Archive for christian mcbride

My Favorite Jazz Albums of 2020 – The Complete List

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2020 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2020 by curtjazz

In the three previous posts, I’ve listed and discussed my favorite jazz albums of 2020. Bright musical oases, in this otherwise miserable year.

In this post, we bring all 30 of them together, in one place. In each album title is embedded a link to the album’s page on Amazon. In these extraordinarily difficult times, we encourage you to purchase these albums, if there’s something that you like. Streaming is nice but the financial support that it provides to the artists, is laughable. So we provide the Amazon links as a first alternative. However, many of the artists also have their own websites, through which you can purchase the music directly from them. If you are so inclined, I encourage you to go that route. It can provide maximum remuneration for the artists that you love. We will also feature tracks from each of these albums, throughout January 2021, on CurtJazz Radio. Click HERE to listen now.

We’ve also created another Spotify playlist, featuring selections from a dozen of the 30 albums on the list, to give those of you who have not yet visited the prior posts, an opportunity to sample the artistry represented here. I can’t say it enough. Streaming is nice but buying is better.

Here are my 30 for ’20, in alphabetical order, by artist name:

ARTISTTITLELABEL
J.D. AllenToys/Die DreamingSavant
John BeasleyMONKestra Plays BeasleyMack Avenue
Lakecia BenjaminPursuance: The ColtranesRopeadope
Peter BernsteinWhat Comes NextSmoke Sessions
Stanley CowellLive at Keystone Corner BaltimoreSteepleChase
Wayne EscofferyThe Humble WarriorSmoke Sessions
John Fedchock NY SextetInto the ShadowsSummit
Champian FultonBirdsongSelf-Release
Nubya GarciaSourceConcord
Jeff Hamilton TrioCatch Me If You CanCapri
Connie HanIron StarletMack Avenue
Jimmy HeathLove LetterVerve
Eddie HendersonShuffle and DealSmoke Sessions
Theo HillReality CheckPosiTone
Christopher HollydayDialogueSelf-Release
Nduduzo MakhathiniModes of Communication: Letters from the UnderworldBlue Note
Jason MarsalisLiveBasin Street
Christian McBride Big BandFor Jimmy, Wes, and OliverMack Avenue
Ron MilesRainbow SignBlue Note
Farnell NewtonRippin’ and Runnin’PosiTone
Redman, Mehldau, McBride, BladeRoundAgainNonesuch
Eric ReedFor Such a Time as ThisSmoke Sessions
The Royal BopstersParty of FourMotéma
Kandace SpringsThe Women Who Raised MeBlue Note
Alexa TarantinoClarityPosiTone
Gregory TardyIf Time Could Stand StillWJ3
The Brianna Thomas BandEverybody KnowsBreathline
Isaiah J. ThompsonPlays the Music of Buddy MontgomeryWJ3
Kenny WashingtonWhat’s the Hurry?Lower 9th
Bobby WatsonKeepin’ It RealSmoke Sessions

Thank you all, for reading and listening. Here’s to a great 2021. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get back to live music by the time you read my next “Best Of…” list.

My Favorite Jazz Albums of the Year: 30 for ’20 (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2020, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2020 by curtjazz

In our last set of my favorite jazz albums of 2020, we’ve got a reunion from a group of musicians who made remarkable music a quarter century ago, a very impressive debut album by a promising young pianist and a vocalist who delivers the remarkable album that we’ve been waiting for from them. Let’s take a look.

Once again, the albums are in alphabetical order, by artist name.  We will also try hard again, to adhere to the three-sentence rule. So far, we’ve been mostly unsuccessful.

