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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 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.

My Favorite Jazz Albums of the Year: 30 for ’20 (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2020, CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2020 by curtjazz

Man, this has been one strange year! (Insert your own “no kidding”, or some variant, here)

Though I was fortunate enough to host a Zoom-based jazz talk show (Conversations with Curtis), thanks to JazzArts Charlotte, I heard less live music, this year than at any time, since my teens. I also somehow managed to hear less recorded music than any year, in recent memory. I feel less comfortable than ever declaring this list to be a “Best Of”, because there is so much out there that I’m still catching up with. So, let’s just say that these are my favorites of what I did hear. These are the albums that I went back to listen to, more than twice, the ones that stayed on the CurtJazz Radio playlist for more than just a few weeks.

There are thirty albums that I want to share with you. To keep the posts to a reasonable size, I have divided them into three groups of ten. For the sake of brevity, I will try not to write more than three sentences about any one album.

Here are the first ten of my favorite 2020 releases, in alphabetical order, by artist name:

  • J.D. Allen: Toys/Die Dreaming (Savant)
    • Allen releases about one album per year and he also makes about one trip a year to my “Best Of” list. On this enigmatically titled album, Allen continues his searing, powerful explorations guiding his tenor sax through a recommended set of mostly original tunes. It’s insistent, compelling, and absolutely first rate.
  • John Beasley: MONKestra Plays Beasley (Mack Avenue)
    • The first two outings of pianist/composer/arranger John Beasley’s large ensemble, ostensibly dedicated to the music of Thelonious Monk, made me a respectful admirer. This third volume, which adds compositions by Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Beasley himself to those of Sphere, has made me a full-fledged fan. This set swings harder and takes the energy to the next level and every track is on point. A classic.
  • Lakecia Benjamin: Pursuance: The Coltranes (Ropeadope)
    • For me, this is Lakecia Benjamin’s coming of age album. Her previous albums have hinted at her potential but missed the mark in some way or another. Merging Ms. Benjamin’s millennial energy, creativity, and her wellspring of new ideas, with the canon of John and Alice Coltrane, has given these classics a fresh start that we didn’t realize that they needed, until now.
  • Peter Bernstein: What Comes Next (Smoke Sessions)
    • Peter Bernstein is one of the best and most reliable guitarists working in the world of jazz today. Be it as a first-call sideman or as a leader, Bernstein is a consistent arbiter of taste, intelligence, and swing. On What Comes Next, Mr. Bernstein, once again, does not disappoint, bringing us an outstanding set of first-rate performances.
  • Stanley Cowell: Live at Keystone Korner Baltimore (SteepleChase)
    • Stanley Cowell, who was a composer, educator, record-label executive, in addition to being one of the most creative and innovative pianists, in the world of jazz, died on December 18. His work, as a sideman with The Heath Brothers, Charles Tolliver, Max Roach and as a leader, will ensure that legions of jazz fans will continue to talk of and discover his work, for years to come. I’m unsure of whether Live at the Keystone Corner Baltimore, is Mr. Cowell’s final recording. If so, he went out on a triumph. Rest in Power, sir.
  • Wayne Escoffery: The Humble Warrior (Smoke Sessions)
    • I’ve come to expect a certain high-level of artistry from Wayne Escoffery’s recordings. The Humble Warrior is on my “best of” list because he has shown me something completely different in his song selection. Bringing Benjamin Britten’s choral work Missa Brevis in D, into the jazz realm, complete with a dense and challenging arrangement, is one of the most impressive things, from an artistic perspective, that I’ve heard all year.
  • John Fedchock NY Sextet: Into the Shadows (Summit)
    • Though trombonist John Fedchock is one of the best big-band arrangers in the business, I believe that in his small groups, such as this one, is where he really shines. In his small groups, there is a lightness and an attention to detail that his larger charts sometimes miss. His total reinvention of “Star Eyes”, is the standout on the album and one of the best versions of that old warhorse that I’ve ever heard.
  • Champian Fulton: Birdsong (Self-Release)
    • Champian teased the release of this album, when she guested on “Conversations with Curtis”, last spring. The album was not released until August. It was worth the wait. Champian Fulton has grown into one of the finest pianist/vocalists in jazz today. She is a consummate interpreter of a lyric and though she clearly has been influenced by several the greats, she sounds like no one, but herself. Did I also mention that her piano playing can swing you into bad health? This tribute to Bird, flies high.
  • Nubya Garcia: Source (Concord)
    • Nubya Garcia has been building to this moment for a few years now, with two well received and exciting Eps, before Source, her first full length album was released this year. If you’re familiar with her EPs, what is here will not be surprising. The 28-year-old British saxophonist has a sound that is influenced by the soulful ancestors, like Henderson and Turrentine, but rooted in the nascent London jazz scene of today. Downbeat has named Ms. Garcia, one of the 25 performers that could shape jazz for decades…I certainly hope that they’re right.
  • Connie Han: Iron Starlet (Mack Avenue)
    • I was unfamiliar with the work of this 24-year-old piano prodigy, until last January, when she was the victim of some vicious and sexist written attacks by a respected online jazz publication (which later claimed that they were hacked). This made me curious enough to explore her music for myself. I found her work to be surprisingly good. She knows her jazz vernacular, she is a strong soloist, who leaves plenty of room for her sidemen and she is a fine composer. Iron Starlet, her second album as a leader, stands favorably alongside of much of the released work of Ms. Han’s contemporaries and her elders, in 2020. Those who criticize her for reasons that have nothing to do with her music, ought to be ashamed of themselves.

There you have the first ten of my “30 for ’20”. And yes, I did break my three sentence rule, when it was absolutely necessary. I’ve included a Spotify playlist, below, with a track from each of the albums discussed in this article, to give y’all a taste. We will release two more posts, with 11 – 20 and 21 – 30, on the list, on successive days. Thoughts and opinions are welcome, as always, in the comments.

Album Reviews – A Sack Full of Sax

Posted in CD Reviews, curtjazz radio, Uncategorized, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on March 11, 2019 by curtjazz

Our first review post of the year, features four new albums from veteran saxophonists who should all, be better known than they are. Start to right that wrong, by picking up these projects, which are all recommended.

Chris Greene Quartet – Playspace (Single Malt)

The native of Evanston, IL has spent most of his career close to home, which means the Chicago jazz scene. Readers of this blog are aware of my fondness for his sound, indicated by multiple appearances of Mr. Greene’s albums on my year end “Best of” lists. On his twelfth album as a leader, Greene gives us more of what his best qualities – that full bodied, gritty, tenor attack and a surprisingly rich tone, when he switches to soprano.  Playspace finds Greene and the CGQ in a deeper soul jazz vein than usual, and I loved every minute of it. “The Crossover Appeal/Uno Mas”, locks into the pocket and doesn’t let go, with Marc Piane’s electric bass setting the stage and Greene getting into a sweaty sax duel with guest star Marquel Jordan. A Latin reading of Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil”, is surprisingly effective, with drummer Steve Corley taking center stage with a relentless groove and a killer solo. “Blues for Dr. Fear”, which appeared in a studio version, on 2017’s Boundary Issues, is back and funkier than ever, with Damian Espinosa’s cool keys weaving around Greene’s tough tenor. Playspace is another winning album from one of the true working groups in jazz today. Looks like we’re not going to get them out of the Windy City, y’all, so we’ll have to make the trip there, to experience in person, what we hear on this disc.

Nick Hempton – Night Owl (Triple Distilled)

Nick Hempton, who has called New York home since 2004, announces his intention from the first notes of this album. This a truly greasy session, influenced by the organ dates led by Stanley Turrentine, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt and so many of their brethren, in the dives and after-hours clubs of the Big Apple, since the 50’s. He has assembled the perfect cast for the date: Peter Bernstein on guitar, Kyle Kohler on organ, and Fukushi Tainaka on drums. These cats have all logged many hours, backing up similar dates and they inspire Mr. Hempton to lay down the most soulful playing that I’ve ever heard from him. Most of the tracks are Hempton originals but they perfectly capture that long-ago vibe. Mr. Hempton switches between the alto and the tenor without missing a beat and is equally effective on each horn. The standout tracks are the Latin-tinged “I Remember Milady’s”, with Hempton getting a nice assist from Bernstein; “After You’ve Gone”, with Hempton’s alto, recalling ‘Sweet Lou’, during his Blue Note heyday and Koehler evincing a Big John Patton influence; and the nasty title track, which sounds like a lost track from one of those classic Jimmy Smith; Stanley Turrentine; Kenny Burrell dates. Buy this album, pour a glass of your favorite libation and put on your best “funky face”, because Night Owl is the real deal. 

