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Radio Bob's 2013 Jazz Year in Review
Beyond my top five albums for the year, I was quite impressed with many other jazz offerings in 2013 (click for my Top 5 Jazz Albums of the year). Here are my thoughts on these notable new jazz releases.
A Year In Review: 2013
On the vocal front, Tierney Sutton collaborated with pianist Larry Goldings, members of the Turtle Island Quartet, and guests such as Hubert Laws and Al Jarreau in a gorgeous tribute to Joni Mitchell, After Blue. Highlights include the duet with cellist Mark Sommer on All I Want, the medley linking the jazz standard April in Paris with Joni's Free Man in Paris, and a finger-snapping take on The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines with Goldings, Laws and drummer Peter Erskine.
Making her debut on Touchstone, twenty-year-old Ariel Pocock shows off both her appealing vocal style and her serious piano chops. With a stellar band of bassist Larry Grenadier, guitarist Julian Lage, drummer Eric Harland and tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake (who appear in various combinations throughout the disc). Highlights include the opening number, a vocal and drums duet on Exactly Like You that shows Pocock to be a very rhythmically assured singer as she trades licks with drummer Eric Harland, her angular instrumental Barrel Roll, and her version of Keith Jarrett's Country. She is adept singing both standards and the songs of everyone from Randy Newman to Kate Bush.
There were plenty of good vibes in 2013, with three notable releases standing out. Gary Burton has yet to slow down and continues to hire some of the finest young musicians on the scene. Guided Tour is the second CD by the band billed as "The New Gary Burton Quartet," with guitarist Julian Lage (who first played with Burton when Lage was just 12), bassist Scott Colley, and longtime Pat Metheny drummer Antonio Sanchez. Whether on the intense and complex Fred Hersch piece, Jackalope, or on Michel Legrand's quiet and lovely Once Upon a Summertime, the band is adept at many styles and rhythms. Two highlights are Burton's own memorably melodic Jane Fonda Called Again and the very tasty Sanchez piece, Monk Fish.
Joe Locke is no stranger to intense, complex music (see his work with pianist Geoffrey Keezer), but he keeps the focus on groove and melody on Lay Down My Heart: Blues and Ballads Vol. 1 with pianist Ryan Cohan, bassist David Finck and drummer Jaimeo Brown. The infectious nature of Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine gets the disc off to a stellar start, and there are terrific versions of two al-too-little played but great tunes in Sam Jones' Bittersweet and Frank Foster's Simone. A terrific album for late at night with the lights turned down low. Warren Wolf is making his case as one of the finest young vibists to come along in jazz in recent years (note his work with Christian McBride's Inside Straight and pianist Aaron Diehl), and he takes a major step forward as a leader on Wolfgang. Variety is assured by two different rhythm sections. The highlight of the tracks with Christian McBride, Benny Green and Lewis Nash is the deeply bluesy Frankie & Johnnie, and I am quite partial to the hard-driving modernism of Grand Central, one of the tracks with the younger band of Aaron Goldberg, Kris Funn and Billy Williams, Jr. There are also two lovely duets with pianist Aaron Diehl, including an exploration of their roots in classical music on the title track.
Pianist Geri Allen mostly plays solo on Grand River Crossings, her tribute to the Motown scene of her home town of Detroit. She approaches such classics as Smokey Robinson's Tears of a Clown and Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues in an elegant, sometimes oblique way, searching for the inner beauty of the music more than taking a rip-roaring approach. Though there is more of the latter on a brief take on Itching in My Heart, with saxophonist David McMurry, and Gerald Wilson's Nancy Joe, one of three tracks featuring Detroit trumpet legend Marcus Belgrave.
