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

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2014 with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2014 by curtjazz

FL_KE$HAOur final post on the Best Jazz Albums of 2014, includes the latest live album compilation from a true living legend. There’s a transcendent album from a vocalist who deserves much more recognition.  We have an impressive debut album from one of the best young drum masters around. A tenor saxophonist who has made a tribute album his own and finally three avant-garde jazz legends, encountering a contemporary lion and in doing so creating some fascinating fireworks.

  • Road Shows, Volume 3 – Sonny Rollins (OKeh) Nobody should mess with Theodore Walter Rollins. Nobody. (Just ask “humorist” Django Gold!)The greatest living jazz saxophonist released another set of tracks this year from his seemingly inexhaustible supply of live recordings. This set was recorded between 2001 and 2012, in Japan, France and St. Louis. As for the performances, well it shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that they are stellar. The most amazing thing for me is to realize that Mr. Rollins was somewhere between 71 and 82 years old when these were recorded. His energy level and the creativity of his ideas on his solos both seem limitless. At an age when most sax players, if they are still playing, are taking it easy, Newk is shaming younger cats every night.  There are a couple of standards a couple of Rollins classics a brand new hard-driving piece (“Patanjali”) and an eight minute and thirty second unaccompanied solo flight which will make many a sax player go out and sell their horns. And just think y’all, there are hours and hours more of this out there. Bring on Road Shows, Vol. 4.
  • Soul to Soul – Carmen Lundy (Afrasia) This is an album that is deeply, deeply drenched in soul and jazz. This is the type of album that perhaps Anita Baker would have made after Rapture if the corporate suits had left her alone. Carmen Lundy nails it. All. The. Way. It was clearly a personal project for Ms. Lundy as she wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 13 compositions and played all instruments on a basic tracks version of the album that she recorded before the final version. Her vocal performances are as rich, stunning and sexy as they have ever been and the mood is never less than sumptuous. Guest stars such as Patrice Rushen, Geri Allen, Warren Wolf and Randy Brecker add the perfect grace notes. Jazz fans should own this album. Adult R & B fans should own this album. Hell, everyone should own this album.
  • The Thought of You – Otis Brown III (Blue Note) Drummer Otis Brown III is one of the bright young talents in jazz today. You’ve probably heard him, even if you didn’t know it as he has played and recorded with Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding, Terence Blanchard and many others. For his debut album, Mr. Brown has enlisted the help of some of the other bright young cats, such as Robert Glasper, bassist Ben Williams, trumpeter Keyon Harrold and vocalist Gretchen Parlato; with labelmate and Glasper bassist  Derrick Hodge as co-producer. The music is strong, modern straight ahead jazz with decidedly spiritual overtones. Highlights include their reworking of a Shania Twain tune “You’re Still The One” with Ms. Parlato on vocals.Also check out “The Way (Truth & Life)” written by Brown and Glasper. It always excites me to hear the next generation playing jazz as they hear it because in spite of what some old fogeys say, these guys are the music’s future hope. Mr. Brown loves his jazz, he loves his family, he loves his wife and more than anything, he loves The Lord. And that’s alright by me.
  • Tiddy Boom – Michael Blake (Sunnyside) Michael Blake’s name was new to me before this album. But since I was quite familiar with all of his bandmates on this disc, I came in with fairly high expectations. They were exceeded. The Canadian born/New York based  tenor saxophonist was able to get this project off the ground thanks to a grant from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works program. It was conceived as a tribute of sorts to two of the earliest titans of the tenor, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. The compositions are all originals and though Blake does show a bit of Hawkins influence, his robust and hard swinging tone is all his own. This is thoughtful, intelligent jazz; well-played by all and more than worthy of multiple listens.
  • Wiring – Trio 3 & Vijay Iyer (Intakt) Trio 3 is back with another outstanding album featuring stellar work by a younger, forward thinking guest pianist. on last year’s Refraction – Breakin’ Glass, it was Jason Moran; this time Vijay Iyer does the honors. The results are a bit different but no less compelling. Oliver Lake’s earthy alto saxophone continues to do great things at that edge of the avant-garde. He delivers outside ideas with just enough melody to keep from losing those of us are not big fans of “free”.  Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille will always be as solid a bass/drums tandem as you will find anywhere. And their special guest, Mr. Iyer has established himself as one of the most intelligent jazz pianists around. In whatever scenario he is placed, he makes the music better.  

