Archive for orrin evans

2019 Jazz Grammy Nominations

Posted in 2019 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2019 by curtjazz

Usually I drop this list of jazz (and jazz-related) nominees, on the day of the nominations but we’re still about a month from the awards, so I figured I still had some time.

Interesting mix this year of nominees; some usual suspects and some first-timers. I will be dropping my thoughts and predictions for each category, periodically, over the next few weeks, leading up to the ceremony on Sunday, February 10.

The nominees are:

Best Improvised Jazz Solo
For an instrumental jazz solo performance. Two equal performers on one recording may be eligible as one entry. If the soloist listed appears on a recording billed to another artist, the latter’s name is in parenthesis for identification. Singles or Tracks only.

SOME OF THAT SUNSHINE
Regina Carter, soloist
Track from: Some Of That Sunshine (Karrin Allyson)

DON’T FENCE ME IN
John Daversa, soloist
Track from: American Dreamers: Voices Of Hope, Music Of Freedom (John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists)

WE SEE
Fred Hersch, soloists

DE-DAH
Brad Mehldau, soloist
Track from: Seymour Reads The Constitution! (Brad Mehldau Trio)

CADENAS
Miguel Zenón, soloist
Track from: Yo Soy La Tradición (Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet)

Best Jazz Vocal Album

MY MOOD IS YOU
Freddy Cole

THE QUESTIONS
Kurt Elling

THE SUBJECT TONIGHT IS LOVE
Kate McGarry, Keith Ganz, Gary Versace

IF YOU REALLY WANT
Raul Midón With The Metropole Orkest Conducted By Vince Mendoza

THE WINDOW
Cécile McLorin Salvant

Best Jazz Instrumental Album

DIAMOND CUT
Tia Fuller

LIVE IN EUROPE
Fred Hersch Trio

SEYMOUR READS THE CONSTITUTION!
Brad Mehldau Trio

STILL DREAMING
Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley & Brian Blade

EMANON
The Wayne Shorter Quartet

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

ALL ABOUT THAT BASIE
The Count Basie Orchestra Directed By Scotty Barnhart

AMERICAN DREAMERS: VOICES OF HOPE, MUSIC OF FREEDOM
John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists

PRESENCE
Orrin Evans And The Captain Black Big Band

ALL CAN WORK
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble

BAREFOOT DANCES AND OTHER VISIONS
Jim McNeely & The Frankfurt Radio Big Band

Best Latin Jazz Album
The intent of this category is to recognize recordings that represent the blending of jazz with Latin, Iberian-American, Brazilian, and Argentinian tango music.

HEART OF BRAZIL
Eddie Daniels

BACK TO THE SUNSET
Dafnis Prieto Big Band

WEST SIDE STORY REIMAGINED
Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band

CINQUE
Elio Villafranca

YO SOY LA TRADICIÓN
Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet

Best Contemporary Instrumental Album
(aka Best Contemporary Jazz Album)

THE EMANCIPATION PROCRASTINATION
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

STEVE GADD BAND
Steve Gadd Band

MODERN LORE
Julian Lage

LAID BLACK
Marcus Miller

PROTOCOL 4
Simon Phillips

Best Instrumental Composition
A Composer’s Award for an original composition (not an adaptation) first released during the Eligibility Year. Singles or Tracks only.

BLUT UND BODEN (BLOOD AND SOIL)
Terence Blanchard, composer (Terence Blanchard)

CHRYSALIS
Jeremy Kittel, composer (Kittel & Co.)

INFINITY WAR
Alan Silverstri, composer (Alan Silvestri)

MINE MISSION
John Powell & John Williams, composers (John Powell & John Williams)

THE SHAPE OF WATER
Alexandre Desplat, composer (Alexandre Desplat)

Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella
An Arranger’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.) Singles or Tracks only.

BATMAN THEME (TV)
Randy Waldman & Justin Wilson, arrangers (Randy Waldman Featuring Wynton Marsalis)

CHANGE THE WORLD
Mark Kibble, arranger (Take 6)

MADRID FINALE
John Powell, arranger (John Powell)

THE SHAPE OF WATER
Alexandre Desplat, arranger (Alexandre Desplat)

STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER
John Daversa, arranger (John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists)

Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals
An Arranger’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.) Singles or Tracks only.

