Tuesday, December 27, 2011

For a Night, Jazz Shines in America

Sonny Rollins receives Kennedy Center Honor on CBS television

It actually happened a few weeks ago, the night Theodore Walter Rollins was among people from the arts receiving the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C., in front of the President and First Lady and hundreds of people associated with the arts. But the event aired tonight (Dec. 27) on CBS television … a national network. Once upon a time that might not be a big deal for jazz, but in recent decades, national exposure is rare. And who better to be the man this year than Sonny. Age 81 and still going strong.

It’s awarded annually for exemplary lifetime achievement in the performing arts. Sonny, the great living master of jazz, has repeatedly said it is one he accepted for people like Coleman Hawkins and Thelonious Monk and their ilk … the greats he admired who never got to attain such awards. He appreciates that through the award, jazz--America’s classical music, as he and others dub it--gets exposure through the event. (Sonny also received, earlier this year, the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the U.S. government. He felt similarly about that award).

[Photo: Sonny Rollins at Newport Jazz Festival, 2008, © R.J. DeLuke]

It was a good night for jazz. The network spent about 20 minutes on Meryl Streep, well known as one of the great actresses. You can’t find anyone who doesn’t know who she is. Sonny’s portion followed on the broadcast, and they didn’t scrimp. It was about the same length, started by a witty, yet to-the-point, intro by Bill Cosby, a valued friend of jazz, and including a short bio film summarizing Rollins’ career. Short, but this is TV. It was still presented to a national audience and was fair treatment.

Then the public got some real sweet jazz performed by musicians like Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltrane, who were great, backed by people like Christian McBride, Billy Drummond, Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette. Jimmy Heath was there, as was Roy Hargrove. Truncated for TV, yes, but what there was, was a fine taste of jazz. Yo Yo Ma, another of the honorees, was digging it, as the cameras cut to the box where the honoress were seated. So was Michele Obama, who Sonny says is the REAL jazz fan of the First Family, formed by a long time of listening to the music in her household while growing up. The great Rollins classic “St. Thomas” ended the musical segment, even though many watching probably didn’t know the song.

I’ve seen networks give jazz VERY short shrift on occasions when it could have done sooooo much better. CBS gets a thumbs up this time from me. It was a good night. The jazz was cookin' and presented with some elegance to the nation. And Sonny is surely happier about that than his own accolades. All over the world, he notes, people love jazz. But he feels the U.S. needs to do more. The government needs to do more to help the musicians who play it, and help get the music to wider ahttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifudiences.

It had to be a great weekend--the weekend of Dec. 4 when it actually took place and was filmed by CBS--for the saxophone colossus. He was toasted by Bill Clinton and lauded by Obama (not on the telecast). But fun? “Well, not fun. It’s not exactly my style,” Rollins said to me last week. Sonny is a private man, modest. He knows his place in the pantheon of the music, but his life is about learning, exploring music, and “trying to get along and do the right things.”

So as the audience gave him a great ovation on a couple of occasions, Sonny stood, modest but distinctly noble, and accepted the admiration. But he’http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifs already on to his next thing. Off the road for a bit, his tour schedule is being compiled for 2012 and there are other things on the horizon. (Story on Sonny coming to All About Jazz near you, soon).

Viva Sonny Rollins. And let’s hope his desire to see jazz blossom more on its native soil, like it has around the globe, comes to fruition.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Best Albums of 2011

That time again. A reluctant glance at some fine records. Take with two grains of salt ... a pint of ale and two fingers of Wild Turkey ain't a bad idea either ...

The annual process of selecting any list of “best” for the year is a precarious endeavor, especially in music where one man’s Miles is another man’s Megadeath. But it’s an entertaining exposure and it also is a good way to look back and remember what good disks were produced.

Another problem is that each year there is sooo much good music recorded. Some great music. Bit that is also in the ear of the behearer. Additionally, while as a writer I do get exposure to more music than the average fan, there is a ton of music I don’t receive (I am not a CD reviewer). For example, I would have loved to have heard Bill Frisell’s John Lennon project and John Scofield’s ballad album, among others. And hopefully I will, eventually. But what I don’t hear, obviously, isn’t up for inclusion.