Tracks from all 25 albums in our 2014 Best Of list, may be heard on Curt’s Cafe Noir WebJazz radio, our free, streaming radio station, from now throughout January 2015. Click HERE to access the station.

For those who want to see our complete list of the Best 25 Jazz Albums of 2014, it is available in a previous post that you can view by clicking HERE.

May you all have a Happy, Healthy, Safe and Jazz Filled 2015. I will holler at y’all plenty of times in the next year about all things jazzy. Feel free to holler back, whenever you are so moved.

Until then, the jazz continues…

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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…

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2012 – The Complete List

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2012, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by curtjazz

To wrap up our discussion about our favorite jazz albums of 2012, we’ve brought everything mentioned in the three prior posts together into one comprehensive list. The link in each album title will take you to the album’s page on Amazon.com, if you’re interested in buying or downloading it.

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz of 2012 – The Complete List

In Alphabetical Order by Album Title

Album Title

Artist(s) Label
Accelerando Vijay Iyer ACT
Angelic Warrior Tia Fuller Mack Avenue
Be Good Gregory Porter Motéma
Be Still Dave Douglas Greenleaf
Black Radio Robert Glasper Experiment Blue Note
Blue Moon Ahmad Jamal Jazz Village
Claroscuro Anat Cohen Anzic
Don’t Look Back Mary Stallings HighNote
Flip The Script Orrin Evans Posi-tone
Four MFs Playin’ Tunes Branford Marsalis Marsalis Music
Girl Talk Kate McGarry Palmetto
Heritage Lionel Loueke Blue Note
House of Legends Courtney Pine Destin-E
I Carry Your Heart (Alexis Cole Sings Pepper Adams) Alexis Cole Motéma
Lyrical – Volume 1 Milton Suggs Skiptone
Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years Virginia Mayhew Renma
The Only Son of One Wayne Escoffery Sunnyside
Prisoner of Love Marianne Solivan Hipnotic
Seeds From the Underground Kenny Garrett Mack Avenue
Triveni II Avishai (Trumpet) Cohen Anzic
     
A FEW MORE GOOD THINGS    
Colombe David Reinhardt Trio 101 Distribution
Echoes of Indiana Avenue (Best Historical Album) Wes Montgomery Resonance
Hot House Chick Corea and Gary Burton Concord
Lifesize Mirror Monét Entertainment One
Radio Music Society Esperanza Spalding Heads-Up / Concord
     
2011 Album Revisited    
Keep It Movin’ Shimrit Shoshan

Self-Release / CD Baby

CurtJazz’s Best Jazz Albums of 2012 – Part I

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2012, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2012 by curtjazz

In another year in which another uninformed, self-important magazine writer chose to declare it dead, jazz took greater advantage than ever of social media and the internet to declare that writer like, so many who came before him, to be full of hot air. As young artists took advantages of their musical roots and influences, I saw things that made this writer very hopeful about the future of this music:  Young people came out in throngs, fist pumping and dancing at Robert Glasper’s Atlanta Jazz Festival appearance. Esperanza Spalding, Tia Fuller and Anat Cohen, released albums that demonstrated the growing power of women instrumentalists. And some veterans proved that they still “got game”.

So here in alphabetical order, are the first ten on my list of my favorite jazz albums that were released in 2012. Since I didn’t get to publish a midterm list this year, there will be another ten coming in the next post, plus a few others that are also worthy of more than several listens.

Accelerando – Vijay Iyer (ACT)

accelerando

This is Mr. Iyer’s third appearance on our list in the last four years. The pianist is releasing music on an album per year basis and each year, he manages to top his previous offering with an approach that never covers the same ground twice. On Accelerando, Iyer is back with his trio mates from 2009’s Historicity, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore and as on that now classic album, the trio delivers a mix of intricate original compositions with reworkings of little heard jazz and pop tunes. Each is fired up by Crump and Gilmore’s unshakable rhythms, which are now showing a touch of a hip-hop influence. Anyway it comes at you, Vijay Iyer has done it again and I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings.

Angelic Warrior – Tia Fuller (Mack Avenue)

tia fuller

Still known mostly for her work as the saxophonist in Beyonce’s touring band, Ms. Fuller has come home again to produce another dynamite straight ahead jazz album. Angelic Warrior leaps out of the gate with the fiery “Royston Rumble” and doesn’t let go until “Ode to Be”, the closing outro. Ms. Fuller has developed into a strong composer, as proven by “Ralphie’s Groove” and “Tailor Made” and she is also an exciting and creative soloist, who makes an uptempo medley of “So In Love” and “All of You” work like a new Rolex.  Wake up and take notice jazz world, Tia Fuller is the real deal.

