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Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (Second Half) – Instrumental Albums: Closer Look – Pt. 2

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, CD Reviews, curtjazz radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2018 by curtjazz

brenda navarreteOur last look at 2017, covers six more fine instrumental albums; from a living legend, who just keeps getting it done; a thrilling young Cuban percussionist/vocalist; a drummer who has been setting the world on fire; a venerable jazz label, restocking for the future, and an exciting young vibraphonist, who has come of age.

 

In alphabetical order:

Jersey – Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet (Motema)

The master percussionist drops a fine album of modern jazz, in a totally acoustic setting. The first thing that caught my attention was the pacing; though it is far from languid, it never feels rushed. It is Guiliana’s album but he leads, while never overpowering his sidemen, as will sometimes happen on drummer albums. The revelation for me, is the fine tenor work of Jason Rigby, a powerful player, who to these ears, sounds like frequent Guiliana collaborator Donny McCaslin, filtered through Stan Getz. There are a couple of strong Morrisey penned tracks (“Mayor of Rotterdam” is my fave), another with a swinging, melodic hook, that I have been unable to get out of my head (“Big Rig Jones”) and a David Bowie tune (“Where are We Now”), in a beautiful and fitting tribute to the late legend, who employed Guiliana as the drummer on his last two albums. Call me a dinosaur, if you must but as much as I appreciate Mr. Guiliana’s electronic, beat based work, I love his group in this situation.

Marseille – Ahmad Jamal (Jazz Village)

I’m going to stop mentioning Ahmad Jamal’s age, when I speak of his artistry because it is irrelevant. It is not necessary to make any allowances, as he plays circles around some of the so called top cats, who are less than half his age. He has been inspiring jazz musicians for the past seven decades; his ideas and his energy are still fresh and when he hits the pocket, with his regular sidemen; James Cammack (bass), Herlin Riley (drums) and Manolo Badrena (percussion), you know where a lot of these young pianists who claim to be hip-hop influenced, really got their groove from. On this disc, he pays tribute to the French port city, with three different and equally compelling, versions of the title track: an instrumental; a spoken word, featuring French rapper Abd al Malik and a haunting French/English vocal version, by Mina Agossi. “Autumn Leaves” is given a bright Jamal treatment, which rides high on Badrena’s percussion and a quick quote from “Stolen Moments”. There’s also the funkiest version of “…Motherless Child” that I’ve ever heard. All I can say is, Mr. Jamal, keep on doing what you do, for as long as you want to do it!

Mi Mundo – Brenda Navarrete (ALMA)

I must admit that I made a small error with this album. When I first heard it, I was so impressed with Brenda Navarrete’s skill as a percussionist, that I categorized it as an instrumental album, even though every track includes Ms. Navarrete’s vocals. Now that I taken the time to listen to her singing, I realize that in addition to being one of the best young Afro-Cuban percussionists, that I have heard in many years, she is also an impressive vocalist. Mi Mundo is Ms. Navarrete’s debut album as a leader. It was released digitally, in September, though the CD version will not be out until January 2018. Regardless, 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. My only minor quibble, is the album’s length (a scant 37 minutes). A very impressive instrumental and vocal debut. I pray that stupid politics, will not keep Brenda Navarrete, from being heard by a wider audience.

Our Point of View – Blue Note All-Stars (Blue Note)

Six of the best young musicians in jazz today, come together to form a supergroup, in celebration of the 75th Anniversary of arguably, the greatest record label in jazz history, Blue Note Records. Those expecting to hear these young cats rehash the old Blue Note catalog of “hits”, are going to be sorely disappointed. The two-disc set consists mostly of original compositions by these young lions. The music has energy, imperfections and thrills. And it also has a future. It is the sound of great musicians, who have respect for where they have come from but who are trying to create something new, relevant and deeply personal. They are, in the words of the group’s keyboardist/co-producer, Robert Glasper, “Making our own history now”. There are a couple of nods to the label’s storied past, in the appearance of two living legends, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, on a new (and different) version of Shorter’s “Masqualero”. There is also a thrilling, almost 18-minute-long, version of Shorter’s classic “Witch Hunt”, with the core sextet getting to find out where that great old vehicle, will take them. It takes them to a blazing tenor statement by Marcus Strickland and after a slow start, a terrific trumpet solo by Ambrose Akinmusire. As long as minds can remain open and younger cats like these, can keep finding vehicles for their creativity, the music and this label, will have a bright future.

