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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 2008 ...

photography, concert reviews

1) GREG OSBY - Nine Levels (Inner Circle Music)
You have to give it up to Greg with this cd:  beautiful, challenging music and always different from what you've heard before and what you might expect.  Mr. Osby also introduces some great new musicians with this cd:  Joseph Lepore on bass, Hamir Atwal on drums, Adam Birnbaum on keys, Nir Felder on guitar and Sara Serpa on vocals.

2) Three Way Tie:
KENNY BARRON - The Traveler (Sunnyside)
CEDAR WALTON - Seasoned Wood (Half Note)
(Blue Note)
Great, virtuosic piano and stellar interplay with excellent sidemen on each of these.  Get them all!

3) Two Way Tie:
ARTURO O'FARRILL - Song for Chico (Zoho)
STEVE TURRE - Rainbow People (Highnote)
O'Farrill's cd presents the classic, modern Afro-cuban big band.  Great big band dynamics and fine solos throughout.  Turre's Rainbow People is simply great music (featuring Kenny Garrett and Mulgrew Miller, among other greats).

4) JOHN HICKS LEGACY BAND - Mind Wine: The Music of John Hicks (Savant)
A great band led by flutist, Elise Wood-Hicks, and featuring Craig Handy, Eddie Henderson, Curtis Lundy, Larry Willis and Steve Williams, updating the late great pianist's fine repertoire.

5) Two Way Tie:
AL FOSTER - Love, Peace and Jazz (Jazz Eyes)
KENNY GARRETT - Sketches of MD
(Mack Avenue)
Al Foster - fiery drumming and tasty jazz; Kenny Garrett - aided and abetted by Nat Reeves and Pharoah Sanders!

CD & concert reviews
1) CHARLES LLOYD - Rabo de Nube (ECM)
I want to be this creative when I’m pushing 70! Lloyd returns to the quartet format for a surrealistic live date that punches a few holes in the outside of the envelope. Jason Moran is the tenor icon’s willing and able partner in deconstruction, while Eric Harland and Reuben Rogers continue to cement their status as jazz’ next great rhythm section. Rabo de Nube will blow your mind… but it’s worth the cleanup afterwards!
2) FRANCISCO MELA - Cirio: Live at the Blue Note (HalfNote)
While Cirio is only Mela’s second CD, the Cuban percussion wizard has a solid maturity bred during his years in the Boston and South American jazz scenes. So instead of being one big Latin Jazzfest, Cirio comes closer to the boundary-rattling vibe of the Wayne Shorter Quartet. Stunning contributions come from Lionel Loueke, Larry Grenadier, Mark Turner, and the aforementioned Moran (who gets to show off his romantic side here).
3) AARON PARKS - Invisible Cinema (Blue Note)
The ex-Terence Blanchard piano man flies solo, and the maiden voyage is a clear-cut success. Harland makes a second appearance on this list (this time paired with fellow SF Jazz Collectivist Matt Penman), laying down subtle backdrops for Parks and guitarist Mike Moreno. All the music – particularly Parks’ elegant re-set of “Harvesting Dance” – is uniformly excellent, and his interplay with Moreno will knock you out.
4) RYAN COHAN - One Sky (Motema)
A perfect coda for this year of resounding change: The title suite – commissioned by jazz’ new BFF, Chamber Music America – makes the case that we all live “under one sky”, and we’re going to need each other to help each other. Cohan’s ability to make a sextet sound like a big band gives his message a rich, multi-hued platform, and that message (and the rest of One Sky) shines ever so brightly.
Please don’t shoot the messenger: As much as I love the Pat Metheny Group, Day Trip is the most convincing argument yet for putting PMG on permanent hiatus. The disc’s intimate setting is offset by an explosive chemistry developed over several years (and several tours) by this immensely talented trio. What’s more, this date features some of Metheny’s best writing – and most expressive playing – in many a moon.
Honorable mention:
JOHN ELLIS & DOUBLE WIDE - Dance like there’s No Tomorrow (Hyena)
THE WEE TRIO - Capitol Diner, Vol. 1 (Bionic)
BEN ALLISON & MAN SIZE SAFE - Little Things run the World (Palmetto)
GIACOMO GATES - Luminosity (doubledave)
Local Hero Award (CD Division):
Plenty of great entries to choose from in 2008: THE LEE SHAW TRIO put out Live in Graz, a CD/DVD package that helped us get to know Lee even better; ADRIAN COHEN wowed us with his long-awaited second disc, the almost-all-self-penned Delphic; and GLOBETROTTING (featuring STEVE GORN, a member of Adam Rudolph’s Moving Pictures) tuned us into the rest of the world with We Are Here. But at the end of the day, one disc went to the top of the list this spring, and stayed there the rest of the year:
Siegel and his cohorts took no prisoners on their 2005 European tour, and the proof is in these excerpts from radio concerts made along the way. The cohesion between these four players is unbelievable; so is the superhighway-broad sound of Erica Lindsey’s tenor, as is Francesca Tanksley’s power as a pianist and a composer. Siege has got a great thing going with the Lee Shaw Trio, but Live in Europe is indisputable proof that he’s also got his own thing going on!


1) Esperanza Spalding - Esperanza (Heads Up)
This album certainly does not have a sophomore jinx. The 2nd album by this 23 year old rising star features Esperanza singing and playing bass to both originals and covers. Highlights range from a cover of “Body and Soul” sung in Portuguese to the semi pop love song “Precious” (Per Esperanza, an attempt at a top 40 hit . Probably too sophisticated for pop music but catchy and wonderful nonetheless.)

2) Aaron Parks-Invisible - Cinema (Blue Note)
After spending a few years playing behind Terence Blanchard, Aaron debuts as a leader. Invisible Cinema certainly is an appropriate title for this album. The compositions certainly conjure up many images when you close your eyes.  Favorite cuts include Peaceful Warrior and Harvest Dance.

3) George Cables - You Don't Know Me (Kind of Blue)
2CD set of solo piano by George Cables. He plays a mixture of standards, spirituals and originals. George's virtuosity never ceases to amaze me.  Sad ballads such as my Foolish Heart, You Don't Know me and The Way We Were are given interpretations that bring out glimpses of hidden joy in these otherwise sad songs. Standout originals include Helen's Song and Senorita de Aranjuez.

4) Catherine Russell - Sentimental Streak (World Village)
Old style blues/ jazz vocals done with sincerity and soul rather than to preserve an old tradition. We don't have to contemplate any deep meaning with any of the music or double entendre lyrics on this CD.  Its just plain fun!!!!! 

5) Ben Allison - Little Things Run the World (Palmetto)
Interesting compositions and arrangements by the unique Ben Allison. Check out the liner notes they are as entertaining and original as the compositions!!!

Honorable Mention:
BRIAN BLADE & THE FELLOWSHIP BAND - Season of Changes (Verve)
CASSANDRA WILSON - Wouldn't it be Loverly? (Blue Note)
McCOY TYNER - Guitars (Half Note)
LEE SHAW TRIO - Live In Graz (ARC)


1) BRIAN BLADE FELLOWSHIP - Season Of Changes (Verve)
After an eight year hiatus the Fellowship returns with another collection of songs that transverse music genres with ease.

AARON PARKS - Invisible Cinema (Blue Note)
Terence Blanchard's former pianist creates a varied instrumental soundtrack to an untold story.

3) JOHN ELLIS & DOUBLE WIDE - Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (Hyena)
Ellis' inventive writing and saxophone playing backed by organ, drums and ... sousaphone!

4) BEN ALLISON & MAN SIZE SAFE - Little Things Run The World (Palmetto)
The bassist's new quintet performs his signature blend of jazz/folk/rock on seven originals and a cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy."

5) MIKE MORENO - Third Wish (Criss Cross)
A studio snapshot of originals and jazz standards by the likes of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and Billy Strayhorn.

Honerable mention:
LAGE LUND - Early Songs
(Criss Cross)

CD & concert reviews

1) ANAT COHEN - Notes From the Village (Anzic)
It was no surprise that I was captivated by this CD by the quartet led by the talented young Israeli clarinetist and saxophonist, after being enthralled by her “Noir” and “Place & Time” recordings. As someone who hasn't had the same preference for the clarinet, as the other reed instruments, I'm continually amazed at how delightful I find her gorgeous tone, attack, rhythm and ideas playing it. This may be partly due to the way her earnest passion, power and beauty on clarinet reminds me so much of John Coltrane's soprano saxophone; but also due to the way her exotic blending of Jazz, Israeli folk music, Brazilian Choro and other genres is so intoxicating. And she's a marvelous composer and arranger, whose compositions/interpretations really capture and hold one's attention.

2) THIRD WORLD LOVE - New Blues (Anzic)
This quartet (her brother Avishai on trumpet plus piano, bass and drums) of three Israeli and one American musician is another exciting young band on Anat Cohen's Anzic label that draws on jazz, plus Middle Eastern and other World music, in a way that is both stirring and beautiful. Like hers, this is their fourth CD and showcases their own compositions which have warmth, creativity and swing, as well as Duke Ellington's “So”. Don't let the band's name fool you - this is a thoroughly legitimate, sophisticated jazz unit.

3) GIACOMO GATES - Luminosity (Double Dave)
Those fortunate enough to catch this superior male vocalist at A Place For Jazz in Sept 2007 will understand my enthusiasm for this recording. His sure-footed swing, strong ideas and, melodically moving lyric interpretations, are delivered with conviction and grace, on 13 well-chosen songs. He's backed very capably by Bob Kindred's tenor sax, pianist John DiMartino, Tony Lombardozzi on Guitar, bassist Ray Drummond and Greg Bandy on drums. The fine accompanying DVD of his performing at San Francisco's Pearl's is a bonus.

4) KARRIN ALLYSON - Imagina: Songs of Brasil (Concord)
This 11th CD by another superlative vocalist who also dazzled the A Place For Jazz audience, builds on the pleasing affinity for Brazilian music she's shown in her “From Paris to Rio” and “Daydream” CD's. In addition to choosing some of the better known Jobim songs such as “Desafinado”, “A Felicidade” and “Double Rainbow” she uses her very poignant, sensual and relaxed alto delivery to effectively capture that uniquely Brazilian happy/sad quality on lesser known gems by Jobim and other Brazilian artists, using an interesting balance of English & Portuguese lyrics.

5) KELLEY JOHNSON - Home (Sapphire)
Most jazz fans on the east coast are, like me (until Oct 2007), unfamiliar with this very impressive vocalist, who has been active in Seattle for about 20 years. After being as knocked out by her first 3 CD's as any singer I've first heard in the past few years, I found this collection of mostly well known songs, to be done in her distinctive style, which features clarity, expressiveness, swing and intelligence. Like most female jazz vocalists, one can hear the hear the influence of one of the quintessential jazz vocal interpreters of American Popular Song, Carmen McRae; but the singer her gentle, wistfully charming delivery most reminds me of is the late, wonderful Irene Kral, an enormous favorite of many of us in the cult of passionate lovers of this music.

Honorable mention:
LEE SHAW TRIO - Live at Graz (ARC)
PATRICIA BARBER - The Cole Porter Mix
(Blue Note)
(Blue Note)
ED REED - The Song is You
(Blue Shorts)

features, concert reviews

1) KURT ROSENWINKEL - The Remedy at the Village Vanguard (ArtistShare)
For those who may not have heard of him, I am here to tell you that Kurt Rosenwinkel may be the premier jazz guitarist of this decade. Jazz guitar apprentices everywhere invoke Rosenwinkel as the most influential guitarist on the jazz scene. To support my thesis, I turn to the best reference, Rosenwinkel’s live performance, The Remedy at the Village Vanguard. This recording captures the rave about Rosenwinkel - his style, his virtuosity, and his exceptional musical statements. This double CD reveals several exemplary compositions: The Remedy and View of Moscow are outstanding, and dare I say that View of Moscow may be the jazz song of the year. Rosenwinkel is surrounded by outstanding musicians: Mark Turner (sax), Eric Harland (drums), Aaron Goldberg (keys), and Joe Martin (bass).

2) ANAT COHEN - Notes from the Village (Anzic)
The Israelis are coming. The Israelis are coming and they are being led by the Cohen family. Although several members of this family have outstanding recordings in their own right, Anat Cohen, reedist extraodinare, has recently drawn the largest public’s attention. Notes from the Village captures both her broad musical abilities as musician and composer and her intoxicating appeal. No less than four selections were written by her, with Washington Square Park setting the gold standard. Although she has become better known as a clarinetist, this recording anchors her credential as a tenor saxophonist. Joining her on this recording are Jason Linder (keys), Omer Avital (bass), Daniel Freedman (drums), and Gilad Herselman on guitar. Using Notes as a barometer, I can’t wait to hear her next release.

3) JAMES CARTER - Present Tense (Emarcy)
James Carter is arguably the "baddest" saxophonist of this generation. He is a master instrumentalist and there is no reed instrument he cannot play par excellence, although sometimes it does not translate well on his recordings. All of that has changed with Present Tense. Not only does he showboat his tremendous virtuosity on multiple reeds but he simultaneously displays his savoir faire as a composer. To this extent, we are feted to pushing the envelope on his Rapid Shave, treated to marvelous bass clarinet tribute on his Bro. Dolphy, swoon to his heartfelt ballad, Sussa Nita, and regaled by a wonderful bossa nova, Bossa J.C. Additionally, Carter expands his awesome repertoire on a series of other superb songs. Aiding Carter in his musical mission are Dwight Adams (trumpet), D.D. Jackson (piano), Rodney Jones (guitar), James Genus (bass), Victor Lewis (drums), and Eli Fountain (percussion).

4) DAFNIS PRIETO SEPTET - Taking the Soul for a Walk (Dafnison Music)
Drummer Dafnis Prieto has scored a home run with this recording. All of the compositions are originals and each encapsulates Afro-Cuban rhythms and post bebop intelligence. These well-crafted compositions, complex yet accessible, and their superior articulation by a stellar band makes this recording very special. Making all of this prodigious are Peter Apfebaum (sax), Avisha Cohen (trumpet), Yosvany Terry (sax), Manuel Valera (piano), Yunior Terry (bass), and Ital Kriss (flute).

5) JOHN ELLIS & DOUBLE WIDE - Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (Hyena)
Now this is a fun CD. All of the compositions are written by saxophonist John Ellis and they are some of the most original tunes around. They are emotive, hip, and laced with a sense of humor. Augmenting this prototypical score is an even more curious collections of musical instruments: John Ellis (various reed instruments), Gary Versace (organ), Matt Perrine (sousaphone), and Jason Marsalis (drums).

Others to consider:
CASSANDRA WILSON - Loverly (Blue Note)
SONNY ROLLINS - Road Shows Vol. 1 (Emarcy)
AHMAD JAMAL - It’s Magic (Dreyfus)
PAT METHENT TRIO - Day Trip (Nonesuch)
CHICK COREA & GARY BURTON - The New Crystal Silence (Concord)