  • Redman, Mehldau, McBride, Blade: RoundAgain (Nonesuch)
    • Joshua Redman’s 1994 album MoodSwing remains in my top three all time favorite discs by the prolific saxophone master. Redman was but 25 at the time of the album’s release (his third). He was joined by a trio of young (under 25) musicians, who held promise for what they could bring to jazz’s future: Brad Mehldau on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Brian Blade, on drums. They dropped one exceptionally fine album and disbanded, all going on to fulfill their promise and become four of the most respected musicians in jazz today.  Twenty-six years later, Redman reunited the group to deliver RoundAgain. Whereas Redman was the star the first time around, they have all returned as equals, each getting co-billing and contributing as composers. Other than that, absolutely nothing has changed. The four are still as swinging, tight and fiery as they were in 1994. Their work is now, as then, exemplary, and highly recommended.
  • Eric Reed: For Such a Time as This (Smoke Sessions)
    • It happens to me every year. I will have carefully selected the music to be included on this list by around the end of November. But there’s always some artist who will release an album, late in the year, that doesn’t reach my ears until December. Invariably, the music will be excellent and cause me to reconsider my “Best ofs”. This year, that artist is my old friend, Eric Reed. His new album, For Such a Time as This, is hands down, his best in over half a decade. This album was recorded in late June of this year, during the pandemic related lockdown, in Los Angeles. Mr. Reed assembled a hand-picked quartet of local musicians, and away they went. With all going on, this year, from COVID-19 to racism and racial injustice, to our fraught political environment, this became a very personal musical statement, for the pianist. I felt that. But I also felt that because it was so personal, his musicianship and those of his bandmates, moved to a higher level. Well done.
  • The Royal Bopsters: Party of Four (Motéma)
    • The most welcome sophomore release of the year for me, turned bittersweet, when I learned that one of the members of this wonderful vocal group, Holli Ross, had succumbed to cancer, between the completion of the album and its release. The album itself, is just as great as their stunning 2015 debut. The group’s harmonies are drum tight and joyous, even on the ballads. Guest spots by Christian McBride, Sheila Jordan, and the late Bob Dorough, enliven the proceedings even more. Ms. Ross, you have left us a beautiful memory, Rest in Peace.
  • Kandace Springs: The Women Who Raised Me (Blue Note)
    • This is the album that I’ve been waiting for from Kandace Springs, since she first grabbed my attention on her compelling but uneven debut album Soul Eyes. Perhaps because on The Women Who Raised Me, which is a tribute to the vocalists who influenced her, she finally has an album’s worth of material worthy of her stunning talent. Her honest, soul drenched voice, has never sounded better. With guest appearances by Norah Jones, David Sanborn, Chris Potter, Christian McBride and others, this album has placed her in the upper echelon of young soul-jazz vocalists.
  • Alexa Tarantino: Clarity (PosiTone)
    • Another on the growingly impressive list of jazz artists, under 30, who a creating a bright future for jazz, Alexa Tarantino is a multi-reed player, who demonstrates stunning proficiency on flutes, and soprano and alto saxophones, on this, her second album. Ms. Tarantino also wrote four of the nine selections, including two of the best performances, “Through”, which features her on flute and “A Race Against Yourself”, on which Tarantino delivers a blistering turn on alto sax. Two albums, in two years, each better than the last. I’m looking forward to hearing what next year will bring.
  • Gregory Tardy: If Time Could Stand Still (WJ3)
    • I’ve been an admirer of this big-toned tenor, ever since his impressive debut for Impulse! Records, 22 years ago. On this date, his first for Willie Jones III’s fine WJ3 label, he wraps that tone around seven originals and one standard. Mr. Tardy is an intelligent soloist and an excellent composer. His name should be far better known than it is. If Time Could Stand Still, is another winner in his catalog, a fine straight-ahead date with excellent solos from Tardy, guest star Alex Norris on trumpet and pianist Keith Brown, son of the piano master, Donald Brown. Keith is new to me and very impressive. I look forward to hearing more from him, in the future.
  • The Brianna Thomas Band: Everybody Knows (Breathline)
    • Oh my! I had no idea that Ms. Brianna Thomas existed until a few tracks from this album appeared in my new release file, a few months ago. Her voice is a marvel. It’s a blend of soul, blues, jazz, and world-weary heartbreak, that gives her a sound like no one else working today. Ms. Thomas delivers a cooking set, that straddles the line between blues and jazz, doing both idioms proud. Any vocalist who can pull off “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie”, “Mississippi Goddam” and the slightly raunchy “My Stove’s in Good Condition”, with equal aplomb, on the same album, is my kind of singer. Nice to meet you, Brianna Thomas. Let’s do this again, soon.
  • Isaiah J. Thompson: Plays the Music of Buddy Montgomery (WJ3)
    • I first heard the young, brilliant pianist, Isaiah J. Thompson, on Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s release A Handful of Keys, which featured several pianists of various ages and experience levels. Though Mr. Thompson was the youngest of the group, he managed to stand out among his seasoned colleagues. On his full album debut as a leader, he tackles the music of the youngest of the Montgomery Brothers, pianist Buddy. Mr. Montgomery wrote some fine and so far, under-recorded tunes, which makes this album quite appropriate. It’s also quite good. Mr. Thompson has impeccable taste as a soloist. He avoids the unnecessary runs and flourishes that plague many keyboardists of his age. This album is an outstanding start for an artist who has a very bright future.
  • Kenny Washington: What’s the Hurry? (Lower 9th)
    • This is the New Orleans native’s debut album, as a leader, at the tender age of 63 (thus the tongue-in-cheek title). He has often been confused with the popular jazz drummer of the same name (they are no relation) and during his 35-year career, Mr. Washington has often been shy about promoting himself and his considerable talents. Like the man himself, this album is not going to get in your face. It is low key, it swings, and it will insidiously wrap itself around your brain. Washington’s intonation and phrasing are excellent, and he has a marvelous way with the standards that make up most of the selections on the album. An excellent debut. Let’s hope a follow-up is forthcoming, soon.
  • Bobby Watson: Keepin’ It Real (Smoke Sessions)
    • Bobby Watson, who has had a long and storied career, as a musician, bandleader, and educator, has been on a hot streak of late, especially from a recorded perspective. The superb Keepin’ It Real, is the third critically acclaimed Smoke Sessions release that Mr. Watson has been a part of, in the last three years. Here, he just continues to do what he has been doing so well, since his days as musical director of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and then with his own group, Horizon; create catchy and memorable hard bop arrangements and infuse them with his inimitable sound and swing on alto sax. Now that he has retired from the education field, Mr. Watson has spoken of having more time for touring and recording. If he keeps producing music of this quality, the jazz world will be incredibly pleased. [Bobby Watson joined me, to discuss this album and his career, on Conversations with Curtis. Click HERE to view that interview, on You Tube].

A reminder, if you are interested in purchasing any of the music that we’ve discussed in these posts, clicking on the album title, will take you to the album’s page on Amazon.com. There is also a Spotify playlist below, which includes a track from each of the albums discussed here, for you to sample. And we’ll be featuring many of these albums throughout January 2021 on CurtJazz Radio. But please don’t just stream. During these tough times, these musicians can use your support more than ever, so if you like it, buy it.

Our next post will be a summary listing of all 30 albums, in our 30 for ’20 list. It will be up on the site, tomorrow.

 Thoughts and opinions are welcome, as always, in the comments.

My Favorite Jazz Albums of the Year: 30 for ’20 (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2020 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2020 by curtjazz

Our second set of ten discs, includes a brilliant final musical statement from a true jazz great, a trumpet master, who is still creating incredible music, in his eighth decade; an exciting South African pianist, who is setting the jazz world aflame and a sparkling tribute to some legendary ancestors by a few modern masters. Let’s dig in.

Once again, the albums are in alphabetical order, by artist name.  We will also try hard again, to adhere to the three-sentence rule (but don’t bet on it!).

  • Jeff Hamilton Trio: Catch Me If You Can (Capri)
    • Jeff Hamilton is a drummer of impeccable swing and unerring sensibility. He is one of those cats who elevates any of his bandmates by his mere presence behind the kit; not that his mates in this trio, bassist Jon Hamar and pianist Tamir Hendelman, need any help. On this sublime date, which includes a nice mix of originals and standards that have not worn out their welcome, the Hamilton trio produces an album fondly reminiscent of the Oscar Peterson trio, in their prime days. That group also had a master of taste on the skins, the late, great Ed Thigpen. An album absolutely worth your time.
  • Jimmy Heath: Love Letter (Verve)
    • Jimmy Heath, a saxophonist whose stellar career included being on the stand with virtually every jazz great, from Charlie Parker through today’s up and coming stars, who learned at his feet, passed away last January, at age 93. He left us, as a final gift, Love Letter, an achingly beautiful album of ballads that he worked on, until just weeks before his death. With guest appearances by Wynton Marsalis, Cecile McLorin Salvant and Gregory Porter and a stellar group of sidemen, that included Kenny Barron on piano, Russell Malone on guitar and the wonderful and woefully under recorded Monte Croft, on vibes, this a fitting valedictory, to a jazz life, well-lived.
  • Eddie Henderson: Shuffle and Deal (Smoke Sessions)
    • Dr. Eddie Henderson turned 80 years old, last October. From the way he looks on the cover of Shuffle and Deal and the way he sounds on the music inside, it is clear, that the good doctor, has found the Fountain of Youth. His trumpet attack is as blistering and energetic as it was when he was first heard, in Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band, in the early ‘70’s. With Kenny Barron and “Big Chief” Donald Harrison, alongside him as composers and bandmates, Dr. Henderson, has produced his second straight brilliant album for Smoke Sessions records. Age ain’t nothing but a number, doctor. Keep going for as long as you’ve got masterful music, in your soul.  
  • Theo Hill: Reality Check (PosiTone)
    • Reality Check is pianist Theo Hill’s third album for PosiTone Records. While the prior two were good piano trio dates, Mr. Hill’s decision to expand to a quartet, with rising star vibraphonist Joel Ross, may have been what was needed to move the group from good to great. The instrumentation will draw natural comparisons, to the MJQ but the young members of this group are far more forward thinking and dare I say, modern, in their approach. And when Mr. Hill switches to Rhodes, he elevates this fine group, even higher.  
  • Christopher Hollyday: Dialogue (Self Release)
    • Christopher Hollyday’s comeback, has been one of the feel-good stories in jazz, in the last few years. Signed by Novus/RCA, as part of the jazz young-lions craze of the early ‘90’s, while still in his teens, the young alto saxophonist was earnest but frankly, not yet ready for prime-time. When his career foundered in 1993, Mr. Hollyday returned to teaching and studying, becoming a highly respected educator in San Diego. He made his first record in 25 years, in 2018, the critically acclaimed Telepathy. This year, he followed up with Dialogue, every bit as good as its immediate predecessor. Itcrackles with the energy and self-assurance of a gifted, mature artist. Christopher Hollyday is back and better than ever. Hopefully, this time, it is to stay.
  • Nduduzo Makhathini: Modes of Communication: Letters from The Underworld (Blue Note)
    • From the moment that I first heard Nduduzo Makhathini’s Blue Note debut, I knew that I had some homework to do. A pianist, Mr. Makhathini has been a force on the South African jazz scene for several years. Influenced by Americans such as McCoy Tyner and Andrew Hill, as well as by his countrymen, Abdullah Ibrahim and Bheki Mseleku, he has taken the essence of his homeland’s music and melded it with American jazz, in a way that I’ve heard others attempt but no other has succeeded on such a high artistic level. His was one of the truly fresh and exciting voices that I heard in jazz this year and I look forward to hearing more.
  • Jason Marsalis: Live (Basin Street)
    • Since switching to the vibraphone from the drums, a few years back, it has been fascinating to watch the musical growth of the youngest musical Marsalis brother. On this set, recorded live three years ago, at the famed Little Gems Saloon, Marsalis is more relaxed and in the pocket, than I’ve ever heard him on this instrument. Maybe it’s because he is working with his regular working group or perhaps it is because the set consists of all Jason Marsalis originals. Whatever the reason, he has stepped up his vibraphone artistry, to the next level and this is a very high-quality album.  
  • Christian McBride Big Band: For Jimmy, Wes, and Oliver (Mack Avenue)
    • If you’re like me and a fan of the two classic recordings that Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery made in 1966, you know every note of those gems by heart. And like me, when you heard of this project, you wondered what could McBride’s Big Band bring to the table, on a tribute to those albums (and their arranger, Oliver Nelson), that could be fresh and new. For starters, organist Joey DeFrancesco and guitarist Mark Whitfield, are both season veterans, who greatly admire the legends that they are standing in for but smart (and gifted) enough, not to be reduced to imitation. Second, the song selection includes only four tracks from the original two albums and finally, the arrangers only used Oliver Nelson’s charts on the tunes not on the Jimmy and Wes originals. The result is one hell of a good album. Jimmy, Wes, and Oliver would be pleased.
  • Ron Miles: Rainbow Sign (Blue Note)
    • Cornetist Ron Miles’ prior album I Am a Man, brought him near universal acclaim, in the world of jazz and an opportunity to record for Blue Note Records. While Rainbow Sign employs the same musicians as its predecessor, for me, the writing went much deeper and the arrangements were denser. A couple of the songs even swung, in a relatively traditional sense. Mr. Miles composed the music for this album, while caring for his ailing father, up until the time of dad’s passing. That difficult situation may have infused Miles’ writing process. Whether it did or not, the music here, is the best of Ron Miles’ career.
  • Farnell Newton: Rippin’ and Runnin’ (PosiTone)
    • On his second album for Marc Free’s PosiTone Records, trumpeter Farnell Newton has a decidedly groovier sound, precipitated by the presence of organist Brian Charrette. But this is not an all-out Earland/McDuff soul-jazz fest. In fact, this date sounds to these ears, like a more soulful version of Unity, the classic Larry Young album. Charrette is kept grounded by the hard driving but traditional drumming of the great Rudy Royston, while Newton and saxophonist Brandon Wright are flying high. The tension between the conventional and the greasy is palpable, throughout the project and it is what makes the music special.

A reminder, if you are interested in purchasing any of the music that we discuss in these posts, clicking on the album title, will take you to the album’s page on Amazon.com. There is also a Spotify playlist below, which includes a track from each of the albums discussed here, for you to sample. But please don’t just stream. During these tough times, these musicians can use your support more than ever, so if you like it, buy it.

Our next post will feature the final ten of our 30 for ’20. It will be up, tomorrow.

 Thoughts and opinions are welcome, as always, in the comments.

Jazz Clip of the Day – Christian McBride’s New Jawn

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2018, CD Reviews, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , on January 9, 2019 by curtjazz

Okay everyone. I have figured out a way to get me posting more often.

There are a lot of terrific performance clips, EPKs and in this day and age, video clips that jazz artists produce, support of their work. They can often get lost in the glut of YouTube content.

What I will start doing, is posting at least one a day, when there is nothing else that I want to blog about, in long form. Hopefully something will connect with you and cause to seek out an unfamiliar artist, or at least brighten your day, with something from an old friend.

Our first will be from one of the albums on our Best Jazz of 2018 List; bassist Christian McBride’s New Jawn. Though still in his 40’s Mr. McBride has been a major part of the jazz scene for almost 30 years. He has performed and/or recorded with virtually every major figure in the jazz world, since 1989. He has also compiled an impressive array of recordings as a leader; heading groups from duos to big bands. He is also consistently willing to stretch himself and record in aggregations that seek out new ground.

“New Jawn”, is no exception, as it is the first album as a leader (other than his duet album), that McBride has made, without a chordal instrument, such as piano or guitar. Musicians often find this type of group allows a certain amount of freedom, as they are not as bound to conventional chord structures. However, that lack of structure can also be frightening as it can easily expose the limitations of less creative players.

Fortunately, with a world class quartet that includes Nasheet Waits on drums; Marcus Strickland on tenor sax; Joshua Evans on trumpet and McBride on bass, they are on the money, from first note, until the last. As intended, they stretch conventional boundaries to the edge of the avant-garde, but they are anchored just enough to keep the traditional jazz listener interested. It’s a thrilling ride.

I also have to give props to the ultra cool album cover, which appears to be a 21st Century take on the iconic artwork for the classic Wynton Kelly album, It’s All Right!

By the way, “Jawn”, is a term in Philly parlance, for “a person, place or thing”; it can change with the situation. Which makes it appropriate for this group.

The two clips here are live performances of two tracks from the album, “Middle Man” and “Pier One Import”, filmed live in performance, at radio station KNKX in Tacoma, WA. These tracks and others from Christian McBride’s New Jawn, can be heard in regular rotation on CurtJazz Radio click HERE to listen now.

My Best Jazz Albums of 2018 – The Complete List

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2018 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2018 by curtjazz

Yeah. I know. I’ve been away from the blog since, well, since my last year-end review.

It’s been quite a year folks. A lot of time on the road and a lot of “spare” time devoted to getting CurtJazz Radio back up, running and viable. But you didn’t come here to hear my problems. In the midst of it all, I did manage to hear a good amount of music. Some not so good and some that was very good, to excellent. Those in the latter category are included in the list below.

They are in alphabetical order, by album title. I’ve divided the projects into Instrumental and Vocal. I also wanted to recognize a couple of outstanding EPs, so I did. Each title includes a link that will take you to a place where you can purchase the music, if you feel so moved.

At the bottom of the post are three CD length Spotify playlists, which will give you a chance to sample a track from most of the albums/EPs on our list.

Tracks from all of these albums and EPs will be featured on CurtJazz Radio, from now, through the end of January 2019. CurtJazz Radio, on Live365.com, is always on and always FREE. Click HERE to listen.

I will try to not be such a ghost in 2019.

Instrumental

Album Title Artist Label
All in My Mind Dr. Lonnie Smith Blue Note
Armor of Pride Black Art Jazz Collective HighNote
Both Directions at Once John Coltrane Impulse
Christian McBride’s New Jawn Christian McBride Mack Avenue
Concentric Circles Kenny Barron Quintet Blue Note
Diamond Cut Tia Fuller Mack Avenue
Exiled Thandi Ntuli Ndlela Music Co.
Future is Female Roxy Coss Posi-Tone
Get It How You Live Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra Ropeadope
Heaven and Earth Kamasi Washington Young Turks
In Common Walter Smith III; Matthew Stevens Whirlwind
In Real Time John Bailey Summit
In the Moment Pat Bianchi Savant
Interstellar Adventures Theo Hill Posi-Tone
Introspection Roni Ben-Hur and Harvie S Jazzheads
Jazzland Tim Warfield Criss Cross
Live from San Pedro Jeff Hamilton Trio Capri
Love Stone JD Allen Savant
Master’s Legacy Series; Vol. 2Emmet CohenCellar Live
Modern Flows; Vol. 2 Marquis Hill PR
Movement Kobie Watkins Grouptet Origin
Origami Harvest Ambrose Akinmusire Blue Note
Pardes (Orchard) Amos Hoffman & Noam Lemish CD Baby
Remember Love Houston Person and Ron Carter HighNote
Straight Forward New Faces Posi-Tone
Telepathy Christopher Hollyday CD Baby
Warriors for Peace E.J. Strickland Quintet JamminColorS

Vocal

Album Title Artist Label
Art Market Sasha Masakowski Ropeadope
Genius of Eddie Jefferson Allan Harris Resilience
Looking at the Moon Allegra Levy Steeplechase
Math Camp Lorraine Feather CD Baby
My Mood is You Freddy Cole HighNote
Some of That Sunshine Karrin Allyson CD Baby
Sung with Words Helen Sung CD Baby
Unbroken Tiffany Austin Con Alma
Waiting for the Sunrise Camille Thurman Chesky
The Window Cecile McLorin Salvant Mack Avenue

EPs

Title Artist Label
Alfred Sergel IVtet Alfred Sergel Self-Release
G8S Giacomo Gates 9th Note

Best of the Carolinas

Title Artist Label
Cola Jazz II Cola Jazz Jangly
The SeekerThomas TaylorSelf Release
Shanghai Decade Sean Higgins Trio Self Release
Playlist #1
Playlist #2
Playlist #3

Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (Second Half) – Instrumental Albums: Closer Look – Pt. 1

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, CD Reviews, curtjazz radio with tags , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2018 by curtjazz

don't blinkAmong the first six of the eleven albums and one EP, on our second half of 2017 “Best Of” list: We have one of the great big bands in contemporary jazz, another one that may grab that title, one day; another striking work from an artist who for me, represents jazz’s bright future; and a another interesting concept album, from an artist who never seems to run out of fresh ideas.

In alphabetical order:

Bringin’ It – Christian McBride Big Band (Mack Avenue)

Perhaps in emulation of one of his musical heroes, James Brown, bassist Christian McBride has become the hardest working man in jazz. In addition to his killer trio, his small group (Inside Straight), his popular show on Sirius/XM and his appearances as an unofficial ambassador of jazz, Mr. McBride has returned, with his big band, for the first time in six years. And he has returned with a funky vengeance, as Bringin’ It, smokes, from the first notes of the hot, Brown-influenced “Gettin’ to It”, to the last notes of the Steve Davis flag waver, “Optimism”. McBride demonstrates that he has developed into a first-rate large ensemble chart writer, as he arranged nine of the albums eleven tracks and I didn’t hear a false note or a cliché, in any of them. Bringin’ It is a breath of fresh air, in an often moribund genre. I just hope we don’t have to wait another six years for the next album.

Don’t Blink – Unhinged Sextet (OA2)

Take six cats, from different parts of the U.S., who are all first-rate composers, arrangers, educators and (of course) musicians; bring them together every few years, in the studio, to kick around some ideas; shake well and you’ve got musical fire. That is Unhinged Sextet; the best little straight-ahead group that you’ve probably never heard of. Their second album, Don’t Blink, picks up where their first, Clarity, left off, except it swings harder and the writing is stronger; those two things alone, put it on my best of list. There are no frills and no stars, just boss level musicians, at the top of their game and playing solid post-bop jazz. Strong solos that are never too long and a good mix of uptempo and ballads. More, please! Now if we could just get them out of the damn studio and on the live stage.

Handful of Keys – Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis (Blue Engine)

Wynton and the JALCO drop their second outstanding album of the year. Where the first featured one pianist in tribute to the music of another, this one features several great pianists, of all ages, in tribute to the magnificence of the instrument itself. Click HERE to read our full review.

Harmony of Difference (EP) – Kamasi Washington (Young Turks)

Saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s follow-up to his stunning debut album, Epic, is a lot shorter but every bit as good. Click HERE to read our full review.

Honey and Salt – Matt Wilson (Palmetto)

There are very few jazz artists working today, who could successfully pull off the marriage of the Prairie Americana of the poetry of Carl Sandburg and the spare rhythms of modern jazz. Percussion master Matt Wilson proves that he is up to the task. He shares a common Illinois background with the great poet and a distant familial relationship, by marriage. He is also a longtime admirer and student of Sandburg, so Mr. Wilson has a personal attachment to the words and he and his group of regular cohorts, create musical bed that fit like a glove. What is ultra-hip is the appearance of some of the biggest jazz artists of today, such as Christian McBride, John Scofield, Joe Lovano, Rufus Reid, Bill Frisell and Carla Bley; not on their instruments but as readers of the words of Sandburg. This is a set that is jazzy, edgy, folksy, spare, lush, humorous and introspective – just like the poetry of the man himself.

Hybrido (from Rio to Wayne Shorter) – Antonio Adolfo (AAM)

One of the great, sleeper discs of 2017. Released on the small AAM label, this terrific date by the veteran Brazilian pianist was easy to miss and I almost did. What a shame that would have been. For I’ve heard Latin/Brazilian interpretations of the great Wayne Shorter’s music many times before but this is the most natural experience of them all. Mr. Adolfo and company have taken Shorter’s music to Rio; trusting their musicianship and the quality of the original material to carry the day. At the keyboard, Mr. Adolfo touch has always reminded me of a Brazilian version of Ahmad Jamal – soulful and swinging but with an overarching lightness of touch. And like Jamal, Adolfo has only gotten better with age. The tunes here come from IMO, Mr. Shorter’s most fertile compositional period, his years with Blue Note. And there are stimulating interpretations of Shorter classics, such as “Footprints”, “Black Nile”, “Speak No Evil” and “E.S.P.”. It is a very personal, very beautiful and very enjoyable, tribute.

The next post will include looks at our final six top instrumental albums of 2017. You can hear tracks from these albums and more, on the new CurtJazz Radio, on Live365.com 

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.

2014 Jazz Grammy® Preview #3 – Best Instrumental Jazz Album

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

Here we go with the second of the two major Jazz Grammy races; Best Instrumental Jazz Album. Like the award for the vocalists, this award seems to carry a bit more prestige than the others, whether it’s deserved or not. Also like the Jazz Vocal Album award, this year’s race features its strongest field in quite a while. Any of these five nominees would be a worthy winner. But as in all of the other categories, name recognition and industry politics will likely play a role in who comes out on top. A couple of notable things: First, although Hall of Famers Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter released new projects this year, neither has been nominated in this category. Second, two record labels split the all of the nominations for the category, Concord Jazz and Mack Avenue.

The nominees are:

The New Gary Burton Quartet: Guided Tour (Mack Avenue Records)

Guided Tour is the second offering from Gary Burton’s latest group, a strong aggregation, which includes four virtuoso players, including Julian Lage who is a terrific young guitarist and the amazing Antonio Sanchez on drums. The music is easy-going and extremely well performed. However when I first heard it, it left me a bit cold and that feeling has never gone away. Nevertheless, I pick them as a favorite to win because of Burton’s familiarity with the voters.

Terri Lyne Carrington: Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue (Concord Jazz Records)

One of the most pleasant surprises of the Grammy ceremony two years ago was Terri Lyne Carrington’s Grammy win for her brilliant album The Mosaic ProjectOn this follow-up, Ms. Carrington decided to do something fairly daring; re-imagining the one of the holy books in jazz’s canon, the Money Jungle album that featured the once in a lifetime trio of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. With Gerald Clayton on piano and Christian McBride on bass, Carrington  thankfully chooses not to recreate the originals but instead uses them as starting points for some interesting interpretations. Guest spots from Lizz Wright, Antonio Hart and longtime Carrington mentor Clark Terry help to give fresh perspective. It’s a tight race in this category and Ms. Carrington has won before. I’d give her a solid chance to do it again.

Gerald Clayton: Life Forum (Concord Jazz Records)

Life Forum represents another in a string of Grammy nominations for this increasingly busy young pianist. It was a departure from his previous trio focused efforts and included vocalists (Gretchen Parlato and Sachal Vasandani) and horns (Ambrose Akinmusire, Dayna Stephens, Logan Richardson). These additions added a spark and warmth that had been missing from Clayton’s prior albums, making it his most listenable project. But because he is the “baby” of this bunch, he is a long shot to win on Sunday night.

Kenny Garrett: Pushing the World Away (Mack Avenue Records)

Pushing the World Away is Kenny Garrett’s second consecutive nomination in this category. It was kind of surprising to see Garrett return with another strong album within 12 months of his last one (Seeds from the Underground) but Mr. Garrett said that he felt that he “had a lot of music” in him after the last project. Which may explain why Pushing the World Away sounds relatively similar to its predecessor. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world as I felt that Seeds… was one of 2012’s best Jazz albums and one of the bests of Garrett’s long career. I wouldn’t make him the favorite but I’m getting a sneaking feeling that he just may pull this off.

Christian McBride Trio: Out Here (Mack Avenue Records)

This is a back to basics trio date with two very exciting featuring the best (and busiest) bassist in jazz with two young cohorts; pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. There’s nothing new here but what they do, they do stunningly well. It’s three world-class musicians, playing some standards, some originals and a couple of fun surprises. I’m personally rooting for these cats but based on Grammy’s history in this category, I don’t think they will win.

So here is my bottom line unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Christian McBride Trio
  • Will Win: The New Gary Burton Quartet

In the next post, we will touch on what is surprisingly, the most eclectic group of nominees in this year’s jazz categories – Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.

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!

Best Jazz Albums of 2013 – The Second Half

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2013 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2013 by curtjazz

Rene Marie - evilI have to confess that this year’s list of the best jazz albums feels somehow incomplete. The albums on the first list, posted in early August and the ones in this article are all outstanding but as much as I get to hear, due to my vocation and avocation, I still have missed so much this year.

In part, this is a good thing because artists now have more freedom than ever to self produce and release their works without having to beg for record company crumbs. However, one of the bad things is that the distribution of these projects often leaves much to be desired. So there’s much out there that I’ve heard of but haven’t been able to get my hands on in any format. Something tells me my “Ones I’ve Missed” list in 2014 is going to be pretty large.

That being said, here are the favorite releases that I’ve heard  since July. As always, they are in alphabetical order by album title, not preference:

Aquarius – Nicole Mitchell’s Ice Crystals (Delmark)

It’s a marriage of several disparate elements that come together to create musical perfection: Ms. Mitchell’s flute playing off of Jason Adasiewicz’s vibes, producing the sound that gives the group its name; their AACM sensibility, leavened by a hint of Chicago Soul and some of the best compositions that I’ve ever heard from Ms. Mitchell. They have managed to stay true to their artistic roots yet make the music more accessible. No small feat but they pull it off with aplomb.

Creole Soul – Etienne Charles (MRI)

Mr. Charles, a young trumpet player originally from Trinidad, creates a successful marriage of straight ahead jazz and the musical styles of the Caribbean and New Orleans. Many have tried to do the same thing with only moderate success. Etienne Charles nails it, big time. Those who want to understand how to fuse groove and jazz without “selling out” should use this disc as a primer.  (Read my full review for Jazz Inside  Magazine HERE.)

I Wanna Be Evil (With Love to Eartha Kitt) René Marie (Motéma)

Leave it to Rene Marie to wait until the tail end of the year to release a masterpiece. She clearly has a strong affinity for her subject and instead of imitating the legendary performer; she draws Ms. Kitt’s style inside of her own and creates some fresh renditions of some of Eartha’s classics. She also creates a smoldering original tune “Weekend” which might have made even the legendary Kitt blush.  Ms. Marie’s performances are sexy, playful, charming, foreboding and thought-provoking; often at the same time.  It’s Ms. Marie’s best album since Vertigo and it may even top that classic.

Liquid Spirit – Gregory Porter (Blue Note)

With his third outstanding album in three years, Mr. Porter continues to carve out a niche for himself as either the most soulful jazz singer or the jazziest soul singer working today. Porter has melded the low-key sensitivity of Bill Withers to the jazz sensibility of a young Al Jarreau. He is also a damn good composer, dropping a few of his own tunes on this album, such as “Hey Laura” and “Brown Grass” that I expect to hear being covered by other singers in the near future. Plus he does a dynamite cover of one of my faves from Max Roach and Abby Lincoln, “Lonesome Lover”. Will Porter take home the Grammy this year? Knowing Grammy’s unpredictability, who knows?  But I think that he has a good shot in at least one of the two categories that he’s nominated in.

No Morphine; No Lilies – Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom (The Royal Potato Family)

The prodigiously gifted drummer takes us all over the jazz map in a little over 50 minutes; from swing to post-bop, to free, with numerous stops in between. Her working band of three years, which includes pianist Myra Melford; bassist Todd Sickafoose and the wonderful violinist Jenny Scheinman, has coalesced into a solid unit who play off of each other incredibly well.  Their musical trust for each other has allowed them to bring out the best in Ms. Miller’s compositions and for them to turn performances in different directions on a dime.

Out Here – Christian McBride Trio (Mack Avenue)

It’s no surprise that Mr. McBride is a fan of James Brown, because he is the hardest working bassist in jazz. Besides being the first call sideman for almost everyone in jazz today, he managed also to release two albums in 2013 under his own name, one with his Inside Straight aggregation and the other was this album, a back to basics trio date with two very exciting young cohorts; pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. There’s nothing new here but what they do, they do stunningly well. It’s three world-class musicians, playing some standards, some originals and a couple of fun surprises. I hope that this isn’t just a one-off but if it is, it’s an impressive one.

Saturday Morning – Ahmad Jamal (Jazz Village)

What has gotten into Ahmad Jamal? All of a sudden, in his eighties, Miles Davis’ favorite pianist has become not only incredibly relevant again but I daresay, downright funky. First on last year’s Blue Moon and now on Saturday Morning.  Egged on by the percolating grooves laid down by bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley, the octogenarian reminds Robert Glasper and Co., where they got it from. His piano lines are still tasty and tasteful and not the least bit stale. Long live Mr. Jamal, I hope that he keeps going and continues to create music like this for many years to come. 

Soul Brother Cool – Cyrus Chestnut (WJ3)

This album is here for two reasons: one is its remarkable leader, who I consider to be one of the best jazz pianists of his generation. Mr. Chestnut is the natural successor to Bobby Timmons in the “Soulful Jazz Pianist” category and his teaming over the last few years with bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Willie Jones III seems to have re-energized him.  The second reason is the presence of trumpeter Freddie Hendrix on this album. Mr. Hendrix is a remarkably talented musician who has been criminally under recorded. In fact, as of this writing, he has yet to lead a recording date. Hendrix stylistically (and even physically, somewhat) reminds me of another more well-known jazz trumpeter with the same first name and last initial. Throughout the album, he threatens to steal the show from the leader and at times, he does. And for bonus points, Chestnut and Jones used Max Roach’s rare album Drums Unlimited as an inspiration for the cover. Very cool indeed!

Tootie’s Tempo – Albert “Tootie” Heath (Sunnyside)

Here’s another jazz veteran undergoing a bit of a career renaissance.  The youngest of the Heath Brothers has recorded abundantly as a sideman on some of jazz’s greatest albums and quite a bit with his brothers over the years but very little as a leader. So here we have the 78-year-old “Tootie” working with relative youngsters Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus on piano and NY avant-garde scene darling Ben Street on bass. On paper it sounds like a mismatch but in reality it is pure magic. Tootie will never be accused of being a bombastic drummer but everything he does is exactly as it should be. You can hear Mr. Heath taking care of his musical partners and vice versa. This is one of the most interesting working trios out there today. If you like this, check out this same group’s 2010 live recording from NYC’s Smalls Jazz Club.

Wolfgang Warren Wolf (Mack Avenue)

Vibraphonist Wolf’s follow up to his Mack Avenue debut is the most mature and cohesive album of his burgeoning young career. Split between tracks with his working band and an all-star group, Wolf’s growth as a musician, composer and arranger are all evident from first note to last. (Read my full review for Jazz Inside Magazine HERE.)

And in case you’ve forgotten, here are the albums/artists who were included in our post Best Jazz of 2013 (So Far), which first appeared in August 2013:

And I’m still not done! There will be one more post in which we will bring you a few more albums from 2013, that I still cannot get out of my head. Plus, in what has become an annual tradition, we will pay homage to some albums from 2012 that I somehow managed to miss until 2013.

As always, your comments, for and against, are welcome but spam is not.

Until the next time, the jazz continues…