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR
Matt Rollings & Kristin Wilkinson, arrangers (Willie Nelson)

JOLENE
Dan Pugach & Nicole Zuraitis, arrangers (Dan Pugach)

MONA LISA
Vince Mendoza, arranger (Gregory Porter)

NIÑA
Gonzalo Grau, arranger (Magos Herrera & Brooklyn Rider)

SPIDERMAN THEME
Mark Kibble, Randy Waldman & Justin Wilson, arrangers (Randy Waldman Featuring Take 6 & Chris Potter)

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:

ALBUM ARTIST LABEL
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:

ALBUM ARTIST LABEL
#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 2015: A Closer Look – Part 2 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2015 with tags , , , , , , on December 29, 2015 by curtjazz

 

The  next five albums in our Best of 2015 include a second album from a singer-songwriter who lays waste to the sophomore jinx; a couple of albums from saxophonists demonstrating that hip-hop influenced jazz is coming into its own and in impressive fashion; another in a long line of excellent albums from one of the best under 40 jazz pianists around, and a striking second album from a veteran trumpeter, coming 15 years after his first.

In that overcrowded arena known as “female jazz singers”, Seattle-based Eugenie Jones manages to stand apart from the crowd. Where many will make a passing nod to jazz and then run to the relative safety of R&B and Pop; Ms. Jones has planted herself firmly as a jazz singer. While most will also stick to the safety of covering well-worn standards, Ms. Jones has filled both of her outstanding albums with her own engaging compositions. This fact alone differs differentiates Eugenie, as she is one of the very few African-American women singer-songwriters in jazz today. And finally, the lady can sing as well as she can write, which makes the deeply personal Come Out Swingin’, a refreshing slice of adult oriented mind candy. Eugenie Jones has released two first-rate albums in the last three years and she is an intelligent, thoughtful composer in the tradition of Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone. Fans of true jazz singing, it’s time for you to sit up and take notice.

Let me start by stating that this album is “funky like nine cans of shaving powder” (with much respect to the Ohio Players).

On this, his third album, tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis delivers copious doses of pure groove. Like his previous acclaimed disk, Divine Travels, Days of FreeMan is a trio date; and oh what a trio it is! Lewis is joined by Rudy Royston on drums (he seems to be everywhere these days) and an unappreciated “free funk” master, the great Jamaaladeen Tacuma, on bass. To prep for this project, Mr. Lewis spent hours shedding with the albums of KRS-One, Tribe Called Quest, Don Cherry and Medeski, Martin & Wood, among others. His concept was to have his sax act not as a singer but in the role of a hip-hop MC, while Tacuma and Royston dropped killer beats behind him. And it works! The album is in parts jazz, funk, hip-hop, avant-garde and so much more. Mr. Lewis takes what was Miles striving to accomplish with On The Corner and updates it for the 21st century. Days of FreeMan is wondrously creative and stankingly funky, at the same time.

  • The Epic – Kamasi Washington (Brainfeeder)

Kamasi Washington has had quite a year. His saxophone work on hip-hop star Kendrick Lamar’s groundbreaking album To Pimp a Butterfly, has led to Washington being hailed as “The John Coltrane of Hip-Hop”. He followed that triumph with the release of his own debut album, a 3 CD set, appropriately titled The EpicIt has achieved the rare feat of captivating traditional jazz fans and hip-hop fans alike.   What makes this music spectacular is the wide musical palette it touches. Washington uses multiple bassists and drummers on some tracks as well as a 32 piece orchestra and a 20 voice choir. The sound is understandably big at times, reminding me of Max Roach’s and Donald Byrd’s acclaimed voice choir albums of the sixties. It is also beautifully intimate, especially when Washington or trumpeter Ingmar Thomas take the lead on some of the ballads. And despite the album’s length, it rarely feels like excess. It sounds like an extremely talented young cat, laying down the ideas that he has been storing up for years. The Epic is raw, soulful, beautiful and well worth your time.

