The Best Jazz Tracks of the Month

Is the jazz world getting stranger, or is it just me? Five days every week, jazz.com picks an outstanding track from a recent release and features it as Song of the Day. But the bands seem more peculiar all the time.

Rinse the Algorithm

Look at this month’s picks (listed below) for example. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t name my band “Rinse the Algorithm”—or even, as in this instance, “rinsethealgorithm.” But it sounds positively euphonious compared to “Mostly Other People Do the Killing.” How did that one ever get past the focus groups?

Mostly Other People Do the Killing

Despite the unwieldy moniker, we liked MOPDTK's music, which features Jon Irabagon, winner of the recent Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. Irabagon was honored for his horn playing by judges Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Heath and Jane Ira Bloom. But we give him an award for best imitation of Ornette Coleman on an album cover by a non-African-American.

Barnacled

Not to be outdone, Mark Saleski celebrated a song called “Losing Weight Through Prayer.” Hey, is this jazz.com or belief.net? The goat on the cover did not entice me—I haven’t bought an album with barnyard animals on the sleeve since Pet Sounds. And what can I say about an instrument line-up that includes shortwave radio and “modified Speak & Spell”? Mark promises that “your ears will be forcefully opened.” You need to supply your own Q-tips.

I tried to jump into the fray by reviewing Warsaw Village Band’s “Wise Kid Song”—which sounds as if mostly other people are doing some goat-killing over by the bandstand at a wedding in Gda?sk. But no modified Speak & Spell on this track, alas.

Along the way, jazz.com also featured cover versions of songs by Strawberry Alarm Clock and Sonny Boy Williamson during the month; the music of Venezuela; a version of “Take Five” that incorporates some hip-hop; and a wildly creative reworking of that old warhorse "All Blues" with Markus Stockhausen (son of the famous composer Karlheinz Stockhausen) on trumpet. And if you want your ears opened in a more traditional manner, we highlighted great tracks by artists such as Sonny Rollins, Jim Hall and Bill Frisell.

Below are links to our reviews of all the tracks featured as Song of the Day during the month. Each one comes with full personnel and recording info, as well as a link for (legal) downloading. And don’t forget to rinse your algorithm when your done!

Rinsethealgorithm: Urban Nocturnal
Reviewed by Scott Albin

Arild Andersen: Independency Part 3
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Warsaw Village Band: Wise Kid Song
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Barnacled: Losing Weight Through Prayer
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

Mark Rapp: Incense and Peppermints
Reviewed by Walter Kolosky

Billy Boy Arnold: Decoration Day
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Gjermund Larsen: ArriVals
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

The New Jazz Composers Octet: Bad Alchemy
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Joani Taylor: Take Five
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

Andy Scherrer: Karma
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Marco Granados: Los Tiestos De Moca
Reviewed by Scott Albin

Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Drainlick
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

Francisco Mela: Benes
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Jim Hall & Bill Frisell: Masters of War
Reviewed by Ed Leimbacher

Dave Frank: Snow Falls on 5th Ave.
Reviewed by Ralph A. Miriello

Jonatha Brooke: My Flowers Grow Green
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

Cedric Burnside & Lightnin' Malcolm: R.L. Burnside
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Vince Mendoza: All Blues
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Frank Catalano: My One and Only Love
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Bryan Beller: Love Terror Adrenaline / Break Through
Reviewed by Walter Kolosky

New York Electric Piano: Temple Tantrum
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

Sonny Rollins: More Than You Know
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Ari Hoenig: Moment's Notice
Reviewed by Eric Novod

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

December 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Final Chorus (2008)



The jazz community knew that Freddie Hubbard's health was precarious after the heart attack he suffered the day before Thanksgiving, yet the news of his death is no less bitter.

This artist, with his passion, drive and commitment to excellence, exemplified jazz at its finest. Although Hubbard was loved and admired by many, I still can't help feeling that he rarely got the respect that was his due. Throughout his career, it seemed that there was always some fad or fashion going on elsewhere in the jazz world that distracted attention from the masters in our midst who didn't care to jump on the passing bandwagons. Certainly Hubbard was one of those masters.

Below Ralph Miriello remembers Hubbard, and some of the other notable figures from the world of jazz who left us during 2008. T.G.




Freddie Hubbard

The death of Freddie Hubbard, who passed away Monday morning in Sherman Oaks, California, was a terrible loss for the jazz world. As the year 2008 draws to an end, it is only fitting to pause to recall the contributions of this exceptional trumpeter, and the other members of the jazz community who left us during the course of the year. They will surely be missed but whose body of work and influence will last well into the future.

Here is my list of some notable musical passings that occurred this year and shouldn’t go by without respectful notice.

The most recent departure is one that we will lament for a long time to come. Freddie Hubbard had been a major presence on the jazz scene for the last half-century. His trumpet work will live on in the many classic recordings he left behind. These include not only his outstanding leader dates, but a host of sideman efforts: with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers; on numerous Blue Note releases alongside Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and others; on landmark dates as diverse as The Blues and the Abstract Truth and Ascension; with V.S.O.P. or battling trumpets with Woody Shaw; the list goes on. These sessions covered a wide swathe of musical terrain, but one thing was always certain: that Freddie Hubbard would raise the ante by his contribution to the proceedings.

We lost a triumvirate of saxophone masters when Jimmy Giuffre, Phil Urso and “The Little Giant” Johnny Griffin each left us.

Jimmy was a consummate multi-instrumentalist as well as a talented composer whose pioneering work with piano- and drum-less trios was the portal to different explorations by a whole stream of artists to follow his lead. He is revered for his big band compositional skills on such hits as Woody Herman’s anthem “Four Brothers” featuring Stan Getz, Herbie Stewart, Zoot Sims and Serge Chaloff. Jimmy was 86.

Phil Urso was a talented tenor saxophonist who was a proponent of the “cool school” sound and a disciple of Lester Young. His career included work alongside Miles Davis, Bob Brookmeyer and Chet Baker. Miles Davis, with whom Phil played for six months in 1954, purportedly liked Phil’s work because he had a “black” sound like Sonny Rollins. Phil was 82.

Known as “ the Little Giant” tenor man Johnny Griffin played the tenor saxophone like he was on fire. Once know as “the fastest gun in the west” for his proclivity to play so rapidly, he never let the speed get in the way of his ability to swing. A major force of the hard bop style, Griffin worked for a time with Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey and Miles Davis, as well as led his own ensembles. Johnny was 80 years old and died in France where he had made his home for the last 24 years.

Cuban bassist, composer and bandleader Israel “Cachao” López was credited with the creation of the Latin dance craze the Mambo with his 1939 tune of the same name. This eventually led to the whole salsa movement in Latin jazz. Jaco Pastorius reportedly once called “Cachao” the best bassist in the world and was supposedly influenced by him. López was 69 years of age and died in his adoptive home of Florida.

Guitarists were not immune to the grim reaper as we lost two fine ones in Hiram Bullock and Joe Beck. Hiram was a soulful sessions player that fused jazz, rock and soul into his sound which could be heard on famous tunes such as Steely Dan’s Gaucho , Billy Joel’s The Stranger or Sting’s Nothing Like The Sun. Hiram was only 52 years of age.

Joe Beck was a consummate professional who brought a sense of grace and style to whatever he played. He was credited as being the first guitarist in a Miles Davis band in 1967. He worked extensively as the guitarist in residence for the CTI label and can be heard as an important contributor on albums by likes of Laura Nyro, Joe Farrell, Stan Getz and Paul Desmond, to name a few. Joe died this year at the age of 62.

The trumpeters of the jazz world will know the name of Pete Candoli. He was the fiery high register specialist who played for as many as nine big bands during his illustrious career. His work with Woody Herman’s Herd as well as bands led by Tommy Dorsey and Stan Kenton allowed him space for his high register powerhouse atmospherics. He eventually collaborated steadily as a studio musician with Henry Mancini and is featured on his famous “Peter Gunn”. Pete died after a long illness this year at the age of 84.

Pianist Dave McKenna and B3 master Jimmy McGriff were also lost to us during the the last year. McKenna was best known for his work as a big band pianist with Woody Herman but also worked with small groups led by Stan Getz , Bob Wibur and Bobby Hackett. He was known for his powerful left handed bass lines. McKenna humbly considered himself a saloon player who liked to embellish the melodies of standard songs. Dave passed in Pennsylvania at the age of 78. Jimmy McGrff was one of “Big Three” on the Hammond B-3,along with fellow practitioners Jimmy Smith and Richard “Groove” Holmes. His infectious combination of blues, gospel and jazz influences was always cooking and always in the groove. Jimmy succumbed to the ravages of MS in Philadelphia this year at the age of 72.

Drummer Bobby Durham was the beat behind groups led by luminaries such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. He is perhaps best known for his fine work as a member (along with bassist Ray Brown) of Oscar Peterson’s powerhouse trio. Bobby passed away in Italy at age 71.

Drummer Mitch Mitchell, of Jimi Hendix’s Experience fame, is perhaps an unlikely addition to this jazz based honorarium, but one could easily argue that Mitchell’s hard driving, solo-styled drumming was a pioneering effort in the rock venue that he took from his days with the jazz-based group Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. Mitch died in his hotel room in Portland, Oregon while touring with an Experience band that was bringing Hendrix’s music to a new generation of fans. John “Mitch” Mitchell was 61 years of age.

Finally William Claxton was not a musician but an important chronicler of musicians through the artistry of his photographs. Claxton managed to capture some of the most telling images of world of jazz music with his careful eye for light and his astute compositional sense. His famous photographs of Chet Baker helped to establish the then little known artist as a crossover star. Claxton's photographs brought jazz to life beyond its core culture and into the mainstream. William Claxton was 80 years old.

This blog entry posted by Ralph A. Miriello.

December 30, 2008 · 6 comments

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Mark Saleski Overcomes Energy Crisis and Picks the Best Jazz of 2008



Few music critics listen to more CDs than Mark Saleski, or are so vigilant in hunting out exciting sounds in new and unexpected places. I've been looking forward to reading his comments on the jazz highlights of 2008. But I was concerned when I learned that a very lengthy power shortage at his house—which lasted almost as long as the administration of William Henry Harrison—had put a halt to CD-listening, emailing and sundry other activities at chez Saleski. But our resourceful reviewer overcame all obstacles, and somehow managed to deliver his end-of-year picks for the jazz highlights of 2008. You will find them below. T.G.




Recent events in the Northeastern United States have made me pause to consider just how much technology is involved in the chain of happenstance that connects the artist's muse chamber with the listener's ear canal. Due to a vicious ice storm, I have spent the better part of the past couple of weeks without power at my house. No power. No heat. No water. No Internet. Our saving grace was a propane-fueled 'woodstove' located in the center of the house. By strategic placement of blankets in doorways, that one room rose to almost 70 degrees, a number we would repeat as a mantra when using the 35-degree bathroom.

So here we are at the end of jazz.com's first year. We're simultaneously moving forward (content delivery via the Internet) and glancing back at the past—reviewing single tracks instead of full discs, the mp3 being the "45 of the future."



          The Spectrum's Night (2008), artwork by Jazzamoart


Or maybe the future is now. It has been an interesting year in the area of jazz/improvised music. While the delivery mechanism seems headed in the direction of the Internet (something debated hotly in this space not long ago), what's very clear is that there is a ton of new music to be found out there. My mailbox was positively bursting with review material. Beyond that, one easy step into the land of MySpace or YouTube will often yield an enormous wealth of fresh music.

There was so much great stuff out there that it was tough to compress the list to a manageable length. What follows are my picks for more memorable tracks/artists. Despite jazz.com's use of its proprietary rating system, the selections are in no particular order. Heck, it was tough enough to make the selections!

I've carved out a few (very) broad categories: "traditional" (about as mainstream as I get), "It's Own Thing" (Described as sui generis by snooty reviewers. I have a very low snoot factor), and "Out There." A perfect term for this, coined by jazz.com writer S. Victor Aaron, is "Whack Jazz."

Traditional: Carla Bley continues to amaze, and this year was no exception. Appearing Nightly was a stunning blast of organized horn madness. Hat's off to Waxpoetics records for unearthing the remarkable Melvyn Price record Rhythm and Blues. The track ”Voodoo Love Dance” just knocked me out! Southside Johnny, king (or is it 'prince'?) of Asbury Park-inflected rock, got together with trombonist and bandleader Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg, to give the music of Tom Waits the big band treatment. ”Walk Away,” a duet with Waits, is just one of the tremendous results. Can a mashup of West African music and jazz be considered traditional? Give the song ”Domain Domain” a listen. The song comes from my favorite album of the year: Sira by Ablaye Cissoko and Volker Goetze.

Its Own Thing: From Nik Bärtsch's Ronin, we have ”Modul 39_8,” which takes jazz out into the realms of both funk and minimalism. James Brown by way of Steve Reich? Nico Muhly is a New York-based composer who creates music that's nearly impossible to categorize. Skip the labels and check out Mothertongue, Part 1: Archive.

Out There. Ah, music that can help you clear your living room of unwanted guests! Guitarist Marc Ribot and his Ceramic Dog outfit kick things off with ”When We Were Young And We Were Freaks,” a track that runs an ambient vibe through the skronkilator. For sheer scary volume and brutality, Totem's ”Blooming Ore” is your best bet. Tony Malaby's Cello Trio takes a different angle on odd, with the intricate interplay of ”Anemone.” And what "out there" music list would be complete without an entry from Erik Friedlander? ”Jim Zipper,” from his "Broken Arm Trio," is about the most fun you can have in only 68 seconds. Finally, there's the one track that has raised a lot of eyebrows this year, at least among those who have been adventurous enough to listen to my recommendations. Ted Gioia seems to think that there's a transgressive quality to ”In Me Canoe.” He does have a point. I did, after all, write that the track "sounds like the 1972 disco hit ”Soul Makossa” as if sung by Kate Bush in duet with Captain Beefheart."

