Archive for jazz musicians

Album Review: Harmony of Difference – Kamasi Washington

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

KAMASI WASHINGTON – Harmony of Difference (Young Turks)

kamasi - harmony of differenceSaxophonist Kamasi Washington turned the jazz world upside down two years ago with his aptly titled, 2 CD, 174-minute debut album, The Epic. After such an expansive beginning, we all wondered what he would do for an encore. So here now, is Harmony of Difference, which once again, is creating major buzz among forward-thinking jazz lovers. It shares some things with its heralded forerunner; the arrangements are dense, insistent and never dull; Mr. Washington’s tenor is still edgy, yet melodic. However, Washington and company have opted for the “less is more” approach, as Harmony of Difference is an EP, clocking in at a scant 32 minutes, with only one of the six performances exceeding five minutes in length.

Personally, I love the brevity. For as good as The Epic is, it did get weighed down in spots by its, dare I say, “Epic-ness”. This time around we are treated to five short, expressive excursions, that take us through a survey of many modern jazz styles, from soul jazz, to post-bop, to Brazilian. “Desire”, the opener, owes its lush, melodic groove to those great Bob James arrangements during the heyday of CTI Records. “Humility”, is a horn driven, bop based, workout that packs a lot of great things into a little under three minutes, including terrific solo turns from Cameron Graves on piano, Dontae Winslow on trumpet and Washington on tenor. “Perspective” is irresistible pop soul jazz, reminiscent of some of the fine, early work of another Washington, named Grover. And “Integrity” takes us on a nice trip to Rio by way of the West Coast Get Down collective.

Finally, there is “Truth”, the 13 ½ minute centerpiece of this EP, which was first released last spring, at the Whitney Museum’s 2017 Biennial, along with an accompanying short film, directed by AG Rojas. It is a perfect counterpoint to the concision of the preceding selections, as the track builds, layer upon layer, keyboards, then guitar, then vibraphone, brass and finally, a wordless vocal choir. Once it builds to a crescendo, Washington steps in with a head nodding, groove permeated solo, which is then followed by the choir and orchestra, returning to triumphantly restate the theme. It is anthemic, beautiful and deceptively simple.

Though Harmony of Difference is much shorter than its predecessor, it is no less of a complete musical statement. It is a luminous example of what I see, as 21st century jazz.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars – Another triumph for Kamasi Washington and company.

Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far): Closer Look, Pt. 2 – Instrumental Albums

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

Let’s now look at my top 10 albums (and one EP), on the instrumental side:

Akua’s Dance – Akua Dixon (Akua’s Music)

Cellist Akua Dixon has collaborated with musical greats of numerous genres, from classical to Broadway; from R&B to, of course, jazz. Whatever the idiom, she brings a gorgeous tone and an unfailing sense of lyricism, to the music. On Akua’s Dance, her third project as a leader in the last six years, she plays a baritone violin, which is basically an over-sized cello.  The full and present sound of the instrument, along with her hard swinging backing trio, including the welcome addition of guitarists Freddie Bryant and Russell Malone, make this her best solo album, by far. She covers all bases, from fun jazz (“Dizzy’s Smile”), to an irresistible cover of Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo”, to a compelling, worldly-wise vocal on Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away”. This album doesn’t sound like anything else on this list and that’s a great thing.

 

Back to Earth – Farnell Newton (Posi-Tone)

Portland, OR based Trumpeter/Composer/Educator Farnell Newton is one of the hardest working cats in the music business. Over the last few years, he has released a couple of very strong contemporary jazz projects (Class is Now in Session; Ready to Roll) and a fascinating collection of impromptu improvisations (10 Minute Trumpet Jams). On Back to Earth he has come home, with his first straight-ahead album in over a decade. And it is pure dynamite. Newton shows off his powerful chops and his flawless sense of swing, in a set of inventive originals, such as the soulful “Gazillionaire” and impressive covers, like a take on Freddie Hubbard’s classic “Arietas”, that does the legend proud. I’ve enjoyed all of Mr. Newton’s work over the years but I know that I will be reaching for Back to Earth, long after the end of 2017.

Boundary Issues – Chris Greene (Single Malt)

Like Farnell Newton, saxophonist Chris Greene’s star shines mostly on a regional basis, in this case, it’s Chicago. Regardless of his address, the dude just keeps dropping first-rate projects, that make me wish I lived closer to Chi-town, or that he toured more often. Boundary Issues, is an enjoyable set, that is very accessible but not at all patronizing. Mr. Greene’s saxophone is as rich and inventive as always and I have to give special props to Steve Corley for his next-level drum work. Most memorable track: a Silver meets Marley version of “Nica’s Dream”.

Brothers Under the Sun – Steve Nelson (HighNote)

Steve Nelson is one of the three best jazz vibraphonists alive today. But you may not have heard of him because he drops projects under his own name about as often as we experience a solar eclipse. He has spent most of his career elevating the works of others but when he steps out in front, it is an unequivocally special event. His latest album, a quartet date, is no exception. It’s a swinging mix of standards and originals, many of them composed by his friend and frequent musical partner, the late, great pianist, Mulgrew Miller. Brothers Under the Sun, is an elegant, swinging, good time from beginning to end; an exquisite musical statement and a subtle but fitting tribute to a giant who left us too soon.

Made in America – Bobby Watson (Smoke Sessions)

I love the concept of this album as much as I do the music. Saxophonist Bobby Watson, has created a tribute to a number of influential African Americans; some who are well known, such as Sammy Davis, Jr. and Butterfly McQueen; and a few others, such as Bass Reeves and Major Taylor, who sent even me scrambling to Google more about them. But Made in America is not a dry history lesson; it is a living, energetic, creative and unapologetically  jazzy appreciation of those who paved the way, sometimes at great cost. It’s also quite evocative, as Watson has dropped in smile inducing references, such as quoting “Wild Blue Yonder”, in the Wendell Pruitt tribute (“Aviator”) and Lewis Nash “tapping” out the rhythm on “G.O.A.T.” (for Sammy Davis, Jr.). This project succeeds on all levels. Kudos to Mr. Watson and all involved.

The Music of John Lewis – Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, feat. Jon Batiste and Wynton Marsalis (Blue Engine)

John Lewis, the pianist and guiding light of the Modern Jazz Quartet, passed away over 16 years ago. For many, their knowledge of him begins and ends with the MJQ. However, John Lewis was one of the great jazz composers of his time and one of the most affecting blues pianists that I’ve ever heard. The biggest surprise is that it has taken so long for there to be a full-scale, recorded tribute to his music. Perhaps, it’s because only Wynton and the JLCO could do it right. The most pleasant surprise for me, is the stellar work of Jon Batiste on piano. I knew of Mr. Batiste and I knew he had an impressive musical pedigree but, through no one’s fault but mine,  I’d mostly heard him in his day job, as musical director for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Mr. Batiste, who is just 30, is a fantastic pianist, who embodies Lewis’ elegant swing, while adding a few of his own touches. The JLCO and Mr. Marsalis are of course, at the top of their game, the arrangements are inventive and the Lewis compositions selected, from “Django”, to “Two Bass Hit”, to “Spanish Steps”, are his absolute finest. As prolific as Mr. Lewis was, there is definitely need for a Volume 2 (and 3, for that matter). Let’s hope someone hears me.

