Archive for gregory porter

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

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

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

The nominees are:

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

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

Lorraine Feather: Attachments (Jazzed Media)

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

Gregory Porter: Liquid Spirit (Blue Note Records)

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

Cecile McLorin Salvant: WomanChild (Mack Avenue Records)

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

Tierney Sutton: After Blue (BFM Jazz)

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

So here is my bottom line unscientific prediction:

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

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

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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…

Male Jazz Singers – Hope for the Future

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by curtjazz

Ori DaganIn 2008 I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Hendricks for Jazz Inside Magazine. The legendary”James Joyce of Jive” was extremely generous with his time (we talked for over two hours, including his impromptu, a capella performance of his classic lyric to J.J. Johnson’s “Lament”).  He was also not shy about sharing his opinions.

One of the topics we touched on was the dearth of young male jazz singers coming up through the ranks. While we acknowledged the formidable gifts of Kurt Elling and Kevin Mahogany, we lamented the fact that there didn’t seem to be a lot of others. The young women singing jazz seem to outnumber the men by a 20:1 margin.

Mr. Hendricks offered the theory that in our 21st century culture, jazz singing is not considered a “serious profession” even in the entertainment world and that men of all stripes are pushed toward vocations that will “bring home the bacon”. Whether that is the case or not can be debated. The paucity of guys under 40 who are truly singing jazz, cannot.

However as the title of this post indicates, there is hope on the horizon. Over the past three years, there have been a number of younger men that have showed up on the scene who are quite good. Many are as versed in hip-hop as they are in the standards and they bring to the stage a sound that is fresh and promising.

Here are five that I find interesting. These are not the only five good young male jazz singers, just a few who have my ear at the moment. I have also cheated a bit in that one is slightly over 40 but he is too good to pass up because of that minor technicality.

In alphabetical order:

Ori Dagan

Born in Israel and raised in Toronto, Mr. Dagan is also a classically trained pianist. He is the best scat singer of this quintet and his improvisations, which have at times taken him from English to Hebrew and back again, are often a joy for these jaded ears. He has two albums out, which put the fun back in jazz singing: S’Cat Got My Tongue and Less Than Three

José James

The likely breakout star of this group, Mr. James has dropped successful albums on the jazz and the hip-hop sides of the street. His appearances on Letterman, Leno and other mainstream shows have helped to juice his rise. But make no mistake about it. This cat can SANG. Think of the crooning ability of Al Green mixed with jazz sensibility of Bill Henderson and you’re on the right track.  His latest album, No Beginning No End on Blue Note, is a strong mixture of multiple genres. However to really hear José James the vocalist, you should also check out For All We Know, a duet album of standards that he did in 2010 with pianist Jef Neve, on Impulse! Records.

Gregory Porter

Mr. Porter has become an “overnight sensation” at age 41. Though he doesn’t have the mainstream profile of José James, he has turned the jazz world on his ear and with his powerful yet vulnerable tenor voice, he has even made some inroads into the adult R&B world, as evidenced by his 2013 R&B Grammy nomination. His two albums 2010’s Water and last year’s Be Good are standouts, that earned a place on their respective year’s Curt’s Cafe “Best Of” list.

Milton Suggs

Chicago born, Atlanta bred and now living in NYC, Milton Suggs has garnered attention not only for his powerful baritone voice but for his impressive gifts as a lyricist, which he fully  displayed on his latest album, the appropriately titled Lyrical, Vol. 1 ( a Curt’s Cafe Best Jazz of 2012 selection).  Mr. Suggs lyrics evince a fearless creativity that is reminiscent of Jon Hendricks but with a hip-hop undercurrent that should help to keep those of his own generation listening. Definitely someone to watch. Also check out his previous album Things To Come.

Sachal Vasandani

Blessed with boyish good looks and a smooth, crooning vocal timbre. Mr. Vasandani could have easily opted to go the route of slicksters like Michael Bublé. Instead, the fact that he has toured and recorded with Mr. Hendricks and he has appeared as a guest vocalist on recent albums by artists such as Gerald Clayton and Don Braden, says a lot about Mr. Vasandani’s artistic integrity. Yes, he can sing “The Very Thought of You” in a style that is swathed in velvet but then he will turn right around and bop his way through an impressive rendition of “Monk’s Dream”; something that the Bublés of the world wouldn’t even try. Check out his two most recent albums, We Move (2009) and Hi-Fly (2011).

