Archive for wynton marsalis

Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far): Closer Look, Pt. 2 – Instrumental Albums

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2017 by curtjazz

Let’s now look at my top 10 albums (and one EP), on the instrumental side:

Akua’s Dance – Akua Dixon (Akua’s Music)

Cellist Akua Dixon has collaborated with musical greats of numerous genres, from classical to Broadway; from R&B to, of course, jazz. Whatever the idiom, she brings a gorgeous tone and an unfailing sense of lyricism, to the music. On Akua’s Dance, her third project as a leader in the last six years, she plays a baritone violin, which is basically an over-sized cello.  The full and present sound of the instrument, along with her hard swinging backing trio, including the welcome addition of guitarists Freddie Bryant and Russell Malone, make this her best solo album, by far. She covers all bases, from fun jazz (“Dizzy’s Smile”), to an irresistible cover of Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo”, to a compelling, worldly-wise vocal on Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away”. This album doesn’t sound like anything else on this list and that’s a great thing.

 

Back to Earth – Farnell Newton (Posi-Tone)

Portland, OR based Trumpeter/Composer/Educator Farnell Newton is one of the hardest working cats in the music business. Over the last few years, he has released a couple of very strong contemporary jazz projects (Class is Now in Session; Ready to Roll) and a fascinating collection of impromptu improvisations (10 Minute Trumpet Jams). On Back to Earth he has come home, with his first straight-ahead album in over a decade. And it is pure dynamite. Newton shows off his powerful chops and his flawless sense of swing, in a set of inventive originals, such as the soulful “Gazillionaire” and impressive covers, like a take on Freddie Hubbard’s classic “Arietas”, that does the legend proud. I’ve enjoyed all of Mr. Newton’s work over the years but I know that I will be reaching for Back to Earth, long after the end of 2017.

Boundary Issues – Chris Greene (Single Malt)

Like Farnell Newton, saxophonist Chris Greene’s star shines mostly on a regional basis, in this case, it’s Chicago. Regardless of his address, the dude just keeps dropping first-rate projects, that make me wish I lived closer to Chi-town, or that he toured more often. Boundary Issues, is an enjoyable set, that is very accessible but not at all patronizing. Mr. Greene’s saxophone is as rich and inventive as always and I have to give special props to Steve Corley for his next-level drum work. Most memorable track: a Silver meets Marley version of “Nica’s Dream”.

Brothers Under the Sun – Steve Nelson (HighNote)

Steve Nelson is one of the three best jazz vibraphonists alive today. But you may not have heard of him because he drops projects under his own name about as often as we experience a solar eclipse. He has spent most of his career elevating the works of others but when he steps out in front, it is an unequivocally special event. His latest album, a quartet date, is no exception. It’s a swinging mix of standards and originals, many of them composed by his friend and frequent musical partner, the late, great pianist, Mulgrew Miller. Brothers Under the Sun, is an elegant, swinging, good time from beginning to end; an exquisite musical statement and a subtle but fitting tribute to a giant who left us too soon.

Made in America – Bobby Watson (Smoke Sessions)

I love the concept of this album as much as I do the music. Saxophonist Bobby Watson, has created a tribute to a number of influential African Americans; some who are well known, such as Sammy Davis, Jr. and Butterfly McQueen; and a few others, such as Bass Reeves and Major Taylor, who sent even me scrambling to Google more about them. But Made in America is not a dry history lesson; it is a living, energetic, creative and unapologetically  jazzy appreciation of those who paved the way, sometimes at great cost. It’s also quite evocative, as Watson has dropped in smile inducing references, such as quoting “Wild Blue Yonder”, in the Wendell Pruitt tribute (“Aviator”) and Lewis Nash “tapping” out the rhythm on “G.O.A.T.” (for Sammy Davis, Jr.). This project succeeds on all levels. Kudos to Mr. Watson and all involved.

The Music of John Lewis – Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, feat. Jon Batiste and Wynton Marsalis (Blue Engine)

John Lewis, the pianist and guiding light of the Modern Jazz Quartet, passed away over 16 years ago. For many, their knowledge of him begins and ends with the MJQ. However, John Lewis was one of the great jazz composers of his time and one of the most affecting blues pianists that I’ve ever heard. The biggest surprise is that it has taken so long for there to be a full-scale, recorded tribute to his music. Perhaps, it’s because only Wynton and the JLCO could do it right. The most pleasant surprise for me, is the stellar work of Jon Batiste on piano. I knew of Mr. Batiste and I knew he had an impressive musical pedigree but, through no one’s fault but mine,  I’d mostly heard him in his day job, as musical director for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Mr. Batiste, who is just 30, is a fantastic pianist, who embodies Lewis’ elegant swing, while adding a few of his own touches. The JLCO and Mr. Marsalis are of course, at the top of their game, the arrangements are inventive and the Lewis compositions selected, from “Django”, to “Two Bass Hit”, to “Spanish Steps”, are his absolute finest. As prolific as Mr. Lewis was, there is definitely need for a Volume 2 (and 3, for that matter). Let’s hope someone hears me.

Post Cool: Vol 1; The Night Shift – Carol Morgan (Self-Produced)

This disc appeals to me for so many reasons: First, it’s by Carol Morgan a trumpet player whose picture is in the dictionary under the phrase “criminally obscure”. Second, her front line partner is tenor saxophonist, Joel Frahm, who is next to Ms. Morgan in the aforementioned “photo”. Third, the music is fabulous. Nothing fancy, no big stars or pyrotechnics – it’s just four real pros, (Martin Wind – bass and Matt Wilson – drums, a couple of stellar musicians, round out the quartet – no piano), playing like it was the 2 am set in a small, smoky club. No frills, just damn good music. There are standards of the jazz canon (“Strollin'”, “Night in Tunisia”, “On a Misty Night”), given fresh life. There are also a couple of fine originals from Ms. Morgan’s and Mr. Frahm (“Night”, “Song for Mom”, respectively) that are very worthy additions. As of now, this set is only available via Ms. Morgan’s website (www.carolmorganmusic.com). It’s worth the trip because, while you’re there you might want to sample some of her other fine work.

Reach – Christian Sands (Mack Avenue)

Christian Sands first came on the jazz scene 15 years ago as a child prodigy who displayed flashes of brilliance that predicted a very bright future. Now at 27, with a number of high profile gigs under his belt, including his current spot as Christian McBride’s pianist of choice; Mr. Sands has dropped, Reach, his first major label album. Suffice to say those early predictions were accurate. His virtuosity on the keys has matured to the point where his runs are truly substantial.  His most impressive area of growth is as a composer. Sands wrote 8 of the album’s 10 songs, including impressive tributes to two of his influences; Chick Corea and Bud Powell. He has also composed a killer Latin track (“Oyeme!”) and a head nodding hip-hop groove (“Gangstalude”) . Additionally, there is an ominous, seven minute deconstruction of “Use Me”, the Bill Withers classic, featuring some killer jazz-rock guitar from Gilad Hekselman. Reach is a fine announcement of arrival from this young veteran.

Sabiduria – Eddie Palmieri (Ropeadope)

The greatest living bandleader in Latin Jazz has just turned 80 and he shows no signs of slowing down. As befitting someone who has been a major musical figure for six decades, the list of heavy hitters who join him for the celebration is impressive – Joe Locke is on vibes, Pretty Purdie, on the drums, Ronnie Cuber and Donald Harrison are two of the saxophonists, Marcus Miller, on bass and the list goes on. Sometimes, having so many guest stars can lead to confusion but that’s not the case here as Sabiduria is the strongest and most appropriately eclectic musical statement that I’ve heard from Mr. Palmieri in at least 15 years. There are tracks rich with history and some that explore new ground. And we’ve also got Locke and violinist Alfredo de la Fe, trading hot solos on “La Cancha”. Happy Birthday to “The Sun of Latin Music”. From the looks of things, he’s going to shine for quite a while more.

