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We polled contributors Albert Brooks, J Hunter, Brian Patneaude, Tom Pierce, Randy Treece, Jeff Waggoner on their favorite jazz releases of 2007 ...

photography, concert reviews

1) BILLY BANG QUARTET FEATURING FRANK LOWE - Above and Beyond:  An Evening in Grand Rapids (Justin Time)
This is a cd of simple, but simply beautiful melodies, which serve as springboards for passionately creative blowing by tenor sax great Frank Lowe and the inimitable violinist Billy Bang.  The set was recorded live and features stellar performances all around - in addition to the two leaders, pianist Andy Bemkey, bassist Todd Nicholson, and drummer Tatsuya Nakatani.   This is a very special cd, which I recommend very highly!

2) ABBEY LINCOLN - Abbey Sings Abbey (Verve)
Songstress, stylist, sensualist, tunesmith, wordsmith, poet, storyteller, spiritual being, Maestra - Abbey exemplifies all these and more on this cd of her very insightful compositions.  These songs will uplift you, make you think and make you dance.  Most importantly, they will make you smile and nod your head in recognition, appreciation and reverence.  If you are not ready for this much music, don't fret - one day you will be (if you are lucky).  Abbey, a fragrant bouquet of your favorite flowers from my heart to yours for this and all your music!

3) ONAJE ALLAN GUMBS - Sack Full of Dreams (18th & Vine)
2007 was a bumper year for great cds, and "Sack Full of Dreams" is deserving of exceptional note among an exceptional group.   Mr. Gumbs is truly a masterful pianist who exhibits his soulfully swinging virtuousity to full effect on this mostly trio cd, which includes such gems as "Up Jumped Spring", "The Fishing Pond" (theme from the Andy Griffith show) and the beautiful "Try to Remember".  The title cut, sung by Obba Babatunde, is worth the price of ownership of this remarkable cd by itself - but don't miss any of it as "it's all good", as they say.  Facile tenorist Mark Shim ably abets the trio on two of the selections.

Alex Harding is another pleasant surprise, with his buttery and versatile bari tone on this cd full of riches.   Highlights include (among many) the soulfully-rendered, gospel influenced  "Spirit Take My Hand", the restrained "Shades of Ellegua" and "Southern Dawn".  Mr. Harding switches to bass clarinet on pianist Lucian Ban's "Estonia", another memorable composition.  Bassist Brad Jones, drummer Nasheet Waits and percussionist Andrew Daniels round out this impressive group.

5) JOSHUA REDMAN - Back East (Nonesuch)
You have all heard him before and you know the (not so young anymore) man can play.  In my estimation, however, "Back East" represents a quantum leap forward in JR's mastery of the tenor. This cd proves that at this moment he is a mature burnished horn man at the top of his game - as good as any out there and better than most.  His playing here is great on so many levels and it's a  joy to finally hear the realization of all that his playing has always promised over the years.  This is a good, very good cd and JR acquits himself very well indeed in friendly jousts with Chris Cheek, Joe Lovano,and the inestimable but sadly departed Dewey Redman.  Larry Grenadier, Reuben Rogers, Christian McBride, Ali Jackson, Brian Blade, and Eric Harland all chip in to make this a must have.  Years hence, we'll all be saying 'I remember when that (definitive) cd first came out!'

HENDRICK MEURKENS - New York Samba Jazz Quintet
STEVE NELSON - Sound Effect
SONNY FORTUNE - You and the Night and the Music
JED LEVY - Gateway

CD & concert reviews

1) SF JAZZ COLLECTIVE - Live 2007: 4th Annual Concert Tour (SFJazz)
What other group can you name that can release two sensational two-disc sets in the same year? This all-star octet surpasses their amazing spring release Live 2006 (which was built around loving takes on Herbie Hancock) with a phenomenal set that contrasts stunning originals with intelligent examinations of Thelonious Monk's unique musical shorthand. For all the love J@LC gets, SFJAZZ deserves twice that amount.

2) PABLO ASLAN - Buenos Aires Tango Standards (Zoho)
These songs may have started out as tangos, but there's nothing standard about the trip they take here. Aslan was born in Buenos Aires, but twenty-five years away lets him bring an outsider's perspective to the date. He shows respect for the material without letting that respect hinder him, or hinder the terrific players that helped him concoct this bewitching brew. This disc doesn't think outside the box - it dances outside the box!

3) FRED ANDERSON / HAMID DRAKE - From The River To The Ocean (Thrill Jockey)
A mentor and a prodigy go back in the studio, only this time they brought friends. Anderson and Drake's 2004 Thrill Jockey disc Back Together Again was a two-handed conversation between old friends; this time, they harness some of Chicago's best jazzers to deliver a spectacular set that echoes the prime of John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders. There isn't a short cut on the disc, but as Coltrane said, “It took that long to get it all in!”