Orrin Evans seems to have staked out an annual spot (or two) on our Best Of list. The reason is simple – he is one of the best jazz pianists around, under the age of 40. Whether in big band, small group or trio settings like this one, Mr. Evans swings hard and makes you listen when he solos. Evans is also continuing to grow as a composer, with a triumvirate of his pieces, the reflective, “Ruby Red”, the angular, breathless “Tsagli’s Lean” and the soulfully cool “Professor Farworthy”, standing apart as highlights of this album. There’s also the welcome presence of guitarist Marvin Sewell on a couple of  tracks, including a fine take on “A Secret Place” that does justice to the late Grover Washington, Jr. The Evolution of Oneself is another strong addition to the discography of an artist who has never made an album that was not worth repeated listening.

Full disclosure – Larry Young’s Unity is one of my “desert island” discs. So although I wasn’t very familiar with trumpeter Alex Norris and his work before Extension Deadline, he and his group had my attention from the opening notes of the title track. A Maryland native, Mr. Norris has been on the scene for a couple of decades, working mostly in the Latin Jazz field. His work as a leader has been fairly limited. His last album under his own name, A New Beginning, was released in 2000. On this album, he is joined by saxophonist Gary Thomas, George Colligan on the organ and Rudy Royston (yes, him again!) on the drums. Don’t be confused by the group’s name. This is not an organ blowing session, out of the Earland/McDuff  school but some damn fine post bop. There are seven hard-driving originals, including “What Happened Here?” which sounds like a lost track from Unity and one cover, a pretty version of Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem”, which gives Norris a chance to display his lyrical side. This excellent album caught me by surprise but I’m glad I noticed. I just hope that Alex Norris won’t wait another 15 years before fronting a session.

Tracks from these and all of the other albums in our Best of 2015 list can be heard on our 24/7 streaming station, Curt’s Cafe Noir, from now through most of January 2016. Click HERE to listen now.

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!

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…

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 I

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2012, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2012 by curtjazz

In another year in which another uninformed, self-important magazine writer chose to declare it dead, jazz took greater advantage than ever of social media and the internet to declare that writer like, so many who came before him, to be full of hot air. As young artists took advantages of their musical roots and influences, I saw things that made this writer very hopeful about the future of this music:  Young people came out in throngs, fist pumping and dancing at Robert Glasper’s Atlanta Jazz Festival appearance. Esperanza Spalding, Tia Fuller and Anat Cohen, released albums that demonstrated the growing power of women instrumentalists. And some veterans proved that they still “got game”.

So here in alphabetical order, are the first ten on my list of my favorite jazz albums that were released in 2012. Since I didn’t get to publish a midterm list this year, there will be another ten coming in the next post, plus a few others that are also worthy of more than several listens.

Accelerando – Vijay Iyer (ACT)

accelerando

This is Mr. Iyer’s third appearance on our list in the last four years. The pianist is releasing music on an album per year basis and each year, he manages to top his previous offering with an approach that never covers the same ground twice. On Accelerando, Iyer is back with his trio mates from 2009’s Historicity, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore and as on that now classic album, the trio delivers a mix of intricate original compositions with reworkings of little heard jazz and pop tunes. Each is fired up by Crump and Gilmore’s unshakable rhythms, which are now showing a touch of a hip-hop influence. Anyway it comes at you, Vijay Iyer has done it again and I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings.

Angelic Warrior – Tia Fuller (Mack Avenue)

tia fuller

Still known mostly for her work as the saxophonist in Beyonce’s touring band, Ms. Fuller has come home again to produce another dynamite straight ahead jazz album. Angelic Warrior leaps out of the gate with the fiery “Royston Rumble” and doesn’t let go until “Ode to Be”, the closing outro. Ms. Fuller has developed into a strong composer, as proven by “Ralphie’s Groove” and “Tailor Made” and she is also an exciting and creative soloist, who makes an uptempo medley of “So In Love” and “All of You” work like a new Rolex.  Wake up and take notice jazz world, Tia Fuller is the real deal.

Be Good – Gregory Porter (Motéma)

gregory porter

The best new hope for male jazz singers to come along in at least a decade knocked aside any thought of a sophomore jinx on this disc, which also drew some attention in the R&B/Pop idioms. It’s easy to see why. Porter has a voice that is equal parts Donny Hathaway and Al Jarreau and as a writer, he has learned how to write an irresistible hook.  Porter has married the best of jazz and soul singing by taking the best of both worlds and bringing them together in beautiful harmony. Don’t miss his towering take on “Work Song”, the melodic “When Did You Learn” and the closer, an a cappella version of “God Bless The Child”.

 Be Still – Dave Douglas (Greenleaf Music)

dave douglas

Be Still is another in a long line of brilliant and original works by Mr. Douglas. This album was born out of the hymns that Douglas’ mother requested him to play at her memorial service. After meeting Aoife O’Donovan, an ethereally voiced young singer, with bluegrass roots, Douglas began to envision an album of these hymns as a kind of folk-jazz music. The result is an album of remarkable intimacy, Ms. O’Donovan, Mr. Douglas and a quartet of up and coming young jazz stars (Jon Irabagon, Matt Mitchell, Linda Oh and Rudy Royston) create works that are starkly beautiful. Be Still manages to be reflective, even moody but never maudlin. I’ve always been someone who looks to find God in places that others don’t look. I found Him in the sincerity of the performances on this album.

Black Radio – Robert Glasper Experiment (Blue Note)

robert-glasper

This album arrived this spring on the wings of massive hype. And it delivered. Though he has amassed unquestionable credentials in the mainstream realm, Mr. Glasper has strong hip-hop roots, as you might expect from an artist of his age (34). What he has done here is taken what was hinted at on the second half of his last album, Double Booked, to its logical conclusion, with a mixture of jazz, hip-hop, R&B, neo-soul and rock. What we get is something that can’t be pigeonholed into any genre but has reached fans of many ages and musical preferences. With help from guest stars from across the musical universe, Black Radio gives us a peek at where the next generation wants to take what we called jazz. I suggest that we “Old Schoolers” get on board and enjoy the ride.

Blue Moon – Ahmad Jamal (Jazz Village)

ahmad jamal

I’ll be damned! At 81, the artist formerly known as Fritz, a man who Miles Davis called one of his greatest influences, has turned in his finest album in at least four decades.  The tracks are mostly from the Great American Songbook or jazz standards, but this is by no means a tired romp through familiar territory. What has happened is the veteran rhythm section of drummer Herlin Riley, bassist Reginald Veal and percussionist Manolo Badrena, light a percussive fire under Mr. Jamal that has clearly inspired his artistry. Their 10 minute deconstruction of “Blue Moon” will compel you to listen to it repeatedly. For a real treat, listen to Black Radio and this album back to back. You’ll realize that the generations are not that far apart at all.

Claroscuro – Anat Cohen (Anzic)

anat cohen

IMO, the finest clarinetist in jazz today, Anat Cohen takes us on a joyously eclectic stylistic tour. Through West Africa, to Brazil to swing to bop, Ms. Cohen covers a tremendous amount of ground. With fine guest spots from the great Paquito D’Rivera (a killer clarinet duet on Artie Shaw’s “Nightmare”) and a fun loving Wycliffe Gordon (on trombone and vocals), this disc did not lose my interest for one second.  And for those like me, who are big fans of Ms. Cohen’s tenor sax work, she brings the proceedings to a nice close with a rich version of Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Wedding”. In Spanish, one of the definitions of Claroscuro is “a contrast of light and shadows”. Now knowing that, I can’t think of a better title for this disc.

 

Don’t Look Back – Mary Stallings (HighNote)

mary stallings

Mary Stallings has always been one of those singers who makes you scratch your head and wonder why she isn’t more well known.  With a career that spans five decades, a still fabulous and nuanced vocal instrument and now with the great pianist Eric Reed as her musical partner, at 73, it’s not paradoxical to say that Ms. Stallings’ future is brighter than ever.  Don’t Look Back is the third album for the Stallings/Reed team and Reed by now compliments her the way that Tommy Flanagan complimented Ella.  The selection of somewhat familiar but not overexposed tunes is excellent and the intimate performances from Stallings and Reed’s trio are unhurried and flawlessly executed.

Flip the Script – Orrin Evans (Posi-Tone)

orrin evans

Orrin Evans is not only prolific; he’s damn good as well. Last year he gave us two well received albums (Captain Black Big Band and Freedom) and he’s back now with another extremely strong trio set. Like the aforementioned Tommy Flanagan, Evans is a pianist’s pianist. Whatever he plays flows effortlessly and he never seems to be phoning it in. On Flip The Script, Mr. Evans joins forces with the hard swinging bassist Ben Wolfe and the rock solid drummer Donald Evans to put together a tremendous set. These cats are deep in the pocket from first note to last. Then Evans wraps things up with a wonderful surprise, a solo piano version of the Soul Train theme “The Sound of Philadelphia”, slowed down to “last call at the bar” speed. It’s sweet icing on a beautiful cake.

