Archive for thelonious monk

My Favorite Jazz Albums of the Year: 30 for ’20 (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2020, CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2020 by curtjazz

Man, this has been one strange year! (Insert your own “no kidding”, or some variant, here)

Though I was fortunate enough to host a Zoom-based jazz talk show (Conversations with Curtis), thanks to JazzArts Charlotte, I heard less live music, this year than at any time, since my teens. I also somehow managed to hear less recorded music than any year, in recent memory. I feel less comfortable than ever declaring this list to be a “Best Of”, because there is so much out there that I’m still catching up with. So, let’s just say that these are my favorites of what I did hear. These are the albums that I went back to listen to, more than twice, the ones that stayed on the CurtJazz Radio playlist for more than just a few weeks.

There are thirty albums that I want to share with you. To keep the posts to a reasonable size, I have divided them into three groups of ten. For the sake of brevity, I will try not to write more than three sentences about any one album.

Here are the first ten of my favorite 2020 releases, in alphabetical order, by artist name:

  • J.D. Allen: Toys/Die Dreaming (Savant)
    • Allen releases about one album per year and he also makes about one trip a year to my “Best Of” list. On this enigmatically titled album, Allen continues his searing, powerful explorations guiding his tenor sax through a recommended set of mostly original tunes. It’s insistent, compelling, and absolutely first rate.
  • John Beasley: MONKestra Plays Beasley (Mack Avenue)
    • The first two outings of pianist/composer/arranger John Beasley’s large ensemble, ostensibly dedicated to the music of Thelonious Monk, made me a respectful admirer. This third volume, which adds compositions by Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Beasley himself to those of Sphere, has made me a full-fledged fan. This set swings harder and takes the energy to the next level and every track is on point. A classic.
  • Lakecia Benjamin: Pursuance: The Coltranes (Ropeadope)
    • For me, this is Lakecia Benjamin’s coming of age album. Her previous albums have hinted at her potential but missed the mark in some way or another. Merging Ms. Benjamin’s millennial energy, creativity, and her wellspring of new ideas, with the canon of John and Alice Coltrane, has given these classics a fresh start that we didn’t realize that they needed, until now.
  • Peter Bernstein: What Comes Next (Smoke Sessions)
    • Peter Bernstein is one of the best and most reliable guitarists working in the world of jazz today. Be it as a first-call sideman or as a leader, Bernstein is a consistent arbiter of taste, intelligence, and swing. On What Comes Next, Mr. Bernstein, once again, does not disappoint, bringing us an outstanding set of first-rate performances.
  • Stanley Cowell: Live at Keystone Korner Baltimore (SteepleChase)
    • Stanley Cowell, who was a composer, educator, record-label executive, in addition to being one of the most creative and innovative pianists, in the world of jazz, died on December 18. His work, as a sideman with The Heath Brothers, Charles Tolliver, Max Roach and as a leader, will ensure that legions of jazz fans will continue to talk of and discover his work, for years to come. I’m unsure of whether Live at the Keystone Corner Baltimore, is Mr. Cowell’s final recording. If so, he went out on a triumph. Rest in Power, sir.
  • Wayne Escoffery: The Humble Warrior (Smoke Sessions)
    • I’ve come to expect a certain high-level of artistry from Wayne Escoffery’s recordings. The Humble Warrior is on my “best of” list because he has shown me something completely different in his song selection. Bringing Benjamin Britten’s choral work Missa Brevis in D, into the jazz realm, complete with a dense and challenging arrangement, is one of the most impressive things, from an artistic perspective, that I’ve heard all year.
  • John Fedchock NY Sextet: Into the Shadows (Summit)
    • Though trombonist John Fedchock is one of the best big-band arrangers in the business, I believe that in his small groups, such as this one, is where he really shines. In his small groups, there is a lightness and an attention to detail that his larger charts sometimes miss. His total reinvention of “Star Eyes”, is the standout on the album and one of the best versions of that old warhorse that I’ve ever heard.
  • Champian Fulton: Birdsong (Self-Release)
    • Champian teased the release of this album, when she guested on “Conversations with Curtis”, last spring. The album was not released until August. It was worth the wait. Champian Fulton has grown into one of the finest pianist/vocalists in jazz today. She is a consummate interpreter of a lyric and though she clearly has been influenced by several the greats, she sounds like no one, but herself. Did I also mention that her piano playing can swing you into bad health? This tribute to Bird, flies high.
  • Nubya Garcia: Source (Concord)
    • Nubya Garcia has been building to this moment for a few years now, with two well received and exciting Eps, before Source, her first full length album was released this year. If you’re familiar with her EPs, what is here will not be surprising. The 28-year-old British saxophonist has a sound that is influenced by the soulful ancestors, like Henderson and Turrentine, but rooted in the nascent London jazz scene of today. Downbeat has named Ms. Garcia, one of the 25 performers that could shape jazz for decades…I certainly hope that they’re right.
  • Connie Han: Iron Starlet (Mack Avenue)
    • I was unfamiliar with the work of this 24-year-old piano prodigy, until last January, when she was the victim of some vicious and sexist written attacks by a respected online jazz publication (which later claimed that they were hacked). This made me curious enough to explore her music for myself. I found her work to be surprisingly good. She knows her jazz vernacular, she is a strong soloist, who leaves plenty of room for her sidemen and she is a fine composer. Iron Starlet, her second album as a leader, stands favorably alongside of much of the released work of Ms. Han’s contemporaries and her elders, in 2020. Those who criticize her for reasons that have nothing to do with her music, ought to be ashamed of themselves.