Serenade for Horace – Louis Hayes (Blue Note)

Another awesome octogenarian, Louis Hayes makes his Blue Note Records debut, as a leader, with this gorgeous, swinging tribute to his old boss Horace Silver. Thankfully, Mr. Hayes is experienced enough to not do a note for note regurgitation of the Silver classics, which are still fresh in most jazz fan’s minds and readily available. Instead, Serenade for Horace manages to capture the joyous spirit of Silver, while still making these tunes, some of which are over 60 years old, sound as if they were fresh compositions. A lot of this is due to the out in front presence of Steve Nelson on the vibes. Apart from his early work with Milt Jackson, Silver rarely worked with a vibraphonist, so Nelson leading the way on many of the tracks is invigorating. Gregory Porter drops by to sing his own new lyric on “Song for My Father”. Even if you own the Silver recording of all of these tunes, this disc is worth your while.

A Tribute to Art Blakey [EP] – Tony Allen (Blue Note)

Hell. Frickin’. Yeah!!! This is not a full album but a four song EP with an album’s worth of badass playing, as the legendary king of Afrobeat, Tony Allen, pays tribute to another percussion monster, the great Art Blakey. I love almost everything about this project – the song selection (“Moanin'”; “Night in Tunisia”; “Politely” and “Drum Thunder Suite”); the fresh sound of all of these familiar Blakey classics, when filtered through an Afrobeat lens; the cool, Buhaina-esque cover photo of Mr. Allen; the fact that the whole disc is begging to be sampled into a hot, hip-hop groove. So what don’t I love? It’s only four songs. It was just enough to make me want more. More Tony Allen and more Afrobeat Blakey, please!

And that’s our halftime show. A great first half of the year in jazz. I’ve got a stack of  CDs staring at me on my desk and even more album downloads in the computer waiting to be reviewed and shared with y’all. Gonna be a busy but rewarding rest of the year. More to come, soon. If you missed the complete list, see it HERE

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

JAZZ LIVES!!! 10/20/16 – Trumpet Tribute (featuring Kenny Dorham)

Posted in Charlotte Community Rado, Jazz in Charlotte, Obscure Trumpet Masters, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2016 by curtjazz

JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz – Thursday, October 20: Trumpet Tribute – featuring Kenny Dorham

kennydorham_unamasOn this week’s edition of JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, it will be all about the trumpets.

With the birthdays of Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie all taking place this week, plus the Grammy winning jazz trumpeter Ashlin Parker, paying tribute to the underappreciated trumpet master Kenny Dorham, in The Jazz Arts Initiative’s JAZZ ROOM this Friday and Saturday, it is a perfect time for a Trumpet Tribute, from 6 pm – 9 pm, Thursday on CharlotteCommunityRadio (CLTCRadio).

He was a trumpet player of exceptional gifts; a composer of jazz classics, such as “Blue Bossa” and a better than average vocalist. Nevertheless, McKinley Howard “Kenny” Dorham (1924-1972), often gets lost among the glut of trumpet stars of the 1950’s and 60’s. He was a member of Art Blakey’s original Jazz Messengers and he replaced Clifford Brown in Max Roach’s group after Brownie’s tragic death. Dorham’s recordings as a leader are some of the most enduring of the era, including Afro Cuban, Quiet Kenny, ‘Round About Midnight at the Café Bohemia and Una Mas. He also made memorable music as a sideman, especially with his frequent musical partner, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. Together, they made three classic Blue Note albums over a two year period, under Henderson’s name: Page One; Our Thing and In ‘n Out.

ashlin-parker

Ashlin Parker

Charlotte native Ashlin Parker plays with large and small ensembles nationally and internationally. His solos have been described at various times as being lyrical or fiery, with throaty growls or “brilliant vibrato,” and with lightning staccato runs or “superb legato” phrasing.  When part of a front-line, Ashlin can bring energy, bite, and zest to a performance through engaging in “fine counterpoint duets” or spirited trading with other horn players.  His newest ensemble, the Trumpet Mafia, is considered “an immensely talented band.”

Ashlin shared in the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra’s album, Book One.  Following Book One, Ashlin has recorded with numerous artists, including Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, Dmitry Mospan, James Partridge, Terence Blanchard and Jason Marsalis. Ashlin has been teaching various aspects of jazz, including improvisation, theory, repertoire, arranging, and performance preparation in private lessons, courses, summer institutes, jazz camps, and master classes for more than ten years.  He has been leading the jazz trumpet studio in the Music Department at the University of New Orleans since January 2011.