Ralph Moore – Three Score (WJ3)

Hard to believe but it’s true. Three Score is Ralph Moore’s first album as a leader in nearly 25 years. He hadn’t left the scene during that time; Moore spent the better part of the last twenty years, on the West Coast, playing in Jay Leno’s Tonight Show band. He also was a sideman for Oscar Peterson, Roy Hargrove, Ray Brown, Tom Harrell and many other jazz greats; so, he was here; he just wasn’t leading any dates. He has returned with a stellar album, on the best boutique label in jazz – Willie Jones III’s WJ3. Joined by Eric Reed on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass and Jones on drums, Mr. Moore’s sound, which for me, always landed in the niche between John Coltrane and Joe Henderson, is as captivating as ever. The band of top tier pros doesn’t miss a beat and the compositions, mostly by Moore and Reed, are uniformly excellent. If you’re going to skip around, you must first check out “Another Time”, a Reed original, which opens the proceedings and throws down the hard bop gauntlet; the infectious, toe tapping (and too brief) “Donny” and the reflective title track, which features Mr. Moore’s finest solo on the date. But don’t sleep on the rest of the disc because it’s all choice. Ralph Moore is back, y’all and Three Score is one of the best albums that I’ve heard so far, in 2019.

Justin Robinson – At First Light (WJ3)

Justin Robinson spent most of the last 15 years, alongside the late, great Roy Hargrove on some of the trumpet master’s finest live shows and recordings. His work with Hargrove, often overshadowed the impressive music that Mr. Robinson released as a leader. At First Light, is his first album in five years and his second for WJ3 Records. He is backed by a solid group of young cats, that he has worked with over the years, with Hargrove and in other settings; Sharp Radway on piano, Ameen Saleem on bass and Jeremy Clemons on drums. Mr. Robinson lists Jackie McLean among his influences and it shows in his sound, as do elements of Bobby Watson. His tone is in your face and hard swinging. Robinson composed six of the project’s eight tunes and there are many standouts: “Lamentations for R and D” starts with a mournful, wandering theme, which leads unexpectedly to a light bossa beat, while Robinson, sticks with the mood that he set in the opening. It’s compelling, and Radway and Clemons are especially good here. The beautiful “Love Thy Father”, allows Robinson to fully access his melodic side. There’s also “Cool Blues”, the Charlie Parker classic, that seems to be a rite of passage for alto players. Mr. Robinson’s take is a very good one, true to the structure of Bird but adding his own flourishes during his solos. It is Parker meets JMac meets Robinson and I liked it a lot. At First Light is another fine release from WJ3 Records. We don’t hear from them often but when we do, it’s consistently first-rate.

There’s a lot more that’s new and good out there, to tell you about. We’ll be dropping more reviews shortly. In the meantime, you can hear tracks from these albums and more on CurtJazz Radio, on Live 365. We’re always on and always FREE.

Until then, the jazz (and BAM) continues…

Jazz Clip of the Day: Sasha Masakowski

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2018, CD Reviews, Unsung Women of Jazz, Video Vault with tags , , , , on January 13, 2019 by curtjazz

I’ve been fortunate to work with this delightful and gifted young vocalist, a number of times, over the past few years, as she has been a frequent guest/headliner at jazz events, produced by the Jazz Arts Initiative (the organization I am associated with), here in Charlotte.

My musical introduction to Ms. Masakowski, came through her Wishes album, in 2011. I loved the eclectic feel of the disc; the fact that it included tracks penned by Brazilian stalwart Baden Powell, Ellis Marsalis (the Marsalis family patriarch, and one of Sasha’s teachers) and renowned guitarist/educator Steve Masakowski (Sasha’s dad), as well as her own, contemporary based work.

