Archive for terence blanchard

2014 Jazz Grammy® Preview #1 – Best Improvised Jazz Solo

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2014 by curtjazz

Well folks, here we are again. The Grammy® Awards will be handed out on Sunday, January 26. As usual, the awards in the jazz categories will be announced during the “Pre-Show” before the televised broadcast. As I have done over the past few years I’ve put together a review of the jazz category nominees, including a musical clip and my opinion about the artists chances to take some hardware home on Sunday. Let’s start as has become customary with jazz’s equivalent of Record of the Year, “Best Improvised Jazz Solo”

The nominees are:

“Don’t Run”: Terence Blanchard – soloist (From the album Magnetic [Blue Note Records])

This is the best track on trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s best album in years. Frankly, I’m surprised that Magnetic did not get a Best Instrumental Jazz Album nomination. Nevertheless, this cut features great solos from Blanchard, Ravi Coltrane on soprano sax and the legendary Ron Carter on bass. Will it win? It’s got a good chance. Blanchard is fairly well-known and the record did create some mild buzz this summer. However there is a bona fide legend in this category who may stand in Blanchard’s way.

“Song for Maura”: Paquito D’Rivera – soloist (From the album Song for Maura [Sunnyside Records])

Another very strong track in this very competitive field, “Song for Maura” is an old D’Rivera composition given new life in this excellent rendition, which is the title track to D’Rivera’s summit meeting with the Brazilian group Trio Corrente. The album is nominated for a Best Latin Jazz Album Grammy. D’Rivera’s clarinet and the light Brazilian rhythms make for an intoxicating mix. It has a decent shot because of D’Rivera’s relative renown but I think he stands a better chance of the album winning.

“Song Without Words #4: Duet”: Fred Hersch – soloist (from the album Free Flying (Fred Hersch and Julian Lage) [Palmetto Records])

Pianist Fred Hersch has garnered six Grammy nominations during his career but has yet to take home the prize. That and the fact this is a brilliant classically tinged track from a brilliant album makes Hersch a sentimental favorite. However, I think that he is likely to go home empty-handed again.

“Stadium Jazz”: Donny McCaslin – soloist (From the album Casting for Gravity (Greenleaf Music)]

Donny McCaslin is the relative newcomer in this group, having been nominated to my knowledge, only once before, in 2005. “Stadium Jazz” is a fun, fusion based track and McCaslin reminds us all that he is one of the best saxophonists in the business. Unfortunately though, in this very strong field, he is a long shot.

“Orbits”: Wayne Shorter – soloist (From the album Without a Net [Blue Note Records])

Remember that legend that I was talking about earlier? Here he is. The biggest stunner of this whole nomination list this year was that this was the only nomination that Wayne Shorter’s return to Blue Note Records garnered. Not that this is Shorter’s best work but we all know that Grammy loves legends. But this is IMO the best performance on Without a Net and Shorter is a Jazz Hall of Famer. So although my personal favorite is Terence Blanchard, I predict that Wayne Shorter will be your winner on Sunday.

This will be a hotly contested category as will most of the jazz categories this year. Frankly I wouldn’t squawk if any of the nominees walked away victorious.

So here is my bottom line unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Terence Blanchard
  • Will Win: Wayne Shorter

Up next, will be Best Jazz Vocal Album. Again, there’s a clear favorite but some strong contenders.

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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!

The Best Jazz Albums of 2013 (So Far)

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2013 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2013 by curtjazz

cecile mclorin salvantOver the last couple of years, I’ve noticed a small but insistent wave in jazz. We’re seeing artists in their twenties and thirties playing music that does nod to the traditions but also shows the influences of what a lot of these younger musicians grew up listening to; hip-hop; crunk and other related styles. This style has evolved from the confused mess that some of the early cross genre attempts were, into something that is fresh and stands on its own, apart from either of its main musical parents.  As a result, I’ve begun to see a number of today’s jazz writers (and a few musicians as well) rise up and take arms against the “interlopers”. They have written page after page on why what the young musicians are doing “isn’t jazz”.

Whatever else it is, “jazz” will always be about evolution, improvisation and change. What the young cats are now trying to do, could represent the first really new thing in jazz in 50 years. I may not like everything that’s a part of it but I embrace the fact that someone is doing something new.

You’ll see a couple of those albums among my mid-term favorites. Disagreements and agreements are always welcome but spam is not. The albums are in alphabetical order by title.