Post Cool: Vol 1; The Night Shift – Carol Morgan (Self-Produced)

This disc appeals to me for so many reasons: First, it’s by Carol Morgan a trumpet player whose picture is in the dictionary under the phrase “criminally obscure”. Second, her front line partner is tenor saxophonist, Joel Frahm, who is next to Ms. Morgan in the aforementioned “photo”. Third, the music is fabulous. Nothing fancy, no big stars or pyrotechnics – it’s just four real pros, (Martin Wind – bass and Matt Wilson – drums, a couple of stellar musicians, round out the quartet – no piano), playing like it was the 2 am set in a small, smoky club. No frills, just damn good music. There are standards of the jazz canon (“Strollin'”, “Night in Tunisia”, “On a Misty Night”), given fresh life. There are also a couple of fine originals from Ms. Morgan’s and Mr. Frahm (“Night”, “Song for Mom”, respectively) that are very worthy additions. As of now, this set is only available via Ms. Morgan’s website (www.carolmorganmusic.com). It’s worth the trip because, while you’re there you might want to sample some of her other fine work.

Reach – Christian Sands (Mack Avenue)

Christian Sands first came on the jazz scene 15 years ago as a child prodigy who displayed flashes of brilliance that predicted a very bright future. Now at 27, with a number of high profile gigs under his belt, including his current spot as Christian McBride’s pianist of choice; Mr. Sands has dropped, Reach, his first major label album. Suffice to say those early predictions were accurate. His virtuosity on the keys has matured to the point where his runs are truly substantial.  His most impressive area of growth is as a composer. Sands wrote 8 of the album’s 10 songs, including impressive tributes to two of his influences; Chick Corea and Bud Powell. He has also composed a killer Latin track (“Oyeme!”) and a head nodding hip-hop groove (“Gangstalude”) . Additionally, there is an ominous, seven minute deconstruction of “Use Me”, the Bill Withers classic, featuring some killer jazz-rock guitar from Gilad Hekselman. Reach is a fine announcement of arrival from this young veteran.

Sabiduria – Eddie Palmieri (Ropeadope)

The greatest living bandleader in Latin Jazz has just turned 80 and he shows no signs of slowing down. As befitting someone who has been a major musical figure for six decades, the list of heavy hitters who join him for the celebration is impressive – Joe Locke is on vibes, Pretty Purdie, on the drums, Ronnie Cuber and Donald Harrison are two of the saxophonists, Marcus Miller, on bass and the list goes on. Sometimes, having so many guest stars can lead to confusion but that’s not the case here as Sabiduria is the strongest and most appropriately eclectic musical statement that I’ve heard from Mr. Palmieri in at least 15 years. There are tracks rich with history and some that explore new ground. And we’ve also got Locke and violinist Alfredo de la Fe, trading hot solos on “La Cancha”. Happy Birthday to “The Sun of Latin Music”. From the looks of things, he’s going to shine for quite a while more.

Serenade for Horace – Louis Hayes (Blue Note)

Another awesome octogenarian, Louis Hayes makes his Blue Note Records debut, as a leader, with this gorgeous, swinging tribute to his old boss Horace Silver. Thankfully, Mr. Hayes is experienced enough to not do a note for note regurgitation of the Silver classics, which are still fresh in most jazz fan’s minds and readily available. Instead, Serenade for Horace manages to capture the joyous spirit of Silver, while still making these tunes, some of which are over 60 years old, sound as if they were fresh compositions. A lot of this is due to the out in front presence of Steve Nelson on the vibes. Apart from his early work with Milt Jackson, Silver rarely worked with a vibraphonist, so Nelson leading the way on many of the tracks is invigorating. Gregory Porter drops by to sing his own new lyric on “Song for My Father”. Even if you own the Silver recording of all of these tunes, this disc is worth your while.

A Tribute to Art Blakey [EP] – Tony Allen (Blue Note)

Hell. Frickin’. Yeah!!! This is not a full album but a four song EP with an album’s worth of badass playing, as the legendary king of Afrobeat, Tony Allen, pays tribute to another percussion monster, the great Art Blakey. I love almost everything about this project – the song selection (“Moanin'”; “Night in Tunisia”; “Politely” and “Drum Thunder Suite”); the fresh sound of all of these familiar Blakey classics, when filtered through an Afrobeat lens; the cool, Buhaina-esque cover photo of Mr. Allen; the fact that the whole disc is begging to be sampled into a hot, hip-hop groove. So what don’t I love? It’s only four songs. It was just enough to make me want more. More Tony Allen and more Afrobeat Blakey, please!

