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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

 

 

 

2017 Grammy Nominations: Jazz categories

Posted in 2017 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2016 by curtjazz

grammy1

Congratulations to all of the artists nominated for Grammy Awards in the jazz related categories. Since they often include jazz artists, we’ve also included the nominations in the instrumental arrangement and composition categories in this list. The awards will be presented on Sunday, February 12, 2017, in a portion of the program prior to the nationally televised broadcast. More on the nominated, albums, performances and artists will follow in the coming weeks.

Best improvised jazz solo

“Countdown” — Joey Alexander, soloist

“In Movement” — Ravi Coltrane, soloist

“We See” — Fred Hersch, soloist

“I Concentrate On You” — Brad Mehldau, soloist

“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” — John Scofield, soloist

Best jazz vocal album

“Sound of Red” — René Marie

“Upward Spiral” — Branford Marsalis Quartet With Special Guest Kurt Elling

“Take Me to the Alley” — Gregory Porter

“Harlem On My Mind” — Catherine Russell

“The Sting Variations” — The Tierney Sutton Band

Best jazz instrumental album

“Book of Intuition” — Kenny Barron Trio

“Dr. Um” — Peter Erskine

“Sunday Night at the Vanguard” — The Fred Hersch Trio

“Nearness” — Joshua Redman & Brad Mehldau

“Country For Old Men” — John Scofield

Best large jazz ensemble album

“Real Enemies” — Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

“Presents Monk’estra, Vol. 1” — John Beasley

“Kaleidoscope Eyes: Music of the Beatles” — John Daversa

“All L.A. Band” — Bob Mintzer

“Presidential Suite: Eight Variations On Freedom” — Ted Nash Big Band

Best Latin jazz album

“Entre Colegas” — Andy González

“Madera Latino: A Latin Jazz Perspective on the Music of Woody Shaw” — Brian Lynch & Various Artists

“Canto América” — Michael Spiro/Wayne Wallace La Orquesta Sinfonietta

“30” — Trio Da Paz

“Tribute to Irakere: Live In Marciac” — Chucho Valdés

Best instrumental composition

“Bridge of Spies (End Title)” — Thomas Newman, composer

“The Expensive Train Set (An Epic Sarahnade For Double Big Band)” — Tim Davies, composer

“Flow” — Alan Ferber, composer

“L’Ultima Diligenza Di Red Rock”  Versione Integrale — Ennio Morricone, composer

“Spoken at Midnight” — Ted Nash, composer

Best arrangement, instrumental or a cappella

“Ask Me Now” — John Beasley, arranger

“Good Swing Wenceslas” — Sammy Nestico, arranger

“Linus & Lucy” — Christian Jacob, arranger

“Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” — John Daversa, arranger

“We Three Kings” — Ted Nash, arranger

“You And I” — Jacob Collier, arrange

Best arrangement, instruments and vocals

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” — Gordon Goodwin, arranger (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band Featuring Take 6)

“Do You Want To Know a Secret” — John Daversa, arranger (John Daversa Featuring Renee Olstead)

“Flintstones” — Jacob Collier, arranger (Jacob Collier)

“I’m a Fool to Want You” — Alan Broadbent, arranger (Kristin Chenoweth)

“Somewhere (Dirty Blvd)” (Extended Version) — Billy Childs & Larry Klein, arrangers (Lang Lang Featuring Lisa Fischer & Jeffrey Wright)

A New Gift from JLCO: “Big Band Holidays”

Posted in New on the Playlist, The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2015 by curtjazz

Big Band HolidaysMy late father often said “The best thing to do in a hurry, is nothing.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to truly appreciate the enduring wisdom in those words – for I’ve so often discovered that I make my biggest errors, when I do things for speed and not for pleasure. Such is the case with my post a couple of days ago about my favorite new Holiday Jazz Albums.

Since I decided last weekend that I was going to write something every day for the rest of the year to atone for my lack of activity over the last six months, I’d became totally focused on putting something out there, even if I hadn’t really thought it through. So when I completed the post on new Christmas Jazz, I dropped a few words and a couple of videos, and declared my mission accomplished, even though I felt as if I was missing something…it didn’t matter; at least I was making my self-imposed deadline.

I was missing something. Something that I had heard and enjoyed more, , than most of the albums in the original post – it was the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s Big Band Holidays; an album far richer and more complex than its simplistic title (and pedestrian cover art) would suggest.

