Archive for cecile mclorin salvant

Best Jazz Vocals of 2017 (Part 2): A Closer Look

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, CD Reviews, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2018 by curtjazz

Happy New Year, everyone.

Well, this didn’t work out the way I intended.

ori dagan nathanielI posted my “Best of; Pt. 2”, list a couple of weeks ago, fully expecting to follow quickly with comments on each of the albums. This vicious strain of the flu that is out this season, had other ideas. The last thing I will say about Flu 2017/18, is I haven’t had any bug knock me out like that in at least 20 years. It’s real, it’s quick, and it’s strong; so please take care of yourselves.

Now back to the Music – The five best jazz vocal albums that I heard during the last half of 2017, in alpha order by album title:

 

Code Noir – Carmen Lundy (Afrasia)

Another brilliant work from this vocal master, Code Noir (which takes its title from the infamous French colonial slave laws) is a lush and dreamily soulful album. Don’t let the ethereal qualities lull you into a false sense of relaxation, lest you miss some of the most poignant lyrical messages of Ms. Lundy’s career. The marvelous Patrice Rushen is on the keys, reminding those who may have forgotten, that she is far more than just “Forget Me Nots”. The underrated Jeff Parker plays some dynamite guitar.  Listen once (or twice) for the lyrics, then let yourself get lost inside of the marvelous instrument that is Ms. Lundy’s voice. There’s not another one like it today in jazz.

Dreams and Daggers – Cecile McLorin Salvant (Mack Avenue)

I must keep reminding myself that she is not yet 30 years old. But that’s a frightening statement because it’s also a reminder that, as good as she is, Cecile McLorin Salvant, has still not yet reached her pinnacle. This is her first live album (mostly recorded at the legendary Village Vanguard), a two-disc set and there’s not a dud in the bunch. She is wondrously accomplished, self-assured, captivating and funny and often, she is all of these things, at once. I also loved the fact that there are very few tired old warhorses; Ms. Salvant mines the songbooks of Bob Dorough, Langston Hughes, (a hilariously raunchy) Bessie Smith, and the quirky, tongue in cheek sides of Broadway scores. And she makes them all her own. I will also no longer compare her, even favorably, to some of her legendary forbearers, for Cecile McLorin Salvant, has arrived, on her own terms.

Grace – Lizz Wright (Concord)

I would love this album, if only for the fact that it once and for all, reclaims Allen Toussaint’s wonderful “Southern Nights” from that crude and misguided megahit Glen Campbell version, after forty years. But there’s so much more here.  On her own work, Ms. Wright consistently delivers a beautiful and deeply personal amalgam of jazz, gospel and bluesy folk music. I’ve been listening intently since her impressive 2003 debut, Salt and she has never been better than she is on Grace. It is a starkly beautiful and majestic work of art, with songs by artists as diverse as Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. If you love the sacred or the secular, you will be completely filled with Grace.

Nathaniel (A Tribute to Nat King Cole) – Ori Dagan (Scat Cat)

There were higher profile vocal tributes to the great “King” Cole in 2017 but none were better than this surprising effort from the up and coming Canadian baritone. Ori Dagan keeps proceedings fresh by using his customary sense of humor and by adding 5 of his own compositions, most of which are quite good. In fact, a couple fit in so well, that I assumed that they were quirky, novelty rarities from the King Cole Trio’s heyday, until I read the liner notes. Mr. Dagan also wisely avoids anything that would even approach a perceived impersonation of one of the great voices and stylists of the 20th Century. So, what do we get? We have one of the unique talents of contemporary jazz singing, bringing us his interpretation of some tunes closely and not-so-closely associated with the legend. I like what he was going for, and overall, I loved how it turned out. Plus, he’s got the estimable Sheila Jordan, guesting on a delightful take of “Straighten Up and Fly Right”. Even a Cole fan like me, couldn’t ask for much more.

Rendering – Kellye Gray (Grr8)

This album by this husky-voiced vocalist has the most interesting backstory of any on this list: In 1989, Kellye recorded Standards in Gray, her debut album, for Justice Records, a small Houston area label (I loved many of their releases). It received good press and sold relatively well. However, when Justice fell on hard times, the album went out of print. In 2015, 25 years after Standards in Gray’s release, Ms. Gray gained ownership rights to her album. She decided to crowd-fund and produce a live concert/album, in tribute to the original album, including new recordings of some of the tracks on Standards… The result is the terrific Rendering, a 2 CD set, that includes the new live recordings and a copy of the first album.

