Archive for roberto fonseca

Best Jazz Albums of 2015: A Closer Look – Part 1 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2015 with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2015 by curtjazz

CamaraderieThe first six of our Best Jazz Albums of the year, have an international flavor – with recordings from a beloved veteran of the contemporary side of the ledger; an album that is the result of a chance meeting of two world music giants; a free jazz player, who decided to “come inside”; a great saxophonist paying homage to the greatest; an auspicious debut from a rhythm section stalwart and  a soulful guitar talent, who deserves much wider recognition.

Marcus Miller, producer/composer and above all, bassist extraordinaire made his Blue Note Records debut with this powerful set, which drew inspiration from the music of various locales historically impacted by slavery. But this is not a downer by any means; it is Marcus Miller after all and the music is as funky and varied as anything that the master has dropped in the past decade. With guest turns from, among others, Etienne Charles, Robert Glasper, Lalah Hathaway, Keb Mo and Chuck D (yes, Chuck D!), the album jumps out at you from the first notes of “Hylife” and doesn’t let go until the last note of “I Can’t Breathe”. It’s got enough groove to keep Miller’s contemporary fans happy, while it is ambitious and varied enough to put a charge into those who need the stimulation.

Grammy nominated Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca and Malian vocalist/guitarist Fatoumata Diawara met by chance at a small Paris recording studio. After talking for a few minutes they were both wowed by how much they discovered that they musically had in common. In 2014, they embarked on a 45 day tour that included among the stops, the Jazz in Marciac Festival, where this explosive recording was made. Incredible musicianship and the unbridled joy of musicians discovering new things about each other with each performance, is what makes this album stand out. I’m hoping that they bring this group to the U.S. Until then, this album and the videos on YouTube, will have to keep me sated.

The 2008 Monk Saxophone Competition winner, who is mostly known for his work with the wisecracking avant-garde group Mostly Other People Do The Killing, has undergone a number of emotional upheavals over the past couple of years, including the loss of loved ones and musical mentors. Out of those losses came this album, his most melodic and straight ahead effort in many years. There are hard driving swingers, moving ballads and drum tight section work from Iragbagon’s working group, which includes pianist Luis Perdomo, Yasushi Nakamura on bass and drummer Rudy Royston. There’s also trumpet master Tom Harrell, who guests on three tracks. Though I admit, that Irabagon’s outside work has mostly left me cold, I loved Behind the Sky, when I first heard it and I’m finding new things to enjoy with each listen.

Though Rudresh Mahanthappa intended this album to be a tribute to Charlie Parker, there are no Bird tunes among the tracks. They have all been written by Mahanthappa. Instead, the saxophonist gives us Bird’s essence through his own consistently inventive perspective. This is not bebop. It is unflinchingly and proudly 21st century modern. Bird Calls stretches conventional boundaries and even breaks them on occasion. And that is what separates this effort from the often tired category of “tribute albums”. To hear Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Charlie Parker influences, you’re going to have to know something about both artists, and for that alone, this album should be at the top of many lists.

Carlos Henriquez has occupied the bass chair in Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra since 1998, shortly after his high school graduation. The South Bronx native finally takes the spotlight on this album and shows what he has learned over the past 17 years. The Bronx Pyramid deftly mixes jazz traditions with the music of Puerto Rico that Henriquez learned during his youth. This album is danceable, it is listenable and it is above all, captivating. Henriquez is a deft soloist and the woody sound of his bass is never far from the center of your ears. Guest turns from some of Henriquez’s JLCO mates and from the great vocalist Ruben Blades are the icing on this sumptuous cake.

A Detroit native and current resident of the Los Angeles area, Jacques Lesure’s clean, souful lines and straight ahead style have made him a favorite sideman over the years for greats like Jimmy Smith, Stanley Turrentine and Les McCann over his 30-plus year career. He has only recorded a few dates as a leader but each one is first rate. Camaraderie, is no exception. With support from fellow pros Eric Reed,  Warren Wolf, Nat Reeves and Willie Jones III, this album swings like crazy. From originals such as the appropriately titled “Grantgomery”  to tasty covers like James Williams’ “Affaire d’Amour”, there is not a weak track in the bunch. Excellent jazz!

Tracks from all of our Best Jazz Albums of 2015 can be heard on our streaming station, Curt’s Cafe Noir, starting on Sunday, December 27 and continuing through January 2016. Click HERE to listen.

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!

