Archive for jacques lesure

What’s New (and Good) from WJ3 Records

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , on November 21, 2017 by curtjazz

WJ3 Records is another of the cadre of the small, but mighty, jazz record labels that have cropped up in our post-CD society. Founded and helmed by drummer Willie Jones III, WJ3 releases around 3 – 4 new projects each year, featuring top flight mainstream jazz masters such as pianists Cyrus Chestnut and Eric Reed, L.A. based guitarist Jacques Lesure and Mr. Jones, himself. I first became hip to WJ3 about a decade ago, when I was assigned by a publication, to review a couple of their new releases. I can honestly say, that I’ve never heard a bad album from any of their artists.

Here now is a review of two recent WJ3 releases:

Jacques Lesure – For the Love of You

jacques lesureJacques Lesure…educator, actor, social media raconteur, and above all, master guitarist. Though his name is still unfamiliar to many, Mr. Lesure has been part of the music scene for over 30 years. With an inviting, single-note guitar line that is reminiscent of Grant Green, but infused with the warmth of a Kenny Burrell, Jacques Lesure, is always worth listening to, be it live or on one of his recordings, the last three of which have been on WJ3, including his latest, For the Love of You.

The title of the album should give you a hint about the vibe. Whereas his two prior efforts When She Smiles and Camaraderie, were fine, straight-ahead blowing sessions, For the Love of You,  is more accessible, but just as good; featuring several, mid-tempo romantic tracks, with titles straight out of pop radio. It’s a perfect antidote to a long day. Mr. Lesure is as always, in top form, as are his band mates, pianist Eric Reed, bassist Tony Dumas and WJ3’s chief, Willie Jones III, on drums.

Strong performances abound, including a bright, infectious version of “The Lamp is Low”, with a tasty solo by Mr. Reed; “Put On a Happy Face”, on which Lesure builds a simple starting line, layer by layer, into a very nice solo. His tribute to one of his musical idols, “That’s Mr. Burrell, Thank You”, is a head nodding, finger snapping blues, that is pure fun. It will be a definite crowd favorite during his live performances. The centerpiece is Cedar Walton’s anthemic classic, “Holy Land”. I’ve heard many versions of this tune over the years; this is one of the best. Following the familiar opening theme, Mr. Lesure digs down deep and delivers a blistering solo, which clearly inspires Reed, who then matches Lesure’s virtuosity in his turn.  Dumas and Jones take strong turns before all four musicians trade eights until the close.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars – Another first-rate album from Jacques Lesure. It will appeal to fans of all categories of jazz.

 

Willie Jones III – My Point Is…

willie jones iiiWillie Jones III is one busy cat, in addition to leading his own group and running WJ3 records, he also is a first call sideman and producer on numerous projects outside of his label. If he is spreading himself too thin, it certainly is not in evidence on My Point Is…, his seventh album as a leader. This protégé of Albert “Tootie” Heath, recorded this album with some of his own label’s top talent, who also happen to be some of the best in the current jazz world; trumpet master Eddie Henderson, the criminally underrated Ralph Moore on tenor, the legendary Buster Williams on bass and the soon to be legendary Eric Reed, on piano.

I first became a fan of Mr. Jones, when I reviewed his fourth album, The Next Phase. The first thing I noticed was Jones’ rock solid timing and that even on ballads, he swings like mad. Nothing in that respect has changed since 2010. Like two of my other favorite working drummers – Kobie Watkins and Ocie Davis, Jones has an innate gift for pushing the musicians playing with him, while still doing things that are unfailingly rhythmically interesting.

The selections are a nice mix of Jones’ originals, along with a few from the band and one each by Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock. “Manhattan Melodies” a Reed composition from about 20 years ago, open the disc on a high note. I’ve heard three versions of this tune over the years and this one is my favorite. The theme takes on new life in the hands of the two horn players, who punch it up with strong solos. Buster Williams’ ballad, “Christina”, offers a nice opportunity for a muted Henderson to remind us of the good ways that Miles influenced him. “The Maze”, a tune that Herbie wrote for his debut album, is given a fresh reading here. The sinuous backbeat set by Jones, followed by Reed’s funky solo, pulled me right in. Yes, I was sitting at the keyboard with eyes closed and head nodding. I see an interesting hip-hop sample in this track’s future. The title cut is the best thing on the album, with Williams and Jones feathering an intricate nest for some sweet mute work by Eddie and a rolling piano solo from Reed. This was, and still is, on heavy rotation in my playlist.

