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We polled contributors Albert Brooks, Rudy Lu, Jeff Nania, Brian Patneaude, Tom Pierce, Andrzej Pilarczyk, Alex Slomka, Randy Treece and Jeff Waggoner on their favorite jazz releases of 2012 ...

photography, concert reviews

It was a great year for good music! On any given day, I could pick a different top 5 given all the bounty of good music released this year (e.g., fine new releases from Donny McCaslin, Bill McHenry, JD Allen, Marcus Strickland, Wallace Roney, William Parker, Houston Person, and Tia Fuller, among others).

1. Ahmad Jamal - Blue Moon (Jazz Village)
At eighty plus, Ahmad Jamal can still spellbind and enthrall. With Blue Moon, he displays his sophisticated magic, alchemistically re-shaping songs that you love and thought you knew.

2. Victor Goines - Twilight
New Orleans native, Goines, plays sublime impassioned horns on this cd of eleven swinging originals. Goines plays all the horns, but with this outing becomes a contender for the title "uncrowned king of the clarinet" in my opinion.

3. Ravi Coltrane - Spirit Fiction (Blue Note)
This is the next great cd from Ravi Coltrane, featuring two separate ensembles to spur inspired improvisational genius, including a guest appearance by Joe Lovano.

4. Chembo Corniel - Afro Blue Monk (American Showplace Music)
According to All About Jazz, this cd is a mix of hard bop and Afro-Cuban cultural rituals that pays homage to Corniel's two musical heroes - Mongo Santamaria and Thelonious Monk. The cd showcases Chembo's prodigious talent and that of his impressive supporting cast, notably including Ivan Renta and Jimmy Owens.

5. (3 way tie) Ted Nash - The Creep (Plastic Sax Records)
Hans Glawischnig - Jahira(Sunnyside)
Matt Wilson - An Attitude for Gratitude
The beautifully played and melodically accessible music on The Creep has been described as a foray into free jazz for Ted Nash. I hope this characterization will not scare away the potential audience from this great offering. On Jahira Glawischnig eschews the double bass for the acoustic bass guitar, and the interplay between the great musicians on this cd is very high. Take particular note of saxist Samir Zafir whose playing on the track "Beatrice" is the absolute truth! Matt Wilson's "An Attitude for Gratitude" is a quirky, fun set played at a very high level of musicianship.

Honorable Mention:
Joe Chambers Moving Pictures Orchestra - Live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola
Henry Threadgill - Tomorrow Sunny & The Revelry

Don Byron New Gospel Quintet - Love, Peace, and Soul

photography, concert reviews

My top 5 selections for this year range from traditional hard bop to collections that are stretching jazz into roots Americana music and music influenced by alternative rock and rap.

1. Dave Douglas - Be Still (Greenleaf)
Avant-garde jazz meets Root Americana music. Dave Douglas plays hymns that his late mother requested to be played at her memorial service. Features Aoife O’Donovan from progressive bluegrass/string band on vocals. This CD is extremely well recorded.

2. Christian Scott - Christian aTunde Adjuah (Concord)
Christian Scott continues to grow and expand the definition of jazz with this 2 CD album. The phrasing of Miles Davis/Clark Terry is heard along with boundary stretching compositions showing the influence of more contemporary pop forms of alternative rock and rap.

3. The Cookers - Believe (Motema
Veteran all-star band serves up a hot set of originals. This is not a one time all-star band, but a working band of all stars. Catch them live if you can.

4.Branford Marsalis Quartet - Four MFs Playing Tunes (Marsalis Music)
The humorous title says it all. Great interplay between all the members of the band. Branford gets to show his chops on soprano sax through much of this recording. The other members of the band also stretch out. Longtime bandmates Joey Calderazzo and Eric Revis add color to the sound by both their accompaniment and contributions. New drummer Justin Faulkner fits right in as if he has been with the band forever.

5. Michael Benedict & Bopitude - Five & One (Planet Arts)
This year’s local choice. This recording’s edition of Mike Benedict’s current project features a 3 horn section that is voiced and arranged to sound much like a big band.  The powerful front featuring Gary Smulyan on baritone, Brian Patneaude on tenor and Chris Pasin on trumpet. The music swings throughout.

concert reviews

1. Matt Garrison – Blood Songs (D Clef Records)
I'm not gonna lie, this album spun in my car for weeks.  A lot of good, deep, refreshing music by Garrison and his cohort Greg Gisbert. Each composition is a different adventure with its own surprises.  The enthralling original “Trajectory” showcases Garrison's depth of personality.  It comes out of thin air and sneaks its way into a meandering melody.  Garrison's solo breathes in all the right places and his lines are so matter of fact that it makes you feel like you are thinking them as you are listening to them. Tenor Saxophonist extraordinaire, Eric Alexander also makes a guest appearance on Garrison's original “Interrupted” leading a saxophone battle for the ages.The two tenors both make their mark as they state the melody but as the solo section winds on and the two do in fact interrupt each other it takes some careful listening to decipher who is who.

2. Keith Pray – Confluence (Arc
Keith Pray's most recent release Confluence is a serious work of heavy jazz.  He features world class talent including guitarist Chuck D'Aloia who also co-produced the album, and lent his compositional talents to the track “Alley Cat.” The album was recorded at the legendary NRS studios which has also been the creative space that pros like Dave Brubeck, and Chick Corea have chosen to work in in the past.  This disc was also recorded in real time as opposed to countless overdubs.  This process definitely gives the music that live feel that you just cannot get any other way.

3. Brian Patneaude – All Around Us (WEPA Records)
All Around Us is Brian Patneaude's ode to everyday inspiration.  His tunes tell stories of experiences as diverse as his recent engagement, childhood memories, and even a brush with dental surgery.  Of the eight compositions presented on the album all but two are Patneaude originals.  Patneaude's compositional and improvisational tendencies are evocative of Chris Potter, Michael Brecker, Mark Turner, and Joshua Redman. “Double Trio” seems to be inspired by Joshua Redman's own double trio, and is specifically reminiscent of his tune “Insomnomaniac.” The driving hi-hat propels the open texture produced by the interlocking tenor and piano.  The tone produced by the sum of Patneude and pianist, David Caldwell-Mason is a staple of the album and is especially sublime on “Too Vast for Malice,” a decidedly Brecker-esque latin groove.

4. David Caldwell Mason – Cold Snap
I don't know if it's the fact that his originals are so damn original, or the fact that he takes unlikely pop tunes and makes them sound like they were always his that makes me enjoy this album so much.  David Caldwell Mason's sophomore release, Cold Snap is a brilliant album that features the ultra hip Ari Hoenig on drums, and Kellen Harrison on bass. Caldwell's style is instrospective and dreamy.  Single note runs, and chords are interspersed but there are never any truly breakneck lines.  He opts instead to develop his emotional centers, and he succeeds in leaving the listener with a lasting feeling.“Talk Talk” is another signature Caldwell composition that sounds like it is saying just that with its start and stop melody. It is similar to “Don't Worry Mama” in that it starts out in a very different place than where it goes to.  This is an important factor in Caldwell's music – it is never stagnant, but instead surprises you with the places it goes, and always in a way that seems natural. Caldwell is based in Brooklyn, but appears on saxophonist Brian Patneaude's most recent album All Around Us, and has performed with drummer Joe Barna's 12-piece ensemble. 

5. Skerik – Live At The Royal Room
This group is able to blend the integrity of “Jazz” with their traditional instrumentation of upright bass, jazz kit, and hollow-body guitar, and their forays into Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, and Thelonius Monk with the downright bad-ass force of punk, electric-blues, and afrobeat, with minimalist Steve Reich-ian soundscapes. The approach of the group is essentially to create live improvisations that are as stable as written out compositions.  They essentially have certain themes that they work from that recur, but Skerik will often searchingly improvise until the group coalesces on a groove. Live At The Royal Room was recorded at this group's first public performance in Seattle, and you can hear some of the recognizable grooves and spaces that recur at their live shows.  The real magic of this project is in the way they meld mind and body music into a futuristic bistro of sound.


1. Romain Collin - The Calling (Palmetto)
The French pianist blends the sounds of an acoustic piano trio with subtle electronic effects/samples on a set of original compositions and songs by Horace Silver and John Mayer.

2. Pat Metheny - Unity Band (Nonsuch)
A collection of nine original songs by the celebrated guitarist in a quartet setting featuring saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez. This is the first time Metheny has released a recording featuring tenor saxophone since 1980's classic 80/81 which showcased the talents of the late Michael Brecker and Dewey Redman. Here's hoping he doesn't wait another thirty years to do it again.

3. Donny McCaslin - Casting for Gravity (Greenleaf)
An incredible hybrid of jazz and contemporary electronic music, this album sounds like nothing I've heard before.

4. Kurt Rosenwinkel - Star of Jupiter (Wommusic)
A double album of the guitarist's original material featuring a quartet comprised of pianist/keyboardist Aaron Parks, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner. It's great to hear Revis and Faulkner, best known for their work in saxophonist Branford Marsalis' quartet, in a completely different context.

5. Brad Mehldau - Ode/Where Do You Start (Nonesuch)
This year the pianist and his long-standing trio released two albums culled from the same recording sessions. Ode is a collection of eleven Mehldau originals while Where Do You Start features jazz classics by Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins interspersed with pop songs made famous by Jimi Hendrix, Soundgarden, Sufjan Stevens, Nick Drake and others.

CD & concert reviews

1. Paula West – Live at Jazz Standard (Hi Horse)
This exceptional San Francisco-based artist effectively uses her vocal instrument (as extraordinary as any living Jazz singer - IMO), on her 4th release in her 15 year recording career. Her seemingly limitless breath control, magnificent purity of tone, and flawless pitch are strikingly complemented by the late pianist George Mesterhazy’s quartet featuring consummate guitarist Ed Cherry. The 11 interesting songs spring from a diverse array of sources: Great American Songbook standards, 1940’s African-American Jazz/R&B hits, and 1960’s Rock & Pop classics. They are delivered with heartfelt intensity, impressive clarity and understated sensuality.

2. Bruce Barth – Three Things of Beauty (Savant)
On his 12th CD as a leader, pianist Barth presents an uplifting, vibrant quartet featuring the resonantly stirring vibes of Steve Nelson. Although the instrumentation is the same as the iconic & delightful Modern Jazz Quartet, their approach is distinctively their own. This CD was at the top of Jazz radio Charts for a number of weeks, which is no surprise, given his enormous respect and popularity among well known artists for over 20 years. His 8 originals, plus Gershwin’s classic “My Man’s Gone Now” from Porgy and Bess, and John Coltrane’s “Big Nick” are earnest, engaging and enjoyably unpredictable. Over the past 3 months, I’ve been re-listening dozens of times to his imaginative and energetic solos & melodies, delivered with such a pleasing, light touch.

3. Jimmy Owens – The Monk Project (IPO)
There have obviously been numerous tributes to Thelonious Monk, featuring his brilliantly conceived compositions. But this 10 song tribute by a rollicking, straight-ahead septet, organized & arranged by under-rated veteran trumpeter Owens takes a different tack; and does NOT emulate Monk’s unique angular/jagged style. Rather, Owens uses Monk’s captivating melodies (eg “Blue Monk”; Pannonica”, “Epistrophy” “Well You Needn’t”, etc)  as a jumping off point to express the strong musical personalities of these proven musicians like himself, pianist Kenny Barron, Wycliffe Gordon, tuba/baritone sax Howard Johnson, etc. A very wise and rewarding decision!

4. Third World Love – Songs and Portraits (Anzic)
Their excitingly different 2008 “Third World Love” CD knocked my socks off enough to make my Top 5 list that year & this enchanting CD similarly cast a spell over me. This outstanding All-Star quartet consists of 3 virtuoso young Israeli musician and one from New York City: Avishai Cohen – trumpet, Yonatan Avishai - piano, Omer Avital – bass; Daniel Freeman (NYC) – drums. The 9 stimulating originals by various band members reflect a number of moods, with influences of the Blues, Be-Bop, the Middle East and South America demonstrating both the universality & vitality of Jazz. This grooving, expansively exotic & creatively improvised music is definitely both “World Music”  & Jazz in the truest sense.

5. (tie) Marianne Solivan – Prisoner of Love (HIPNOTIC)
This initial CD by a hypnotically captivating New York songstress had as strong an initial impression on me as almost any singer I've heard in recent years. Back in the day, she might have been called a “Torch Singer”; today currently some might label her a “Cabaret Singer, as most of the 11 songs are intimate and convincing ballads. However, none are the usual, overdone ones. She has more than enough natural rhythmic looseness & flexibility, without over-dramatizing her delivery, to strike me as an arresting JAZZ singer. She is superbly supported by Christian McBride & Ben Wolfe – bass; Michael Kanan – piano; Jonathan Blake – drums; Peter Bernstein – guitar and on one track by Jeremy Pelt, who also produced the CD.

5. (tie) Michael Benedict & Bopitude – Five and One (Planet Arts)
Like their extraordinary premiere release in 2011, Bopitude’s second
CD's basic approach and main attraction involve presenting 10 very strong, swinging classic Hard Bop tunes composed by master musicians from the 1950's - 70's, in attractively varied tempos & moods. I personally was especially taken by their fiery version of Sonny Stitt’s “Eternal Triangle”, which can be viewed on YouTube. And the expansion from a quintet to a sextet with Gary Smulyan's rich baritone sax affords them arrangement options with even more stirring ensemble possibilities, in support of the memorable solos and melodies.

Honorable Mention:
Claire Martin & Kenny Barron – Too Much in Love to Care
Sammy Nestico Orchestra – On the Sammy Side of the Street
Brian Patneaude – All Around Us
Keith Pray – Confluence



1. Spectrum Road - Spectrum Road(Palmetto Records)
Get this: legendary bassist & vocalist Jack Bruce (Cream) gets a killer band together with organ playing mad-man, John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood), guitar-string burner Vernon Reid (Living Color) and drummer extraordinare, Cindy Blackman Santana, for a 10-song romp that mines the spectrum of music between jazz, jazz-rock and jam band with overtones of many other styles. Bruce has even got Medeski playing, now genuine antique relic of the 1970s, a mellotron keyboard. This album flew under the radar of most "jazz" critics because of Bruce being part of rock history and not jazz mythology. Never-the-less, the man can play!

2. Tisziji Munoz & John Medeski - Beauty As Beauty (Anami Music)
Munoz & Medeski played The Sanctuary For Independent Media in Troy just a short while ago and it was a mind altering experience for all who were there. If you like your music in the vein of the very best jazz-rock fusion, this is the one for you!

3. Christian Scott - Christian Atunde Adjuah (Concord Records)
Having photographed him as a teenager and following his career album by album, I love what ever he does: straight ahead jazz or mixed with all kinds of other styles from African beats to funk. Sailing over all this great music is Scott's trumpet virtuosity- he's destin to be the Dizzy, Miles or Eldridge of his generation.

4. Medeski, Martin & Wood - Free Magic - Live (Indirect Records)
This album reprises their "acoustic" concert a few months ago at The College Of Saint Rose's Massry Center. Think three contemporary improvising geniuses who actually listen to each other and know what to instinctively do. Then you'll know what I mean with this recording.

5. (3 way tie) Keith Pray - Confluence (ARC)
Michael Benedict & Bopitude – Five and One (Planet Arts)
Brian Patneaude – All Around Us (WEPA Records)
Full disclosure dictates that I let you know that I participated in two of the three albums listed here as their photographer. But there is no bias because of that here. Each time I got a CD album from these artists, it stayed on my CD carousel player for months. Just so you know, I listen to music daily. It really boggles the mind and ears when you hear these recording because if you didn't know who they are in the regional jazz scene, you would think they were all national jazz musicians playing stages across the land from coast-to-coast. And yes they have done that in their lives, but they're our own Capital District treasures and the cool thing is that we can see and hear them frequently in the few clubs and concert halls here in the tri-city area that feature them from time to time. Of special note is Prey's "Confluence" because of the exquisite electric guitar collaboration here with the late Nick Brignola's guitarist, Chuck D'Aloia. Superb lead lines and comps behind the other musicians playing on the date.