This blog article posted by Mark Saleski.

December 29, 2008 · 2 comments

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Remembering Eartha Kitt

Jazz.com's arnold jay smith covers the OctoJAZZarians beat for us, and it seems that he has crossed paths with all of the legends of jazz at some point in his career. Now he shares his recollections of the late Eartha Kitt, who passed away on Christmas Day. T.G.


Eartha Kitt by Carl Van Vechten

She loved to sing with jazz groups. She appeared at jazz festivals and in clubs normally reserved for jazz performers. She was a political radical known for her independence, and impudence. But deep down the sultriness was a cover for her insecurity borne from a lifetime of not knowing who she was or where she came from. I read somewhere that Eartha Kitt challenged a group of students to find her birth certificate, which she never saw. They did and that’s how she found out when she was born. Thus she died at age 81.

A short-for-his-age young star-struck waif was introduced to Ms. Kitt after she hit it big with “Santa Baby.” She was appearing at a dinner club in Brooklyn, of all places, called Ben Maxsyk’s Town and Country. My mother, also diminutive, loved the entertainers her own size: Gracie Allen, Garland, Piaf and Kitt. The family got to casually talk with Ms. Kitt, which she claimed to never have forgotten.

Flash ahead to Brooklyn College in the late fifties. My “House Plan”—sort of like a fraternity without the Greek letters and initiation rituals—took our initiates to a Broadway musical every semester. (We seemed to have a knack for closing them as well.) One such was something called Shinbone Alley, a cute idea based on a newspaper column “Archie and Mehitabel,” which was ostensibly written and typed by a cockroach named Archie, portrayed by Eddie Bracken, who was in love with a cat named Mehitabel, purred by Eartha Kitt. This was long before any of her now-famous television cameos on TV’s Batman, I Spy and the other programs, but her name was known from nightclubs and recordings. The book and lyrics for Shinbone were written by Don Darion and Mel Brooks—his first—with music by George Kleinsinger, who also penned the kiddie musical fantasy “Tubby the Tuba.”

At the time, I was looking to jump into jazz with both feet rather than as a sideline to my Wall Street career. Jack Kleinsinger—who I was to find out later was George’s cousin—was in the start-up stages of his now 35-year-old “Highlights In Jazz” series, which caught my attention. We’re still working together. I got to meet the eccentric George and visited him in his menagerie apartment atop the Hotel Chelsea. Among the other visitors was Eartha who had maintained their friendship. The menagerie included birds, monkeys, reptiles and a koala bear all in a semitropical setting. All were highly illegal, even in earlier eras.

I was standing in the rear of the courtyard of the Judson Memorial in Greenwich Village, where George’s memorial was taking place, when I thought I saw someone step surreptitiously behind me. It was more of a feeling, actually. Eartha asked me some questions about the funeral. Then we were off, separately.

After speaking to her daughter, my wife, singer/percussionist Fran McIntyre and I stood at the corner of the Carlyle bar waiting for Eartha’s set to complete. Fran needed to talk to her about professional matters. Eartha saw me and remembered we had a mutual friend in George Kleinsinger. Our subsequent conversation drifted in and out of his multiple marriages, the menagerie which the City had wanted to dismantle for years and, yes, musical matters. Excitedly, she motioned and said to “stay right here. I have to do an encore, but I want to talk.” True to her word back she came and talk she did. Man, could she carry-on!

At the 2005 Litchfield Jazz Festival she opened the proceedings for the deep pockets. This time the conversation was brief but picked up right where we had left it some years prior: George, the menagerie and his young widow.

Eartha Kitt loved people. Once I caught her in a mink coat and shades walking her two poodles on East 57th St. in Manhattan and stopping to talk to anyone who recognized her. She seemed to live for that recognition. While mention is made of her “New Faces of 1951” debut little is said of some of the others who came out of that show: Robert Clary of TV’s Hogan’s Heroes, Paul Lynde of Broadway’s and later Hollywood’s Bye Bye Birdie, and still later of TV’s Hollywood Squares, and the character actress Alice Ghostley. Not all of the aforementioned made it into the pantheon of household name-dom, and I don’t know if they all got their stars on the Walk-of-Fame. But you just know you could talk to each of them, especially Eartha, even on a busy N.Y.C. street.

This blog article posted by arnold jay smith.

December 28, 2008 · 3 comments

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Celebrating Classic Jazz Tracks

John Handy

Five days per week, jazz.com highlights a memorable track from the past as part of a regular feature called A Classic Revisited. In order to qualify for inclusion, a performance must stand out as a work of exceptional merit and be at least twenty-five years old. Below are links to our reviews of the tracks selected during the last two months.

Jimmy McGriff: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Duke Ellington: Caravan
John Handy: Spanish Lady
Gene Krupa & Roy Eldridge: Rockin' Chair
Dave Brubeck: Take Five
Vince Guaraldi: O Tannenbaum
Moe Koffman: The Swinging Shepherd Blues
Ornette Coleman: Beauty is a Rare Thing
Machito: Tanga
Jim Hall: Things Ain't What They Used to Be
Frank Sinatra: Jingle Bells
Coleman Hawkins: Honeysuckle Rose
John Abercrombie: Red and Orange
Bob Dorough: Baltimore Oriole
Wayne Shorter: Infant Eyes
Chet Baker: Winter Wonderland
Sun Ra: Enlightenment
Sonny Rollins: The Freedom Suite
Lester Young: All of Me
Red Allen All-Stars: Wild Man Blues
Freddie Hubbard: Red Clay
Joni Mitchell: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
John Carter: Dauwhe
Don Byas: Riffin' and Jivin'
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: Summertime
Shakti: Joy
Enrico Rava: The Pilgrim and the Stars
Oliver Nelson: Stolen Moments
Weather Report: Teen Town
Donald Byrd: Here Am I
Bill Evans: Reflections in D
Herbie Mann: Comin' Home, Baby
Louis Armstrong: Potato Head Blues
Jelly Roll Morton: Doctor Jazz
Paul Bley: When Will the Blues Leave
Frank Zappa: Peaches en Regalia
Max Roach: All Africa (from Freedom Now Suite)
Arsenio Rodriguez: Adivinalo
Nat King Cole: Straighten Up and Fly Right
J.J. Johnson: Poem for Brass

For a complete list of all of the tracks chosen as A Classic Revisited since the launch of jazz.com, click here.

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

December 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Best Blues CDs of 2008

I recently published here my choices for the best jazz CDs and world music CDs of 2008. Below is my last list of the year, and I checked it twice: the best blues CDs of 2008.

For each selection below, listed in no particular order, you will find a link to my review of one of the more noteworthy tracks on the CD. These reviews include full personnel and other information about the release, as well as another link to a (legal) source for downloading.


B.B. King

B.B. King: One Kind Favor
Featured track: “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”


Billy Boy Arnold

Billy Boy Arnold: Billy Boy Sings Sonny Boy
Featured track: “Decoration Day”


North Mississippi Allstars

North Mississippi Allstars: Hernando
Featured track: “I’d Love to Be a Hippy”


M for Mississippi

Various Artists: M for Mississippi
Featured track: T-Model Ford: "Hip Shakin’ Woman”


“Two

Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm: 2 Man Wrecking Crew
Featured track: “R.L. Burnside”


Miles in India

Chuck Bernstein: Delta Berimbau Blues
Featured track: “Delta Berimbau Blues”


Otis Taylor

Otis Taylor: Recapturing the Banjo
Featured track: “Absinthe”


The Mannish Boys

The Mannish Boys: Lowdown Feelin’
Featured track: ”Searchin’ Blues”


Eric Bibb

Eric Bibb Get Onboard
Featured track: “New Beale Street Blues”


“Janiva

Janiva Magness: What Love Will Do
Featured track: “One Heartache Too Late”



And here are five honorable mentions:

Taj Mahal: Maestro
Featured track: “Zanzibar”

MOTU & The RoadHouse Jesters No Refunds / No Exchanges
Featured track: “Here Come Those Blues Again”

Kenny Neal: Let Life Flow
Featured track: “Louisiana Stew”

John Lee Hooker, Jr.: All Odds Against Me
Featured track: “Dear John”

Sonny Landreth: From the Reach
Featured track: “When I Still Had You”

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

December 24, 2008 · 1 comment

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Ralph Miriello Looks at Some Jazz Highlights of 2008



As part of our year-end festivities, several regular contributors to jazz.com have offered their views on the jazz highlights of the year. Below Ralph Miriello serves up his selections. T.G.




During the course of 2008, young innovators as well as indefatigable veterans have once again proven that almost any song given the right thought can be magically transformed into a unique work of art. Some songs are old standards that, given the right amount of contemplation, are mystically conjured into a vehicle for a whole new experience of expression. Some compositions are originals that have the mettle to become new standards in their own right.

This year was indeed a cornucopia of wonderful and varied expressionistic offerings. Here are just a few of my choices for noteworthy performances, most by lesser known artists, which I had the opportunity to listen to and in some case review for jazz.com over the past year.



              Ripplin' the Ivories, artwork by Keith Henry Brown


From the grand masters of the keyboard witness the wonderful “Tea for Two” by the bombastic, octogenarian pianist Martial Solal on his wonderful album Longitude. The sensationally sensitive Fred Hersch’s version of the Monk classic “Misterioso” from his offering Night & the Music. Newcomer to me, Dave Frank, took a left-handed turn at “You Stepped Out of A Dream” from his fine solo effort Turning it Loose and made it his own. Veteran stylist Steve Kuhn hit it out of the park with his killer rendition of Mal Waldron’s “Left Alone” ably assisted by Al Foster and Buster Williams on his release Play Standards. Marc Copland once again showed his thoughtful side on his eclectic collaboration with the fine guitarist John Abercrombie with the beautifully rambling “River Bend,” an Abercrombie tune from Copland’s Another Place, being a standout.

Italian pianist Roberto Magris’s Europlane release Check-In introduced me to the fine sound of this musician/composer as well as the eye opening saxophone work of Hungarian Tony Lakatos, who blew me away on Magris’s “Blues for My Sleeping Baby.” Pianist John Beasley assembled a monster supporting cast on his homage to Herbie Hancock Letter to Herbie with an especially nice treatment of “Chan’s Song.”

Saxophonists were well represented. To my mind, the purest example of the art of saxophone improvisation was offered by Donny McCaslin from his marvelous release Recommended Tools where his “The Champion” and “Eventual” were standouts. Adam Niewood’s “Where’s the Cat” from Epic Journey Vol 1 & 2 is a distinctive foray into crescendo-building atmospherics and worth a listen. Saxophonist Andy Middleton’s recorded version “Up the River” from his European Quartet Live is one of my favorite live performances of the year—the intensity of his playing comes right through the speakers.

There were a few cool Hammond organ offerings this year but my favorite of the bunch was “The Prince’s Groove” by B3 master Vince Seneri on his album of the same name, with props to Randy Brecker and Paul Bollenback.

In a successful venture into Gunther Schuller’s third stream arena, pianist Bill Mays and his Inventions Trio (also featuring trumpeter Marvin Stamm along with cellist Alisa Horn) were hauntingly successful in “Fantasy Movements” 1 through 3 on his Fantasy CD, a recording that I find myself playing repeatedly. Joel Harrison’s The Wheel was a five-movement work for strings and guitar featuring the fine trumpet work of Ralph Alessi and combining sensibilities of classical, jazz and Appalachian folk into a cohesive performance of considerable depth.

There were many offerings of what I would call composition-oriented improvisation, with my choice for album of the year in this category being Ben Allison’s Man-Sized Safe’s magical Little Things Run the World. Seeing this group perform live in Brooklyn was a true treat, with each musician putting his own imprimatur on the music without ever taking away from the group’s cohesive sound. Out of many fine songs, guitarist Steve Cardenas’s “Language of Love” is a soon-to-be classic.

Bassist David Finck’s haunting “Ballad for a Future Day” on his Future Day album, was a worthy offering and featured stirring performances by vibraphonist Joe Locke and veteran drummer Joe La Barbera, and some nice work by saxophonist Bob Sheppard and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt on the song “Four Flags.”

Brooklyn based pianist Emilio Solla’s fine Conversas Al Lado Del Agua was a treat to behold especially his engaging “Remain Alert,” which stretched the boundaries with its careful combination of classical styled orchestrations in a driven piece of music laced with the sounds of Pan-American folk music.

Saxophonist Felipe Salles released what may have been one of the finest examples of the kind of new compositions that incorporate world sounds with sophisticated orchestrations. Salles’s South American Suite is a major statement in this direction. His piece “Crayon” is a perfect example of the kind of creative jazz-hybrid music that is coming from the Southern Hemisphere.

Flautist Jamie Baum put together a brilliant piece of music with her formidable septet on her commendable offering Solace where “Solace” and “Pine Creek” were especially notable; a release not to be missed. The Stryker/Slagle Band’s The Scene was a fine outing, with journeyman Joe Lovano lending his considerable clout to the affair. Slagle’s rendition of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Fingers in the Wind” was a standout. Pablo Ziegler, Quique Sinesi and Walter Castro took tango Nuevo to a new level of jazz sophistication on Ziegler’s Buenes Aires Report.

One of my favorite discoveries of the year came from the strangely unidentifiable sound of pianist / vocalist / composer Meddy Gerville and his wonderfully infectious release Fo Kronn la Vi. This inhabitant of distant Reunion Island, in the Indian Ocean, has created a magical combination of heart grabbing beat along with musical and vocal virtuosity that is simply unforgettable. His performance in New York at Cachaça with Matt Garrison on bass and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez on drums was mesmerizing, and the album is no less engaging. One of my best new finds of the year.

