Friday, December 2, 2016

Looking back at the year's best jazz recordings

‘Tis the season for the outpouring of Top 10 lists, and their many variations, for jazz, world events, etc. The jazz lists always have a lot of variation depending on the individual reviewer's personal tastes, as well as what he or she listened to during the year.* Bottom line, all are extremely subjective.

These choices below (aside from top 10 new songs of the year) were submitted to the Jazz Times, Jazz Journalists’ Association and NPR Music 2016 compilations (the latter is the annual Francis Davis-produced poll that previously was published by The Village Voice and

As I begin preparing my review of significant events and trends in jazz in 2016 for posting on, I thought I'd share my "best of 2016" lists. *Always keep in mind the above caveats.

The 10 best new jazz releases of 2016
  1. Aziza, Aziza (Dare2)
  2. Scott Hamilton/Harry Allen, Live! (GAC)
  3. Tierney Sutton Band, The Sting Variations (BFM Jazz)
  4. Gregory Porter Take Me to the Alley (Blue Note)
  5. Sonny Rollins, Holding the Stage: Road Shows Vol. 4 (Doxy/OKeh)
  6. Roberta Piket, One for Marian: Celebrating Marian McPartland (Thirteenth Note)
  7. Greg Abate and Phil Woods, Kindred Spirits: Live at Chan’s (Whaling City Sound)
  8. Noah Preminger, Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground (self-produced)
  9. Horace Bray, Dreamstate (self-produced)
  10. Matt Wilson’s Big Happy Family, Beginning of a Memory (Palmetto)
2016’s best vocal recording:

Tierney Sutton Band, The Sting Variations (BFM Jazz)

2016’s best debut recording:

Horace Bray, Dreamstate (self-produced)

The best historical/reissues of 2016 (includes any recordings made over 10 years ago, whether newly released or reissued):

1.     Bill Evans, Some Other Time (Resonance)
2.     Lyle Mays Quartet, The Ludwigsburg Concert (SWR Jazzhaus)
3.     Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, All My Yesterdays (Resonance)
4.     Erroll Garner, Ready Take One (Legacy/Octave)
5.     Joao Gilberto/Stan Getz, “Getz/Gilberto ’76 (Resonance)

2016’s best Latin/Brazilian jazz recordings:
1.     Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, Oddara (Linus Entertainment)
2.     The Pedrito Martinez Group, Habana Dreams (Motéma)
3.     Brian Andres and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel, This Could Be That (Bacalao)
4.     Matt Geraghty Project, Trade Winds: Cuba (self-produced)
5.     Gabriel Espinosa, Songs of Bacharach and Manzanero (Zoho)
6.     Socrates Garcia, Back Home (Mama)
7.     The Dominican Jazz Project, The Dominican Jazz Project (Summit)

The 10 best new songs from CDs released in 2016, listed alphabetically:
  • Jim Clayton, “The DeRozan Effect” from Lenny Jumps In (Clay-Tone)
  • Marc Copland, “Best Bet” from Zenith (InnerVoice)
  • Lisa Hilton, “Seduction” from Nocturnal (Ruby Slippers)
  • Grace Kelly, “Blues for Harry Bosch” from Trying to Figure It Out (PAZZ)
  • Roberto Magris, “Candlewood Dreams” from Need to Bring Out Love (JMood)
  • Jenny Maybee, “Winter Butterflies” from Jenny Maybee / Nick Phillips Haiku (Nick Phillips Music)
  • Gregory Porter, “Don’t Be a Fool” from Take Me to the Alley (Blue Note)
  • Steve Slagle, “Ft. Greene Scene” from The Stryker/Slagle Band (Expanded), Routes (Strikezone)
  • Ernie Watts & Marc Seales, “Wheel of Time (Anthem for Charlie)” from Watts’ Wheel of Time (Flying Dolphin)
  • Matt Wilson, “Flowers for Felicia” from Beginning of a Memory (Palmetto)

Monday, November 28, 2016

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Alyssa Allgood, Dave Anderson, Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, Frank Kimbrough, Oleg Kireyev & Keith Javors, and the U.S. Army Blues Swamp Romp ….