Terri Lyne Carrington's Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue, which reimagines the music of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach on a classic album from 50 years ago. Here, the core trio is Carrington on drums, Gerald Clayton on piano and Christian McBride on bass. On the opening title track, you hear the voices of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Martin Luther King, Jr., over the hard driving riffs. There are also effective guest spots by the likes of Tia Fuller, Robin Eubanks and Antonio Hart, but at its core, this is a piano trio album with a hard-swinging excursion on Very Special and a cool Latin groove on Wig Wise.The past year brought a fine selection of mostly trio dates; the most ambitious being
A more traditional piano trio date is led by drummer Gerry Gibbs with pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Ron Carter; the CD is aptly titled Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio. Barron and Carter are simply jazz legends, but Gibbs fits right on a mostly hard-swinging affair that kicks off with Thelonious Monk's Epistrophy and features four Gibbs originals, notably the nod to Carter on Hear Comes Ron. There's a blazing version of Herbie Hancock's The Eye of the Hurricane and tasty tunes from Barron (Sunshower) and Carter (A Feeling). Benny Green, who recently turned 50, may be the outstanding hard bop pianist of his generation, and on Magic Beans he presents a set of original music inspired by the Blue Note sound of the late '50s to early '60s. The swinging opener, Benny's Crib, sets the stage for a superb outing with Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums. Other highlights are the Latin groove of the tune named Jackie McLean (there are also tunes named Kenny Drew and Harold Land, as Green tips his hat to his jazz forebears) and the rather oblique but still swinging Flying Saucer (with hints of the piano music of Herbie Nichols and Elmo Hope).
While it seems like pianist Eldar Djangirov has been on the scene forever, he's still just in his mid-twenties. While his technique has been dazzling from the start, his new CD is aptly titled Breakthrough, as his continued musical growth shows more and more that his technique is a means to musical expression rather than an end in itself. With his longtime bandmates bassist Armando Gola and drummer Ludwig Afonso, Djangirov's dazzling opening number, Point of View Redux (click for video) is an exciting, intricate tune that shows the brilliance of the entire band. From there, Djangirov slides into a brisk but lovely version of Somebody Loves Me, where he plays with displacing the rhythms in an effective manner. There are other jazz standards like No Moon at All and a gorgeous solo reading of Good Morning, Heartache, and an entrancing take on Radiohead's Morning Bell. Meanwhile, pianist Ahmad Jamal, whose elegant, understated piano trios brought him to fame in the mid 1950s, has actually become rather more assertive, even aggressive at times, at the piano, as he shows on his CD Saturday Morning, with hard swing and funk rhythms from bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley, and Latin percussion from Manolo Badrena, as on the kick-off track, Back to the Future. Jamal remains a master of using space and unexpected but perfect chords, as on his versions of I'll Always Be With You and I'm in the Mood for Love, and of musical quotations (he weaves in several Ellington tunes on this version of I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good).
Pianist Aaron Diehl is only 27, but unlike many young musicians, he is less concerned with flash than with restraint, not unlike a main influence, the late John Lewis (Diehl worked in organizing the Lewis archives). On The Bespoke Man's Narrative, he adopts the format of Lewis's main band, the Modern Jazz Quartet, with vibes (Warren Wolf), bass (David Wong) and drums (Rodney Green) and like the MJQ, this quartet's music is filled with elegance, form and intricate interplay. Highlights include a gorgeous reading of Duke Ellington's Single Petal of a Rose, Diehl's own Stop and Go, with very uptempo passages alternating with medium swing, and a Milt Jackson blues done by the MJQ, The Cylinder, with a loping feel. It should also be noted that this is a beautifully-recorded album, with great definition among the instruments and a very natural sound. In other words, even more so than with most recorded music, you miss out a lot by relying on MP3s.