Be sure to join me on JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, as we honor the musical legacy of Kenny Dorham and play the music of Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Hargrove and  Ashlin Parker; Thursday, October 20; from 6 pm – 9 pm (EDT); on CLTCRadio.

Don’t miss Ashlin Parker as he pays tribute to Kenny Dorham, in the Jazz Arts Initiative’s THE JAZZ ROOM. Friday, October 21, at 6 pm & 8:15 pm and Saturday, October 22, at 7 pm and 9:15 pm. For ticket information, visit www.thejazzarts.org

JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, airs LIVE every Thursday from 6:00pm to 9:00pm via CharlotteCommunityRadio.orgCLTCRadio.org OR use the Mixlr app where you can listen and chat with our hosts and guests alike.

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A New Gift from JLCO: “Big Band Holidays”

Posted in New on the Playlist, The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2015 by curtjazz

Big Band HolidaysMy late father often said “The best thing to do in a hurry, is nothing.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to truly appreciate the enduring wisdom in those words – for I’ve so often discovered that I make my biggest errors, when I do things for speed and not for pleasure. Such is the case with my post a couple of days ago about my favorite new Holiday Jazz Albums.

Since I decided last weekend that I was going to write something every day for the rest of the year to atone for my lack of activity over the last six months, I’d became totally focused on putting something out there, even if I hadn’t really thought it through. So when I completed the post on new Christmas Jazz, I dropped a few words and a couple of videos, and declared my mission accomplished, even though I felt as if I was missing something…it didn’t matter; at least I was making my self-imposed deadline.

I was missing something. Something that I had heard and enjoyed more, , than most of the albums in the original post – it was the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s Big Band Holidays; an album far richer and more complex than its simplistic title (and pedestrian cover art) would suggest.

Every December for over a decade, Wynton Marsalis, and the JLCO have come together with some of the great vocalists in jazz to perform their arrangements of some of the classic songs of the season. Thankfully many of these concerts were recorded. This year, Blue Engine Records, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s house label, assembled some of the choice selections from 2012 – 2014 concerts and released them as a compilation – featuring three of the best vocalists in jazz today, Rene Marie, Gregory Porter and Cecile McLorin Salvant and strong arrangements from some of the bands in house pros like Victor Goines, Sherman Irby and Ted Nash, plus a nod to the new testament Basie Band by including Ernie Wilkins classic arrangement of “Jingle Bells”. Big Band Holidays is a terrific jazz album first and a good Holiday album second, which is why I will probably be listening to it beyond next Friday night.

As you can see, these performances were also caught on video, so we can share a few of them with you. May these performances prove to be as timeless as my dad’s words.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

 

Birthday Video Tribute – Wynton Marsalis

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault with tags , , on October 18, 2011 by curtjazz

He’s arguably the most well-known and controversial jazz musician to come on the scene since 1980. He’s revered by many and reviled by almost as many.

He’s Wynton Marsalis – prodigiously gifted, passionate about the music and never at a loss for words. Today he is 50 years old.

Say what you want about him, but I can remember a time when some of the greatest jazz musicians ever to walk the earth were making disco records in order make a payday.

A lot of that changed when Wynton came on the scene  (with the full faith and credit of the Columbia Records publicity machine behind him). Suddenly, “real” jazz was cool and marketable again. Was it retro? Yeah; but it had heart and soul. And someone of my age was out there standing up for the jazz tradition.

Within a few short years, those who had loved Wynton passionately in 1982, had turned on him with a vengeance, but he has kept going, in spite of the haters.

He helped make straight ahead jazz relevant again, at a time when it was in danger of disappearing completely and we’re born on the same day, one year apart. Those are two reasons why I dig Wynton.

Here are a few performances from over the years, in tribute to “E. Skain Dankworth”.

Where Are They Now? – The Tough Young Tenors

Posted in The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2011 by curtjazz

1991 was a relatively heady time for the jazz business. In addition to all of the reissues of classics on the still ascendant CD technology, record labels were rushing to sign promising young musicians, in their search for another Wynton.

