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

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2014 by curtjazz

FL_KE$HAOur final post on the Best Jazz Albums of 2014, includes the latest live album compilation from a true living legend. There’s a transcendent album from a vocalist who deserves much more recognition.  We have an impressive debut album from one of the best young drum masters around. A tenor saxophonist who has made a tribute album his own and finally three avant-garde jazz legends, encountering a contemporary lion and in doing so creating some fascinating fireworks.

  • Road Shows, Volume 3 – Sonny Rollins (OKeh) Nobody should mess with Theodore Walter Rollins. Nobody. (Just ask “humorist” Django Gold!)The greatest living jazz saxophonist released another set of tracks this year from his seemingly inexhaustible supply of live recordings. This set was recorded between 2001 and 2012, in Japan, France and St. Louis. As for the performances, well it shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that they are stellar. The most amazing thing for me is to realize that Mr. Rollins was somewhere between 71 and 82 years old when these were recorded. His energy level and the creativity of his ideas on his solos both seem limitless. At an age when most sax players, if they are still playing, are taking it easy, Newk is shaming younger cats every night.  There are a couple of standards a couple of Rollins classics a brand new hard-driving piece (“Patanjali”) and an eight minute and thirty second unaccompanied solo flight which will make many a sax player go out and sell their horns. And just think y’all, there are hours and hours more of this out there. Bring on Road Shows, Vol. 4.
  • Soul to Soul – Carmen Lundy (Afrasia) This is an album that is deeply, deeply drenched in soul and jazz. This is the type of album that perhaps Anita Baker would have made after Rapture if the corporate suits had left her alone. Carmen Lundy nails it. All. The. Way. It was clearly a personal project for Ms. Lundy as she wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 13 compositions and played all instruments on a basic tracks version of the album that she recorded before the final version. Her vocal performances are as rich, stunning and sexy as they have ever been and the mood is never less than sumptuous. Guest stars such as Patrice Rushen, Geri Allen, Warren Wolf and Randy Brecker add the perfect grace notes. Jazz fans should own this album. Adult R & B fans should own this album. Hell, everyone should own this album.
  • The Thought of You – Otis Brown III (Blue Note) Drummer Otis Brown III is one of the bright young talents in jazz today. You’ve probably heard him, even if you didn’t know it as he has played and recorded with Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding, Terence Blanchard and many others. For his debut album, Mr. Brown has enlisted the help of some of the other bright young cats, such as Robert Glasper, bassist Ben Williams, trumpeter Keyon Harrold and vocalist Gretchen Parlato; with labelmate and Glasper bassist  Derrick Hodge as co-producer. The music is strong, modern straight ahead jazz with decidedly spiritual overtones. Highlights include their reworking of a Shania Twain tune “You’re Still The One” with Ms. Parlato on vocals.Also check out “The Way (Truth & Life)” written by Brown and Glasper. It always excites me to hear the next generation playing jazz as they hear it because in spite of what some old fogeys say, these guys are the music’s future hope. Mr. Brown loves his jazz, he loves his family, he loves his wife and more than anything, he loves The Lord. And that’s alright by me.
  • Tiddy Boom – Michael Blake (Sunnyside) Michael Blake’s name was new to me before this album. But since I was quite familiar with all of his bandmates on this disc, I came in with fairly high expectations. They were exceeded. The Canadian born/New York based  tenor saxophonist was able to get this project off the ground thanks to a grant from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works program. It was conceived as a tribute of sorts to two of the earliest titans of the tenor, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. The compositions are all originals and though Blake does show a bit of Hawkins influence, his robust and hard swinging tone is all his own. This is thoughtful, intelligent jazz; well-played by all and more than worthy of multiple listens.
  • Wiring – Trio 3 & Vijay Iyer (Intakt) Trio 3 is back with another outstanding album featuring stellar work by a younger, forward thinking guest pianist. on last year’s Refraction – Breakin’ Glass, it was Jason Moran; this time Vijay Iyer does the honors. The results are a bit different but no less compelling. Oliver Lake’s earthy alto saxophone continues to do great things at that edge of the avant-garde. He delivers outside ideas with just enough melody to keep from losing those of us are not big fans of “free”.  Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille will always be as solid a bass/drums tandem as you will find anywhere. And their special guest, Mr. Iyer has established himself as one of the most intelligent jazz pianists around. In whatever scenario he is placed, he makes the music better.  