Four MFs Playin’ Tunes – Branford Marsalis Quartet (Marsalis Music)

branford marsalis

One of the many beauties of this disc is that the title tells you all that you need to know.  For as much as I love Branford Marsalis, some of his recent works had drifted into the realm of blowing great sounding solos over chords, without discernible structure. It sounded impressive but sometimes left me cold. On this disc Branford, his longtime musical partners and new drummer Justin Faulkner are relaxed and having fun, with some great musical foundations to work with – “tunes”, if you will.  Branford on soprano and tenor is as impressive as ever (I’ve always considered him to be the most musically exciting of the Marsalis brothers) and he and Joey Calderazzo are by now, one musical mind. To hear them bump their way through Monk’s “Teo” is worth the price of admission all by itself. It’s back to basics and it’s all good.

Again, another ten selections will be included in the next post.  They include a few more unheralded singers making their presence known; a couple of formidable British born sax men, with different stylistic approaches and the other half of the first brother-sister duo to make our list.

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2011 – The Final List

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2011, CD Reviews, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2011 by curtjazz

About six months ago, I posted a halftime list of my favorite 2011 jazz recordings heard between January and July.  I promised to be back around now to fill out the list with what I experienced over the last six months.  My original intent was to pare that list down to a final dozen or so, spanning the entire year…

Well, I changed my mind y’all. Instead, we’re going to add another ten to that first list, making it a Top 20.  And, like last year, there was an excellent 2010 disc that I completely missed until 2011. It will be included as well.

As a reminder, here are albums from the July post. You can see/read the entire July post HERE.

So here they are, in alpha order by album title – my favorite jazz discs from the second half of this year:

Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook – Miguel Zenón (Marsalis Music) – He’s not prone to ostentatious self promotion, but this Guggenheim and MacArthur fellow has quietly become one of the most important saxophonists in jazz today.  Each of his albums has topped the previous one; taking his artistry to a new place and keeping us, the audience, on the edge of our seats. Alma Adentro, is the exploration of the music of five composers, who are unknown in the U.S. but very important in Puerto Rican musical lore. It’s not “Latin Jazz” in the sense that we’ve come to know it, but is outstanding music that broadened my horizons.

BitchesNicholas Payton (In + Out Records) – Yes, the title did make me wince a little, but the music made me smile, a lot.  This has been an interesting year for Mr. Payton, as his blunt, insightful and often profane musings have made him one of the more controversial and compelling figures in the world of jazz social media.  Not surprisingly, this album has also caused its share of controversy, raising eyebrows in the same way that In a Silent Way, another album with a dream-like vibe, did in 1969.  Payton composed every song, played every instrument and sings on many of the tracks (quite well, I might add), more than holding his own with some top-drawer guests, like Esperanza Spalding and Cassandra Wilson.  If you’re looking for “jazz” of the type that Payton played on his early Verve albums, you won’t find it here. Bitches has more in common with mid-70’s ballad driven R & B and with neo-soul. But as someone who grew up with the former and has developed a keen appreciation for the latter, I really dug this album.

Black Lace Freudian Slip – René Marie (Motema Music)

René Marie was very quiet for a while after her 2008 controversies, but she is back with a vengeance; releasing not one but two outstanding albums in 2011. The first; Voice of My Beautiful Country, (which was on our first “Best of” list) was a tribute to patriotic and traditional standards. Black Lace Freudian Slip is mostly comprised of Marie originals, including the title track, which is every bit as sly and sexy as the title suggests. The two discs may be lyrical opposites but the music on both is outstanding. Don’t try to choose between them, get them both.

For All Those Living – Sheryl Bailey (Pure Music Records)

Guitarist Sheryl Bailey gets better with every recording. She follows up last year’s impressive big band outing,  A New Promise, with a terrific quartet disc that displays her impressive chops and full-bodied swing to great advantage.  The Emily Remler comparisons are easy to make, but I think that that’s too limiting.  Sheryl Bailey has the potential to outshine her role model, whose untimely death halted her artistic growth. Bump the gender limitations; Ms. Bailey is one of the best jazz guitarists working today, period. This disc also has its heart in the right place as 20% of the proceeds from all sales will be donated to Ronald McDonald House.

