Archive for Brandee Younger

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…

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…

Unsung Women of Jazz #1 – Dorothy Ashby

Posted in Unsung Women of Jazz with tags , , , , on April 1, 2011 by curtjazz

Dorothy Ashby (1932 – 1986)

“This isn’t just a novelty, though that is what you expect. The harp has a clean jazz voice with a resonance and syncopation that turn familiar jazz phrasing inside out.” – Dorothy Ashby

The harp is not an instrument that easily gives itself over to free swing and quick improvisations. That’s one of the reasons why there have been very few credible jazz harpists. In fact, I can only think of four working today: Lori Andrews, Edmar Castaneda, Deborah Henson-Conant and Brandee Younger.

Dorothy Ashby was a pioneer. She was the first to play credible bebop on the harp.  She showed that this unwieldy instrument could actually swing.

She was born Dorothy Jeanne Thompson in Detroit, in 1932. Her father was a jazz guitarist, who would often bring home fellow musicians to jam.  Young Dorothy would be a part of some of these sessions, sitting in on piano.  She attended Detroit’s famed Cass Technical High School, where her classmates included jazz luminaries Kenny Burrell and Donald Byrd.  Her early instruments were the sax and the bass before turning to the harp.  She studied piano and music education at Wayne State University. 

In 1952, Dorothy set out to make a living on the competitive Detroit jazz scene.  She easily could have found work as a pianist, but she made the gutsy decision to concentrate on her beloved harp.  The cats in Detroit weren’t too keen on making the harp and its perceived ethereal, effete sound part of a jazz combo. To overcome this resistance, Dorothy organized free shows and played at dances and weddings with her harp-led combo, which included her husband, John Ashby, on drums.  Eventually she won doubters over and the gigs and recordings began to come with some regularity.

(“Thou Swell” from – Dorothy Ashby’s The Jazz Harpist)

Her first full jazz LP, The Jazz Harpist, was recorded for Savoy in 1957, with Frank Wess on flute, Eddie Jones and Wendell Marshall on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums.  The album was a mix of standards, such as “Thou Swell” and “Stella by Starlight”, and Ms. Ashby’s originals. It was critically well received, but the record buying public ignored it. Her next album Hip Harp, (1958) on Prestige, was one her best, with Wess, Dave Brubeck’s bassist Gene Wright and Art Taylor on drums.  In all Dorothy led ten sessions between 1957 and 1970 Atlantic, Cadet and many other labels.

(From Hip Harp, this is “There’s A Small Hotel”)

She was fearless in her musical choices as she played not just bop, but soul, Brazilian, African, Middle Eastern and like her contemporary (and other great jazz harpist) Alice Coltrane, free jazz.  Ms. Ashby pioneered the use of the Japanese koto in jazz on her 1970 album The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby, which was somewhat maligned in its time, but has become appreciated as an iconoclastic  marriage of soul, world music and free jazz. 

(Here’s “The Moving Finger” from The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby)

Music was not Dorothy Ashby’s only love. In the ‘60’s Dorothy and her husband formed a theatrical group in Detroit that produced plays with theme’s relevant to the Motor City’s black community.  The group went by several names, the most common being “The Ashby Players”. Many of these productions were musical, with John writing the scripts and Dorothy the music and lyrics, as well as playing harp, piano and leading the musicians.  In the late ‘60’s the Ashbys moved to California and continued their theatrical endeavors. Among the actors in their early California troupe was Ernie Hudson, of Ghostbusters fame.(

Dorothy also sought work as a harpist in the Los Angeles area recording studios in the early ‘70’s, which was no small feat considering that there were quite a few harpists out there already. However, she had made the acquaintance of singer Bill Withers, who used her on his classic + ‘Justments album. Bill introduced Dorothy to Stevie Wonder, who happened to be working on the sessions that would become Songs in the Key of Life.  He had written a tune that was meant to be a duet between himself and a harpist. Stevie had Alice Coltrane in mind, but she was unavailable at the time of the recording session. So instead, he called Dorothy Ashby. Those who don’t know another thing about Ms. Ashby’s music know her unforgettable performance on “If it’s Magic”.

(I had hoped to insert a clip of “If It’s Magic”, but EMI’s corporate blockers made it impossible. You can hear the clip on YouTube. Sorry! – CD)

That performance opened studio doors for Dorothy. Jazz was struggling in the late ‘70’s but Dorothy was very busy, recording with artist such as Earth, Wind and Fire (All ‘n All), The Emotions, Rick James and The Gap Band.  Though she would not record another album as a leader, she continued to work steadily until her death from cancer in 1986.

Though Dorothy Ashby is still far from well-known, young musicians with a respect for history such as the aforementioned Brandee Younger are thankfully, doing their part to keep Dorothy Ashby’s legacy alive. 

Check out Dorothy Ashby.  She may not have been the first, but she was truly an original.

(Brandee Younger Trio performs “Blue Nile”)

Recommended Recordings: