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Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far) – Closer Look Pt. 1 – Vocal Albums

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2017 by curtjazz

Taking a closer look at my five favorite vocal projects, so far, in 2017:

  • Dance of Time – Eliane Elias (Concord) – It’s still hard to believe that in her early years on  the American jazz scene, Eliane Elias was known strictly as a pianist. I liken her at this point to a Brazilian Diana Krall – she is still a first rate pianist but her vocal gifts, especially in her native Portuguese, have at this point, overshadowed her keyboard skills. On her latest album, she pays tribute to 100 years of samba. It is a sheer delight, with guest spots by Toquinho, Mike Manieri, ex-husband Randy Brecker, Mark Kibble and many others. Dance of Time is a true celebration and a great place to start for those introducing themselves to Ms. Elias’ work.

  • Nightintales – China Moses (MPS) – The daughter of legendary jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ms. Moses has been on the scene now, for a few years. On Nightintales, she nails down a perfect mix of modern R&B and passionate soul-jazz. The sound is like nothing else on the scene today and that’s precisely what makes it irresistible.  The angular, hypnotic “Running” and raw soul of “Hungover”, make this album worthwhile, all by themselves. But there’s much more here and all of it needs to be experienced.

  • Petite Afrique – Somi (OKeh/Sony Masterworks) Somi, the American vocalist, of Rwandan and Ugandan heritage, has gotten better with each successive release. I thought she had reached her peak with 2014’s impressive The Lagos Music Salon.  Petite Afrique, however, feels even more personal and is more captivating than the previous project. Named for the section of Harlem around 116th Street, which is home to a gorgeous mosaic of African immigrants, the music captures, the rhythms, the passion, the joy, the fears and the frustrations of that community, in some cases, simultaneously.  With top flight co-production by Keith Witty and the brilliant trumpeter Etienne Charles, this is an album that you’ll remember long after the final note.

  • A Social Call – Jazzmeia Horn (Prestige) I was first exposed to this amazing young vocalist when I decided, without previewing, to drop her version of Betty Carter’s “Tight”, into my radio show one night. The hair on my arms stood at attention, my mouth fell open and by the time she begins to trade fours with the saxophonist a third of the way in, I was an unabashed fan. I then listened to the rest of the album on the way home from the studio and by the time I got to my front door, I was on a jazz high. Ms. Horn brings us a little Betty, a little Sarah, a little Ella, a little gospel and a whole lot of herself on this stunning debut project. Jazzmeia won the right to record this project as a prize for winning the 2015 Monk Vocal Competition. I’ve taken issue with the Monk judges in the past but not this time. They got it 100% right.

  • What Time Is It? – Giacomo Gates (Savant) I was first introduced to Mr. Gates around 20 years ago, at one of the earliest incarnations of the Litchfield Jazz Festival. His set was ridiculously truncated, due to curfew rules and a previous artist running overtime. Giacomo expressed mild annoyance, which greatly displeased the festival organizers. But I dug what little I heard and vowed to keep up with this “regular guy”, baritone, with loads of charm, who exuded the cool soulfulness of Mark Murphy. Gates has released a number of very fine albums over the years and his latest is another in the series. It’s a nice mix of jazz standards, originals and a few surprises (such as “Silhouettes”, the ’50’s pop classic). Now in his sixties, Mr. Gates still doesn’t get the attention, even within our insular jazz world, that I think he deserves. If you haven’t heard him before, What Time Is It?, is a great place to start.

I haven’t heard everything released so far this year and I’m sure that there will be more to come over the next few months. I can’t wait to be back with more in December.

Up next – a closer look at my favorite instrumental albums, so far.

Until then, the jazz continues

Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far)

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2017 by curtjazz

farnell newtonI’ve been away from regular blogging for a minute. Through my show, I’ve gotten to hear a lot of first rate new projects during the first half of the year. So what better way to return to regular posts than to give recognition to the finest discs that I’ve heard so far this year. The list includes five vocal and ten instrumental albums (and one EP), listed in alphabetical order. The next two posts will be closer looks at the albums, including video clips.

Vocal Albums 

 

Instrumental Albums

Best Jazz Albums of 2014 – A Closer Look: Part 2 of 5

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , on December 27, 2014 by curtjazz

Somi - The Lagos Music SalonThe second post in the Best of 2014 series includes a look at recent albums from two of the best trumpet players under 40 in jazz today. We also have a disc from a veteran piano great who has overcome a tremendous amount of personal adversity to continue to produce world-class music. There is a hip drum master who has teamed with a jam band king on a mix of outside leaning originals with unexpected covers. Finally, there is a vocalist who sought to get in touch with her roots and in so doing, found musical excellence.

  • Face Forward, Jeremy – Jeremy Pelt (HighNote) – While some of his contemporaries have been grabbing the headlines, Jeremy Pelt has been quietly amassing an impressive and diverse résumé consisting of some of the more compelling jazz performances of this brief century. Though his recorded performances have mostly leaned toward the mainstream, Pelt has of late begun to delve into the fusion side of his persona with musically satisfying results. I always get the sense that Mr. Pelt is seeking; looking to bring a fresh perspective to his projects. As look back at his catalog as a leader, which now stands at a dozen albums, I realized that each of his records was in some way different from the last. And his latest album, Face Forward, Jeremy is no exception. (See our full review from Jazz Inside Magazine HERE)
  • Floating – Fred Hersch Trio (MRI) – While I’ve always greatly respected Fred Hersch as an artist, I admit that I haven’t always loved his recordings. That said, Floating is my favorite Fred Hersch album, to date. The easy rapport between Mr. Hersch and his trio mates (John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums), the interesting re-imaginings of a couple of standards mixed in among top drawer originals and the overall peaceful but not languid vibe made this an album I returned to many times over the course of the year.
  • Gathering Call – Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski (Palmetto) – One thing that I’ve always loved about Matt Wilson is that he makes serious music with an underlying wink. You gotta love a cat that will cover a relatively obscure Ellington track (“You Dirty Dog”), next to a recent Beyoncé hit (“If I Were a Boy”) and manage to play them both without irony. Medeski fits right in among Wilson’s usually pianoless group and sounds as if he has been there for years. The music flirts with the outer edges of convention but like a great roller coaster, pulls you back just before you go over the edge. Gathering Call is a fun trip.  
  • Im.Pro.Vise (Never Before Seen) – Sean Jones (Mack Avenue) – On this album, Sean Jones continues to do what he does best; turn out solid, hard swinging post bop jazz in the tradition of Miles’ last great quartet, which by extension also places him in the company of his LCJO mentor, Wynton Marsalis. While others have played in this vibe before, Mr. Jones does it with an elan that few of his contemporaries have, which separates this album from the pack. And the interplay between Jones and his longtime piano partner Orrin Evans is virtually telepathic.  Im.Pro.Vise (Never Before Seen) is a terrific live in studio blowing session that crackles with the energy of a great club set.
  • The Lagos Music Salon – Somi (OKeh) – Born in Illinois to Ugandan and Rwandan parents, Somi, an elegant, captivating and criminally underheard vocalist decided after her father’s death, to spend 18 months living in Lagos, Nigeria. The result is this stunning album, which gives us a mix of various African musical styles, American Jazz and R & B. The guest appearances by Angelique Kidjo, Common and Ambrose Akinmusire are perfectly placed. The storytelling, the intoxicating beats and the memorable compositions make Lagos Music Salon an indelible album. It’s without a doubt, the best of Somi’s career.

