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We polled contributors Albert Brooks, Dylan Canterbury, Rudy Lu, Brian Patneaude, Tom Pierce, and Randy Treece on their favorite jazz releases of 2015 ...

photography, concert reviews

1.  Dafnis Prieto - Triangles and Circles ( Dafnison Music)
Jazz drummer extraordinaire and MacArthur genius grant recipient, Dafnis Preto’s, latest offering is an adventurous and rhythmically sophisticated tour de force.

2. Pete Rodriguez - El Conde Negro (Destiny Records)
Terrell Stafford - BrotherLee Love (Capri Records)
Two trumpet virtuosos and two great vehicles for exhibiting their blowing prowess:  Rodriguez’s, una mezcla sublime; and Stafford’s, an exquisite love letter to the trumpet master/composer - Lee Morgan.

3.James Brandon Lewis - Days of FreeMan (OKeh Records)
Superb horn-playing and infectious rhythms, channeling hip-hop among other influences!  You will want to dance.

4. Doug Carn - My Spirit(Doodling’ Records)
Organ and keyboard master, Doug Carn, was a prominent staple of my musical diet in the 1970’s.  This modern update on his compositions and some standards shows why he is deserving of much greater attention!

5. Troy Roberts  - Secret Rhymes (Inner Circle Music)
Todd Williams - Lift Up Your Heads (Todd Williams Music)
Walt Weiskopf - Open Road (Posi-Tone Records)
Greg Tardy - With Songs of Joy (SteepleChase)
Four undersung, stellar tenor men and four great cds.  I could not pick among them; they are all excellent!  You choose.

Honorable Mention:
Tani Tabbal - Mixed Motion (Cabbala Sound)
Mike Bisio - Accortet(Relative Pitch Records)
The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble - Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland(Planet Arts Recordings)
Laszlo Gardony - Life In Real Time (Sunnyside Records)


1. Dave Douglas & Joe Lovano - Sound Prints - Live At The Monterey Jazz Festival(Blue Note)
I’ll readily admit that the first listen-through of this one didn’t go super smoothly. It was not until I remembered a quote of Wayne Shorter (whose music serves as the inspiration for this band’s efforts) that really put everything in perspective: “For [Shorter], the word ‘jazz’ means ‘I dare you.’” Douglas, Lovano and company are more than up for the dare on this recording. Douglas’ trumpet and Lovano’s tenor saxophone are tailor made for one another, and the two weave in and out of each others’ playing with an effortlessness I can’t help but enjoy throughout. If you are willing to put the necessary time and attention into this one, your efforts will be rewarded with the best jazz album of 2015.

2) Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra - Cuba: The Conversation Continues (Motema Music)
Would you be skeptical if I were to tell you that an Afro-Cuban big band chart featuring a turntable soloist not only works, but works extremely well? If so, check out the track “Vaca Frita” and learn something. Everybody does the token Latin song on your standard pick-up jazz gig, but thankfully Arturo O’Farrill is not content with the same-old, same-old. His reckless abandon in exploring all possibilities within the framework of Afro-Cuban music is on full display here, and he and his charges (including his sons Adam and Zack) are more than up for the challenge. This is the future of Afro-Cuban jazz.

3) Alex Sipiagin - Balance 38-53 (Criss Cross)
It seems like the “cool” thing in jazz among younger musicians nowadays is to add in nods to indie rock music. Far too often, this kind of music ends up sounding either generic or gutless to these ears. Thankfully, Alex Sipiagin’s latest recording avoids some of the constant pitfalls of so-called “indie jazz.” There is an unmistakeable edge to these proceedings that adds a sense of unpredictability and excitement that seems to be lacking from a lot of otherwise similar sounding recordings. A group of like-minded sidemen who are all at the peak of their game certainly doesn’t hurt things, either.

4) Steve Wilson & Wilsonian Grain - Live In New York: The Vanguard Sessions (Random Act Records)
It’s fitting that saxophonist Steve Wilson’s band kicks things off with a Thelonious Monk tune on this recording, as the spirit of Monk seems to permeate the proceedings throughout. Wilson is one of the best interpreters of Monk’s music out there nowadays, and his interplay with pianist Orrin Evans is rhythmically playful yet melodically satisfying. When all’s said and done though, the thing that stands out most about this album to me is just how fun it is to listen to. The whole recording oozes enthusiasm, from the band’s riveting performances to the audience’s appreciative reactions throughout.