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.

For those who want to see our complete list of the Best 25 Jazz Albums of 2014, it is available in a previous post that you can view by clicking HERE.

May you all have a Happy, Healthy, Safe and Jazz Filled 2015. I will holler at y’all plenty of times in the next year about all things jazzy. Feel free to holler back, whenever you are so moved.

Until then, the jazz continues…

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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…

Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 3 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2014 by curtjazz

Brandee YoungerAs the luck of the alphabetical draw would have it, our third set of the Best Jazz Albums of 2014, comes from a group of artists who are through no fault of their own, relatively unknown. It includes a woman who plays an instrument rarely heard as a lead in jazz. On the other hand we have a woman who plays a very familiar instrument, though some are still shocked to find out that women in jazz play it. There is also a talented pianist who is now starting to make his mark with a larger ensemble; a saxophonist who took a few risks, with great rewards and finally, a bassist who has blended jazz with the music of his ancestral roots with impressive results.

  • Live @ the Breeding Ground – Brandee Younger 4Tet (CD Baby) – This album was released about two weeks after it was recorded. The audio mix is a bit rough in spots but the musical vibe is so raw and electric that I got goosebumps when I first heard it. Brandee Younger is making her mark playing an instrument that few in jazz have been able to successfully master; the harp. But like this unwieldy instrument’s most famous jazz master, the late Dorothy Ashby, Ms. Younger is doing it on her own terms and breaking new ground with every performance. Live @ the Breeding Ground is great because the tension between the naturally ethereal sound of  the lead instrument and the hard-driving R & B cum jazz groove, laid by the first call sidemen (big props to Dezron Douglas’ killer bass lines), kept me listening with a “stank face”. This is Brandee Younger’s first full length disc. Very impressive indeed.
  • A Meeting of Minds – Sheryl Bailey (Cellar Live) – Someone please tell Sheryl Bailey to stay off of my Best Of lists! A Meeting of Minds is her third straight album to land here. All jokes aside, Sheryl Bailey is one of the best guitarists in jazz today, period. On her last three albums, she has led a quartet with piano, a big band and now an organ trio. She has killed in every setting. Still, she is fairly obscure, even in the jazz world. A person who discovered her from my blog (and dug her) commented, “I didn’t know that there were any female jazz guitarists…” Anyway, A Meeting of Minds, has Sheryl Bailey, crushing it once again. This time with organ and drums. That should be all you need to know to get you excited.
  • Mother’s Touch – Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone) – 2014 was a strong year for big bands.  And pianist Orrin Evans’ Captain Black group is one of the most interesting of the newer groups. It’s not a traditional swing outfit. Though they can cook in a 4/4 setting, they really shine in the complex, post bop and modal space that their leader’s compositions place them. Their work on Evans’ “In My Soul” and Wayne Shorter’s “Water Babies” are the standouts on an extremely fine set.
  •  Music Appreciation – Chris Greene (Single Malt) – Yeah!!! That was the word that escaped from my mouth repeatedly as I got my first listen to this 2 disc set from the Chicago (actually Evanston) based saxophonist. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Greene’s work for a number of years now and it has been exciting to listen as he developed his own voice. Consider Music Appreciation the announcement of his arrival. It’s kind of ballsy for an unheralded artist to drop a two disc set but  Greene and Co. more than justify the decision by playing a strong mix of originals and covers; taking some very interesting risks in the process, such as “Equinox” as a laid back reggae groove with soprano lead. Throughout it all, Mr. Greene and his longtime band deliver the goods, with the leader’s big toned tenor and calmly expressive soprano spurring everyone else on.  Green demonstrates that he can handle the ballads and the flag wavers with equal aplomb.  Let me say it one more time: Yeah!!!  