The Mosaic Project – Terri Lyne Carrington (Concord Records)

As I stated in my earlier review of this album, The Mosaic Project is Terri Lyne Carrington’s most completely realized project, by a mile. It also is one of the best jazz works of the year by any artist. Click HERE to see my full post about it.

Pinnacle: Live and Unreleased from Keystone Korner – Freddie Hubbard (Resonance Records)

What a find this was by Resonance Records! Hubbard, at the top of his game in 1980 on performances compiled from summer and fall appearances at the legendary San Francisco club.  The version of “The Intrepid Fox” that opens the album, is jaw dropping. What follows is just as good, including the only known recording of Hub playing “Giant Steps”. The title says it all.

Road Shows Volume 2 – Sonny Rollins (Doxy/EmArcy)

I was one of the few who liked, but didn’t love Road Shows Volume 1; mostly because of the unevenness of the 30 years worth of performances. Volume 2’s tracks by contrast, were all recorded during 2010, most of them during Newk’s already legendary 80th birthday concert, the remaining two a month later in Japan.  Sonny is in very fine form and the guest stars, including Roy Haynes, Roy Hargrove, Jim Hall, Christian McBride and Ornette Coleman, in his first ever public performance with Rollins, all rise to the occasion. Sonny Rollins proves once again, that age ain’t nothin’ but a number.

Something Beautiful – Eric Reed (WJ3 Records)

Something Beautiful is Eric Reed doing what he does best; playing in a trio setting. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over twenty years since Reed first debuted with Wynton, but in those years he has grown from teenaged prodigy to one of the best pianists of his generation, with an impeccable melodic sense that accompanies his gospel influenced chord structure.  Something Beautiful consists mostly of songs by others, from Berlin to Brubeck to Billy Joel; all of them sounding as unsullied as if they were being played for the first time.

 

Tirtha – Vijay Iyer (ACT)

Tirtha is the self titled debut of pianist Vijay Iyer’s latest trio, which also includes tabla player Nitin Mitta and guitarist Prasanna.  As expected, the album has a strong South Asian influence, but I feel that slapping a term such as “Indian Jazz” on this music is almost insulting in its limitations.  Their sound is alive and its intricacies grow with every hearing.   Iyer has never been afraid to challenge conventions and he usually creates something fresh in the process. He and his Tirtha band mates have done so here.  In a genre often chided for being stale, Tirtha is a welcome breath of fresh air.

 

Triumph of the Heavy Volumes 1 & 2 – Marcus Strickland (Strick Music/CDBY)

Strickland is another of those young saxophonists who give me hope for the future whenever I hear him blow.  On this two disc set (gutsy for a relatively unknown artist), he brings the goods on tenor, alto, soprano and clarinet.  Disc 2 is a live trio set with Marcus’ twin brother E.J. on drums and up and coming bassist Ben Williams. They push the boundaries of convention to the limits, with a hard-driving sound that is spare, but never thin.  On Disc 1, recorded eight months later, they add David Bryant, a young Tyner influenced pianist with mad promise, to the mix.  Bryant’s angular harmonies are the main reason I have a slight preference for the studio set but it doesn’t really matter, because neither disc has left heavy rotation in my iPod since I bought them.

And a 2010 disc that I missed…

Introducing Triveni – Avishai Cohen (Anzic)

I’m continuing the tradition that I started last year of recognizing an outstanding disc released in the previous year that managed to escape my ears until the current one.  Triveni was released in September 2010. It’s a trio session led by the trumpet playing brother of Anat Cohen, who has garnered renown for her work on sax and clarinet.  Avishai Cohen is one of two Israeli jazzmen working today who share the same name (the other plays bass) and as of now, he’s the lesser known of the two.  This strong outing should do something to change that. Trumpet/bass/drums trio sessions are rare but Cohen is more than up to the task, collaborating with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits on originals and standards that mine the depths of hard bop, swing, funk with a nice dose of avant-garde as well.  Cohen is not going to bowl you over with flights into the upper register but the impressiveness of his facility and inventiveness in the mid range is worth a dozen high notes. Many thanks to Canadian journalist/pianist Peter Hum for pulling my coat about this one.

Notable Mentions

Here are a few more fine discs from 2011 that are worth a listen or ten. Don’t pass them up if you have a chance:

  • A Boy’s Journey Peter Hum Quintet (self-released) The knowledgeable and witty jazz journalist is also a very fine pianist. An impressive debut recording.
  • Parallel Lives Andrea Wolper (Jazzed Media) – This vocalist grows more impressive with each album.  Her coolly inviting mix of originals with rarely heard standards are a perfect tonic for a tough world. 
  • State of Art – Ben Williams (Concord Jazz) – The Monk Competition winner drops a formidable blend of the new and the traditional on his first disc.  It’s fresh, it’s exciting and I want to hear more.
  • Sweet Thunder (Duke & Shak) – Delfeayo Marsalis (Troubador Jass) – Delfeayo does The Duke proud on this hard-swinging octet version of Such Sweet Thunder. It’s the year’s best album from someone named Marsalis (Read the full review post HERE)
  • When the Heart Emerges Glistening  Ambrose Akinmusire (Blue Note) – A rare case of a much-hyped major label debut living up to expectations. Akinmusire is the real deal; and the greatest thing is that he’s nobody’s clone.

And that’s how things looked this year from my “plush” Charlotte studio/mancave.  Tracks from these albums and more will be heard on Curt’s Café WebJazz Radio, starting on December 27 and continuing on through the month of January.  Your thoughts, comments and criticisms are always welcome and your spam is always deleted.

Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts this year. I don’t take your support for granted. I hope you’ll stick around for what I expect will be an interesting 2012.

A Happy and Healthy Holiday Season to all of you. 

Until the next time, the jazz continues…

Favorite Jazz Albums of 2011 (So Far)

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2011, CD Reviews, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2011 by curtjazz

Since I was shamefully late with my best of list for 2010, I figured why wait ‘til the last minute this year…

But seriously, there has been some fine jazz released so far in 2011. We’ve had some great releases from reliable veterans as well as some surprises from relative newcomers.  Here are a few of the discs that have caught my ear during between January and June. They are listed in alphabetical order, by album title:

Bird Songs – Joe Lovano & Us Five (Blue Note) – Released in early January, this disc got the year off to a strong start. Yes, there are many Charlie Parker tribute albums, but Lovano and the band (James Weidman, Esperanza Spalding, Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela), have managed to find something fresh, new and exciting in these tunes that we have heard more times that we can count. In addition, in the two years since their last disc, their sound has grown more cohesive.  If Joe Lovano isn’t the best tenor player of his generation, then he’s definitely in the top two.

Campo Belo – Anthony Wilson (Goat Hill)Recorded in Sao Paulo, Brazil, last September, with three very gifted young Brazilian musicians; Campo Belo counts as one of the most pleasant surprises of the first half of the year.  It’s not a Brazilian record in the sense that we have come to know it, and therein lays a great deal of its charm.  It never sounds forced or self-conscious; it’s just a bunch of cats that dig each other’s style, sitting down to play. It’s a heady vibe that will grow on you with each listen.

 

Captain Black Big Band – Orrin Evans (Posi-Tone)Hold on to your hats on this one. Evans, the Philly bred pianist has dropped on us a band that’s as big, brash and badass as it wants to be.  It was born out of Evans’ regular gigging at Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia.  The glorious result is 38 musicians,  from The Big Apple and The City of Brotherly Love, in various configurations; blowing their hearts out on seven tracks. Soloists include Wayne Escoffery, Tim Warfield, Jaleel Shaw and the great trombonist Frank Lacy. It may not be your father’s big band, but it should be yours.

Good and Bad Memories – Stacy Dillard (Criss Cross)Though people have pulled my coat about him in the past, I’d somehow managed to sleep on this Michigan native until this album, his fifth as a frontman.  It’s definitely my loss. His sound on tenor and soprano is restless, powerful and exciting as all hell.  With support from a band that includes Orrin Evans, and guitarist Craig Magnano anchoring a non-traditional front line, Stacy Dillard proves to be a force to be reckoned with, as a player and as a composer. When speaking of Mr. Dillard, Wynton Marsalis eloquently exclaims “This MF can PLAY!” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

The Lost and Found Gretchen Parlato (ObliqSound)Ms. Parlato is another artist who gets better with each successive release.  This album is a dreamy mix of gorgeous originals like “Winter Wind”, with inventive takes on jazz classics, like “Juju” and “Blue in Green”, with totally unexpected and effective uses of more recent works, including Mary J. Blige’s “All That I Can Say”. Not everyone digs her style, but I sure do. Gretchen Parlato is one of jazz singing’s best hopes for the future.