5) Chris Potter - Imaginary Cities (ECM)
I will be upfront in saying that this album would probably be ranked higher up if it wasn’t for the string section. At best, it adds nothing; at worst, it either gets in the way or disrupts the pace of the recording. Thankfully, the combination of some really creative song writing and brilliant improvisations from Chris Potter and company are worth the price of admission alone. I like how Potter seems to be getting back to his more straight-ahead roots as of late, as his playing is much more satisfying in this context than his electric Underground group. Hopefully there’s more of this stuff on the way.

Historical Release of the Year:

Miles Davis - Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 (Sony)
I am aware that some of this material has been available before, but the fact that we now have the complete recorded library of Miles Davis at the Newport Jazz Festival over the years in one four-disc set is nothing short of tremendous. A straight-through listen is not just warranted, it’s necessary, as seeing the continued evolution and development of Miles’ music over 20 years is akin to viewing a panorama of jazz history itself during that time period. With a who’s who of greats filling out each and every lineup, this is nothing short of a must-own.

photography, concert reviews

1.Terrence Blanchard featuring the ECollective - Breathless (Blue Note)
From the opening blast of his trumpet updating the Les McCann/Eddie Harris classic “Compared to What”, Terrence again reflects the nation’s mood like he did with 2007’s “ A Tale of God’s Will”. However, this project is musically quite different. It is heavily rooted in r&b, electronics, poetry and even progressive rock. The title song “Breathless” is referring to the infamous last words of Eric Garner “ I Can’t Breathe” that echoed throughout the nation last summer. Features vocals by PJ Morton and spoken word by Cornell West.

2. Jose James - Yesterday I Had The Blues (The Music of Billie Holiday) (Blue Note)
Many artists celebrated Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday this year. In my opinion, this is the best tribute of the lot. Jose’ takes some of the songs that made Billie famous and gives them his own interpretation without completely copying them like a museum piece. Not an easy task. His accompanying band consisted of Jason Moran piano, John Patitucci bass and Eric Harland drums. Of particular note is his rendition of “Strange Fruit”. The use of multi tracking and electronics on Jose’s voice update this powerful protest to lynching and leave you haunted by the lyrics.

3. Heads of State - Search for Peace (Smoke Sessions)
Jazz all-star band is far from a new concept and can sometimes be poorly executed. Such is not the case with this recording. An al star quartet featuring Larry Willis on piano, Buster Williams on bass, Al Foster on drums and Gary Bartz on saxophones. It starts with a breakneck rendition of Trane’s “Impressions” with the Gary Bartz’s alto playing the melody and then surprises the listener by Bartz quoting “Cherokee”. The remainder of the Cd is a mixture of ballads, medium pace and barnburner standards and originals guaranteed to delight lovers of post bop.

4. Ku-umba Frank Lacy & Mingus Big Band - Mingus Sings (Sunnyside)
The all star Mingus Big Band is one of 3 ensembles that are dedicated to the works of Charles Mingus. This particular CD features trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy as a vocalist. Although Frank is not a conventional singer by any means, he clearly conveys the emotion of Mingus’s music. Featured are compositions that singer songwriters Joni Mitchell wrote lyrics to including “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, “Sweet Sucker Dance”, “Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” and “ Chair in the Sky”. Elvis Costello’s lyrics to “Invisible Lady” and “Jelly Roll”.

5.Gary McFarland Legacy Project - Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland (Planet Arts)
This year’s local CD in the top 5 spent several weeks in the nation’s top 50 this summer on the jazz charts. It is reviving the music of Gary McFarland, a largely forgotten composer who died in 1971. The brainchild of local drummer/vibraphonist Michael Benedict, this recording has a magical quality to it. Arrangements by Michael Benedict, Kerry McFarland and pianist Bruce Barth, set the foundation for the recording. Brilliant solos by saxophonist Sharel Cassity, pianist and vibraphonist Joe Locke along with the long together rhythm section of Michael Benedict and Michael Lawrence add to the recording. Outstanding performances include the opener Dragonhead, Sandpiper the tone poem evoking tiny birds scurrying on the beach along with the ocean waves on Long Island and the beautiful ballad Once I loved with an outstanding opening solo by Sharel Cassity.


1. Chris Potter & Underground Orchestra - Imaginary Cities (ECM)
Potter's virtuosic saxophone & bass clarinet playing is accompanied by an unusual ensemble consisting of piano, guitar, vibes/marimba, acoustic & electric bass (often playing in tandem), drums and a string quartet. The composing and arranging is all by the leader - a nice balance of melody, hooks and dissonance with some really unique orchestration.