A long overdue leader debut for Kansas City pianist Roger Wilder, Stretch is an impressive collection of strong originals and well chosen (and not overplayed) covers. Whether on the insistent Latin groove of Pelican, with the twin soprano sax work of David Chael and Matt Otto, or the early '60s Blue Note sound of Alley Cat Harrison, with Chael and Otto on tenors, Wilder's composing talents are well displayed. He even dips into some Fender Rhodes funk on the title track. Wilder's piano chops shine on the blazing Sal Nistico line Comin' on Up, and he and Chael navigate the tricky changes in a duo version of John Coltrane's 26-2. Inspired by a month-long tour of East Africa, pianist Ryan Cohan leads a seven-piece band through an impressive album of original music infused with African musical elements (The River), in what works as one long suite, with linking music between the various tunes. The writing and playing is so strong throughout that it is hard to pick out highlights, but I am especially taken with Brother Fifi and the joyous grooves of Last Night at the Mannenberg.
Matt Baker and Bryn Roberts. Baker is from Australia, but his first recording since moving to New York is Underground (while this was released in 2012, it first got national radio distribution this year). With bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, Baker takes a brief romp through If I Were a Bell and caresses his way through his original Central Park North. Along with six other trio tracks, the disc features trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and saxophonist Dayna Stephens on two lengthy and compelling Baker originals, the title track and Refuge. Pianist Bryn Roberts keeps busy both in the world of jazz, where he has worked with many of New York's finest artists in his decade plus in the Big Apple, and in the world of pop, rock and folk, most notably touring with singer-songwriter Dar Williams. For his second leader date on Fables, Roberts assembled a first-rate band with saxophonist Seamus Blake, bassist Orlando LeFleming and drummer Johnathan Blake. The writing is strong and the playing excellent on the six Roberts' originals; I am especially taken by Corlear's Hook and the title track. Blake sits out on the two standards, a brisk take on In the Still of the Night, and totally lovely but poignant version of Guess I'll Hang My Tears out to Dry.New York City continues to attract and nurture an amazing amount of young jazz talent, as shown in albums by
Magic 101 by Frank Wess (who died in 2013) was recorded in 2011 when Wess was a mere 89, with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Winard Harper. Wess, known for his innovative work on flute and as one of the great ballad players in jazz, stuck to tenor sax here but proved he was still a great ballad artist, on such numbers as The Very Thought of You, Easy Living, and a totally solo reading of Ellington's All Too Soon. I don't know if Wess made other later, yet unreleased records, but if this was his last one, it marked an excellent end to an extraordinary career.
Tenor and soprano saxophonist Tim Warfield first came to my attention for his work with trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and Payton, along with pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Rodney Whitaker, and drummer Clarence Penn on Warfield's Eye of the Beholder, a more than solid post-bop outing with strong tunes and excellent musicianship. The band stretches out on Warfield's Blues for Mr. Bill to open the disc, and a lovely Warfield piece, Forever, One Day at a Time, to close. Other highlights are Warfield's solo introduction to a 5/4 version of I Remember You, and a fine mid-tempo groove on Mulgrew Miller's Second Thoughts. Alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett's Pushing the World Away is the CD I most regret not squeezing into my top five of the year. Whether on the fiery post-bop of A Side Order of Hijiki, the cooking Latin rhythms (with Benito Gonzalez sounding rather Tyneresque on piano) of Chucho's Mambo, or the tasty calypso on J'ouvert (Homage to Sonny Rollins), Garrett brings intelligence and fire to his improvising. There are many other highlights as well, with the terrific bass and drums work of Corcoran Holt and Marcus Baylor anchoring most tracks and Vernell Brown sharing the piano chair with Gonzalez. Garrett even sits down at the piano for his piece Brother Brown, with some lovely string work in a tribute to pianist Donald Brown.
At age 35, Jaleel Shaw has earned a reputation through his work with Roy Haynes and Orrin Evans as one of the finest "young veterans" on the scene and he shines on The Soundtrack of Things to Come, which features all original music and a more than solid rhythm section of pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Boris Kozlov and one of my favorite young drummers, Johnathan Blake. Shaw is on alto for eight of the ten tracks, and the soprano on the other two, and his playing can exhibit fierce swing, gospel shouts and quiet tenderness. Highlights include the searching I Wish I Didn't Know, the cooking Conclusions (great rhythm work here) and The Wheel of Life, Shaw's musical interpretation of a cloth painting representing the Buddhist doctrine of the Four Truths, which opens in a folkish vein over a droning bass line and builds into an impressively beautiful piece.