Every December for over a decade, Wynton Marsalis, and the JLCO have come together with some of the great vocalists in jazz to perform their arrangements of some of the classic songs of the season. Thankfully many of these concerts were recorded. This year, Blue Engine Records, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s house label, assembled some of the choice selections from 2012 – 2014 concerts and released them as a compilation – featuring three of the best vocalists in jazz today, Rene Marie, Gregory Porter and Cecile McLorin Salvant and strong arrangements from some of the bands in house pros like Victor Goines, Sherman Irby and Ted Nash, plus a nod to the new testament Basie Band by including Ernie Wilkins classic arrangement of “Jingle Bells”. Big Band Holidays is a terrific jazz album first and a good Holiday album second, which is why I will probably be listening to it beyond next Friday night.

As you can see, these performances were also caught on video, so we can share a few of them with you. May these performances prove to be as timeless as my dad’s words.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

 

2015 Jazz Grammy Preview #2 – Best Jazz Vocal Album

Posted in 2015 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , on February 8, 2015 by curtjazz

Here we are, racing to the finish to get our Jazz Grammy predictions out before the awards are presented this afternoon!

In the Best Jazz Vocal Album category, we have a couple of extremely deserving first time nominees, a perennial nominee who unfortunately is always overlooked and a couple of fairly good albums that are the favorites to take home the prize.

Map to the Treasure: Re-imagining Laura Nyro  – Billy Childs & Various Artists (Sony Masterworks)

Billy Childs is a terrific if overlooked, jazz pianist and arranger. The idea for this album was a very good one, taking the music of the great pop songwriter, Laura Nyro and re-imagining them with some of today’s strongest vocalists and instrumentalists. The result is an outstanding pop album. Sorry, folks but for my money, despite the presence of Mr. Childs, Esperanza Spalding, Wayne Shorter and Dianne Reeves, who all perform impressively in their segments, Map to the Treasure, while award worthy, doesn’t belong in this category. The irony is, because of all of the pop names and the handful of jazz names involved, it stands a decent chance of winning. If it does, I will be happy for Mr. Childs, who defintely deserves wider recognition but my opinion still stands.

I Wanna Be Evil  – René Marie (Motema)

For my money, this first-time nominee is your winner. This late 2013 release by Ms. Marie was one of the best of her impressive career. Her performances on this tribute to the late, great Eartha Kitt, are at turns funny, seductive, unnerving and thought-provoking; just like the immortal performer who inspired them. (Read my full review for Jazz Inside Magazine HERE) Why Ms. Marie will probably not win? The album was released over a year ago, just missing the cutoff for last year’s awards but putting it in the position of having slipped from the consciousness of man voters. Also, Ms. Marie as great as she is, is not well-known by much of the voting crowd and some only know her for a few minor controversies from seven years ago. And, there’s also the presence of a very well-known name, with  a very accessible album, which is an odds-on favorite to take the prize. If I’m wrong I will be thrilled but I don’t think so.

Live in NYC  – Gretchen Parlato (ObliqSound)

Like Rene Marie, Gretchen Parlato is a first-time nominee. Also like Ms. Marie, Ms. Parlato’s album was released in 2013, just after the eligibility cutoff for the 2014 Grammys. And also like Ms. Marie, Ms. Parlato is a longshot to win today. Keeping it 100, I adore Ms. Parlato’s work but this album, which consists mostly of live takes of selections from her previous releases, while good, is inferior to most of her previous work. Because she is so terrific overall, it would be cool to see her recognized but I think the next lady is going to stand in her way.

Beautiful Life – Dianne Reeves (Concord)

Beautiful Life was the great Dianne Reeves first new release in about half a decade. It is loaded with big name guest stars (Glasper, Esperanza, Lalah Hathaway, George Duke, etc). It is laden with accessible, pop and adult r&b radio friendly material. And Dianne Reeves is by far the most recognizable name in this category. The album is okay; not Ms. Reeves best work, but it won’t matter. She will pick up her fifth Grammy today.

