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Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (Second Half) – Instrumental Albums: Closer Look – Pt. 2

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, CD Reviews, curtjazz radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2018 by curtjazz

brenda navarreteOur last look at 2017, covers six more fine instrumental albums; from a living legend, who just keeps getting it done; a thrilling young Cuban percussionist/vocalist; a drummer who has been setting the world on fire; a venerable jazz label, restocking for the future, and an exciting young vibraphonist, who has come of age.

 

In alphabetical order:

Jersey – Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet (Motema)

The master percussionist drops a fine album of modern jazz, in a totally acoustic setting. The first thing that caught my attention was the pacing; though it is far from languid, it never feels rushed. It is Guiliana’s album but he leads, while never overpowering his sidemen, as will sometimes happen on drummer albums. The revelation for me, is the fine tenor work of Jason Rigby, a powerful player, who to these ears, sounds like frequent Guiliana collaborator Donny McCaslin, filtered through Stan Getz. There are a couple of strong Morrisey penned tracks (“Mayor of Rotterdam” is my fave), another with a swinging, melodic hook, that I have been unable to get out of my head (“Big Rig Jones”) and a David Bowie tune (“Where are We Now”), in a beautiful and fitting tribute to the late legend, who employed Guiliana as the drummer on his last two albums. Call me a dinosaur, if you must but as much as I appreciate Mr. Guiliana’s electronic, beat based work, I love his group in this situation.

Marseille – Ahmad Jamal (Jazz Village)

I’m going to stop mentioning Ahmad Jamal’s age, when I speak of his artistry because it is irrelevant. It is not necessary to make any allowances, as he plays circles around some of the so called top cats, who are less than half his age. He has been inspiring jazz musicians for the past seven decades; his ideas and his energy are still fresh and when he hits the pocket, with his regular sidemen; James Cammack (bass), Herlin Riley (drums) and Manolo Badrena (percussion), you know where a lot of these young pianists who claim to be hip-hop influenced, really got their groove from. On this disc, he pays tribute to the French port city, with three different and equally compelling, versions of the title track: an instrumental; a spoken word, featuring French rapper Abd al Malik and a haunting French/English vocal version, by Mina Agossi. “Autumn Leaves” is given a bright Jamal treatment, which rides high on Badrena’s percussion and a quick quote from “Stolen Moments”. There’s also the funkiest version of “…Motherless Child” that I’ve ever heard. All I can say is, Mr. Jamal, keep on doing what you do, for as long as you want to do it!

Mi Mundo – Brenda Navarrete (ALMA)

I must admit that I made a small error with this album. When I first heard it, I was so impressed with Brenda Navarrete’s skill as a percussionist, that I categorized it as an instrumental album, even though every track includes Ms. Navarrete’s vocals. Now that I taken the time to listen to her singing, I realize that in addition to being one of the best young Afro-Cuban percussionists, that I have heard in many years, she is also an impressive vocalist. Mi Mundo is Ms. Navarrete’s debut album as a leader. It was released digitally, in September, though the CD version will not be out until January 2018. Regardless, I was floored from the first notes of “Baba Eleggua”, as in this young woman’s playing and vocalizing, I felt the spirits of Carlos “Patato” Valdes and Armando Peraza. Yes, she is that good. The album, which includes four of Brenda’s compositions, is deeply rooted in Afro-Cuban traditions, with a touch of modern influences, such as American R&B. Her version of “Caravan”, is a killer, as is her original, “Rumbero Como Yo”, with its multi-tracked vocal line. She demonstrates her jazz chops on “A Ochun”, with its flute driven mid-section and a call and response finish, over insistent jazz chords. There’s not a bad track here. My only minor quibble, is the album’s length (a scant 37 minutes). A very impressive instrumental and vocal debut. I pray that stupid politics, will not keep Brenda Navarrete, from being heard by a wider audience.

Our Point of View – Blue Note All-Stars (Blue Note)

Six of the best young musicians in jazz today, come together to form a supergroup, in celebration of the 75th Anniversary of arguably, the greatest record label in jazz history, Blue Note Records. Those expecting to hear these young cats rehash the old Blue Note catalog of “hits”, are going to be sorely disappointed. The two-disc set consists mostly of original compositions by these young lions. The music has energy, imperfections and thrills. And it also has a future. It is the sound of great musicians, who have respect for where they have come from but who are trying to create something new, relevant and deeply personal. They are, in the words of the group’s keyboardist/co-producer, Robert Glasper, “Making our own history now”. There are a couple of nods to the label’s storied past, in the appearance of two living legends, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, on a new (and different) version of Shorter’s “Masqualero”. There is also a thrilling, almost 18-minute-long, version of Shorter’s classic “Witch Hunt”, with the core sextet getting to find out where that great old vehicle, will take them. It takes them to a blazing tenor statement by Marcus Strickland and after a slow start, a terrific trumpet solo by Ambrose Akinmusire. As long as minds can remain open and younger cats like these, can keep finding vehicles for their creativity, the music and this label, will have a bright future.

Strykin’ Ahead – Dave Stryker (Strikezone)

The latest in a series of fine albums from this veteran guitarist, takes him out of the soul jazz bag that he has been in for a number of years and back into straight ahead territory. It’s his best album in at least a decade. Click HERE to read our full album review.

 

Walk of Fire – Behn Gillece (Posi-Tone)

This up and coming young vibraphonist reaches his potential with this excellent date, inspired, in part, by Joe Henderson’s Blue Note classic, Mode for Joe. Click HERE to read our full album review.

 

And that’s a wrap for 2017.A reminder of the instrumental albums, on our first half of the year list:

Tracks from all of these albums can be heard on CurtJazz Radio, our new 24/7 Jazz Radio station, on the new Live365.com. Click HERE to listen, it’s free.

Much new music to hear in 2018. Let’s enjoy it together!

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Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (Second Half)

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, curtjazz radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2017 by curtjazz

don't blinkThere are good and bad things about writing a mid-year “Best of” list, as I did last July: It cuts down your work at year’s end but it also makes it harder to pare that year end list down to a precious few, especially in a year like this, that was filled with great jazz albums, especially on the instrumental side.

Enough of my whining. Here now, is a list of my favorite albums, released in 2017, that I first heard between July and December. As with the previous list, I’ve split them into instrumental and vocals. They are listed in alphabetical order, by album title, not in order of preference. Because all of these living jazz artists would appreciate your support, clicking on the album title will take you to a place where you can purchase the album, with delivery in some cases, before Christmas.

Instrumental

Album Title Artist Label
Bringin’ It Christian McBride Big Band Mack Avenue
Don’t Blink Unhinged Sextet Origin
Handful of Keys JALC Orchestra (w/multiple pianists) Blue Engine
Harmony of Difference (EP) Kamasi Washington Young Turks
Honey and Salt Matt Wilson Palmetto
Hybrido Antionio Adolfo AAM
Jersey Mark Giuliana Jazz Quartet Motema
Marseille Ahmad Jamal Jazz Village
Mi Mundo Brenda Navarrete ALMA
Our Point of View Blue Note All Stars Blue Note
Strykin’ Ahead Dave Stryker Strikezone
Walk of Fire Behn Gillece Posi-Tone

Vocal

Album Title Artist Label
Code Noir Carmen Lundy Afrasia
Dreams and Daggers Cecile McLorin Salvant Mack Avenue
Grace Lizz Wright Concord
Nathaniel Ori Dagan Scat Cat
Rendering Kellye Gray Grr8

 

We will feature a closer look at each of these discs in several posts, over the remainder of the year.

And lest we forget (and we shouldn’t). Here are the albums that were included in our first “Best Of 2017” post, back in July:

Vocal 

Instrumental 

Tracks from all of these albums will be featured, starting on Wednesday, December 27, as we celebrate the Year in Jazz, on CurtJazz Radio, as it returns to the new Live365.com. We are on the air now, with our JazzMas Party (Holiday Jazz), until then. Click HERE to listen. It’s free.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Until then, the jazz continues.

