Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Top Recordings - 2012

A ton of fine music came out in 2012, like most years, making these year-end lists very difficult. A lot we don’t get to hear. So that limits some. For example, I’ve not yet heard the 2012 disks of Jack DeJohnette, Christian Scott or John McLaughlin and the Fourth Dimension. Having seen each of them live in 2012, it’s easy to know their disks must be superb. Their concerts were fabulous. Also, Top 10? Not happening. It’s a smattering. I did whittle some worthy recordings away. And separated out a Vocalist section. Let’s get to it. No particular order:

Jazz Soul Seven, “Impressions of Curtis Mayfield“ (BFM Jazz). thought this might be over-funked, formulaic jazz before I slapped it in the machine. Wrong from the get go. It grooves like hell, but it swings too. All the players are outstanding, creative and improvisational, without too much “look at me.” Terri Lynne Carrington’s grooves are sweet, but by no means simple. And Wallace Roney and Erie Watts blare their horns with jazz pride. Phil Upchurch is tasty as hell, as is Russ Ferrante on piano. Let’s not forget the ever-hip music of Mayfield, a master in his field.

[Wallace Roney at the North Sea Jazz Festival, 2912. © R.J. DeLuke]

John Daversa, “Artful Joy” (BFM Jazz). Daversa has a real knack for writing, arranging and getting a band to play their asses off. Easier said than done. His tunes are a marvel of modern hip, slightly genre-bending, and just plain exuberant. He travels a lot of musical ground without losing interest. And the playing is hot shit. (see previous blog).

Marshall Gilkes, “Sound Stories” (Alternate Side Records). Another album where the leader shines with the pen, as well as his instrument, trombone. Gilkes is a monster on the ‘bone and is matched on the front line by Donny McCaslin, who’s a bitch on this record. The rhythm section makes each twist and turn easily. Great melodies too. The many compositional colors here really shed the light on Gilkes as a cat who is a superlative musician. This is hot shit.

[Marshall Gilkes at the Newport Jazz festival, 2012. © R.J. DeLuke]

Branford Marsalis, “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes” (Marsalis Music). Band that’s been cookin’ for a long time. Different textures, different feels. All directed through Marsalis’ vision and his powerful horn. Calderazzo remains one of the unsung excellent pianists. The record can groove you and scorch you. It‘s soft side is delectable.

Jonathan Blake, “The Eleventh Hour” (Sunnyside Records). A great debut by this young drummer who enlightens the music of many a hot bands on the scene today. For his first album, he brings in strong players like Ben Street on bass and pianists Robert Glasper and Kevin Hays. Saxes are Jaleel Shaw and Mark Turner. But they are there to serve Blake’s vision, which is sharp. Real engaging stuff, driven by outstanding drum work, of course.

Adam Cruz, “Milestone” (Sunnyside). Another debut from a drummer, this disk shows the veteran Cruz holding court to carry out his own compositions. The music is outstanding start to end, carried out by BYC cats that Cruz has played with and known for a while--Chris Potter, Steve Cardenas, Ed Simon, Steve Wilson, Ben Street and Miguel Zenon. They’re all on their game, and Cruz propels them with his intricate percussive statements. Cruz should get more opportunities to be a front man, as this disk shows.

Luis Perdomo , “Universal Mind” (RKM Music). Perdomo is a monstrous pianist and this trio date is remarkable. It was also the fruition of his dream to one day play with Jack DeJohnette, who is killin’ throughout the recording. As is Perdomo. The music is written by Perdomo to allow the group to take off, without worrying too much about arrangements, and they do. Exceptional.

[Luis Perdomo at Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival, 2010. © R.J. DeLuke]

David Gilmore, “Numerology; Live at the Jazz Standard” (Evolutionary Music). This music kicks ass. The music is enthralling, exotic, played by a group of real heavyweights who bring Gillmore’s amazing music to brilliant life. Everyone is in top form (Christian McBride, Miguel Zenon, Tain Watts, Mino Cinelu among them) Claudia Acuna adds occasional ethereal vocals. Luis Perdomo (see above) is absolutely fiendish on the piano. Gilmore’s guitar, surprisingly, doesn’t really take center stage but wails with delight. It’s a group effort, but Gilmore’s the cat behind it all.