4) RALPH ALESSI & THIS AGAINST THAT - Look (Between the Lines)
Is it possible to be structured and free at the same time? If you say “No”, then you need to take a long look at Look. Alessi has built a wonderful, meditative atmosphere that lets his partners make their own voices heard. Even so, there's a magnificent sense of discipline here, even on some truly wailing cuts. Alessi also makes great harmony with Ravi Coltrane, whose four-track cameo will make you wish he'd stayed for the whole date.

5) DAN LOOMIS QUARTET - I Love Paris (Jazz Excursion)
It's the quiet ones you have to watch for, and I'm not talking about that weird guy who lives in the basement next door. Loomis' piano-less quartet brings an aesthetic to this disc that is as beautiful as it is harsh. The harmonic between tenorman Brian vanArsdale and altoist Nathan Heleine will shake you to your core. I Love Paris is more proof that the best jazz is being made far, far away from the corporate machine.

KURT ELLING - Nightmoves (Concord)
RON CARTER - Dear Miles (Blue Note)
TARDO HAMMER - Look Stop & Listen: The Music Of Tadd Dameron (Sharp 9)

This was a tough one, given the wealth of choices: The growth curve of the Brian Patneaude Quartet continues to skyrocket; Colleen Pratt and the Empire Jazz Orchestra re-created the Big Band era to a T; Lee Shaw gave us her most personal disc to date; and we saw fine debuts from The Static Port and Michael Benedict Jazz Vibes. At the end of the day, though, the last shall be first:

Just in time for Oscar consideration and the Christmas shopping season, Russo gets together with Barna to expand on the brilliant West Coast sound we heard on last year's Trading Off. This time, Dave Solazzo throws some truly stellar piano into the mix. With more colors and a legitimate foil to work with, Russo shows the potential we've seen is becoming a fact, while Barna adds “composer” to his lengthy list of superb talents.


1) SAM YAHEL TRIO - Truth And Beauty (Origin)
Previously known as Yaya3 and the Joshua Redman Elastic Band, the trio of organist Sam Yahel, saxophonist Joshua Redman and drummer Brian Blade eschews their usual electronics in favor of a stripped down organ combo sound on a collection of memorable compositions by the leader and covers of Ornette Coleman and Paul Simon.

2) KNEEBODY - Low Electrical Worker (Colortone Media)
Kneebody continues to create intriguing music that defies categorization.

3) KENDRICK SCOTT ORACLE - The Source (World Culture Music)
A varied collection of modern jazz compositions penned by the drummer featuring saxophonists Seamus Blake, Myron Walden & Walter Smith III, guitarists Mike Moreno, Lage Lund & Lionel Loueke, pianists Aaron Parks & Robert Glasper, bassist Derrick Hodge and vocalist Gretchen Parlato.

4) MIKE MORENO - Between The Lines (World Culture Music)
Having heard bootleg versions of several of these compositions, this studio collection of eight well crafted originals by the guitarist was well worth the wait.

5) E.S.T. - Live In Hamburg (ACT)
Released late in the year, this two disc set documents an evening with the Esbjorn Svennson Trio exactly as it went down from start to finish

JEROME SABBAGH - Pogo (Sunnyside)
MANU KATCHE - Playground (ECM)
SEAMUS BLAKE - Way Out Willy (Criss Cross)
BRAD SHEPIK TRIO - Places You Go (Songlines)
MANUEL VALERA - Vientos (Anzic)
EBERHARD WEBER - Stages of a Long Journey (ECM)

CD & concert reviews

1) MARK MURPHY - Love is What Stays (Verve)
These 13 searing torch songs dramatically re-affirm Murphy's place as the “Dean of Living Male Jazz Singers”. The wisdom, pain and artistry one has expected from him after 51 years of recording over 40 albums, is clearly on display. Special kudos is in order for expressive flugelhorn player Til Brönner. He also served as producer and arranger, and co-wrote the title track with Murphy, who also penned four other songs. -

2) MARTY PHILLIPS - Somewhere in Time (Self-Published)
If ever there was a case of a superb singer-pianist who has toiled in Jazz for decades, playing with and being lauded by numerous excellent musicians, Marty Phillips is it. Lovers of legendary, warm, seductive baritone singers such as Billy Eckstine, Johnny Hartman and Arthur Prysock are very likely to be captivated by Mr Phillips' smooth and distinctive way with a song. He chose the ideal instrumental counter voice in Houston Person, whose work for many years with Etta Jones needs no elaboration.