In 2018, Sasha released Art Market, a captivating, eclectic set, that creates a perfect blend of her New Orleans roots, her jazz education and the downtown, electronic New York scene that also has a considerable affect on Sasha’s artistry. I loved what I heard. I loved it so much, that Art Market is on my list as one of the Best Jazz Albums of 2018.

I’ve learned that I am not alone in my appreciation of Ms. Masakowski’s artistry. In 2015, Vanity Fair, listed her as one of the top young jazz musicians on the scene. And already in 2019, Paste Magazine has tabbed Sasha as one of the 12 New Jazz Artists to Watch, in this year.

As an introduction to Sasha, I’ve included two clips, that will show you two of her multiple facets: the enjoyable, official video for “Sister”, one of her compositions included on Art Market and her performance of Marcos Valle’s Brazilian classic “Summer Samba (So Nice)”.

Of course, you can hear “Sister” and several other tracks from Art Market, in regular rotation on CurtJazz Radio, throughout January of 2019. Click HERE to listen now.

Jazz Clip of the Day – Brenda Navarrete

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, curtjazz radio, Video Vault with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2019 by curtjazz

Brenda Navarrete.

Read her name. Say it. Commit it to memory.

She is the most exciting new artist that I have heard in Afro-Cuban music in at least a decade.

I first heard her in the fall of 2017, when her U.S. label sent me a copy of Mi Mundo, her debut album as a solo artist. I don’t know what excited me more, her passionate vocals or her mastery of multiple percussion instruments. Though the official release date of her CD was not until January 2018, I decided to, in my excitement, include Mi Mundo on my list of the Best Jazz Albums of 2017. I could have easily included it on my 2018 list as well.

A native of Cuba, Ms. Navarrete has been making her mark in her homeland, since the age of 9. She grew up in a musical home where in addition to the legends of her native island, such as Benny More, Celia Cruz and Celeste Mendoza, she was also exposed to and gravitated to the music of American jazz artists, like Nat King Cole, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Cassandra Wilson and Take 6.

In 2010, Brenda won a national competition during Cuba’s prestigious Fiesta del Tambor, wining first prize in the category of Bata drums, as well as for best interpretation by a female artist. She quickly came to the attention of modern Cuban greats such as Roberto Carcasses, Joaquin Betancourt and Alain Perez, who put her right to work in their groups. In a field that is dominated by men, Ms. Brenda Navarrete has quickly set herself apart from the pack.

As for Mi Mundo, which was recorded in Havana, I will simply quote my own words from my 2017 year-end review: “I was floored from the first notes of “Baba Eleggua”, as in this young woman’s playing and vocalizing, I felt the spirits of Carlos “Patato” Valdes and Armando Peraza. Yes, she is that good. The album, which includes four of Brenda’s compositions, is deeply rooted in Afro-Cuban traditions, with a touch of modern influences, such as American R&B. Her version of “Caravan”, is a killer, as is her original, “Rumbero Como Yo”, with its multi-tracked vocal line. She demonstrates her jazz chops on “A Ochun”, with its flute driven mid-section and a call and response finish, over insistent jazz chords. There’s not a bad track here… A very impressive instrumental and vocal debut.

Alma Records recently released a rather captivating and sensual video clip of “Mulata Linda”, one of the tracks from Mi Mundo. I also came across a wonderful clip of Ms. Brenda from the summer of 2018, as she opened the “Havana Meets Kingston” concert, at Royal Albert Hall, in London. I hope you enjoy them both.

Click on the links throughout this post to get your own copy of Mi Mundo You can also hear several tracks from the album, now in heavy rotation on CurtJazz Radio. To listen click HERE.

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 

We’re Back On the Airwaves!

Posted in curtjazz radio, Holiday Jazz, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , on December 11, 2017 by curtjazz

WE’RE BAAAAACK!

CurtJazz Studio 300x400When Charlotte Community Radio went off the air last spring, I felt in my spirit, that this was going to be a temporary absence from the air. I had heard rumblings and rumors that Live365, which had been my on-air home from late 2004, until its demise, due to draconian governmental regulation, in January 2016; was going to make a comeback. The format would be essentially the same, the costs,  slightly higher.