2013 Jazz Grammy® Preview #6 – Jazz in “Exile”

Posted in 2013 Grammys with tags , , , , , , on February 6, 2013 by curtjazz

For our penultimate (I know that I said this would be the last one, but there will be one more after this) look at jazz artists nominated for Grammys in 2013, we will look at three categories in the R&B field that feature one artist who is generally considered to be a jazz musician. These albums/performances got no love from the Jazz Grammy nominating committee but those in the R & B area had the good taste to recognize them.

Best R&B Performance

“Thank You” – Estelle (from All of Me [Home School/Atlantic])

“Gonna Be Alright (F.T.B.) – Robert Glasper Experiment Featuring Ledisi (from Black Radio [Blue Note])

This is one of two nominations for Glasper’s much discussed Black Radio album. The heralded young jazz pianist let his R&B and hip hop influences show all over the disc. I for one found it exciting and refreshing (see CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2012). Many other jazz traditionalists scoffed at it. On this track Glasper featured Ledisi, an R&B vocal powerhouse, who has also shown a past appreciation for jazzy things. If the track sounds familiar it’s because this is a vocal version of “F.T.B.”, which is a track on Mr. Glasper’s 2007 album In My Element. The lyrics and the stronger beat are a nice touch. Glasper is up against some tough competition here but to my ears “Gonna Be Alright” compares favorably with the other nominees… I wish him the best.

“I Want You” – Luke James [Mercury]

“Adorn” – Miguel [RCA/Bystorm Entertainment]

“Climax” – Usher (from Looking 4 Myself [RCA])

Best Traditional R&B Performance

(“Grown Folks Music”… Now we’re back in my wheelhouse! Therefore, I will drop a few comments)

“Lately” – Anita Baker [Blue Note]

Good to hear from Anita. Sounds like something from her classic ‘80’s period. Looking forward to the rest of the album.

“Love on Top” – Beyoncé (from 4 [Columbia])

Catchy tune by Mrs. Carter – great beat; irresistible hook.

“Wrong Side of a Love Song” – Melanie Fiona (from The MF Life [SRC])

My goodness! This girl can SANG! A memorable retro torch song.

“Real Good Hands” – Gregory Porter (from Be Good [Motéma])

Jazz vocalist Gregory Porter’s sophomore album was every bit as good as his debut.It was one of our Best of 2012.  But again, it was criminally ignored in the Jazz Vocal Grammy category. At least he did get a nod from the R&B voters for this soulful track. The cut is a winner but Porter is up against some real stiff competition. It’s a Grammy night long shot.

“If Only You Knew” – SWV (from I Missed Us [Mass Appeal/E1 Music])

SWV (Sisters With Voices). It’s good to hear this trio of NYC natives reunited. They sound as good as ever and they demonstrate excellent taste with their cover of this Philly Soul classic made famous by Patti Labelle.

Best R&B Album

Black Radio – Robert Glasper Experiment (Blue Note)

This nomination speaks volumes. The jazz world isn’t open minded enough to consider this work of art but the supposedly shallow, profit minded world of R&B is. I’ll say it again; I view this album as breaking needed new ground in a 21st century direction for jazz. But I admit to being in the minority. There are some fine albums in this category that are more along the lines of mainstream R&B, so a win here by Mr. Glasper isn’t probable but it is definitely possible.

Back to Love – Anthony Hamilton (RCA)

Write Me Back – R. Kelly (RCA)

Beautiful Surprise – Tamia (Plus 1)

Open Invitation – Tyrese (Voltron Recordz) 

You can hear tracks from Robert Glasper, Gregory Porter and other Grammy nominated jazz artists and albums on Curt’s Café Noir, our 24/7 web radio station,through February 10. We feature these tracks daily, from 4 pm – 6 pm on “The Grammy Show”. Click here to listen.

Our last post (we mean it this time!) about the 2013 Grammys will feature the nominees for “Best Instrumental Composition”, a category which happens this year to feature all jazz artists.

Until then, the jazz continues…

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2012 – The Complete List

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2012, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by curtjazz

To wrap up our discussion about our favorite jazz albums of 2012, we’ve brought everything mentioned in the three prior posts together into one comprehensive list. The link in each album title will take you to the album’s page on Amazon.com, if you’re interested in buying or downloading it.