Be Good – Gregory Porter (Motéma)

gregory porter

The best new hope for male jazz singers to come along in at least a decade knocked aside any thought of a sophomore jinx on this disc, which also drew some attention in the R&B/Pop idioms. It’s easy to see why. Porter has a voice that is equal parts Donny Hathaway and Al Jarreau and as a writer, he has learned how to write an irresistible hook.  Porter has married the best of jazz and soul singing by taking the best of both worlds and bringing them together in beautiful harmony. Don’t miss his towering take on “Work Song”, the melodic “When Did You Learn” and the closer, an a cappella version of “God Bless The Child”.

 Be Still – Dave Douglas (Greenleaf Music)

dave douglas

Be Still is another in a long line of brilliant and original works by Mr. Douglas. This album was born out of the hymns that Douglas’ mother requested him to play at her memorial service. After meeting Aoife O’Donovan, an ethereally voiced young singer, with bluegrass roots, Douglas began to envision an album of these hymns as a kind of folk-jazz music. The result is an album of remarkable intimacy, Ms. O’Donovan, Mr. Douglas and a quartet of up and coming young jazz stars (Jon Irabagon, Matt Mitchell, Linda Oh and Rudy Royston) create works that are starkly beautiful. Be Still manages to be reflective, even moody but never maudlin. I’ve always been someone who looks to find God in places that others don’t look. I found Him in the sincerity of the performances on this album.

Black Radio – Robert Glasper Experiment (Blue Note)

robert-glasper

This album arrived this spring on the wings of massive hype. And it delivered. Though he has amassed unquestionable credentials in the mainstream realm, Mr. Glasper has strong hip-hop roots, as you might expect from an artist of his age (34). What he has done here is taken what was hinted at on the second half of his last album, Double Booked, to its logical conclusion, with a mixture of jazz, hip-hop, R&B, neo-soul and rock. What we get is something that can’t be pigeonholed into any genre but has reached fans of many ages and musical preferences. With help from guest stars from across the musical universe, Black Radio gives us a peek at where the next generation wants to take what we called jazz. I suggest that we “Old Schoolers” get on board and enjoy the ride.

Blue Moon – Ahmad Jamal (Jazz Village)

ahmad jamal

I’ll be damned! At 81, the artist formerly known as Fritz, a man who Miles Davis called one of his greatest influences, has turned in his finest album in at least four decades.  The tracks are mostly from the Great American Songbook or jazz standards, but this is by no means a tired romp through familiar territory. What has happened is the veteran rhythm section of drummer Herlin Riley, bassist Reginald Veal and percussionist Manolo Badrena, light a percussive fire under Mr. Jamal that has clearly inspired his artistry. Their 10 minute deconstruction of “Blue Moon” will compel you to listen to it repeatedly. For a real treat, listen to Black Radio and this album back to back. You’ll realize that the generations are not that far apart at all.

Claroscuro – Anat Cohen (Anzic)

anat cohen

IMO, the finest clarinetist in jazz today, Anat Cohen takes us on a joyously eclectic stylistic tour. Through West Africa, to Brazil to swing to bop, Ms. Cohen covers a tremendous amount of ground. With fine guest spots from the great Paquito D’Rivera (a killer clarinet duet on Artie Shaw’s “Nightmare”) and a fun loving Wycliffe Gordon (on trombone and vocals), this disc did not lose my interest for one second.  And for those like me, who are big fans of Ms. Cohen’s tenor sax work, she brings the proceedings to a nice close with a rich version of Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Wedding”. In Spanish, one of the definitions of Claroscuro is “a contrast of light and shadows”. Now knowing that, I can’t think of a better title for this disc.

 

Don’t Look Back – Mary Stallings (HighNote)

mary stallings

Mary Stallings has always been one of those singers who makes you scratch your head and wonder why she isn’t more well known.  With a career that spans five decades, a still fabulous and nuanced vocal instrument and now with the great pianist Eric Reed as her musical partner, at 73, it’s not paradoxical to say that Ms. Stallings’ future is brighter than ever.  Don’t Look Back is the third album for the Stallings/Reed team and Reed by now compliments her the way that Tommy Flanagan complimented Ella.  The selection of somewhat familiar but not overexposed tunes is excellent and the intimate performances from Stallings and Reed’s trio are unhurried and flawlessly executed.