On the vocal front, we had some wonderful releases from Denise Donatelli, What Lies Within, which offered her captivating version of the Chick Corea’s “Crystal Silence,” with kudos going to arranger / pianist Geoff Keezer. Australian Rachel Price showed her mettle with her engaging version of “The Trolley Song” from her notable The Good Hours release.

Drummer Ken Serio had an impressive live CD Live …In the Moment, ably assisted by bassist Mark Egan and guitarists Peter McCann and Vic Juris, with the simply smoking “Big Blue Cars” being of note. This is another example of the visceral live performance being transferred effectively to the recording.

Guitarist Pat Metheny, with super trio band-mates Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez, treated us to their special type of musical magic with the notable release Day Trip. Their “At Last You’re Here” serves as a fine starting point to an overall good offering.

As with any listing exclusions are bound to offend or surprise some. My listing is but a mere sampling of what I had an opportunity to listen to and review this past year. While not attempting to denigrate any that were not mentioned, my simple goal here is to give some recognition to those whose music in someway touched me this year and perhaps for years to come. Happy Holidays to all our readers and keep listening to the music!

This blog entry posted by Ralph A. Miriello.

December 23, 2008 · 4 comments

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Three Jazz Piano Masters on DVD



Thomas Cunniffe, who recently looked at Sonny Rollins’s work on DVD in this column, now turns his attention to some recent video releases featuring three departed masters of the jazz keyboard: Art Tatum, Duke Ellington and Bill Evans. T.G.



It is one of the strangest ironies of our time: with our economy hinging on disaster and consumer spending reaching new lows, jazz DVDs are coming out left and right, andthey’re selling! One online jazz retailer boasts of having 1,725 different DVD titles for sale. Much of the credit belongs to Reelin’ In The Years, the producers of the Jazz Icons series. They have found superb performance videos which are presented in high quality video and audio, and, for the most part, are previously undocumented. The sales have exceeded all expectations.

The Art of Piano

Perhaps in the near future, Reelin’ In The Years will unearth some footage of Art Tatum. As it stands, there are 3 clips totaling about 9 minutes, and only one of them features Tatum’s typical repertoire. That clip is a 1955 BBC performance of “Yesterdays,” and to my knowledge, its only video release is on the documentary The Art Of Jazz Piano. That documentary, originally made for Britain’s Channel 4, has just been released by Screen Edge. Contrary to the box’s claim, it is not the only documentary ever made on Tatum (a public TV station in Toledo produced an admirable 30-minute profile in 1983 and, the following year, Tatum was the subject of an episode of Bravo’s Doctor Jazz, Billy Taylor).

However, the Channel 4 effort is the longest and best of the lot, including all 3 clips (the others are “Tiny’s Exercise” recorded for the March Of Time, and a jam session blues from the film, The Fabulous Dorseys), several well-chosen audio recordings and stunning recreations of the Tatum style by Dick Hyman and Hank Jones. Best of all, director Howard Johnson had the good sense to let Tatum’s music play without interruption or voice-over narration. There are interviews with Les Paul (who was a pianist before he heard Tatum), Tatum historian Arnold Laubich, Tatum’s younger brother Karl, and Fats Waller’s son, Maurice. All contribute to a sharply focused portrait of jazz’s greatest piano virtuoso.

Other than the strange cover heading of “Nashville Reggae” and the lack of scene selections on the menu, there’s little to complain about regarding the Tatum DVD. I cannot say the same about Laser Swing Productions’ latest entry in their Norman Granz Presents series. It is a double-disc set with the films Duke Ellington At The Côte D’Azur with Ella Fitzgerald and Joan Miró (1966) and Duke: The Last Jam Session (1973). From a musical perspective, the programs are reasonably strong: in the first film, the Ellington band is visibly tired, but they still play very well, and on the second film, the musicians are a little slow to find their groove, but things get better as the date progresses. The problem is more in the presentation. The “Côte D’Azur” film was supposedly made for theatrical release, but then why did Granz shoot in 16mm black and white instead of 35mm color, especially with the beautiful scenery of the French Riviera as the backdrop and the Maeght Foundation Museum at St. Paul De Vance as a featured setting? The film has not survived well, with scratches and sloppy splices evident throughout.

DVD

The Last Jam Session is only a notch better than a home movie. It was shot with one camera with no adjustments made for decent camera shots (For example, guitarist Joe Pass sits behind the raised lid of the piano!). The picture goes in and out of focus as the cameraman tries to switch between musicians in real time, and, in several instances, Granz stands right in the middle of the shot with his backside to the camera as he talks to Duke. So, if you want the music (especially Ella’s reading of “Something To Live For”), get the CDs of Ella & Duke At The Côte D’Azur and Duke’s Big Four and leave this video in the bin!

Jazz Icons’ Bill Evans DVD is an essential addition to the pianist’s legacy. It includes five different performances dating from 1964-1975. In the notes, the Jazz Icons producers say that they usually select concerts of 30 minutes or more for the main DVDs and put the shorter pieces on a bonus disc. I’m glad they decided to make an exception in this case.

DVD

Evans went through several transformations during the eleven years sampled here, not only in his music but also in his physical appearance and his general stage manner. The 1964 session with bassist Chuck Israels and drummer Larry Bunker is very introspective and Evans is bent over the piano, barely making eye contact with either his audience or his fellow musicians. In the following year, he plays with Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Alan Dawson, and on the first tune, they sound as if they had been working with Evans for years, playing in the same subdued styles as their predecessors. Then Lee Konitz joins the group for a version of “Melancholy Baby” and the style changes to straight-ahead.

The next two sessions are from 1970 and feature Evans’s second great trio—with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morrell. Evans’s playing seems energized and the group is quite aggressive, even on “Round Midnight,” which features a powerful locked-hands solo by the pianist. The 1975 session was recorded in a studio with Eliot Zigmund replacing Morrell. The repertoire is oriented toward originals such as Earl Zindars’ “Sareen Jurer” and Evans’s “Twelve Tone Tune Two,” and lesser-known pieces such as Mercer Ellington’s “Blue Serge” and Jerome Kern’s “Up With The Lark.” The transformation of Evans’s physical look from 1964 to 1975 is well-known, but the most profound change can be seen by jumping between the opening shots of the 1964 and 1975 sessions. Evans’ hands, beautiful and slender in 1964, are pudgy and swollen by 1975. Was this another tragic consequence of Evans’s drug addiction?




ART TATUM: THE ART OF JAZZ PIANO Screen Edge 53. 52 minutes. 1988. Produced and directed by Howard Johnson. With Art Tatum, Les Paul, Eddie Barefield, Dick Hyman, Hank Jones, Maurice Waller, Milt Hinton, Karl Tatum, Arnold Laubich, Paul Machlin.

DUKE ELLINGTON AT THE CÔTE D’AZUR WITH ELLA FITZGERALD AND JOAN MIRÓ 1966. Written and produced by Norman Granz. Directed and edited by Alexander Arnz. 62 minutes.

Cat Anderson, Cootie Williams, Mercer Ellington, Herbie Jones (tp); Lawrence Brown, Chuck Connors, Buster Cooper (tb); Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney (r); Duke Ellington (p); John Lamb (b); Sam Woodyard (d). The Opener; Such Sweet Thunder; Black & Tan Fantasy/Creole Love Call/The Mooche; The Old Circus Train Turn-Around Blues; La Plus Belle Africaine; Things Ain’t What They Used To Be.

Duke Ellington (p); John Lamb (b); Sam Woodyard (d). Kinda Dukish; The Shepherd.

Ella Fitzgerald (v); Ellington’s trumpets, trombones & reeds as above; Jimmy Jones (p); Jim Hughart (b); Grady Tate (d). Satin Doll; Something To Live For; The Jazz Samba (So Danço Samba).

DUKE: THE LAST JAM SESSION 1973. No credits, but doubtlessly produced by Norman Granz. 96 minutes.

Duke Ellington (p); Joe Pass (g); Ray Brown (b); Louis Bellson (d). The Brotherhood; Just Squeeze Me; Carnegie Blues; The Hawk Talks; Prelude To A Kiss; Cottontail; Everything But You; Love You Madly; Fragmented Suite.

Above 2 films issued as 2-DVD set, LSP/Eagle Eye 39069.

BILL EVANS: LIVE ’64-’75 Jazz Icons 2.119013. 97 minutes.

Sweden, September 29, 1964: Bill Evans (p); Chuck Israels (b); Larry Bunker (d). My Foolish Heart; Israel.

France, 1965: Lee Konitz (as—“Melancholy Baby” only); Bill Evans (p); Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen (b); Alan Dawson (d). Detour Ahead; Melancholy Baby.

Copenhagen, 1970: Bill Evans (p); Eddie Gomez (b); Marty Morrell (d). Emily; Alfie; Someday My Prince Will Come.

Sweden, February 20, 1970: Bill Evans (p); Eddie Gomez (b); Marty Morrell (d). If You Could See Me Now; Round Midnight; Someday My Prince Will Come; A Sleepin’ Bee; You’re Gonna Hear From Me; Re: Person I Knew.

Denmark, 1975: Bill Evans (p); Eddie Gomez (b); Eliot Zigmund (d). Sareen Jurer; Blue Serge; Up With The Lark; But Beautiful; Twelve Tone Tune Two.

This blog entry posted by Thomas Cunniffe.

December 22, 2008 · 1 comment

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The Ten Best World Music CDs of 2008

A few days ago, I published my choices for the 50 best jazz CDs of the year, and other contributors to jazz.com have chimed in with their selections as well. Now I turn to the field of world music, and offer ten picks that are eminently worthy of your attention.

For each selection below, listed in no particular order, you will find a link to my review of one of the more noteworthy tracks on the CD. These reviews include full personnel and other information about the release, as well as another link to a (legal) source for downloading.

In a few days time, I will offer up my last list for the year, which will highlight the best blues CDs of 2008. Happy listening!


Warsaw Village Band

Warsaw Village Band: Infinity
Featured track: "Wise Kid Song"


Africa to Appalachia

Jayme Stone & Mansa Sissoko: Africa to Appalachia
Featured track: "Ninki Nanka"


Savina Yannatou

Savina Yannatou: Songs of an Other
Featured track: "Sareri hovin mernem"


Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club: Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall
Featured track: "Chan Chan"


Toumani Diabaté

Toumani Diabaté: The Mand� Variations
Featured track: �Si Naani�


Miles From India

Various Artists: Miles From India
Featured track: �All Blues�


Femi Kuti

Femi Kuti & Positive Force: Day by Day
Featured track: �Oyimbo�


Milton Nascimento

Milton Nascimento: Novas Bossas
Featured track: �Chega de Saudade�


Orchestra Baobab

Orchestra Baobab: Made in Dakar
Featured track: �Pape Ndiaye�


Kala Ramnath & Ganesh Iyer

Kala Ramnath & Ganesh Iyer: Samaya
Featured track: �Raga Ahir Bhairav / Charka Vaham�


This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

December 21, 2008 · 2 comments

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A European Perspective on the Best Jazz CDs of 2008



Thierry Quénum covers the jazz scene from his home base in Paris, and is a frequent contributor to these pages. Below he offers his 30 picks for the best jazz releases of the year. Quénum’s perspective is especially useful since he hears many releases that, for whatever reason, get limited (or sometime no) distribution in the US, and thus tend to be excluded from most critics' end-of-year lists. T.G.




Jazz in Paris

It can be somewhat frustrating for European jazz fans to realize that US-based magazines and websites largely ignore European “products” (artists and labels). I won’t comment on that that here but, before indulging in the ritual of the “Best CDs of the Year,” I can only express how glad I am to write for a website that doesn’t have that kind of narrow-mindedness. I’m also happy that we, Europeans, are fortunate enough not to suffer from some kind of deafness, which allows us to profit by a wide choice of music available on our side of the Atlantic, both onstage and in record stores.

Before stating my personal choices, here’s a brief review of the “Best of 08” selection made by the two main French magazines, just to give jazz.com readers an idea of European openness (I put no particular mention when the musician is French or American):

Jazzman chose: Ahmad Jamal (on a French label); Vijay Iyer (French producer based in NYC); Arild Andersen (Norwegian artist, German label); Gianluca Petrella (Italian artist); François Théberge (Canadian artist, living in Paris); Christophe Marguet; Dave Douglas & Keystone; Donny McCaslin (French producer based in NYC); Hervé Sellin; Martial Solal solo (French artist, Italian label); McCoy Tyner.

Jazz Magazine chose: Wolfgang Reisinger (Austrian artist); Gonzalo Rubalcaba (Cuban artist, living in the USA); Miguel Zenón (Puerto Rican artist living in the US); [em] (German trio); Arild Andersen; Martial Solal trio; McCoy Tyner; Daniel Humair / Joachim Kühn / Tony Malaby (Swiss / German / American artists, French label); Paul Brousseau; Octurn & Magic Malik (French/Belgian artists); Evan Parker (UK artist, German label); Enrico Pieranunzi (Italian artist); Bill Frisell; Ari Hoenig; Fieldwork; Empirical (UK artists); Laïka; Alban Darche & Le Gros Cube; Guillermo Klein (Argentinian artist, French producer based in NYC).

Now here are my choices (with some comments for those who might not be familiar with the artists), and I hope US readers will appreciate the fact that, on both sides of the Atlantic (and / or Pacific), musicians never hesitate to invite each other, regardless of national origin, or to form “mixed” bands because THEY know that good music (hence good jazz) is universal.

First, mostly from east of the Atlantic:

— Francesco Bearzatti Ode for Tina Modotti (Parco della Musica): This Tinissima Quartet is one of Italian tenor and clarinet player Francesco Bearzatti’s most interesting groups. With two horns, bass and drums, it plays with the energy of a rock band and has a broad perspective on jazz, from its New Orleans origins to present time. Stunning!

