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We polled contributors Albert Brooks, J Hunter, Rudy Lu, Brian Patneaude, Tom Pierce and Randy Treece on their favorite jazz releases of 2010 ...

photography, concert reviews

1. Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green - Apex (Pi)
Rudresh Mahanthappa and Bunky Green on altos, Jason Moran on piano, Francois Moutin on bass, Jack DeJohnette and Damion Reid switching up on drums. Virtuosic beauty throughout!

2. Mingus Big Band - Live At Jazz Standard (Jazz Workshop)
Mingus' music brought to vibrant life by take no prisoners ensemble and great gunslinging soloists, including: Wayne Escoffery and Abraham Burton on tenors; Scott Robinson and Doug Yates on altos and flutes; Lauren Sevian on baritone; Conrad Herwig, Ku-umba Frank Lacy and Earl McIntyre on trombones; Avishai Cohen, Kenny Rampton, Earl Gardner on trumpets; Orrin Evans on piano; Boris Kozlov on bass; and Donald Edwards on drums.

3. Conrad Herwig - The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock (High Note)
Hip and beautiful re-arrangements of some of Herbie's best with: Conrad Herwig on trombone; Randy Brecker and Mike Rodriguez on trumpets; Craig Handy on clarinet, flute, tenor; Robby Ameen on drums; Pedro Martinez on percussion; Ruben Rodriguez on bass; Bill O'Connell and Eddie Palmieri on piano.

4. Antonio Ciacca - Lagos Blues (Motema)
Surprising beauty and fire from a stellar quintet led by a pianist previously unknown to me, Antonio Ciacca. Other members comprising this aggregation include: the great Steve Grossman on tenor, Stacy Dillard on tenor, Kengo Nakamura on bass; and Ulysses Owen on drums.

5. Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet - Natural Selection (Sunnyside)
Absolutely smokin' quartet! Rez Abbasi on guitar, Bill Ware on vibes, Eric McPherson on drums and Stephan Crump on bass.

Honorable mention:
Henry Threadgill Zooid - This Brings Us To - Vol. 2 (Pi )
Willie Jones III - The Next Phase (WJ3)
Alex Sipiagin - Generations (Criss Cross)
William Parker Organ Quartet - Uncle Joe's Spirit House (Aum Fidelity)
Marvin Peterson & the Soulmasters - In Concert (Jazzman/Forced Exposure)
Ralph Peterson's Unity Project - Outer Reaches
(Ralph Peterson)

CD & concert reviews

1. Mostly Other People Do The Killing - Forty Fort (Hot Cup)
Duck and cover, purists, because the nightmare is back! No group has ever made me laugh more than MOPDTK. This twisted mix of Ornette Coleman mindset and soul-jazz delivery is still the freshest thing on the menu. Please don’t stop, boys! It hurts so good!

2. Christian Scott - Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord)
Don’t you love it when promise is fulfilled? Scott always had the chops, but his compositional skills are now off the charts! Yesterday is less a set of tunes than it is a series of statements, each one filled with righteous anger and an unrelenting sense of purpose.

3. John Ellis & Double Wide - Puppet Mischief (ObliqSound)
Ellis’ gonzo vision of 21st-century NOLA is now a sextet, and that’s not subtraction by addition. The colors are brighter, the subjects are bolder, and the party is way, WAY bigger! Then again, the body count’s always bigger in the sequel, right?

4. Kneebody - You Can Have Your Moment (Winter & Winter)
We got a taste of Kneebody’s mammoth power when Ben Wendel brought some of the band to Justin’s last year. Moment is the whole package, flinging the genre head-first into the 21st century for its own good. Now, if only someone would book the entire band…

5. Avishai Cohen - Introducing Triveni (Anzic)
Someone needs to take the “Anat Cohen’s brother” sign off Avishai the Trumpeter’s back, because this set of passionate trio jazz really brings him into his own. And as great as his originals are, his riveting takes on Duke Ellington and Don Cherry are even better!