 

  • New Song – Omer Avital (Motema) – Mr. Avital, a bassist who has been a top sideman on the New York scene for a number of years, is an Israeli with Yemenite and Moroccan roots. His Mizrahi heritage, its folk songs and its rhythms  are all over this rich and musically satisfying set. Avital’s compositions are the star. He has created melodies that are authentic, moving and dare I say it, grooving. And thankfully, he has, in his working group, a quintet of musicians who understand the music and present it with the right mix of jazz sensibility and Middle Eastern Soul. The front line of Avishai Cohen on trumpet and Joel Frahm on tenor is a good as any working in jazz today. New Song is an intelligent album that also knows how to have a good time. 

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 through January 2015. Click HERE to access the station.

Our next post will include albums 16 – 20 on our alphabetical list.

Until then, the jazz continues…

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2014

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2014 by curtjazz

ali jacksonThe Pop Music press went apoplectic when Beyoncé and a few others, dropped their latest projects online in the middle of the night, with no advance promotion.When I heard that my first thought was: Oh, please! In jazz, we call that “Tuesday”.

The fact that an eclectic release schedule has become the norm, did force me to play catch-up on a few releases in the last month. I’m glad I did as several of them went right from my ears to this list.

I’m also breaking my “tradition” in that I’m publishing the full list first. Since it is relatively late this year, I figured that we’d cut to the chase and then follow with the rationales and video clips in several posts over the next week. I also was unable to get out a mid-term list this year so instead we’re doing it in one glorious heap.

That said, her are 25 Jazz projects that moved me this year, in alpha order by album title. Comments and disagreements are always welcomed:

Tracks from these albums and more can be heard on Curt’s Cafe Noir, our 24/7 streaming jazz radio station, starting December 27th, through most of January 2015.

We wish you all a very Happy, Healthy and Blessed Holiday Season.

Until the next time, the Jazz Continues…

2015 Jazz Grammy Nominations

Posted in 2015 Grammys with tags , , , on December 6, 2014 by curtjazz

grammy1Here is a list of the jazz performances that were nominated for a Grammy at the 57th Grammy Awards, which will be presented on February 8, 2015. Our list includes the Instrumental categories, which are usually dominated by jazz artists. Our posts of commentary and predictions will follow in January 2015.

 

Improvised Jazz Solo

“The Eye Of The Hurricane,” Kenny Barron
“Fingerprints,” Chick Corea
“You & The Night & The Music,” Fred Hersch
“Recorda Me,” Joe Lovano
“Sleeping Giant,” Brad Mehldau

Jazz Vocal Album

“Map To The Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro,” (Billy Childs &) Various Artists
“I Wanna Be Evil,” René Marie
“Live In NYC,” Gretchen Parlato
“Beautiful Life,” Dianne Reeves
“Paris Sessions,” Tierney Sutton
Jazz Instrumental Album

“Landmarks,” Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band
“Trilogy,” Chick Corea Trio
“Floating,” Fred Hersch Trio
“Enjoy The View,” Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanborn, Joey DeFrancesco Featuring Billy Hart
“All Rise: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller,” Jason Moran

Large Jazz Ensemble Album

“The L.A. Treasures Project,” The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
“Life In The Bubble,” Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band
“Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project,” Rufus Reid
“Live: I Hear The Sound,” Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra
“OverTime: Music Of Bob Brookmeyer,” The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

Latin Jazz Album

“The Latin Side Of Joe Henderson,” Conrad Herwig Featuring Joe Lovano

“The Pedrito Martinez Group,” The Pedrito Martinez Group
“The Offense Of The Drum,” Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
“Second Half,” Emilio Solla Y La Inestable De Brooklyn
“New Throned King,” Yosvany Terry

Contemporary Instrumental Album

“Wild Heart,” Mindi Abair
“Slam Dunk,” Gerald Albright
“Nathan East,” Nathan East
“Jazz Funk Soul,” Jeff Lorber, Chuck Loeb, Everette Harp
“Bass & Mandolin,” Chris Thile & Edgar Meyer

Instrumental Composition

“The Book Thief,” John Williams (John Williams)
“Last Train To Sanity,” Stanley Clarke (The Stanley Clarke Band)
“Life In The Bubble,” Gordon Goodwin (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band)
“Recognition,” Rufus Reid (Rufus Reid)
“Tarnation,” Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile (Chris Thile & Edgar Meyer)

Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella

“Beautiful Dreamer,” Pete McGuinness (The Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra)
“Daft Punk,” Ben Bram, Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying, Avi Kaplan, Kirstie Maldonado & Kevin Olusola (Pentatonix)
“Get Smart,” Gordon Goodwin (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band)
“Guantanamera,” Alfredo Rodríguez (Alfredo Rodríguez)
“Moon River,” Chris Walden (Amy Dickson)

Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals

“All My Tomorrows,” Jeremy Fox (Jeremy Fox Featuring Kate McGarry)
“Goodnight America,” Vince Mendoza (Mary Chapin Carpenter)
“New York Tendaberry,” Billy Childs (Billy Childs Featuring Renée Fleming & Yo-Yo Ma)
“Party Rockers,” Gordon Goodwin (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band)
“What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?” Pete McGuinness (The Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra)

Also worth noting is that Robert Glasper’s Black Radio 2 received two nominations in the R & B categories, for Best R & B Album and Best Traditional R & B Performance (for “Jesus Children of America”).

Congratulations to all nominees. More to follow…

Album Review: Jeremy Pelt – Face Forward, Jeremy

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , on March 15, 2014 by curtjazz

This review first appeared in the March 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s JazzInside Magazine

Jeremy Pelt

Jeremy Pelt

FACE FORWARD, JEREMY – HighNote Records HCD 7259 www.jazzdepot.com  Higby Part 1; Stars are Free; Princess Charlie; The Calm Before The Storm; Glimpse; Rastros; In My Grandfather’s Words; The Secret Code; Verse

PERSONNEL: Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Roxy Coss, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; David Bryant, piano, organ, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer; Frank LoCrasto, Fender Rhodes; Chris Smith, acoustic bass, electric bass; Dana Hawkins, drums, drum programming; Fabiana Masili, vocals; Milton Suggs, vocals; Brandee Younger, harp; Jennifer Shaw, cello

By Curtis Davenport

While some of his contemporaries have been grabbing the headlines, Jeremy Pelt has been quietly amassing an impressive and diverse résumé consisting of some of the more compelling jazz performances of this brief century. Though his recorded performances have mostly leaned toward the mainstream, Pelt has of late begun to delve into the fusion side of his persona with musically satisfying results. I always get the sense that Mr. Pelt is seeking; looking to bring a fresh perspective to his projects. As look back at his catalog as a leader, which now stands at a dozen albums, I realized that each of his records was in some way different from the last. And his latest album, Face Forward, Jeremy is no exception.

This album can be considered a sequel of sorts to Pelt’s prior release, the moodily gorgeous Water and Earth. The same musicians appear on both albums and in each case David Bryant’s dreamy Fender Rhodes is a centerpiece; serving as an atmospheric foil for Pelt’s trumpet and Dana Hawkins’ complex rhythmic patterns. Mr. Pelt states that one of his biggest influences for this album was Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi recordings of the early ‘70’s, which would also explain the prominence of the electronic keyboards.  But whereas the group seemed at times to be finding its way on Water and Earth, their performances on Face Forward, Jeremy are more confident. They have played together for a while as a unit and they are certain of what they want this music to sound like.

Among the cuts that I have revisited numerous times are “Stars Are Free”, which brings bassist Chris Smith to the fore for some strong Jaco-like fretwork, supported by guest star Frank LoCrasto’s insistent comping on the Rhodes, which then slides into a fleet fingered solo. “Princess Charlie”, dedicated to Pelt’s two-year old daughter, has a distinct Brazilian influence, a hummable melody line that will stick with you long after the track is done, tasty solos by Mr. Pelt and Roxy Coss on soprano sax and a Flora Purim-like wordless vocal from Fabiana Masili. In fact, I loved both of Ms. Masili’s appearances on the disc, the other being “Rastros”, a brief track of quiet beauty, which in addition to Ms. Masili, is elevated by Jennifer Shaw’s cello and the support of the finest jazz harpist working today, Brandee Younger. “The Calm Before The Storm”, a Coss composition, will grab you, starting with a soulfully compelling bass line (Chris Smith is one bad cat), with Bryant’s Rhodes layered on top, before Pelt and Coss (on tenor) hit us with a sharp melody statement and brief but rich solos. The leader’s showpiece however is “Glimpse” an uptempo romp that gives Pelt plenty of room to blow; and he does, demonstrating that a great trumpet solo doesn’t need flashy pyrotechnics, just an inspired musician with numerous ideas. Ms. Coss follows the leader with a strong tenor statement of her own. I haven’t heard her yet outside of Pelt’s group but I like Roxy Coss. She has already developed her own voice on her horns and she sounds like she is just beginning to put it to excellent use.