— Gianluca Petrella Kaleido (Blue Note): Bearzatti’s sax and clarinet are featured again on this release, but now alongside the virtuoso trombone of Petrella, the new Italian star on the instrument. This young instrumentalist is fantastically gifted and has a real vision and bright ideas to feed the repertoire of his Indigo Quartet. Fascinating.

— Stefano Bollani Carioca (Universal): The most famous young Italian pianist went to Brazil, where he tackled choro music (the ancestor of samba) with the local musicians instead of covering your usual bossa nova hits. Tasteful and inspired.

— Martial Solal Live at the Village Vanguard (CAMJazz): At 80, this French piano master played to full houses at the Vanguard for a week. New York critics raved about his performance, but will the US public at large get to know about this record?

— Jacques Schwarz-Bart Abyss (Universal): This French sax player and composer lives and works in NYC. When he doesn’t play with or arrange for jazz or soul musicians (Roy Hargrove, D’Angelo…), he works on a synthesis between jazz, soul and the gwoka music of the island his mother comes from: Guadeloupe. Strikingly original.

— Eric Löhrer Sélène Song (Subsequence): This former virtuoso jazz-rock guitarist had left the jazz world for pop for some 10 years. He now returns with a tightly knit quartet where his lyrical guitar approach is matched by Jean-Charles Richard’s beautiful soprano sax sound. Welcome back!

— Philippe Le Baraillec Invisible Wound (Ajmiséries): An amazing second trio recording (Italian bassist, Japanese drummer, both living in Paris), after 12 years of silence, by a lesser known though major French pianist who never cared much about fads and fashions. Deeply moving and fascinating.

— Andy Emler For Better Times (La Buissone): Emler is one of the top composers and band leaders in France, and his MegaOctet features soloists who are all bandleaders themselves. Here he has devised some strange and highly creative multitrack piano solo music. Rough, yet tender.

— Laïka Misery (Blujazz): She’s half French, half Moroccan. She sings jazz but has nothing to do with the present vocal jazz fad. For her second record she chose to tackle Billie Holiday’s repertoire with a French/American band (Robert Glasper, Gregory Hutchinson…). The results, starting with an ominous “Strange Fruit,” is incredibly personal, deep, and honest to Lady Day’s legacy.

— Richard Galliano Love Day (Milan): Galliano is arguably the main voice on jazz accordion worldwide. He penned this music and recorded it with an international quartet (Rubalcaba, Haden, Cinelu) at L.A.’s Capitol studios. A memorable summit meeting.

— Lansiné Kouyate / David Neerman Kangaba (No Format !): A master balafon player from Mali and a British vibist joined their mallets with bass and drums to create a mix of jazz and world music with tinges of trance. Rooted and hypnotic.

— Norma Winstone Distances (ECM): UK’s premier vocalist has found a perfect setting by blending her haunting voice with that of Italian pianist Glauco Venier and German reeds player Klaus Gesing. This magic triangle is sure to put any music lover under its spell.

— Maria Kannegaard Camel Walk (Jazzland): This pianist is one of Norway’s best kept secrets. She has only made three trio records in ten years, and almost never performs outside of her home country. Still she’s building a worldwide virtual fan club with a highly rhythmic, minimalist music that owes some of its originality to one of her idols: Herbie Nichols.

— Arild Andersen Live at Belleville (ECM): Veteran Norwegian bass player Arild Andersen in a very European setting with a Scottish tenorist and an Italian drummer. The three of them reach peaks of musicianship and top level improv in a live context. Riveting.

— Daniel Humair / Joachim Kühn / Tony Malaby Full Contact (Bee Jazz): Two European veterans (Humair is Swiss, Kühn is German) who’ve played a lot together and with US soloists too (Dave Liebman, Michael Brecker, Marvin Stamm, Jerry Bergonzi…) welcome a top US tenorist and improvise a unique pas de trois. European hospitality at its best.

— [em] 3 (ACT) : This is the third record by Michael Wollny, Eva Kruse and Eric Schaeffer, and it’s a great pleasure to follow this young German piano trio’s evolution. They all compose, and their interaction is unique. How far will they lead us?

— Nils Wogram Root 70 on 52nd 1/4 Street (Intuition): Wogram is one of Europe’s leading trombones. Here, with an international quartet (Germany: himself & Jochen Rueckert; USA: Hayden Chisholm; New Zealand: Matt Penman) he explores the quarter tones with a twist of humor and a lot of musicianship.

— Julia Hülsmann End of a Summer (ECM): She’s the new piano recruit on ECM, but she’s already built her reputation in Germany. The music of her trio is lyrical and poised. Their rendering of a song by Seal is a lesson on how to jazzify a pop tune.

— Wolfgang Puschnig Hommage to O.C. (Universal): To celebrate Ornette Coleman with Jamaaladeen Tacuma’s electric bass and an Austrian brass band proves to be totally relevant. Puschnig’s alto knows no borders. And isn’t Ornette’s music somehow the ultimate universal folklore, anyway?

— Fay Claassen Red, Hot & Blue (Challenge): With the help of pianist / arranger Michael Abene, Dutch singer Fay Claassen gives new colors and hues to the Cole Porter songbook. Original, heartfelt and full of highly musical craftsmanship.

Now from mostly west of the Atlantic:

— Tom Harrell / Dado Moroni Humanity (Abeat—Italian label): They’ve known each other for years (when Italian pianist Moroni was living in the USA) and they know better than anyone how to give a new life to timeless standards. American jazz vs European jazz? They don’t even understand the question. Just beautiful.

— Lee Konitz & Mintzara Deep Lee (Enja—German label): The members of the young German / American / Israeli trio that plays along Lee Konitz could actually be the sax player’s grandsons. They never sounded as mature—and he as young—as here!

— Ronnie Lynn Patterson Freedom Fighters (Zig Zag—French label): The US audience has had few chances to know this reclusive American pianist who’s been living in Paris for the last 20 years or so. Somewhere between Serguei Rachmaninov, Morton Feldman and Keith Jarrett, he has built his own world, digging deep into the emotional potential of his piano along with empathetic French sidemen.

And a few more deserving releases, whose names I pass on without commentary:

—Todd Sickafoose Tiny Resistors (Cryptogrammophone)
— Gonzalo Rubalcaba Avatar (Blue Note)
— Dave Douglas & Keystone Moonshine (Koch)
— Ari Hoenig Bert’s Playground (Dreyfus Jazz — French label)
— David Sanchez Cultural Survival (Universal)
— Marc Copland Night Whispers (Pirouet — German label)
— Joe Lovano & Hank Jones Kids (Blue Note)

This blog entry posted by Thierry Quénum.

December 18, 2008 · 1 comment

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The Artistry of Jazzamoart



          Charlie Parker & the Philosophy of the Saxophone (2005)
                                        Artwork by Jazzamoart

Artwork is a crucial part of jazz.com. Ever since the site launch in December 2007, jazz.com has looked for creative artists who are able to capture the essence of jazz in visual form. These works are featured in online galleries housed in the Visual Jazz section of our site, and also enhance the interviews and other articles on jazz.com.



                                          Sound and Signs Trio (2004)
                                               Artwork by Jazzamoart

Few artists have a more expansive vision of jazz art than Jazzamoart, whose jazz.com gallery is officially opening today. To some degree, Jazzamoart is representative of the Mexican painters of the 1950s generation, but he also taps into the spirit of jazz in his striking and often iconoclastic works.

Over 30 years ago, Javier Vazquez changed his name into Jazzamoart, drawing on the words for the three passions in his life: jazz, amor (love) and arte (art). Since then he has created thousands of works of art, the vast majority of them inspired by jazz.

Jazzamoart has shown his art work in more than 320 exhibitions in Mexico, USA, Canada, Latin America, Europe and Japan. His artwork is prominently featured in important public and private collections. Jazzmoart has collaborated with diverse publications, curators, and record labels, and has participated in a number of workshops and conferences. He was member of the Art Creators of the National System (CONACULTA) from 1993 until 2000.



                                 Drummer (2006), artwork by Jazzamoart

You can see more of Jazzamoart's work here. While you are visiting the jazz.com Visual Jazz galleries, take some time to check out the work of the other artists featured on the site. Inquiries about purchasing or licensing these works should be sent to galleries@jazz.com.

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

December 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Time to Party Like It's 1939?



Below is the final installment of Eugene Marlow’s account of George Gee and his daring plan to mount a large-scale swing extravaganza in present day New York. Will today’s audience flock to the kind of entertainment that their grandparents once enjoyed? We will soon find out. (Click here for Part One and Part Two of this article.) T.G.



Sleigh Bells Swing

I asked George Gee about the evolution of swing and the so-called end of the swing era in the aftermath of World War II, over 60 years ago. I wanted to know why, in 2008, he is about to perform in a major venue in New York City with a big show swing band. Why is swing still around? Why hasn’t it gone away or evolved into something else? Why is there still an audience for this music?

His response: “It is true American music, born and raised and evolved in American culture. It is known worldwide, but you know where its roots are. In New York City, it was part of the Savoy Ballroom, and it had big clubs in Chicago and Kansas City back in the ‘30s and the ‘40s, even earlier.

Edison Ballroom

“When the folks from the Edison Ballroom came to listen to my band at Swing 46 there was one guy who was sort of a skeptic. There is always a skeptic in a crowd. And he was a dear friend. He attitude was ‘Maybe we should do disco or salsa music. I don’t know if there is an audience for big band music,’ blah blah blah. He was one of the rare persons that actually said ‘I don’t really have any feeling for big band music.’

“But when he came over to the club and felt the beat and the rhythm and the sound, at the end of the night he was snapping his fingers and tapping his toes with the best of them. We won him over. He might not have walked in there a big band fan, but when he was presented with the music properly, with the jumping spirit and the soul of it, he left a big band fan. He said: ‘I think this is perfect for the Edison Ballroom.’

“In the last 60+ years the big band art form has gone through many stages, and it is a struggle to keep a big band working. And that is why I also have a 10-piece band. I call it the economy big band. The charts are written for a smaller sound and orchestra. It is not a five sax, four trombones, four trumpet section. But it is still what I consider the smaller version of a big band. But it is difficult financially to make that happen in this day and age.

George Gee

“I think people still love the purity of a good, swinging big band. People love the interaction and the dancing. And even if you don’t dance, you can always tap your feet and snap your fingers. Count Basie said it the best. The first thing he looked at in the audience, whether it was the ballroom or theatre or a wedding reception, was for that cat who started slowly tapping his finger on the table. And then the next thing you see his feet pattering a little bit. Once the guy or gal fell into the groove, then he knew everything was okay.

“When you have got the Lindy hopping and dancing and people holding each other close together and swirling each other around and smiling and laughing, then you know you really won them over. This is a good thing. And the longevity that it has and the fact that, yes, it is 2008 and we are still talking about doing a big, big band show is a tribute to the fact that it is here to stay.”

Gee also commented on why younger audiences are gravitating to the music: “I think the younger generation—everything from teenagers to people our age—are tired of a lot of things in today’s so-called popular music. I am not a big fan of popular music of the last few decades. I am kind of narrow-minded about that. I don’t like a lot of the way music has steered away from musicians playing live music or the interaction of musicians performing together. I am not a big fan of the whole electronic path and the dependence on the studio to create music. It has become too sterile for my taste. There is an audience for all of that variety of music, but it is just not my cup of tea. “And I think it has got a lot to do with the younger audiences having discovered the fact that you can dance to this music. And mind you, not everyone dances. People say to me ‘Oh, George, we don’t have a dance venue.’ People can still sit down and enjoy the music. You don’t have to dance to it. But dancing is a big part of it. And I think the younger generation really loves that social interaction and networking that has developed between dancing and swing music. It is really this niche of nightlife where you can spend three-and-a-half, four minutes together twirling each other on the dance floor and developing a new relationship. Nightlife is all about enjoying yourself and in the most basic sense trying to find love or friends or that whole social interaction thing that is so important. That is why people, especially the younger generation that’s discovered it, are digging it so much. And mind you, this whole resurgence that we talked about, it has been going on for over a decade now.

“When I first started doing this 20—28 years ago, it wasn’t like this. I never thought in my wildest dreams even as an optimist that it would be like this. That it would be a place where I could play music all around the world and people would be digging this. This whole swing big band dance resurgence that has happened kind of threw me for a loop. I literally woke up one morning a decade ago or more and was flabbergasted that there was a future in this business. I was just doing it as a labor of love. And all of a sudden I am fortunate enough and blessed enough that I have a career as a big band leader. How outrageous is that?

“I think the future is even bigger and brighter than it has ever been since the quote/unquote original swing era of the ‘40s. I think all the good music is hanging in there tough from the recent resurgence. And the bands that are still standing and doing their thing are really continuing the tradition.

“I feel like the torch has been passed to me by greats, like Count Basie whom I had the pleasure of knowing and who mentored me in the beginning of my career. And to this day I feel like he steered a lot of his messengers to me in sharing that true spirit of that Count Basie style and music. My close relationship with such luminaries as Frank Foster who I recorded an album with a few years ago, and Bennie Powell, and Frank Wess, just to name a few—I have had the good fortune to have them in my corner and be a part of my big band and support it spiritually.

“When I met Count Basie back in 1979—I knew him from 1979 to his passing in 1984—I learned so much from that man. But the most important thing I learned from him had nothing to do with music. It was all about being. The stuff he taught me would apply not just on the bandstand. It didn’t matter what career I went into. It didn’t matter if I was in the conference room or the dining room. It was all about the way you present yourself, about the way you treat people and the way you expect folks to treat you back. And that is what Mr. Basie taught me. And when you are dealing with a contingent of as many people as you do day in and day out, that is ever so important.