Two impressive saxophonists who are new to my ears, Diego Rivera and Adam Rongo each had impressive releases on trombonist Michael Dease's fine label, D Clef Records. Rivera, who teaches at Michigan State University, is joined by fellow faculty members Dease and bassist Rodney Whitaker, on a hard-swinging session on The Contender, and album that also features trumpeter Greg Gisbert, pianist Mika Hayama and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. Special treats are Rivera's swinging tribute to bassist Rodney Whitaker, The Whit; the catchy Latin number El Pachuco; and a terrific version of Silver's Serenade. The 25-year-old Rongo's debut CD, Tell Your Story, is a straight-ahead hard bop and post bop outing, but while not breaking new ground, features outstanding playing and an interesting selection of tunes, with a core band of Dease, Whitaker and Owens plus one of my very favorite young pianists, Emmett Cohen, with some fine guest spots from trumpeter Etienne Charles, vibist Behn Gillece, and guitarist Randy Napoleon. The CD gets off to a burning start on a Steve Wilson tune, Tell Your Story, and Rongo also covers pieces by two other sax greats, Jimmy Heath and Johnny Griffin. Charles and Gillece are part of the uptempo Rongo original, Temporary Paralysis.
Trombonist Michael Dease steps to the fore on the CD Coming Home. Dease may not be well-known to the jazz public writ large, but he's built a reputation over the last decade as one of the finest trombonists on today's scene. He's got ridiculous chops (check out his original Solid Gold or his playing on Freddie Hubbard's Take It to the Ozone), but is far more than just someone showing off his technique: check out the drop-dead gorgeous playing on Ellington's In a Sentimental Mood. Other highlights include the rapid and very catchy Oscar Peterson tune, Blues Etude, and bassist Christian McBride's The Shade of the Cedar Tree. With McBride on bass and Ulysses Owens, Jr., on drums, the rhythm is both rock solid and suitably supple, and the band has two excellent veterans in pianist Renee Rosnes and saxophonist Steve Wilson.
Etienne Charles, Tom Harrell and Terence Blanchard are among this year's highlights. On Creole Soul, the Trinidadian trumpeter Charles explores a wide variety of African and Caribbean rhythms in an album bursting with joy and movement. From the opening title track, with the Haitian vocals of Erol Josue and the fiery electric guitar of Alex Wintz to the delightful calypso that closes the CD, Doin' the Thing, this album covers a broad terrain stylistically but never feels like a jumble. The rhythm is anchored by bassist Ben Williams and drummer Obed Calvaire, along with keyboardist Kris Bowers. Check out the reworked rhythms on Thelonious Monk's Green Chimneys. At age 67, Harrell continues to be a font of creativity, as shown on Colors of a Dream, where he supplements his regular band of tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Johnathan Blake with alto sax player Jaleel Shaw and vocalist and bassist Esperanza Spalding. The two bass format and mostly wordless vocals bring a new twist to the proceedings (where all the pieces are composed by Harrell), with highlights including Phantasy in Latin and Blues 2013, and the vocal take by Spalding on a classic Harrell piece, Sail Away, with Portuguese lyrics. Blanchard's Magnetic features his working quintet (plus such guests as Ron Carter, Ravi Coltrane and Lionel Loueke) blending inventive post-bop acoustic jazz with judicious use of electronics and contemporary rhythmic grooves. The title track, written by Blanchard, is an ambitious, sprawling piece stuffed with powerful drumming from Kendrick Scott and strong soloing, including Blanchard's processed trumpet. The 21-year-old bassist Joshua Crumbley's tune, Jacob's Ladder, shows the quietly powerful acoustic side of the band, and there is sprightly, dancing bop on Blanchard's Don't Run, with great interplay with guest saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and guest bassist Ron Carter. Pianist Fabian Almanzar's extended, ambitious piece Pet Step Sitter's Theme Song, explores the outer reaches.A trio of CDs from trumpeters
The Kansas City jazz scene is thriving these days, and one strong piece of evidence of that comes from trumpeters Stan Kessler, Hermon Mehari, and Mike Metheny on their CD, A Kansas City Trumpet Summit. Kessler and Metheny have been two of the stalwarts of the scene for many years, as is the bassist here, Gerald Spaits, and the new generation of KC players is served well by Mehari, pianist T.J. Martley and drummer Brian Steever. This is no wild extravaganza of "can you top this?" pyrotechnics, but rather an exercise in melodicism. All three shine on the swinging Charlie Parker tune, Segment, that opens the proceedings. There's two by Jobim, and Mike Metheny uses his EVI (electronic valve instrument) to good effect on So Danco Samba and on a lovely, little heard Bill Evans tune, Comrade Conrad. Mehari shines on Body and Soul. It's a polished, gorgeous CD, but I would love to have a live recording where everyone cuts loose more (as all three can).
