Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 Favorites Solos, Duos and Trios

Although none of the following CDs were listed in my "official" Top 10, any one of them could have made.  You may notice the preponderance of recordings with Matthew Shipp and why not? He's one of the more original musicians on the scene, never worrying about "the fashion of the day."

Mr. Shipp goes in a number of fascinating directions on "I've Been To Many Places" (Thirsty Ear), from Gershwin to Coltrane and through his own fertile mind.  This solo recording stands out in an impressive discography as does his latest Trio CD, "Root of Things" (Relative Pitch) - the work of drummer Whit Dickey and bassist Michael Bisio is so wild and free yet always interacting with the pianist.  Perhaps my favorite release with Mr. Shipp is "Alternating Currents" where he is a part of a cooperative Trio recorded by and released by drummer Jeff Cosgrove, an ensemble that also features bassist William Parker. All good music and well worth checking out.

Pianist Manuel Valera, who is usually seen in the company of his New Cuban Express or Trio, self-released "Self Portrait" this year - listen to this all the way through and you hear a musician reaching for the stars.

Producer Todd Barkan continues to reach back to his days at San Fransisco's Keystone Corner to surprise fans of Jaki Byard with more solo piano music from his concerts in the Bay Area venue.  "The Late Show: An Evening with Jaki Byard (HighNote Records) - one can hear just how much the great man influenced pianists who are active today.

The duo of Steve Wilson (reeds) and Louis Nash (drums and more drums) has worked together over a decade but released its first CD, "Duologue" (Manchester Craftsmen's Guild) and what a delight it is. True masters at work!

Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Omer Avital (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums) make up the trio Triveni and create such delightful sounds together. "Dark Nights" (Anzic Records) is their 3rd collaboration and continues their streak of excellent sessions.

In a year where so many piano trio CDs were released (why should this year be different from others?), "Affirmation", the 2nd CD from the Jason Yeager Trio (Inner Circle Music), was certainly a real treat.

His teacher, Fred Hersch, had yet another as performer and producer.  Palmetto Records not only released the stunning DVD of "My Coma Dreams" but also his splendid new Trio disc, "Floating" featuring bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson.

Talk about "super groups" - drummer/composer Jeff Ballard released his debut as a leader, "Time's Tales" (OKEH Records), with his good friends Lionel Loueke (guitar) and Miguel Zenon (alto saxophone).  This is "dance music" for the heart, mind and soul!

Alto saxophonist Alex LoRe released his debut Cd as well - "Dream House" (Inner Circle Music) has a "dream team" of a rhythm section in bassist Desmond White and drummer Colin Stranahan. Such fun music!

As the year moved and I returned to CDs reviewed previously, "Inward Looking Outward" (RopeaDope), the debut of pianist J J Wright kept jumping to the top of the pile.  With drummer Nate Wood and bassist Ike Sturm, Wright created a program of originals and "pop" covers that tickles the ears while making one think - that's a talent.

Tyshawn Sorey continues to go in his own mind-stretching direction. His CD "Alloy" (Pi Recordings) features bassist Chris Tordini and pianist Cory Smythe playing 4 pieces driven more by melodic fragments and textures than formidable beats. Music one can truly get lost in and be happy for the experience.

Here's the initial entry for the 2015 list - Sam Newsome's brilliant solo (with multiple overdubs) CD "The Straight Horn of Africa" (self-released) is an utter joy and a true work of art.

The final entry will feature groups sized 4-7 and probably won't be posted until next week - family is on the way.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Even More Favorites - Large Ensembles

My "official' Top 10+ includes 3 recordings from large ensembles, each exciting and mind-expanding, with strong melodies, passionate solos and impressive arrangements.  The 3 on the list include "Views From the Inside" by the J.C. Sanford Orchestra (Whirlwind Recordings),  "The Offense of the Drum" from Arturo O'Farrill & The Latin Jazz Orchestra (Motema Music) and the irresistible "Mother's Touch" courtesy of Orrin Evans' Captain Black Big Band (pictured above - Posi-Tone Records).