“I think a lot of my spirit and success so far is due to the fact that I’ve got a serious supporting cast. In no way shape or form can I do this by myself. I think that is the truth for any of those big bands, whether it be Basie or Duke or Charlie Barnett. Even bands like Glenn Miller. Glenn Miller was known as a very strict bandleader. And he was very successful at what he did. He might not have been the most family-oriented big band person from what I’ve heard. But he had the respect of his musicians, and he knew what sound he wanted. Of course, keeping the guys working, that is very important too, and treating them fairly.

“I am the worst musician in my band. And you can quote me on that. I am a bass player, but I am not a practicing bassist. I surround myself with musicians who are much more top notch than I am. And I see that may be one of the keys to my success. What success I have had so far is the fact that I surround myself with fabulous musicians.”

I pointed out to George that while he may not be as good a musician as those in his band, nobody can front the band like he does. He replied: “Thank you. I have a great time. And I like to think that besides Mr. Basie, I am very influenced by bandleaders such as Spike Jones and Cab Calloway. When you have a good time as a band-leader, everyone gets sucked into that vortex and then you hang on.”

This blog entry was posted by Eugene Marlow.

December 16, 2008 · 1 comment

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Jazz.com's Best Visitor Comments of 2008



Instead of selecting his favorite jazz CDs of 2008, Alan Kurtz decided to pick his favorite Visitor Comments from the past year. Of course, this should come as no surprise—since Alan, as jazz.com's resident curmudgeon, is mentioned in the comments section more often than any other writer on the site. Alan is even known to play a starring role in the comments room of other unnamed web locales, wreaking havoc and challenging ideologues of various stripes.

To keep his task manageable, we allowed Alan to snub our Forums, where members of jazz.com's virtual community keep us posted on notable events, debate the merits of John Coltrane, ponder such pressing questions as how many Joe Williamses sang with Count Basie and whether or not "Moonglow" is a ballad, etc. etc. With that exemption, then, Alan surveys our inventory of online visitor commentary from December 2007's launch to date. Readers are invited to chime in below or via email to editor@jazz.com. T.G.



I Knew I Heard It Somewhere Award

Henry Filmore trombone family

After perusing hundreds of visitor comments spread across the 5,500+ features, interviews, track reviews, blogs and encyclopedia entries published by jazz.com this year, I am forced to conclude that, the day God passed out a sense of humor, most jazz fans were absent. My fellow prisoners, we take ourselves way too seriously. Case in point: the response to my review of "Lassus Trombone," wherein I fancifully suggested that composer Henry Fillmore dedicated this staple of the trombone literature to Renaissance composer Orlande de Lassus. "This is little other than inventive revisionist history," Tim Roberts scoffed. "'Lassus Trombone' had nothing to do with Orlande de Lassus. The title is intended to reflect Negro minstrel slang for 'molasses.'" Mr. Roberts, I hate to be the one to bring this up, but my short review concludes: "Mo' Lassus, please!"

In pioneering a new form—that is, reviewing individual tracks rather than entire albums—the editors of jazz.com have frankly grappled with the appropriate length for such reviews. During the run-up to our December 2007 launch, the official ceiling specified by our Writer Guidelines was 100 words. In the ensuing year, we've relaxed that limit considerably, often accepting reviews of 200, 300, even 400 words. But it's disheartening to realize that the attention span of some readers cannot accommodate even 100 words. Maybe jazz.com's writers should henceforth be restricted to Tarzan's vocabulary: "Track good! Cheeta like!"

Opinions? We Don't Need No Stinking Opinions! Award

René Magritte: The Treachery of Images (1928)

To his review of "Rawalpindi Blues" by Carla Bley & Paul Haines, Walter Kolosky appended a brief footnote describing his reaction to a video about the making of this recording. "At some point early on," Walter relates, "Bley starts smoking a pipe. I don't mean a pot pipe. I mean the type your dad may have smoked in 1958. That was too much for me. I never watched the rest of the video." This offended visitor Jay, who chastised Walter accordingly: "That has absolutely no relevance to the review. Why was it even allowed to be published? A trivial bias like this invalidates all credibility of the reviewer. Next time, stick to the music, and leave your personal opinions at home." Having myself read all 3,600 reviews posted on jazz.com (do not try this at home), I couldn't agree more. The damn things are just filled with opinions. Why were they even allowed to be published? Jazz.com really ought to go back to Square One and publish only reviews without opinions. What a comforting web site that would be!

Passing the Buck Award

Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjos

Reviewing "Eleanor Rigby" by banjoist Eugene Chadbourne, Ted Gioia couldn't figure out whether this Beatles cover was being played in a major or minor key. "I'm not sure Eugene Chadbourne ever quite made up his mind," Ted remarked. "I might be old-fashioned, but I still think you should make sure your bandmates agree on the chord changes before you record the song." In his visitor response, Eugene Chadbourne helpfully clarified the technical issue, explaining that he'd utilized "a C banjo tuning with the fourth string establishing the C root, with various chord alterations so that a minor feel is also established." He then blamed his keyboardist for the confusion, alleging that "Pat Thomas does not seem to want to learn all the chord changes." Ah, look at all the lonely chord changes. Where do they all come from? Where do they all belong?

Let's Not Get Carried Away Award

Charles Barkley: I May Be Wrong

Responding to hoops fan Ted Gioia's review of "Charles Barkley" by saxophonist Jon Irabagon, visitor Steve raved: "This album is revolutionary. It exemplifies the future of jazz. Everybody in the world should buy this album."

Whoa. Maybe first we could arrange universal health care and worldwide literacy, huh, Steve?






Charles Barkley (b. 1963): athlete and raconteur.

Similes Are Like Wormholes Award

Karl Schwarzschild (1873-1916)

Reacting to Part Two of Loren Schoenberg's interview with critic Gary Giddins, a visitor self-identified only as "fan" observed: "Critics are like uneducated astronomers, watching the universe." That's it. End of comment.

Being laconic is a shortcut through space-time that, as with a Schwarzschild wormhole, provides a tempting, shadowy glimpse across the event horizon but collapses before one can follow its path to another, more enlightening universe. An unexpanded simile is like a bridge to nowhere.

Karl Schwarzschild (1873-1916): physicist and astronomer.

Tracking the Movements of Celebrities Award

Maxwell Bodenheim: My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village

In his Conversation with Jim Hall, Patrick Spurling interrogates the guitarist: "You live in Greenwich Village … in the good neighborhood?" Seemingly taken aback, Hall concedes: "Yeah, well, yeah it is. But it’s not my fault." Among those who've made it such a fascinating neighborhood, Hall cites actress Meryl Streep. This offhanded remark caught the attention of sharp-eyed reader P. van Dean, who informs us: "Someone should tell him that Meryl Streep moved out of the Village awhile ago."

Thank goodness we've cleared that up! Now when Jim Hall walks his dog Django around the block, the two of them will not be on the lookout for the shapely legs of Meryl Streep. Who says jazz.com does not provide a public service!


Some Auld Acquaintances Are Best Forgot Award

British Volunteer Nurse Miss Chisholm Returns To The Front With The Belgian Army During The Great War Circa 1915

Walter Kolosky's review of "Jean Pierre" by saxophonist Bill Evans triggered a trip down memory lane for jazz.com visitor Stevie Edwards: "Hey Bill: Long time. Put your memory cap on! We met in Charlotte NC at Jonathan's Jazz Cellar, 1988. You came to my duplex after your gig, had a friend with you from Chicago with a nickname that escapes me (tall guy). We 'made out' – haha. Comin' back to ya? How could you forget another 'petite blonde'? Hey, let me 'book' you in Atlanta sometime. un petit bisou, Karen Edwards (nickname Stevie)."
I don't know, Stevie. Maybe it's those suggestive quotation marks you put around the word "book,"
but I doubt you'll be hearing from Bill anytime soon.

English Is Not My First Language Award

Nucoa Margarine 1950s billboard

Endorsing my review of "Oleo" by the classic 1956 Miles Davis Quintet, visitor Bior Yian enthuses: "This song simply kicks asses!" Whether Bior Yian means hardy gregarious perissodactyl mammals (genus Equus) or obstinately stupid people, we simply concur.

Fair Warning Award

Orchestration by Walter Piston

Bill Barnes's review of "You're Gonna Hear From Me" by singer Cathy Rocco stirred a flurry of enthusiastic replies. Teresa Glynn called this 2008 release "one of the most refreshing CDs I have heard in a long time." Barbara James assented: "Cathy's album is fantastic!" According to Andy Lalasis, "Cathy is one of the world's best kept secrets and that has to end!!!!" Steve agreed, although perhaps significantly using one less exclamation point: "What a great CD!!!" Patte deemed it a "must-buy album." For Adam McDonough, "This is one of those timeless records. Thank You!!!" To Robert Conti, it "defines World Class. Bravo, well done!" Ron Joseph raved: "Wow, absolutely sensational!" Barefooted Jimmy Mulidore judged it "outstanding in all aspects. She has always knocked my socks off." John said, "Simply fantastic!" Carl S weighed in: "GREAT! Simply wonderful. This should attract a large audience." Charlie Prose waxed poetic: "So much Talent / So much Style / The whole world needs to hear / This wonderful Lady sing." Max Schmeidl found it "very clear that she is truly a sensational Jazz Artist." Greg Stevenson concluded: "Best female vocals I've heard for quite some time. Excellent!"

This avalanche of superlatives, however, was a bit much for jazz.com's editor-in-chief. "And don't forget her orchestration skills," Ted Gioia advised. "Because there seems to be some serious behind-the-scenes orchestrating going on right here on this comment board." Man, there's always gotta be a spoilsport in the crowd. But, hey, we were given fair warning! After all, the CD is titled You're Gonna Hear From Me.

Best Comment Bar None Award

Dr. Billy Taylor, artwork by Suzanne Cerny

arnold jay smith's Octojazzarian Profile of "Dr. Billy Taylor" elicited this from jazz.com visitor Herbie S.: "I was about 5 years old when I saw Billy Taylor perform and speak about jazz music on Captain Kangaroo. I distinctly recall calling my mother over to the TV to ask her if she ever heard of this man. He was all smiles while playing the piano and speaking about music, and all the while I, too, was all smiles. Dr. Taylor's music, energy and excitement were highly contagious. I told my mother that day, 'I don't know how he makes the piano sound that way, but I want to learn how
   Dr. Billy Taylor, artwork by Suzanne Cerny   to play like that.'

"Unfortunately, my father had lost his battle with cancer two years prior, and my family spent most of its savings on his treatment. I could not afford piano lessons, but I did learn to play by ear and even had a professional career in music as a pianist/keyboardist until I became a social worker and university professor. I owe so much to Dr. Taylor. He helped to nurture in me something positive during a very sad and dark period for a young boy; something that was always there whenever I was depressed or needed a friend. It was, for many years, my best friend. Thank you, Dr. Taylor. I will always remember you and your influence in my life very fondly. You have given me so much, and continue to give me joy every time I have the good fortune to hear you play, and to witness how much joy music brings you, and how contagious your joy is to listeners. You are truly a blessed man, and we are all blessed to have you and your music in our lives. Sincerely, Herbie S."

This blog entry posted by Alan Kurtz.

December 15, 2008 · 2 comments

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South Asia's Leading Jazz Festival Tilts Toward Europe



India has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with American jazz. I recently wrote in this column on ”The South Asian Tinge in Jazz,” and now Brian Dwyer reports on Jazz Utsav, centered in Delhi, which has been one of the leading festivals in world since the late 1970s (when it was known as JazzYatra).

But where are the U.S. jazz musicians? Here we see another example of a jazz festival reducing its dependence on American acts. We have reported on many recent examples in this column of European jazz festivals relying more and more on European talent. But what does it say when the leading Indian jazz festival imports most of its acts from Europe? T.G.



When officials in the U.S. State Department tried to brief Dizzy Gillespie in 1956 on the eve of his first jazz ambassador tour—spreading the message of nuclear families and democracy through the freedom of homegrown American jazz—he responded, “I've got 300 years of briefing. I know what they've done to us and I'm not going to make any excuses.”



                         Dizzy the Diplomat (1956)


In some ways Dizzy's declaration answers many hanging questions from this year's Jazz Utsav festival in New Delhi. It seemed odd the world's second largest democracy was only represented by one act in its country's most renowned jazz festival. After 30 years, the members of Capital Jazz and West Coast Jazz, two organizations responsible for Jazz Utsav in New Delhi and Mumbai respectively, offered few excuses to their audience.

In its infant years, Jazz Yatra (as it was known until 2004) was host to mostly American musicians with help from the U.S. State Department's sponsorship of musicians like Sonny Rollins, Max Roach and Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and Cedar Walton, and Stan Getz. When the department reduced their initiative to spread democracy, the quantity and quality of American musicians began to slip from legends to a lack of any this year.

Since Jazz Utsav was established as an annual festival in 2004, the lineup has been dominated by European acts. Out of the nine artists who participated in Delhi this year, all but two were from Europe, representing eight different countries: Austria, Ireland, Poland, Germany, Norway, Canada, The Netherlands and India.

And purists who scrutinize the word jazz would help leapt out of their chairs when they heard the tonk of two Django Reinhardt inspired folk bands—one playing Norweigian folk tunes and another led by a former heavy metal guitarist—and Wojciech Konikiewicz, a Polish composer playing two keyboards hooked to a visualizer.

When Mumbai's Global Untiy stopped their set midway through to introduce a song entitled, “The Only One in Town,” they seemed to justify the Capital Jazz programing board's choices. Guitarist Sanjay Divecha composed the tune about Blue Frog, among the most prestigious and hip clubs in Mumbai. His point became one the audience already knew: much of India's cities are starved for a communal environment like the kind created at Jazz Utsav. Divecha made the point several times he was thrilled to play for a crowd that was listening—crowds without chatter are often a commodity in Indian jazz clubs. Think Birdland, more networking.

