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Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015: Final Thoughts

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2015 by curtjazz
Diane Schuur takes the stage (Photo by John Davenport)

Diane Schuur takes the stage (Photo by John Davenport)

Some final thoughts on this year’s Atlanta Jazz Festival…

Some very strong performances this year and I love the infusion of more of the younger generation of jazz artists. Continuing this pattern bodes well for the AJF’s future.

The frustrating part is (and always will be) the fact that it is impossible to catch all of the great groups on the three stages. This year I stuck mostly to the Main Stage to keep from fighting the huge crowds. I managed to catch a few terrific sets at the International Stage but I know that I missed so much more…

Top Performances that I saw:

  1. Four Women (Kathleen Bertrand, Julie Dexter, Terry Harper and the show stealing Rhonda Thomas) a tribute to Nina Simone – Wow…Oh Wow!!! These ladies and the support provided by their musical director Russell Gunn were simply amazing. And the fact that Ms. Simone’s sister was in the audience made it even better.
  2. Otis Brown III – Brother Brown mixed the sacred and the secular into an all-encompassing groove. Big up for the horns – Marquis Hill on trumpet and John Ellis on tenor!
  3. Banda Magda – The charismatic vocalist/multi-instrumentalist  Magda Giannikou and company had the International Stage audience captivated. Hope to catch them again soon.
  4. Diane Schuur – The lady is still as marvelous and classy as ever. And it she was joined by first-class talents including Ben Wolfe on  bass and Don Braden on the saxes.
  5. Nettwork Trio – Charnett Moffett on bass, Stanley Jordan on guitar and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums…no fanfare, no glitz, just three of the best in the business, showing us how it’s done.

The performances that I most regret missing:

  1. Dida Pelled – Curse you ATL Memorial Day weekend traffic!!! I arrived at the park just after she finished.
  2. Arturo O’Farrill – The crowd had grown so big that it was almost impossible to move to The International Stage by Sunday evening. I should have tried anyway!
  3. Mad Satta – Just because I knew from jump that I was going to miss this great young neo-soul group doesn’t make me feel any better about it.
  4. Tony Hightower – This vocalist has a bright future, I’m just sorry that I couldn’t get to the Locals Stage to catch a piece of it.

Big thumbs up for:

  • Karen Hatchett; the AJF’s Awesome PR Director and the wonderful team of volunteers at the Media Tent. Y’all always make John and I feel welcome. Because of all of you, AJF is (and always will be) a first class jazz festival.
  • The beautiful people of Atlanta who come to the AJF every year. I stood at the top of the meadow at one point and looked out over the crowd that was about 85% African-American and I just saw people, enjoying the music and each other. All of the nasty narratives that some nameless cable news outlets peddle about us was nowhere in sight. Sorry that y’all couldn’t find room for the AJF on your “Factor”.
  • The lady in one of the tents with the great looking Red Velvet cake. Ma’am, that cake looked so good, that I almost lied and said that I was part of your family, so could get a slice!
  • Working side by side with my son. Watching as he comes into his own is one of the greatest experiences ever.

BlueSatch, I’m sorry that I couldn’t find you, bro. Next year for sure!

That’s all for 2015. We’ll see you all in the same place next Memorial Day Weekend…

Until then, the jazz continues…

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Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 Preview: Saturday on the Main Stage – It’s a Blue Note REVIVE-al

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2015 by curtjazz
Derrrick Hodge (photo by John Rogers)

Derrrick Hodge
(photo by John Rogers)

As regular visitors to this space know, I’ve long been of the opinion that if jazz is going to be relevant in the future, many traditionalists must make peace with the hip-hop and R&B influences that many of today’s most gifted young musicians come from. Most of these young cats respect the “tradition” but they didn’t grow up with Tin Pan Alley in their ears. What they bring to the table is often fresh and quite creative.

We will see a lot of that on display on Saturday, May 23 at the 38th Atlanta Jazz Festival Main Stage. It will open at 1 PM with Daniel D., a popular contemporary jazz violinist who plays a lot of Hip Hop and R&B chart hits. He will be followed at 3PM by The Rad Trads ,an energetic horn powered group based out of NYC. They specialize in an up-tempo mix of R&B, New Orleans Jazz and funk. Their fun stage shows have garnered them a ton of recent buzz.

But the big draw for me will begin at 5 PM, as REVIVE – an online music hub and concert promotion team, which specializes in the fusion of classic styles, such as jazz, with today’s ideas and genres – joins forces with Blue Note Records, that most venerable of jazz labels, to present an evening of true modern jazz. Featured will be three of the new generation of Blue Note artists, who will bring us jazz, from their perspective of “the mainstream”.

5 PM – Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life

Marcus Strickland has collaborated and recorded with an impressive list of musicians, including Wynton Marsalis, Tom Harrell, Dave Douglas, and Jeff “Tain” Watts. But one of Strickland’s longest musical collaborations is his most impressive one, as Mr. Strickland  was asked while still in college, to join legendary drummer Roy Haynes’ Fountain of Youth band. He played tenor sax with Haynes for five fruitful years.  He has also garnered some major awards from the jazz press, having won the Rising Star on Soprano Saxophone in Downbeat’s 2012 Critic’s Poll; Rising Star on Tenor Saxophone in Downbeat’s 2010 Critic’s Poll; Rising Star on Soprano Saxophone in Downbeat’s 2008 Critic’s Poll and Best New Artist in JazzTimes 2006 Reader’s Poll. His 2011 double CD set Triumph of the Heavy – Vol. 1 & 2, was one of our selections for Best Jazz Album of 2011.

In addition to his acclaimed acoustic jazz work, Marcus Strickland has also been heavily involved with Twi-Life, an electric band with its inception rooted in the soul music Strickland grew up listening to. Mr. Strickland has said that he tries to keep the personnel in Twi-Life fluid, so that the ideas and creativity will remain fresh.  The current members of the group have worked have worked individually with artists like Kanye West, & Bilal. They include keyboardist Yuki Hirano; bassist Mark Kelley who is also a member of The Roots; drummer Charles Haynes; and on vocals Jean Baylor, who some of us will remember from the 90s R&B duo, Zhané (“Hey Mr. D.J.”; “Groove Thang”). Expect great things Saturday as Strickland and Twi-Life, bring together the improvisation of acoustic jazz and instrumentation with the rhythms that have made much of today’s music so popular.

7 PM – Otis Brown III

Otis Brown III is one of the busiest young drummers in jazz today. The son of musicians and music educators, Brown grew up to the sounds of jazz, gospel, funk and rhythm and blues. His father, a jazz band instructor, played with James Brown and Al Green. His mother, an educator who also served as principal at Newark’s Arts High School (alma mater to jazz greats Sarah Vaughan and Wayne Shorter), was also a choir director and classically trained pianist.  After playing saxophone and drums in school and church, Mr. Brown attended Delaware State University as music major, where he met the great trumpeter Donald Byrd who advised young Otis to go to NYC and dive headlong into the jazz scene. Brown did and he soon caught the attention of Joe Lovano. After initially subbing for Lewis Nash and the late Idris Muhammad in Lovano’s band, Brown became a member of Lovano’s Us Five quintet, where he developed  a strong musical kinship with the group’s bassist, Esperanza Spalding, who then asked Brown to join her band as well. Brown has also worked with Terence Blanchard, Oliver Lake and the vocalist, Somi, among others.

Last year, Otis Brown III released his first album as a leader, The Thought of You, on Revive/Blue Note Records. With support from such kindred musical spirits as Robert Glasper, trumpeter Keyon Harrold, bassist Ben Williams  and vocalists Gretchen Parlato and Bilal and production by Derrick Hodge, the album is a shining example of some of the best work that the new breed of new jazz artists has to offer. It featured edgy improvisations, tunes that were unafraid to stretch boundaries and rhythms that were refreshingly contemporary. It stayed on regular rotation in my iPod from its release throughout the rest of 2014. It was also one of my Best Jazz Albums of last year. We’re looking forward to hearing Mr. Brown deliver the goods, with tracks from The Thought of You and more.

9 PM – Derrick Hodge

Closing out the second night of AJF38 will be Derrick Hodge. Another of Blue Note’s group of “New Jack Jazz” artists, Hodge has appeared previously on the Atlanta Jazz Festival stage in 2012 in one of his other roles, as bassist in the Robert Glasper Experiment. As usual with jazz musicians of his age and talents, Mr. Hodge has played with a diverse array of artists including Terence Blanchard, Jill Scott, Maxwell and the late Mulgrew Miller. He has also released a well received Blue Note album of his own, 2013’s Live Today, (a CurtJazz.com Best Jazz Albums of 2013 selection) which featured appearances by Glasper, hip hop superstar Common, Marcus Strickland, pianist Aaron Parks and turntable artist Jahi Sundance.  Like the recent work of Mr. Glasper, Mr. Brown and Marcus Strickland, Hodge is clearly looking to all of his various influences on Live Today and he’s also taking advantage of many of the possibilities that our digital age affords him. One of the album’s tracks, “Table Jawn”, includes sounds recorded on Hodge’s wife’s iPhone as Hodge, Glasper and drummer Chris Dave, were sitting at Hodge’s kitchen table. One person grabbed a spoon, another a cup and then they began to beat out a rhythm which Mrs. Hodge recorded and it was then used as the basis of the tune.