Ms. Gray had escaped my notice, until this package arrived at my door. Suffice to say, I am very impressed. While Standards in Gray, is a portrait of a young, big voiced singer, with loads of promise, Rendering, shows us that in the ensuing 25 years, Kellye Gray has made the transition from earnest singer to jazz vocalist. That wonderful instrument of hers has developed nuance and a certain bit of inimitability. She has learned her way around and through a song; which makes the live album, very compelling and worthy of multiple listens.  The arrangements are first rate, as are her sidemen, including the late drummer Sebastian Whittaker, who played on the first date and poignantly, in one of his last recordings, on the live album as well. If your new to Ms. Gray (like me), my advice is to start with these two albums and work your way back. There’s a lot of fine music there.

And those are my five vocal favorites for the 2nd half of 2017.

A reminder, these were my selections for the 1st half of the year:

You can click HERE to read my post about that Fab Five.

Now that the flu is almost behind me, I’ve got a lot of posting to catch up on. Next will be the Instrumental album for the second half of the year.

Tracks from these albums and more can be heard on the new CURTJAZZ RADIO, our 24/7 jazz radio station, on the new Live365.com.

Stay healthy, my friends!

Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (Second Half)

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, curtjazz radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2017 by curtjazz

don't blinkThere are good and bad things about writing a mid-year “Best of” list, as I did last July: It cuts down your work at year’s end but it also makes it harder to pare that year end list down to a precious few, especially in a year like this, that was filled with great jazz albums, especially on the instrumental side.

Enough of my whining. Here now, is a list of my favorite albums, released in 2017, that I first heard between July and December. As with the previous list, I’ve split them into instrumental and vocals. They are listed in alphabetical order, by album title, not in order of preference. Because all of these living jazz artists would appreciate your support, clicking on the album title will take you to a place where you can purchase the album, with delivery in some cases, before Christmas.

Instrumental

Album Title Artist Label
Bringin’ It Christian McBride Big Band Mack Avenue
Don’t Blink Unhinged Sextet Origin
Handful of Keys JALC Orchestra (w/multiple pianists) Blue Engine
Harmony of Difference (EP) Kamasi Washington Young Turks
Honey and Salt Matt Wilson Palmetto
Hybrido Antionio Adolfo AAM
Jersey Mark Giuliana Jazz Quartet Motema
Marseille Ahmad Jamal Jazz Village
Mi Mundo Brenda Navarrete ALMA
Our Point of View Blue Note All Stars Blue Note
Strykin’ Ahead Dave Stryker Strikezone
Walk of Fire Behn Gillece Posi-Tone

Vocal

Album Title Artist Label
Code Noir Carmen Lundy Afrasia
Dreams and Daggers Cecile McLorin Salvant Mack Avenue
Grace Lizz Wright Concord
Nathaniel Ori Dagan Scat Cat
Rendering Kellye Gray Grr8

 

We will feature a closer look at each of these discs in several posts, over the remainder of the year.

And lest we forget (and we shouldn’t). Here are the albums that were included in our first “Best Of 2017” post, back in July:

Vocal 

Instrumental 

Tracks from all of these albums will be featured, starting on Wednesday, December 27, as we celebrate the Year in Jazz, on CurtJazz Radio, as it returns to the new Live365.com. We are on the air now, with our JazzMas Party (Holiday Jazz), until then. Click HERE to listen. It’s free.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Until then, the jazz continues.

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2015

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2015, Jazz in Charlotte with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2015 by curtjazz

Well, well ,well…What a difference a year makes…

Eugenie Jones | Come Out Swingin'Last year this time we jazz lovers were once again fending off the usual spate of “Jazz is Dead” announcements from various “serious” publications and also from a satirical “writer” named Django Gold, who thought it would be funny to pen an article, purporting to be Sonny Rollins, claiming to hate jazz.

Now, perhaps because jazz has proven to have more lives than Freddy Krueger, there have been in the past couple of months, an article in The Washington Post and an article/pictorial in Vanity Fair, celebrating jazz and [gasp], the young musicians that represent its future.

This kind of national-level publicity, along with what is happening on  local scenes (such as right here in Charlotte, NC, with the Jazz Arts Initiative, led by my friends, drummer Ocie Davis and flutist Lonnie Davis) has given my cynical middle-aged heart, a smidgen of hope for what is ahead for the music that I love.

I was also greatly encouraged by the tremendous crop of first-rate jazz recordings this year. A major contributor to this is that the jazz world has all but broken free of looking for the approval of the major record label conglomerates. For new jazz recordings, indie labels and self releases have become the rule, not the exception. In fact on my list, only six of the 25 albums have some sort of tie to what would be considered a major label.