Of course, there are others that deserve mention.

"Habitat" (Justin Time Records) features the enchanting music and arrangements of Christine Jensen and her 18-member Jazz Orchestra.

Alan Broadbent & The NDR Big Band - "America The Beautiful" - Jan Matthies Records - It's so good to hear the music of the pianist from New Zealand backed by the great ensemble based in Hamburg, Germany.

Here's one that should have been on my 2013 list but was released just before Thanksgiving.  "A Trumpet In The Morning" (New World Records) features the music of reed master Marty Ehrlich 
and his Large Ensemble (25 musician appear on the recording but not all at once.)

One of the members of the Ehrlich Ensemble, trombonist Michael Dease, released a swinging Big Band disc, "Relentless" (Posi-Tone Records.) 

I was pleasantly surprised by "When The Clouds Look Like This", a handsome recording from the Minnesota-based Adam Meckler Orchestra (self-released). Go to youtu.be/m-NzgW9RY90 to watch the AMO in the studio. 

Bassist-composer Matt Ulery (pictured left) released "In The Ivory" (Greenleaf Music), a 2-CD set that combines folk melodies, his impressive quartet, the chamber ensemble eighth blackbird and vocalist Grazyna Auguscik.  

Wayne Horvitz had a busy 2014 with several impressive recordings including "At The Reception" (Songlines Recordings) featuring The Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble, a 14-member aggregation based in Seattle, Washington. 

Perhaps the most fascinating entry of the year is the true story of a wandering garbage barge put to music by saxophonist John Ellis and librettist/playwright Andy Bragen.  "Mobro" (Parade Light Records).  9 musicians, 4 vocalists and a sound designer come together to remind us just how wasteful we have been and continue to be, creating mountains and oceans of trash, much of which is not recyclable.  

Let's start 2015's list with Miguel Zenon's "Identities Are Changeable" (Miel Music), the latest adventure in the saxophonist's exploration of his Puerto Rican heritage and how the journey to North America continues to profoundly affect music and culture.  Released in early November, the CD features Zenon's splendid Quartet with a 12-piece reed and brass "Big Band." 

Just looking back on and listening to this recordings, I am continually impressed by the breadth and scope of American music.  2015 brings new recordings from the Maria Schneider Orchestra and Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project - I'm sure there will be more to capture my fancy and yours!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

More of 2014 Favorites - Voices

Another fine year for vocal recordings, especially from the distaff side. My "official" Top 10 listed only Kavita Shah's "Visions" (certainly worthy) but here's a list of the others I enjoy and deserve to be considered "Best Of.." as well!

Brenda Earle Stokes - Right About Now - Magenta Label Group

Amy Cervini - Jazz Country - Anzic Records

Hilary Gardner - The Great City - Anzic Records

Melissa Stylianou - No Regrets - Anzic Records
(These 3 vocalists have banded together to create Duchess and their debut CD arrives in February 2015 on Anzic (of course!)

Kate McGarry/Keith Ganz - Genevieve and Ferdinand - Sunnyside Records

Somi - The Lagos Music Salon - OKEH/Sony

Nicky Schrire - To The Spring - (self-released)

Elizabeth Shepherd - Signal - (self-released)

2015 looks to continue the trend of fine young vocalists with new releases by CT native Allegra Levy (her debut recording of all originals is produced by trumpeter John McNeil) plus a sparkling collection of originals from Ashley Daneman titled "Beauty Indestructible" (her melodies will stick in your head for days - trust me, I know.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite.....(Pt 1)

At the risk of repeating myself from the 10,000th time, what a great year for creative music, Black American Music and contemporary classical music.  I have voted in several polls including the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, in which the writers are limited to 10 new releases and 3 Re-issues or Historical releases. If you followed this blog as well as the column/blog published by the Hartford Courant from from 1997-2009, being confined to 13 is not easy for me.

For this post, I'll start with the list for the NPR poll. Next week, I'll get to the ones  that just missed making that list but deserve recognition. Click on the labels to go to pages that tell you more about the albums and more.