Though Jeremy Pelt has found a nice groove with his fusion group and turned out a very good album here, I get the feeling that we’ll hear something different from him next time. I hope so because that kind of restless creativity will help Pelt and those of his generation to keep jazz alive and relevant.

Album Review: Kris Bowers – Heroes + Misfits

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , on February 16, 2014 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the February 2014 edition of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine.

Kris Bowers

kris bowers

HEROES + MISFITS – Concord Jazz CJA-34353-02 www.concordmusicgroup.com  Forever Spring; Wake The Neighbors; #TheProtestor; Vices and Virtues; Forget-Er; Wonderlove; Forever Wonder; Drift; First; Ways of Light

PERSONNEL: Kris Bowers, piano, keyboards; Julia Easterlin, vocals; José James, vocals; Chris Turner, vocals; Casey Benjamin, alto saxophone; Kenneth Whalum III, tenor saxophone, Adam Agati, guitar; Burniss Earl Travis II, bass; Jamire Williams, drums

By Curtis Davenport

Those who run around declaring jazz to be “dead” are often purists; those who want to only hear the music as it was performed 50 years ago or more. And while the strains of swing, bop, modal and even free jazz as it was then aren’t as publicly relevant as they once were, there are a lot of exciting young musicians out there who have heard their elders and hold them in high regard but refuse to force the music to stagnate and yes, “die” in that place. They will play jazz as they hear it. For them, jazz doesn’t have to be “pure”, just good and relevant. One of those young musicians is Kris Bowers. His debut album is Heroes + Misfits.

Bowers is a 24-year-old Los Angeles native who was raised on the “old school” R&B (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Earth Wind and Fire, etc.) that was favored by his parents. Like many of his age, he was strongly influenced by the hip-hop of the nineties and the first decade of this century. Unlike many of his age, Bowers was also fascinated by the film music composed by John Williams, Danny Elfman, Howard Shore and others. Though he had been taking classical piano lessons since he was very small, he soon turned his attention to jazz instruction. In high school, Bowers discovered and was inspired by, the solo recordings of Oscar Peterson.  Moving to New York to attend Julliard, after high school, Bowers began working on the NYC jazz scene while studying at Julliard and taking private lessons with Eric Reed, Fred Hersch and Kenny Barron. While working on his Masters in Jazz Performance and Film Composition at Julliard, in 2011, Kris Bowers entered the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. He won the competition, which included among its prizes, a recording contract with Concord Records. Heroes + Misfits was born out of that contract.

I’ll tell you up front, if you pick up Heroes + Misfits expecting to hear Bowers play standards in the style of Peterson, Barron or even Eric Reed and your appreciation for jazz goes no further than there, then you are likely to be disappointed.  But remember this; Bowers is 24, he grew up with hip-hop, he has also recorded with Jay-Z and Kanye West and toured with José James. My point is this, what is a “standard” to someone over 50 is not going to be a standard to someone half that age.

So what do you get on Heroes + Misfits? There is excellent musicianship, from Bowers and a quintet of creative, forward thinking young musicians, including saxophonists Casey Benjamin (from Robert Glasper’s Band) and Kenneth Whalum III (Kirk’s nephew), drummer Jamire Williams, guitarist Adam Agati and  Burniss Earl Travis II on bass. There are guest vocals from José James and others and there are many inspired compositions and compelling musical moments. What does it sound like? The best comparison would be to say that Heroes + Misfits is similar to Robert Glasper’s Black Radio but less commercially oriented. The tracks that caught my attention were “#TheProtestor” inspired by Time Magazine naming of The Protestor as its 2011 Person of The Year. Williams and Travis set a contemporary meets jazz beat and Bowers takes a rich, moving solo as he is pushed by a bit of dissonance from Benjamin’s alto. “Forget-Er” the album’s first single features vocalist Julia Easterlin singing a haunting lead line over her own multi-tracked background vocals, before Bowers and the rhythm section enter a with a commanding statement of their own. “Wonderlove”, a track obviously inspired by Stevie Wonder, is strong modern pop/soul with a Stevie Meets Donny Hathaway vocal from Chris Turner and a beat set by Williams that will remain with you after the song ends. Most impressive are the trio of tracks that close the album “Drift”, the closest to a traditional jazz track features the saxophones, with Kenneth Whalum displaying that big tenor sound that clearly runs in his family, “First” is a brief and wistful piano solo, which sets the stage for “Ways of Light”, a melancholy, reflective vocal feature for José James, who every time that I hear him, comes closer to being the definitive male jazz vocalist of his generation.

So is jazz dead? Absolutely not. Is it taking a different and more viable direction for our time, in the hands of visionary young artists such as Kris Bowers, making music like Heroes + Misfits?  I say “Yes” and in the end, those who love jazz will be better for it.

Album Review: Rudy Royston – 303

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , on February 9, 2014 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Rudy Royston

rudy royston

303 – GRE-CD-1035 www.greenleafmusic.com  Mimi Sunrise; Play on Words; Prayer (for the People); Goodnight Kinyah; Gangs of New York; High and Dry; Miles to Go (Sunset Road); 303; Ave Verum Corpus; Prayer (for the Earth)

PERSONNEL: Rudy Royston, drums, percussion; Sam Harris, piano, Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Mimi Jones, bass; Jon Irabagon, saxophones; Nadja Noordhuis, trumpet; Nir Felder, guitar

By Curtis Davenport

Rudy Royston has put in a lot of work over the years on his way to his first set as a leader. Jazz fans have heard him keeping time behind Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, Tia Fuller, J.D. Allen and others. His versatility has made him a first call drummer for straight-ahead jazz, avant-garde, soul jazz and everything in between. On 303, the first album under his name, Mr. Royston has put together a band of mostly unknown but capable musicians to produce a very forceful debut.

While 303 (named for the area code in Royston’s hometown of Denver) is definitely a jazz album, it’s one that can’t easily be categorized, which isn’t a surprise, considering the breadth of Royston’s experience. Royston is also confident enough to let the music take its time and for the personalities of his colleagues to show through in their solos.  You don’t doubt that this is the drummer’s album but we are spared the spectacle of ten minute drum solos or of the drums being mixed way out front in order to prove it. Royston is joined by Sam Harris a strong young pianist who has also recorded with Ambrose Akinmusire and is currently playing with Linda Oh.  Yasushi Yakamura and Mimi Jones split the bass duties. They are considered two of the top young bassists on the New York scene with Ms. Jones just having released her critically acclaimed second album, Balance. Jon Irabagon, a darling of the downtown free jazz scene (Mary Halvorson, Other People Do The Killing, etc.) and Nadje Noordhuis, an impressive Australian born trumpet player with a full, warm tone, are the horns and Nir Felder, a guitarist who is new to me but has been quite busy of late with Terri Lyne Carrington, Joey DeFrancesco and Eric Harland, rounds out the band.

Most memorable among the cuts are “Bownze”, a track that Mr. Royston says was inspired by Michael Jackson’s recording of “Rockin’ Robin”. While I didn’t hear any of the King of Pop in this cut, I did really dig Royston’s drum work and the way Irabagon’s staccato tenor punctuated the performance and Harris piano added some sweet chord fills. “Play on Words” is a driving straight-ahead tune on which Felder’s guitar and Irabagon’s tenor really shine, especially as he trades eights with Harris.  “Miles to Go (Sunset Road)” is an irresistible laid back groove that rides along on Ms. Jones’ bass and Felder’s guitar, while the horns repeat a hypnotic figure. My only complaint about it is that it ended too quickly, which is too bad because there was an awesome Reggae/Jazz jam about to break out. “Gangs of New York”, which Royston says was inspired by both the Scorsese film and by the hardcore braggadocio of NYC rappers, starts out beautifully, contradicting its stated inspirations. Then, after a gorgeous trumpet solo by Ms. Noordhuis, the piece suddenly turns edgy, with short horn bursts announcing the “war” that is brought on by Felder’s rock tinged guitar. It was not expected but it was quite interesting.

