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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 2016 ...

photography, concert reviews

1. George Coleman - A Master Speaks (Smoke Sessions)
A Master Speaks is one for the ages! George Coleman is indeed an esteemed master of the saxophone, and a venerable master of jazz. His sound here is like the warmest sable wrap and a fine, chilled Pouilly-Fuisse’. Coleman’s masterful playing on this album is a veritable banquet laden with taste and erudition, surprise and excitement, restraint and urgency. Yes, Mr. Coleman sets the saxophone bar very high with this offering. Others with something to say on A Master Speaks are Mike LeDonne, (the late) Bob Cranshaw, George Coleman Jr. and Peter Bernstein.

2. Anthony Branker & Imagine - Beauty Within (Origin Records)
Beauty Within, itself a strong contender for my choice of ‘album of the year’, is another marvelous offering from Dr. Anthony Branker, the most eloquent, socially conscious, interesting and challenging composer/arranger on the scene today, in my humble estimation. This album aptly named for what it is is a work of beauty. In Imagine, Dr. Branker has assembled an upper echelon staff of musicians to give loquacious musical expression to the passionate content and concepts of Beauty Within: Ralph Bowen, Fabian Almazan, Linda Oh, Rudy Royston and Pete McCann.
{NOTE: While you are at it, do yourself a favor and check out the rest of Dr. Branker’s stunning oeuvre - insightful and moving work!}

3. JD Allen - Americana (Savant)
Americana is the latest from the powerful JD Allen Trio – JD Allen, Rudy Royston and Gregg August. The album consists of the trio incorporating the blues and other roots of America’s greatest art form, but in the inimitable way that only a group as long-lived as this one can. For his playing on Americana, I nominate JD Allen as jazz/folk/modernist hero of 2016! His burnished tone, effortless and soulful playing is sorta’ Trane-ish, and a little like Sonny but entirely and instantly identifiable as his own.

4. Freddie Hendrix - Jersey Cat (Sunnyside)
Jersey Cat
is Freddie Hendrix’s paean to the many great musicians that have come out of New Jersey, not the least of whom is one gentleman which Freddie’s virtuosic trumpet playing immediately brings to mind – Woody Shaw (though interestingly Jersey-ite Shaw is not represented on the album while another trumpet virtuoso, Freddie Hubbard is [“Hub-tones”]). Jersey Cat has several burning numbers that showcase Freddie’s and the ensembles’ chops, but many ballads as well that illustrate his intense lyricism. Freddie Hendrix is a great, great talent deserving of much wider recognition. Joining Freddie in his tribute to Jersey Cats are: Cecil Brooks III, Abraham Burton, David Gibson, Corcoran Holt, Brandon McCune and Bruce Williams.

5. Kenny Barron Trio - Book of Intuition (Verve International)
Book of Intuition by the Kenny Barron Trio (Johnathan Blake and Kiyoshi Kitagawa) rounds out my top 5, but I want to say this is a stellar album and I am sure it will sit at the top of many lists this year. Intuition is absolutely the proper terminology to use with respect to this trio that plays as one stunningly beautiful organism. Kenny Barron deserves an international medal of honor and bountiful thanks for all the beautiful music that he has bestowed upon this world! If you are in need of life-affirming uplift, listen to “Magic Dance” or “Shuffle Boil” or “Light Blue” or any of the great songs on this wonderful cd.

Jeff Watts - Blue Volume 2 (Dark Key Music)
Scott Tixier - Cosmic Adventure (Sunnyside)
James Brandon Lewis - No Filter (BNS Sessions)
Kenny Garrett - Do Your Dance (Mack Avenue Records)


1. Dave Douglas and Frank Woestre - Dada People (Greenleaf)
I make no bones about the fact that Dave Douglas is my favorite musician on the jazz scene nowadays, and this newest release from him and keyboardist Frank Woestre (who I was not familiar with this prior to hearing this recording) only re-enforces this belief. Between both their playing and composing, Douglas and Woestre (as well as bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Clarence Penn) are operating on the same musical wave length throughout, making for an album that is challenging but inviting, intellectual but emotional, unorthodox but stimulating. In other words, it makes for the best jazz album of 2016 to this person's ears.