The rumors became true, late in the summer, when I got an email from Live365, inviting me to reopen Curt’s Cafe Noir. My heart wanted to jump in that day. My head told me to do a little number crunching first. I had set a goal of getting back on the air, sometime during the 2nd Quarter of 2018.  It was going to be a long wait, but I was willing because it was worth it.

While talking to my queen (aka the world’s greatest wife) over the weekend, I mentioned my plans. She then told me, “Well…actually, I had planned to give you station as a Christmas present. I know how much you love to do your Christmas show, so why don’t you just start now. Merry Christmas!”

Click the link below, to stream the new CURTJAZZ RADIO. It’s 100% Free.

http://player.live365.com/a09856

I was immediately speechless, and then grateful, to my family and to God for the chance to do what I love, again, and even more quickly than I had planned. I also knew that I had my work cut out for me, because all of a sudden, the 2017 JAZZMAS Party was on.

Mike hackett

I also did something I had wanted to do for a while, which is change the station name. Curt’s Cafe Noir, was a name that I came up with back in 2004, when I envisioned the station as an amalgam of many musical styles. As jazz became our identity, I never found an opening to make the switch. Now is that time.

So, the station formerly known as Curt’s Cafe Noir, will now be known as CurtJazz Radio. I’ve become known by that moniker, so I figure it will be easier for new fans to remember and for old fans and friends to get used to.

Nicci Canada 1

We kicked off the new CurtJazz Radio, on Sunday, December 10. Almost thirteen years to the day, that we started Curt’s Cafe Noir. Since it’s the Holiday Season, we will start programming with one of our most popular features on the old station, the 24/7 JAZZMAS Party. Wall to wall, Christmas and Holiday-themed jazz vocals and instrumentals – some familiar and some rare. This will go on, 24 hours a day, until December 27. On that date, we will switch to playing tracks from the best jazz albums of 2017, which we will do through mid January. After that, it will be what you know us for – straight-ahead jazz, mostly by living, working artists.

If you’re a fan of Curt’s Cafe Noir, we welcome you to CurtJazz Radio, with open arms. If you never heard Curt’s Cafe Noir, we’d love for you to give CurtJazz Radio a try. I think you’ll like it.

We ask for your support and we appreciate every minute that you spend with us.

The link below, will take you to the party!

http://player.live365.com/a09856

https://broadcaster.live365.com/v1/now-playing/large/a09856

JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz: Interactive Playlist – 5/4/17

Posted in Charlotte Community Rado, CLTC Playlists, Jazz in Charlotte, JazzLives!, Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2017 by curtjazz

Jazzmeia-Horn-A-Social-Call 225The penultimate edition of JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz on Charlotte Community Radio, featured mostly new releases. There has been a lot of great new music released in 2017 and I wanted to share as much of it as possible before wrapping it up. I had to drop in a Sonny Rollins classic and a few others, like the one from a few years back from my man, Etienne Charles and Chaka with Echoes of an Era ’cause they were totally in my head. But the majority of the love went to the new stuff, such as the sublime debut disc by Ms. Jazzmeia Horn and the striking groove of Nightintales, the latest release from that daughter of jazz royalty, Ms. China Moses.

There’s a link to the entire program below and video clips of a few of the tracks as well. Hope y’all dig it!

 

 

