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Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (Second Half) – Instrumental Albums: Closer Look – Pt. 1

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, CD Reviews, curtjazz radio with tags , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2018 by curtjazz

don't blinkAmong the first six of the eleven albums and one EP, on our second half of 2017 “Best Of” list: We have one of the great big bands in contemporary jazz, another one that may grab that title, one day; another striking work from an artist who for me, represents jazz’s bright future; and a another interesting concept album, from an artist who never seems to run out of fresh ideas.

In alphabetical order:

Bringin’ It – Christian McBride Big Band (Mack Avenue)

Perhaps in emulation of one of his musical heroes, James Brown, bassist Christian McBride has become the hardest working man in jazz. In addition to his killer trio, his small group (Inside Straight), his popular show on Sirius/XM and his appearances as an unofficial ambassador of jazz, Mr. McBride has returned, with his big band, for the first time in six years. And he has returned with a funky vengeance, as Bringin’ It, smokes, from the first notes of the hot, Brown-influenced “Gettin’ to It”, to the last notes of the Steve Davis flag waver, “Optimism”. McBride demonstrates that he has developed into a first-rate large ensemble chart writer, as he arranged nine of the albums eleven tracks and I didn’t hear a false note or a cliché, in any of them. Bringin’ It is a breath of fresh air, in an often moribund genre. I just hope we don’t have to wait another six years for the next album.

Don’t Blink – Unhinged Sextet (OA2)

Take six cats, from different parts of the U.S., who are all first-rate composers, arrangers, educators and (of course) musicians; bring them together every few years, in the studio, to kick around some ideas; shake well and you’ve got musical fire. That is Unhinged Sextet; the best little straight-ahead group that you’ve probably never heard of. Their second album, Don’t Blink, picks up where their first, Clarity, left off, except it swings harder and the writing is stronger; those two things alone, put it on my best of list. There are no frills and no stars, just boss level musicians, at the top of their game and playing solid post-bop jazz. Strong solos that are never too long and a good mix of uptempo and ballads. More, please! Now if we could just get them out of the damn studio and on the live stage.

Handful of Keys – Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis (Blue Engine)

Wynton and the JALCO drop their second outstanding album of the year. Where the first featured one pianist in tribute to the music of another, this one features several great pianists, of all ages, in tribute to the magnificence of the instrument itself. Click HERE to read our full review.

Harmony of Difference (EP) – Kamasi Washington (Young Turks)

Saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s follow-up to his stunning debut album, Epic, is a lot shorter but every bit as good. Click HERE to read our full review.

Honey and Salt – Matt Wilson (Palmetto)

There are very few jazz artists working today, who could successfully pull off the marriage of the Prairie Americana of the poetry of Carl Sandburg and the spare rhythms of modern jazz. Percussion master Matt Wilson proves that he is up to the task. He shares a common Illinois background with the great poet and a distant familial relationship, by marriage. He is also a longtime admirer and student of Sandburg, so Mr. Wilson has a personal attachment to the words and he and his group of regular cohorts, create musical bed that fit like a glove. What is ultra-hip is the appearance of some of the biggest jazz artists of today, such as Christian McBride, John Scofield, Joe Lovano, Rufus Reid, Bill Frisell and Carla Bley; not on their instruments but as readers of the words of Sandburg. This is a set that is jazzy, edgy, folksy, spare, lush, humorous and introspective – just like the poetry of the man himself.

Hybrido (from Rio to Wayne Shorter) – Antonio Adolfo (AAM)

One of the great, sleeper discs of 2017. Released on the small AAM label, this terrific date by the veteran Brazilian pianist was easy to miss and I almost did. What a shame that would have been. For I’ve heard Latin/Brazilian interpretations of the great Wayne Shorter’s music many times before but this is the most natural experience of them all. Mr. Adolfo and company have taken Shorter’s music to Rio; trusting their musicianship and the quality of the original material to carry the day. At the keyboard, Mr. Adolfo touch has always reminded me of a Brazilian version of Ahmad Jamal – soulful and swinging but with an overarching lightness of touch. And like Jamal, Adolfo has only gotten better with age. The tunes here come from IMO, Mr. Shorter’s most fertile compositional period, his years with Blue Note. And there are stimulating interpretations of Shorter classics, such as “Footprints”, “Black Nile”, “Speak No Evil” and “E.S.P.”. It is a very personal, very beautiful and very enjoyable, tribute.

The next post will include looks at our final six top instrumental albums of 2017. You can hear tracks from these albums and more, on the new CurtJazz Radio, on 

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.


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


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:



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 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.

Best Jazz Albums I Heard in 2016

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2016, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2017 by curtjazz

melissa-morganLet’s start with a confession: I got to hear fewer jazz albums this year than in any year in the past two decades. Which is a shame, because there was a TON of worthwhile music released during the year. My crazy schedule in 2016 often limited me to snippets or tracks from discs that I vowed to get back to, but never did.  So, here’s my list of the best albums that I actually got to hear during the year. Also, there’s a track from an extremely promising young artist, who needs to put more on the market, ASAP; a couple of outstanding 2015 releases that didn’t catch my ear until 2016; and finally, a few of the many fine 2016 releases that I plan to catch up with in January:

ArtScience Robert Glasper Blue Note
Back Home Melissa Aldana Wommusic
Beginning of a Memory Matt Wilson Palmetto
Book of Intuition Kenny Barron Trio Impulse
Chasing After the Wind Gregory Tardy Steeplechase
Convergence Warren Wolf Mack Avenue
Days Like This Melissa Morgan CD Baby
Do Your Dance Kenny Garrett Mack Avenue
Feet in the Mud Mimi Jones Hot Tone
In Movement DeJohnette, Coltrane and Garrison ECM
Jersey Cat Freddie Hendrix Sunnyside
Live at Maxwell’s DE3 Sunnyside
Nihil Novi Marcus Strickland Revive/Blue Note
Notes from New York Bill Charlap Impulse
Once and Future Brian Charette Posi-Tone
Perfection Murray, Allen and Carrington Motema
Presented by the Side Door Jazz Club Black Art Jazz Collective Sunnyside
Restless Idealism Roxy Coss Origin
Soul Tree Ed Cherry Posi-Tone
The Sound of Red Rene Marie Motema
Stranger Days Adam O’Farrill Sunnyside
Take Me to the Alley Gregory Porter Blue Note
TriAngular III Ralph Peterson Trio Onyx/Truth Revolution
The Way We Play Marquis Hill Concord
Written in The Rocks Renee Rosnes Smoke Sessions

2016’s most compelling single in search of an album:

  • “Chicken Day” – Harvey Cummings II

Two 2015 albums (heard in 2016) that deserved to be on last year’s list:

  • Back to the City – Amos Hoffman (CD Baby)
  • Some Morning – Kim Nazarian (CD Baby)

Probably excellent 2016 albums that I look forward to hearing as soon as possible:

#KnowingIsHalfTheBattle Orrin Evans Smoke Sessions
Away With You Mary Halvorson Octet Firehouse 12
Day Breaks Norah Jones Blue Note
Habana Dreams Pedrito Martinez Group Motema
Harlem on My Mind Catherine Russell Jazz Village
Inner Spectrum of Variables Tyshawn Sorey Pi
Madera Latino Brian Lynch Hollistic Music Works
San Jose Suite Etienne Charles Culture Shock
Something Gold, Something Blue Tom Harrell High Note
Upward Spiral Branford Marsalis Okeh




Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 2 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , on December 27, 2014 by curtjazz

Somi - The Lagos Music SalonThe second post in the Best of 2014 series includes a look at recent albums from two of the best trumpet players under 40 in jazz today. We also have a disc from a veteran piano great who has overcome a tremendous amount of personal adversity to continue to produce world-class music. There is a hip drum master who has teamed with a jam band king on a mix of outside leaning originals with unexpected covers. Finally, there is a vocalist who sought to get in touch with her roots and in so doing, found musical excellence.

  • Face Forward, Jeremy – Jeremy Pelt (HighNote) – 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. (See our full review from Jazz Inside Magazine HERE)
  • Floating – Fred Hersch Trio (MRI) – While I’ve always greatly respected Fred Hersch as an artist, I admit that I haven’t always loved his recordings. That said, Floating is my favorite Fred Hersch album, to date. The easy rapport between Mr. Hersch and his trio mates (John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums), the interesting re-imaginings of a couple of standards mixed in among top drawer originals and the overall peaceful but not languid vibe made this an album I returned to many times over the course of the year.
  • Gathering Call – Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski (Palmetto) – One thing that I’ve always loved about Matt Wilson is that he makes serious music with an underlying wink. You gotta love a cat that will cover a relatively obscure Ellington track (“You Dirty Dog”), next to a recent Beyoncé hit (“If I Were a Boy”) and manage to play them both without irony. Medeski fits right in among Wilson’s usually pianoless group and sounds as if he has been there for years. The music flirts with the outer edges of convention but like a great roller coaster, pulls you back just before you go over the edge. Gathering Call is a fun trip.  
  • Im.Pro.Vise (Never Before Seen) – Sean Jones (Mack Avenue) – On this album, Sean Jones continues to do what he does best; turn out solid, hard swinging post bop jazz in the tradition of Miles’ last great quartet, which by extension also places him in the company of his LCJO mentor, Wynton Marsalis. While others have played in this vibe before, Mr. Jones does it with an elan that few of his contemporaries have, which separates this album from the pack. And the interplay between Jones and his longtime piano partner Orrin Evans is virtually telepathic.  Im.Pro.Vise (Never Before Seen) is a terrific live in studio blowing session that crackles with the energy of a great club set.
  • The Lagos Music Salon – Somi (OKeh) – Born in Illinois to Ugandan and Rwandan parents, Somi, an elegant, captivating and criminally underheard vocalist decided after her father’s death, to spend 18 months living in Lagos, Nigeria. The result is this stunning album, which gives us a mix of various African musical styles, American Jazz and R & B. The guest appearances by Angelique Kidjo, Common and Ambrose Akinmusire are perfectly placed. The storytelling, the intoxicating beats and the memorable compositions make Lagos Music Salon an indelible album. It’s without a doubt, the best of Somi’s career.

The next post, Part III, will cover albums 11 – 15 in our alphabetical “Best Of” 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…