And that’s our halftime show. A great first half of the year in jazz. I’ve got a stack of  CDs staring at me on my desk and even more album downloads in the computer waiting to be reviewed and shared with y’all. Gonna be a busy but rewarding rest of the year. More to come, soon. If you missed the complete list, see it HERE

Until then, the jazz continues…

JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz: Interactive Playlist 3/30/17 (with Amos Hoffman)

Posted in Charlotte Community Rado, CLTC Playlists, Jazz in Charlotte, JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , on June 2, 2017 by curtjazz

amos hoffman collageOn the March 30 edition of JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, on Charlotte Community Radio, we were fortunate to have as an in-studio guest, the brilliant guitarist/oudist, Amos Hoffman.

We discussed Amos’ influences, the jazz scene in his native Israel, New York and in the Carolinas, where he currently resides. We also played most of the tracks from his most recent album, Back to the City and as a special treat, Mr. Hoffman played some live in studio performances.

In this interactive playlist, we have included a link to the entire broadcast, the full list of tunes for the evening, clips of three of the in-studio performances and the official video for “Brown Sugar”; an infectious and compelling track from Mr. Hoffman’s 2010 album, Carving 

For more information on Amos Hoffman and his upcoming performances, visit his website: www.amoshoffman.com  To purchase a copy of Back to the City (CD Baby), click HERE. To purchase Carving (iTunes) click HERE.

 

TRACK TITLE ARTIST(S) ALBUM LABEL
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes Amos Hoffman Back to the City CD Baby
Easy Going Amos Hoffman Back to the City CD Baby
After Lazy Noon Amos Hoffman Back to the City CD Baby
Alone in South Carolina Amos Hoffman Back to the City CD Baby
Little Pigs Amos Hoffman Back to the City CD Baby
Pannonica Amos Hoffman Back to the City CD Baby
Back to the City Amos Hoffman Back to the City CD Baby
Blue Silver Pat Bianchi A Higher Standard Self-Release
Senor Blues Giacomo Gates Fly Rite Sharp Nine
The Outlaw Blue Note 7 Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Blue Note
Monie (feat. Donald Harrison) John Michael Bradford Something Old, Something New CD Baby
Fortress Mark Whitfield Grace Self-Release
Soul Sister Warren Wolf Convergence Mack Avenue
My Shining Hour Tia Fuller Decisive Steps Mack Avenue
Doodlin’ Manhattan Transfer Vibrate Telarc
Homecoming Shamie Royston Portraits Self-Release
Hi-Fly (feat. Jon Hendricks) Sachal Vasandani Hi-Fly Mack Avenue
Fred’s Blues Brent Rusinow Old Guy Time Self-Release
Wake-up Call Jesse Davis As We Speak Concord
Music in the Air Jon Hendricks A Good Git-Together Pacific Jazz
Taiji Camp Keith Davis Trio Still CD Baby
Day Dreaming Roy Ayers Red, Black and Green Polydor

Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 4 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2014 by curtjazz

michael deaseIn our penultimate look at our Best Jazz Albums of 2014, we have an artist who appears twice; once at the front of his familiar Afro-Latin Jazz Band and again as a part of a newly formed “super-group”. We also have a remarkable vocalist, who records far too infrequently, delivering another impressive album. A teacher-student pairing has borne fruit that is musically delicious. And a hardworking big band sideman takes the reins and shows how well he can perform when in the driver’s seat.