1. Luis Perdomo - Universal Mind (RKM Music)
Perdomo’s Universal Mind featuring Drew Gress, and Jack DeJohnette on bass and drums respectively, is an incredible thought provoking album. All three musicians are extremely communicative during the entirety of the album, which is a joy to hear. There is a whole lot of love on this album, no wonder it was released on Valentines Day...

2. Conrad Herwig - A Voice Through the Door (Criss Cross Jazz)
(let the smirks begin) Somewhat of an obvious choice for any trombone player. Conrad Herwig is without question one of the finest jazz trombonists of today, not to mention his killer line-up of musicians including but not limited to Ralph Bowen on tenor saxophone, and Orrin Evans on the piano. Maybe I’m hungry for more trombone albums like these but Herwig’s sound alone is like fudge on ice cream.

3. Pat Metheny - Unity Band (Nonesuch)
Pat Metheny never ceases to amaze me with his versatility on the guitar. This album featuring heavy weight Chris Potter is no exception. Metheny’s hands sound better than ever, and to my ears a touch of flamenco to his sound in general. Chris Potter’s exceptional facility on his horn makes each of his solos build seamlessly.

4. Brian Patneaude - All Around Us (WEPA Records)
I’ve been awaiting this release for a good year and a half before it was even recorded. Go ahead and say I have too much local pride, but after leaving the area for a few years (granted, I was in the middle of the woods) I am more than thankful to have musicians like this in my town.

5. Ravi Coltrane - Spirit Fiction (Blue Note)
Another progressive record from Ravi Coltrane featuring Mike Alessi on trumpet and Joe Lovano on tenor sax, this seems to be his most cerebral work yet, and that's not a bad thing.

features, concert reviews

1. Arturo Sandoval - Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You) (Concord)
The Big Band extraordinaire, Dear Diz, is my favorite CD of this year. In my humble opinion, Arturo is the baddest trumpeter on the planet, and his high-octane, technical prowess is prominently on display on this recording. He screams notes so high that even Maynard Ferguson would swoon, but that is not all he delivers. Even his solos on ballads are magnificently commanding. Yet, the clinching component, making this recording exceptional for the ages, is the riveting arrangements of Dizzy Gillespie’s’ musical chestnuts. They are some of the best arrangements I have heard in years. The band is abounding with musical all-stars - Gary Burton, Joey DeFrancesco, Bob Mintzer, and Andy Garcia, to name a few - and you can feel their joy as they contribute their all to this tribute to such a deserving legendary jazz musician. Diz would surely be proud.

2. Yosvany Terry - Today’s Opinion (Criss Cross)
Cuban saxophonist Yosvany Terry has certainly matured from his robust Afro-Cuban musical roots into a much more global post bop musician as evidenced by the multi-layered Today’s Opinion. Clearly the influences of New York’s jazz scene have broadened his compositional and musical skills and artistic rendering beyond prototypical Afro-Cuban music. Songs such as "Summer Relief," "Harlem Matinee," "Suzanne," and "Another Vision of Oji" highlight the recording’s versatility and sophistication. In some respect, the recording is replete with subtle nuances yet remains exquisitely accessible. Terry is accompanied by an exceptional cast of Cuban musicians including his younger brother Yunior Terry, percussionist extraordinare Pedro Martinez, bassist Obed Calvareon, pianist Osmany Paredas, and drummer Michael Rodriquez.

