Archive for Blue Note

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 Preview: Saturday on the Main Stage – It’s a Blue Note REVIVE-al

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2015 by curtjazz
Derrrick Hodge (photo by John Rogers)

Derrrick Hodge
(photo by John Rogers)

As regular visitors to this space know, I’ve long been of the opinion that if jazz is going to be relevant in the future, many traditionalists must make peace with the hip-hop and R&B influences that many of today’s most gifted young musicians come from. Most of these young cats respect the “tradition” but they didn’t grow up with Tin Pan Alley in their ears. What they bring to the table is often fresh and quite creative.

We will see a lot of that on display on Saturday, May 23 at the 38th Atlanta Jazz Festival Main Stage. It will open at 1 PM with Daniel D., a popular contemporary jazz violinist who plays a lot of Hip Hop and R&B chart hits. He will be followed at 3PM by The Rad Trads ,an energetic horn powered group based out of NYC. They specialize in an up-tempo mix of R&B, New Orleans Jazz and funk. Their fun stage shows have garnered them a ton of recent buzz.

But the big draw for me will begin at 5 PM, as REVIVE – an online music hub and concert promotion team, which specializes in the fusion of classic styles, such as jazz, with today’s ideas and genres – joins forces with Blue Note Records, that most venerable of jazz labels, to present an evening of true modern jazz. Featured will be three of the new generation of Blue Note artists, who will bring us jazz, from their perspective of “the mainstream”.

5 PM – Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life

Marcus Strickland has collaborated and recorded with an impressive list of musicians, including Wynton Marsalis, Tom Harrell, Dave Douglas, and Jeff “Tain” Watts. But one of Strickland’s longest musical collaborations is his most impressive one, as Mr. Strickland  was asked while still in college, to join legendary drummer Roy Haynes’ Fountain of Youth band. He played tenor sax with Haynes for five fruitful years.  He has also garnered some major awards from the jazz press, having won the Rising Star on Soprano Saxophone in Downbeat’s 2012 Critic’s Poll; Rising Star on Tenor Saxophone in Downbeat’s 2010 Critic’s Poll; Rising Star on Soprano Saxophone in Downbeat’s 2008 Critic’s Poll and Best New Artist in JazzTimes 2006 Reader’s Poll. His 2011 double CD set Triumph of the Heavy – Vol. 1 & 2, was one of our selections for Best Jazz Album of 2011.

In addition to his acclaimed acoustic jazz work, Marcus Strickland has also been heavily involved with Twi-Life, an electric band with its inception rooted in the soul music Strickland grew up listening to. Mr. Strickland has said that he tries to keep the personnel in Twi-Life fluid, so that the ideas and creativity will remain fresh.  The current members of the group have worked have worked individually with artists like Kanye West, & Bilal. They include keyboardist Yuki Hirano; bassist Mark Kelley who is also a member of The Roots; drummer Charles Haynes; and on vocals Jean Baylor, who some of us will remember from the 90s R&B duo, Zhané (“Hey Mr. D.J.”; “Groove Thang”). Expect great things Saturday as Strickland and Twi-Life, bring together the improvisation of acoustic jazz and instrumentation with the rhythms that have made much of today’s music so popular.

7 PM – Otis Brown III

Otis Brown III is one of the busiest young drummers in jazz today. The son of musicians and music educators, Brown grew up to the sounds of jazz, gospel, funk and rhythm and blues. His father, a jazz band instructor, played with James Brown and Al Green. His mother, an educator who also served as principal at Newark’s Arts High School (alma mater to jazz greats Sarah Vaughan and Wayne Shorter), was also a choir director and classically trained pianist.  After playing saxophone and drums in school and church, Mr. Brown attended Delaware State University as music major, where he met the great trumpeter Donald Byrd who advised young Otis to go to NYC and dive headlong into the jazz scene. Brown did and he soon caught the attention of Joe Lovano. After initially subbing for Lewis Nash and the late Idris Muhammad in Lovano’s band, Brown became a member of Lovano’s Us Five quintet, where he developed  a strong musical kinship with the group’s bassist, Esperanza Spalding, who then asked Brown to join her band as well. Brown has also worked with Terence Blanchard, Oliver Lake and the vocalist, Somi, among others.

Last year, Otis Brown III released his first album as a leader, The Thought of You, on Revive/Blue Note Records. With support from such kindred musical spirits as Robert Glasper, trumpeter Keyon Harrold, bassist Ben Williams  and vocalists Gretchen Parlato and Bilal and production by Derrick Hodge, the album is a shining example of some of the best work that the new breed of new jazz artists has to offer. It featured edgy improvisations, tunes that were unafraid to stretch boundaries and rhythms that were refreshingly contemporary. It stayed on regular rotation in my iPod from its release throughout the rest of 2014. It was also one of my Best Jazz Albums of last year. We’re looking forward to hearing Mr. Brown deliver the goods, with tracks from The Thought of You and more.