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz of 2012 – The Complete List

In Alphabetical Order by Album Title

Album Title

Artist(s) Label
Accelerando Vijay Iyer ACT
Angelic Warrior Tia Fuller Mack Avenue
Be Good Gregory Porter Motéma
Be Still Dave Douglas Greenleaf
Black Radio Robert Glasper Experiment Blue Note
Blue Moon Ahmad Jamal Jazz Village
Claroscuro Anat Cohen Anzic
Don’t Look Back Mary Stallings HighNote
Flip The Script Orrin Evans Posi-tone
Four MFs Playin’ Tunes Branford Marsalis Marsalis Music
Girl Talk Kate McGarry Palmetto
Heritage Lionel Loueke Blue Note
House of Legends Courtney Pine Destin-E
I Carry Your Heart (Alexis Cole Sings Pepper Adams) Alexis Cole Motéma
Lyrical – Volume 1 Milton Suggs Skiptone
Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years Virginia Mayhew Renma
The Only Son of One Wayne Escoffery Sunnyside
Prisoner of Love Marianne Solivan Hipnotic
Seeds From the Underground Kenny Garrett Mack Avenue
Triveni II Avishai (Trumpet) Cohen Anzic
     
A FEW MORE GOOD THINGS    
Colombe David Reinhardt Trio 101 Distribution
Echoes of Indiana Avenue (Best Historical Album) Wes Montgomery Resonance
Hot House Chick Corea and Gary Burton Concord
Lifesize Mirror Monét Entertainment One
Radio Music Society Esperanza Spalding Heads-Up / Concord
     
2011 Album Revisited    
Keep It Movin’ Shimrit Shoshan

Self-Release / CD Baby

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2012 – Part I

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2012, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2012 by curtjazz

In another year in which another uninformed, self-important magazine writer chose to declare it dead, jazz took greater advantage than ever of social media and the internet to declare that writer like, so many who came before him, to be full of hot air. As young artists took advantages of their musical roots and influences, I saw things that made this writer very hopeful about the future of this music:  Young people came out in throngs, fist pumping and dancing at Robert Glasper’s Atlanta Jazz Festival appearance. Esperanza Spalding, Tia Fuller and Anat Cohen, released albums that demonstrated the growing power of women instrumentalists. And some veterans proved that they still “got game”.

So here in alphabetical order, are the first ten on my list of my favorite jazz albums that were released in 2012. Since I didn’t get to publish a midterm list this year, there will be another ten coming in the next post, plus a few others that are also worthy of more than several listens.

Accelerando – Vijay Iyer (ACT)

accelerando

This is Mr. Iyer’s third appearance on our list in the last four years. The pianist is releasing music on an album per year basis and each year, he manages to top his previous offering with an approach that never covers the same ground twice. On Accelerando, Iyer is back with his trio mates from 2009’s Historicity, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore and as on that now classic album, the trio delivers a mix of intricate original compositions with reworkings of little heard jazz and pop tunes. Each is fired up by Crump and Gilmore’s unshakable rhythms, which are now showing a touch of a hip-hop influence. Anyway it comes at you, Vijay Iyer has done it again and I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings.

Angelic Warrior – Tia Fuller (Mack Avenue)

tia fuller

Still known mostly for her work as the saxophonist in Beyonce’s touring band, Ms. Fuller has come home again to produce another dynamite straight ahead jazz album. Angelic Warrior leaps out of the gate with the fiery “Royston Rumble” and doesn’t let go until “Ode to Be”, the closing outro. Ms. Fuller has developed into a strong composer, as proven by “Ralphie’s Groove” and “Tailor Made” and she is also an exciting and creative soloist, who makes an uptempo medley of “So In Love” and “All of You” work like a new Rolex.  Wake up and take notice jazz world, Tia Fuller is the real deal.

Be Good – Gregory Porter (Motéma)

gregory porter

The best new hope for male jazz singers to come along in at least a decade knocked aside any thought of a sophomore jinx on this disc, which also drew some attention in the R&B/Pop idioms. It’s easy to see why. Porter has a voice that is equal parts Donny Hathaway and Al Jarreau and as a writer, he has learned how to write an irresistible hook.  Porter has married the best of jazz and soul singing by taking the best of both worlds and bringing them together in beautiful harmony. Don’t miss his towering take on “Work Song”, the melodic “When Did You Learn” and the closer, an a cappella version of “God Bless The Child”.

 Be Still – Dave Douglas (Greenleaf Music)

dave douglas

Be Still is another in a long line of brilliant and original works by Mr. Douglas. This album was born out of the hymns that Douglas’ mother requested him to play at her memorial service. After meeting Aoife O’Donovan, an ethereally voiced young singer, with bluegrass roots, Douglas began to envision an album of these hymns as a kind of folk-jazz music. The result is an album of remarkable intimacy, Ms. O’Donovan, Mr. Douglas and a quartet of up and coming young jazz stars (Jon Irabagon, Matt Mitchell, Linda Oh and Rudy Royston) create works that are starkly beautiful. Be Still manages to be reflective, even moody but never maudlin. I’ve always been someone who looks to find God in places that others don’t look. I found Him in the sincerity of the performances on this album.