3) CAROL SLOANE - Dearest Duke (Arbors)
Extraordinary Jazz vocalist Carol Sloane, despite recording two dozen albums in a career that spans 50 years, and receiving universal acclaim from instrumentalists, vocalists and knowledgeable vocal enthusiasts, has never been promoted and recognized appropriately by the general music public. Her sensually satin timbre, with an innate sense of swing and sensitivity, is ideal for a CD devoted to Ellington classics, as was her 1999 “Romantic Ellington”. Clarinetist Ken Peplowski's elegant but moving playing is an excellent complement, as is that of pianist Brad Hatfield.

4) REBECCA PARRIS - You Don't Know Me (Saying It With Jazz)
Passion, power and pulsating rhythmic sense are some of the qualities that describe this moving Boston-area vocalist. Her combination of unmatched vocal chops, humor, drama, energy and sensitive feel for great material is all wrapped up here in a warm, unaffected package. She also chose wisely with master tenor saxophone accompanist Houston Person and vibraphone legend Gary Burton, as well as an excellent selection of songs well suited to her very emotional delivery.

5) COLLEEN PRATT - I Thought About You (Nova)
I conceived of this project 3 years ago and served as executive producer to ensure that Colleen Pratt, perhaps the most popular Jazz singer in the Capitol District for many years, was shared with music lovers around the country and globe. For this reason, I'll limit my comments to just stating my complete satisfaction with the work of Colleen, the Empire Jazz Orchestra and producer/engineer John Nazarenko.

The above list only includes vocalists, the area I tend to specialize in for my reviews, presentations, radio programs and CD producing. However, through the years, I've acquired even more Jazz instrumentals, than Jazz vocals; and I do not want to overlook the excellent new ones I enjoyed in 2007, which include:

GRANT STEWART - In the Still of the Night (Sharp Nine)
JOSHUA REDMAN - Back East (Nonesuch)
STEVE KUHN - Pastorale (Sunnyside)
LEE SHAW - Originals (Island View Records)
PEG DELANEY - Hotline (Daisyland Music)

features, concert reviews

1) MILES DAVIS QUINTET - Live At 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz Fest)
I want to reassure the reader that this is not a reissue, at least as far as I can confirm, but a very belated release of a historic concert in 1963. Critics identify this as a transition period for Miles and his newly-formed band but let me assure you that such an observation, if true, do not diminish what you will hear, and that is an extraordinary recording by an prodigious band comprised of Davis, George Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and teen-phenom Tony Williams.  My Miles Davis collection covers the entire gamut, and yet I must say that this recording has been a missing gem from that musical compendium. The music is as illustratively prolific and conceptually fantastic as to what you may hear on Davis' 1959 classic Kind of Blue but with a more postbop, experimental flair.  I cannot recall a recording where Davis' playing was more fresh, vibrant and pronounced.  Not to only single Miles out, each musician soars to olympian heights on their respective solos.  Their musical interplay is intense, luxuriant, intoxicating and the potency of the music ideas oozes from every pore of this recording.  Davis' classics such as "Autumn Leaves", "So What", "Stella by Starlight", and "Walkin" all sound brand spankin' new, I kid you not.  This recording is a must for every jazzophile.

2) KURT ELLING - Night Moves (Concord)
I have been a fan of Elling for more than a decade, glomming all of his recordings the minute they are released and seizing a seat at all of his local appearances.  Devotion is admitted but it is not a blind loyalty that destroys discernment when it comes to the quality of the art.  Over the years, there has been progression with his evocative delivery and the selection of literary (poems) and lyrical material and I will go out on a limb and say that Night Moves may be his most mature and accomplish recording to date.  Accompanied by a host of jazz luminaries who marvelously engage this balladeer, Elling's sterling voice is mellifluous and alluring on each selection.  Whether reciting the lyrics truly or inculcating his own into the fabric of a song such as he has done on "Body and Soul", he firmly entangles you into the song's story, mystery, and essential beauty.  Elling's hip version of the seventies pop song, "Undun", has received considerable play on the airwaves.  On this recording, Elling pours out his heart deeply and expressively, relying upon his velvet instrument and eschewing vocal gimmickery.  He is masterful and so too is this recording.

3) DONNY McCASLIN - In Pursuit (Sunnyside)
On the heels of his well-received recording Soar, McCaslin, a saxophonist, composer, and featured artist in the Maria Schneider Orchestra, has released another gemstone with In Pursuit.  McCaslin is deserving of wider recognition and In Pursuit will certainly advance this cause.  McCaslin is a gifted musician with a lusty sound and fiery technique.  He can play melodically or teeter off into free association and such range is prominently displayed on this recording.  McCaslin has a penchant for innovative harmonies and Latin polyrhythms and there are ample contributions of both.  He has written all of the selections which are perceptibly lyrical and in some instances visionary.  McCaslin's supporting cast, who are rising stars in their own right, include Ben Monder on guitar, David Binney on alto sax, Scott Colley on bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums and Pernell Satumino on percussion, an exceptional ensemble indeed. This recording is brimming with progression and authenticity.