Among them were five tenor saxophonists, brought together for a one-off album by Antilles Records. None of them were well-known at the time, but they were unquestionably gifted. Their names were Walter Blanding, Jr., James Carter, Herb Harris, Tim Warfield, Jr. and Todd Williams. They were called “The Tough Young Tenors”. The title of the album: Alone Together.

Backed by an all-star rhythm section of Marcus Roberts on piano, Reginald Veal on bass and Ben Riley on drums; these brash youngsters showed that they had the goods. In solos, duos and finally in a five sax free-for-all on Sonny Stitt’s classic “The Eternal Triangle”, this album proved to be more than a blowing session – it was one of the best jazz albums of the year. At the time we knew that these cats were all destined for jazz stardom.

It did not turn out that way.

Though they were all on equal footing fame-wise at the time of the recording, they have met with varying degrees of success in the ensuing 20 years. Here, in alphabetical order, is a look at the fortunes of “The Tough Young Tenors”:

Walter Blanding, Jr.

Though he has only one album to his credit (2000’s The Olive Tree), Blanding has been quite active. He has been a member of Wynton Marsalis’ septet and his other recording credits include Marcus Printup and Eric Reed. He’s currently a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The great Jimmy Heath said about Blanding in the May 2011 issue of JazzTimes, “I call him ‘Walter Spicy’, ’cause there’s nothing bland about him”.

James Carter

(http://jamescarterlive.com/)

Carter is without question, the most commercially successful of the Tough Young Tenors and one of the most well-known jazz musicians of his generation. New York Magazine called him “Jazz’s first rock star” (though I still believe that title belongs to Miles Davis). His debut album JC on the Set took the jazz scene by storm in the year after Alone Together. Carter was just getting started. His 14 albums under his own name between 1992 and 2011, have fearlessly covered the jazz spectrum, from standards, to funk, to avant-garde. He has also made guest appearances with many of jazz’s legends, from Hancock to Golson to Wynton. Already this year, James Carter has released a new album, Caribbean Rhapsody and appeared on his first disc as the newest member of the venerable World Saxophone Quartet, Yes We Can.

What was predicted for all members of the group, Carter has achieved.

Herb Harris

(http://www.herbharrismusicco.com/index.html)

Like many most of the members of the group, Harris logged some time with Wynton, highlighted by his appearance on the Tune in Tomorrow soundtrack. He also appeared on Marcus Roberts’ dynamite Deep in the Shed.  However, he has undeservedly languished in obscurity for most of the last 20 years.  He has released two competent, if unspectacular albums as a leader: NY Daze & Knight, from 2001 and the contemporary flavored Some Many Second Chances in 2009. 

Tim Warfield, Jr.

(http://www.messiah.edu/departments/music/tim_warfield/)

Mr. Warfield has been the most prolific of the TYTs, next to Carter. In addition to releasing six critically acclaimed albums on Criss Cross Records, (his latest is A Sentimental Journey) he has worked with a veritable who’s who of jazz, including Stefon Harris, Christian McBride, Nicholas Payton, Shirley Scott, Jimmy Smith and Terell Stafford. He is currently an artist in residence at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. He also recently accepted an adjunct professor position on Temple University’s music department faculty.

Todd Williams

(http://twilliamsmusic.com/)

Todd Williams spent over a decade with Wynton Marsalis following TYT. He appeared on some of Wynton’s classics, such as the Soul Gestures in Southern Blue series and In This House on This MorningWilliams was also a long time member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.  The quintessential sideman, Williams has yet to release a jazz album as a leader.  Always a man of great faith, Todd decided a few years ago to leave Wynton and the LCJO to concentrate on his duties as minister of music at NYC’s Times Square Church.  At the church, he has produced an album of gospel music and spirituals, called Beautiful Things from AboveWithin the last 18 months, Todd has been quietly making appearances again on the jazz scene, leading a group in the Hudson Valley area and making a notable appearance with pianist Eli Yamin, at a White House gala.

So we find that 20 years later, these tenors are still on the scene and still pretty “tough”. If you haven’t checked any of them out in a while, now is a good time to get reacquainted.