The Bespoke Man’s Narrative – Aaron Diehl (Mack Avenue)

This was the first album this year to “wow” me. Mr. Diehl’s third album is an unabashed tribute to the Modern Jazz Quartet, which was the first jazz group to “wow” me, over thirty years ago. Mr. Diehl is an outstanding pianist with a strong sense of swing, yet a light touch, reminiscent of course, of John Lewis. And when label mate Warren Wolf sits in on vibes, the transformation becomes complete.

Border Free – Chucho Valdes and the Afro-Cuban Messengers (Jazz Village)

The great Cuban pianist just gets better with age. This album  is a deeply personal statement, filled with tributes to his family members and others who have influenced his musical direction. But you never forget that this is a Chucho Valdés album, so these tributes are carried out in the midst of killer Afro-Cuban rhythms and piano statements of astonishing brilliance. You can read my full review HERE.

Grace – J.D. Allen (Savant)

After recording in the sax, bass, drums trio format for five years, J.D. brings a pianist back into the group on Grace. Not just any pianist but Russian-born wunderkind Eldar Djangirov. Instead of altering the group’s style, Djangirov blends in nicely adding a rich texture to Allen’s group that was missing in some of the previous outings. The pianist has made a good thing even better. You can read my full review HERE.

In A World of Mallets – Jason Marsalis (Basin Street Records)

The youngest of the musical Marsalis brothers, Jason made a committment to playing the vibes full-time a few years ago. While he was a world-class drummer, Marsalis struggled a bit on his first album after making the switch four years ago.  He seems to have put those troubles behind him on this album, which is a rich, quirky and mature musical statement. It also takes my award for the punniest album title so far this year,

Live Today – Derrick Hodge (Blue Note Records)

Derrick Hodge, who was a major presence on Robert Glasper’s Grammy Winning Black Radio in 2012, has made an even stronger musical statement on his debut as a leader. The big name guest stars are not here but the music is denser and more complex than Black Radio’s. Finally, an artist has nailed it in the search for a hip-hop/jazz hybrid. This is “Real Jazz” for the 21st Century. You can read my full review HERE.

Magnetic – Terence Blanchard (Blue Note Records)

Hard to believe that Terence Blanchard has been on the jazz scene for over thirty years. While he has done everything from score films, to write operas, when you get right down to it, he is never better than he is when he fronting a group and reminding everyone that before all of the Hollywood accolades, Blanchard was one of the best jazz trumpet players around; period. He reminds us again here, with his working group and stellar guest spots from Ravi Coltrane, Lionel Loueke and the incomparable Ron Carter. You can read my full review HERE.

No Beginning, No End – Jose James (Blue Note Records)

The vocal love child of Al Green and Bill Henderson, Jose James struck pay dirt on this album, his Blue Note debut. It’s not as straight ahead jazzy as his Impulse! album from a couple of years back nor is it as club ready as some of his first efforts. It’s a blend of jazz, hip-hop and R&B that fits like a glove around James’ unique voice.  It is absolutely irresistible. No Beginning No End hasn’t left my CD Jukebox since its release and there’s a good chance that it will remain there until the end of the year.

Songs From This Season – Tim Green (True Melody Music)

This Baltimore native first drew attention with his second place finish in the 2008 Monk Saxophone Competition. He has recorded with a litany of jazz and Gospel artists from Warren Wolf to Andrae Crouch. But it’s Songs From This Season which has brought Mr. Green to the attention of most of the jazz world. It’s easy to see why. The album’s selections are mostly traditional post bop and Green is on fire throughout; be it on introspective ballads such as “Psalm 1” or burners such as his trio take on “Pinocchio”. This young man has musical ideas to spare. Something tells me that he will be on this list numerous times in the future.

That Nepenthetic Place – Dayna Stephens (Sunnyside Records)

A “nepenthe” is a fictional medicine for sorrow, a “drug of forgetfulness” mentioned in ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology. That ancient word is an apt description for the music performed by tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens and his quartet on this album. Though the selections are not decidedly upbeat, when taken as a whole, they leave you feeling terrific when they are done. Add in contributions from Gretchen Parlato, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and the third album proves to be the charm for Mr. Stephens. This is his best and most well-rounded recording to date.