Strykin’ Ahead – Dave Stryker (Strikezone)

The latest in a series of fine albums from this veteran guitarist, takes him out of the soul jazz bag that he has been in for a number of years and back into straight ahead territory. It’s his best album in at least a decade. Click HERE to read our full album review.

 

Walk of Fire – Behn Gillece (Posi-Tone)

This up and coming young vibraphonist reaches his potential with this excellent date, inspired, in part, by Joe Henderson’s Blue Note classic, Mode for Joe. Click HERE to read our full album review.

 

And that’s a wrap for 2017.A reminder of the instrumental albums, on our first half of the year list:

Tracks from all of these albums can be heard on CurtJazz Radio, our new 24/7 Jazz Radio station, on the new Live365.com. Click HERE to listen, it’s free.

Much new music to hear in 2018. Let’s enjoy it together!

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Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015: Through the eyes of “Jazzy John”

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2015 by curtjazz

Johns Press PassThe 38th Atlanta Jazz Festival has come and gone leaving many great sounds and sights, for those of us who were there, to cherish. This year my teenage son John, known usually in these posts as “Jazzy John”, joined me on photographer’s row for the first time. I gave him a few lessons on etiquette and respect in dealing with the older, seasoned, ladies and gentlemen who were also in front of the stage and then I let him do his thing, while I shot some video footage.John the photographer

As I looked at some of his results, I was impressed with his natural eye and very proud of the work he did as he shot alongside of those three and even four times his age.

Diane Schuur1

Diane Schuur

I will finish my edits and post my full report on AJF38 in a few days but in the meantime, please indulge a doting father as I present John Davenport’s perspective on some of the memorable moments from the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Festival.

Stanley Jordan and Charnett Moffett

Stanley Jordan and Charnett Moffett

Jeff

Jeff “Tain” Watts

Four Women and Simone

The Fabulous Divas of the “Four Women” Tribute with Nina Simone’s sister (R)

Derrick Hodge

Derrick Hodge

Don Braden and Ben Wolfe

Don Braden and Ben Wolfe

Kathleen Bertrand and Russell Gunn

Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life

Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life

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

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

Derrrick Hodge
(photo by John Rogers)

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

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

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

5 PM – Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life

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

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

7 PM – Otis Brown III

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

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

9 PM – Derrick Hodge

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

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

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

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

 

 

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 – All That Jazz and it’s FREE

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2015 by curtjazz

Atlanta Jazz Festival - red logoThey’ve been doing it for almost 40 years with no sign of slowing down…It’s friends, family, food, fun and most important (for me, at least) JAZZ.  The biggest and best free jazz festival in the Southeast, The 38th Atlanta jazz Festival will take over Piedmont Park once again this Memorial Day Weekend, Friday May 22 – Sunday, May 24. The full lineup was announced yesterday.  I am impressed that once again, in a world that readily slaps the name “jazz festival” on virtually any multi-day musical event that features adult oriented black artists, the producers of AJF38 have booked a lineup that is varied but true to the music’s origins.

This year we will hear from a classic jazz legend, in Pharoah Sanders; a contemporary legend in the form of vocalist Diane Schuur, plus, in a not to be missed Saturday night lineup, sponsored by Blue Note Records, we will hear from three of that venerable label’s young keepers of the flame: Marcus Strickland, Otis Brown III and Derrick Hodge. There will also be a couple of supergroups; one a quartet of Atlanta finest female jazz vocalists (Kathleen Bertrand, Julie Dexter, Rhonda Thomas and Terry Harper), in tribute to Nina Simone; the other a trio of cats who are all leaders in their own right and who will surely be nothing short of combustible together: Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, Stanley Jordan on guitar and Charnett Moffett on bass.

The International Stage will as always, be the hippest spot at the AJF; as the sounds of jazz will be mixed with the rhythms of Cuba, Brazil, Greece, Israel and other cool spots from around the globe. Headliners will be the pianist and Quincy Jones protegé Alfredo Rodriguez and the multiple Grammy winning son of Afro-Cuban music royalty, Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra .

Back again in 2015 will be one of AJF 2014’s best ideas – The Locals Stage. Featuring the artists who work in and around the Atlanta area most of the year, getting a chance to show a wider audience what they can do. Wolfpack ATL, Tony Hightower and Jeff Sparks will be among the hometown favorites hitting that stage.

Of course as we get closer to May 23, we’ll start with our usual preview reports and video clips. You’ll also hear the music of many of the artists in special AJF38 segments on Curt’s Cafe Noir.

I’ve got a lot a musical dilemmas to settle between now and then, because as much as I’ve tried to do it, I’ve determined that I can’t be in two (or three) places at one. Hope to see you there come Memorial Day Weekend.

Visit the AJF 2015 Website for more info: http://atlantafestivals.com/

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 – The Complete Schedule

Friday, May 22

Main Stage:

7:00 pm                                Mad Satta

9:00 pm                                Thundercat

Saturday, May 23

Local Stage:

12:30 pm                              Tri-Cities High School Jazz Band

2:30 pm                                Jessie Davis & the Nebraska Jones Experiment

4:30 pm                                Kenosha Kid

6:30 pm                                Wolfpack ATL

International Stage:

1:30 pm                                North Atlanta Center for the Arts Jazz Band

3:30 pm                                Dida

5:30 pm                                Banda Magda

7:30 pm                                Alfredo Rodriguez Trio

Main Stage:

1:00 pm                                Contemporary Violinist Daniel D.

3:00 pm                                The Rad Trads

5:00 pm                                Marcus Strickland Twi-Life

7:00 pm                                Otis Brown III

9:00 pm                                Derrick Hodge

 

Sunday, May 24

Local Stage:

12:30 pm                              Joe Gransden and his Big Band

2:30 pm                                Mastery

4:30 pm                                Jeff Sparks

6:30 pm                                Tony Hightower

International Stage:

1:30 pm                                Fernanda Noronha

3:30 pm                                Strings from Haiti

5:30 pm                                Emrah Kotan

7:30 pm                                Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

Main Stage:

1:00 pm                                Navy Band Southeast: VIP Protocol Combo

3:00 pm                                Four Women: A Tribute to Nina Simone – Featuring Kathleen Bertrand, Julie Dexter, Rhonda Thomas and Terry Harper

5:00 pm                                Nettwork Trio: Charnett Moffett, Stanley Jordan, and Jeff “Tain” Watts

7:00 pm                                Diane Schuur

9:00 pm                                Pharoah Sanders Quartet featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel

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…

Album Review: Derrick Hodge – Live Today

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2013, CD Reviews with tags , , , on August 3, 2013 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Derrick Hodge

derrick hodge - live today

LIVE TODAY – Blue Note Records B 001847702 www.bluenote.com  The Real; Table Jawn; Message of Hope; Boro March; Live Today; Dances With Ancestors; Anthem in 7; Still The One; Holding Onto You; Solitude; Rubberband; Gritty Folk; Doxology (I Remember)

PERSONNEL: Derrick Hodge, acoustic and electric bass, keyboards, percussion, table beats, synthesizers, lead bass distortion, fretless bass, synth bass, vocals; Common, vocals; Chris Dave, drums, percussion, table beats; James Poyser, keyboards; Travis Sayles, synthesizers, keyboards, Hammond B3 Organ; Jahi Sundance, turntables; Keyon Harrold, trumpets, flugelhorn; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Corey King, trombone; Robert Glasper, keyboards, acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, table beats; Mark Colenburg, drums, percussion, snare drums, quads; Aaron Parks, acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes; Casey Benjamin, vocoder; Alan Hampton, vocals, acoustic guitar; Martha Caplin, violin; Sophia Kessinger, violin; Sarah Adams, viola; Mark Shuman, cello;

By Curtis Davenport

If jazz has a future, then this is it.