J.C. Sanford Orchestra (pictured above) - View From the Inside - Whirlwind Recordings)

Wadada Leo Smith - The Great Lakes Suite - TUM Records - features Henry Threadgill, John Lindberg and Jack DeJohnette (above left).

Darryl Harper - The Need's Got To Be So Deep - HiPNOTIC Records - This could easily have been at the top - the music and the concept are so fresh.

Kavita Shah - Visions - Inner Circle Records - Co-produced by Lionel Loueke, also chosen as my best vocal album of the year. Her show at The Side Door Jazz Club earlier this year was a knock-out.

Hafez Modirzadeh - In Convergence Liberation - Pi Recordings - stunning music from an ensemble that includes ETHEL, trumpeter Amir ElSaffir and the great vocal work of Mili Bermejo.

Arturo O'Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra - The Offense of the Drum - Motema Music - Also my choice for Latin Jazz album of 2014.

Eric Hofbauer Prehistoric Jazz Volumes 1 & 2 - The Rite of Spring + Quintet For The End of Time - Creative Nation Music - Brilliant arrangements of truly classic works by Stravinsky and Messien for the guitarist's top-notch quintet.  (For the Top 10, I only listed "The Rite..." but both are excellent.)

Orrin Evans & The Captain Black Band - Mother's Touch - Posi-Tone Records - Soulful, bluesy, creative and exciting, Mr. Evans struck it rich this year with this ensemble plus his work with Tarbaby.

The David Ullmann 8 - Corduroy - Little Sky Records -  Going back to this CD, I realize just his fresh this guitarist's music is - could easily be higher in the list.

Noah Garabedian Big Butter and The Eggmen - BJU Records - The music created by this bassist for his debut (!) is quite mature and great fun.

My picks for Historical Albums and/or Reissues include Charles LloydManhattan Stories (Resonance Records), Jimmy Guiffre 3 & 4 – New York Concerts (Elemental Music) and Charlie Haden/Jim Hall – Live 1990 (Impulse Records)

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Soprano Supreme + Trio Delight + Lee K Sells Out

With the release of "The Straight Horn of Africa: The Path to Liberation" (Some New Music), the adventurous soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome continues his exploration of solo performances.  This new recording, subtitled "The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 2", uses African percussion (courtesy of "slap tonguing and multiple overdubs), harmonics, circular breathing and sinuous melodies to tell a 21-song program and to seduce the listener.  Over the course of (now) 4 "solo" CDs, Mr. Newsome has explored the music of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, the Blues and its African roots.  "The Path to Liberation" features lovely melodies, soprano saxophone choruses, abstract sounds, microtonal experiments, dazzling dances, most if not all inspired by the myriad voices of the African continent.

The use of overdubs brought to mind the "solo" work of Julius Hemphill, in particular his self-released 1977 masterpiece, "Blue Boye", reissued on CD in 1999 on Tim Berne's Screwgun label. The music is totally different - for one, the earlier recording spreads 8 tracks over 2 LPs and CDs (no cut shorter than 8:24) while Mr. Newsome's program runs around 54 minutes (no cut longer than 4:16 and 8 under 1:51). The saxophonist delves into the rich wellspring of the music from the African continent with tracks such as the pair of hypnotic dances "The Obama Song: The Man From Kenya" and "The Snake Charmer of Tangier" (hear below), the funky "Good Golly Miss Mali", and the birdsongs of "Sounds of Somalia" (played in the higher registers of the instrument and sounding like an orchestra of flutes.) He pays tribute to the Falasha community of Ethiopia on "Ethopian Jews" and creates swirling rhythmical lines on "African Nomads."  The playfulness of "When The Drum Speaks" and "Nightfall on the Owani Desert" sets the stage for the final track for the dancing sounds of "Highlife", a delightful romp over the "clicking" rhythms.

There are more "experimental" pieces, such as the striking "Dark Continent Dialogues" and the 4-part  "Microtonal Nubian Horn" spread around the second half of the program.  And, as one listens to these pieces, the sound of fellow soprano master Evan Parker might come to mind, especially the more hypnotic of melody lines such as the one the latter musician recorded on his 2006 Tzadik CD, "Time Lapse."