Cecile McLorin Salvant – WomanChild (Mack Avenue Records)

This is the most talked about album from a female jazz singer this year. Why? Because it is also the best album by a jazz vocalist so far this year, hands down.  The requisite comparisons to Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae and a number of other vocal greats have already begun. Ignore them. For though this is only the second album from this Miami native, she has established enough of her own style already to make most of those comparisons unfair and fairly irrelevant. Cecile won the Monk vocal competition in 2010 and if you want to know why, listen to this album. It’s not the work of a neophyte finding herself but of an established vocalist who knows exactly where she is going.

Again, this list represents my favorites among the jazz albums released this year that I’ve heard to this point. There’s much more that I will hear, including the stack of new recordings on my desk now. In December we will post the final list for 2013, which will include these albums plus the ones that I will be privileged to hear over the next four months. Until then, The Jazz Continues…

Album Review – Blanchard’s “Magnetic” Attracts Positive Attention

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2013 by curtjazz

Magnetic coverIt has been thirty years since Terence Blanchard first hit the jazz scene as Wynton Marsalis’ handpicked replacement in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and then lead a memorable “young lions” quintet with saxophonist Donald Harrison. Since then, Mr. Blanchard has scored over 40 films, including all of Spike Lee’s since Mo’ Better Blues; been nominated for eleven Grammys® (and won five); served as artistic director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz; been a first call sideman and led his own group that has recorded twenty albums. In addition, Mr. Blanchard’s first “Opera in Jazz”, Champion, about the life of the late boxer Emile Griffith, recently premiered in St. Louis.  Suffice to say that Terence Blanchard has been quite busy. His twentieth album also marks his return to Blue Note Records for which he last recorded 2007’s A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina) for which he won the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Grammy.

His new album, titled Magnetic, features ten original compositions, all by Mr. Blanchard or the members of his latest quintet; Brice Winston on saxophone, Fabian Almazan on piano, Kendrick Scott on drums and 21-year-old newcomer Joshua Crumbly on bass. In addition, there are guest appearances by bass legend Ron Carter, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane (son of a legend) and guitarist Lionel Loueke (likely to be a legend). Blanchard has been experimenting with a number of styles, from classical to Latin to hip-hop on some of his recent recordings. Though those experiments were always interesting and often successful, it’s great to find him on Magnetic, back at his base in what is essentially a first-rate post-bop blowing session.

The title track kicks things off. It’s a knotty mid-tempo piece, peppered with staccato horn blasts and various electronics including Blanchard’s use electronics which at times give his trumpet a guitar like sound. “Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song” has a mellow funk rhythm over which the group lays down some exploratory solos with Ravi Coltrane’s tenor runs being the highlight, Blanchard’s electronic trumpet sounding like a keyboard and Loueke’s guitar comping in the background. Lionel’s vocalizing and chord runs are subtle at first, then grow in prominence to give the piece a shift in direction. Drummer Scott contributed the hard-driving “No Borders, Just Horizons”, which opens with a powerful two-minute drum solo and then moves surprisingly into a Latin swing over which Blanchard blows one of his best solos on the album before turning things over to Winston’s tenor, which is also in fine form. “Central Focus”, which Blanchard originally recorded on his Simply Stated album twenty years ago and it makes welcome return here with Blanchard showing what he has learned in the ensuing two decades and Scott setting a beat that is impossible to ignore. Winston’s “Time to Spare”, which he originally recorded on his debut solo album three years ago, appears here in an improved version. Winston is more confident and his tenor runs, which show the influence of Joe Henderson, are more self-assured.

The highlight of highlights is “Don’t Run” which features the great Ron Carter on bass and Ravi Coltrane on soprano sax. The tune takes its title from a joking admonition that Carter made to Blanchard to “Stop running from me, man”, when the trumpeter would suggest that they work together. “Don’t Run” is 7 ½ minutes of jazz awesome, with Blanchard, Coltrane, Carter and Scott, just blowing their brains out. Coltrane starts it; with one of his best solos on soprano that I’ve heard to date. Blanchard comes behind him, clearly intending to not be outdone and Carter, is his usual Hall of Fame self.

Magnetic is a mature and winning artistic statement from Terence Blanchard and his quintet. He demonstrates that in spite of the film work, the operas, the Broadway scores and the other things that divide his attention, he remains one of the best jazz trumpet players working today and that he has the recordings to back it up.