photography, concert reviews
1. Akua Dixon – Akua’s Dance (Self Produced)
On Akua’s Dance, Ms. Dixon employs two different, but equally brilliant trios to accompany her lush and jazzy cello. Victor Lewis is the constant between the two, and displays throughout this album the usual inimitable taste, sensitivity and drive for which he is known. But, it is Ms. Dixon who is the brightest star in this constellation of stellar artists with her masterful playing and vocals (check out “Throw It Away”). With this album of beautiful, moving and heartfelt music, Ms. Dixon steps out front as one of the most interesting musician/composers on the scene!
2. Marta Sanchez – Danza Imposible (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Spanish pianist Marta Sanchez’s latest is an arresting mélange of creative and appealing compositions expertly realized by her quintet, including the two saxophone front line of Roman Filiu and Jerome Sabbagh. Ms. Sanchez’s own playing is surprisingly nonpareil incorporating diverse elements of her native land as well as of her classical background.
3. Anne Mette Iversen – Round Trip (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records)
A new cd from Anne Mette Iversen is always a cause for celebration. Ms. Iversen is a superb composer and powerfully attentive bassist whose rhythmically and harmonically inventive creations are brought to vibrant life by her quintet. This is a group that effortlessly swings like mad when it needs to, driven forcefully by Grissett, Iversen and Brown, but that also executes with ease Ms. Iversen’s challengingly slippery compositional gems.
4. Billy Childs – Rebirth (Mack Avenue Records)
Billy Childs is a phenomenal pianist and this album illustrates his top tier status. The preeminent Steve Wilson, the fiery Eric Harland, and the solidly exciting Hans Glawischnig join him here. And, of top of all that musical goodness, the quartet are joined on two vocals by the excellent Claudia Acuna and Alicia Olatuja!
5. Geof Bradfield – Birdhoused (Cellar Live)
Birdhoused is a live set recorded at the famous Green Mill Lounge, and what a wonderful document it is! Bradfield is a tenor man of great facility and creativity, who can play a beautiful ballad with the same inventiveness that he displays on freer material. But do not be scared by mention of the word “free”; this is a cd of exciting, spontaneous and intricate music that’s likely to have you checking Bradfield’s discography and reviews more than a few times!
Marilena Paradisi & Kirk Lightsey - Some Place Called Where (Losen Records)
Ranky Tanky - Ranky Tanky (Resilience Music)
Sherman Irby & Momentum - Cerulean Canvas (Black Warrior Records)
Theo Hill - Promethean (Positone)
Dezron Douglas - Soul Jazz(Venus Records)
Steve Nelson - Brothers Under the Sun (High Note)
Hear In Now (Mazz Swift, Tomeka Reid, Silvia Bolognesi) - Not Living in Fear(International Anthem)
1. Alan Ferber - Jigsaw (Sunnyside)
To be honest, this one was a pretty easy decision for me. In comparing this release with his previous big band album "March Sublime," it can't be ignored how much Alan Ferber's writing has grown into itself. Originally, his big band arrangements were more or less updated versions of his nonet charts; now, they sound like arrangements that were constructed to take full advantage of the larger ensemble's potentials - and take advantage they do, with stellar performances from everyone involved. This is what modern big band jazz at its best sounds like.
2. Tomasz Stanko - December Avenue (ECM)
One of the things that makes trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's albums stand out among other ECM fare is how they project a sense of direction and motion without completely forsaking the label's trademark minimalism. Even at its most subdued moments, this album is always moving forward to whatever sound, texture, or idea is next. It's probably drummer Gerald Cleaver who makes things work best for me, as he's a wonderfully dynamic presence without ever becoming overwhelming or pyrotechnic for the sake of showing off.
3. Chris Potter - The Dreamer Is The Dream (ECM)
The thing that I can't get enough of with this release is how spectacularly well-programed it feels. Every single composition, every solo flow into each other extraordinarily well. Tenor titan Chris Potter's previous small group release, "The Sirens," contained hints of this programmatic approach, but it is on this album where he and his bandmates polish and nearly perfect the formula. As someone who found his Underground band to be (for the most part) uninteresting, I'm glad to see Potter get back to more experimental territory.
4. Ben Allison - Layers Of The City (Sonic Camera)
What makes this album stand out compared to bassist Ben Allison's past efforts is not that his writing is particularly different or better. After all, he's already achieved both of those qualities in spades on his previous releases. For me, the presence of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt is what really elevates things. There's something about the way Pelt plays this music that adds a layer of vibrancy and humanity that I haven't heard on previous Allison efforts. Hopefully this is the start of a regular working relationship between these two.
