calendar  |  musicians  |  venues  |  concert reviews  |  CD reviews  |  photos  |  features


We polled contributors Albert Brooks, Rudy Lu, Brian Patneaude, Tom Pierce, Alex Slomka, and Randy Treece on their favorite jazz releases of 2014 ...

photography, concert reviews

1. Jimmy Greene - A Beautiful Life (Mack Avenue Records)
This album is a special gift that Greene is graciously sharing with the world. It is an album of simply beautiful music that honors the beautiful life that was his daughter, Ana Grace. The album has a stellar lineup of world-class musicians offering their support to Greene: Renee Rosnes, Christian McBride, Lewis Nash, Pat Metheny, Kenny Barron and others.

2. Anthony Branker & Word Play – The Forward (Towards Equality) Suite (Origin Records)
This is one of the more thought-provoking albums I heard this year. With The Forward, Branker has composed a suite of music inspired by personal reflections on what America means to him as a first-generation American. The impressive lineup here includes saxophonists David Binney and Ralph Bowen, trombonist Conrad Herwig, pianist Jim Ridl, bassist Kenny Davis, drummer Donald Edwards, conguero Renato Thoms, vocalist Alison Crockett, as well as sixteen 5th Grade students from Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary in Piscataway, New Jersey providing spoken word contributions.

3. Azar Lawrence – The Seeker (Sunnyside Records)
The Seeker is a powerful album recorded live at the Jazz Standard in New York. Lawrence is a ferocious and lyrical saxophonist who may come out of the Coltrane lineage, but he is his own man both as a composer and improviser. This album features a powerful lineup of Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, Essiet Okon Essiet on bass and the fine young pianist Benito Gonzalez.

4. The Cookers - Time and Time Again (Motema Music)
This is one of my favorite groups! It features trumpet player David Weiss, who also serves as musical director, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, tenor saxophonist Billy Harper and alto saxophonist Donald Harrison (replacing Craig Handy), pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart. Here is what AllAboutJazz had to say about The Cookers and Time and Time Again: Working as a true collective, no one player dominates the session, although Harper's commanding tone and assured phrasing lifts the bandstand when he takes center stage, with quicksilver cadences underscored by the nimble rhythm section, whose fluid interplay is a marvel of triadic interaction. Lending credence to its title, Time And Time Again expertly conveys the palpable commitment of these elder statesmen to push beyond preconceived boundaries and move the music forward, while acknowledging the innovations of the past.

5. Jacques Schwarz-Bart - Jazz Racine Haiti (Motema Music)
Schwarz-Bart is a saxist of great talent and, on this album, he tastefully infuses Haitian ritual music with modern jazz. The album has a deeply spiritual groove, but offers some great blowing by Schwarz-Bart and others. Joining Schwarz-Bart are Obed Calvaire, Arnaud Dolmen, Ewal Josue, Ben Williams, Milan Milanovic, Etienne Charles, Alex Tassel, Gregory Privat, Reggie Washington and Stephanie McKay.

Honorable Mention:
Bob Stewart - Connections: Mind the Gap (Sunnyside Records)
Dayna Stephens – Peace(Sunnyside Records)
Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio (Concord Records)
Michael Carvin Experience – Flash Forward (Motema Music)

photography, concert reviews

1. Orrin Evans- Liberation Blues (Smokesessions)
Dedicated to the late Dwayne Burno, the bass player who passed last year at age 43. Pianist Orrin Evans leads an all star band with Sean Jones on trumpet, JD Allen on tenor sax, Luques Curtis on bass, Bill Stewart on drums on a swinging straight ahead session. First 4 titles are part of the “ Liberation Blues Suite”, a tribute to Dwayne Burno.

2.Cyrille Aimee - It’s a Good Day (Mack Avenue )
Updated gypsy jazz. Cyrille sings joyful playful vocals expressing the joy of life. Respects the jazz tradition, yet blazes new paths with the use of rhythm and new ideas on where to take those traditions. Along with originals, she covers Ellington’s classic “Caravan” along with Michael Jackson’s “ Living Off the Wall”.