And the music itself, cuts across a spectrum of styles, influences and even chronological ages – from vocalists Cecile McLorin Salvant who is 26, to the legendary Tony Bennett, still relevant and vital at 89; from instrumentalists such as Albert “Tootie” Heath, the youngest of The Heath Brothers, at 80; to the exciting twenty-somethings who lead some of the tracks on the wildly creative compilation, Supreme Sonacy, Volume 1.

Yes friends, jazz is still very much alive and kicking some butt. And without further ado, here is a list of 26 recordings that kicked my butt in 2015, in alphabetical order by album title. As usual, we will follow this list with discussions and clips from each of the albums over the next few days. In each title is embedded a link to a place to purchase the CD or download of each recording.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Glorious Kwanzaa and Happy New Year, everyone!

A New Gift from JLCO: “Big Band Holidays”

Posted in New on the Playlist, The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2015 by curtjazz

Big Band HolidaysMy late father often said “The best thing to do in a hurry, is nothing.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to truly appreciate the enduring wisdom in those words – for I’ve so often discovered that I make my biggest errors, when I do things for speed and not for pleasure. Such is the case with my post a couple of days ago about my favorite new Holiday Jazz Albums.

Since I decided last weekend that I was going to write something every day for the rest of the year to atone for my lack of activity over the last six months, I’d became totally focused on putting something out there, even if I hadn’t really thought it through. So when I completed the post on new Christmas Jazz, I dropped a few words and a couple of videos, and declared my mission accomplished, even though I felt as if I was missing something…it didn’t matter; at least I was making my self-imposed deadline.

I was missing something. Something that I had heard and enjoyed more, , than most of the albums in the original post – it was the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s Big Band Holidays; an album far richer and more complex than its simplistic title (and pedestrian cover art) would suggest.

Every December for over a decade, Wynton Marsalis, and the JLCO have come together with some of the great vocalists in jazz to perform their arrangements of some of the classic songs of the season. Thankfully many of these concerts were recorded. This year, Blue Engine Records, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s house label, assembled some of the choice selections from 2012 – 2014 concerts and released them as a compilation – featuring three of the best vocalists in jazz today, Rene Marie, Gregory Porter and Cecile McLorin Salvant and strong arrangements from some of the bands in house pros like Victor Goines, Sherman Irby and Ted Nash, plus a nod to the new testament Basie Band by including Ernie Wilkins classic arrangement of “Jingle Bells”. Big Band Holidays is a terrific jazz album first and a good Holiday album second, which is why I will probably be listening to it beyond next Friday night.

As you can see, these performances were also caught on video, so we can share a few of them with you. May these performances prove to be as timeless as my dad’s words.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

 

2014 Jazz Grammy® Preview #2 – Best Jazz Vocal Album

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2014 by curtjazz

Our second category is for the singers: Best Jazz Vocal Album. This is as strong a group of nominees for this award as I’ve seen in a while. There’s not a dud in the bunch. Though there are a number of seasoned vets here who’ve had their share of nominations, I think that it’s really a race between two relative newcomers for the trophy.

The nominees are:

Andy Bey: The World According to Andy Bey (HighNote Records)

The 74-year-old vocalist is an under-appreciated treasure. Every few years he reappears again to drop another bit of timeless art on us. Usually these days it’s just Bey’s voice and his piano, which is more than sufficient. The World According to Andy Bey is his second Grammy nominated album, following American Song in 2005. Bey does might justice to a well mixed group of standards, his own tunes and rarely performed songs by others.  Though a win by Mr. Bey would be a great thing. It’s not likely to happen; the juggernaut of the newcomers is a bit too strong.

Lorraine Feather: Attachments (Jazzed Media)

Ms. Feather is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. I love the unfailing wry wit in her lyrics and the way that she interprets them. Why another singer hasn’t done an album of Feather’s compositions is a mystery to me. The Grammy nominating committee also appreciates her , as Attachments is her third album in a row to be nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Attachments is classic Feather as she mines one of her favorite topics, relationships. Not just male/female interactions but family, friends and even vermin are discussed and wondered upon. It’s one of her best among many very good albums. This woman should get a Grammy but I don’t think that it will happen this time.