5. Tom Harrell - Moving Picture (High Note)
Tom Harrell has long been a big inspiration for me, not just for what he has had to overcome personally, but also that in his 70s he is continuing to find ways to seek new sounds and reinvent his musical identity. For this album, he has employed the service of some overdubbing as well as a highly complementary rhythm section to craft some of the most unique and forward-looking compositions and improvisations of his storied career. I can only hope to still be creating and evolving as a trumpet player and musician for as long as Harrell has been.
photography, concert reviews
1. Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski- Hudson (Motema Music)
Jazz supergroup that lives up to the hype. The band plays music inspired by the Woodstock area where all the musicians reside . Included are covers of Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and the Band.
2. Cecil McLorin Salvant- Dreams & Daggers(Mack Avenue Records)
Acclaimed vocalist Cecil McLorin Salvant and her quartet are quite comfortable at both the Village Vanguard and in the recording studio. When hearing her, one can always hear the singing/voices of the great masters of female jazz vocals, but the style is still uniquely her own. The album is a mixture of originals and standards with the themes of romance and heartbreak.
3. Charles Lloyd - Passin Thru (Blue Note)
A Charles Lloyd record seems to make it to almost everyone of my best of the year lists. This year is no exception. Recorded with his band of 10 years, the New quartet of Jason Moran (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass) and Eric Harland (drums), there is plenty of room for musical exploration. The room is easily taken and more room is taken.
4. Heads of State - Four in One (Smoke Sessions)
Gary Bartz, Larry Willis, Dave Williams and Al Foster another jazz super group in their sophomore effort. They continue to dazzle through a recording of mostly standards.
5. Bryan Brundige & the Piggly Wigglies (Bryan Brundige Music)
This year’s local pick. I am primarily familiar with the other side of Bryan Brundige’s music, the funk jazz ensemble , The Chronicles. This band focuses on the jazz of the 20s. Played not in what a call conservatory for the museum style but full of feeling and energy. Music to dance to and his fans certainly do , dance to it.
CD & concert reviews
1. Heads of State – Four in One (Smoke Sessions Records)
This is the second release by this extraordinary band of four highly in-demand veterans (all ages 74-77). Although they were formed initially in 2014 for a live date in New York as the “Larry Willis All-Stars”, they had each played very well together in numerous bands since the 1960’s, as “First Call” sidemen for a virtual “Who’s Who” of legendary instrumentalists and vocalists. They all quickly agreed that since each had so much to contribute (as demonstrated here, where each contributes compositions), they would function as a COLLECTIVE. While this CD includes a marvelous selection of stirring uptempo numbers, I was personally most enchanted by pianist Larry Willis’ moving ballad “The Day, You Said Goodbye “and the Gershwin classic, “Someone to watch Over Me”.
2. SF JAZZ COLLECTIVE – Music of Miles Davis (SFJAZZ)
The many exciting things I enjoy about San Francisco include the stellar SF JAZZ COLLECTIVE. Their eleventh recording is an exceptional salute to the music of Miles Davis, plus original compositions by each member. This All-star octet of trumpet, alto, tenor, trombone, vibes, piano, bass and drums follows their tried & true format of previous celebrations of the music of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Horace Silver, Stevie Wonder and Chick Corea. I found especially compelling here the adept way they were able to appropriately reflect so MANY of the creative styles of Miles Davis: Bop, Cool, Modal, Free, Fusion, etc.
3. Christian Sands – Reach (Mack Avenue Records)
This is the first CD by this enormously gifted and highly respected 28 year old pianist on Mack Ave records. But his recording career started in 2002, with over twenty CD’s in total (5 as a leader). “Reach” is essentially a trio date with Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Marcus Baylor on drums, whom Sands has frequently played with; and striking appearances by Christian McBride, the producer & Sands’ long-time mentor & bandleader, Marcus Strickland on sax and exceptional guitarist, Gilad Hekelman. I thoroughly enjoyed all 8 originals plus delightful versions of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” and the haunting “Somewhere Out There” from the “American Tail” film. Even more impressive than Mr. Sands’ exceptional technique is his diverse, tasteful imagination, resulting in a delightfully musical CD.
4. Blue Note All-Stars – Our Point of View (Blue Note)
The powerful technique of this band might lead some to label them “Young Lions”. But a closer look/listen at this sextet of Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Marcus Strickland (saxophones), Lionel Loueke (guitar), Robert Glaspar (piano), Derrick Hodge (bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums) would reveal that while they predominantly range in age from 35-39, and play with vigorous intensity, including some recent musical trends, there is a great deal of maturity and respect for tradition. This led Blue Note to form them in 2014, as part of their 75th Anniversary celebration. The CD includes 6 originals (one from each member) and also “Witch Hunt” and “Masquelero” by Wayne Shorter, who with Herbie Hancock joins the sextet on the latter. This is the edgiest CD (in rhythms & arrangements) that I’ve enjoyed in quite some time.