Ninety Miles – Stefon Harris; David Sanchez and Christian Scott (Concord Picante) – One of the most anticipated jazz releases of the first half of the year, lives up to the hype.  Harris, Sanchez, Scott and their Cuban sidemen have bridged the political nonsense to create some powerful and enduring music. They are a true collective, as all support each other as powerfully as they solo.  Grammys be damned, Ninety Miles is some award worthy Latin Jazz.

No Need for Words – Sean Jones (Mack Avenue) Trumpeter Sean Jones’ latest, is an album of love songs; not in the traditional romantic sense, but rather it’s about all of the different emotional aspects that visit us when we love, in any way. So, there are songs about a mother’s love, forgiveness for an absent father, spiritual love, physical passion, unhealthy obsession and yes, romance. His writing is very strong and his band is rock solid. On No Need for Words, Jones makes a statement that is personal, powerful and compelling.

This Side of Strayhorn – Terell Stafford (MaxJazz) The veteran trumpet man flat-out cooks from start to finish on this tribute to the works of one of jazz’s greatest composers.  He tackles the well-known (“Lush Life”) and the obscure (“Lana Turner”) parts of the Strayhorn catalog with creativity and gusto. His tone is as good as it has ever been as Stafford flutters, sings and growls his around Strayhorn’s music as if the songs were written just for him.  With stalwarts like Tim Warfield and Bruce Barth joining him, they manage to make great tunes even greater.

 

Victory J.D. Allen (Sunnyside) In general, I have not been a big fan of sax trios, outside of Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson.  J.D. Allen is one of handful of relative newcomers who are causing me to reconsider.  Here’s what made me fall in love: first – Victory is stocked with short, powerful statements.  No one track exceeds five minutes in length, leaving less room for the self-indulgent rambling that often plagues trio projects. Second – J.D. Allen is a prodigiously gifted musician; adept at flirting outrageously with the avant-garde without going all the way.  Third – a delightful rendition of “Stairway to the Stars”, that appears out of nowhere. Kudos to Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, who are just as important to this album’s success.

 

Voice of My Beautiful Country René Marie (Motema) By now, most jazz fans are familiar with the incident that birthed the concept for this album. Invited to sing the National Anthem at a 2008 Denver political event, Ms. Marie instead chose to sing the words of “The Star Spangled Banner”, to the melody of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” (aka “The Black National Anthem”). Though the rendition was stunning, the fallout was immediate and harsh, on all sides of the political and racial spectrum. It nearly derailed Ms. Marie’s promising career.  Now in her first full album release since the incident, René Marie proves that she’s back with a vengeance. Voice of My Beautiful Country is a flat-out artistic triumph; as it covers the spectrum of great American songwriting, from homespun Americana, like “John Henry” to rock classics (“White Rabbit”) to a surprisingly effective medley of “Imagination” and “Just My Imagination” to the unforgettable “Voice of My Beautiful Country Suite”, which includes another “Star Spangled Banner”/”Lift Ev’ry Voice…” mashup. René Marie has been called the natural successor to Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln and other socially conscious jazz singers. The comparison is fitting.

Honorable Mention must go to Brian Lynch’s Unsung Heroes, an album released on CD in 2011, which would be at the top of this list, except for the fact that it appeared on the 2010 year-end list, after it was released late last year in digital form only. Nevertheless, it’s so good that we’ve got to at least mention it again, just in case you’ve missed it.

I also need to remind everyone that this list represents releases that I’ve heard during the first six month of this year. All, some or none of these albums may be on the year-end list, as I hear newer releases, catch up with stuff from the first six months that I haven’t heard yet (such as Branford Marsalis & Joey Calderazzo’s Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, Ben Williams’ State of Art and Vijay Iyer’s Tirtha, all of which are at the top of my very long “to get to” list), or simply change my mind, which is a jazz geek’s prerogative.

I hope that you’ll use this list as an excuse to check out something that you haven’t heard. Agreements, disagreements and additional suggestions are always welcomed.

Until the next time, the jazz continues…