TRACK TITLE ARTIST(S) ALBUM LABEL
Sweet Georgia Brown Ori Dagan Less Than Three Self-Release
Karma Joey DeFrancesco Project Freedom Mack Avenue
Disconnected China Moses Nightinales MPS
I Told You I Love You Giacomo Gates Centerpiece Origin
La Cancha Eddie Palmieri Sabiduria Ropeadope
Old Men Sing the Blues Kevin Mahogany The Vienna Affair Cracked Anegg
The Aviator Bobby Watson Made in America Smoke Sessions
Take the Coltrane Kevin Eubanks East West Time Mack Avenue
Spanish Steps LCJO (feat. Jon Batiste & Wynton Marsalis) The Music of John Lewis Blue Engine
Tight Jazzmeia Horn A Social Call Prestige
Armando’s Song Christian Sands REACH Mack Avenue
Tatra Hermon Mehari Bleu Unlabeled
Soy Califa Allegra Levy Cities Between Us SteepleChase
O Pato Eliane Elias Dance of Time Concord
Black Enough Somi Petite Afrique Okeh
Take the A Train Echoes of an Era Echoes of an Era Elektra
Little Sunflower Ed Cherry Soul Time Posi-tone
Haitian Fight Song Akua Dixon Akua Dixon Self-Release
What a Difference a Day Makes Akiko Tsuruga Sakura American Showplace
Straighten Up and Fly Right Nnenna Freelon & Take 6 Soulcall Concord
Pandora’s Box Jeremy Pelt The Talented Mr. Pelt HighNote
Cinderella Poncho Sanchez Ultimate Latin Dance Party Concord Picante
Camera Eyes Behn Gillece Dare to Be Posi-tone
Surrey with the Fringe on Top Sonny Rollins Newk’s Time Blue Note
That’s Not Your Donut Champian Fulton Speechless CD Baby
Kitch’s Bebop of Calypso (feat. Lord Superior) Etienne Charles Kaiso Culture Shock
Down By The Riverside Christian McBride Trio Live at the Village Vanguard Mack Avenue
RED! Josh Lawrence Color Theory Posi-tone
Make America Great Again! Delfeayo Marsalis Make America Great Again! Troubador Jass
Breathless Terence Blanchard Breathless Blue Note
Central Line Art Hirahara Central Line Posi-tone

JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz: Interactive Playlist 4/27/17

Posted in Charlotte Community Rado, CLTC Playlists, Jazz in Charlotte, JazzLives!, Under The Radar with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2017 by curtjazz

CurtJazz Studio 225Our show on Thursday, April 27 was our first since learning of the station’s impending demise. No guests that evening; I just spent a lot of the show playing Carolinas based artists and those who had been guests on the show over the last year. A bit sentimental but still some great jazz.

A link to a recording of the entire program is below, as are a couple of terrific video clips from a couple of the tracks on the playlist. Enjoy!

 

TRACK TITLE ARTIST(S) ALBUM LABEL
I’m Old Fashioned Elli Fordyce Songs Spun of Gold Self-Release
Moanin’ Tony Allen A Tribute to Art Blakey Blue Note
It’s Only A Paper Moon Denise Jannah A Heart Full of Music Timeless
Here to Help Chris Greene Quartet Boundary Issues Single Malt
Lucid Lullaby Linda May Han Oh Walk Against Wind Biophilia
Little Pigs Amos Hoffman Back to The City Self-Release
Phryzzinian Man Wynton Marsalis Black Codes from the Underground Columbia
The Coaster Kevin Mahogany Songs and Moments Enja
Epitaph III – J. Mac Chad Eby Broken Shadows Cellar Live
Absolute-Lee Brandon Lee Absolute Lee CD Baby
Johnny Come Lately Don Braden / Mark Rapp The Strayhorn Project Premium Music
Crazy Baby Nicci Canada Twenty Twelve Self-Release
Screwball Mike Hackett New Point of View Summit
Think Tank Will Campbell Think Tank Origin
Chicken Day Harvey Cummings Chicken Day Self-Release
West End Blues John Michael Bradford Something Old Something New CD Baby
Thelonious Ali Jackson Amalgamations Sunnyside
Black Coffee Tenya Coleman Tenya Self-Release
Clapper Dapper Geoff Clapp Bend in the River CD Baby
Unit 7 Ellis Marsalis Sextet Live at Jazz Fest 2014 Self-Release
Afro Samurai Mark Whitfield Grace Self-Release
It Could Happen to You Eric Nemeyer Blessing in Disguise Self-Release
Speak No Evil Wayne Shorter Speak No Evil Blue Note
On the Red Clay Royal Bopsters Project Royal Bopsters Project Motema
Butterfly Gretchen Parlato In a Dream ObliqSound
Red, Black and Green Roy Ayers Red, Black and Green Polydor
Sweet Georgia Brown Anat Cohen Clarinetwork – Live Anzic
Benny’s Bounce Michael Dease All These Hands Posi-tone
Lady Bird Adia Ledbetter Take 2: Rendezvous with Yesterdays CD Baby
Boio Moio Brent Rusinow Old Guy Time CD Baby
Gypsy Ahmad Jamal Blue Moon Jazz Village