  • The Offense of the Drum – Arturo O’Farrill (Motema) The son of Afro-Cuban Jazz royalty produces his most eclectic album to date and in doing so, breathes a bit of freshness and excitement into a genre that has grown somewhat stale. Special guests such as harpist Edmar Castaneda (“Cuarto de Colores”) and saxophonist Donald Harrison (“Iko Iko”) light a fire. Then along comes pianist Vijay Iyer with a knotty piece (“The Mad Hatter”) to fan the flames further before spoken word artist “Chilo” and DJ Logic blow the roof off, on an anthem of Puerto Rican pride (“They Came”). Underneath it all, the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra keeps the pressure on, driving each guest and soloist to be at the top of their game. Give us more like this Arturo. Please! 
  • Promises to Burn – Janice Borla Group (Tall Grass)  Every few years, Janice Borla, IMO, one of the finest pure jazz voices alive, takes a break from her busy schedule of teaching, clinics and jazz camps to record a new album. In doing so, she reminds me of what I find so interesting about her artistry. There are many who can stand in front of a band and sing. Ms. Borla makes her voice an integral instrument in the band. Many singers use the appellation “voice” as an affectation, for Janice Borla it is a spot-on description. Oh yeah. In case you’re wondering, Promises to Burn is a terrific album. Ms. Borla and Co. take mostly unfamiliar instrumental works by jazz musicians such as Jack DeJohnette, Bob Mintzer and Joey Calderazzo and bring out their vocal best.  
  • The Puppeteers – The Puppeteers (Red) From 2006 through 2011, one of the best places in New York to check out jazz musicians as they tried out new ideas was Puppet’s Jazz Bar in Brooklyn. There, owner/drummer Jamie Affoumado and many other musicians found a more friendly environment than existed on most of the tough NYC club scene. It was also there that Mr. Affoumado first teamed with bassist Alex Blake, pianist Arturo O’Farrill and vibraphonist Bill Ware to jam. After the club’s closing, Mr. Affoumado teamed with attorney Dana Hall to form Puppet’s Records. The label’s first release is an album by the four musicians, who call themselves, appropriately, The Puppeteers. It is an auspicious debut, with each member of the collective contributing at least one tune and innumerable ideas, learned from all of their years on the scene working with  musical heavies from Randy Weston to Steely Dan to Jaco Pastorious and beyond. Their sound is definitively jazz but with the groups pedigree, there are strong notes of Afro-Latin, soul and even a little rock in the mix. Whatever it is, it works. Looking forward to what’s coming from Puppet Records and The Puppeteers.   
  • Questioned Answer – Brian Lynch & Emmet Cohen (Hollistic Music) Trumpet master Brian Lynch first met the young pianist Emmet Cohen on the 2011 Jazz Cruise, where Mr. Lynch was featured and Mr. Cohen was showcased with a trio from the U. of Miami, where he was an undergrad. As fate would have it, a few months later, Lynch became a trumpet professor at The U. They began to play and practice together on a regular basis as a duo, sharpening the musical bond that they had first recognized on the cruise. After about a year of shedding, they recorded this album, which was finally released this year, thanks to generous Kickstarter support. Consisting of duo and quartet (w/ Billy Hart and Boris Kozlov) performances, the album is another feather in the cap of Lynch, who just keeps getting better. It is also an exciting debut  by young Mr. Cohen who possesses great facility and an astuteness that is way beyond his years. I can hear what impressed Mr. Lynch so much on that cruise.
  • Relentless – Michael Dease (Posi-Tone) I should have seen this one coming but it still caught me by surprise.  Trombonist Michael Dease has done some fine work before, releasing four impressive albums as a leader of small groups. He has also been in the trombone sections of big bands led by Roy Hargrove, Jimmy Heath, Charles Tolliver and others, sometimes handling the arranging chores. So it’s a natural progression for this 32-year-old Georgian to take his best arrangements and put them on display in his own big band. The charts are complex, strong and they swing like mad. Mr. Dease has learned his lessons well and put them to good use. 

Tracks from all 25 albums in our 2014 Best Of list, may be heard on Curt’s Cafe Noir WebJazz radio, our free, streaming radio station, from now throughout January 2015. Click HERE to access the station.

Our next post will include the final five albums on our alphabetical list.