I’ve never gone wrong with a Willie Jones III album and My Point Is… is no exception. Solid writing, first rate playing and a final product, that is a fine example of modern jazz.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars. Another straight-ahead jazz winner from Willie Jones III and WJ3 Records.

Best Jazz Albums of 2015: A Closer Look – Part 1 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2015 with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2015 by curtjazz

CamaraderieThe first six of our Best Jazz Albums of the year, have an international flavor – with recordings from a beloved veteran of the contemporary side of the ledger; an album that is the result of a chance meeting of two world music giants; a free jazz player, who decided to “come inside”; a great saxophonist paying homage to the greatest; an auspicious debut from a rhythm section stalwart and  a soulful guitar talent, who deserves much wider recognition.

Marcus Miller, producer/composer and above all, bassist extraordinaire made his Blue Note Records debut with this powerful set, which drew inspiration from the music of various locales historically impacted by slavery. But this is not a downer by any means; it is Marcus Miller after all and the music is as funky and varied as anything that the master has dropped in the past decade. With guest turns from, among others, Etienne Charles, Robert Glasper, Lalah Hathaway, Keb Mo and Chuck D (yes, Chuck D!), the album jumps out at you from the first notes of “Hylife” and doesn’t let go until the last note of “I Can’t Breathe”. It’s got enough groove to keep Miller’s contemporary fans happy, while it is ambitious and varied enough to put a charge into those who need the stimulation.

Grammy nominated Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca and Malian vocalist/guitarist Fatoumata Diawara met by chance at a small Paris recording studio. After talking for a few minutes they were both wowed by how much they discovered that they musically had in common. In 2014, they embarked on a 45 day tour that included among the stops, the Jazz in Marciac Festival, where this explosive recording was made. Incredible musicianship and the unbridled joy of musicians discovering new things about each other with each performance, is what makes this album stand out. I’m hoping that they bring this group to the U.S. Until then, this album and the videos on YouTube, will have to keep me sated.

The 2008 Monk Saxophone Competition winner, who is mostly known for his work with the wisecracking avant-garde group Mostly Other People Do The Killing, has undergone a number of emotional upheavals over the past couple of years, including the loss of loved ones and musical mentors. Out of those losses came this album, his most melodic and straight ahead effort in many years. There are hard driving swingers, moving ballads and drum tight section work from Iragbagon’s working group, which includes pianist Luis Perdomo, Yasushi Nakamura on bass and drummer Rudy Royston. There’s also trumpet master Tom Harrell, who guests on three tracks. Though I admit, that Irabagon’s outside work has mostly left me cold, I loved Behind the Sky, when I first heard it and I’m finding new things to enjoy with each listen.

Though Rudresh Mahanthappa intended this album to be a tribute to Charlie Parker, there are no Bird tunes among the tracks. They have all been written by Mahanthappa. Instead, the saxophonist gives us Bird’s essence through his own consistently inventive perspective. This is not bebop. It is unflinchingly and proudly 21st century modern. Bird Calls stretches conventional boundaries and even breaks them on occasion. And that is what separates this effort from the often tired category of “tribute albums”. To hear Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Charlie Parker influences, you’re going to have to know something about both artists, and for that alone, this album should be at the top of many lists.

Carlos Henriquez has occupied the bass chair in Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra since 1998, shortly after his high school graduation. The South Bronx native finally takes the spotlight on this album and shows what he has learned over the past 17 years. The Bronx Pyramid deftly mixes jazz traditions with the music of Puerto Rico that Henriquez learned during his youth. This album is danceable, it is listenable and it is above all, captivating. Henriquez is a deft soloist and the woody sound of his bass is never far from the center of your ears. Guest turns from some of Henriquez’s JLCO mates and from the great vocalist Ruben Blades are the icing on this sumptuous cake.

A Detroit native and current resident of the Los Angeles area, Jacques Lesure’s clean, souful lines and straight ahead style have made him a favorite sideman over the years for greats like Jimmy Smith, Stanley Turrentine and Les McCann over his 30-plus year career. He has only recorded a few dates as a leader but each one is first rate. Camaraderie, is no exception. With support from fellow pros Eric Reed,  Warren Wolf, Nat Reeves and Willie Jones III, this album swings like crazy. From originals such as the appropriately titled “Grantgomery”  to tasty covers like James Williams’ “Affaire d’Amour”, there is not a weak track in the bunch. Excellent jazz!

Tracks from all of our Best Jazz Albums of 2015 can be heard on our streaming station, Curt’s Cafe Noir, starting on Sunday, December 27 and continuing through January 2016. Click HERE to listen.

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, your comments are welcome.

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