4) JOE ZAWINUL & THE WRD BIG BAND - Brown Street (Heads Up)
For those who are fans of Weather Report and Joe Zawinul, hearing those extraordinary musical pearls from the jazz fusion era in a big band setting will be orgasmic. The integration of Zawinul's exceptional song writing and extraordinary electronic sensibilities and the hard-driving forces and harmonic structures of a big band are downright electrifying. WRD Big Band makes the music thermonuclear and the rich and wide-ranging brass element is the clincher.  Although the band gives a nod to the stated themes, they are not reserved in venturing outside the notes on the score to add another level of sizzle, verve and texture.  The rhythms are pulsating and, if my ears have not deceived me, I swear there are two basses and two drummers playing simultaneously.  WRD's exulting and high-energy treatment of "Brown Street", "Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz", "Procession" and "Black Market" should certainly rest my case.  This production is a fine recognition of Zawinul's compositional contribution to jazz but we must also tip our hat to Vince Mendoza who wrote all of the arrangements.  If you need a wake-up call, this double CD package is a five-alarm inferno.

5) AVISHAI COHEN - After The Rain (Anzic)
Avishai Cohen's After the Big Rain, cannot be pigeonholed and does not fit perfectly within the traditional jazz catalogue, but the music is unquestionably creative and every bit improvisational and intoxicating. On this recording Cohen is composer and trumpeter.  Along with an international lineup of Lionel Loueke (guitar and vocals), Jason Lindner (keyboards), Yosvany Terry (percussion), Omer Avital (bass), and Dan Freedman (drums), Cohen creates magical music by infusing influences throughout the world that pop, swirl, and dance frenetically.  This cornucopia of blended sounds is magnified by the assortment of electronic and acoustic instruments which are played skillfully.  There are seductive melodies, Miles Davis- like electronic effects, fertile rhythms, exotic musical modalities, and marvelous solos, all with  international flair.  If you enjoy musical adventures and new vistas, this recording comes highly recommended.

If you need a fix of raw and passionate big band, then grab Charles
Tolliver Big Band's In Love
( Blue Note).  Multiple grammy winner and octogenarian Gerald Wilson and his Big Band, whose last series of recordings have been spectacular, have hit another home run with Monterey Moods (Mack Avenue), featuring Hubert Law.  Remaining attune to big bands, Bobby Sanabria, the heir to Tito Puente, and his big band have released an exciting and exotic CD, entitled Urban Folktales (Jazzheads).  Keith Jarrett, whom I submit channels Bill Evans, has been phenomenal playing classic jazz ballads and his My Foolish Heart, Live at Montreux (ECM), a double CD, continues the high standard that he set on his 2004 release The Out-of-Towners.  Speaking of a pianist who knows no borders or frontiers but in my view has wallowed too long in the pop vein, Herbie Hancock has issued a delightful and pure jazz CD, River - The Joni Letters (Verve), notwithstanding the presence of several pop vocalists.  Hancock, Shorter, Holland and Loueke ensure that Mitchell's lyrics and the music remain exceptional.

features & concert reviews

Ken Vandermark, one of the most prolific saxophonists on the scene, shows again that the "genius" designation he received in 1999 with the McArthur Fellowship was no fluke.

2) MARTY EHRLICH / MYRA MELFORD - Spark! (Palmetto)
Pianist Myra Melford and reedman Marty Ehrlich demonstrate that abstract improvisation doesn't have to be overwrought but can be tart and elegant.  Every note on this CD carries weight.

3) FRED ANDERSON / HAMID DRAKE - From The River To The Ocean (Thrill Jockey)
The ingenious percussionist Hamid Drake teams up with his mentor and AACM co-founder saxophonist Fred Anderson to reveal again how some musicians are capable of transcending the limits of both instrument and style.

4) ARVE HENRIKSEN - Strjon (Rune Grammofon)
Arve Henricksen, the Norwegian trumpeter, forms more of his spare, crystalline notes on this beautiful addition to his and Rune Grammofon's oeuvre.

5) TIN HAT - The Sad Machinery of Spring (Hannibal)
This is Tin Hat's first recording without the group's co-founder and accordionist Rob Burger.  But the eclectic, genre-bending group ups the ante with addition of the brilliant clarinetist Ben Goldberg and the multinstrumentalist (and favorite sideman of Tom Waits) Ara Anderson.