9 PM – Derrick Hodge

Closing out the second night of AJF38 will be Derrick Hodge. Another of Blue Note’s group of “New Jack Jazz” artists, Hodge has appeared previously on the Atlanta Jazz Festival stage in 2012 in one of his other roles, as bassist in the Robert Glasper Experiment. As usual with jazz musicians of his age and talents, Mr. Hodge has played with a diverse array of artists including Terence Blanchard, Jill Scott, Maxwell and the late Mulgrew Miller. He has also released a well received Blue Note album of his own, 2013’s Live Today, (a CurtJazz.com Best Jazz Albums of 2013 selection) which featured appearances by Glasper, hip hop superstar Common, Marcus Strickland, pianist Aaron Parks and turntable artist Jahi Sundance.  Like the recent work of Mr. Glasper, Mr. Brown and Marcus Strickland, Hodge is clearly looking to all of his various influences on Live Today and he’s also taking advantage of many of the possibilities that our digital age affords him. One of the album’s tracks, “Table Jawn”, includes sounds recorded on Hodge’s wife’s iPhone as Hodge, Glasper and drummer Chris Dave, were sitting at Hodge’s kitchen table. One person grabbed a spoon, another a cup and then they began to beat out a rhythm which Mrs. Hodge recorded and it was then used as the basis of the tune.

While we don’t expect any cutlery or place setting items to be directly used in the making of music on Saturday night, there’s likely to be a similar dose of creativity.  The type of music that I’ve often called “the future of jazz” will be on display in full glory all throughout the day on the AJF38 Main Stage, thanks to REVIVE and Blue Note Records. So, to quote the late actor, Ted Ross as he closed out an old Heath Brothers live album “May the rest of the populace be sophisticated enough to dig it”.

Tracks from all of these and other AJF 38 artists will be playing daily from 5 PM – 7 PM (ET) on our 24/7 streaming jazz station Curt’s Café Noir, until May 31. Click HERE to access the station.

For more information on the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website http://atlantafestivals.com

 

 

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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…

2014 Jazz Grammy® Preview #1 – Best Improvised Jazz Solo

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2014 by curtjazz

Well folks, here we are again. The Grammy® Awards will be handed out on Sunday, January 26. As usual, the awards in the jazz categories will be announced during the “Pre-Show” before the televised broadcast. As I have done over the past few years I’ve put together a review of the jazz category nominees, including a musical clip and my opinion about the artists chances to take some hardware home on Sunday. Let’s start as has become customary with jazz’s equivalent of Record of the Year, “Best Improvised Jazz Solo”

The nominees are:

“Don’t Run”: Terence Blanchard – soloist (From the album Magnetic [Blue Note Records])

This is the best track on trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s best album in years. Frankly, I’m surprised that Magnetic did not get a Best Instrumental Jazz Album nomination. Nevertheless, this cut features great solos from Blanchard, Ravi Coltrane on soprano sax and the legendary Ron Carter on bass. Will it win? It’s got a good chance. Blanchard is fairly well-known and the record did create some mild buzz this summer. However there is a bona fide legend in this category who may stand in Blanchard’s way.

“Song for Maura”: Paquito D’Rivera – soloist (From the album Song for Maura [Sunnyside Records])

Another very strong track in this very competitive field, “Song for Maura” is an old D’Rivera composition given new life in this excellent rendition, which is the title track to D’Rivera’s summit meeting with the Brazilian group Trio Corrente. The album is nominated for a Best Latin Jazz Album Grammy. D’Rivera’s clarinet and the light Brazilian rhythms make for an intoxicating mix. It has a decent shot because of D’Rivera’s relative renown but I think he stands a better chance of the album winning.

“Song Without Words #4: Duet”: Fred Hersch – soloist (from the album Free Flying (Fred Hersch and Julian Lage) [Palmetto Records])

Pianist Fred Hersch has garnered six Grammy nominations during his career but has yet to take home the prize. That and the fact this is a brilliant classically tinged track from a brilliant album makes Hersch a sentimental favorite. However, I think that he is likely to go home empty-handed again.

“Stadium Jazz”: Donny McCaslin – soloist (From the album Casting for Gravity (Greenleaf Music)]

Donny McCaslin is the relative newcomer in this group, having been nominated to my knowledge, only once before, in 2005. “Stadium Jazz” is a fun, fusion based track and McCaslin reminds us all that he is one of the best saxophonists in the business. Unfortunately though, in this very strong field, he is a long shot.

“Orbits”: Wayne Shorter – soloist (From the album Without a Net [Blue Note Records])

Remember that legend that I was talking about earlier? Here he is. The biggest stunner of this whole nomination list this year was that this was the only nomination that Wayne Shorter’s return to Blue Note Records garnered. Not that this is Shorter’s best work but we all know that Grammy loves legends. But this is IMO the best performance on Without a Net and Shorter is a Jazz Hall of Famer. So although my personal favorite is Terence Blanchard, I predict that Wayne Shorter will be your winner on Sunday.

This will be a hotly contested category as will most of the jazz categories this year. Frankly I wouldn’t squawk if any of the nominees walked away victorious.