As their name may suggest, Global Unity is a not strictly a jazz band, which was both refreshing for the audience and difficult at times. The group, led by Divecha, displayed incredible skill but occasionally disconnected on form, like on a thoughtful version of Wes Montgomery's “Thumb.” On its own composition, the band seemed to revert to its natural state, a moderately paced series of cohesive progressions.

Experimentation is much of what drives Jazz Utsav, not its purity. The crowd of over 200 that sat patiently and suddenly erupted wore suits or long beards. They gave standing ovations only when deserved. There were families or those who came alone. With such a city depleted of jazz as Delhi—the clubs filled with deaf ears—the audience was a uniform of appreciators who sought a decent crowd and very up-tempo grooves, no matter whether it was jazz or not.

As a good plot should, the festival climaxed late the second day with self-proclaimed gypsy acoustic guitarist Harri Stojka. Hailing from Austria, Stojka's Gypsy Swing Ensemble, consisting of double bass, snare, and accompanying acoustic guitar, played rapid chord progressions. Stojka fueled the band's fervor with a technique of relentless picking complementing an efficient left hand. He moves always in semitones—his solos incorporate the entire neck and toy with tempo, moving from slow to fast and back again in seconds.

Norway's Hot Club de Norvege were another folk act who's tinny sound and crisp improvisation made the transition appropriate from street players to touring experts. The first night concluded with Irish singer Honor Heffernan, backed by pianist Phil Ware and his trio. Heffernan's singing suffered from dramatic phrasing and featured almost as many sour notes as ones rehearsed.

From The Netherlands, the Henk Muegeert Quartet put on an informal seminar about George Gershwin alongside Germany's Miett Molnar, an original member of Europe's Glenn Miller Orchestra. Muegeert on piano created classically crafted solos in absence of band accompaniment, saying most in the structured space between his notes. On “Fascinating Rhythm,” Simon Rigter provided an appropriate Gershwin romanticism in the spirit of Stan Getz on tenor saxophone, and his interplay with the energetic Molnar drew her from spinning away from the band on tunes like “Who Cares.” Muegeert's insistence on sing-alongs throughout the set celebrated the experimentation European bands are allowed at Jazz Utsav and revealed that those in attendance in no way knew the lyrics to “I Got Rhythm.”

The festival's final night suffered its first reminders of the attacks in Mumbai; The Netherlands' Ploctones were not able to fill the final performance slot. Members of Global Unity and Wojciech Konikiewicz and his trio participated in a jam session to close the festival.

But fans were still left with a taste from the Francois Bourassa Trio sweet enough that it may tide them over until next November. Losing their singer Jeanne Rochette to laryngitis, the trio of Francois Bourassa on piano, Adrian Vedady on 5-string electric bass and Philippe Melanson on drums dissolved the boundaries created by a singer. The percussive interplay between Bourassa—playing keys muted by his right hand—and Melanson worked in polyrhythms that transitioned well between their sometimes overly-ambitious compositions. When the band hit a rhythm they enjoyed, all three joined the same wavelength and stumbled into melodies more engaging than those rehearsed.

Jazz Utsav lives modestly at times, as many of its touring musicians do as well, but remains a convergence of like-minded people doing free-minded things.

This blog entry posted by Brian Dwyer

December 14, 2008 · 2 comments

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The 50 Best Jazz CDs of 2008

How many jazz CDs were released during the last year? Certainly more than one thousand, and probably more than two thousand. We highlight an outstanding track from a new CD five times per week as part of our Song of the Day feature, and we always have plenty to consider for the honor.

Gold CD

Needless to say, it's hard to navigate through all this music and pick out the best of the year—and all the harder since some very fine music comes to us via obscure indie releases, self-produced projects and low profile disks from overseas. (Note that Mark Saleski will be offering his picks here for the best self-produced and small indie label releases of the year in a few days time.)

But I have narrowed my list of favorites down to fifty outstanding releases, grouped below by the featured instrument of the project leader. I will be publishing separate lists on the best blues and world music CDs of the year, and other contributors to jazz.com will be offering their own selections—so the list below is focused specifically on my favorite titles from jazz artists. Certainly there were fine disks that didn't make the cut, but jazz fans won't go wrong by picking up any of the releases listed here.

By the way, tracks from each of these CDs have been reviewed on jazz.com. The reviews can be found by using the search engine in the sidebar on the Music page.

The 50 Best Jazz CDs from 2008

Sax
James Carter: PresentTense
Charles Lloyd: Rabo de Nube
Joe Lovano: Symphonica
Rudresh Mahanthappa: Kinsmen
Donny McCaslin: Recommended Tools
James Moody & Hank Jones: Our Delight
Tim Ries: Stones World
Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Vol. 1
Miguel Zenón: Awake

Piano
Nik Bartsch's Ronin: Holon
Taylor Eigsti: Let It Come to You
Vijay Iyer: Tragicomic
Brad Mehldau: Brad Mehldau Trio Live
Robert Mitchell 3io: The Greater Good
Aaron Parks: Invisible Cinema
Vassilis Tsabropoulos: Melos
McCoy Tyner: Guitars
Marcin Wasilewski: January

Trumpet
Mathias Eick: October
Roy Hargrove: Earfood
Wynton Marsalis & Willie Nelson: Two Men with the Blues
Nicholas Payton: Into the Blue
Enrico Rava & Stefano Bollani: The Third Man

Vocals
Claudia Acuna & Arturo O’Farrill: In These Shoes
Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix
K.J. Denhert: Dal Vivo a Umbria Jazz
Alyssa Graham: Echo
Kate McGarry: If Less is More . . . Nothing is Everything
Cassandra Wilson: Loverly
Norma Winstone: Distances
Yoon Sun Choi: Imagination: The Music of Joe Raposo

Guitar
Gene Bertoncini: Concerti
Bobby Broom: The Way I Play
Lionel Loueke: Karibu
John McLaughlin: Floating Point
Pat Metheny: Day Trip
Kurt Rosenwinkel: The Remedy

Bass / drums / percussion
Ben Allison: Little Things Run the World
Brian Blade: Season of Changes
The Brubeck Brothers: Classified
Charlie Haden: Rambling Boy
Dave Holland: Pass It On
Wolfgang Haffner: Acoustic Shapes
Susie Ibarra: Drum Sketches
Marilyn Mazur: Elixir
George Schuller: Like Before, Somewhat After

Big Band
David Berger Octet: I Had the Craziest Dream
Vince Mendoza: Blauklang
Bob Mintzer Big Band: Swing Out
Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.

December 11, 2008 · 6 comments

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Can Swing Compete With Bling in NY?



Eugene Marlow continues his account of one brave musician's plan to mount a large-scale big band extravaganza—with dancers, singers and lots of glitz—in the midst of present day New York. Forget the economic malaise and changing musical tastes. George Gee thinks swing is the answer. (For part one of this article, click here.) T.G.



I asked George Gee what the motivation was for his bold musical program for the Edison Ballroom? Why put together a 22-piece big band with vocal trio and tap dancers—a whole Swing Era type show in the new millennium?

George Gee

“It is timely in a sense,” Gee replied. I have been in the business for 28 years, approaching three decades. And during those years, in the beginning especially, I had my doubts about whether people really loved this music and this dancing, the big band swing jazz. Ten years ago there was resurgence among the newer generation that discovered Lindy hop and big band music, and, mind you, some jump blues, like Louis Prima and Louis Jordan. And now it has kind of come back around to that classic big band sound of everyone from Benny Goodman, and Lionel Hampton, and Count Basie, and Glenn Miller—the classic big band sound.

Swing Event Poster

“The Edison Ballroom demands a big band sound. It is not just the size of it, it is also the warmth and look of it, the feel of it. And the management of this new room thinks they have a goldmine creating a nightlife atmosphere venue with a big band.

“The big band we are putting together is going to be a 17-piece classic big band with a percussionist and a four-piece string section. I am very flattered and lucky that they realized that my approach to the big band, the music, and the show is entertainment. I am true to the music and the musicians. I really understand that when you have a 17- or a 22-piece big band on stage, it is showbiz, baby, it is show biz. And this floorshow we are creating is going to be a holiday theme special. It is going to be action-packed.

“There is going to be multimedia. We are utilizing clips and newsreels, and soundies from vintage movies. It is going to utilize the full lighting system and light show they have available at the venue. The whole cast with the dancers and the singers is 30-plus people. After the show there will be big band dancing to the classic big band sound.

“December 20th is opening night. It has a two-week run straight through January 3rd. We are not as of right now doing Christmas Day, December 25th. But we will be doing the big show of course on New Year’s Eve, December 31st.”

The owners of the Edison Ballroom were drawn to George Gee’s big band from the reputation he has built over many years, much of it word-of-mouth, together with an Internet presence. I asked George what closed the deal.

“One night the owners came down to Swing 46. We had a very jumping fun room. Grammy-nominated singer Carla Cook was in the house and the owner’s comment at the end of the night, which really touched me and made me realize I was jumping into a good project, was ‘Look at all these smiling, happy faces, George. That is what I want at the Edison Ballroom.’ Of course, making money is also important. But when people realize this is happy music, this is really swing and big band and dancing, it is really about putting a smile on your face. It’s that simple. And they seemed to comprehend that. It might not override the bottom line, but it is in the mix.

“Also, together with the floor show, they have a four-star kitchen cuisine. It is going to be a pretty high-ticket event geared towards the New York City night life and attracting the tourist trade.”

This is the end of part two of Eugene Marlow’s article on George Gee. For part three of this article, click here.

December 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jazz.com is One Year Old Today

Today jazz.com celebrates its first birthday. And what a whirlwind year it has been! A team of more than 50 writers has published 3,662 track reviews, 277 blog entries, 101 interviews, 84 Dozens, and 180 new entries to our Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians. I get a twinge of carpal tunnel syndrome just thinking about it.

birthday cake

From the start, we aimed to do some things differently from the rest of the jazz media.

(1) We decided to review individual tracks instead of entire CDs, a move that makes more sense in this age of downloading, and also allows jazz.com’s critics to be far more specific in evaluating the music;

(2) We have worked to integrate the content on the site—since the ability to move quickly through diverse material via links is one of the key advantages to Internet publishing;

(3) We have emphasized the visual arts, working to enlist the best talents we could find to participate in our endeavor;

(4) We have paid our writers (sad to say, a rarity in the world of jazz web media) since this is the only way to assemble the quality contributors and achieve the professional standards we have set for jazz.com;

(5) We put a greater emphasis on the heritage and history of jazz music than most other members of the jazz media, realizing that in this day and age there are many great CDs that didn’t come out this month and many deserving artists who no longer grace the stage; and

(6) We have worked hard to create a community, giving visitors opportunity to comment and contribute, in the belief that the interactivity of the web will allow us to do things far beyond what is possible in print media.

We have been delighted by the feedback. With no marketing or PR, jazz.com has built a signficant audience. And site traffic continues to grow at a 10-15% compounded rate per month. I suppose this pace of increase will slow at some point, but it has actually been increasing in recent months. Needless to say, the whole team is encouraged by the response.

Here come a long list of “Thank Yous,” to the many individuals who have helped in various ways during our pre-launch and first year of operations. I want to thank Frøy Aagre, S. Victor Aaron, Richard Abowitz, Scott Albin, Jim Allen, Ben Allison, Rob Bamberger, Bill Barnes, Sergio Bayona, Kenny Berger, Jerry Blank, Bob Blumenthal, Randy Brecker, Bobby Broom, Keith Henry Brown, Mike Brown, Meredith Bunche, Greg Campbell, Bill Carbone, Rick Carroll, Steve Carlton, Scott Carter, Suzanne Cerny, Martel Chapman, Zoie Clift, Stanley Crouch, Marjorie Crusca, Thomas Cunniffe, John DeCarlo, Marissa Dodge, Jonathan Dryden, Peter Erskine, Brad Farberman, Marcel Fleiss, Roanna Forman, David Franklin, Will Friedwald, Gary Giddins, Tom Greenland, Steve Greenlee, Danny Greenspun, Ratzo B. Harris, Bill Harrison, Scott Homewood, Ron Hudson, Vijay Iyer, Todd Jenkins, Andy Karp, Dave Kaufman, Chris Kelsey, Bill Kirchner, Jos L. Knaepen, Tami L. Kowalkowsky, Walter Kolosky, Dave Krikorian, Karen Kucharski, Alan Kurtz, Doris Kushner, Ed Leimbacher, Matt Leskovic, Mark Lomanno, Tom Lord, Joe Lovano, Brian Lynch, Howard Mandel, Andrea Mann, Greg Marchand, Eugene Marlow, Ashley Matsui, Matt Miller, Ralph A. Miriello, Jason Moran, Darren Mueller, Frank Murphy, Marc Myers, Stuart Nicholson, Eric Novod, Galen O’Hanlon, Eric B. Olsen, Chad Oslund, Ted Panken, Jared Pauley, Tomas Peña, Joe Petrucelli, Dr. Lewis Porter, Cliff Preiss, Don Pulver, Thierry Quénum, Eric Reed, Sue Russell, David Sager, Mark Saleski, Judith Schlesinger, Loren Schoenberg, Makkada B. Selah, Cynthia Sesso, Marcus Singletary, arnold jay smith, Herb Snitzer, Patrick Spurling, Jeff Sultanof, Michael Symonds, Lucy Tauss, Jacob Teichroew, David Tenenholtz, Neil Tesser, Eric Wendell, DeWayne Whitaker, Tim Wilkins, Pete Williams and Brendan Wolfe. (Phew! . . . I hope I didn’t leave anyone out.) And a special thanks to the jazz fans who visit our site regularly and comprise our growing on-line community.

But year one is just a starting point, and only baby steps. On to “Giant Steps”!

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

December 09, 2008 · 2 comments

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Scott Albin Selects the Best Jazz CDs and Tracks of 2008



Several regular contributors to jazz.com will be offering a look back at the best of 2008 in this column. Here Scott Albin shares with us his list of the best jazz CDs and tracks of the year. T.G.