5. Jeff Siegel – King of Xhosa (Artists Recording Collective) The superbly talented members of the Jeff Siegel quartet (the leader on drums, Erica Lindsay on tenor saxophone, pianist Francesca Tanksley and bassist Rich Syracuse, have consistently been among my favorite players, for over 15 years. This has been not only in this collectively exciting group, and as leaders of their own bands, but as valued supporters of other outstanding musicians such as Lee Shaw, Hal Miller, Billy Harper, Roland Hanna, Art Blakey, Nick Brignola and numerous others, in venues throughout this country and multiple other countries. The appeal of this well-received, highly exotic but well-grounded CD also includes the striking South African trumpet of Feya Faku and stimulating, balanced arrangements from the imaginative compositions by 4 players.
features, concert reviews
1. Cecile McLorin Salvant - Dreams and Daggers (Mack Avenue)
She possesses the magnificent vocal range of Sarah Vaughn, the poised articulation of Dinah Washington, the innate improvisational prowess of Betty Carter, and the theatrical dynamics of Viola Davis, all of which are prominently displayed on this marvelous double CD recording. As Wynton Marsalis opined, “you get a singer like this once in a generation or two.” This production is an amazing amalgam of studio recordings and live performances with a phenemenonal array of unique, rarely-heard tunes. In addition to her extraordinarily, inimitable, supple voice gracing this recording, she also composed several selections as well as penned lyrics for other songs. Complimenting her are Aaron Diehl and Sullivan Fortner (p), Paul Sikivie (b), Lawrence Leathers (d), and on a couple of selections, the Catalyst String Quartet. Magnificent.
2. Christian McBride - Bringin' It (Mack Avenue)
Bassist McBride is our current and perpetual maestro of jazz, serving as a musician, band leader, composer, arranger, educator, advocate, and magnetic purveyor of all that is wonderful about jazz. As a follow-up to his 2011 Grammy awarded big band recording, Good Feeling, he has reached that pinnacle once again with this big band release. Jazz is a huge tent and Bringin’ It covers every nuance from funk, swing, bop, classical, ballad, and international. The arrangements ripple with magic, majesty, and mirth. Although all of the cuts are fantastic, certain selections certainly grabbed my immediate attention: Getting’ To It, a tribute to James Brown, a blistering rendition of Freddie Hubbard's Thermo, an exotic presentation of McCoy Tyner’s Sahara, and a funky Used ‘Ta Could. Whether trios, small combos, or big bands, McBride’s has produced some of the best CDs over the past decade or so.
3. Fabian Almazan - Alcanza (Biophillia)
This Recording will not appeal to everyone who claims to be a devotee of the jazz cognoscenti. However, this may be the most uncompromising, daring, and transcendent recording of 2017 being delivered by pianist Fabian Almazan. In fact, this conceptual recording defies categorization because it blurs the lines between classical and jazz improvisation while interjecting modern and electronic influences. This recording, written with a grand classical scheme in mind, is a nine piece suite which is evocative, visionary, powerful, beautiful, and replete with intoxicating melodies and multifaceted rhythms. Invoking an array of emotions, Almazan’s intent was to “engulf the listener [and] to completely take them to another place.” The ensemble that assists him in succeeding in this mission is comprised of Linda Oh (b), Camila Meza (voice and guitar), Henry Cole (d), and the string quartet of Megan Gould, Tomoko Omura, Karen Waltuch, and Noah Hoffeld. This is an absolutely splendid recording.
4. Joey DeFrancesco - Project Freedom (Mack Avenue)
With this recording, organist DeFrancesco is exploring a new musical vista that embraces storytelling percolating with spiritual dedication to peace and liberation during our turbulent times. Notwithstanding the weighty theme, DeFrancesco does not abandon his soulful, swinging, florid, and pleasurable style while still projecting a modern sensibility. DeFrancesco places a bright gloss on such thematic chestnuts as Imagine, A Change Is Gonna Come, and Lift Every Voice. He adds seven originals with Karma and Project Freedom being exemplary compositions. DeFrancesco, along with Jason Brown (d), Dan Wilson (g), and Troy Roberts (sax), exhibit an exuberance and joy on this recording. You can sense their having a blast and striving to share their glee with the listener.
5. Anat Cohen Tentet - Happy Song (Anzic)
Anat Cohen must have heard the Pentecostal plea to “make a joyous noise to the world,” because, indeed, she and her Tentet have done just that. This recording is a radiant breath of fresh air, a luminous ray of sunshine, a lyrical, warm, enchanting contribution to the world’s wellbeing. This recording epitomizes diversity and musical eclecticism infusing the rich tradition of klezmer, swing, Middle Eastern, and Brazilian sounds into a musical package brimming with versatility, enthusiasm, and insatiable good taste. The music is lyrical, fluid, and possesses a touch of exoticism. Adding to the exoticism is a band comprised of clarinet, accordion, horns, cello, guitar, percussion, and drums. The diversity of tones and rhythms enrich the listening pleasure.