Alyssa Allgood, Out of the Blue (JeruJazz)
Chicago-based singer Alyssa Allgood has done the iconic Blue Note label proud in a most unexpected way on this self-produced project. She and her team of Windy City jazz instrumentalists dug into some of the finest material recorded by Blue Note musicians during the label’s 1950s and ‘60s heyday. Allgood also penned lyrics for four of the 10 instrumentals: “Watch Me Walk Away” (originally Hank Mobley’s “Dig Dis”), Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil,” Lee Morgan’s “Ceora,” which she retitled as “Only a Memory,” and drummer Joe Chambers’ “Mirrors.” She also interpreted existing vocals on Horace Silver’s anthemic ballad “Peace” Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’” (with lyrics by vocalese master Jon Hendricks), and “Moment’s Notice,” to which New York Voices members Peter Eldridge and Kim Nazarian penned “Noticing the Moment” lyrics. There’s much to savor here from Allgood, B-3 organ player Dan Chase, guitarist Tim Fitzgerald, saxophonist Chris Madsen and drummer Matt Plaskota. It’s all good. Great in fact.

Dave Anderson, Blue Innuendo (Label1)
The best-known organ-based jazz bands have featured either guitar or saxophone as the primary solo instrument. Dave Anderson has found the best of both worlds with his quartet, which features both. Blue Innuendo teams Midwesterner-turned-New Yorker Anderson (on tenor and soprano saxes) with guitarist Tom Guarna, B-3 player Pat Bianchi and drummer Mat Wilson. This is a solid team romp through nine Anderson originals and another (“22 Doors) composed by a friend, bassist Devin Lowe. Guarna brings a searing energy to his guitar work; Bianchi swings with tremendous power and energy at the organ, and Wilson shows once again why he’s considered one of the most inventive drummers in jazz. Anderson’s sax work is masterful here, as is his writing. The gems include “Urban Dilemma,” and two tributes: “The Phantom” (written for Joe Henderson) and "Blue Innuendo" (written for B-3 master Joey DeFrancesco). The closing track, “Redeye,” is a marvel.

Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, Oddara (Linus)
For more than 30 years, Toronto-based flutist-soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett has been an enabler and talent scout for the jazz musicians of Cuba. She’s put together bands (including Spirits of Havana) with whom she has recorded and made North American and European tours, and even shipped donated instruments to student musicians. In the process, she has introduced many fine Cuban musicians to global jazz audiences. Her most recent project involves an all-woman ensemble called Maqueque, which translates to “the energy of a young girl’s spirit.” Oddara is her second recording with this sextet – and to my ears – it has bubbled to the top of 2016’s Latin Jazz recordings.

Bunnett is joined by pianist Danae Olano, bassist Celia Jimenez, percussionist Magdelys Savigne, violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez and drummer Yissy Garcia. All but Garcia also double on vocals. They are joined on select tracks by two other singers who work with the band on occasion, Melvis Santa and Dayme Arocena. Oddada’s material was composed by the band members, except for one stunning gem – a cover of Leon Russell’s “”Song For You” featuring Savigne and Arocena on vocals. Other favorites: “Little Feet,” “Dream,” “25 New Moves,” “Changui del Guaso” and the ultra-energetic closer, “Café Pilon.” Bunnett says the music this band makes “bubbles with power, beauty and joy.” That’s evident from start to finish.

Frank Kimbrough, Solstice (Pirouet)
Pianist Frank Kimbrough is an impressionistic master at the keyboard. His newest CD is a trio session with two long-time collaborators, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. Throughout the CD,  Kimbrough reveals his musical essence while honoring his mentors and muses by performing favorite material. Those mentors include Andrew Hill, Shirley Horn, Paul Motian. One muse, who wrote the title track, is his wife, the singer and composer Maryanne de Prophetis. 