2. Ben Wendel - What We Bring (Motema)
Saxophonist/bassoonist Ben Wendel seems to be the big new thing amongst younger musicians nowadays, but as someone who has been familiar with his playing for a few years now, it's fun to hear how his experiences playing with Kneebody (among others) have helped him develop his voice not only as a saxophonist, but a composer. His backup band of some of jazz's biggest young stars only adds to the enjoyability. Is this indie rock/jazz fusion sound put forth by Wendel and his cohorts the future of jazz as a whole? Who knows, but it's certainly worth paying attention to how things go from here.

3. John Daversa - Kaleidoscope Eyes: Music of the Beatles (BFM)
One of the challenging things about attempting to modernize the big band is how to balance pushing the music forward while not losing sight of what makes a big band unique in the first place. Bassist Michael Formanek's release "The Distance" is another good release this year that found this balance, but John Daversa's "progressive" big band (complete with strings and vocalists, among other things) really knocks it out of the park with these brilliant re-creations of several Beatles classics. It's also worth noting that Albany's own Tyler Giroux actually helped out with overdubbing a few parts on this recording.

4. Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny (Nonesuch)
Some of my previous experiences with highly unorthodox trumpeter Cuong Vu have left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth; they were a little too anarchic for their own good, to be honest. Perhaps his sometimes-employer Metheny helped him reign in this anarchy to less intense levels, as this recording features the same off-the-wall kinetic energy of Vu's other material while maintaining a sense of purpose and direction that I find much more invigorating to listen to. Even Vu's squeaks and honks seem much more controlled and focused, as they enhance the proceedings much more than they hindered his previous recordings, in my opinion.

5. Jim Rotondi - Dark Blue (Smoke Sessions)
Full disclosure: Jim Rotondi was one of my trumpet teachers in college, so the two of us have a history with one another. That being said, I can say without bias that this album represents what Rotondi's music is all about: hard bop in a 1960s vein, but with a 2000s sensibility and attitude. Rotondi is on point throughout, and his teaming up with vibraphonist Joe Locke makes for a highly pleasing frontline sound. The rhythm section (including long time collaborator and One For All pianist David Hazeltine) is highly effective, and the compositions and arrangements are all warm, inviting, and creative.

Historical Release of the Year:
Larry Young - In Paris: The ORTF Recordings (Resonance)
The great organist left us with a fairly small discographical impact compared to some of his peers, but every single one of his appearances is nothing short of a gem ("Unity" being a long time favorite record of mine). This series of bootleg recordings from Young's time in France, featuring a mix of American and Parisian musicians (including personal favorites, trumpeter Woody Shaw and saxophonist Nathan Davis), is a welcome addition to this legendary organist's recorded legacy.

photography, concert reviews

2016 was a fine year for jazz recordings. And they keep saying jazz is dead? These are in no particular order.

Renee Rosnes- Written in the Rocks (Smoke Sessions)
Anchored by “The Galapagos Suite”, a composition describing evolution through musical themes. Pianist Renee Rosnes composition takes you on a musical journey to the Galapagos, underneath the sea, with life migrating to land, the evolution of single cell plants and animals to the life forms we know today and our pre Homo sapiens ancestors. With band mates, Steve Wilson - saxes and flute, Steve Nelson - vibes, Peter Washington –drums and Bill Stewart on Drums.

Jaimeo Brown Transcendence - Work Songs (Motema)
A follow up and expansion of the 2013 release Transcendence about work and the human condition. Drummer Jaimeo Brown samples work songs from prison, the cotton fields and even Japanese folk songs and mixes them with live musicians including saxophonists Jaleel Shaw, and JD Roberts, guitarist Chris Sholar, keyboardist Big Yuki along with a large cast of guest vocalists. Elements of rock, blues, jazz and hip-hop are synthesized into an immersive listening experience.

The Cookers - The Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart (Smoke Sessions)
An all star septet of jazz veterans playing original compositions. Nuff said.

Donny McCaslin - Beyond Now (Motema)
This recording was dedicated to the late David Bowie. Donny and his band backed David Bowie on his last recording. An atmospheric mysterious tribute

Aziza - Aziza (Pure2records)
Quartet with Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke, Dave Holland and Eric Harland play funk, world and African influenced jazz.

Honorable mention:
Jack Dejohnette, Ravi Coltrane, Matt Garrison - In Movement (ECM)
A pianoless saxophone trio leads to a lot of freedom in playing. This is certainly true on this recording. In many ways, this is a 21st century continuation of John Coltrane’s music. A spiritual connection as well as a blood connection to that tradition. Ravi and Matt are the sons of John Coltrane and Jimmy Garrison, 50% of the classic John Coltrane quartet. Included are a cover of John Coltrane’s “Alabama” , Bill Evans “Blue in Green along with Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Serpentine Fire “ are some of the highlights.

Local recording:
Tani Tabbal Trio - Tryptch( Tabbalia)
Another world class saxophone trio based right in our backyard plays free jazz. Tani Tabbal on drums, Mike Bisio on bass and Adam Siegel on alto saxophone. Catch them in concert for a real treat.



1. EST Symphony (ACT)
The music of the late pianist Esbjörn Svensson performed by a sextet anchored by his longtime triomates Dan Berglund and Magnus Ostrum together with the ninty piece Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.

2. Pat Metheny - The Unity Sessions (Nonesuch)
The guitarist recorded his all-star Unity Group live in the studio performing a mixture of songs from throughout his long and varied career.

3. Robert Glasper Experiment - ArtScience (Blue Note)
Glasper and company meld a multitude of musical genres into a sound all their own.

4. Ben Wendel - What We Bring (Motema)
Following last year's "The Seasons" video project, Kneebody's saxophonist continues to build his solo career with a strong collection of original material along with covers of Wye Oak, Michel Legrand and Miles Davis.

5. Nik Bärtsch's Mobile - Continuum (ECM)
This totally acoustic quartet consisting of a pianist, a bass/contrabass clarinetest and two percussionists is augmented by a string quintet on a set of compositions refered to as "ritual groove music" by the leader.

CD & concert reviews

1. The Cookers – The Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart (Smoke Sessions)
I have to acknowledge upfront that this truly robust, yet spiritually inspirational “Super Group” of 7 outstanding Post-Bop Masters, is my personal favorite Jazz band still performing. As usual, the selections are all very powerful, highly intense (but melodically pleasing) originals; most of them created between the 1960’s -90’s by various members. For more background details on this truly incredible band, please reference this website’s 2014 “Top 5” for my write-up of their previous CD, “Time and Time Again”.

2. Daniel Freedman - Imagine That (Anzic)
This highly in-demand NYC drummer, whose work I’ve enjoyed very much for over ten years with many top bandleaders, takes listeners on another buoyantly pleasurable Jazz/Third World ride here, similar to his previous engaging 2012 “Bus to Bamako”. Like that exciting release, I found this unique version of Fusion enormously moving & unpredictable. In addition to the deft rhythmic & compositional touch of Freedman, it also features the truly captivating guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke, creatively surging pianist Jason Lindner & invigorating bassist Omer Avital, also leaders. Although very rhythmic, the CD isn’t drum-centric.

3. Gregory Porter – Take Me to the Alley (Blue Note)
It’s ironic that this very popular vocalist who many regard as the latest “new thing”, is in some respects a wonderful throwback to the powerfully compelling Blues & Gospel singers of the past; and has been a hard-working performer on the road for close to 20 years, rather than an “Overnight sensation”. He’s clearly not out of the Jazz or Great American Songbook conventional style of most previous popular Male Jazz singers, although he’s clearly influenced by them in his earnest, tasteful persona .His distinctively ultra-powerful delivery has a warm simplicity that transcends his more “Pop-R&B’ influences; and his energetic projection clearly reaches an enormously wide range of listeners, including this aging Jazz Vocal enthusiast from the 50’s.

4. Edward Simon – Latin American Songbook (Sunnyside)
This truly exceptional 47 year old Venezuelan pianist/composer, while not highly publicized, has an incredible set of professional credentials, which include almost 30 years in New York and other cities in demand by a “Who’s Who” (including Bobby Watson & the SF Jazz Collective) and 14 highly regarded albums in over 20 years as a leader as well, as a number of prestigious education positions and top level commissions & awards. His strikingly romantic & yet swinging trio performance on this project brilliantly blends the most compatible musical elements of his Jazz, Classical and Latin American background. I found his creativity & touch on these 7 songs from diverse nations heartfelt & appealing, especially Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade”.