2. Mathias Eick - Midwest (ECM)
Written durring a gruelling North American tour, the music on the trumpeter's third solo album was inspired by the similarity of the the vast plains of the American Midwest and his Norwegian homeland.

3. Romain Collin - Press Enter (ACT)
The French pianist once again blends the sounds of an acoustic piano trio with subtle electronic effects/samples on a set of original compositions and songs by Thelonious Monk and Bon Iver.

4. Kendrick Scott Oracle - We Are The Drum (Blue Note)
A varied collection of modern jazz compositions penned by the drummer and his bandmates.

5. Snarky Puppy & Metropole Orkest - Sylva (Impulse!)
The latest in a series of live-in-the-studio releases by this Dallas/NYC collective - this time with the addition of the Metropole Orchestra. An infectious mix of jazz, funk and world music executed with equal parts passion and precision.

Historical release:
Michael Brecker & UMO - Live in Helsinki 1995 (Random Acts)
The late saxophonist's only recording fronting a big band features creative arrangements of a handful of his original compositions as well as songs by Horace Silver, Vince Mendoza and others.

CD & concert reviews

1. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – Live in Cuba (Blue Engine Records) 
The 16 moving songs here across two discs represent a cross-section of the historic 3 nights of sold-out concerts this magnificent 16-piece orchestra presented in Havana in October 2010.  This release coincided with the re-opening on August 15, 2015 of the American embassy there.  The stimulating arrangements, solos & ensemble work on compositions by legends like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie, Benny Carter, Marsalis and other JALC members are all truly extraordinary.

2. Arturo O’Farrill & Latin Jazz Orch - Cuba: the Conversation    Continues (Motema Music)
The late, renowned Cuban composer/composer Chico O’Farrill must be especially proud of his pianist/composer son Arturo’s enormously impressive achievement here. One can’t begin to reasonably describe the massive scope, incredibly deep artistry and rousing passion of this ambitious two-disc recording that involves not only O’Farrill’s 23-person orchestra, but also 16 special guests including Rudresh Mahanthappa, Michele Rosewoman and Renee Manning, It was recorded in Havana 24 Hours after President announced his plan to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba.The adventurously sweeping instrumentals and vibrant vocals achieve paint a captivating picture of the global roots of the music.

3.  Terrell Stafford – BrotherLee Love (Capri)
It’s extremely difficult to imagine a current trumpeter more qualified, in terms of striking talent, broad experience and commanding ideas, to perform this fitting tribute to the energetically exciting Lee Morgan. The CD includes 9 well-balanced songs associated with Morgan, with exceptional solos by Stafford, saxophonist Tim Warfield, pianist Bruce Barth (a special favorite of this listener) and a vibrantly strong rhythm section of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Dana Hall. In addition to Stafford having exceptional technique and imagination, it’s also fitting that like Morgan, he hails from Philadelphia. But it is very fortunate that at 48, his personality, background and lifestyle are more well-grounded, leading to a longer and stable life and career than that of Morgan, whose tragically ended at 33.

4. Anat Cohen - Luminosa (Anzic Records)
I must confess upfront that over the past 10 years I have acquired and thoroughly enjoyed all seven of Ms Cohen’s recordings as a leader since her 2005 debut release, “Place and Time”, despite my previously having limited appreciation of the clarinet. Each of her recordings has its own particular emphasis, style and bands, as she’s an enormously open-minded, imaginative and globally-influenced artist. But each of them, including this latest, which has a heavy Brazilian strain I found very appealing (especially the Milton Nascimento tunes & guitarist Romero Lubambo), has her core qualities of galvanizing passion, beautiful clarity, boundless energy and a naturally flowing vibe. She’s both exotic and mainstream.

5 (tie). Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble – Circulation (Planet Arts)
As I detailed in a full review posted on this website earlier this year, there’s many truly positive aspects to this very special tribute to the work of Gary McFarland. One could logically start with the uniquely appealing compositions of McFarland Michael Benedict chose; and then cite his excellent decisions to use Joe Locke, Sharel Cassity and Bruce Barth, as well as bassist Mike Lawrence for their captivating playing; and also include the compelling arrangements of Bruce Barth. I was personally most struck by how quickly in first hearing it, its singular charm and grace pulled me into repeated listening.

5. (tie) Cyrus Chestnut – A Million Colors in Your Mind (HighNote)
Cyrus Chestnut’s piano work has long impressed me as an excellent example of the confluence of the most appealing aspects of Jazz, Gospel, the Great American Songbook and R&B/Pop. In addition to clearly being at ease in all these genres, his expansive command of the full range of the instrument, his bright, uplifting touch, and exciting sense of swing immediately draws listeners in and holds their attention. Bassist Dave Williams and the well-regarded drummer Victor Lewis who I’ve enjoyed live a number of times provide him plenty of support here, as he gives fresh dimensions to 10 engaging songs of diverse origins.

Honorable Mention:
Chris Pasin  - Random Acts of Kindness
Dave Bass – NYC Sessions
Joe Barna & Sketches of Influence – A Joyful Gathering
Scott Hamilton & Jeff Hamilton Trio – Live in Bern
Steve Wilson & Wilsonian Grain – Live at Village Vanguard

features, concert reviews

1. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra - Live in Cuba (Blue Engine Records)
In 2010, JLCO engaged in a week long tour in Havana Cuba with the apogee of a two-disc live recording cementing the rich musical heritage of both the American and Cuba jazz traditions. Here, JLCO visited smartly the songbooks of Ellington, Basie, Benny Carter, Gillespie, and, of course, from their own lexicon. The arrangements are saucy and stylish, and the performances are stellar. Notwithstanding the recordings monumental success, I am compelled to highlight Joe Temperley’s solo on Sunset And The Mockingbird, and the brilliant solos of Wynton Marsalis, Vincent Gardener, and Walter Blanding on Dizzy Gillespie’s frolicking Things To Come. In my estimation, this is JLCO’s finest release in decades.

2. Kamasi Washington - The Epic (Brainfeeder Records)
Never has an album title being so fitting. This recording is indeed epic, three hours of eclectic jazz packed into three CDS. Thirty-four year old saxophonist from the west coast had assembled a luxurious musical menage composed of a ten-piece jazz band, thirty-two piece orchestra, and twenty-member choir. The scope, inclusiveness, and grandeur of the recording is nearly beyond comprehension. Confluences and cross currents are the by-words to summarize how Washington incorporated every form of music expression within this release – jazz, funk, soul, and a nominal dosage of hip-hop, with surprises within every listening encounter. The only continuity is stupendous creativity. I was taken with the R&B rhythm on the classic Cherokee, the organ-fueled Isabelle is a show stopper, and I nominate Changes of the Guard, an homage to Coltrane/Tyner, as the hippest song of 2015.

3. Pete Rodriguez - El Conde Negro (Destiny Records)
You may not have heard of trumpeter Pet Rodriguez so please take note now. A notable composer and virtuoso, Rodriguez is an exceptional and exciting artist on the scene. His chop are serious with a classical tone and he possesses a improvisational fluency akin to Sonny Stitt, effortless and magisterial. His solos are coherent, conversational, and scampers among the chord changes. His compositional skills rival his trumpet playing. And, the boy can sing. Although texturally Latin, the compositions are relatable and palpable.

4. Michael Gibbs & the NDR Bigband - Play A Bill Frisell Set List (Cuneiform Records)
I admit that I am fan of Bill Frisell, so you may detect some bias in this recommendation. But setting that aside, Gibbs and the NDR band have delivered a fine tribute to an iconic musician. As we know, Frisell’s musical oeuvre is far reaching and all encompassing, Gibbs and NDR lend credence to the expanse of Frisell’s imagination with aspiring arrangements and prolific performances. Bill Frisell’s presence as one of the featured soloists is brilliant, adding clout and verity to this magnificent production.

5. Charenée Wade - Offering: The Music of Gil-Scott Heron & Brian Jackson (Motema Music )
This album confirms that great composing remains eternal. We all remember the revolutionary compositions of Heron and Jackson from the seventies and eighties, but in the hands of Ms. Wade, an award winning vocalist and educator, she has made their compositions relevant and thus triumphant even to today. Wade’s remarkable arrangements provide strikingly different visceral dimensions to their already acknowledge fare. Wade’s voice is dynamic and her interpretations reminds a listener of Betty Carter. Assisting Wade on this marvelous offering are Stephon Harris, Dave Stryker, Brandon McCue, Lonnie Plaxico (playing bass clarinet),Christian McBride and Malcolm Warner. I submit that her version of Song Of The Wind is the best jazz vocalist of the year.