Until then, the jazz continues…

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014: Preview – Roberta Gambarini / Roy Hargrove

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014 with tags , , , , , , on May 20, 2014 by curtjazz

roberta gambariniNow this is what I call an impressive start!roy hargrove

In a change from the recent past, the Atlanta Jazz Festival will kickoff Memorial Day Weekend on Friday evening,
instead of Saturday afternoon. And just to make sure that they have your attention, the headliners will be two of jazz’s biggest stars, vocalist Roberta Gambarini and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. With these two luminaries taking the stage, I expect temperatures on Piedmont Park’s Mainstage to be a few degrees hotter that what the thermometer reading will tell you.

In addition to their impressive individual work in recent years, Ms. Gambarini and Mr. Hargrove have worked together quite a bit, each guesting on  the other’s recent albums and live performances. We can only hope that this trend will continue in Atlanta this weekend as, from what I’ve heard, they seem to bring out the best in each other.

The full AJF Schedule for Friday, May 22

All Friday performances will take place on The Main Stage. The International and Local Stages will start on Saturday.

5:00 pmNorth Atlanta Center for the Arts Jazz Band – The Youth Jazz Band Competition allows young jazz musicians from all over the Atlanta metropolitan area the opportunity to showcase their talent. Three winners are selected to receive a financial contribution to their music program and a guaranteed spot to perform on the Atlanta Jazz Festival Main Stage. The North Atlanta Center for the Arts Jazz Band took first place this year and they are sure to start the 2014 AJF in fine fashion.

7:00 pm – Roberta Gambarini Quartet – Ask the world’s greatest jazz musicians who their favorite living vocalist is and many of them will say without hesitation, that it is Roberta Gambarini.  This Italian born beauty first set foot on American soil in 1998 and two weeks later took third place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk vocal competition. The late great pianist Hank Jones, a man who knew a thing or two about singers, declared Ms. Gambarini to be “The best singer to emerge in the last 60 years”. Legendary saxophonist Benny Carter essentially shared the same opinion.  Mr. Jones showed his appreciation by recording a marvelous album of duets with Gambarini, 2008’s You Are There. Ms. Gambarini’s debut album, Easy to Love (my personal favorite) and her most recent U.S. release, 2009’s So In Love, were both Grammy nominated. My only complaint is that as of now, her latest release The Shadow of Your Smile, is only available as an expensive Japanese import. Come on U.S. distributors, do something about this!

What is it about Roberta Gambarini that everyone loves? Well, we can start with her voice, a clear soprano with a multiple octave range which  can bring you to shouts of joy on minute and to compassionate tears the next. Musicians love her because she also is possessed with an innate sense of musical timing and she can swing her head off. In other words,  Gambarini is not just a singer vocalizing out in front of the band, she is a musician who happens to sing extremely well. She has taken the lessons of the masters of  her craft; Sarah, Ella, Billie, Betty and Anita and melded them into a style that is singularly hers. I have no doubt that we will be in for a major treat come Friday night.

9:00 pm – Roy Hargrove Quintet – It was 1990 when Novus Records dropped on us Diamond in the Rough; a new album from a fresh-faced 19-year-old trumpeter, who possessed incredible technique and a developing style that set him apart from the glut of others like him that the major labels were pushing on us at that time. Others could play the instrument but this young cat had The X-Factor, that Milesian duende that only the greats possessed.

That fresh-faced kid is now 44 and a well-respected veteran who has amassed an impressive list of recorded credits including a foray into “hip hop meets jazz” (Rh Factor), which was considered by many to be groundbreaking.  But through it all, be it bop, Latin, modal, soul jazz, big band, strings and all the stops in between, each time he puts that trumpet to his lips, Roy Hargrove still has that sound that makes you stop dead in your tracks and listen to what he has to say.