Though many of my generation and older may not like to hear that and some will even almost fight to the death to deny it, let’s face facts.  Young cats like Robert Glasper, Marcus Strickland, Derrick Hodge, Keyon Harrold and their contemporaries are playing music today that is influenced as much by hip-hop as it is by bebop; which is not a bad thing.  They didn’t grow up with the Great American Songbook in their ears so why do so many “jazz people” get apoplectic when these young guys play to their influences? Granted, early marriages of jazz and hip-hop were often clumsy and downright awful, but these guys and others have learned from the earlier mistakes and refined these stylistic mergers into something that is new, fresh and respectful of all of their musical influences. And most important, it works. The sound is compelling and exciting.  Hip young people are beginning to listen and even a few “old heads” such as this writer have come around. This is the sound of “Real Jazz” in the 21st Century.

Bassist Derrick Hodge is known mostly for his work as a member of Robert Glasper’s forward-looking group. He was a major contributor to Glasper’s 2012 breakthrough album Black Radio.  However, he has worked across multiple genres over the last decade supporting a wide range of artists from Gretchen Parlato and Mulgrew Miller to rapper Common and gospel singer Marvin Sapp. Live Today is his debut as a leader. Though it is cut from much of the same cloth as Glasper’s album, Hodge doesn’t have as many big name guest stars and he eschews cover versions of familiar pop tunes. What he does have are songs and arrangements that are complex, challenging and fresh.

The direction of this album is announced right away on “The Real”, a busy amalgam of horn blasts, synthesizers, turntable scratches and sampled voices making statements all held together by Hodges powerful bassline. It’s as close as I’ve heard to nailing the essence what those seeking the hip-hop jazz fusion have probably been looking for. Things really kick into high gear a few songs later on the title track. Glasper opens it by sounding a subtle “alarm” with a repeated piano figure. He is then joined by guest star Common, whose tone here summoned memories of the late Gil Scott-Heron in his prime. The track is spare, only Glasper, Hodge and drummer Chris Dave back Common; yet it feels remarkably dense, as Common coolly brings forth rhyme after rhyme. I could easily listen to a whole album of these cats flowing like that. The great vibe continues with the next track “Dances with Ancestors”, which features Harrold’s muted trumpet and Hodge on both acoustic and electric bass, while Aaron Parks on piano and Travis Sayles on the B3 play off of each other as they improvise the background. It’s mysteriously beautiful. “Anthem in 7” allows the leader to come to the forefront and remind us that he is one of the best young bassists around as he riffs over the complex time signature. On “Solitude” Parks and Hodge trade intricate solo statements, backed by a lush string quartet; the presence of Parks and Glasper throughout the album helps Hodge to put all aspects of his musical personality on display. The disc closes with a nice bow to Mr. Hodge’s upbringing in the church, “Doxology (I Remember)”, anyone with a similar background (such as this writer) will feel a smile of homecoming creep over their face as Hodge bows the familiar theme (“Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow…”) followed by Sayles organ. It’s a fitting end to this fine effort.

According to Hodge’s recent statements, he did not enter the studio with intricate parts written out for each musician. The compositions were purposefully left in a basic sketch state so that arrangements would occur organically; thus the title of the album. Miles Davis famously employed a similar strategy over fifty years ago on the sessions that created Kind of Blue. We all know now the influence that that album had on jazz. I’m not saying that Live Today will be as memorable in the long run but it’s certainly bold enough to inspire other young musicians who will follow.