3. Jimmy Heath Big Band - Togetherness (Jazz Legacy Productions)
Octogenarian Jimmy Heath leads an all star big band in a recording session from 2011 and shows he is still alive and vibrant. Bold alive brassy arrangements. Recorded live at the Blue Note.

4. Arch Stanton Quartet - Blues for Soli (WEPA)
My local choice this year. The band named after a tombstone in a Clint Eastwood movie shows it is very much alive and full of new creative ideas in its sophomore outing. Much of the music was inspired by their 2013 appearance at the Cairo Jazz Festival. A clear example of how jazz is absorbing other music. The unusual front end of guitar and trumpet/flugelhorn of Roger Noyes and Terry Gordon is used to much advantage in creating unusual textures in the music. The rhythm section of Chris Macchia and Steve Partyka add to the multiple frames of reference of their music.

5. (Tie) Ed Palermo Big Band- Oh No Not Jazz!! (Cuneiform)
Big Band for Baby Boomers. A 2 CD set, one of arrangements of the late Frank Zappa’s music, the other of Ed Palermo’s music. As you can gather from the title, Ed does not take himself too seriously. However, he and his band take their music quite seriously. The music has wide dynamics, a texture. For the band it is certainly an excercise in reading charts.!!!

5. (Tie) Bill Frisell- Space Age Guitar (Okeh)
More Baby Boomer music, albeit of much earlier origin. Bill Frisell a guitarist who has never been known for sticking to the way that most think jazz guitar should sound pays tribute to the guitar driven rock of the late 50s and early 60s with his latest project of covers. Of particular note the cover of the Byrds cover of the Pete Seeger tune, "Turn, Turn, Turn” , Beachboys’ “Surfer Girl”, Link Wray’s “Rumble” and the one hit wonder Tornados hit “ Telstar”.


1. Pat Metheny Unity Group - Kin (<-->) (Nonesuch)
The guitarist combines the sounds of his many projects - Pat Metheny Group, Unity Band, Orchestrion & more - into one cohesive whole.

2. Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band - Landmarks (Blue Note)
The Fellowship returns once again with another collection of songs that traverse music genres with ease.

3. James Farm - City Folk (Nonesuch)
A leader-less all-star quartet performing music that both honors tradition and is reflective of its time.

4. Jacob Young - Forever Young (ECM)
The Norwegian guitarist's third album for ECM features beautiful melodies and heartfelt improvisations performed by an international quintet.

5. Snarky Puppy - We Like It Here (Ropeadope)
The latest in a series of live-in-the-studio releases by this Dallas/NYC collective features an infectious mix of jazz, funk and world music executed with equal parts passion and precision.

CD & concert reviews

1. The Cookers – Time and Time Again (Motema Music)
It was no surprise I thoroughly enjoyed this fourth CD by this truly “Super Group” of celebrated Bop veterans with over 250 years & 1,000 albums collectively in their own groups and the bands of legends like Max Roach, Stan Getz, Charles Lloyd, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey and others. I loved their previous CD, “Believe”, as well as a memorable live performance in April 2014 at The Falcon in Marlboro. The powerful and inventive solos and tight ensemble passages of this septet’s commanding 4-horn frontline (Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, Donald Harrison & David Weiss) are effectively matched by the uplifting rhythm section of George Cables, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart.

2. Bruce Barth – Daybreak (Savant Records) 
This superb pianist’s 13th CD as a leader brings in exceptional trumpeter Terrell Stafford on most tracks  for a quintet, rather his usual trio or Quartet (with Vibes master Steve Nelson). Barth’s technical virtuosity, imagination and passionate drive are on full display in the seven imaginative originals, as well as stimulating versions of Jobim’s “Triste”, Keith Jarrett’s “So Tender” and Cole Porter’s classic “In the Still of the Night”. One reason I personally find Barth so appealing (as is the case with many of my favorites on all instruments) is that he’s typically in that “Sweet Spot” of enough straight-ahead playing for me to accessibly relate to, but sufficient expressive innovation to avoid boring predictability.

3.  Harold Mabern – Right on Time (Smoke Sessions)
This dynamic trio live date recorded in 2013 as part of a 77th birthday weekend at Smoke in NYC by this Memphis-born piano master,  with frequent partners John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, may well be the hardest swinging of these excellent 2014 recordings. Some of these uptempo tunes include “Seven Steps to Heaven”, “My Favorite Things”,  and “Cherokee”, But despite his percussively strong touch, the gentle, but musically no-nonsense Mabern’s handling of ballads like “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”, “The Nearness of You” and especially Thad Jones’ exquisite “To You” is engagingly sensitive. It’s no wonder legends like Lee Morgan, Miles Davis. Donald Byrd and Sonny Rollins were anxious to use him, as well as many outstanding contemporary players. It was a special treat to catch him earlier this year, at A Place For Jazz supporting Alexis Cole & Eric Alexander.

4. Barbara Morrison – I Love You, Yes I Do  (Savant Records) 
While clearly having her own distinctively compelling voice, this skillful vocalist for the past 30+ years has carried on the rich legacy of those past singers who beautifully blended the unique but complementary qualities of Jazz, Blues, Great American Songbook standards, and Soul. These memorable singers, who include Etta Jones, Helen Humes, Etta James and Irene Reid, among many others, plus her contemporary Mary Stallings, did not achieve the fame and fortune of others; but like Morrison here, projected a rich, almost spiritual mastery of enchanting story-telling. And she could not have chosen a better partner for these 12 exuberant, but intimate tracks than tenor saxophonist Houston Person.

5 (tie). Rufus Reid – Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project  (Motema Music) 
Bassist-composer-leader Rufus Reid uses a 20-piece orchestra to perform a five section suite to pay tribute to award-winning African-American sculptor and civil rights activist Elizabeth Catlett. Each piece was specifically inspired by one of her creations, for which he used a photo on top of the piano, as he composed the tunes. The songs are primarily Mainstream Post-Bop with a solid groove, and feature strong soloists like saxophonist Steve Wilson, trumpeter Tim Hagans and guitarist Victor Juris; but Reid also adroitly uses touches of classical features and choral-like vocals that make the suite even more alluring.

5. (tie) George Cables – Icons & Influences (HighNote Records)
Brooklyn-born pianist Cables, despite having been featured since the 1960’s in the bands of leaders like Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper and Joe Henderson, is hardly a “Household Name”. In this extremely well-conceived trio date with bassist Dezron Douglas and long respected drummer Victor Lewis, he uses his invitingly light, supple touch and distinctively modern conception to warmly pay tribute not only to some pianists (Cedar Walton, Bill Evans, Mulgrew Miller, Nat Cole, Dave Brubeck, etc), but others like Bobby Hutcherson and John Coltrane. I especially liked “The Very Thought of You”, “Nature Boy” and “The Duke”.

Honorable Mention:
Arch Stanton Quartet – Blues For Soli
John Menegon – I Remember You
Monty Alexander – Harlem Kingston Express
Omer AvitalNew Song
Sean Jones I-m-Pro-Vis-Never Before Seen


1. Holophonor - Holophonor (Holophonormusic)
For those not up to date on the popular cartoon Futurama, a Holophonor is a futuristic wind instrument that projects images. I think this group picked the perfect name. This album features nine dynamite original compositions that are sure to project many different images for the listener. All of the tunes are unique and organic, with tons of singable melodies and memorable moments. This band is filled with young talent too which only makes me excited to see what comes next!

2. Jeff Ballard - Time's Tales (Okeh)
This trio record is not your standard trio record. Jeff Ballard's trio is a unique blend of percussion, guitar, and saxophone. I've always liked Jeff Ballard's approach to percussion, and this record is especially cool because of the percussion he used. Many of the tracks feature lesser known percussion instruments, especially pitched african drums. These exotic instruments added a very new vibe that isn't present in a lot of standard jazz. The percussion also adds to the profile of the group to the point where you'll scan the liner notes again looking for a fourth or even fifth member.

3. PJ Rasmussen - Another Adventure (Third Freedom Music)
This is the second year in a row that PJ Rasmussen has exploded on my list. Similar to last years record, this record is extremely approachable. No matter the genre of jazz you're into, (swing, bop, contemporary etc.) I'm sure you will find something to love about this record. One thing I really appreciate is how different each tune is from one another; something that can be overlooked. If you're looking for an album to tickle each of your jazz senses, this would be an excellent addition to your collection.