Flip the Script – Orrin Evans (Posi-Tone)

orrin evans

Orrin Evans is not only prolific; he’s damn good as well. Last year he gave us two well received albums (Captain Black Big Band and Freedom) and he’s back now with another extremely strong trio set. Like the aforementioned Tommy Flanagan, Evans is a pianist’s pianist. Whatever he plays flows effortlessly and he never seems to be phoning it in. On Flip The Script, Mr. Evans joins forces with the hard swinging bassist Ben Wolfe and the rock solid drummer Donald Evans to put together a tremendous set. These cats are deep in the pocket from first note to last. Then Evans wraps things up with a wonderful surprise, a solo piano version of the Soul Train theme “The Sound of Philadelphia”, slowed down to “last call at the bar” speed. It’s sweet icing on a beautiful cake.

Four MFs Playin’ Tunes – Branford Marsalis Quartet (Marsalis Music)

branford marsalis

One of the many beauties of this disc is that the title tells you all that you need to know.  For as much as I love Branford Marsalis, some of his recent works had drifted into the realm of blowing great sounding solos over chords, without discernible structure. It sounded impressive but sometimes left me cold. On this disc Branford, his longtime musical partners and new drummer Justin Faulkner are relaxed and having fun, with some great musical foundations to work with – “tunes”, if you will.  Branford on soprano and tenor is as impressive as ever (I’ve always considered him to be the most musically exciting of the Marsalis brothers) and he and Joey Calderazzo are by now, one musical mind. To hear them bump their way through Monk’s “Teo” is worth the price of admission all by itself. It’s back to basics and it’s all good.

Again, another ten selections will be included in the next post.  They include a few more unheralded singers making their presence known; a couple of formidable British born sax men, with different stylistic approaches and the other half of the first brother-sister duo to make our list.

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…

Favorite Jazz Albums of 2011 (So Far)

Posted in CD Reviews, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2011 by curtjazz

Since I was shamefully late with my best of list for 2010, I figured why wait ‘til the last minute this year…

But seriously, there has been some fine jazz released so far in 2011. We’ve had some great releases from reliable veterans as well as some surprises from relative newcomers.  Here are a few of the discs that have caught my ear during between January and June. They are listed in alphabetical order, by album title:

Bird Songs – Joe Lovano & Us Five (Blue Note) – Released in early January, this disc got the year off to a strong start. Yes, there are many Charlie Parker tribute albums, but Lovano and the band (James Weidman, Esperanza Spalding, Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela), have managed to find something fresh, new and exciting in these tunes that we have heard more times that we can count. In addition, in the two years since their last disc, their sound has grown more cohesive.  If Joe Lovano isn’t the best tenor player of his generation, then he’s definitely in the top two.

Campo Belo – Anthony Wilson (Goat Hill)Recorded in Sao Paulo, Brazil, last September, with three very gifted young Brazilian musicians; Campo Belo counts as one of the most pleasant surprises of the first half of the year.  It’s not a Brazilian record in the sense that we have come to know it, and therein lays a great deal of its charm.  It never sounds forced or self-conscious; it’s just a bunch of cats that dig each other’s style, sitting down to play. It’s a heady vibe that will grow on you with each listen.

 

Captain Black Big Band – Orrin Evans (Posi-Tone)Hold on to your hats on this one. Evans, the Philly bred pianist has dropped on us a band that’s as big, brash and badass as it wants to be.  It was born out of Evans’ regular gigging at Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia.  The glorious result is 38 musicians,  from The Big Apple and The City of Brotherly Love, in various configurations; blowing their hearts out on seven tracks. Soloists include Wayne Escoffery, Tim Warfield, Jaleel Shaw and the great trombonist Frank Lacy. It may not be your father’s big band, but it should be yours.

Good and Bad Memories – Stacy Dillard (Criss Cross)Though people have pulled my coat about him in the past, I’d somehow managed to sleep on this Michigan native until this album, his fifth as a frontman.  It’s definitely my loss. His sound on tenor and soprano is restless, powerful and exciting as all hell.  With support from a band that includes Orrin Evans, and guitarist Craig Magnano anchoring a non-traditional front line, Stacy Dillard proves to be a force to be reckoned with, as a player and as a composer. When speaking of Mr. Dillard, Wynton Marsalis eloquently exclaims “This MF can PLAY!” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

The Lost and Found Gretchen Parlato (ObliqSound)Ms. Parlato is another artist who gets better with each successive release.  This album is a dreamy mix of gorgeous originals like “Winter Wind”, with inventive takes on jazz classics, like “Juju” and “Blue in Green”, with totally unexpected and effective uses of more recent works, including Mary J. Blige’s “All That I Can Say”. Not everyone digs her style, but I sure do. Gretchen Parlato is one of jazz singing’s best hopes for the future.

Ninety Miles – Stefon Harris; David Sanchez and Christian Scott (Concord Picante) – One of the most anticipated jazz releases of the first half of the year, lives up to the hype.  Harris, Sanchez, Scott and their Cuban sidemen have bridged the political nonsense to create some powerful and enduring music. They are a true collective, as all support each other as powerfully as they solo.  Grammys be damned, Ninety Miles is some award worthy Latin Jazz.

No Need for Words – Sean Jones (Mack Avenue) Trumpeter Sean Jones’ latest, is an album of love songs; not in the traditional romantic sense, but rather it’s about all of the different emotional aspects that visit us when we love, in any way. So, there are songs about a mother’s love, forgiveness for an absent father, spiritual love, physical passion, unhealthy obsession and yes, romance. His writing is very strong and his band is rock solid. On No Need for Words, Jones makes a statement that is personal, powerful and compelling.

This Side of Strayhorn – Terell Stafford (MaxJazz) The veteran trumpet man flat-out cooks from start to finish on this tribute to the works of one of jazz’s greatest composers.  He tackles the well-known (“Lush Life”) and the obscure (“Lana Turner”) parts of the Strayhorn catalog with creativity and gusto. His tone is as good as it has ever been as Stafford flutters, sings and growls his around Strayhorn’s music as if the songs were written just for him.  With stalwarts like Tim Warfield and Bruce Barth joining him, they manage to make great tunes even greater.

 

Victory J.D. Allen (Sunnyside) In general, I have not been a big fan of sax trios, outside of Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson.  J.D. Allen is one of handful of relative newcomers who are causing me to reconsider.  Here’s what made me fall in love: first – Victory is stocked with short, powerful statements.  No one track exceeds five minutes in length, leaving less room for the self-indulgent rambling that often plagues trio projects. Second – J.D. Allen is a prodigiously gifted musician; adept at flirting outrageously with the avant-garde without going all the way.  Third – a delightful rendition of “Stairway to the Stars”, that appears out of nowhere. Kudos to Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, who are just as important to this album’s success.

 

Voice of My Beautiful Country René Marie (Motema) By now, most jazz fans are familiar with the incident that birthed the concept for this album. Invited to sing the National Anthem at a 2008 Denver political event, Ms. Marie instead chose to sing the words of “The Star Spangled Banner”, to the melody of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” (aka “The Black National Anthem”). Though the rendition was stunning, the fallout was immediate and harsh, on all sides of the political and racial spectrum. It nearly derailed Ms. Marie’s promising career.  Now in her first full album release since the incident, René Marie proves that she’s back with a vengeance. Voice of My Beautiful Country is a flat-out artistic triumph; as it covers the spectrum of great American songwriting, from homespun Americana, like “John Henry” to rock classics (“White Rabbit”) to a surprisingly effective medley of “Imagination” and “Just My Imagination” to the unforgettable “Voice of My Beautiful Country Suite”, which includes another “Star Spangled Banner”/”Lift Ev’ry Voice…” mashup. René Marie has been called the natural successor to Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln and other socially conscious jazz singers. The comparison is fitting.

Honorable Mention must go to Brian Lynch’s Unsung Heroes, an album released on CD in 2011, which would be at the top of this list, except for the fact that it appeared on the 2010 year-end list, after it was released late last year in digital form only. Nevertheless, it’s so good that we’ve got to at least mention it again, just in case you’ve missed it.

I also need to remind everyone that this list represents releases that I’ve heard during the first six month of this year. All, some or none of these albums may be on the year-end list, as I hear newer releases, catch up with stuff from the first six months that I haven’t heard yet (such as Branford Marsalis & Joey Calderazzo’s Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, Ben Williams’ State of Art and Vijay Iyer’s Tirtha, all of which are at the top of my very long “to get to” list), or simply change my mind, which is a jazz geek’s prerogative.

I hope that you’ll use this list as an excuse to check out something that you haven’t heard. Agreements, disagreements and additional suggestions are always welcomed.

Until the next time, the jazz continues…