2015 Jazz Grammy® Preview #1 – Best Improvised Jazz Solo

Posted in 2015 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2015 by curtjazz

Well here I am folks, late to the Grammy Party but still right on time!

The 2015 Grammy® Awards will be handed out this Sunday, February 8. The Awards in the Jazz categories will be distributed, as usual, during the “Pre-Show” before the televised broadcast. As I have done over the past few years I’ve put together a review of the jazz category nominees, including a musical clip (where available) and my opinion about the artists chances to take some hardware home on Sunday. Let’s start with jazz’s equivalent of Record of the Year, “Best Improvised Jazz Solo”

“The Eye Of The Hurricane,” – Kenny Barron, soloist:  From the album Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio (Whaling City Sounds)

The great pianist Kenny Barron and the legendary bassist Ron Carter join drummer Gerry Gibbs (son of vibraphonist Terry Gibbs) on this terrific trio album. The nominated track is a blazing fast take on the Herbie Hancock composition, with Mr. Barron showing the impressive speed that we don’t get to hear from him often enough these days. It’s a fine track but it’s likely to get lost in the shuffle of big names on the way to the awards podium. What it has made me do is check out the work of Gerry Gibbs who I’ve somehow managed to miss over the years.

“Fingerprints,” Chick Corea, soloist: From the album Trilogy – Chick Corea Trio (Concord)

This is a nominated performance from Trilogy Mr. Corea’s live three disc semi-retrospective. The track is stellar, as is the album, which has also been nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. Corea is as good, at age 73, as he has ever been and the support from Brian Blade and Christian McBride is also first rate. So, what’s my problem? I’ve talked about it every year since I’ve been doing these jazz Grammy posts; I would just like to see some of the Grammy voters award love go to someone not named Corea or Hancock or Rollins, etc. But I know that my wishes will likely go unfulfilled. The performance is very good and they know his name so Chick Corea will probably win this award and the other one as well.


“You & The Night & The Music,” Fred Hersch, soloist: From the album Floating – Fred Hersch Trio (Palmetto) 

As i mentioned in my 2014 year end review, Floating is one of my all time favorite Fred Hersch albums. That said, it’s ironic that this track gained a nomination as it is one of performances that I found to be just good but not great. There are better tracks on the album and better ones nominated in this category. Still, anytime Fred Hersch is acknowledged for his art, it is a great thing. The album is also nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental album. Sadly, it is likely to come home empty-handed due to the “Chick Factor”.

“Recorda Me,” Joe Lovano, soloist: From the album The Latin Side of Joe Henderson  – Conrad Herwig (Half Note)

No doubt about it; Conrad Herwig has struck critical and to an extent, commercial gold with his “The Latin Side of…” series. This track from the latest release is the best of the Joe Henderson tribute album, which was recorded live at the Blue Note in New York. Though the track is strong, I found it interesting that Mr. Lovano was singled out for recognition, as his is one of a number of strong solos during the 11 + minute performance. I guess it has to do with him being listed as the featured performer on the album cover. It also nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album. I think that it has a better chance in that category.


“Sleeping Giant,” Brad Mehldau, soloist: From the album Taming the Dragon – Mehlania (Nonesuch)

A track from Mehlania, the new electronic duo composed of the well-respected pianist Brad Mehldau, this time on a variety of electronic keyboards and drummer/percussionist Mark Guiliana. This is a spacey/trippy track that is for me, reminiscent of Miles circa Bitches Brew. Not really my cup of tea but I wouldn’t count it out on Grammy night due to Mehldau’s name recognition. I have to admit that if it wins, I will laugh my ass off.

So here is my unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Kenny Barron
  • Will Win: Chick Corea

Up next, will be Best Jazz Vocal Album. A category that will also likely be dominated by name recognition.