Black Radio – Robert Glasper Experiment (Blue Note)

robert-glasper

This album arrived this spring on the wings of massive hype. And it delivered. Though he has amassed unquestionable credentials in the mainstream realm, Mr. Glasper has strong hip-hop roots, as you might expect from an artist of his age (34). What he has done here is taken what was hinted at on the second half of his last album, Double Booked, to its logical conclusion, with a mixture of jazz, hip-hop, R&B, neo-soul and rock. What we get is something that can’t be pigeonholed into any genre but has reached fans of many ages and musical preferences. With help from guest stars from across the musical universe, Black Radio gives us a peek at where the next generation wants to take what we called jazz. I suggest that we “Old Schoolers” get on board and enjoy the ride.

Blue Moon – Ahmad Jamal (Jazz Village)

ahmad jamal

I’ll be damned! At 81, the artist formerly known as Fritz, a man who Miles Davis called one of his greatest influences, has turned in his finest album in at least four decades.  The tracks are mostly from the Great American Songbook or jazz standards, but this is by no means a tired romp through familiar territory. What has happened is the veteran rhythm section of drummer Herlin Riley, bassist Reginald Veal and percussionist Manolo Badrena, light a percussive fire under Mr. Jamal that has clearly inspired his artistry. Their 10 minute deconstruction of “Blue Moon” will compel you to listen to it repeatedly. For a real treat, listen to Black Radio and this album back to back. You’ll realize that the generations are not that far apart at all.

Claroscuro – Anat Cohen (Anzic)

anat cohen

IMO, the finest clarinetist in jazz today, Anat Cohen takes us on a joyously eclectic stylistic tour. Through West Africa, to Brazil to swing to bop, Ms. Cohen covers a tremendous amount of ground. With fine guest spots from the great Paquito D’Rivera (a killer clarinet duet on Artie Shaw’s “Nightmare”) and a fun loving Wycliffe Gordon (on trombone and vocals), this disc did not lose my interest for one second.  And for those like me, who are big fans of Ms. Cohen’s tenor sax work, she brings the proceedings to a nice close with a rich version of Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Wedding”. In Spanish, one of the definitions of Claroscuro is “a contrast of light and shadows”. Now knowing that, I can’t think of a better title for this disc.

 

Don’t Look Back – Mary Stallings (HighNote)

mary stallings

Mary Stallings has always been one of those singers who makes you scratch your head and wonder why she isn’t more well known.  With a career that spans five decades, a still fabulous and nuanced vocal instrument and now with the great pianist Eric Reed as her musical partner, at 73, it’s not paradoxical to say that Ms. Stallings’ future is brighter than ever.  Don’t Look Back is the third album for the Stallings/Reed team and Reed by now compliments her the way that Tommy Flanagan complimented Ella.  The selection of somewhat familiar but not overexposed tunes is excellent and the intimate performances from Stallings and Reed’s trio are unhurried and flawlessly executed.

Flip the Script – Orrin Evans (Posi-Tone)

orrin evans

Orrin Evans is not only prolific; he’s damn good as well. Last year he gave us two well received albums (Captain Black Big Band and Freedom) and he’s back now with another extremely strong trio set. Like the aforementioned Tommy Flanagan, Evans is a pianist’s pianist. Whatever he plays flows effortlessly and he never seems to be phoning it in. On Flip The Script, Mr. Evans joins forces with the hard swinging bassist Ben Wolfe and the rock solid drummer Donald Evans to put together a tremendous set. These cats are deep in the pocket from first note to last. Then Evans wraps things up with a wonderful surprise, a solo piano version of the Soul Train theme “The Sound of Philadelphia”, slowed down to “last call at the bar” speed. It’s sweet icing on a beautiful cake.

Four MFs Playin’ Tunes – Branford Marsalis Quartet (Marsalis Music)

branford marsalis

One of the many beauties of this disc is that the title tells you all that you need to know.  For as much as I love Branford Marsalis, some of his recent works had drifted into the realm of blowing great sounding solos over chords, without discernible structure. It sounded impressive but sometimes left me cold. On this disc Branford, his longtime musical partners and new drummer Justin Faulkner are relaxed and having fun, with some great musical foundations to work with – “tunes”, if you will.  Branford on soprano and tenor is as impressive as ever (I’ve always considered him to be the most musically exciting of the Marsalis brothers) and he and Joey Calderazzo are by now, one musical mind. To hear them bump their way through Monk’s “Teo” is worth the price of admission all by itself. It’s back to basics and it’s all good.

Again, another ten selections will be included in the next post.  They include a few more unheralded singers making their presence known; a couple of formidable British born sax men, with different stylistic approaches and the other half of the first brother-sister duo to make our list.