The fact that he is bringing a Quintet to Atlanta leads me to believe he will be playing a set of the type of straight-ahead jazz that has been his forte going back to those albums of the early ’90’s. For those of you unfamiliar with Hargrove’s work, check out With the Tenors of Our Time, the pinnacle of his early work; Crisol Habana a hard charging Afro-Cuban album with the great Chucho Valdes and others; Emergence a strong  modern big band CD with guest spots by Ms. Gambarini; or Earfood, a  recent quintet date on which Hargrove proves that he still has the goods. Whatever album you choose you won’t be disappointed, as I expect that collectively, we will not be disappointed on Friday.

For more information about the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website at http://atlantafestivals.com/

 

12 Years a Slave – A Jazz Perspective from T.K. Blue

Posted in CD Reviews, Under The Radar with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2014 by curtjazz

T.K. Blue - Follow The North StarWith an outstanding movie now out that has just received a slew of Oscar nominations to go along with its other plaudits, the fascinating autobiography of Solomon Northup is garnering some very well deserved and long overdue attention from the general public. In this case however, jazz cognoscenti can look at all of this Northup hype and say, “where y’all been?” For  the jazz world paid a very impressive, albeit unheralded tribute to 12 Years a Slave back in 2008, with Follow the North Star an album by saxophonist T.K. Blue.

In 2007, Mr. Blue (aka Talib Kibwe) received a commission from the NY State Council on the Arts to compose a suite dedicated to the early African-American presence in the Hudson Valley area of New York. His research led him to 12 Years a Slave and Northup’s amazing story. Mr. Blue then composed a jazz suite as a musical retelling of Mr. Northup’s journey. The suite, titled Follow the North Star, was recorded in the fall of 2007 with Blue being supported by some of New York’s finest jazz musicians including Onaje Allan Gumbs, Steve Turre, James Weidman and Essiet Okon Essiet. The finished album was released in 2008 0n Blue’s JaJa Records Label.

Musically, Follow the North Star is first-rate straight ahead jazz, with a few quasi African embellishments such as Mr. Turre’s famous shells and Mr. Blue’s very competent work on the kalimba.  Mr. Blue’s compositions are extremely strong and the group of committed musicians make it work. This music grabs you with equal parts of ecstatic joy and heartbreaking pain. As I wrote in Jazz Improv Magazine at the time of the album’s release: “Mr. Blue takes us on a wordless but yet richly satisfying journey through Northup’s life, from his ancestry to his return to his family, making all of the painful, harrowing, and joyous stops in between… I found the music to be most compelling when listened to from beginning to end, like a symphonic movement…” (Jazz Improv, July 2008). But in spite of the high quality of the music, Follow the North Star made barely a ripple, even with the jazz buying segment of the population.

So with interest in 12 Years a Slave and Solomon Northup running at an all time high now, it’s a good time for jazz fans to revisit this excellent but virtually ignored work of art.  The CD is available from CD Baby and the mp3 version from Amazon.com. For more information on T.K. Blue, who is also the chairman of the Jazz Studies program at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University, you may visit his website at http://www.tkblue.com. You may also want to check out some of Mr. Blue’s other fine albums, including 2011’s LatinBird (Motéma) and his brand new self released album, A Warm Embrace (CD Baby).

Jazz Artists We Lost in 2013 – Part II

Posted in In Memoriam, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2014 by curtjazz

Though I never intended my previous post to be a comprehensive record of fine jazz artists who passed away in 2013, I realize after reviewing JazzTimes‘ list that there were so, so many that I left out.

So although this is still far from all-inclusive, here’s another video clip memorial to some of the fine jazz musicians who left us in 2013.

Many of these names are not as familiar as the ones from Part I, but if you’re not familiar with them, it will be worth your while to do some research.

The masters are leaving us very quickly friends, please support and appreciate them while they are here.

Sathima Bea Benjamin (voice)

Oscar Castro-Neves (guitar, voice)

Boyd Lee Dunlop (piano)

Ricky Lawson (drums)

Gloria Lynne (voice)

Sam Most (flute)

Jimmy Ponder (guitar)

Melvin Rhyne (organ)

Ben Tucker (bass)

Johnny Smith (guitar)

Ed Shaughnessy (drums)