4. Mark Turner - Lathe of Heaven (ECM)
Mark Turner's album is a fitting musical homage to the science fiction novel and movie of the same name. Mark Turner's organic sound and cerebral playing style bring a sense of nostalgia. I like to imagine that his playing represents a character in a story, and each track is a separate sub-plot to the arcing theme of the album. Trumpeter Avishai Cohen joins him as a supporting character, and the two play unencumbered together. Their playing brings to mind trips I've made with friends to the ravine near my house when I was in elementary school. The record resolves with a peaceful composition, Brother Sister, where both Turner and Cohen improvise together with every idea beginning as a reaction to the other player. This entire record is a great reminder that jazz is a conversational art.

5. Michael Dease - Relentless (Posi-Tone)
Relentless is a smoking hot contemporary big band record featuring a mix of original compositions and fun arrangements of standards. Dease's virtuosic playing lends itself to the intricate melodies, and the fast tempos. The band is full of hot talent like Wycliffe Gordon, Linda Oh, Diego Rivera, and Ulysses Owens Jr. The compositions are well constructed with contrasting grooves between sections that elide seamlessly; it is certainly breathtaking.

features, concert reviews

1. Marty Ehrlich Large Ensemble - A Trumpet In The Morning (New World Record)
This album is premised upon a poem of the same name, and written in a concerto format. Though drafted in a classical style, there is a sensuous synergy with jazz. This is no bland brass chorale. The movements swerve in and out of both classical and jazz musical idioms, interconnected in an inextricable bond between these incomparable and ageless musical expressions. The melodies are gorgeous and the orchestral sections are majestic and radiant. For example, Blues for Peace is a magical musical flight. If the title creates any doubt, indeed, this recording swings.

2. Bobby Sanabria and the Manhattan School of Muisc Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra ¡ Que Viva Harlem! (Jazzhead Records)
Ever since Bobby Sanabria has taken over the direction of the Manhattan School of Music Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra, the ensemble has been knocking on the door of greatness. This collegiate unit rivals any recognized big band or orchestra playing today. Thematically, the recording is a tour through the rich musical experiences that have flowed through the heart, soul, and veins of Harlem. The album swings, it jives, and tantalizes with infectious Latin beats. And, oh my goodness, it is just unfathomable that these nascent jazz musicians can render such astonishing solos. As Downbeat emphatically opines, this recording is a triumph.

3. Anton Schwartz - Flash Mob (Antonjazz/The Orchard)
Tenor saxophonist Anton Schwartz and his coterie of like-minded musicians, especially including pianist Taylor Eigsti, set aflame eleven hard bop cuts reminiscent of an Art Blakley ensemble. Schwartz’s writing is sharp, smart, and witty. There are blues, ballads, and ballistics. Each musician’s solos are buoyant and contagious, leaving radioactive traces every where. If you like your bop steamy and spicy, then this is a recording for you.

4. Edward Simon - Venezuelan Suite (Sunnyside Records)
Classically trained, Venezuelan pianist, Edward Simon, who just so happens to have earned his jazz bona fides, has composed a four suite musical tour of his native country’s musical legacy, replete with stunning melodies and resurgent rhythms. There is a fertile cross pollination of standard jazz elements with indigenous rhythmic components. The compositions are lyrical and vivacious. The melodies sparkle and the rhythms are alluring. This recording radiates clarity, coherence, and charm.

5. Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band - Life In The Bubble (Telarc Records)
This is a rollicking, effervescent, absolutely fun recording with some of the hippest and swinging grooves on the planet. Goodwin’s writing is perky, witty, and not stingy on humor and hipness. This CD has it all: funky guitars, soaring sax solos, tight arrangements, taunt harmonics, rocking vocals, a smoking horn section, and a crusading rhythmic section. Because there are so many shifts and swerves, you never know what is coming next. The band’s rip-roaring interpretation of the theme from the erstwhile TV show, Get Smart, will make you howl with delight. If you want to be compelled to dance uninhibited in your underwear, lean on the band’s Party Rockers. This is what a 21st century big band should aspire to be, and if you are looking for a party, here it is.

Honorable Mention:
Helen Sung - Anthem For a New Day
Alfredo Rodriguez - The Invasion Parade