5. Cliff Brucker – Full Circle
As I detailed in a May review I found this CD to be an excitingly propulsive and accessibly melodic Post-Bop sextet recording. Drummer/composer/Leader Cliff Brucker wisely chose 10 invigorating classics and his one captivating original to be played with spirit, precision and grace by venerable saxophonist Leo Russo, rising star trumpeter Dylan Canterbury, versatile veteran pianist Larry Ham, long-time first call bassist Otto Gardner & sensitively compelling guitarist Mike Novakowski. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to enjoy this exceptional band even more in live performances 3 times in the last 6 months.

Honorable Mention:
Empire Jazz Orchestra  - Out of the Mist
Freddy Cole – He Was the King
Cyrille Aimee – Let’s Get Lost

features, concert reviews

1. Justin Swalding feat. Piatti Quartet - A Place to Be (33 Records)
The musical aura of this fabulous album is so absolutely stunningly, beautiful and breathtaking that, at a moment’s notice, you may be rendered to tears. The recording is bold, distinctive, and mesmering. The Leader is British saxophonist and composer Justin Swalding and the string quartet is comprised of Nathaniel Anderson (violin), Michael Trainor (violin), David Wigram (viola), and Jessie Ann Richardson (cello). All of the compositions are penned by Swalding.

2. Charles Lloyd & the Marvels - I Long to See You (Blue Note)
I have been a life-long fan of Charles Lloyd, captivated by the eclecticism of his musical oeuvre as he continues to search for nontraditional ways to promote his creativity. In addition to compiling new compositions and rejuvenating an old favorite, "Sombero Sam", Lloyd furnishes majestic arrangements to traditional songs like "Shenandoah" and "All My Trials", as well as covers Bob Dylan’s "Masters of War" and Billy Preston’s "You Are So Beautiful." The presence of Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz contribute a Midwestern mirth and mystique. Lloyd never fails to grab our attention; he is jazz’s mojo man.

3. Jaimeo Brown Transcendence - Work Songs (Motema)
Drummer Jaimeo Brown has met the challenge of juxtaposing gut wrenching, privation chants from prison chain gangs, laborers in the cotton field, southern sanctified pews, and surprisingly Japanese “work” and folk songs, among others, with a modern intuition that is not only compelling but thought provoking. Take for an example, how Brown cleverly inculcates a Native American chant with oriental sensibilities on "Stonemason." In presenting these often times culturally forgotten or marginalized cultural gems, Brown and collaborator Chris Sholar, punctuate these visceral songs with jazz, hip hop, rock and the blues. Jazz notables J D Allen and Jaleel Shaw lend their credible voicing to this visionary collaboration.

4. Jim Rotondi - Dark Blue (Smoke Session)
This is a towering recording from trumpeter Jim Rotondi mixed with an assortment of standards and new compositions, wrapped in innovative arrangements. He has a tremendous tone, technique, and ingenuity. Rotondi is a hard bopper which is evident on "In Graz" and "Bc", two originals. His pure tonality shines on haunting melodies such as "Dark Blue" and "Monk’s Mood", and wonderful grooves percolate on "Biru Kirusai" and "Our Day Will Come." The ensemble of Locke, Hazeltine, Wong, and Allen mesh well and add that inexplicable “je ne sais qua.” This is an enjoyable recording.

5. Branford Marsalis Quartet & Kurt Elling - Upward Spiral (Okeh)
I found myself in seventh heaven with two of my favorite legendary musicians, Brandford Marsalis and Kurt Elling, collaborating on an album. And they do not disappoint. Marsalis’s long standing Quartet of Joey Calderazzo (piano), Eric Revis (bass), and Justin Faulkner (drums) could not have been a better choice to complement Elling’s sultry voice and earnest delivery. Both Marsalis and Elling are masters on ballads and this recording is an astounding testament to their respectful, expressive treatment of these rapturous melodies. Both Marsalis and Elling provide gorgeous phrases and harmonies on Sting’s "Practical Arrangement", "Blue Gardenia", "I am a Fool To Want You", "Blue Velvet", as well as Fred Hersch’s "West Virginia Rose." I am bedazzled by Marsalis’s understated lyricism, serving as an indispensable companion to Elling’s soulfulness and grace. Considering the abundant presence of these and other ballads, my only disappointment is Elling’s recitation of Calvin Forbes’s poem "Momma Said", which is truly out of sync with the lush and graceful character of the other songs. Setting that aside, this recording is one of both Marsalis’s and Elling’s best.