Sunday, December 11, 2016

Best of 2016 Continued

This group of albums released in 2016 includes a historical document, recording by gentlemen who started making music in the late 1960s and early 70s with the AACM, music that pays tribute, poems set to melodies, and much more!

Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra – All My Yesterdays (Resonance Records) - I did not pay much attention to this band in its early days as I was in the thrall of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who.  But, while those groups were stealing the hearts of American teenagers, composer and trumpeter Thad Jones was writing some amazing songs and charts and organizing a Monday night "rehearsal" band with his friend, drummer Mel Lewis, one that began its tenure at the Village Vanguard in February 1966 and still plays there (under the monicker of the Vanguard Orchestra).  This package - 2 CDs and a 92-page booklet - includes music from the first set the TJ/MLO ever played in front of a live audience and a gig from six weeks later.  If you like big band music, you'll love this album. The music is raw yet polished, exciting, emotional, and downright joyous.  Bless George Klabin and Zev Feldman of Resonance Records for bringing this music to light!

For more information, go to

Alexis Cuadrado - Poètica (Sunnyside Records) - Bassist, composer, and arranger Cuadrado turns his attention to contemporary writers on his latest recording. The poetry of  Melcion Mateu (also a native of Barcelona) and Rowan Ricardo Phillips (a NYC native fluent in Catalan) is put to new music performed by the poets alongside Cuadrado, Miles Okazaki (guitars), Andy Milne (piano, keyboards) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums).  This music has a harder sound, more of an urban edge, than his previous recordings, and one is thrilled and moved by how the poets and musicians mix their various voices. Urgent, thrilling, striking music that inhabits your mind with each listen.

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Jane Ira Bloom - Early Americans (Outline Recordings) - The sound of soprano saxophone, in the right hands, is hypnotizing, sensual, and can paint pictures like no other instrument.  Put the rhythm section of Bobby Previte (drums) and Mark Helias (bass) in the studio with Ms. Bloom and magic happens. This album is magical, personal, interactive, and uncategorizable - just let the music play and lose yourself (or, maybe even find yourself) in it.

For more information, go to

Here's an uptempo piece:

Matt Wilson - One Big Happy Family (Palmetto Records) - Drummer, composer, mad scientist Wilson leads a number of different ensembles and on this album, he makes music with current and past members. Some tracks include as many as 11 musicians. They came together to make a tribute recording to Wilson's wife Felicia who passed away in 2014.  In keeping with the drummer's passionate style, the music ranges from hard-hitting "raves" to folk-inspired and bluesy ballads.  The music is also a tribute to the power of people coming together to play and how this act of creativity can stave off the darkness.

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Here's a delightful track:

Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double-Up - Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (Pi Recordings) - It's rare that Mr. Threadgill records with pianists yet this septet has two (Vijay Iyer and David Virelles); also rare is that the composer does not play on an album of his compositions but, here, he is just the conductor.  This group features the brilliant tuba player Jose Davila and cellist Christopher Hoffman (both members of Mr. Threadgill's Zooid), the "conversational" drumming of Craig Weinrib, and the twin altos of Curtis MacDonald and Roman Filiu. The four-part suite is dedicated to the composer's contemporary Lawrence "Butch" Morris (the composer, cornetist, and conductor) who passed on in 2013.  This swirling, whirling dervish, music has numerous moments of delight and others of mystery; even now, nearly 10 months since I first encountered the album, I am surprised by the stunning "Part IV" and his the opening two-piano conversations pulls me into its elegiac spirit and prayer-like feel.

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Wadada Leo Smith - America's National Parks (Cuneiform Records) - Mr. Smith, like Mr. Threadgill, has created his own musical language through his long career, telling stories this country needs to hear about the power of music to transform society as it explores its myriad issues and relationships.  This 2-CD collection of songs not only celebrates the natural wonders (such as The Mississippi River and Yosemite) but also people (Eileen Jackson Southern, pioneering Black musicologist) and the city of New Orleans. Mr. Smith leads his Golden Quintet Anthony Davis (piano), John Lindberg (bass), and its newest members, drummer Pheeroan akLaff and cellist Ashley Walters - his crackling trumpet riding the powerful rhythm section, caressing his fascinating melodies, and allowing moments of beauty to linger.  Don't bother to tack labes onto the music of both Henry Threadgill and Wadada Leo Smith - there are few contemporary composers with their vision, compassion, and continuing brilliance.

For more information, go to  

Peter Brendler - Message in Motion (Posi-Tone Records) - Bassist and composer Brendler's second recording for the LA-based Posi-Tone Records employs the same trio of musicians as his 2014 debut - drummer Vinnie Sperrazza, saxophonist Rich Perry, and trumpeter Peter Evans - and covers as much musical territory.  Guitarist Ben Monder joins the ensemble on 4 tracks filling out the sound with his chordal magic and special solos.  This is another album that sounds better each time one listens as you can concentrate on the intelligence of the arrangements, the breadth of the compositions, and the brilliant inter actions as well as wonderful solos.

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Dig the "swing" of "Splayed":

René Marie - Sound of Red (Motema Music) - The word "sassy" has always been associated with the great vocalist Sarah Vaughan yet is equally appropriate for this splendid performer, storyteller, and composer. With songs that touch your heart and others that make you want to dance, these "Sounds" swing, dance, strut, as well as make you aware of the fragility of the human condition.  Ms. Marie's longtime rhythm section of bassist Elias Bailey, drummer/co-producer Quentin E. Baxter plus pianist John Chin is  on the mark throughout and the various guests add their special magic.  In the long run, it's that lively and alive voice that brings you back again and again.  

For more information, go to

Here's Renè Marie and her Trio playing three songs from the album for NPR's "Tiny Desk Concert" series - you can't help notice what a delightful performer she is:

Nick Sanders & Logan Strosahl - Janus (Sunnyside Records) - Pianist Sanders and saxophonist Strosahl have been friends for a decade, ever since meeting in the rehearsal rooms at The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA.  For this intimate yet open album of duets, the musicians plays music that swings, sings, soars, and soothes with tunes from the classical world (pre-Baroque and 20th Century modern), the expansive mind of Thelonious Monk, jazz standards, and even a tune inspired by a video game.  Respect intermingles with a sense of playfulness and exploration throughout the program; like so many recordings included here, this music sounds better each time I hear it.

For more information, go to or to

Here's a piece by Olivier Messiaen:

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