Gregory Porter: Liquid Spirit (Blue Note Records)

Juggernaut – Part 1. Gregory Porter’s reputation has grown by leaps and bounds since he first burst on the scene with Water in 2010. His brand of soul-infused jazz singing brought him critical and commercial acclaim. Liquid Spirit, his first album for Blue Note, has garnered two Grammy nominations; one in this category for the album and the other for Best Traditional R & B Performance for the song “Hey Laura”. The album is very strong (though not IMO, as good as last year’s Be Goodwhich was also Grammy nominated) The critics love him, the fans love him and his name recognition is growing. Will Grammy love him? I’d say that there’s a good chance. The only one I think who could stop him from winning is…

Cecile McLorin Salvant: WomanChild (Mack Avenue Records)

Juggernaut – Part 2. Cecile McLorin Salvant seemingly appeared out of nowhere and dropped the best jazz vocal album of not only this year but of the last few years in WomanChild. Her way with a lyric is impeccable, her swing is right on time and her voice is unique in the best way possible. The thing is, she is just 24 years old! She’s got Abbey Lincoln’s wizened soul wrapped in her youthful, downtown cool persona. In addition, the non-jazz media  seems to be lining up behind her, with one mainstream publication stopping just short of anointing Ms. Salvant as “The Next Esperanza Spalding”. All of these stars aligning usually leads to victory on Grammy night, which I feel is a very likely case here. The only thing that may stop her is some may vote against her because of her youth but I doubt that will happen.

Tierney Sutton: After Blue (BFM Jazz)

Tierney Sutton alas, is to this Grammy category as Glenn Close is to the Oscars. Like Ms. Close, she is a very well-respected, gifted performer, whose art is always good enough to get her nominated for the big awards but in the end, she ends up being eclipsed by someone with a hot hand. After Blue gained Ms. Sutton her fifth nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album.  As usual, it’s a great album; focused on the music of the legendary Joni Mitchell. Sutton has given us some fresh takes on some very familiar tunes and done consistent justice to the material. Also as usual, there’s a big, shiny object that will likely attract voter’s attention away from Ms. Sutton’s steady artistry. She is the longest shot.

So here is my bottom line unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Cecile McLorin Salvant
  • Will Win: Cecile McLorin Salvant

Next up on our preview will be Best Jazz Instrumental Album, which includes another very strong field of contenders this year.

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2013 – The Final List

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2013 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2013 by curtjazz

tim greenMerry Christmas everyone!

Here’s a compilation list of our choices for the Best Jazz Albums of 2013 from our three prior Best of the Year posts. A click on the links in each title will take you to the Amazon or CD Baby page for each album (a great way to spend those gift cards you may have gotten from Santa).

From Best Jazz Albums of 2013 (So Far)

From Best Jazz Albums of 2013 – The Second Half

From Best Jazz of 2013 – A Few More Good Things; Plus!

And 5 great 2012 albums that we missed until 2013:

Tracks from all of the albums listed here will be featured on Curt’s Café Noir WebJazz Radio, starting on December 27, 2013 and into January 2014 as part of our Year End / New Year programming. Click HERE to go to the station and listen. It’s Free!

May you all have a happy, prosperous and jazz filled 2014!

The Best Jazz Albums of 2013 (So Far)

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2013 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2013 by curtjazz

cecile mclorin salvantOver the last couple of years, I’ve noticed a small but insistent wave in jazz. We’re seeing artists in their twenties and thirties playing music that does nod to the traditions but also shows the influences of what a lot of these younger musicians grew up listening to; hip-hop; crunk and other related styles. This style has evolved from the confused mess that some of the early cross genre attempts were, into something that is fresh and stands on its own, apart from either of its main musical parents.  As a result, I’ve begun to see a number of today’s jazz writers (and a few musicians as well) rise up and take arms against the “interlopers”. They have written page after page on why what the young musicians are doing “isn’t jazz”.

Whatever else it is, “jazz” will always be about evolution, improvisation and change. What the young cats are now trying to do, could represent the first really new thing in jazz in 50 years. I may not like everything that’s a part of it but I embrace the fact that someone is doing something new.

You’ll see a couple of those albums among my mid-term favorites. Disagreements and agreements are always welcome but spam is not. The albums are in alphabetical order by title.

The Bespoke Man’s Narrative – Aaron Diehl (Mack Avenue)

This was the first album this year to “wow” me. Mr. Diehl’s third album is an unabashed tribute to the Modern Jazz Quartet, which was the first jazz group to “wow” me, over thirty years ago. Mr. Diehl is an outstanding pianist with a strong sense of swing, yet a light touch, reminiscent of course, of John Lewis. And when label mate Warren Wolf sits in on vibes, the transformation becomes complete.