Michael Pedicin, “Live @ The Loft” (Jazz Hutt) Granted I fell in love with his ballads album last year, which caused my ears to turn toward this disk. But it holds up just as fine. Pedicin comes through the tradition of the greats, Dexter, Sonny, et. al, with a beautiful warm tone and great creativity. This time a it’s a live disk with a varied program and his band is up to the task. Pedicin is a joy.

Ehud Asherie, with Harry Allen, Upper West Side (Posi-Tone). This is all about Harry Allen. His sumptuous sound, way with classic melodies, his harmonic interweaving, his creativity. Warmth. Like Pedicin, a joy as he strolls thru great songs.

[Harry Allen, Newport Jazz Festival, 2010. © R.J. DeLuke]

Philip Dizack, “End of an Era” (Truth Revolution Records) Great craftsmanship in the writing of the mostly original compositions, augmented beautifully by string sections. Some of the fine New York cats add a lot, including Kendrick Scott’s drums, Aaron Parks piano. Dizack’s trumpet dances delightfully throughout.

Duduka Da Fonseca, “Samba Jazz - Jazz Samba” (Anzic). This band plays this kind of music so beautifully. Pianist Helio Alves and Da Fonseca are long time colleagues and it shows. Anat Cohen, always wonderful, digs into the material with fire. Strong from start to end. Great spirit.

Andrea Brachfeld, “Lady of the Island” (Zoho). This woman can bop and groove and plays the hell out of the various flutes. Great tone and harmonic-melodic sensibilities. She’s less percussive than some flautists, which probably makes her a more complete, natural player. Bill O’Connell on piano is outstanding and there are guest spots by Wallace Roney and Wycliffe Gordon. Mostly cover material. There’s a beautiful Latin feel to Herbie’s “Eye of the Hurricane.” She also tackles Freddie Hubbard and Duke.

Brubeck Brothers, “Lifetimes” (Blue Forest Records). Maybe the best recording of this outstanding, longstanding, and somehow underrated band. It jumped on my list when I first heard it in June. Crisply executed by four superior musicians. It’s a record with a definite nod to Dave. It might be held in a different light now, due to the recent passing of the icon, but it stands as a great testament. The tunes associated with the Great Father Who Made Them All have really outstanding arrangements and bring a bright new slant to the material. There is other material there too, equally strong. The playing is excellent. (By the by, Dave heard it all and loved what the cats did with his stuff).

[Brubeck Brothers, Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival, 2008. © R.J. DeLuke]

Erena Terakubo with Legends, “New York Attitude” (King Records) It’s the American debit of a young Japanese alto saxophonist who plays with flare, technique and feeling. When it swings, it’s like mad, and in between it’s first-rate stuff. It definitely helps that Kenny Barron and Ron Carter play their asses off in the band. But it’s a real fine album, and Terakubo is very strong, whether fast or slow. She holds court admirably. There’s sure to more from her.

Riccardo Fassi, “Sitting in a Song” (Alice Recordings) A varied collection of compositions by pianist Fassi with first-rate New York cats; trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, sax men Gary Smulyan and Dave Binney, drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Essiet Essiet and trombonist Andy Hunter. Glides along terrifically, fast or slow. Solos are hot. Great feel to this disk.


Denise Donatelli, “Soul Shadows,” (Savant Records) She has hooked up with excellent pianist Geoffrey Keezer before. Great musical pair. Geoffrey provides just the right landscapes--intricate, intelligent, but something the bones can feel. And Denise steps in with class and style and makes it a full painting. Great selection of seldom heard tunes, save “Too Late Now,” which is also a treat because it’s an exquisite duet between Donatelli’s rich voice and Keezer’s luscious piano sound. Grammy should go here, but she’s least known of those nominated.

Gregory Porter, “Be Good” (Motema). A most dynamic vocalist out there. A stellar recording, writing and performing. He’s an extraordinary live performer. This studio disk is similar. Passion, timing, phrasing, on-the-spot twists and turns. Rich sound. Headed for stardom. A lot of young new thing” singers will flare out while Porter will still be standing. The title song will be in his “classic” category when he’s got 15-20 years under his belt. It might be one that he won’t be able to leave out of a set even when he’s 70.

[Gregory Porter, North Sea Jazz fest at Curacao, 2012. © R.J. DeLuke]

Akula Allrich, “Live! Uniquely Standard” (Self produced) I listen to a lot of singers. Many are pedestrian. This was a great surprise. A soulful singer that has jazz I her bones. Great emotion and uplifting. A fine array of covers, with tunes like “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood.” Also Miriam Makeba and Billy Strayhorn. The blues drips from “Black Coffee.” Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” grabs you. This a helluva disk. More, please. (Does the world know yet that Kris Funn is a stone cold motherfucker on bass? Ask Christian Scott).

Michael Occhipinti & Shine On, “The Universe of John Lennon” (True North Records). This may be a love or hate thing for Lennon fans, who don’t like to see works altered too much. Occhipinti brings these important, poignant Lennon works out front in fine fashion, with gorgeous arrangements with greater rhythm richness, good jazz horns, and fine instrumentation all around. Lennon couldn’t sing worth a shit, and that certain raggedness was part of the allure. Like Dylan, the importance lay in the lyrics and simplicity of structure, not in being pristine. Nothing ragged here. Rather, there is a true beauty brought to each tune. But it fits fine, because it’s good music to begin with. And it’s good to hear these songs again, especially “Working Class Hero.”

Honorable… (some of these could interchange with the above. Tough choices):

Medeski, Martin & Wood, “Free Magic” (Indirecto Records)

Anat Cohen, “Claroscuro” (Anzic)

Joe Locke/Geoffrey Keezer Group, “Signing” (Motema)

Mort Weiss, “I’ll Be Seeing You” (SMS Jazz)

Jeff Coffin & the Mu’Tet, “Into the Air” (Ear Up Records)

Native Soul, “One Mind” (American Showplace Music)

Sean Wayland, “Click Track Jazz: Slave to the Machine” (Seed Music Records)

Amanda Ruzza, “This Is What Happened” (Pimienta Records)

Adrian Cunningham, “Walkabout” (New Market Music)

Chad Wackerman, “Dreams Nightmares and Improvisations” (self produced)

Bill Cantrall & Axiom, “Live at Kitano” (Upswing) And kudos to some fine cats in my neck o’ the woods (upstate NY)who put out some fine disks (Scroll down for more specifics in previous blog)

Mike Benedict and Bopitude, “Five in One” (Planet Arts)

Brian Patneaude, “All Around Us” (WEPA Records)

Keith Pray, “Confluence” (Artist Recording Collective)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Golfing With Branford

Saxophonist Marsalis Expounds on the State of Jazz While Walking the Links

It’s not often one gets to chat seriously about music with a top-flight musician who is making his comments in between shots on the golf course. Unusual to say the least. Such was the case recently with Branford Marsalis.

Wait. Marsalis? One of the hard-liners from the 1980s? You’re fucking with me.

Nope. The conversation took place via telephone as Marsalis, wearing an earphone, strode Treyburn Country Club in Durham, NC, where he lives. I offered to postpone. He handled it all in stride.

“We’re breaking the mold. You can (write), ‘Wait a minute. He hit his ball 20 yards to the left, and then cursed.’ And go on from there.”

[Photo: Branford and Joey Calderazzo at Newport Jazz Fest, 2009. © R.J. DeLuke]

The conversation covered many bases, disrupted on occasion by the swing of his own club, or by ball-busting comments to the rest of the foursome, which included the pianist of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, Joey Calderazzo. It was the basis for a story at the All About Jazz website. Marsalis, now 52, has mellowed, even by his own admission. Things in the music business that he can’t control roll off his back. Even if they still irk him. That said, he’s as forthright as ever on topics that come up and his knife is still sharp when he looks at the world of jazz and what he sees as its blemishes. His take is different and merits some attention.

As a youngster, he was one of the Young Lions. He and his brother Wynton, tried to play it all. They flexed their chops and burned ahead. Young exuberance. It’s different now. There’s a mellowness. Not in his playing. His playing over the years is more of a distillation. Putting that aggression through a filter and finding the better stuff on the other side. He still forges ahead as one of the finer saxophonists of his generation. But he tries not to get too much ahead of the audience, he says. He claims too many people in jazz music are doing that nowadays.

There‘s a lot of cussing going on. Part of golf. Good natured stuff. “I curse before I swing. I do more cursing than swinging,” I reveal about my own golf game. “No,” he tries to correct, “It’s swing. Then curse. It’s not curse, then swing. It’s swing, then curse.” I never did have that down pat.