But, like Julius Hemphill before him and his contemporary Evan Parker, Sam Newsome continues to carve his own pathways through the world of music.  Much of the music on "The Straight Horn of Africa: The Path to Liberation" is exhilarating, making one return to this adventure time and again.  For more information about the man and his music, go to sopranosaxtalk.blogspot.com. Also, check out this excellent interview with Mr. Newsome from the Wing Walker Music podcast: www.wingwalkermusic.com/2014/12/36-sam-newsome/.

Live gig of the week:
The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme welcomes back Cuban-born pianist Manuel Valera on Saturday December 13.  This time, he brings his very active Trio, an ensemble that includes the fine bassist Hans Glawischnig and the exciting drummer EJ Strickland (the twin brother of saxophonist Marcus Strickland.) Valera has had a busy 2014, releasing a splendid solo piano CD (my review here) and a powerful Criss Cross recording with his septet The New Cuban Express.  The Trio plays all sorts of music, from blues to Latin to Cuban to "straight-ahead piano trio music."

The Side Door opens at 7:30 p.m. and the first set starts at 8:30.  For more information, go to thesidedoorjazz.com or call 860-434-0886.

Lee Konitz is playing this Friday night (12/12) at Firehouse 12 in New Haven with a quartet that features bassist Jeremy Stratton, the great drummer George Schuller and the wonderful pianist Alan Broadbent. It's the ultimate concert in the venue's Fall 2014 Concert Series and both sets are sold out (have been for awhile).  There's a waiting list so call 203-785-0468 or go to firehouse12.com.  Can't hurt trying.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

2 Great Shows This Weekend

photo by G Fonck
In a Fall Concert series that has been one of the strongest (schedule-wise) in its existence, Firehouse 12 in New Haven presents the season's penultimate show this Friday (12/05) and it's a doozy.   Trumpeter/composer Jonathan Finlayson, who works alongside and has studied with Steve Coleman, bring his Sicilian Defense to the performance space for 2 sets of exciting new music.  The 32-year old native of Berkeley, CA, has performed at the Firehouse before in ensembles led by guitarist Mary Halvorson and saxophonist Steve Lehman (both graduates of Wesleyan University) as well as the great Henry Threadgill.  His 2013 debut  with his Quintet, "Moment and the Message" (Pi Recordings), was a forceful collection of original material and features the band he'll work with in this concert including David Virelles (piano), Miles Okazaki (guitars), Keith Witty (bass, electronics) and Damion Reid (drums).

Expect this music to go in various exciting and surprising directions.  The first set that  Jonathan FinlaysonSicilian Defense will play is at 8:30 p.m. and is followed by a 10 p.m. show.  For more information, call 203-785-0468 or go to firehouse12.com.  To learn more about the young composer/musician, go to pirecordings.com/album/pi48.

The "Improvisations" series at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford, continues its impressive streak of collaborations featuring curators Stephen Haynes (cornets) and Joe Morris (guitar, bass) this Sunday (12/07) at 3 p.m.  Joining the dynamic duo is drummer and percussionist Chad Taylor.  The Arizona native grew up in Chicago where he first played with the legendary saxophonist Fred Anderson and bassist Malachi Favors (of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.)  In 1997, he and trumpeter/conceptualist Rob Mazurek started the Chicago Underground Duo (adding guitarist Jeff Parker a few years later), a group that reunites every year (although the trumpeter now lives in Brazil).  He also has worked with saxophonist Matana Roberts in the trio Sticks and Stones and is currently a member of guitarist Mark Ribot's Trio with the great bassist Henry Grimes. Taylor also is a member of Digital Primitives as well as bassist Eric Revis's Quartet.

Chad Taylor is well-known for his creativity as a percussionist; he can play as hard as anyone in creative music but also has a softer touch that really pulls the listener in.  This show should be quite enjoyable and exciting.  For more information, go to www.realartways.org or call 860-232-1006.