So here is my bottom line unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Terence Blanchard
  • Will Win: Wayne Shorter

Up next, will be Best Jazz Vocal Album. Again, there’s a clear favorite but some strong contenders.

“So…What do you serve in your Cafe?”

Posted in The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , on November 2, 2009 by curtjazz

Hi Y’all!

Thank you for coming this far with me.  Perhaps you’ve heard my web radio station “Curt’s Café” and wanted more information about what you heard there.  Or, maybe you’ve read my reviews or my column “Browsing the Bins” in Jazz Inside Magazine (formerly JazzImprov). Whatever brought you here, I’m grateful for your time and attention and I’ll try to make it worth your while. 

 The title of this first post comes from a question I’ve been asked by people online, who hear the music and then assume that my “café” has four walls and a kitchen.  Though I do know my way around a stove, the plan is for my café to remain a virtual one.

I’m not fond of talking about myself, but I know that a little exposition is needed in any story, even a blog, so here goes.  I’m a native New Yorker (Bronx and Long Island), who has lived in Charlotte, NC since 2000.  I’m married, for almost 20 years, to a beautiful, brilliant and creative woman, who is still yet to realize how remarkable she is.  We have one son, age nine, who is already a jazz fan and keeps us both on our toes. 

My love for jazz started also before I was ten, as curiosity about my older brother’s record collection. It blossomed during my college years, as I worked in the campus music library. It came to fruition in the late ‘90’s as I worked in terrestrial jazz radio and began to write.

Curt’s Café Noir (or Curt’s Café) has been on the air since November 2004. I’d listened to a few Web based radio stations for about a year before that and finally decided to try it myself.  It was originally a mix of jazz, soul, classic R & B and Gospel Music.  We found the jazz segments to be the most popular, so we went all jazz in 2006.

That’s enough about the past.  We “jazz people” spend more time than we should there, which is one of the myriad reasons that jazz is in the fix that it’s in now; but that’s a rant for a future post.  Curt’s Café the blog and the web radio station, will devote a major portion of airtime and blog space to the present and future of jazz.  Please understand that I love the history of this music and I have a deep, abiding respect for those from the past, who created much of what we still listen to regularly.  You will hear much of their work on the station.  However, there’s a lot of great music being made today, by artists who deserve to be heard and must be supported by the jazz loving public, if jazz is to have even the hope of a viable future.  So half of our prime listening hours are devoted to playing music made solely by living and working jazz artists, and not just those named Marsalis, Burrell and Rollins.  I hope that you will listen to these musicians and then support them, by buying their CDs or their legal music downloads.  I then hope you will take the next step and go out to see these artists in a live, paying performance.  While free concerts are nice for the public, they generally don’t pay the artists enough to even cover expenses.  So let’s dig a little bit into our pockets jazz fans, and pay to see the artists that we say we love, so they might see playing jazz as more than just a wallet draining avocation.

For those of you new to the station, we stream 24/7 through Live365.com.  In addition to the living artists, we play a good deal of the classics and rare tracks.  We also stream programs devoted to special interests, like the catalogs of Blue Note, Verve and Original Jazz Classics records.  We have two streams; a commercial stream, for which there is no charge, but like terrestrial radio, does include ads.  We also broadcast an ad-free stream, for which listeners pay Live365.com a monthly fee and in return, they hear programming without commercial interruption.  The choice is yours. Either way, I promise to bring you great jazz. Our programming is traditional for the most part, but not to the point where you can’t hear the young innovators who are the art form’s future, like Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper and Christian Scott.  You can listen right now, by clicking on the link on my homepage www.curtscafejazz.com or direct, through Live365 at http://www.live365.com/stations/curtjazz?play 

This blog will be an extension of the station.  I will post a new article at least once a week. Sometimes freeing my “mind” so “the rest” can follow; sometimes posting an interview or discussion with some of the cool jazz peeps who I think you’ll find interesting. Additionally, I’ll post short, but useful CD reviews, that will always be candid but never cruel.  Several times a week I will keep you up to date on new tracks that have been added to the playlists and, in a nod to my pop radio origins, a list of the most popular tracks currently heard on Curt’s Café.  Where possible, I’ll also provide links to my past reviews and articles in JazzImprov and Jazz Inside.

Well, now that we’ve met, I hope you won’t be a stranger and that you’ll visit often.  Believe me, I’ve got a lot on my mind about jazz and I plan to share a lot of it with you in this forum.  I don’t promise that you’ll always agree with me, but I hope that you’ll find it interesting enough to keep reading.  I also hope that this won’t be a one way conversation and that you’ll share your thoughts and opinions with me as well.  Feel free to leave your “comments” after each post.  Many of us met on Twitter, so let’s all feel liberated by having more than 140 characters to express ourselves. 

                Thanks for stopping by.  I’ll see you next time, until then, as always, the jazz continues…

If they post blogs in Heaven, Mom and Dad, I love you and I hope you liked this. Say “hi” to “Dr.” Woods for me.