Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy holidays

Christmas Eve is a most wonderful time to wish all of you the happiest of holiday seasons.

Christmas and its related holidays are a great time each of us to reflect on our blessings - including our friends - and the ability to persevere through unexpected challenges that we or our friends face with determination and fortitude when they occur.

Have you had your fill yet of holiday music?

I'm close to the edge, but do want to share a clear non-jazz favorite.

Because of its wonderful animation, this one ranks right up there with Louis Armstrong's version of "Zat You, Santa Claus?" and Ella Fitzgerald's take on "Santa Claus Got Stuck in my Chimney. "

Here's a link to The Drifters' classic.

Enjoy and happy holidays...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tops in Jazz - 2010

As the year winds down, I'll be preparing my Year-in-Jazz retrospective. In advance of that, here's a rundown of my favorites among 2010's new releases and historic recordings.

Always keep in mind that top 10 listings of this sort reflect what the reviewer gets a chance to hear during the year.. as well as 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.

If you haven't done so already, these are projects I recommend you check out.

The 10 best new jazz releases of 2010, listed alphabetically:
- Dave Bass Quartet, Gone (Dave Bass Music)
- Lisa Engelken, Caravan (Little Angel)
- Tamir Hendelman, Destinations (Resonance)
- Dave Holland Octet, Pathways (Dare2)
- Christine Jensen, treelines (Justin Time)
- Pat Metheny, Orchestrion (Nonesuch)
- Jean-Michel Pilc, True Story (Dreyfus)
- Ellen Rowe Quartet, Wishing Well (PKO Records)
- Omar Sosa & NDR Bigband, Ceremony (Otá)
- Jacky Terrasson, Push (Concord Jazz)

The 10 best new songs of the year, listed alphabetically:
- John Britton, “Anticipation” from The Britton Brothers Band, Uncertain Living (Record Craft)
- Gerald Cleaver, “From a Life of the Same Name” from Jeremy Pelt, Men of Honor (HighNote)
- Loren Daniels, “Point A to Point A,” title track, Reggie Pittman-Loren Daniels Quartet (self-produced)
- Tamir Hendelman, “Babushka” from Destinations (Resonance)
- Pat Metheny, “Spirit of the Air,” from Orchestrion (Nonesuch)
- Chris Potter, “Sea of Mamara” from Dave Holland Octet, Pathways (Dare2)
- Jean-Michel Pilc, “PBH Factor,” from True Story, (Dreyfus)
- Aldo Romano, “Gamelan” from Origine, Dreyfus Jazz)
- Ellen Rowe, “For That Which Was Living, Lost” from Wishing Well (PKO Records)
- Luciano Troja, “Earl and Bill” from At Home With Zindars (self-produced)

The five best historical/reissues of 2010, listed alphabetically:
- Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (Sony/Legacy)
- Stan Getz/Kenny Barron, People Time: The Complete Recordings (Sunnyside)
- Vince Guaraldi, Peanuts Portraits (Concord Music)
- Freddie Hubbard, Red Clay (CTI)
- Art Pepper, Unreleased Art, Vol. V: Stuttgart (Widow’s Taste)

The best jazz-related DVD of 2010:
- Sarah Vaughan -The Divine One, Masters of American Music Series (EuroArts)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Ben Wolfe Quintet, Live at Smalls (Smalls Live)
This new CD from bassist Ben Wolfe is a terrific live recording from his quintet’s appearance last May at Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village. The tight band includes tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Ryan Kisor, pianist Luis Perdomo and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.
The musicality and the energy are very strong here. Favorite tracks among the nine Wolff originals: “Block 11,” “Telescope,” the playful “Double Czech” and the Monkish “Unjust.” Kisor turns in a mighty solo on “For the Great Sonny Clark.” Strickland tones down his fiery tenor on the beautiful ballad “I’ll Know You More.” Kudos to Wolfe as a player, composer and leader. All three of those roles come together here.

Bill O’Connell, Rhapsody in Blue (Challenge)
Pianist Bill O’Connell has spent most of his 30-
year-plus career in the Latin jazz arena (Mongo Santa Maria, Dave Valentin, Gato Barbieri, the Fort Apache Band, Conrad Herwig’s “Latin Side” projects, etc.) and it has served him well. The Latin rhythms and vitality are a strong part of his music, including this fine CD. The core band, with Luques Curtis or David Finck on bass, Steve Berrios on drums and Steve Slagle on sax, is augmented by percussionist Richie Flores, vibes player Dave Samuels and trombonist Herwig on several tracks.
One of the most intriguing is the sometimes laid-back, sometimes fiery Latin lilt given to George Gershwin’s classic “Rhapsody in Blue.” There’s a lot to like here, including seven O’Connell originals. Check it out. Then repeat. I’m betting you will, because it’s that strong.

Kevin Eubanks, Zen Food (Mack Avenue)
This is guitarist Kevin Eubanks' firs release as a leader since departing "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" after 18 years as its musical director. The CD title is a standalone, not a pickup from a track on the CD. In Eubanks' mind, it means music is food for the soul.
He's joined on this jazz buffet by drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith, saxophonist Bill Pierce, keyboard player Gerry Etkins and bassist Rene Camacho. Favorite tracks include "The Dirty Monk," "Los Angeles," which is a very strong feature for Pierce, as well as a showcase for his sympatico with Philly native Eubanks, the leader's beautiful ballad "I Remember Loving You" and their take on Etkins' "G.G" (short for Gerry's Groove).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Clever barometer on musician costs

So how are today’s musicians doing economically compared to past years? Not bad if you take the word of the 2010 PNC Christmas Price Index.® The Wealth Management division of Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank is just out with its 27th annual analysis of the gifts contained in The Twelve Days of Christmas.

The survey shows this year’s total price tag rose$1,974 to $23,439, a gain of 9.3 percent. One of the biggest factors was the added cost of wages and benefits impacting some entertainers

The cost of hiring the 11 Pipers Piping ($2,356) and 12 Drummers Drumming ($2,552) each rose 3.1 percent after seeing no rise last year. That’s good news, but a far cry from 1999 and 2003. In those years, both the pipers and drummers had raises exceeding 20 percent. Those were the only double-digit raises for musicians since the PNC index was started in 1984.

For the birds, you say?

You may be right. The Two Turtle Doves increased 78.6 percent to $100 and the cost of Three French Hens surged 233 percent to $150 this year. And the Partridge (not factoring in the Pear Tree) was up 20 percent to $12.