While every tune here is a standout, my absolute favorites are the bookends, Kimbrough’s takes on Carla Bley’s “Seven” and Maria Schneider’s evocative “Walking By Flashlight.” Kimbrough has been a mainstay in the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra since 1993, adding much and absorbing much at the same time. He included one original on this CD, the subtly bluesy “Question’s the Answer.” He revels in space and delicacy on Solstice. His rhythm-mates are right with him, adding subtle accents to these musical moments.
Oleg Kireyev & Keith Javors, The Meeting (Inarhyme)
Here’s a stunning collaboration led by Russian tenor saxophonist Oleg Kireyev and Philadelphia-based pianist Keith Javors. The Meeting, a title and track that captures the musical summit reached here, includes the genius trumpeter Tom Harrell, bassist Ben Williams and drummer E.J. Stickland. 

The many gems here include Kireyev’s “April,” and the ballad “Inwardly” and harder-driving title track, both of which Javors wrote for Harrell. There’s a piano trio take on the samba “Estate,” on which Javors digs deep. The band’s take on the uptempo jazz standard “Caravan” is clever. It include some Tuvan throat-singing by Kireyev that enhances its exotic moo

U.S. Army Blues Swamp Romp, Voodoo Boogaloo (U.S.Army)
Chances are very good that you’ll never hear a funkier military musical unit than the U.S. Army Band’s U.S. Army Blues Swamp Romp. They’ve been together for nearly two decades, focusing on traditional jazz and folk music from Louisiana. Voodoo Boogaloo blends complementary original compositions with material from Duke Ellington, Nick La Rocca, Jelly Roll Morton, Sonny Terry, Hank Williams and Stevie Wonder, among others.

Favorites: trumpeter Graham Breedlove’s “Voodoo Boogaloo” and Wonder’s “I Wish,” which is layered over the street beat heard on "Treme Song," the catchy heme to HBO’s “Treme” series, as well as saxophonist John DeSalme’s funky “Raoul’s Cool Above Ground Pool.” But there’s far more here to dig – and dance to. It is hard to find a more grooving version of Jelly Roll’s “Milenburg Joys.” There’s one poignant ballad here. Swamp Romp co-founder Harry Watters wrote the closer,  “Musicians Village,” after the group worked at the Habitat for Humanity project to build new housing for local musicians after the flooding from Hurricane Katrina.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Whitney James excels with her tight jazz trio

Catching very fine live jazz is a great way to avoid Black Friday madness. 

Whitney James
St. Petersburg-based singer Whitney James delivered the goods on Friday, November 25 in her first visit to the Jazz Club of Sarasota's Jazz at Two matinee series at Unitarian Universalist Church in Sarasota.

John O'Leary
James brought her regular instrumental trio, La Lucha, and from start to finish showed the benefits of working with a tight band into which her vocals fit seamlessly. Call it jazz simpatico and then some. 

The band includes John O'Leary on piano, Alejandro Arenas on bass and Mark Feinman on drums. Each had significant solo space to stretch the music in unexpected directions.

Mark Feinman
Her two sets explored romance and relationships in their various guises, mining lesser-turned pages of the Great American Songbook rather than tired standards. She also shared a couple of jazz standards (Benny Golson's "Whisper Not" (the title track from her 210 debut CD) and Betty Carter's "Tight," as well as Sting's "Fragile."

"We like to unearth the hidden treasures," she told the audience. After a poignant rendition of "Polkadots and Moonbeams," she noted that "They don't write lyrics like this anymore." How true.

As she celebrates those lyrics, James stretches syllables and floats across the band's rhythmic cushion with ease. The trio band never dropped a beat. James shared two interesting medleys: joining "Warm December and "I've Got My Love to
Keep Me Warm," and later closing the performance with La Lucha's arrangement pairing "Lullaby of the Leaves" and "Lullaby of Birdland."
John O'Leary, Whitney James, Alejandro Arenas, Mark Feinman

Monday, November 21, 2016

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

The 2016-17 jazz concert season will continue through May, bolstered by the gradual arrival of the snowbirds. Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through January.