Kendrick Scott, a key part of the bands of Terence Blanchard and singer Kurt Elling, leads his own terrific band, Kendrick Scott Oracle on Conviction. Considering his oft fiery work with Blanchard, one might expect this to be a showcase for drum pyrotechnics, but it's anything but. Instead, the vibe might be called "passionate restraint." The lineup is a who's who of gifted young musicians: guitarist Mike Moreno, pianist Taylor Eigsti, bassist Joe Sanders and saxophonist John Ellis. Highlights include a lovely reading of Herbie Hancock's I Have a Dream, the leader's Cycling Through Reality, with a fascinating drum solo intro, and a gorgeous composition by saxophonist Walter Smith III, Apollo.Drummer
Game Changer, Ali Ryerson led her Jazz Flute Big Band, with 16 flute players plus rhythm, charging through big band charts, plus three distinguished guest flute soloists: Holly Hoffman, Hubert Laws and Nestor Torres. In one way, this WAS a conventional big band, though, with swinging mainstream arrangements by the likes of Mike Wofford, Mark Levine and Michael Abene. Highlights include Clifford Brown's Daahoud, Oliver Nelson's Stolen Moments (with great work by Laws) and a gorgeous reading of Dizzy Gillespie's Con Alma, with tasty work in a Latin vein from Nestor Torres.Last but not least, the one big band album that grabbed me this year was anything but a conventional big band. On
Radio Bob's Best Jazz for 2013
We'll follow in a separate article with my thoughts on many other notable new jazz releases. End-of-the-year "best of" lists are always somewhat daunting to undertake, but they do offer the opportunity to revisit the year's music in-depth, and try to give an honest and thoughtful assessment of the most notable releases, well worth repeated listening. Here are my top five jazz albums for 2013.
Christian McBride and Inside Straight, People Music
Fresh off a big band album from last year, the energetic bassist Christian McBride released two of the best albums of 2013. This one marks the return of his quintet Inside Straight, which was featured in a 2009 debut. McBride notes that the title People Music reflects the notion that this should be accessible music. That it is, but not in a bland way, as the band combines hard swinging, melodic jazz with interesting approaches to time, creative soloing, and a good variety to the material. Highlights include McBride's own catchy Fair Hope Theme and a new, powerful version of one of his older tunes, The Movement, Revisited, Steve Wilson's moving piece Ms. Angelou, featuring Wilson on soprano sax, and young pianist Christian Sands' Dream Train. Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., are on two tracks, with pianist Peter Martin and drummer Carl Allen on the other six. Joining McBride throughout the album are the outstanding young vibist Warren Wolf and the consistently fine saxophonist Steve Wilson. Throughout, McBride is constantly impressive with his outstanding work on bass, both in ensembles and as a soloist.