While we don’t expect any cutlery or place setting items to be directly used in the making of music on Saturday night, there’s likely to be a similar dose of creativity.  The type of music that I’ve often called “the future of jazz” will be on display in full glory all throughout the day on the AJF38 Main Stage, thanks to REVIVE and Blue Note Records. So, to quote the late actor, Ted Ross as he closed out an old Heath Brothers live album “May the rest of the populace be sophisticated enough to dig it”.

Tracks from all of these and other AJF 38 artists will be playing daily from 5 PM – 7 PM (ET) on our 24/7 streaming jazz station Curt’s Café Noir, until May 31. Click HERE to access the station.

For more information on the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website http://atlantafestivals.com

 

 

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 – All That Jazz and it’s FREE

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2015 by curtjazz

Atlanta Jazz Festival - red logoThey’ve been doing it for almost 40 years with no sign of slowing down…It’s friends, family, food, fun and most important (for me, at least) JAZZ.  The biggest and best free jazz festival in the Southeast, The 38th Atlanta jazz Festival will take over Piedmont Park once again this Memorial Day Weekend, Friday May 22 – Sunday, May 24. The full lineup was announced yesterday.  I am impressed that once again, in a world that readily slaps the name “jazz festival” on virtually any multi-day musical event that features adult oriented black artists, the producers of AJF38 have booked a lineup that is varied but true to the music’s origins.

This year we will hear from a classic jazz legend, in Pharoah Sanders; a contemporary legend in the form of vocalist Diane Schuur, plus, in a not to be missed Saturday night lineup, sponsored by Blue Note Records, we will hear from three of that venerable label’s young keepers of the flame: Marcus Strickland, Otis Brown III and Derrick Hodge. There will also be a couple of supergroups; one a quartet of Atlanta finest female jazz vocalists (Kathleen Bertrand, Julie Dexter, Rhonda Thomas and Terry Harper), in tribute to Nina Simone; the other a trio of cats who are all leaders in their own right and who will surely be nothing short of combustible together: Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, Stanley Jordan on guitar and Charnett Moffett on bass.

The International Stage will as always, be the hippest spot at the AJF; as the sounds of jazz will be mixed with the rhythms of Cuba, Brazil, Greece, Israel and other cool spots from around the globe. Headliners will be the pianist and Quincy Jones protegé Alfredo Rodriguez and the multiple Grammy winning son of Afro-Cuban music royalty, Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra .

Back again in 2015 will be one of AJF 2014’s best ideas – The Locals Stage. Featuring the artists who work in and around the Atlanta area most of the year, getting a chance to show a wider audience what they can do. Wolfpack ATL, Tony Hightower and Jeff Sparks will be among the hometown favorites hitting that stage.

Of course as we get closer to May 23, we’ll start with our usual preview reports and video clips. You’ll also hear the music of many of the artists in special AJF38 segments on Curt’s Cafe Noir.

I’ve got a lot a musical dilemmas to settle between now and then, because as much as I’ve tried to do it, I’ve determined that I can’t be in two (or three) places at one. Hope to see you there come Memorial Day Weekend.

Visit the AJF 2015 Website for more info: http://atlantafestivals.com/

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 – The Complete Schedule

Friday, May 22

Main Stage:

7:00 pm                                Mad Satta

9:00 pm                                Thundercat

Saturday, May 23

Local Stage:

12:30 pm                              Tri-Cities High School Jazz Band

2:30 pm                                Jessie Davis & the Nebraska Jones Experiment

4:30 pm                                Kenosha Kid

6:30 pm                                Wolfpack ATL

International Stage:

1:30 pm                                North Atlanta Center for the Arts Jazz Band

3:30 pm                                Dida

5:30 pm                                Banda Magda

7:30 pm                                Alfredo Rodriguez Trio

Main Stage:

1:00 pm                                Contemporary Violinist Daniel D.

3:00 pm                                The Rad Trads

5:00 pm                                Marcus Strickland Twi-Life

7:00 pm                                Otis Brown III

9:00 pm                                Derrick Hodge

 

Sunday, May 24

Local Stage:

12:30 pm                              Joe Gransden and his Big Band

2:30 pm                                Mastery

4:30 pm                                Jeff Sparks

6:30 pm                                Tony Hightower

International Stage:

1:30 pm                                Fernanda Noronha

3:30 pm                                Strings from Haiti

5:30 pm                                Emrah Kotan

7:30 pm                                Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

Main Stage:

1:00 pm                                Navy Band Southeast: VIP Protocol Combo

3:00 pm                                Four Women: A Tribute to Nina Simone – Featuring Kathleen Bertrand, Julie Dexter, Rhonda Thomas and Terry Harper

5:00 pm                                Nettwork Trio: Charnett Moffett, Stanley Jordan, and Jeff “Tain” Watts

7:00 pm                                Diane Schuur

9:00 pm                                Pharoah Sanders Quartet featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel

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

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2014 by curtjazz

FL_KE$HAOur final post on the Best Jazz Albums of 2014, includes the latest live album compilation from a true living legend. There’s a transcendent album from a vocalist who deserves much more recognition.  We have an impressive debut album from one of the best young drum masters around. A tenor saxophonist who has made a tribute album his own and finally three avant-garde jazz legends, encountering a contemporary lion and in doing so creating some fascinating fireworks.