3. Ralph Peterson - Dual Perspective
This may be a rather myopic opinion, but I generally do not expect drummer-lead groups to produce such a pleasant and well-refined CD as Dual Perspective. I usually expect rhythms galore and maybe some drumming bombast, but not with this recording. Drummer Ralph Peterson is not the focus, rather, it is the lushness of the music. The CD’s principal trait is the wonderful musical collaboration, in both fotet and sextet formats, unearthing a broad spectrum of sensuous sounds, especially the harmonic interconnections between reeds and vibraphone, that bedazzle into a magical musical colorization. The voicing is tantalizing as the melodies are alluring. This CD is an expression of joy and an euphonic musical experience.

4. Bobby Sanabria Big Band - Multiverse (Jazzheads)
I may be accused of gravitating toward big bands, particularly Latin big bands, but for good reasons, and Sanabria’s Multiverse makes the case for me. Although there is ample sampling of explosive Afro-Cuban rhythms, the framework is eclectic. The first cut, "French Connection," is hard driving yet explores new boundaries. There is ample measure of agile Cuban sound with cuts like "Cachita" and "The Chicken From Havana to Harlem." There is a marvelously warm thirteen-minute tribute to Duke Ellington. And the band’s treatment of "Speak No Evil" is one of the best I have ever heard. This recording is a tour-de-force.

5. Vijay Iyer - Accelerando (ACT)
I may lack the ability to describe ingenuity, but I know it when I hear it. Iyer is acknowledged by every critic as a fresh new musical wizard, presenting new musical theories and angles to this genre. His has a distinct and archetypical style, with multi-faceted, near geometric conceptions that may be viewed as revolutionary. With Accelerando, his standing in jazz’s creative realm is cemented. Here is an eclectic program with original tunes, "Optimism," "The Star of A Story" (a favorite), and "Accelerando" as well as nod to composers such as Michael Jackson’s 'Human Nature" (wonderfully treated without pandering), Herbie Nichols’s "Wildflower," and Henry Threadgill’s "Little Pocket Size Demons." Everything feels noveau; the music is inventive and ingenious. The interplay between Iyler, Steve Crump, and Marus Gilmore is both cogent and potent. Those listeners who dig deep into serious music such as this, will nod with approval and quietly sigh “wow."


CD & concert reviews

1. Joel Forrester - For the Moment
This is a home-made recording from the superb pianist and brilliant composer, Joel Forrester, best known as a co-leader of the Microscopic Septet and having written the theme song for NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross.” “Fresh Air” is just one of 1,600 composition by Forrester, a pianist you might come up with if you grafted Phillip Glass onto Mead Lux Lewis. But that would only represent part of his skill set. His bag of pianistic tricks is as deep as a Jacki Byard’s, who could demonstrate the history of jazz piano stylings in one song. The heart of solo-piano “It’s a Beautiful Day” is a 35-minute version of Forrester’s minimalist masterpiece “Industrial Arts.” Forrester jokingly claims that he’s closed and/or cleared out many a piano bar with “Industrial Arts,” which full-length version is eight hours. Don’t know where he gets all his massive improvisational chops, but it might have grown out of his steady gigs as one of the last surviving silent movie pianists.

2. Henry Threadgill - Tomorrow Sunny & The Revelry (Pi Recordings) Threadgill is among the greatest jazz composers working today, and he shows in this recording why. His sextet, “Zooid,” doesn’t play elevator music. None of Threadgill’s work is, and “Sunny” is among his most challenging stuff, but well worth the effort.

3. Trio M - The Guest House (Enja)
The three “M’s” are Myra Melford on piano, Mark Dresser on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. This is a fun, sometimes funky, album with three adventurous and playful musicians. Melford, as usual, swings like mad.

4. Brad Mehldau - Ode (Nonesuch)
Ode is the first of two excellent trio albums issued this year by the pianist Mehldau, the heir to the crystalline sounds of Bill Evans. Ode features Jeff Ballard on drums, Larry Grenadier on bass and all original songs.

5.Guy Klucevsek - Multiple Personality Reunion Tour(Innova Records)
Klucevsek rhymes with eclectic. He uses the talents of a wide range of musicians: Dave Douglas (trumpet), John Hollenbeck and Theo Bleckmann (voice) to name three. Among the cuts are his three “Hymnopedists,” his own spin on Erik Satie's piano pieces, Three Gymnopedies.