  • Sunday, November 27 – The Dave Koz “smooth jazz” Christmas tour, with Jonathan Butler, Kenny Lattimore and singer Valerie Simpson. Hayes Hall at Artis Naples, 7 p.m.
  • Monday, December 5 – The Havana Cuba All-Stars, Hayes Hall at Artis Naples, 8 p.m.,  Also November 27 at the Straz Center in Tampa, 4 p.m., Ferguson Hall.
    James Suggs
  • Wednesday, December 7 – Trumpeter James Suggs’ tribute to Miles Davis. A South County Jazz Club concert at the Venice Art Center, 7 p.m.
  • Monday, December 12 – Multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan returns to the Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Artists Series. Cultural Center Theater, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
    Kenny Washington
  • Wednesday, December 14 – Singer Kenny Washington joins the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for the sextet’s monthly All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Friday, December 16 – Guitarist Nate Najar’s Holiday Special. A South County Jazz Club concert at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota, 8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, January 4 – British guitarist Martin Taylor joins the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for the sextet’s monthly All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday, January 9 The Sarasota Jazz Project in concert. It’s Big Band Night in the Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Artists Series. Cultural Center Theater, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
    June Garber, Tom Ellison
  • Friday, January 13 – Toronto-based singer June Garber with the Tom Ellison Quartet. A South County Jazz Club concert at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice, 2 p.m. 
  • Thursday. January 19 – The Great Guitars, with Larry Coryell, Russell Malone and Nate Najar. A South County Jazz Club concert at the Venice Performing Arts Center. 7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, January 19 The Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Sarasota, 8 p.m.
  • Friday, January 20 – Saxophonist Harry Allen guests with the Eddie Metz Jr.-Nicki Parrott-Rossano Sportiello International Jazz Trio. Jazz Club of Sarasota concert, Riverview High School Performing Arts Center, 7:30 p.m. 
    Veronica Swift
  • Friday, January 27 – Singer Veronica Swift with the Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto Quintet. The Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, Fort Myers, 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, January 29 – Pianist Dick Hyman performs the movie music of Henry Mancini, Daniels Pavilion at Artis Naples, 3 p.m.
Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, Fandango in Sarasota, The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Ft. Myers and The Side Door Jazz Club at Slate’s in Cape Coral, offer jazz steadily). 

A variety of “Jazz at Two” Friday matinee concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and the South County Jazz Club also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A stunning return by a crafty jazz band

Jim Roberts
You experience far more than great playing when pianist Jim Roberts brings his sextet to town. That was clear on Monday, November 14 when Orlando-based Roberts performed at the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series with his Saxtet.
Danny Jordan

The band features three reed players:  Danny Jordan, Rex Wertz and David MacKenzie - all doubling on sax and flute. They are backed by Roberts, bassist Charlie Silva and drummer Eddie Metz Jr. 

The glue for this evening was Roberts' exquisite arrangements of classic jazz material. His arrangements are intricate, revealing counterpoint moments for the three horns as well as many melodic nuances not heard in the original recordings. His piano introductions to the tunes are thoughtful and sometimes teasing as they begin to reveal the core melody.
David MacKenzie

Rex Wertz
Roberts brought a trio to Port Charlotte when he was featured at CCJS' first full-fledged concert in 1991. He's been a regular visitor ever since, most often with the Saxtet. It last appeared at the Cultural Center Theater in 2013. 

A repeat of some material from prior years is unavoidable during a Roberts performance.. But every version sounded fresh due to the improvised solos as the band dug into Clifford Brown's "Daahoud," the exquisite flute chorus  on "Thad Jones' "A Child is Born" and Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concerto De Aranjuez," and a triple tenor-sax romp through Sonny Rollins' "Tenor Madness," among others. 

Metz and MacKenzie
Gems not heard in 2013 included the Bill Evans' ballad "Turn Out the Stars," two Miles Davis classics - "So What" and "All Blues," and Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil." All of them provided strong moments for this savvy band. 

Metz, one of the finest and most versatile drummers on the planet, stunned on "Jumpin' at the Woodside," which co-featured MacKenzie on alto sax, and Louie Bellson's "Skin Deep."
Roberts, Jordan, Wertz, MacKenzie, Silva, Metz

Friday, November 4, 2016

Opening Day for South County Jazz Club's 2016-17 season

Two days after baseball concluded its year with a historic Chicago Cubs win in the World Series, the South County Jazz Club featured trombonist Greg Nielsen's quartet for the opening of its 2016-17 concert season.

Nielsen, a 30-years-plus music educator at Sarasota's Booker Middle School, is one of the most versatile musicians around. Trombone is his main instrument, but he also brought his flugelhorn and trumpet. Somehow he forgot the double-belled euphonium that he also plays on occasion.

His band for this event featured bassist Don Mopsick, drummer-vocalist David Pruyn and a pleasant surprise at the piano: Danny Sinoff. Eddie Tobin had been advertised for the gig, but somehow double-booked himself - and had a simultaneous gig of his own in Sarasota.

Greg Nielsen
The quartet played principally Great American Songbook material plus three Nielsen originals: "Elegant Ella" (written for his girlfriend, not Ella Fitzgerald), "Samba For You" and a catchy thing called "Yep!" 

At one point, Nielsen played both trombone and flugelhorn, shifting back and forth with ease.

Pruyn sang two vocal numbers, "Two for the Road" and "I'll Never Smile Again." Late in the second set, Sinoff was featured on vocals with his classic version of "Night and Day." Mopsick and Pruyn also had a clever scat-trading moment that highlighted the second-set opener, "There Will Never Be Another You."

Danny Sinoff
There was one great bonus for this show. At his own performances, mostly in the Punta Gorda-Fort Myers area, singer-pianist Sinoff sticks very closely to tunes popularized by Frank Sinatra. This afternoon in Venice was a terrific opportunity for him to dig into more music - some of it for the first time - and nail it. He's a fine and imaginative pianist with a broader repertoire than many fans realize. He would do well to share more of it on his own gigs.

This matinee concert was at the Unitarian Universalist  Congregation of Venice. Next up on the SCJC schedule: trumpeter James Suggs' Miles Davis Tribute Concert at the Venice Art Center at 7 p.m. on December 7.
Danny Sinoff, Don Mopsick, Greg Nielsen, David Pruyn

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wine and jazz - in Bordeaux

Ah, the places you find jazz when you least expect it. That's all the more reason to cherish the moment. We're just back from a 10-day Bordeaux river cruise with stops at significant historic sites and world-class wine-making chateaus along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers and the Geronde Estuary. TV travel journalist Burt Wolf hosted the trip.

One of the region's many chateaus
The unexpected bonus came on Thursday October 20, while the Scenic Diamond was docked in Bourg, a village-sized city near the coast in southwestern France, population roughly 2,200. The ship's after-dinner entertainment was the Bordeaux-based Jazz River Trio, which plays New Orleans-style traditional jazz with a most unusual instrumental combination.
Jazz River Trio

Stephane Borde plays banjo, Bertrand Tessier plays tenor sax and Fred Dupin plays the sousaphone - with a small cymbal mounted near the keys. Dupin used his left hand to add interesting accents in addition to his rhythmic work and solo moments on the horn, a portable cousin of the tuba that was developed for marching bands.

The band's hour-long set tended toward classic jazz. The repertoire included "Dinah," "All of Me" and "My Blue Heaven," among others. Borde curiously introduced Ray Noble's 1938 classic "Cherokee" as a "very modern song." 

Allan Grissette
Quite appropriately, the trio performed two compositions by New Orleans-born clarinetist Sidney Bechet, who spent the last nine years of his life living in France (1960-1969). He moved there because he had a big following in France and had grown tired of the U.S. jazz scene. The band performed Bechet's "Si Tu Vois Ma Mere" (the memorable theme from Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris") and "Petit Fleur."

Fellow passenger Allan Grissette joined the band for the last half of the set. He has been playing drums with the San Francisco-based Devil Mountain Jazz Band since the 1980s. Grissette had his sticks with him but there was no drum kit on the ship. So he borrowed a small plastic bucket from the bar and used that quite effectively as a makeshift snare.
Dupin, Zubanovic, Borde, Grissette, Bubics, Tessier
The evening ended with two more players: Hotel Director Milenko Zubanovic on guitar and vocals, and ship's versatile staff musician Tamas Bubics on alto sax as the band closed its set with "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "What a Wonderful World."

A wonderful world, and small world, indeed.
Even the grapevines are getting autumn leaves