Paris Sessions- Tierney Sutton (Varese Sarabande)

In Grammy previews of years past, I have referred to Tierney Sutton as the “Glenn Close” of this category. Sad to say, that appellation will apply again today. Ms. Sutton is a terrific vocalist; a perennial Best Jazz Vocal Album nominee, who has never won the award. Because in spite of the quality of her work, she is still undeservedly obscure in a category that habitually awards name recognition. Paris Sessions is another gorgeous album partnering Ms. Sutton with Serge Merlaud and Kevin Axt, two outstanding guitarists. The album is worth adding to your library but alas, Ms. Sutton will leave once again, without the Grammy.

Our unscientific and mildly cynical prediction:

Should Win: Rene Marie

Will Win: Dianne Reeves

Up next, Best Jazz Instrumental Album

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2013 – The Final List

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2013 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2013 by curtjazz

tim greenMerry Christmas everyone!

Here’s a compilation list of our choices for the Best Jazz Albums of 2013 from our three prior Best of the Year posts. A click on the links in each title will take you to the Amazon or CD Baby page for each album (a great way to spend those gift cards you may have gotten from Santa).

From Best Jazz Albums of 2013 (So Far)

From Best Jazz Albums of 2013 – The Second Half

From Best Jazz of 2013 – A Few More Good Things; Plus!

And 5 great 2012 albums that we missed until 2013:

Tracks from all of the albums listed here will be featured on Curt’s Café Noir WebJazz Radio, starting on December 27, 2013 and into January 2014 as part of our Year End / New Year programming. Click HERE to go to the station and listen. It’s Free!

May you all have a happy, prosperous and jazz filled 2014!

Best Jazz Albums of 2013 – The Second Half

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2013 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2013 by curtjazz

Rene Marie - evilI have to confess that this year’s list of the best jazz albums feels somehow incomplete. The albums on the first list, posted in early August and the ones in this article are all outstanding but as much as I get to hear, due to my vocation and avocation, I still have missed so much this year.

In part, this is a good thing because artists now have more freedom than ever to self produce and release their works without having to beg for record company crumbs. However, one of the bad things is that the distribution of these projects often leaves much to be desired. So there’s much out there that I’ve heard of but haven’t been able to get my hands on in any format. Something tells me my “Ones I’ve Missed” list in 2014 is going to be pretty large.

That being said, here are the favorite releases that I’ve heard  since July. As always, they are in alphabetical order by album title, not preference:

Aquarius – Nicole Mitchell’s Ice Crystals (Delmark)

It’s a marriage of several disparate elements that come together to create musical perfection: Ms. Mitchell’s flute playing off of Jason Adasiewicz’s vibes, producing the sound that gives the group its name; their AACM sensibility, leavened by a hint of Chicago Soul and some of the best compositions that I’ve ever heard from Ms. Mitchell. They have managed to stay true to their artistic roots yet make the music more accessible. No small feat but they pull it off with aplomb.

Creole Soul – Etienne Charles (MRI)

Mr. Charles, a young trumpet player originally from Trinidad, creates a successful marriage of straight ahead jazz and the musical styles of the Caribbean and New Orleans. Many have tried to do the same thing with only moderate success. Etienne Charles nails it, big time. Those who want to understand how to fuse groove and jazz without “selling out” should use this disc as a primer.  (Read my full review for Jazz Inside  Magazine HERE.)

I Wanna Be Evil (With Love to Eartha Kitt) René Marie (Motéma)

Leave it to Rene Marie to wait until the tail end of the year to release a masterpiece. She clearly has a strong affinity for her subject and instead of imitating the legendary performer; she draws Ms. Kitt’s style inside of her own and creates some fresh renditions of some of Eartha’s classics. She also creates a smoldering original tune “Weekend” which might have made even the legendary Kitt blush.  Ms. Marie’s performances are sexy, playful, charming, foreboding and thought-provoking; often at the same time.  It’s Ms. Marie’s best album since Vertigo and it may even top that classic.

Liquid Spirit – Gregory Porter (Blue Note)

With his third outstanding album in three years, Mr. Porter continues to carve out a niche for himself as either the most soulful jazz singer or the jazziest soul singer working today. Porter has melded the low-key sensitivity of Bill Withers to the jazz sensibility of a young Al Jarreau. He is also a damn good composer, dropping a few of his own tunes on this album, such as “Hey Laura” and “Brown Grass” that I expect to hear being covered by other singers in the near future. Plus he does a dynamite cover of one of my faves from Max Roach and Abby Lincoln, “Lonesome Lover”. Will Porter take home the Grammy this year? Knowing Grammy’s unpredictability, who knows?  But I think that he has a good shot in at least one of the two categories that he’s nominated in.