The next post, Part III, will cover albums 11 – 15 in our alphabetical “Best Of” 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…

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014: Preview – The International Stage

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2014 with tags , , , , , , on May 16, 2014 by curtjazz

Somi - The Lagos Music SalonIt’s confession time…When I last attended the Atlanta Jazz Festival in 2012, most of the truly memorable musical moments I experienced were not at the Main Stage but at the smaller and more intimate International Stage.  Like the Main Stage, the International Stage features world-class musicians but the setting makes all the difference. You are much closer to the musicians, those in the audience are there for the music, not a party and the artists are happy to reward the patrons for their respect and attention.

In years past, the International Stage had featured a mix of artists from outside the U.S. and groups that hailed from the Atlanta area. However with the advent of the Locals Stage this year, the lineup at the International Stage has taken on a true World Music feel, featuring the most culturally diverse group that I’ve ever seen at the AJF.

I admit that I will be torn at times between a “name” artist on the Main Stage and an up and comer that I am fond of on the International Stage. Unless cloning is perfected within the next week, I’m likely to make the decision spontaneously. Scott Fugate, I hope that you’re up for a few of those “harrowing golf cart rides”!

 

The International Stage Schedule

Saturday, May 24

1:30 pm: Edmar Castañeda Trio – This quote from the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, about Mr. Castañeda sums it up: “The Colombian plays the harp like hardly anyone else on earth. His hands, seemingly powered by two different people, produce a totally unique, symphonic fullness of sound… served with euphoric Latin American rhythms, and the improvisatory freedom of a trained jazz musician…”

3:30 pm: Somi – Born in Illinois to parents from Rwanda and Uganda, this vocalist brings a mix of African rhythms, jazz and soul that is as gorgeous and unique as anything I’ve heard on today’s musical scene. She has been called “a modern-day Miriam Makeba” by some with a sound that Vogue Magazine called “gorgeous”.  He recorded work has been first-rate (my favorite is 2011’s Live at Jazz Standard) and we are looking forward to her upcoming major label debut The Lagos Music Salon, which will feature Common and Angelique Kidjo, with great anticipation.

5:30 pm: Eldar Trio – This young pianists stunning dexterity has drawn breathless comparisons to Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and many other keyboard giants. Eldar Djangirov has been praised by legends such as Dr. Billy Taylor and Dave Brubeck, who called Eldar “a genius…”. Born in Russia and raised in Kansas City, the 27-year-old last year simultaneously released jazz (Breakthrough) and classical (Bach/Brahms/Prokofiev) albums to critical acclaim across the musical spectrum. If you plan on attending his performance, make sure that you bring a chair with a seat belt.

 

Sunday, May 25

1:30 pm: Ali Amr – Ali Amr is a Moroccan singer and Qanun performer. The Qanun is a zither-like stringed instrument that is played throughout much of Asia, the Middle East and Southern Europe. Mr. Amr has always been musically curious and that curiosity has brought him and his Qanun into a variety of musical settings and genres, among them being jazz. He performed at the Newport Jazz Festival last year and we look forward to what he has brought south for us to hear in Atlanta.

 

3:30 pm: Diego Figueiredo – Diego Figueiredo is considered one of the most talented guitar players in the world today. He is the winner of several important competitions including the Montreux Jazz Competition and the VISA Prize. He has released twenty albums, three DVD’s, and several instructional books. His music is a fusion between Jazz, Bossa Nova and Classical. Diego has performed in over forty countries around the world.

5:30 pm: Cyrille Aimee – Winner of the Montreux Jazz Festival’s International Vocal Competition, the Sarah Vaughn International Jazz Vocal Competition and finalist in the Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition, French/Dominican vocalist Cyrille Aimée is, in the words of Will Friedwald of The Wall Street Journal, “one of the most promising jazz singers of her generation. ( A side note, I happen to agree with Mr. Friedwald, 100 percent.) Cyrille’s major label debut, It’s a Good Day, will be released this year but while your waiting, check out her Live at Smalls CD, featuring Roy Hargrove.

For more information about the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website at http://atlantafestivals.com/