Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Music that Made 2023 Special (Part 1)

 Last year was, overall, a great year for music and a stressful one for this writer. No need to go into details as my paucity of postings since the summer speaks volumes.  Nevertheless, there were numerous recordings that absolutely captivated my brain; the best of them are listed below (and in a subsequent posting).

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra – "The Gennett Suite" (Patois Records) – Have to say this album captivated me from the opening notes to the final fade.  The BWJO tells the story of Bloomington, Indiana-based Gennett Records that, in the 1920s, was the first label to record King Oliver with Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, Bix Beiderbecke plus Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton.  Arranger Mark Wallarab does a splendid job making the music sound fresh (Carmichael's "Stardust" is a real gem) and the band, made up mostly of musicians from the Midwest, in particular Indianapolis and Chicago, plays with fervor, joy, and love.  Listen closely and you'll hear echoes of Duke Ellington, Chick Webb, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, and more; that makes sense as those artists and many others built their music around any and all of the artists featured on this album.

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Here's Joseph "King" Oliver's "Davenport Blues":

Anthony Branker & Imagine – "What Place Can Be For Us" (Origin Records) – As I wrote when the album was released "As you should be able to tell by the title, the themes of this new collection are inclusion, immigration, belonging, citizenship, and the never-ending racism that permeates the United States."  Dr. Branker, currently on the Music Faculty of Rutgers University, continues to impress with his ability to blend music and story to illuminate the Black experience in America.  With a cracking band including Fabian Almazan (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), Pete McCann (guitars), Philip Dizack (trumpet), Walter Smith III (tenor sax), Remy Le Boeuf (alto and soprano saxes), Donald Edwards (drums), and the voice of Alison Crockett, Dr. Branker's music sparkles, shivers, roars, soothes, and shines throughout.  What he and the musicians should keep the involved listeners on their toes in this election.  

For more information, go to To hear and to purchase the album, go to

Here is "Sundown Town":

James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet – "For Mahalia, With Love" (Tao Forms) – Tenor saxophonist Lewis returns to the Red Lily Quintet –– Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Chris Hoffman (cello), William Parker (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums) –– the same group that recorded "Jesup Wagon", his tribute to Dr. George Washington Carver.  For this brilliant recording, Lewis not only pays tribute to the great 20th Century gospel artist but also to his grandmother who instilled the love of music into the young boy who was amazed by her love of the music.  Lewis and the RLQ do not play it safe, taking inspiration not only from the gospel material but from the power of improvisation as well as the work of Archie Shepp, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and other great tenor players who felt the fire emanating from the church music.  

For more information and to purchase the album, go to

Here's "Swing Low":

Rudy Royston Flatbed Buggy – "Day" (Greeenleaf Music) – The second gem to be recorded by drummer/ composer Royston and his simpatico ensemble composed of John Ellis (bass clarinet and clarinet), Hank Roberts (cello), Gary Versace (accordion), and Joe Martin (bass), the 10-song album is more of an "interior" album than the Quintet's 2018 debut. While still inspired by his childhood in Texas, the new album is built upon compositions that the drummer created during the pandemic with these musicians in mind. Whi]lew the music is quite impressive, the sound of this ensemble really stands out. Each instrument is distinct in the mix, each musician contributes to the success of the music, and it's a true joy to listen to these people play!  

For more information, go to

Listen to "Thank You for This Day":

Tyshawn Sorey Trio – "Continuing" (Pi Recordings) – Jazz piano trio fans, take notice –– here's an ensemble that has much to offer.  Drummer and conceptualist Sorey plays in so many types of settings that one might consider his albums with pianist Aaron Diehl and bassist Matt Brewer as a move back toward the mainstream. Who cares?  This is a fascinating program; four long performances of pieces by Ahmad Jamal, Harold Mabern, Wayne Shorter, and the classic standard "Angel Eyes" by Matt Dennis, each one with standout performances. Diehl shines throughout (gives this person a MacArthur Genius Grant so he can realize his full potential –– it certainly worked for Sorey) while Brewer and drummer are solid without being intrusive.  In fact, Sorey gives his bandmates plenty of solo space, rarely stepping out but always keeping the music moving forward.  The Mabern piece, "In What Direction Are You Headed", seriously kicks and is an excellent tribute to one of Sorey's mentors.  

Here's Mr. Shorter's "Reincarnation Blues":

More to follow!

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