Archive for willie jones iii

What’s New (and Good) from WJ3 Records

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , on November 21, 2017 by curtjazz

WJ3 Records is another of the cadre of the small, but mighty, jazz record labels that have cropped up in our post-CD society. Founded and helmed by drummer Willie Jones III, WJ3 releases around 3 – 4 new projects each year, featuring top flight mainstream jazz masters such as pianists Cyrus Chestnut and Eric Reed, L.A. based guitarist Jacques Lesure and Mr. Jones, himself. I first became hip to WJ3 about a decade ago, when I was assigned by a publication, to review a couple of their new releases. I can honestly say, that I’ve never heard a bad album from any of their artists.

Here now is a review of two recent WJ3 releases:

Jacques Lesure – For the Love of You

jacques lesureJacques Lesure…educator, actor, social media raconteur, and above all, master guitarist. Though his name is still unfamiliar to many, Mr. Lesure has been part of the music scene for over 30 years. With an inviting, single-note guitar line that is reminiscent of Grant Green, but infused with the warmth of a Kenny Burrell, Jacques Lesure, is always worth listening to, be it live or on one of his recordings, the last three of which have been on WJ3, including his latest, For the Love of You.

The title of the album should give you a hint about the vibe. Whereas his two prior efforts When She Smiles and Camaraderie, were fine, straight-ahead blowing sessions, For the Love of You,  is more accessible, but just as good; featuring several, mid-tempo romantic tracks, with titles straight out of pop radio. It’s a perfect antidote to a long day. Mr. Lesure is as always, in top form, as are his band mates, pianist Eric Reed, bassist Tony Dumas and WJ3’s chief, Willie Jones III, on drums.

Strong performances abound, including a bright, infectious version of “The Lamp is Low”, with a tasty solo by Mr. Reed; “Put On a Happy Face”, on which Lesure builds a simple starting line, layer by layer, into a very nice solo. His tribute to one of his musical idols, “That’s Mr. Burrell, Thank You”, is a head nodding, finger snapping blues, that is pure fun. It will be a definite crowd favorite during his live performances. The centerpiece is Cedar Walton’s anthemic classic, “Holy Land”. I’ve heard many versions of this tune over the years; this is one of the best. Following the familiar opening theme, Mr. Lesure digs down deep and delivers a blistering solo, which clearly inspires Reed, who then matches Lesure’s virtuosity in his turn.  Dumas and Jones take strong turns before all four musicians trade eights until the close.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars – Another first-rate album from Jacques Lesure. It will appeal to fans of all categories of jazz.

 

Willie Jones III – My Point Is…

willie jones iiiWillie Jones III is one busy cat, in addition to leading his own group and running WJ3 records, he also is a first call sideman and producer on numerous projects outside of his label. If he is spreading himself too thin, it certainly is not in evidence on My Point Is…, his seventh album as a leader. This protégé of Albert “Tootie” Heath, recorded this album with some of his own label’s top talent, who also happen to be some of the best in the current jazz world; trumpet master Eddie Henderson, the criminally underrated Ralph Moore on tenor, the legendary Buster Williams on bass and the soon to be legendary Eric Reed, on piano.

I first became a fan of Mr. Jones, when I reviewed his fourth album, The Next Phase. The first thing I noticed was Jones’ rock solid timing and that even on ballads, he swings like mad. Nothing in that respect has changed since 2010. Like two of my other favorite working drummers – Kobie Watkins and Ocie Davis, Jones has an innate gift for pushing the musicians playing with him, while still doing things that are unfailingly rhythmically interesting.

The selections are a nice mix of Jones’ originals, along with a few from the band and one each by Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock. “Manhattan Melodies” a Reed composition from about 20 years ago, open the disc on a high note. I’ve heard three versions of this tune over the years and this one is my favorite. The theme takes on new life in the hands of the two horn players, who punch it up with strong solos. Buster Williams’ ballad, “Christina”, offers a nice opportunity for a muted Henderson to remind us of the good ways that Miles influenced him. “The Maze”, a tune that Herbie wrote for his debut album, is given a fresh reading here. The sinuous backbeat set by Jones, followed by Reed’s funky solo, pulled me right in. Yes, I was sitting at the keyboard with eyes closed and head nodding. I see an interesting hip-hop sample in this track’s future. The title cut is the best thing on the album, with Williams and Jones feathering an intricate nest for some sweet mute work by Eddie and a rolling piano solo from Reed. This was, and still is, on heavy rotation in my playlist.

I’ve never gone wrong with a Willie Jones III album and My Point Is… is no exception. Solid writing, first rate playing and a final product, that is a fine example of modern jazz.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars. Another straight-ahead jazz winner from Willie Jones III and WJ3 Records.

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!