Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Year in Jazz

As 2010 fast approaches, it is time for my annual review of jazz happenings over the past year. The 2009 edition of The Year in Jazz was published today on

There were a lot of noteworthy occurrences during 2009 - some big, some small but noteworthy, quite a few induced in some way by the economy, and there were far too many passings of musicians across the United States and around the world.

Happy holidays - and may it be a happy and healthy new year for all.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy holidays to one and all

It certainly has been quite a year for jazz and the economy. I’ll have more details and perspective shortly in the 2009 edition of my annual “Year in Jazz” review for

In the meantime, please enjoy what I consider to be one of the great Christmas-related animations. It may not be jazz – but now and then we must delve into the doo-wop world.

Peace and joy – and jazz be with you,


Sunday, December 20, 2009

The best in jazz recordings in 2009

Here are this writer's choices for the top jazz recordings and reissues of 2009. Always keep in mind that top 10 listings of this sort reflect the reviewer's musical taste at the moment he/she does the evaluations. They only carry significant weight when the same recordings show up on many such lists. That being said, here we go:

The 10 best new jazz releases of 2009, listed alphabetically:
- Lili Añel, “Every Second in Between” (Wall-I Records)
- Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Città Di Verona, "Restless Spirits" (Velut Luna)
- Seamus Blake, “Live in Italy” (Jazz Eyes)
- Mike Clark, “Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 1” (Talking House)
- Bill Cunliffe, “Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2” (Resonance)
- Kat Edmonson, “Take to the Sky” (Convivium Records)
- Steve Kuhn, “Mostly Coltrane” (ECM)
- LeBoeuf Brothers, “House Without a Door” (LeBoeuf Brothers Music)
- John Scofield, “Piety Street” (EmArcy)
- Joe Zawinul, “75” (Heads Up International)

The 10 best new songs of the year, listed alphabetically:

- Lynne Arriale, “A Gentle Soul” from “Nuance” (Motéma Music)
- Jeff Ballard, “Lady B” from Fly’s “Sky & Country” (ECM)
- Scotty Barnhart, “Haley’s Passage” from “Say It Plain” (Unity Music)
- Gerald Clayton, “Peace for the Moment” from “Two-Shade” (ArtistShare)
- N. Glenn Davis, “Come Right In” from “Come Right In” (Jazzed Media)
- Richie Goods, “Desert Song” from “Live at the Zinc Bar” (RichMan Productions)
- Fareed Haque. “Big Bhangra” from “Flat Planet” (Owl Studios)
- Sean Jones, “The Ambitious Violet” from “The Search Within” (Mack Avenue)
- Mark Rapp, “Thank You” from “Token Tales” (Paved Earth)
- Greg Skaff, “Willie D” from “East Harlem Skyline” (Zoho)

The best jazz boxed set or historic recordings of 2009, listed alphabetically:
- Dupree Bolton, “Fireball,” (Uptown)
- Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, “The Classic Prestige Sessions, 1951-1956 (Prestige)
- Lucky Thompson, “New York City, 1965-65” (Uptown)
- Freddie Hubbard, “Without a Song (Live in Europe, 1969)” (Blue Note)
- Scott LaFaro, “Pieces of Jade” (Resonance)

The best jazz-related DVD of 2009
- "'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris," (Outsider Pictures/Naxos of America)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mabern moments

I had a fascinating conversation with Harold Mabern last weekend in conjunction with the pianist's appearance at the Jazz Standard in mid-January as part of the George Coleman quartet. He's been a regular in Coleman's band for more than 30 years - and they went to high school together in Memphis. Mabern's comments will be a feature profile in HotHouse magazine's January issue. I will post a link when the article is available online.

Suffice it to say, Mabern had much to say - too much, in fact, for the space allotted. One interesting gem: his 9-year-old granddaughter, Maya, who lives in California but will be in metropolitan New York for the holidays, has been a voracious student of the piano since about 3. I wonder where she gets that from? If she has a question about something piano-related, she call's now and then, and Harold will put his own phone on speakerphone, and walk her through the challenge. And something I find most unusual for any 9-year-old today. Mabern said his granddaughter is into stride and boogie-woogie.

Mabern, 73, also seems to be a fixture in former student Eric Alexander's regular band... and is prominent in Eric's new CD, Revival of the Fittest, on High Note. The CD has been in heavy rotation on my player over the past four days. It too goes full circle, with the opening track being George Coleman's tune "Revival."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

CDs of Note...

Norah Jones, The Fall (Blue Note)
The Norah Jones evolution continues. The singer-pianist-guitarist who made such a big splash and became Blue Note’s mega-platinum gravy train in 2002, has moved away from her jazz-tinged roots into an electronic rock sensibility that will also appeal to country fans at times. In doing so, she presents new songs that in great measure are grounded in her move ahead after a breakup with boyfriend and longtime bandmate Lee Alexander. Jesse Harris, who wrote her first big hit, “Don’t Know Why,” is a co-writer on two tunes here - ”Even Though” and “Tell Yer Mama.” My favorites: “Chasing Pirates,” “Light as a Feather,” “It’s Gonna Be” and “Back to Manhattan.”

Wayne Escoffery, Uptown (Posi-Tone)
London-born Wayne Escoffery (Mingus Dynasty, Tom Harrell, Monk Legacy Septet - and a Jackie McLean protege) is a rising mid-generation tenor player on the mainstream jazz scene. His playing is formidable, both in its sense of propulsion and melodic ideas. It also exudes an R&B feel at times. The session consists primarily of originals by the leader or bandmate Avi Rothbard plus Duke Pearson’s ballad “You Know I Care” and a version of Ellington’s “I Got It Bad” that opens in mellow fashion but builds into a burner. The other players in this fine quartet are Gary Versace on organ, Rothbard on guitar and Jason Brown on drums. My favorites: “No Desert,” I Got It Bad” and “Maya’s Waltz.”

Gary Peacock - Marc Copland, Insight (Pirouet)
The bassist and pianist have developed a wonderful affinity for complementing each other’s playing and improvising - and love to record together. After Peacock’s appearances on two Copland trio sessions (with Bill Stewart and Paul Motian) for Pirouet, this is their first duo adventure for the German label - and second in their 20-plus years of working together. They let the music breathe and the notes glow and resonate as they trade roles as soloist and accompanist with ease. This truly feels like a musical conversation as they explore a blend of standards and originals. My favorites: their take on Miles Davis’s “All Blues” and “Blue in Green” (a tune generally credited to Davis but likely written by Bill Evans) and Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” as well as Copland’s “River’s Run,” Peacock’s “The Pond” and their collaborative improvisation “Late Night.”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Grammy nomination musings...

The Recording Academy (formerly the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) is out with its nominations for the 52nd annual Grammy Awards. The full list of nominees is available at the Grammy Web site.

It is encouraging to see that a former jazz categories for so-called "smooth jazz" recordings are listed this time around where they belong - "Pop Instrumental." Finally, we have some truth in advertising.

There are lots of nominations of great merit this time around. I was particularly glad to see the jazz vocal category dominated by mid-career singers who have worked so hard through the years to advance their craft - Kurt Elling, Roberta Gambarini, Luciana Souza and Tierney Sutton - with Randy Crawford joining from the senior generation. Also, kudos to Vince Mendoza for his THREE nominations in the best instrumental arrangement tiers for work on three different projects.

If The Recording Academy had a category for best humorous song title, Paquito d'Rivera would be a shoo-in. D'Rivera is nominated in the best instrumental composition category for his tune "Borat in Syracuse" from his CD Jazz-Clazz.

The Grammy Awards will be bestowed January 31 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

CDs of Note

Hal Weary, A Rendezvous with Déjà Vu (Musichal Entertainment)
There’s more than a little influence of Horace Silver on this hard-bop project. This is a good thing, as rarely can you gone with the funky sort of swing that graced the best of Silver’s projects. All right, all of his projects. Weary, a New York-based pianist, has strong support from trumpeter Kenyatta Beasley, saxophonist Stantawn Kendrick, bassist Gregory Williams and drummer Jerome Jennings. All of the playing is stellar. My favorites: “Hangin’ with Horace” and “Outback Blues.” The one non-original is Weary’s Garnerish take on “Tenderly,” which he plays solo for the first half before the full quintet joins in. Weary slips back into solo mode for the coda of this great arrangement.

Mike Longo, Sting Like A Bee (Consolidated Artists Productions)
Pianist Mike Longo has never really grabbed the attention enjoyed by many other first-tied pianists, but he certainly belongs among the elite. Sting Like a Bee is a natural follow to his 2007 CD Float Like a Butterfly. On this one, Longo uses the swinging jazz trio format, with bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Lewis Nash along for the ride, to pay tribute to some of his mentors.
Longo studied with Oscar Peterson in the early 1960s and worked extensively as pianist for trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie starting in 1966; the association spanning a quarter-century and including several years as the band’s musical director.

This CD is a wonderful showcase of Longo’s touch, sense of time and imagination. My clear favorite: the trio’s extended and interesting take on Cole Porter’s classic “Love for Sale.” It is filled with inventiveness and swings hard - for more than nine minutes. Three is much to savor, including a rather delicate take on Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story.”

Marbin, Marbin (Marbin)
There’s nothing like consistency. The duo, the recording and the label all carry the same name. This is a collaboration by guitarist Dani Rabin and saxophonist Danny Markovitch, whose atmospheric sound often is reminiscent of the classic Paul Winter Consort. There is a bit more bite to the playing in spots, particularly on “Mei.” It’s quite an output, considering that except for one track with added vocals by Mat Davidson, this features just guitar and saxophone with some electronic enhancements. The strongest connections to mainstream jazz occur on “Abadaba” and “Rust.” Mainstream purists may not like it all, but this fits the grand scheme of jazz these days in a very pleasant way. No doubt, you’ll get a good chuckle from the cover art.