Border Free – Chucho Valdes and the Afro-Cuban Messengers (Jazz Village)

The great Cuban pianist just gets better with age. This album  is a deeply personal statement, filled with tributes to his family members and others who have influenced his musical direction. But you never forget that this is a Chucho Valdés album, so these tributes are carried out in the midst of killer Afro-Cuban rhythms and piano statements of astonishing brilliance. You can read my full review HERE.

Grace – J.D. Allen (Savant)

After recording in the sax, bass, drums trio format for five years, J.D. brings a pianist back into the group on Grace. Not just any pianist but Russian-born wunderkind Eldar Djangirov. Instead of altering the group’s style, Djangirov blends in nicely adding a rich texture to Allen’s group that was missing in some of the previous outings. The pianist has made a good thing even better. You can read my full review HERE.

In A World of Mallets – Jason Marsalis (Basin Street Records)

The youngest of the musical Marsalis brothers, Jason made a committment to playing the vibes full-time a few years ago. While he was a world-class drummer, Marsalis struggled a bit on his first album after making the switch four years ago.  He seems to have put those troubles behind him on this album, which is a rich, quirky and mature musical statement. It also takes my award for the punniest album title so far this year,

Live Today – Derrick Hodge (Blue Note Records)

Derrick Hodge, who was a major presence on Robert Glasper’s Grammy Winning Black Radio in 2012, has made an even stronger musical statement on his debut as a leader. The big name guest stars are not here but the music is denser and more complex than Black Radio’s. Finally, an artist has nailed it in the search for a hip-hop/jazz hybrid. This is “Real Jazz” for the 21st Century. You can read my full review HERE.

Magnetic – Terence Blanchard (Blue Note Records)

Hard to believe that Terence Blanchard has been on the jazz scene for over thirty years. While he has done everything from score films, to write operas, when you get right down to it, he is never better than he is when he fronting a group and reminding everyone that before all of the Hollywood accolades, Blanchard was one of the best jazz trumpet players around; period. He reminds us again here, with his working group and stellar guest spots from Ravi Coltrane, Lionel Loueke and the incomparable Ron Carter. You can read my full review HERE.

No Beginning, No End – Jose James (Blue Note Records)

The vocal love child of Al Green and Bill Henderson, Jose James struck pay dirt on this album, his Blue Note debut. It’s not as straight ahead jazzy as his Impulse! album from a couple of years back nor is it as club ready as some of his first efforts. It’s a blend of jazz, hip-hop and R&B that fits like a glove around James’ unique voice.  It is absolutely irresistible. No Beginning No End hasn’t left my CD Jukebox since its release and there’s a good chance that it will remain there until the end of the year.

Songs From This Season – Tim Green (True Melody Music)

This Baltimore native first drew attention with his second place finish in the 2008 Monk Saxophone Competition. He has recorded with a litany of jazz and Gospel artists from Warren Wolf to Andrae Crouch. But it’s Songs From This Season which has brought Mr. Green to the attention of most of the jazz world. It’s easy to see why. The album’s selections are mostly traditional post bop and Green is on fire throughout; be it on introspective ballads such as “Psalm 1” or burners such as his trio take on “Pinocchio”. This young man has musical ideas to spare. Something tells me that he will be on this list numerous times in the future.

That Nepenthetic Place – Dayna Stephens (Sunnyside Records)

A “nepenthe” is a fictional medicine for sorrow, a “drug of forgetfulness” mentioned in ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology. That ancient word is an apt description for the music performed by tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens and his quartet on this album. Though the selections are not decidedly upbeat, when taken as a whole, they leave you feeling terrific when they are done. Add in contributions from Gretchen Parlato, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and the third album proves to be the charm for Mr. Stephens. This is his best and most well-rounded recording to date.

Cecile McLorin Salvant – WomanChild (Mack Avenue Records)

This is the most talked about album from a female jazz singer this year. Why? Because it is also the best album by a jazz vocalist so far this year, hands down.  The requisite comparisons to Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae and a number of other vocal greats have already begun. Ignore them. For though this is only the second album from this Miami native, she has established enough of her own style already to make most of those comparisons unfair and fairly irrelevant. Cecile won the Monk vocal competition in 2010 and if you want to know why, listen to this album. It’s not the work of a neophyte finding herself but of an established vocalist who knows exactly where she is going.

Again, this list represents my favorites among the jazz albums released this year that I’ve heard to this point. There’s much more that I will hear, including the stack of new recordings on my desk now. In December we will post the final list for 2013, which will include these albums plus the ones that I will be privileged to hear over the next four months. Until then, The Jazz Continues…