2014 Jazz Grammy® Preview #4 – Best Latin Jazz Album

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2014 by curtjazz

The Latin Jazz category was thankfully added back to the Grammys last year. Unfortunately, it was promptly made a mockery of by the selection of the worst of the nominated albums for the award and by the arrogance of the winner in his long-winded acceptance speech. As in most of the other jazz categories this year, Latin Jazz features a very strong and culturally diverse set of nominees representing a broad spectrum of the Latin Jazz experience. This time, any of them would be a deserving victor.

The nominees are:

Buika: La Noche Más Larga (Warner Music Spain)

I confess to having never heard of Buika before her nomination. She has a new fan in me. The Miami based singer grew up in Spain. Her parents are from Equatorial Guinea. On La Noche Más Larga Buika sings mostly in her native Spanish but also in English on a stunning version of “Don’t Explain”. This album mines the connection between flamenco, Afro-Cuban music and jazz to remarkable effect and Buika’s captivating voice is just the instrument to being it to us. Now will she win a Grammy? Most likely not, as most U.S. listeners are in the same boat as I was before December. But do your homework people and listen to this amazing vocalist!

Paquito D’Rivera & Trio Corrente: Song for Maura (Sunnyside/Paquito Records)

This is the second nomination this year for Paquito D’Rivera. The title track from this album was also nominated for Best Improvised Jazz Solo. Though he is naturally associated with the music of his native Cuba, Mr. D’Rivera has often dabbled in Brazilian rhythms.  He dives in headfirst on this album with the Brazilian Trio Corrente. He avoids the familiar Brazilian compositions and leaves most of the arranging to his counterparts in the group. His alto sax and clarinet wrap around the music like a glove. It’s a very good and extremely listenable album. D’Rivera’s  is the most recognizable name on this list which makes him a prohibitive favorite to win this award.

Roberto Fonseca: Yo (Concord Jazz)

This  Cuban pianist knocked my socks off with his command of the keyboard that can turn from percussively powerful to lyrically soft at the drop of a hat. It’s Jazz cum Afro-Cuban cum R&B and it just flows from beginning to end. Again, his lack of name recognition in the U.S. will work against him today, as he is a long-shot to win this award.

Omar Sosa: Eggun (Otá Records)

This album was born when Omar Sosa received a commission from the Barcelona Jazz Festival to compose and produce a tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue.  However, instead of just wrapping a Latin beat around the famous Davis tunes as so many have done before, Mr. Sosa takes the essence of the compositions or even one of the saxophone solos from the original and forms brand new works from them, using Cuban and West African rhythms as a bed. It’s a thrilling album, especially if you’re a lover of the source material. In a just world, Eggun would be the Grammy winner. However Mr. Sosa is probably going home empty-handed.

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Latin Jazz – Jazz Latin (Patois Records)

It’s about time that Grammy got around to recognizing trombonist Wayne Wallace who is one of the best Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban musicians on the West Coast and maybe in the whole country. Mr. Wallace and his cohorts stick to the classic Mambo/Merengue/Plena style of the genre made famous by Puente, Machito, Bauzá and others. He also throws in a few surprises (such as a flute/violin/trombone “horn section”) to keep things lively. I still think that D’Rivera will win this award but if anyone in this category will pull an upset, it will be Wayne Wallace.

So here is my bottom line unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Omar Sosa
  • Will Win: Paquito D’Rivera & Trio Corrente

One more preview to go before the awards show!

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 of 2013 – A Few More Good Things, Plus!

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2013 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2013 by curtjazz

eugenie jonesI tried to cut off my Best Albums list at 20 but there are a few more that I feel that you must know about if you don’t already. Plus as usual, during the year, I discovered a few outstanding albums that were released in 2012, that I didn’t hear until sometime in 2013.

The last five 2013 releases are:

Black Lace Blue Tears – Eugenie Jones (CD Baby)

An extremely impressive debut album from this Seattle-based singer. Even more impressive is that she wrote most of the songs on this set. Ms. Jones possesses a finely tuned lyrical wit and she sings like a grown woman who knows what she is talking about. We expect to hear a lot more from her.

Black Radio II – Robert Glasper (Blue Note)

The follow-up to the Grammy Winning Black Radio, is an all vocal affair with more strong R&B laced tunes and more terrific guest stars to sing them. A minor quibble – I would have liked to hear RG step out and solo a bit more but it doesn’t change the fact that this is another winning album.