Rudy Royston’s 303 is an impressive debut. It is the work of an artist who is willing to stretch jazz’s conventions as he grows but who is prepared to let others join him on the ride. I hope that Royston continues to work with this group of musicians because I think that they still have a lot more to say as a collective.

2014 Jazz Grammy® Recap – The Winners and Random Thoughts

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , on January 27, 2014 by curtjazz

Well jazz fans, we had our annual 15 minutes of fame (literally) yesterday at the Grammys during the pre-show, which was not broadcast on television but streamed live on the web. The  winners in the jazz categories included virtually no surprises. Those that won were either the favorites or highly touted possibilities right behind the  favorites.

And the Winners Are:

Best Improvised Jazz Solo – “Orbits”: Wayne Shorter – soloist (From the album Without a Net [Blue Note Records])

The Hall of Fame saxophonist wins with his only nomination from his critically acclaimed return to Blue Note Records.

Best Jazz Vocal Album – Gregory Porter: Liquid Spirit (Blue Note Records)

In a very minor upset, Porter beats out the phenomenal young vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant to win his first Grammy. I loved Porter’s totally real acceptance speech in which he blurted out “Hey! I got a Grammy!”

Best Jazz Instrumental Album – Terri Lyne Carrington: Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue (Concord Jazz Records)

Another minor but welcome upset. In her acceptance speech the cool and classy Ms. Carrington noted that she was the first woman in history to win this particular award, which was surprising on one hand and then again, it wasn’t. It’s her second Grammy in the last three years; the other came for The Mosaic Project in 2012.

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album – Randy Brecker, Wlodek Pawlik Trio & Kalisz Philharmonic: Night in Calisia (Summit Records)

No surprise here at all as Grammy voters went for the safe choice of the only name among the nominees that any of them had even remotely heard of.  Mr. Brecker was not at the ceremony, leaving the acceptance chores to his Polish colleagues on the recording who struggled gamely with their English in an endearing but ultimately long-winded  speech, which drew the only use of the “musical hook” that I heard while I was watching the pre-show.

Best Latin Jazz Album – Paquito D’Rivera & Trio Corrente: Song for Maura (Sunnyside/Paquito Records)

While this win was not at all unexpected, it was also utterly frustrating. For with all of the genuinely outstanding music nominated in this category, Grammy voters once again went with the most familiar choice. This is far and away not the travesty that last year was in this category but still, this award was given to a good album among some great ones. Mr. D’Rivera was also not in attendance which left the acceptance to the members of Trio Corrente, who looked to be in danger of getting the “musical hook” but didn’t.

And to wrap things up, a few “Random Thoughts” that I scribbled down during the pre-show and the broadcast Grammy Show:

  • It was great to see Latin Jazz pianist and Grammy nominee Roberto Fonseca being used as a segment presenter on the pre-show.Though English is not his first language, he soldiered on gamely, even when tasked with reading the rambling statement from an award winner who was unable to attend. Frankly, he did a better job that pre-show host Cyndi Lauper, who struggled mightily throughout.  She even at one point starkly told the audience. “I F-ck-d Up”, which was true but unnecessary to say. I’m no language prude but it just struck me as a crudely contrived way to try to curry favor in the midst of her obvious difficulties.
  • It was great to see the wonderful composer/arranger Maria Schneider take home some Grammys for her classical work on Winter Morning Walks. I also loved her impassioned plug of ArtistShare during her acceptance speech. Now if only the jazz world would show her as much love…
  • I was disappointed that no jazz artists got to perform even during the pre-show. Yet, we saw fine artists of many other genres get to show their stuff. Has it now come to the point that a live jazz performance is not even welcome during the non-broadcast segment of the ceremony?
  • Daft Punk???
  • Pharrell’s hat???
  • Madonna’s outfit???
  • Taylor Swift’s dancing???
  • Taylor Swift’s Death Stare at the end of her performance????
  • Taylor Swift. Period. – Kanye, you did this to us!!!
  • Jay-Z basically referring to his award as a “sippy cup” for his daughter, was a lame attempt at humor that came off as arrogant. I’ve liked Jay-Z and Beyonce for a long time but they are starting to put me off (not that they care).
  • Chicago would have been better without Robin Thicke. And I wish that the cats still in the group and Peter Cetera and Danny Seraphine could all patch up their differences and give us at least one more taste of the real Chicago.
  • Loved Stevie Wonder, Nile Rodgers, Pharrell and Daft Punk’s jam.  As a fellow prostate cancer survivor any time I see Nile Rodgers up there doing his thing it is inspirational to me.

That’s all I have to say about that. I’ll have more to say about other things though before the next Grammy season and I thank you for reading.

Until the next time, the jazz continues…

2014 Jazz Grammy® Preview #5 – Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2014 by curtjazz

Our final Grammy preview touches on the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. While this category used to be home to the ghost bands of the great big band leaders, it has now become a place where you will find some of the most creative arranging and writing in jazz; from artists who often don’t even get to be heard on what remains of jazz radio (terrestrial and internet).

The nominees are:

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society: Brooklyn Babylon (New Amsterdam Records)

This is by far the most ambitious project of any of those nominated in this category. Darcy James Argue conceived Brooklyn Babylon in collaboration with graphic novelist Danijel Zezelj, whose work evokes a mythic Brooklyn where the borough’s past, present and future collide. What you have musically is, well, everything. There are sections inspired by Sousa’s marches, others inspired by classical music; another inspired by New Orleans Second Lines and still more where you have a swinging 4/4 big band. It’s exactly what you’d expect if every musical culture in the history of Brooklyn managed to collide and intermingle. This music is never boring and at times inspiring. I’m afraid though that most Grammy voters won’t get it and therefore won’t vote for it.

Randy Brecker, Wlodek Pawlik Trio & Kalisz Philharmonic: Night in Calisia (Summit Records)

Now Randy Brecker on the other hand, they get.  This recording is the result of a musical contribution to the celebration of the 1850th anniversary of Kalisz, the oldest city in Poland. The culmination took place in June of 2010 with a concert called ‘’Night in Calisia’’. The event was such a success the musicians decided to go into the studio to record the project nearly two years after the concert. The prolific trumpeter and the Polish pianist/composer Wlodek Pawlik, have created a beautiful slice of symphonic jazz. It’s not groundbreaking but it sounds like it is so Grammy voters will love it. Randy Brecker is also a name that they know. This album stands a very strong chance of winning.

Brussels Jazz Orchestra (feat. Joe Lovano): Wild Beauty (Half Note)

Wild Beauty features the great Joe Lovano’s inimitable tenor sound, blowing hard over some of his own compositions wrapped in terrific  Gil Goldstein arrangements performed by the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. It’s one of Lovano’s most accessible sets and hearing it here reminded me what a fine writer Lovano is. Lovano’s tunes make this my favorite set of all of those nominated. When you add in Lovano’s relative renown, this set has to be considered a co-favorite with the Brecker album.

Alan Ferber: March Sublime (Sunnyside Records)

Trombonist Alan Ferber’s March Sublime features mostly his compositions and arrangements, performed by some of the best session players in New York today. The arrangements are very good and they are performed very competently. Ferber’s band is a contemporary one, that is to say that they concentrate not on the swing era but on the style of big band music that has been written and performed in the latter decades of the 20th Century and into the 21st. Though this is a nice album, I think that it is a long shot to win today.

Dave Slonaker Big Band: Intrada (Origin Records)

Intrada is veteran West Coast composer/arranger Dave Slonaker’s  first album as a leader. He has filled it with hard-hitting brassy arrangements that swing like mad. Intrada hearkens back to the time when all of the late night talk shows had big bands, stocked with some of the best jazz cats on the left coast, paying the rent and making their intros and outros cook. Again, this album is a Grammy long shot but it’s an impressive showcase for Slonaker’s skills.

So here is my final bottom line unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Darcy James Argue
  • Will Win: Randy Brecker

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read my previews. I hope that you’ve found them informational even if you disagreed with me.  I will be live tweeting during the pre-show, when these awards are being presented.

Until the next time, The Jazz Continues…