Archive for Jon Irabagon

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.

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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!

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.