There you have the first ten of my “30 for ’20”. And yes, I did break my three sentence rule, when it was absolutely necessary. I’ve included a Spotify playlist, below, with a track from each of the albums discussed in this article, to give y’all a taste. We will release two more posts, with 11 – 20 and 21 – 30, on the list, on successive days. Thoughts and opinions are welcome, as always, in the comments.

Birthday Video Tribute: Thelonious Monk is 100!

Posted in Video Vault with tags , on October 10, 2017 by curtjazz

Thelonious Sphere Monk…

The name is synonymous with jazz. His quirky and hip look (the suits! the glasses! the hats!), is synonymous with jazz, his style of speaking, his impromptu dancing, his compositional style, with its melodic dissonance and odd twists, all are the epitome the music and its singular lifestyle.

Don’t Blame Me 

IMO, Monk is jazz’s greatest composer, next to his idol, Duke Ellington. Artists of all ages and abilities have performed some of his music: “‘Round Midnight”; “Straight, No Chaser”; “Epistrophy”; “Pannonica”; “Ruby, My Dear”; “Well, You Needn’t” and so many more of the classics of jazz.

I Mean You

Thelonious Sphere Monk, Jr., was born 100 years ago, in Rocky Mount, NC on October 10, 1917. He died on February 17, 1982, at the home of his dear friend, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. Many others, who are far more qualified, have written so much more about Monk, so I’m just going to share four video clips of some great live performances, featuring his longtime saxman Charlie Rouse, drummer Ben Riley and others.

Rhythm a Ning

Happy 100th Birthday, Monk! Thank you for all the gifts that you gave us.

‘Round Midnight

Obscure Trumpet Masters #9 – Idrees Sulieman

Posted in Obscure Trumpet Masters with tags , , , on March 21, 2011 by curtjazz

Idrees Sulieman (1923 – 2002)

The thing to realize about Idrees is that he went back to the very beginnings of bebop, took part in some of the most interesting hard bop of the ’50s with Coltrane and others, played lead for Tadd Dameron alongside Clifford Brown; he…was still stretching and sounding as modern as anyone in the ’70s, ’80s, and even in the ’90s. – Brian Lynch

“Bell-clear tone, swings hard, creative soloist – Find more of his stuff!!”

Those are the words I scribbled on a scrap of paper about Idrees Sulieman when I first heard him 25 years ago, on an album called The CatsI found that paper about a year ago, inside that LP’s sleeve.  It caused me to go back and start revisiting Mr. Sulieman’s work… I’m still impressed.

Born Leonard Graham in St. Petersburg, FL, in 1923; he changed his name to Idrees Sulieman when he converted to Islam. Sulieman originally wanted to be a sax player, but switched to the trumpet because his father could not afford a saxophone.  (During the ‘60’s, Sulieman again picked up the alto sax and became fairly proficient) Sulieman studied at the Boston Conservatory and gained early experience with the Carolina Cotton Pickers.  He left to join the Earl Hines Big Band in 1943. Bird and Diz were both in the Hines Band then and it had a profound effect on Sulieman. Diz’s play inspired Sulieman to perfect his own style.

During the mid ‘40’s, in addition to Hines, Sulieman logged time with Mary Lou Williams, Cab Calloway and Thelonious Monk. In fact, Sulieman’s played on Monk’s first sides, in 1947. By the mid’50’s, he had found his niche as a top flight bebop sideman. He appeared on Max Roach’s first studio album in 1953 and alongside Gigi Gryce on Mal-1, Mal Waldron’s first disc.

This is “Humph” from Monk’s Genius of Modern Music – Volume 1, which includes some of those ’47 sessions:

Other notable turns as a sideman or co-leader include The Hawk Flies High a Coleman Hawkins session, with Hank Jones, J.J. Johnson, Oscar Pettiford and Papa Jo Jones (Check out “Juicy Fruit” – Sulieman holds a single note for 57 seconds, thanks to circular breathing techniques.);  Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors, along with John Coltrane, Donald Byrd and Bobby Jaspar; Coolin’ with vibraphonist Teddy Charles and Waldron; Three Trumpets with Byrd and Art Farmer and the aforementioned The Cats with Coltrane, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Burrell, Louis Hayes and Doug Watkins.  Their version of Flanagan’s “Minor Mishap”(below)  is on my list of all-time favorite jazz performances.

The early ‘60’s saw Sulieman moving to Stockholm, where he played with Eric Dolphy, Bud Powell and Don Byas. He cut his first disc as a leader, The Camel, for Swedish Columbia, in 1964. He also returned to big band work, with a decade’s worth of fine recordings with the Clarke-Boland Big Band and the Danish Radio Orchestra, after moving to Copenhagen.

Although Sulieman was on the scene for parts of six decades, his discography as a leader is surprisingly thin.  His three albums for Steeplechase are all available. The best of these is Now Is The Time, from 1976, with Cedar Walton, Sam Jones and Higgins. Though it was almost 20 years after The Cats, Sulieman was as strong and swinging as ever.

Though he performed sparingly during his later years, Sulieman remained a prolific composer.  His estate includes a horde of compositions that were never recorded.  Trumpeter Don Sickler’s publishing company, Second Floor Music, published the tunes but much of it is still unperformed. Brian Lynch has begun to rectify that, by recording four Sulieman works on his recent Unsung Heroes project.

Sulieman died of bladder cancer in his native St. Petersburg on July 23, 2002. He left an impressive and eclectic body of work that should be heard; though it takes a bit of cross referencing to find.

Trust me, he’s worth it.

Recommended Recordings: