Archive for milton suggs

Male Jazz Singers – Hope for the Future

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by curtjazz

Ori DaganIn 2008 I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Hendricks for Jazz Inside Magazine. The legendary”James Joyce of Jive” was extremely generous with his time (we talked for over two hours, including his impromptu, a capella performance of his classic lyric to J.J. Johnson’s “Lament”).  He was also not shy about sharing his opinions.

One of the topics we touched on was the dearth of young male jazz singers coming up through the ranks. While we acknowledged the formidable gifts of Kurt Elling and Kevin Mahogany, we lamented the fact that there didn’t seem to be a lot of others. The young women singing jazz seem to outnumber the men by a 20:1 margin.

Mr. Hendricks offered the theory that in our 21st century culture, jazz singing is not considered a “serious profession” even in the entertainment world and that men of all stripes are pushed toward vocations that will “bring home the bacon”. Whether that is the case or not can be debated. The paucity of guys under 40 who are truly singing jazz, cannot.

However as the title of this post indicates, there is hope on the horizon. Over the past three years, there have been a number of younger men that have showed up on the scene who are quite good. Many are as versed in hip-hop as they are in the standards and they bring to the stage a sound that is fresh and promising.

Here are five that I find interesting. These are not the only five good young male jazz singers, just a few who have my ear at the moment. I have also cheated a bit in that one is slightly over 40 but he is too good to pass up because of that minor technicality.

In alphabetical order:

Ori Dagan

Born in Israel and raised in Toronto, Mr. Dagan is also a classically trained pianist. He is the best scat singer of this quintet and his improvisations, which have at times taken him from English to Hebrew and back again, are often a joy for these jaded ears. He has two albums out, which put the fun back in jazz singing: S’Cat Got My Tongue and Less Than Three

José James

The likely breakout star of this group, Mr. James has dropped successful albums on the jazz and the hip-hop sides of the street. His appearances on Letterman, Leno and other mainstream shows have helped to juice his rise. But make no mistake about it. This cat can SANG. Think of the crooning ability of Al Green mixed with jazz sensibility of Bill Henderson and you’re on the right track.  His latest album, No Beginning No End on Blue Note, is a strong mixture of multiple genres. However to really hear José James the vocalist, you should also check out For All We Know, a duet album of standards that he did in 2010 with pianist Jef Neve, on Impulse! Records.

Gregory Porter

Mr. Porter has become an “overnight sensation” at age 41. Though he doesn’t have the mainstream profile of José James, he has turned the jazz world on his ear and with his powerful yet vulnerable tenor voice, he has even made some inroads into the adult R&B world, as evidenced by his 2013 R&B Grammy nomination. His two albums 2010’s Water and last year’s Be Good are standouts, that earned a place on their respective year’s Curt’s Cafe “Best Of” list.

Milton Suggs

Chicago born, Atlanta bred and now living in NYC, Milton Suggs has garnered attention not only for his powerful baritone voice but for his impressive gifts as a lyricist, which he fully  displayed on his latest album, the appropriately titled Lyrical, Vol. 1 ( a Curt’s Cafe Best Jazz of 2012 selection).  Mr. Suggs lyrics evince a fearless creativity that is reminiscent of Jon Hendricks but with a hip-hop undercurrent that should help to keep those of his own generation listening. Definitely someone to watch. Also check out his previous album Things To Come.

Sachal Vasandani

Blessed with boyish good looks and a smooth, crooning vocal timbre. Mr. Vasandani could have easily opted to go the route of slicksters like Michael Bublé. Instead, the fact that he has toured and recorded with Mr. Hendricks and he has appeared as a guest vocalist on recent albums by artists such as Gerald Clayton and Don Braden, says a lot about Mr. Vasandani’s artistic integrity. Yes, he can sing “The Very Thought of You” in a style that is swathed in velvet but then he will turn right around and bop his way through an impressive rendition of “Monk’s Dream”; something that the Bublés of the world wouldn’t even try. Check out his two most recent albums, We Move (2009) and Hi-Fly (2011).

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2012 – The Complete List

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2012, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by curtjazz

To wrap up our discussion about our favorite jazz albums of 2012, we’ve brought everything mentioned in the three prior posts together into one comprehensive list. The link in each album title will take you to the album’s page on Amazon.com, if you’re interested in buying or downloading it.

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz of 2012 – The Complete List

In Alphabetical Order by Album Title

Album Title

Artist(s) Label
Accelerando Vijay Iyer ACT
Angelic Warrior Tia Fuller Mack Avenue
Be Good Gregory Porter Motéma
Be Still Dave Douglas Greenleaf
Black Radio Robert Glasper Experiment Blue Note
Blue Moon Ahmad Jamal Jazz Village
Claroscuro Anat Cohen Anzic
Don’t Look Back Mary Stallings HighNote
Flip The Script Orrin Evans Posi-tone
Four MFs Playin’ Tunes Branford Marsalis Marsalis Music
Girl Talk Kate McGarry Palmetto
Heritage Lionel Loueke Blue Note
House of Legends Courtney Pine Destin-E
I Carry Your Heart (Alexis Cole Sings Pepper Adams) Alexis Cole Motéma
Lyrical – Volume 1 Milton Suggs Skiptone
Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years Virginia Mayhew Renma
The Only Son of One Wayne Escoffery Sunnyside
Prisoner of Love Marianne Solivan Hipnotic
Seeds From the Underground Kenny Garrett Mack Avenue
Triveni II Avishai (Trumpet) Cohen Anzic
     