I’m truly grateful for the music I do receive, as it helps a person keep tabs on what’s out there; keep a finger on the pulse of the scene. And this year there are more people who are definitely not household names on the list, the result of being exposed to it. Every year some superb albums come from the less well-lit corners of the jazz scene.

[PHOTOS: From top: David Binney, Newport Jazz Fest, 2010; Ambrose Akinmusire, Newport Jazz Fest, 2011; Tineke Postma, North Sea Jazz fest, 2011; Joe Lovano, North Sea Jazz Fest, 2011; Gretchen Parlato, Newport Jazz Fest, 2010. All © R.J. DeLuke]

As always, compiling the list means worthy disks are left out. This isn’t the bible, it’s an observation about some of the outstanding music I’ve run across. They are not in any order and I do not decree a single Album of the Year.

Joe Lovano and Us Five: Birdsongs (Blue Note). Of course Lovano is a heavyweight no question. The quality of his albums -- and his playing -- is always. US Five is a great group and their exploration of Charlie Parker is innovative and exciting. Lovano is so fucking good. This band is also kick ass live and shouldn’t be missed.

Ambrose Akinmusire: When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)
Akinmusire is a unique musician and individual. This came close to breaking my Album of the Year edict, just by the way this trumpeter has achieved a personal approach to music and sound at a young age. And still developing. And eager to develop. My conversations with him have been enlightening and this is one cat to keep an ear on. Strong band, captivating music.

James Farm: James Farm (Nonesuch). James Farm is a relatively new band of extraordinary musicians that I hope steers this ship for a long time, even though they all are quite busy outside the group. Of course it’s Joshua Redman, Matt Penman, Eric Harland and Aaron Parks. Sometimes “star” groups go astray, but this is truly a group of comrades with no ego center and a communal approach. It’s only going to get better. Love this group!

Tineke Postma: The Dawn of Light, (Challenge Records) This young saxophonist from Holland has one of the sweet saxophone sounds I’ve heard come down the pike in a while. And her approach, full of warmth and wonder, is charming. She’s been gigging in the U.S. over the years and playing with heavy cats, including Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic project. This is with her own band of guys from the Netherlands. They were excellent at the North Sea Jazz Fest in July.

Jonathan Kriesberg: Shadowless (New For Now Music) This is one slick guitarist with a fine band featuring Will Vinson’s sax. Love the smoothness of the tunes, the execution, solos. Very crisp and quite appealing.

David Binney: Graylen Epicenter (Mythology) Binney is a guy who's really emerging in the last couple years. Dynamic player with an open musical mind and a spirited attack. He plays with the best cats on the Brooklyn scene and is highly respected. A sharp musical mind with an eagerness to explore.

Chantale Gagne: Wisdom of the Water (CDBY)
A fine piano player with a joyous expression to her touch, and a great band including Lewis Nash and Peter Washington. Joe Locke’s vibes are blissful throughout, matching the pianists buoyant feel. Look forward to more from this lady.

John Daversa; Junk wagon; the Big Band Album (BFM Jazz)
This music has a lot of modern pop rhythmic things in places, including rap, and an electric bass. It’s dynamic and energetic. Daversa doesn’t take any ethereal flights of fancy like many of today’s arrangers. He’s charging out of the gate, but shows a lot of different colors and levels of intensity. Grows and stands strong with repeated listens.

Noah Haidu: Slipstream (Posi-Tone)
This is kind of mainstream, though there are moments outside of that, but the group of younger cats wails throughout. Even with names like Jeremy Pelt and Jon Irabagon, there’s no question pianist Haidu is in charge. He got the right feel and the album is swinging fun throughout. Great execution.

Armen Donelian: Leapfrog (Sunnyside Records) This veteran pianist puts out consistently good music, this time choosing to investigate the quintet setting again. His writing is attractive and the overall feel is very cool. Mike Moreno’s guitar blends nicely with the melodies and harmonies and Tyshawn Sorey’s drums are always what the music calls for, fast or slow.