Sunny Jain – Taboo (Brooklyn Jazz Underground)
Frank Vignola– 100 Years of Django (Aziza)
The Cookers – Warriors (Jazz Legacy Productions)
Luis Bonilla – Twilight (PlanetArts)
Allison Miller – Boom Tic Boom (Foxhaven)

LOCAL HERO AWARD (Disc Division):
Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble – Live at the Lark Tavern (PrayNation) It’s not that the music on this disc is amazing (It is), or that the performances are outstanding (They are). It’s that this is the product of some of the best players in the area meeting once a month on a stage the size of my office! It’s also a worthy epitaph to the Lark, a true friend to the entire Capital Region music scene. With this disc, the Lark lives on. Outstanding!


1. Pat Metheny - Orchestrion (Nonesuch)
Pat never seems to run out of adventurous ideas to present his music. This album finds him recording solo accompanied by acoustic and electroacoustic instruments triggered by customized computer software and solenoid switches. Inspite of all the technology, the music does not sound mechanical at all. It must have been a amazing event to see and hear this music performed live.

2. Curtis Fuller - I Will Tell Her(Capri Records)
Curtis Fuller shows that post bop jazz can still be fresh and alive. The sole surviving musician of the "Blue Trane" sessions leads this sextet through both originals and standards. This is a 2 CD set. One CD was recorded in the studio. The other live. Sadly, this CD was completed shortly after Curtis lost his wife of 34 years. The title tune and the recording are dedicated to her.

3. Charlie Hunter - Public Domain (self produced)
Charlie Hunter reinvents songs from the public domain. Ain't We Got Fun, Cielito Lindo, Danny Boy and Low Bridge (Erie Canal Song) are some familiar songs (not necessarily jazz standards) that have been reinvented by the ever inventive Mr. Hunter. Funky and lots of fun.

4. Markus Schwartz & Lakou Brooklyn - Equinox (Soundkeeper)
Although jazz is a uniquely American music, other cultures are definitely part of the idiom. Danish born Markus Schwartz is a student of Haitian religious music and has been practicing Haitian percussion for 20 years. He leads a quartet of Percussion, guitar, bass and trumpet through 5 Haitian pieces and a cover of Trane's Equinox.

5. (tie) Joe Locke - For the Love of You (E1 Records)
Joe Locke leading a quartet with vocalist Kenny Washington through covers and originals. Just nice listening.

5. (tie) Keith Pray 's Big Soul Ensemble - Live at the Lark Tavern (PrayNation Records)
Local favorite big band in their debut recording performing compositions by local composers. We are very fortunate here in the Capital District to have all this talent.


1. Brad Mehldau - Highway Rider (Nonesuch)
In 2002, pianist Brad Mehldau teamed up with pop producer Jon Brion to produce Largo - an incredibly influential jazz/rock crossover album that successfully combined spontaneous improvisation with pop production values. Eight years later the two have reconvened to produce Highway Rider - a fifteen song double album featuring Mehldau's regular trio of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard augmented by saxophonist Joshua Redman, drummer Matt Chamberlin and a chamber orchestra. The music melds the duo's previous jazz/pop hybrid with a decidedly classical influence featuring Redman's saxophone improvisations floating seamlessly over the top.

2. Myron Walden & In This World - What We Share (Demi Sound)
For most of his career Myron Walden has primarily been known as an alto player. Recently his focus has shifted to the tenor and this year he documened this transition with a handful of new releases from several different bands. In This World is comprised of Walden on tenor/soprano sax & bass clarinet; Mike Moreno on electric & acoustic guitars; Jon Cowherd on fender rhodes; Yasushi Nakamura or Chris Thomas on acoustic bass; and Kendrick Scott or Brian Blade on drums. The music is lush and melodic. It's gentle and restrained yet contains an undercurrent of urgency that keeps it moving forward.

3. Christian Scott - Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord)
Trumpeter Christain Scott has molded his own unique brand of improvised music that owes as much to jazz as it does to rock. He's developed his own unique compositional style but the rendition of Thom Yorke's "The Eraser" is what won me over.

4. Kneebody - You Can Have Your Moment (Winter & Winter)
Forward thinking music by five musicians that play as one. Kneebody once again continues to create intriguing music that defies categorization.

5. John Ellis & Double Wide - Puppet Mischief (ObliqSound)
Saxophonist John Ellis continues to seamlessly blend myriad influences with a great sense of humor. Seriously, how many jazz musicians do you know that would pose with two puppets on their album cover? Imagine the highbrow ethos of NYC jazz mixed with the party spirit of New Orleans street bands and you'll start to get an idea of what this music sounds like.


CD & concert reviews

1. Omar Sosa & NDR Big Band - Ceremony (Ota Records)
The most exciting 2010 CD for me was this striking collaboration between Cuban piano/marimba player Omar Sosa’s rhythmically & lyrically vibrant quartet and the Hamburg Germany  NDR orchestra, which was established in 1945 and has accompanied dozens of top international Jazz artists. The 11 originals composed by Sosa and deftly arranged by Brazilian cellist/conductor Jaques Morelenbaum draw from a palette of musical colors, spanning the continents of Africa, South America, USA and Europe. They cover a wide range of moods from intimate to majestic, reflecting dynamic changes in volume and vibe.

2. Ahmad Jamal – A Quiet Time (Dreyfus Records)
What can one say about this incredible legend, now in his 70th year of playing professionally, with a sense of touch, swing, beauty and inventiveness that simply isn’t matched? This latest trio outing, with excellent long-time partners James Commack on bass and Kenny Washington on drums is deceptively titled. While the tunes display his usual refined taste and sophisticated elegance, the term “Quiet” is misleading, given the presence of only one ballad (a gorgeous slow reading of “I Hear a Rhapsody”), while the 10 originals in a variety of medium to fast tempos are done in expansively bright, playful moods that are very enticing and uplifting.

3. Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden – Jasmine (ECM)
I believe even those very familiar with Jarrett’s multiple classic Standards Trio recordings over the past 25+ years with Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette will be surprised and very impressed with this Duet variation of playing gems from the Great American Songbook. It involves just bassist Charlie Haden & Jarrett, playing & recording alone in his home studio over a period of years, just for their personal satisfaction, with no initial intention of necessarily creating a CD. This is utterly beautiful music that differs from the aforementioned trio recordings in the serene, relaxed intimacy. These two empathetic masters more than do justice to the reflective maturity and poignant romanticism of these very well chosen 8 songs.

4. Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble – Live at the Lark Tavern (PrayNation)
This one is easily the most rollicking, straight-ahead, hard-swinging CD on this list. It exclusively uses diverse compositions and arrangements by talented and expressive Capitol District artists: John Dworkin, Yuko Kishimoto, Brian Patneaude and himself. It brings back fun memories of stimulating nights spent at the Lark Tavern listening to this invigorating band, which we are so fortunate to have in our community. Keith Pray consistently captures the essence of quality big band Jazz performance by finding the essential balance and blend of solos and ensemble playing.

5 (Tie). Philly Joe Jones/Dameronia – Look, Stop & Listen (Uptown)
This is a 2010 re-issue of the 1983 release by the Nonet tribute band, Dameronia (to Tadd Dameron), created by Philly Joe Jones and trumpeter/arranger Don Sickler with six horns and a rhythm section. This release features the exciting tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin; and has Benny Golson’s standard, “Killer Joe”, plus 9 of Dameron’ s renowned compositions. These include the best known “If You Could See Me Now” (made popular by Sarah Vaughan’s vocal version), the exquisite “Dial B for Beautiful” and the Be-Bop favorite “Our Delight”. The arrangements effectively use the accomplished ensemble work to showcase Dameron’s profound writing, as well as supports and contrast the dynamic, soaring solos of Griffin, tenor saxophonist Charles Davis, Baritone Cecil Payne and Frank Wess, among others. And last, but clearly not least, Philly Joe’s signature, incomparable drumming accents and drive truly propel the band’s momentum.

5 (Tie) David Holland Octet – Pathways (Dare2 Records)                           Having long enjoyed the edgy, energetic, but swinging work of Bassist Dave Holland’s quintet and Big Band recordings, I was not surprised by the quality of this live at Birdland Octet CD. This band essentially consists of his very strong quintet (Chris Potter, Robin Eubanks, Steve Nelson, Nate Smith & himself) plus Trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, Alto sax Antonio Hart and Baritone sax Gary Smulyan, all of whom have performed in his Big Band. The seven originals that comprise the CD are all by Holland (a superior writer), except two: “Wind Dance” by Sipiagin that I found delightfully fresh and freewheeling; and Chris Potter’s engagingly slower and alluring “Sea of Marmara”. On both of these (and on most of the tunes), I thought Steve Nelson’s bright vibes supply wonderful color, particularly in contrast to the rich, deep tones of Gary Smulyan’ s baritone. Despite the differences in approach and style, I found it too difficult to choose one of these “mid-size” bands (the Dameronia Nonet versus this Octet) over the other – hence the “tie”.

Honorable mention:
Catherine Russell – Inside This Heart of Mine (World Village)
This naturally warm, heartfelt sounding singer, who clearly draws her inspiration from New Orleans, swing and the blues, is an engrossing change of pace from most current Jazz vocalists who come more out of the Great American Songbook and Be-Bop. This is not surprising given that her father, Luis Russell, was a well-known 1940’s big band leader, who served as Louis Armstrong’s music director. Her mother Carline Ray, was a veteran jazz bassist, vocalist, graduate of the Julliard and Manhattan Schools of Music, and famous for performing with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

features, concert reviews

1. Omar Sosa & NDR Big Band - Ceremony (Ota Records)
No stranger to recording his explosive Afro-centric and Caribbean themes with large ensembles, Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and his quartet now collaborate with the NDR Big Band to produce a spectacular big band montage entitled Ceremony. The arrangements are brilliant as Sosa’s original music tours Latin big band jazz of a bygone era to a more contemporary, universal sound. The music is ebullient, spry, ample, and intoxicating.

2. Tomas Stanko - Dark Eyes (ECM)
Trumpeter Stanko with his European band - guitarist Jakob Bro, pianist Alexi Tuomarila, bassist Anders Christensen, and drummer Olavi Louhivuori - creates beautiful yet haunting music on Dark Eyes. This well conceived recording invokes, at different interludes, an array of emotions - sadness, introspection, joy, reflection, calm, and solemnity. In some respects, this recording is reminiscent of Miles Davis’s Ascenseur Pour l’Echafaud but without the dark foreboding. Absolutely brilliant.

3. Miguel Zenon - Esta Plena (Marsalis Music)
Released in late 2009, Esta Plena is an exploration of a Puerto Rican folkloric style known as plena. The music is melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, and oh so exciting. Even though it has historical elements, Zenon has made the music fresh, real, and modern. Zenon’s superb cast include pianist Luis Perdomo, acoustic bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole, accompanied by several vocalists/percussionists. Jibaro and Awake, released in 2005 and 2008 respectfully, may have given alto saxophonist, composer, Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow deserved wider notoriety, but Esta Plena will clinch for Zenon credentials as a true jazz master.

4. Daniel Szabo Trio Meets Chris Potter - Contribution (Budapest Music Center)
Daniel Szabo is an accomplished composer and pianist who deserves wider acclaim and hopefully this awe-inspiring recording will propel him into the Jazz quintessence. Szabo has an astounding musical vocabulary, quicksilver fingers, and an exceptional and playful touch. And, anytime Chris Potter is added to the mix you know that the music will be prodigious. Bassist Matyas Szandel and Ferenc Nemeth contribute mightily to an arousing and alluring musical achievement.

5. Mingus Big Band - Live At Jazz Standard (Jazz Workshop)
I have always been a fan of Charles Mingus’s music and the Mingus Big Band, no matter the personnel configuration. I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that this is the hippest big band in the universe, and Live At the Standard epitomes the hype. This lineup of extraordinary musicians - there are too many to list here- play ten of Mingus’s classics with soul, swing, and verve. They have channeled Mingus’s passionate, boisterous, and complex spirit and every song cascades with celebration of a once in a lifetime artist. If you are a fan of big bands and Mingus, this is a must have CD.

It is so hard to select a top five so indulge me with these other recommendations:
Hilario Duran Trio - Motion (Alma)
Aaron Goldberg - Home
Antonio Sanchez - Live In New York at the Jazz Standard
Marc Cary Focus Trio - Live 2009 (Motema)