A FEW MORE GOOD THINGS    
Colombe David Reinhardt Trio 101 Distribution
Echoes of Indiana Avenue (Best Historical Album) Wes Montgomery Resonance
Hot House Chick Corea and Gary Burton Concord
Lifesize Mirror Monét Entertainment One
Radio Music Society Esperanza Spalding Heads-Up / Concord
     
2011 Album Revisited    
Keep It Movin’ Shimrit Shoshan

Self-Release / CD Baby

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2012 – Part II

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2012, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2012 by curtjazz

Here’s Part II of the list of our favorite jazz albums of 2012. Like Part I, these are in alphabetical order, by album title:

Girl Talk – Kate McGarry (Palmetto)

kate mcgarryComing from the same musical place as Gretchen Parlato and to a lesser extent, Norah Jones, Ms. McGarry has determinedly carved out her own niche as a vocalist.  Her appealing voice and fun way with a lyric made me a fan when I first heard her on her 2007 disc, Target. Now with Girl Talk, she has fulfilled the mature promise that some of her previous works hinted at. Backed by a terrific band which includes the incomparable Gary Versace on organ and piano, her hubby, Keith Ganz on guitars, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Clarence Penn, this album is billed as Ms. McGarry’s tribute to some of her vocal role models, which is ironic, because I find this to be her most individual work to date.

Heritage – Lionel Loueke (Blue Note)

Lionel Loueke

Another highly anticipated disc that delivered the goods, Heritage brought together the guitarist from Benin, with his label mate Robert Glasper as producer. This brought about a change in a number of ways – gone was the nylon string acoustic guitar that had so defined Loueke’s sound in the past. In its place were electric guitars and a steel string acoustic. Glasper also brought along his “Experiment” band members, Derek Hodge on bass and Mark Guiliana on drums. The resulting sound added an exciting tension to Loueke’s sound between Loueke’s serene guitar and Yoruba vocalizing and the electric funk elements added by Mr. Glasper and company. That tension produced many compelling musical moments, such as the haunting “Tribal Dance”, which has made it impossible to me to take this disc out of my CD changer.

House of Legends – Courtney Pine (Destin-E)

Courtney PineCourtney Pine first caught the attention of the jazz world with his 1986 release Journey to the Urge WithinIt hit right in the midst of the “Young Lions” craze of the ‘80’s/’90’s. The press quickly dubbed Mr. Pine “The New Coltrane”; a daunting title to hang on anyone. Mr. Pine confounded those who labeled him by going off wherever his musical muse took him. Now in 2012, the muse takes the London native to House of Legends, on which he embraces his Jamaican roots more than on any project of his 25 year career. It’s a joyous album, from beginning to end, with Mr. Pine, who appears only soprano, blowing terrific lines over meringue, ska, calypso and mento rhythms. Imagine if Sonny Rollins had taken his calypso flirtations to their fullest extent and you’ll get the idea. This album put a smile on my face. 

I Carry Your Heart – Alexis Cole (Motéma)

alexis cole

That Pepper Adams was one of the great baritone saxophone players in jazz is indisputable. However the fact that he was a prolific composer has gone virtually unnoticed.  Jazz historian Gary Carner set out to right that wrong in conjunction with Motéma Records. The result is a monumental five-volume set that celebrates Adams, the composer. For Volume 5, Carner worked with poet Barry Wallenstein, who added lyrics to Adams seven ballads. They then engaged Alexis Cole, a marvelous, if underheard vocalist to sing these songs. I Carry Your Heart, the resulting album, is excellent in every way. Adams’ music is beautiful, Wallenstein’s lyrics fit the tunes like a glove and Ms. Cole gives delivers the finest performances that I’ve heard from her to date. The band that backs this session is also outstanding, with special kudos going to Eric Alexander and Pat LaBarbera, who are their usual exceptional selves on the tenor.

Lyrical – Vol. 1 – Milton Suggs (Skiptone)

Milton Suggs

I’ve spent much of the last few years lamenting the lack of promising new male jazz vocal talent. I’ve even discussed the issue with Jon Hendricks when I interviewed him a few years back. His answer was quite interesting, but too long to discuss here. Now suddenly, in the last few years, I’ve seen binders full of talented male vocalists make themselves known; Ori Dagan, Sachal Vasandani, José James and Mr. Milton Suggs. Suggs, Chicago born and now NYC based, has perhaps kept the lowest profile of the four, but he has released the most impressive recent album. On Lyrical, Vol. 1, Mr. Suggs wraps his big baritone voice around lyrics that he has written, to some well-known (“Ceora”, “Footprints”) and not so well-known (Roy Hargrove’s “Joy Is Sorrow Unmasked”) compositions. Suggs takes a few risks, such as overdubbing himself as his own background vocalist, which works very well most of the time. But the hits far outweigh the misses. Suggs is an excellent vocalist and a very good lyricist. The bottom line is that I have not stopped listening to this album since it arrived in my mailbox and that’s what sets it apart from the rest.

Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years – Virginia Mayhew (Renma)

virginia mayhew

The legendary pianist Mary Lou Williams would have turned 100 in 2010. There have been a number of tributes to her over the past few years. This one by tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew is IMO, the most thorough and the most musically impressive. Ms. Mayhew did exhaustive research. She was given full access to the Mary Lou Williams Collection at the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies. She then listened to over 200 of Ms. Williams’ compositions before choosing her favorites and beginning her arrangements. What makes this album so strong is that Ms. Mayhew clearly set out to write modern, energetic arrangements and avoid staid recreations. The music here sounds as exciting as if were written last week, instead of seventy years ago, as is the case in a few instances. Ms. Mayhew has a big expressive tone and she attacks her solos with gusto. She also has recruited a couple of partners who are every bit her equal in trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and guitarist Ed Cherry. Though Mary Lou Williams passed away over thirty years ago, Mayhew and company make her music live.

The Only Son of One – Wayne Escoffery (Sunnyside)

wayne escoffery

Wayne Escoffery is one of the busiest tenor saxophonists in New York. Besides his work with Tom Harrell, Ben Riley, Eric Reed and the LCJO, he also still records some fine sets as a leader, of which The Only Son of One, is certainly one of the best. On this album, Mr. Escoffery tells a bit of his own story. He was born in a tough section of London. His mother left his abusive, Jamaican-born father and fled to the U.S. when Wayne, their only child, was eight.  They arrived in the States with nothing and got by for many years on their wits and determination.  The titles of the songs tell the story of his upbringing, the tough times, his spirituality and how they all shaped Wayne. His playing is passionate and captivating. Though he still shows traces of Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter in his playing, he has grown to a point his own style is in the forefront and it is quite impressive.

Prisoner of Love – Marianne Solivan (Hipnotic)

marianne solivan

I was listening to Prisoner of Love for the first time. About halfway through I muttered to myself “Where did this woman come from? How could I have missed her?” The Queens, NY native seems to have come out of nowhere and she has captured many an ear. Some have compared Marianne Solivan to Geri Southern and Julie London. I can agree with that only in regards to the timbre of her voice, for even on her ballads, Ms. Solivan swings harder than either of those two legendary chanteuses. On this album, produced by trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, Ms. Solivan and Mr. Pelt display excellent judgment by surrounding the singer with some of the best musicians on the East Coast (Peter Bernstein, Christian McBride, Xavier Davis, et al) and selecting a standard repertoire that fits her voice like a glove. Among many highlights are Solivan’s two duets with McBride, a situation that could crush a lesser talent. But on “All or Nothing at All” and “Day Dream”, Ms. Solivan rises to the occasion and not only holds her own, but shines with the confidence of a star, which she very well may be.

Seeds from the Underground – Kenny Garrett (Mack Avenue)

kenny garrett

In a career that has spanned fifteen solo albums over three decades, Kenny Garrett has been all over the musical map, moving from big band, to hard bop to a stint with Miles, to being a first call sideman and creator of a musical oeuvre that has rarely remained in the same place for too long. It’s no surprise then, that Mr. Garrett has had a considerable number of musical influences.  On Seeds from the Underground, he pays homage to those who have planted the musical seeds that have aided his development into one of the most formidable artists of his generation.  Mr. Garrett put a lot of himself, artistically and personally, into this album and that effort has paid off with impressive results. Seeds from the Underground is the finest album that Kenny Garrett has released in the 21st Century and is one of the best of his career.

Triveni II – Avishai Cohen [Trumpet] – (Anzic)

avishai cohen

Avishai Cohen’s last album as a leader, Introducing Triveni, made our list last year as the album that I had missed in 2010. When I heard that at the same two-day session as Introducing Triveni, enough music for a second album was recorded and that it was going to be released, I was determined not to miss this one. I’m pleased to report that Triveni II is not an album of outtakes. It is every bit as good as its predecessor. Born and raised in Tel-Aviv, Mr. Cohen, the brother of Anat Cohen, has made a name for himself in jazz despite having a well-known sister and having the same name as another Israeli jazz musician, which is why “trumpet” is often included as a part of his name. This session, which again features bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits, is another tour de force, where the trumpeter seems to relish the freedom of having no other melody instrument in the group. It’s a thrilling and creative set, one that I predict many serious young trumpeters will try to emulate.

Though this concludes our top twenty, there is still a bit more ahead. Our next post will include a handful of very good albums that should also be heard, a terrific historical album and our “missed” album from 2011, which this year isn’t so much missed as it is poignantly revisited.

The music from all twenty “Best of” albums and the additional discs, can be heard on our internet station Curt’s Café Noir, starting on December 27, 2012 and continuing through January 2013.  As always, agreement and disagreement is welcome in the comments section. I approve them all, except spam and naked self promotion.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Glorious Kwanza and Happy New Year to all – until the next time – The Jazz Continues!