on a few releases in the last month. I’m glad I did as several of them went right from my ears to this list.

I’m also breaking my “tradition” in that I’m publishing the full list first. Since it is relatively late this year, I figured that we’d cut to the chase and then follow with the rationales and video clips in several posts over the next week. I also was unable to get out a mid-term list this year so instead we’re doing it in one glorious heap.

That said, her are 25 Jazz projects that moved me this year, in alpha order by album title. Comments and disagreements are always welcomed:

Tracks from these albums and more can be heard on Curt’s Cafe Noir, our 24/7 streaming jazz radio station, starting December 27th, through most of January 2015.

We wish you all a very Happy, Healthy and Blessed Holiday Season.

Until the next time, the Jazz Continues…