No Morphine; No Lilies – Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom (The Royal Potato Family)

The prodigiously gifted drummer takes us all over the jazz map in a little over 50 minutes; from swing to post-bop, to free, with numerous stops in between. Her working band of three years, which includes pianist Myra Melford; bassist Todd Sickafoose and the wonderful violinist Jenny Scheinman, has coalesced into a solid unit who play off of each other incredibly well.  Their musical trust for each other has allowed them to bring out the best in Ms. Miller’s compositions and for them to turn performances in different directions on a dime.

Out Here – Christian McBride Trio (Mack Avenue)

It’s no surprise that Mr. McBride is a fan of James Brown, because he is the hardest working bassist in jazz. Besides being the first call sideman for almost everyone in jazz today, he managed also to release two albums in 2013 under his own name, one with his Inside Straight aggregation and the other was this album, a back to basics trio date with two very exciting young cohorts; pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. There’s nothing new here but what they do, they do stunningly well. It’s three world-class musicians, playing some standards, some originals and a couple of fun surprises. I hope that this isn’t just a one-off but if it is, it’s an impressive one.

Saturday Morning – Ahmad Jamal (Jazz Village)

What has gotten into Ahmad Jamal? All of a sudden, in his eighties, Miles Davis’ favorite pianist has become not only incredibly relevant again but I daresay, downright funky. First on last year’s Blue Moon and now on Saturday Morning.  Egged on by the percolating grooves laid down by bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley, the octogenarian reminds Robert Glasper and Co., where they got it from. His piano lines are still tasty and tasteful and not the least bit stale. Long live Mr. Jamal, I hope that he keeps going and continues to create music like this for many years to come. 

Soul Brother Cool – Cyrus Chestnut (WJ3)

This album is here for two reasons: one is its remarkable leader, who I consider to be one of the best jazz pianists of his generation. Mr. Chestnut is the natural successor to Bobby Timmons in the “Soulful Jazz Pianist” category and his teaming over the last few years with bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Willie Jones III seems to have re-energized him.  The second reason is the presence of trumpeter Freddie Hendrix on this album. Mr. Hendrix is a remarkably talented musician who has been criminally under recorded. In fact, as of this writing, he has yet to lead a recording date. Hendrix stylistically (and even physically, somewhat) reminds me of another more well-known jazz trumpeter with the same first name and last initial. Throughout the album, he threatens to steal the show from the leader and at times, he does. And for bonus points, Chestnut and Jones used Max Roach’s rare album Drums Unlimited as an inspiration for the cover. Very cool indeed!

Tootie’s Tempo – Albert “Tootie” Heath (Sunnyside)

Here’s another jazz veteran undergoing a bit of a career renaissance.  The youngest of the Heath Brothers has recorded abundantly as a sideman on some of jazz’s greatest albums and quite a bit with his brothers over the years but very little as a leader. So here we have the 78-year-old “Tootie” working with relative youngsters Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus on piano and NY avant-garde scene darling Ben Street on bass. On paper it sounds like a mismatch but in reality it is pure magic. Tootie will never be accused of being a bombastic drummer but everything he does is exactly as it should be. You can hear Mr. Heath taking care of his musical partners and vice versa. This is one of the most interesting working trios out there today. If you like this, check out this same group’s 2010 live recording from NYC’s Smalls Jazz Club.

Wolfgang Warren Wolf (Mack Avenue)

Vibraphonist Wolf’s follow up to his Mack Avenue debut is the most mature and cohesive album of his burgeoning young career. Split between tracks with his working band and an all-star group, Wolf’s growth as a musician, composer and arranger are all evident from first note to last. (Read my full review for Jazz Inside Magazine HERE.)

And in case you’ve forgotten, here are the albums/artists who were included in our post Best Jazz of 2013 (So Far), which first appeared in August 2013:

And I’m still not done! There will be one more post in which we will bring you a few more albums from 2013, that I still cannot get out of my head. Plus, in what has become an annual tradition, we will pay homage to some albums from 2012 that I somehow managed to miss until 2013.

As always, your comments, for and against, are welcome but spam is not.

Until the next time, the jazz continues…

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

Posted in 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…