 

Latin Jazz/Jazz Latin – Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet (Patois)

The best Latin Jazz trombonist working today does it again, with another strong album. East coast people, WAKE UP! and check this cat out. But I’m not the only one who has noticed, as the album has copped a 2014 “Best Latin Jazz Album” Grammy nomination. Read my full review for Jazz Inside Magazine HERE.

Understanding – Wallace Roney (HighNote)

I’ve always considered Wallace Roney to be an incredibly gifted trumpet player. However, he has wandered a bit in the wilderness on his recordings over the last decade.  Thankfully he has ditched the electronics that never really served him well, hooked up with a quartet of talented and hungry young players and found his musical footing again. It’s his best record of the 21st Century. Welcome Home, Wallace.

Willie Jones III Plays the Max Roach Songbook – Willie Jones III (WJ3)

What doesn’t Willie Jones III do well? He’s one of the best drummers in jazz today, he runs maybe the best small label in jazz, WJ3 Records, which has dropped three albums on our “Best Of” list this year in addition to a few in years past and he also records under his own name for his label turning out a first-rate tribute to the legendary Max Roach. Jones, with support from Eric Reed, Jeremy Pelt, Stacy Dillard and others has made an album that doesn’t feel like a tribute but like a bunch of top flight cats just swinging their asses off.  And I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.

 

And then, there are always albums from the previous year that due to release date, spotty promotion or other assorted reasons; I miss until the next year. But some are so good that I would feel bad if I didn’t tell you about them.

Here are five 2012 releases that you have to check out:

Here We Go Again – Renee Yoxon (Self-Release)

Renée Yoxon is a young and incredibly talented jazz singer who hails from Canada. On Here We Go Again, her second album, she teams up with veteran Ottawa pianist Mark Ferguson to create an album of original compositions that are so good that they should be standards. And that singular voice… It’s youthfully fresh but with mature soul. Either we have to get Renée to come south to perform more often in the U.S. or we’ll just move up north to hear her.

In The Spur of the Moment – Justin Robinson (WJ3)

He first came to public attention as a member of the Harper Brothers group  during the “Young Lions” craze of the early ‘90’s and he has certainly paid his dues as a sideman over the years, working with other “lions” such as Stephen Scott and Roy Hargrove. On this, his third album as a leader, the alto saxophonist turns in his strongest work to date under the production wing of drummer Willie Jones III.  Veterans Larry Willis, Dwayne Burno and Hargrove himself join in to get things smokin’. This project flew under the radar but you should catch it while you can.

It’s All Good – Ed Cherry (Posi-Tone)

Ed Cherry is a veteran guitarist who spent ten years with Dizzy Gillespie during the legend’s twilight. He has released a number of projects since then, always swinging hard and playing impeccable lines. I missed It’s All Good in 2012 but I’ve been making up for it ever since. It hasn’t left my CD Jukebox over the past eight months. When you hear it you’ll understand why.

Portraits – Shamie Royston (CD Baby)

Pianist Shamie Royston is the sister of saxophonist Tia Fuller. Ms. Fuller has garnered much attention for her work as a solo artist in the jazz world (Ms. Royston is her pianist) and in the pop world as the sax player in superstar Beyonce’s touring group.  Portraits is Ms. Royston’s debut album as a leader and she shows that she deserves to come out of her sister’s shadow. Her compositions are compelling and her playing is consistently interesting. She swings hard with a touch of Horace Silver in her sound. Ms. Royston is definitely an artist that deserves wider recognition.

Yo – Roberto Fonseca (Concord Jazz)

Not only did I miss Roberto Fonseca’s Yo in 2012, I almost missed it in 2013 as well. I didn’t manage to finally hear it until early December! Shame on me as the Cuban pianist knocked my socks off with his command of the keyboard that can turn from percussively powerful to lyrically soft at the drop of a hat. It’s Jazz cum Afro-Cuban cum R&B and it just flows from beginning to end. I’m not familiar with much of Mr. Fonseca’s previous work – looks like I’ve got some catching up to do. And I will, if I can just stop playing “80’s” over and over again…

This finally concludes our look at the Best Jazz Albums of 2013. The albums in this post and in the two prior ones 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!

This has been a year of many challenges for me and I thank all of you who have stuck with me through them all, via Twitter, Facebook, this blog and in person. I pray that 2014 will be a great year for us all.

Until the next time, I wish all of you and those you love a very Merry Christmas, a belated Happy Chanukah, a glorious Kwanzaa and a healthy and prosperous New Year. As always…The Jazz Continues!