John Escreet: The Age We Live In (Mythology Records) This young Brit transplanted to Brooklyn is making a strong name for himself. These tunes are searching and propulsive, aided by Binney, who seems to be on a lot of good albums over the last couple years. Serious music.

Michael Pedicin: Ballads … Searching for Peace (Jazz Hut)
This album is just what it says it is. And wonderfully refreshing on a scene where everyone is trying to be “different” and “innovative” to varying degrees of success. These are ballads featuring the big, luscious tenor sound of Pedicin. Guitarist John Valentino provides a couple originals, but ballads. Barry Miles piano is equally sweet. This is first-class gorgeous music that we should never lose. It’s not just old standards either. Wayne Shorter and McCoy Tyner’s divine “Search for Peace” are there. I recommend it for getting laid. (Does it HAVE to always be the art?)

Jimmy Owens: The Monk Project (IPO)
I like Owens’s treatment of Monk material for seven musicians including Marcus Strickland, Kenny Barron, Wycliffe Gordon and Howard Johnson. It has interesting twists and stellar solos. Nice.

Sonny Rollins: Road Shows: (Doxy Music) Another grouping of live Sonny from past shows. Anything liver from Sonny is worthy of high praise. This one includes the historic encounter with Ornette Coleman, which, frankly, doesn’t do a lot for me, though I understand the significance. But Sonny rules, as always.

Stan Killian: Unified (Sunnyside)
Didn’t know who this cat was when I first spun the disk. Rich tenor sound; fluid and full of ideas. He’s got that something extra that will push him from the pack, perhaps. Solid tunes, good band, and appearances by Binney and Pelt and Roy Hargrove. This is a very sharp recording.

Ernie Krivda: Blues for Pekar (Capri) I just like the way this veteran tenor sax man rips through the material. He’s got an edge. Kind of no-holds-barred. A tarnished sound and he wails throughout this. I probably paid attention to it first because I liked the late writer/cartoonist Harvey Pekar. But it quickly moved beyond that. This is just basic hot 11 p.m. nightclub, here-it-is jazz.

Silvano Monasterios: Unconditional (Savant)
This is a piano player I didn’t know from Adam, but it’s a cooking disk of original music that has different moods, but always driving and engaging. Keep it up.

Bill Carrothers Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard (Pirouet) A fine piano trio outing from a very tasty and talented player. Group interplay and many bright moments throughout. Love the live feel. Carrothers flies under the radar, but he’s one talented cat.

It’s here I’m going to mention a few Pirouet Records, which seems to crank out quality music each month. Jochen Reuckert’s Somewhere Meeting Nobody is the drummer’s record, but features the wonderful tenor of Mark Turner and some tasty guitar from Brad Shepik. The stalwart Penman is on bass. This could have made people’s lists, as could the piano-guitar duets outing of Marc Copland and John Abercrombie, Speak to Me. Abercrombie sounds great, melodic and harmonic, away from the wild side. Another Marc Copland record, Crosstalk, features Greg Osby’s sax. Sweet., And Copland is a good player. Some kudos to Pirouet.


Miles Davis Quintet, Live In Europe 1967, The Bootleg Sessions. What else? This could be the best music put out in 2011. Or since who knows when. One could argue that this group -- Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Miles -- is the greatest ever, anywhere. And many do argue that. This is live music from the and the apex of their collective powers. Three disks and a DVD. A stone-cold motherfucker.


Not a lot pop to my head this year, but everything Kurt Elling does is worthy and The Gate (Concord) is no exception. Pop Tunes like “Norwegian Wood” exposed in new lights, and jazz stuff like “Blue and Green.”

Gretchen Parlato’s style and delivery is unique. The Lost and Found (Obliqsound) is filled with unusual tunes but her emotive quality and sense of seeking bring the art together. And she enlists first-rate cats like pianist Taylor Eigsti and drummer Kendrick Scott. This grows on you.

Karrin Allyson’s voice and harmonious piano sounds shine brightly on Round Midnight (Concord), a collection of standards done is classy, sensual style. I haven’t heard enough of this disk yet, but thought enough of the quality that it belongs here. She’s a very consistent and quality artist who really puts herself into her music.

… waiting for the next disk from Roberta. (She knows who she is)