                 Holiday Horns, artwork by Suzanne Cerny


Several weeks ago, I submitted to Jazz Times my list of the 10 best new CD releases of 2008, which the magazine will use in conjunction with their other contributors' lists to compile a consensus top 50 CDs.

Immediately upon sending it, I had my usual misgivings and second thoughts. These top 10 lists are highly subjective, unscientific creations, and invariably leave off numerous equally worthy CDs, some simply because they were not heard by a particular writer. I will use this blog entry to acknowledge at least some of these other new releases that could have easily qualified for my top ten, but were regrettably squeezed out. Then I will address some of my favorite tracks of the year—in keeping with jazz.com's emphasis—from still another select group of CDs. Quality has no limitation, as usual, in jazz this year.

A sampling of 2008's best new CD releases (in random order):

Dave Holland Sextet: Pass it On (Dare2)
Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Song for Chico (Zoho)
Steve Kuhn Trio: Plays Standards (Venus)
Bobby Watson: From the Heart (Palmetto)
Cassandra Wilson: Lover Come Back to Me (Blue Note)
Rob Schneiderman: Glass Enclosure (Reservoir)
Tardo Hammer: Look Stop and Listen:The Music of Tadd Dameron (Sharp Nine)
Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter (Half Note)
Joe Temperley: The Sinatra Songbook (Hep)
South Florida Jazz Orchestra: South Florida Jazz Orchestra (Mama)
Brent Jensen: One More Mile (Origin)
Joe Lovano: Symphonica (Blue Note)
James Carter: Present Tense (Emarcy)
Aaron Parks: Invisible Cinema (Blue Note)
George Cables: You Don't Know Me (Kind of Blue)
Miguel Zenón: Awake (Marsalis Music)
Bill Easley: Businessman's Bounce (18th & Vine)
Ahmad Jamal: It's Magic (Dreyfus)

The above list includes perhaps the finest CDs in recent years by James Carter, Bobby Watson, Ahmad Jamal, George Cables, and Bill Easley, as well as rewarding big band releases from Arturo O"Farrill, the South Florida Jazz Orchestra, and Conrad Herwig. Cassandra Wilson returns to standards magnificently. Steve Kuhn continues his recent winning streak. Dave Holland's new sextet is graced by the presence of Antonio Hart and Mulgrew Miller. Veteran pianists Rob Schneiderman and Tardo Hammer release gems, as does baritone/soprano saxophonist Joe Temperley with his reverent Sinatra tribute. Young pianist Aaron Parks makes an auspicious debut. Hornmen Lovano, Zenon, and Jensen deliver laudable performances.

Some favorite tracks of 2008 (in random order):

"Soul Trane": James Moody & Hank Jones (from Our Delight)
“Tea for Two”: Martial Solal (from Longitude)
“Pine Creek”: Jamie Baum (from Solace)
“Rabo de Nube”: Charles Lloyd (from Rabo de Nube)
“The Traveler”: Kenny Barron (from The Traveler)
“Seven Days”: Felipe Salles (from South American Suite)
“Waltz for Debby”: Chick Corea & Gary Burton (from The New Crystal Silence)
“Bachião”: Trio da Paz and Joe Locke (from Live at JazzBaltica)
“Squazin”: Antonio Ciacca (from Rush Life)
“Four Odd”: Zdenko Ivanuši? (from Lost in HTML)
“Serenade in Blue”: Rachael Price (from The Good Hours)
“Tethered”: Tom Beckham (from Rebound)
“Very Early”: Larry Coryell Organ Trio (from Impressions: The New York Sessions)
“Adiós Nonino”: Astor Piazzolla (from Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival)
“You Must Believe in Spring”: April Hall (from Fun Out of Life)
“Current”: Jack Broad (from Current)

The above tracks came from a number of highly recommended CDs. Of the lesser-known artists, Rachael Price and April Hall are singers well worth hearing, Salles a fine saxophonist / composer / arranger, Antonio Ciacca an engaging pianist, Tom Beckham an excellent vibist / composer, Jack Broad a versatile, polished guitarist and skilled programmer, Zdenko Ivanuši? a significant saxophonist/composer based in Croatia, and Jamie Baum a wonderful flutist and orchestrator. The Astor Piazzolla track is from the first-time-ever release of his quintet's celebrated 1984 Montreal performance, newly available on both CD and DVD.

This blog article posted by Scott Albin.

December 08, 2008 · 1 comment

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Wayne Shorter's 75th Birthday Concert



Jazz icon Wayne Shorter celebrated his 75th birthday with a mini-tour, including his first concert performance in Boston in more than five years. Roanna Forman, who covers the fertile Boston jazz scene for jazz.com, reports on the saxophonist’s appearance at the Berklee Performance Center. T.G.




In yoga, one speaks of one’s “mountain.” When the chest is open and elevated, you are there, on your mountain. Last Wednesday, Wayne Shorter led his quartet from his mountain, unleashing and sharing an extraordinary distillation of his five-decade career in an uninterrupted set of abstract but highly visceral music with an audience that did not want to let him go.

Though it was billed as a Wayne Shorter 75th- Birthday Concert, this was by no means a rundown of “greatest hits” by one of the most influential composers of contemporary jazz. Actually, the band, which had a loose set list, could later barely remember the order of the tunes—“Sanctuary,” “Zero Gravity, “Myrrh,” “Smiling Through,” “She Moved Through the Fair,” and “Joyride.” That’s no put-down, it’s as it should be. Shorter’s music is constantly evolving, and though there were echoes in the performance from as far back as the Coltrane heritage, Speak No Evil, Super Nova and Weather Report, this new music, with the breathtaking ensemble playing of Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade, pushes ahead in feel, ensemble synergy and musical interpretation.

Floating from one solo, groove, and effect into another, the tunes had meter and structure, lead sheets and improvisation blended imperceptibly into each other—you couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. (Witness the group’s CD Footprints Live!, where “Valse Triste,” a Shorter arrangement of the Sibelius composition originally written and recorded in 1965, had only traces of a three-quarter feel, and hints of the original theme.)



            Wayne Shorter, photo by Jos L. Knaepen

Shorter’s musical leadership is effortless, almost offhanded, yet firm. He actually does wave his hand slightly to call for a solo. Watching him you’d think you’re reading baseball signals. He listens intently to the groove set up by the band, and enters when the spirit moves him, with a seemingly endless melodic sense. His lines, generally short, subtly direct the dynamics and feel of the whole band. As he develops them and builds his solos to a wail or squawk, the intensity of the rhythm section moves furiously along with him. Then he brings the band down by simplifying phrases, leaving out notes, and adding rests.

If jazz is about listening and conversation, these musicians approach telepathy. You can hear that on their recordings, but to see it is an education. They use spaces to listen, look and exchange ideas, pick up riffs or chromatic fragments. They are each playing many notes, patterns, and chords, but except during their solos, you hear not their chops but the total effect. They create more than the sum of their parts—that’s what you aim for in jazz.

But each man played his part pretty well. Danilo Perez, sometimes picking up on another musician’s phrase, pulled the stops out with a Chick-Corea influenced solo ending in alternate powerhouse left and right-hand chords—and then what seemed to be his entire group of students erupted like a cheering squad at a touchdown. At other times, Perez would throw polyrhythms over a Latin groove, fall into an Erik Satie-like interlude, or change the mood with a dark two-chord vamp. Using a lot of displacement, Perez got the whole band doing it on the last tune, before they came back to play “Prometheus Unbound” for an encore. Brian Blade played inside the beat, adding the accents and colors he felt in the music around him. Likewise, John Patitucci listened, felt, and played. By turns fat, feathery, or grounding a groove with a heavy repeated note, Patitucci threw himself into the music. At one point he looked spent, like an athlete who’s run his best race.

Actually, the physicality of these players was electric. Swaying into phrases, plucking off final notes like archers, whapping accents, they were working on such a high level, in technical, musical, and yes, spiritual, terms, you were glad to be up there with them. At this beautiful mountaintop dance, led by a master who seemed to blow the music of the universe out of his horn.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman


December 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Black Saints Be Praised



Chris Kelsey, an editor and writer for jazz.com, recently shared his thoughts in this space about the JALC Monk tribute and the Blue Note recordings of Ornette Coleman. Now he turns his attention to Black Saint and Soul Note recordings that recently became available for digital download. Much of this music has been out-of-print, and almost impossible to find in recent years, but an arrangement with eMusic has now given this catalog a new lease on life. T.G.



When Jazz.com’s Grand PooBah, the decidedly un-Fred-Flintstone-like Ted Gioia, recently sent an e-mail encouraging his writers to submit a piece dealing with something that happened in the jazz world over the past year, I wasn’t sure I’d have anything to contribute.

Black Saint and Soul Note logos

I spent most of 2008 reflecting on historical subjects. Although I wrote a few reviews of current tracks, CD and DVD releases, and live performances, most of my energy was spent on jazz of the ‘60s through the ‘90s. I haven’t even compiled any of the usual year-end Top Ten lists. When asked to recognize the best of the new, lately my response has been “Wait ‘til next year!” (The distracted jazz critic co-opts the ancient mantra of the perennially disappointed Brooklyn Dodgers fan.) It was looking like I’d have to pass on the assignment when, at the 11th hour (actually, the 11th month), a current jazz event transpired that very nearly caused me to shed some rare non-Obama-related tears of joy. It also gave me the subject for my “That Was the Year That Was” essay.

A couple of weeks ago, the online music service eMusic made more than 500 items from the Italian Black Saint and Soul Note labels available for download. Much of this music had been out of print and/or almost impossible to acquire in digitized form (legally, at least). As someone who came of age listening to the Black Saint/Soul Note releases of Julius Hemphill, World Saxophone Quartet, Air, Steve Lacy, and so many other leading lights of the ’80-‘90s avant-garde, this news was one of the best early Christmas gifts I could imagine. Indeed, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the most important jazz event of 2008.

One of the perks of being a jazz critic is that I almost never have to pay for music. Musicians and labels send me unsolicited CDs by the dozen, for which I’m commensurately grateful. Rarely, however, am I sent reissues of classic jazz releases. I have a lot of those old records on vinyl, but they don’t play very well on my iPod. When I learned a few years ago that eMusic had made available hundreds of classic tracks on labels like Prestige, Riverside, Contemporary, and Milestone, by artists like Rollins, Coltrane, Monk, Ornette, Cannonball, Miles and so many others—and that I could download 100 of those every month—I signed on the bottom line. I’ve been an eMusic subscriber ever since. I still consider it the best 20 bucks I spend every month.

Yet, if I was a satisfied customer before, today I’m a blubbering blob of disproportionately obsequious thankfulness. In its heyday, Black Saint/Soul Note regularly won the Down Beat Critic’s Poll as best jazz label. It’s easy to see why, given the embarrassment of riches now available for approximately two bits per track. At the moment, I’m downloading albums that, for one reason or another, never found their way into my LP and CD collections; records like Anthony Braxton’s Six Monk’s Compositions (1987), wherein the alto-playing Mad Scientist of Middletown—in the company of Mal Waldron and Buell Neidlinger—engages the work of The Onliest; Old and New Dreams’ A Tribute to Blackwell, in which the group’s raison d'être as an homage to Ornette transmogrifies into a eulogy honoring the group’s late drummer, Ed Blackwell; and Trickles, a quartet date co-led by soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd released in 1976, long before I knew who either of those gentlemen were. Eventually, I’ll start downloading things I already own on vinyl or disc. That might take awhile, however; there’s too much good stuff I haven’t heard.

Having access to these gems has excited me to the point that I’ve spent more time downloading than actually listening. That will change shortly, as my 100 downloads for the month are very nearly spent, in which case I’ll have no choice but to immerse myself in the music—a joyful task, indeed. I only hope this bounty of buried treasure doesn’t monopolize my listening in 2009, and that “Wait ‘till next year!” doesn’t become “Wait until the year after next!”

This blog article posted by Chris Kelsey.

December 04, 2008 · 1 comment

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DC Celebrates Three Jazz Masters



David Tenenholtz, a regular contributor to these virtual pages, reports on a Washington, D.C. event celebrating three jazz legends linked to the nation's capital. Two of them, Duke Ellington and James Reese Europe, are long departed from the scene. But the third member of the triumvirate, Dr. Billy Taylor, showed up and helped entertain at his own party. Read on . . . T.G.



Duke Ellington Quarter

Scores of tourists visited our nation’s capital this year to see The Declaration of Independence, tour the White House, or view the historic monuments to our Presidents. Most of these visitors probably missed the fact that Washington, D.C. gave rise to numerous major figures in jazz history. With a nine-day festival that illuminated D.C.’s historic relationship to jazz, The John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts aimed to highlight the achievements of some of the jazz legends that influenced this city. The program included an event called “D.C. and The Duke” featuring the National Symphony Orchestra Pops under the direction of Marvin Hamlisch. The concert paid tribute to three leading lights of jazz who were either born in D.C. or spent their formative years there. Works by Duke Ellington, James Reese Europe, and Billy Taylor were featured in the opulent Kennedy Center concert hall where the NSO Pops shared the stage with The Jazz Ambassadors of The U.S. Army Field Band.

Ellington’s classic music received an extended treatment in an opening medley, which brought all of his most accessible elements together. As they navigated through Duke’s hits like “Sophisticated Lady,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and “Caravan,” members of the Jazz Ambassadors channeled the lush ballad sound of Harry Carney, and gutbucket plunger work of Tricky Sam Nanton and Cootie Williams. A series of well-conceived sax section features displayed the powerful sound of the reeds.