Christian McBride Trio, Out Here
Where Inside Straight glides along like a well-built luxury car (McBride has compared it to a '69 Lincoln Continental), his trio with the brilliant young pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., is a much more flashy model, a high performance sports car - eager to show off its chops. And what chops! You want fast? Check out the trio's version of Cherokee. But fundamentally, it's not just about speed; it's also about handling. And in this trio it's about soul, as you can hear on the opening track, Ham Hocks and Cabbage or the rousing Oscar Peterson tune, Hallelujah Time. While there seems to be an obsession in today's jazz world with abstraction, with chilly exploration of mathematical mazes, there is too often a lack of, to put it simply, soul and swing. McBride's band may be taking an old fashioned approach by putting the emphasis on those last two things, but they never come across as same old, same old. They freshen up My Favorite Things with a 5/4 beat, and throughout the youthful energy of Sands and Owens bring new life to well-worn approaches. Oh, and that McBride fella plays some pretty amazing bass.
Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit
New Blue Note head Don Was had the good ears and good sense to make Gregory Porter one of his first signings to Blue Note. After two impressive CDs for Motema Records, Porter is getting a lot more attention after this debut on Blue Note, and for good reason. Working with his regular band, Porter demonstrates the richness, soulfulness and nuance of his powerful voice, as well as his songwriting (he wrote all but three of the 14 songs on the CD). With early- to mid-'60s soul being the dominant vibe (it's no wonder that one of the covers is The "In" Crowd), Porter mixes tender ballads like Hey Laura and Water Under Bridges with the powerful, grooving gospel of the title track, and some pointed social commentary in Musical Genocide. There's a gripping version of Abbey Lincoln's Lonesome Lover and the opening track, No Love Dying, finds the narrator of the song defiant despite the bad signs all around him. The band, featuring Chip Crawford on piano, Aaron James on bass, and Emanuel Harrold on drums (and a few spots for one of my favorite young saxophonists, Tivon Pennicott) is in the pocket the whole way.
Cécile McLorin Salvant, WomanChild
It's easy to hear why McLorin Salvant won the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition at the tender age of 20. This Miami-born singer of Haitian and Guadeloupian descent, who grew up in France, possesses a truly amazing voice, coupled with a desire to explore a wide range of material and influences. With a terrific band (Aaron Diehl, piano; Rodney Whitaker, bass, and Herlin Riley, drums), Salvant reaches back to the 1920s for St. Louis Gal (recorded by Bessie Smith) and even further for a stunning version of the folk song John Henry, but this CD is anything but a nostalgia trip, as shown in Salvant's own composition that is the title track. The changing tempos of What a Little Moonlight Can Do reflect the kind of risk-taking adventurousness of Betty Carter, and the stunning vocal improvisation in I Didn't Know What Time It Was recall the very best of Sarah Vaughn. Salvant is one of the most impressive new voices to come along in jazz in quite some time.
Bobby Watson & the I Have a Dream Band, Check Cashing Day
Saxophonist Bobby Watson's ambitious mix of hard bop jazz and powerful spoken word makes both a fitting tribute to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and an exciting musical experience. The title refers to the passage in Dr. King's speech that August day about the need to cash the 100-year-old check promising racial equality in America. The spoken word poetry of Glenn North throughout this project melds well with Watson's music to make it clear that check has yet to be fully cashed, but also serves to inspire. The music itself is filled with Watson's typically memorable and swinging melodies (the kick-off track, Sweet Dreams, is particularly outstanding), and the band is terrific. Trumpeter Hermon Mehari continues to show why he is one of the most promising young artists in jazz; pianist Richard Johnson, drummer Eric Kennedy, and longtime Watson compatriot Curtis Lundy are an outstanding rhythm section. Pamela Baskin-Watson sings on two numbers, including the anthemic Seekers of the Sun (Son), and Horace Washington makes three guest spots on flute, while Karita Carter is on trombone on another. Filled with powerful messages, Check Cashing Day finds Watson at a creative and musical peak.
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