  • Road Shows, Volume 3 – Sonny Rollins (OKeh) Nobody should mess with Theodore Walter Rollins. Nobody. (Just ask “humorist” Django Gold!)The greatest living jazz saxophonist released another set of tracks this year from his seemingly inexhaustible supply of live recordings. This set was recorded between 2001 and 2012, in Japan, France and St. Louis. As for the performances, well it shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that they are stellar. The most amazing thing for me is to realize that Mr. Rollins was somewhere between 71 and 82 years old when these were recorded. His energy level and the creativity of his ideas on his solos both seem limitless. At an age when most sax players, if they are still playing, are taking it easy, Newk is shaming younger cats every night.  There are a couple of standards a couple of Rollins classics a brand new hard-driving piece (“Patanjali”) and an eight minute and thirty second unaccompanied solo flight which will make many a sax player go out and sell their horns. And just think y’all, there are hours and hours more of this out there. Bring on Road Shows, Vol. 4.
  • Soul to Soul – Carmen Lundy (Afrasia) This is an album that is deeply, deeply drenched in soul and jazz. This is the type of album that perhaps Anita Baker would have made after Rapture if the corporate suits had left her alone. Carmen Lundy nails it. All. The. Way. It was clearly a personal project for Ms. Lundy as she wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 13 compositions and played all instruments on a basic tracks version of the album that she recorded before the final version. Her vocal performances are as rich, stunning and sexy as they have ever been and the mood is never less than sumptuous. Guest stars such as Patrice Rushen, Geri Allen, Warren Wolf and Randy Brecker add the perfect grace notes. Jazz fans should own this album. Adult R & B fans should own this album. Hell, everyone should own this album.
  • The Thought of You – Otis Brown III (Blue Note) Drummer Otis Brown III is one of the bright young talents in jazz today. You’ve probably heard him, even if you didn’t know it as he has played and recorded with Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding, Terence Blanchard and many others. For his debut album, Mr. Brown has enlisted the help of some of the other bright young cats, such as Robert Glasper, bassist Ben Williams, trumpeter Keyon Harrold and vocalist Gretchen Parlato; with labelmate and Glasper bassist  Derrick Hodge as co-producer. The music is strong, modern straight ahead jazz with decidedly spiritual overtones. Highlights include their reworking of a Shania Twain tune “You’re Still The One” with Ms. Parlato on vocals.Also check out “The Way (Truth & Life)” written by Brown and Glasper. It always excites me to hear the next generation playing jazz as they hear it because in spite of what some old fogeys say, these guys are the music’s future hope. Mr. Brown loves his jazz, he loves his family, he loves his wife and more than anything, he loves The Lord. And that’s alright by me.
  • Tiddy Boom – Michael Blake (Sunnyside) Michael Blake’s name was new to me before this album. But since I was quite familiar with all of his bandmates on this disc, I came in with fairly high expectations. They were exceeded. The Canadian born/New York based  tenor saxophonist was able to get this project off the ground thanks to a grant from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works program. It was conceived as a tribute of sorts to two of the earliest titans of the tenor, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. The compositions are all originals and though Blake does show a bit of Hawkins influence, his robust and hard swinging tone is all his own. This is thoughtful, intelligent jazz; well-played by all and more than worthy of multiple listens.
  • Wiring – Trio 3 & Vijay Iyer (Intakt) Trio 3 is back with another outstanding album featuring stellar work by a younger, forward thinking guest pianist. on last year’s Refraction – Breakin’ Glass, it was Jason Moran; this time Vijay Iyer does the honors. The results are a bit different but no less compelling. Oliver Lake’s earthy alto saxophone continues to do great things at that edge of the avant-garde. He delivers outside ideas with just enough melody to keep from losing those of us are not big fans of “free”.  Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille will always be as solid a bass/drums tandem as you will find anywhere. And their special guest, Mr. Iyer has established himself as one of the most intelligent jazz pianists around. In whatever scenario he is placed, he makes the music better.  

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 throughout January 2015. Click HERE to access the station.

For those who want to see our complete list of the Best 25 Jazz Albums of 2014, it is available in a previous post that you can view by clicking HERE.

May you all have a Happy, Healthy, Safe and Jazz Filled 2015. I will holler at y’all plenty of times in the next year about all things jazzy. Feel free to holler back, whenever you are so moved.

Until then, the jazz continues…

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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…