Always informal and friendly to audience members, conductor Marvin Hamlisch joked with children in the front rows and asked everyone “How much turkey do you still have?” He examined the medals of service on the chest of Jazz Ambassadors director Chief Warrant Officer Gordon K. Kippola, and asked how he got all of them, to which Kippola responded jokingly: “They came with the suit!” With the crowd warmed up by the shtick, Hamlisch then took a moment to read from note cards as he gave a brief bio of Billy Taylor, who serves as Artistic Director for Jazz at The Kennedy Center.

After the light dosing of Ellington favorites that started the program, Hamlisch and company moved on to James Reese Europe selections. The Ambassadors and orchestra performed “Hey There (Hi There!)” that blended light classical string orchestration and militaristic press rolls from the drums, with moments clearly inspired by John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” The second and final Europe selection, “All of No Man’s Land Is Ours,” featured a male vocal soloist, while the Ambassadors provided feathery and danceable swing.



              Dr. Billy Taylor, artwork by Suzanne Cerny

Pianist Christian Sands, Taylor's 19-year-old protégé, was the featured soloist to deliver Taylor’s Suite for Jazz Piano and Orchestra. This fitting choice included the bop elements of Taylor’s roots, along with the inspiration from Latin jazz that figured in his later career. Joined by Taylor’s long-time trio companions, Chip Jackson on bass, and Winard Harper on drums, the youthful Sands went for broke and ultimately succeeded. He worked through the boppish melody with total control of fast octave runs, and dug into the piano keys with locked hands. His solo contained bluesy elements followed by an extended ad lib section that left him alone to explore the piano’s full expressive range. This young man made it all seem easy as he filled his phrases with chromatic flourishes and well-built left hand bass accompaniment à la Phineas Newborn.

In addition to the tremendously gifted Sands, another highlight was Afro Blue, a vocal jazz ensemble from D.C.’s own Howard University. This group of professional vocalists in training presented challenging arrangements of Taylor’s songs “If You Really Are Concerned (Then Show It)” and “It’s a Matter of Pride,” dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The blend of this group was exceptional as they navigated tight harmonies, and multiple sections alternating between funk-oriented groove and jazz balladry. Clarity, precision, and a feeling for the music made Afro Blue a delight to hear and a welcome addition to the program.

At the start of the second half of the show, Dr. Taylor surprised the unsuspecting audience with an appearance on stage. Sitting down at the piano, he began playing his most well-known piece “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” After his statement of the melody, he was joined again by Afro Blue as well as the Ambassadors and orchestra providing the gospel accompaniment. With this many musicians, the texture was thick, but well balanced. Shining out was vocal soloist and director of Afro Blue, Connaitre Miller.

Fitting for this crowd of un-initiated concert-goers, the program helped offer a deeper appreciation for Dr. Taylor’s contributions to music, while also giving nods to the important figures that put Washington on the map of jazz. It was a joyous occasion to witness the good-spirited Taylor on stage, who no doubt felt the pleasure of having his music featured so prominently alongside Ellington and Europe. However, the program’s second half could have revisited more Ellington and Europe works. Instead, the emphasis on accessibility seemed to force Hamlisch into including a prolonged medley of Count Basie hits, followed by the full version of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

Those last two jazzmen, although they have contributed vastly to the treasure trove of big band Swing, have precious little to do with jazz in the nation’s capital. Despite losing steam with this section, as Hamlisch aimed to please, he made efforts to educate this audience. Hamlisch offered a quick synopsis of improvisation, saying the purpose was “To play what you’re feeling at that very moment.” He then closed the program with a blues jam that showed off the improvising skills of a few hand-picked NSO musicians and members of the Jazz Ambassadors, as well as Sands at the piano. With this lesson, the D.C. crowd received an amusing and stylish dollop of this music that serves as an equally vital national treasure.

This blog entry posted by David Tenenholtz


December 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Is New York Ready for This?



Since the decline of the big bands some sixty years ago, a few brave souls have bucked the trend and tried to keep large-scale swing alive. Some will even tell you that a swing revival is underway. But few are more ambitious than George Gee, who is planning to mount a huge big band extravaganza in a few days—a full show that will include dancers, strings, vocalists and a large jazz ensemble. Eugene Marlow has the details below in the first installment of a three-part article. T.G.





       And you thought Jazz at Lincoln Center was retro?


The so-called “Swing Era” may have technically ended with the conclusion of World War II in the mid-1940s and the nascence of bebop, courtesy of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. But don’t tell that to the various big (and moderate-sized) swing bands purveying their sounds around the country, particularly in the “Big Apple,” New York City.

Holding court in New York, or perhaps it should be said, holding “sway” in this resurgence of appreciation for the sounds of swing, is George Gee, a one-time “mentee” of Count Basie in his later years. While there are other swing bands in the city, both public and private, such as the “Sultans of Swing” at Birdland, and the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra, George Gee’s various iterations of the big-band swing sound have held forth at Swing 46 on Manhattan’s “Restaurant Row” for over 10 years. A one-time bass player, Gee might well be called the “King of Swing” in New York these days. Certainly he has the credentials to deserve the moniker.

Gee’s big news is that his big band, a staple most Tuesday nights at Swing 46, will now also appear at the Edison Ballroom on 47th and Broadway. The difference is Swing 46 is an intimate dance/supper club. The Edison Ballroom is a newly renovated, deco-style dance/supper club designed for a really, big show. I talked with George about his tenure at Swing 46, the evolving audience for swing dance music, and his forthcoming gig at the newly renovated Edison Ballroom:

“The Swing 46 phenomenon is getting stronger and stronger. I have been there for over 10 years and people still come out and dance, young or old, all races. Last night, besides the locals, there were people from Australia there, Spain, and Japan.

“While I was in Japan over the summer I was contacted by the management of the new Edison Ballroom, the former supper club on West 47th Street and Broadway. It is a gorgeous ballroom, art deco. It is part of the Edison Hotel. It’s been renovated. They kept a lot of the art deco with a couple of modern touches to it. It is mainly used for private parties right now. But the bottom line is that we are putting together a classic 1940s supper club big band floorshow and dancing type of atmosphere. And we are debuting it around the holiday season and New Year’s Eve.

“It is going to feature a 22-piece big band, myself as band-leader and ring leader, an Andrews Sisters vocal trio, plus a variety of other vocalists. Plus old school tap dancers in the style of Bill Robinson, Buster Brown, and Howard ‘Sandman’ Sims. And a six-member Lindy-hop dance team to perform with the orchestra and the floorshow.

“The management of the Edison Ballroom loves the idea. They are basically putting their money where their mouth is and putting in the time and investment to make this ultimate New York City big band show happen on Broadway, and in the only room possible that I think something like this can be pulled off. It is a classic big band ballroom from the 1930s and the 1940s. It is going to be really quite a spectacle.”

This is the end of part one of Eugene Marlow’s article on George Gee. For part two of this article, click here.

December 02, 2008 · 2 comments

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Don't Ignore Monday Night Jazz

Jazz fans, like fickle lovers, often avoid the long-term commitments as they seek out short term flings. But Eric Novod points out the musical riches to be found amongst New York's jazz perennials, those artists with long term residencies at a particular nightspot. Yes, Monday can sometimes be the jazziest day of the week. Read on. T.G.





               Ari Hoenig (Photo by Francesco Truono)


In the city that never sleeps, there is jazz to explore every night of the week, every week of the year. Yet the popularity (and financial viability) of the weekly NYC jazz residency isn’t what it used to be. And I’m not even thinking back to over a half-century ago, when some of the greatest to ever grace our stages were appearing weekly at the Five Spot or the Half Note. But Kurt Rosenwinkel hasn’t been packing Smalls on a weekly basis for some time now. And in June of ‘07, Manhattan’s guitar-cult-hero, Wayne Krantz, ended his ten (ten!) year Thursday night residency at the 55 Bar—leaving hundreds of musicians/fans scratching their heads for new Thursday night plans.

Don’t get me wrong—the last thing I’m doing is complaining about a lack of musical options in New York City. But there’s just something about a weekly residency. It allows fellow musicians and jazz fans a concentrated opportunity to trace the development of an artist’s material over an extended period of time that a week-long stint at the Vanguard simply cannot.

If a leader of a residency welcomes a revolving door of musicians, it’s intriguing to discover how the same tunes morph into completely different musical beings in the hands of a new lineup. If the residency is a bona-fide steady group, well, even better—the audience members are presented with the most intense brand of musical interaction. Right before their eyes and ears, the players are diving deeper and deeper into each other’s musical personalities week by week. It’s hard to find a comparable experience for the live music fan.

My apologies if I’m bringing you down with my yearning for residencies past. That’s actually the last thing I’m trying to do. The fact of the matter is (here comes the good news): there are plenty of exciting, historically-significant jazz residencies “now playing” in clubs across Manhattan. I’d expect that many jazz fans are aware of some of them, while a few of the others are among the city’s hidden gems. And while there are many fine residencies that occur throughout the week (guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg plays at The Bar Next Door every Wednesday night, Cidinho Teixeira leads a Brazilian Samba Night at the Zinc Bar every Sunday) most of these residencies are happening on… you guessed it… Monday nights.

Part of the popularity conundrum? Perhaps. After all, isn’t Monday night best spent frantically prepping for the upcoming week’s meetings? Or cursing at the Monday Night Football screen at the local sports bar? Or going to sleep a few hours early? Yes, they can be any of those things. Once in a while though, New Yorkers, let’s not forget about all of the jazz musicians playing their hearts out on Monday nights. While our bodies may be angry at us for it on Tuesday morning, the number of quality Monday night residencies currently happening in NYC deserve some fan fidelity.

Here are three current Monday night residencies to explore. Not from the NYC area? All three of these musicians tour quite a bit—so look out for them coming to a club near you soon. In the meantime, feel free to chime in here. What are some of the best residencies happening elsewhere throughout the country? What live jazz is exciting the live jazz fan right now? Right here is as good a place as any to shout out a performer who you think more people should get out there and see. Famous or not, Monday night or not, who’s worth checking out?

Ari Hoenig at Smalls:

A melody-minded, Philadelphia-born drummer who studied at the prestigious University of North Texas and the jazz-centric William Patterson University (NJ), Ari Hoenig has performed with Shirley Scott, Kenny Werner, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mike Stern, Pat Martino, and Joshua Redman, among others. His first steady Monday night gig in NYC began in 2002, when his newly formed Ari Hoenig Quartet performed every Monday night at Fat Cat. Currently in 2008, Hoenig’s Monday night slot is still intact—yet it has since shifted up the street to Smalls.

Most often it’s Hoenig’s newest quartet, Punk Bop, consisting of Hoenig, bassist Matt Penman, guitarists Jonathan Kreisberg or Gilad Hekselman, and alto saxophonist Will Vinson that will take the stage at Smalls. In fact, just a few days ago (September 22), Hoenig released a new Punk Bop record, “Bert’s Playground,” with its very own Monday night CD Release party. Hoenig also occasionally invites his long-time musical partner, Jean-Michel Pilc, to perform on Monday nights as a piano trio with a revolving door of bassists including Johannes Weidenmueller or Francois Moutin. Hoenig is a busy man, so check the Smalls calendar before you go, but when he is in New York, he is sure to be performing some of the city’s finest jazz on Monday nights.

Oz Noy

Oz Noy at The Bitter End:

Israeli jazz/rock session guitarist Oz Noy brings out his fellow session greats to the Bitter End on a weekly basis. You’re likely to see drummer Anton Fig and bassist Will Lee take the stage with Noy straight from their taping of the Late Show with David Letterman a few hours earlier. On other nights, Steely Dan’s Keith Carlock or jazz master Adam Nussbaum might be playing drums, and Chris Tarry or James Genus can be found playing bass.

As you can probably tell from the personnel, this is not straight-ahead jazz. It’s stylish, aggressive guitar fusion, with a combination of clever writing/arranging (check out “Epistrofunk,” his reworking of Monk’s “Epistrophy”) and some wide-open space for the session-great du jour to blow off some steam. Noy, whose credits are just about as wide-ranging as one can get (Richard Bona, Chris Botti, Mike Clarke, Harry Belafonte, Toni Braxton, Phoebe Snow, Clay Aiken, and Akiko Yano, to name a few) occasionally plays in L.A. or his native Israel, but his in-demand status as a NYC session player means a steady dose of his group at the legendary Bitter End.

Jim Campilongo at The Living Room:

Born and trained in San Francisco, California, delightfully twisted guitarist Jim Campilongo has led his “Campy Trio” at the Living Room since 2004. Perhaps best known these days for being the lead guitarist in The Little Willies, an Americana band that counts Norah Jones as one of its members, Campilongo has long held the title of an under-heralded “guitarist’s guitarist.” His original group from the 1990s, Jim Campilongo and the Ten Gallon Cats, was a quartet (guitar, pedal steel, bass, and drums) that was deeply influenced by country, rockabilly, and blues guitar pioneers from Chet Atkins to Roy Buchanan to Jimmy Bryant.

In recent years, Campilongo’s work has become a bit more outwardly jazz-influenced, in the same way that, say, Marc Ribot and/or Bill Frisell both freely pass through multiple genres while often maintaining an overall jazz approach to their music. But as Campilongo has mentioned countless times in countless interviews, he is never tied to one style or one influence—combine The Sex Pistols, Muddy Waters, Allan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin with the guitar influences already stated above—and then you’ve only hit the tip of the record-obsessed guitarist’s favorites. Campilongo’s careful choice of eclectic sidemen (bassists Brad Jones, Stephen Crump, or Tim Luntzel and drummers Tony Mason, Shawn Pelton, or Dan Rieser) sympathetically complete his fearlessly artistic vision. Even though he’s taken a winding road to get there, Jim Campilongo has become the foremost modern purveyor of Western Swing. That’s him—every Monday night at the Living Room.

Elsewhere on Monday Nights:
The Roy Affif Trio at the Zinc Bar
Les Paul at Iridium
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra at the Village Vanguard

This blog entry posted by Eric Novod.



December 01, 2008 · 2 comments

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