His 2012 CD, Four MFs Playin’ Tunes (Marsalis Music) is as advertised, the band, spurred on by relatively new drummer Justin Faulkner (“Tain” Watts had been with Branford forever), weaves and bobs. They burn and play beautiful ballads. The leader says the group tries to kill it each night. Might not quite grab it each time. But they’re reaching. And they’re mindful that the stuff doesn’t rocket past the audience.

“I’m not disavowing the complexity. The shit we play is complex. Listen to the record. But at the end of the day, when you hear people talking about why jazz is not popular, they have a million reasons. Radio, they’re playing pop music. They blame all this bullshit. People who listen to music listen to really simple things. The song has to have a good beat and the song has to have a melody they can relate to. When you listen to modern jazz, they have neither. They have guys who don’t know how to play swing, who are playing ostinato grooves that aren’t funky at all. So they lose the groove part. Then the melodies aren’t singable.”

“At the end of the day, yeah, there’s all this complex shit that needs to go on. Much like the thing that supposedly got me in trouble for saying about Cecil Taylor -- It ain’t the audience’s job to grasp that. That’s our job. We’re supposed to learn all that shit … you learn all this shit, then you communicate it to people in a way they can understand it.”

His swing and strike of the ball is audible. “Uh-oh. Uh-oh.“ Ball’s in the air. “Cut please. Cut for me. No? … Fuck.” Part of the game. “OK,” he resigns himself as he heads toward the frustrating little white orb which wasn‘t quite where it was supposed to go.

“When you listen to a jazz radio station, it’s a style of music where all the shit sounds the same. Which is kind of like the pop music is, ironically. Except (in jazz) the solos might be more complex … They have that same formulated nature. I am not interested in participating in shit like that. I’m just not. Guys do a song. They have a bass vamp they start the song with. Eight bars of vamp, then the melody comes in. The trumpet player plays, the saxophone player plays, the piano player plays. The bass player will probably play. The drummer takes a solo then the head comes out. Then when the song is over, the song ends twice.

“Even with Blakey’s band they would just go, [he hums an ending … da-da DET, dah dah dah, dah-da deh-da] and the song ends. Now they do [repeats: da-da DET, dah dah dah, dah-da deh-da, then he hums a faster tempo--a mish mash where the line is blurred and tails off in a different direction]. Then they hit a chord--Bang. So the song has two endings. It’s just little things. You already played a long-ass solo. Do you really need to solo some more at the end of the song? The structure of the song and the function of the song and the purpose of the song is just pushed aside for this ideology of: Listen to how great I sound. I don’t buy it.”

He’s honest. But not upset. Hell, he’s enjoying his day on the links.

“It used to bother me. Joey and I often talk and complain about shit we hear. We complain about it, but talking about them is not going to make us better. If their goal is to get better, then they’ll hear the shit we’re talking about. If they don’t hear it, OK. They hear it or they don’t.”

“I’m doing a fucking interview,” he says to the group … “It’s a 5. I double clicked, otherwise it wouldn’t have been. I’m going to leave y’all to it. I’m going to go over here so Joey doesn’t have an excuse to piss and moan,” he busts, laughing.

“After 11 years of playing with Branford, I’m still nervous to play with him,” Calderazzo said to me about a year ago. I’m comfortable, but … and I had the same thing with Mike (Brecker). Mike kept you on the top of your game … He played every performance like it was going to be his last. Branford’s attitude is not that. It’s a funny thing. My take on it is: no matter where it is, it’s just another performance. The two of them are polar opposites, but it works for each one of them. It very interesting. I’ve learned from both of them. Branford is very nonchalant” Also, said the pianist, “Branford is undoubtedly my best friend.”

Says Marsalis between golf shots, “Somebody asked me about European jazz and I used to have this long explanation. It was such a dishonest conversation and I don’t speak the language. But then I find out (European) writers were writing that when it was brought up, I began to get agitated and angry. Which isn’t true. Sometimes when I talk I get agitated, but it’s as I get excited. So now, I just say, ‘That shit’s great.’ As long as I don’t sound like that, they are awesome. That‘s how I feel about a lot of this shit. If people think it’s great--there’s no evidence of record sales or ticket sales that the shit is great--but if that’s what they think is great, more power to them.

“I’m hittin’ ‘em OK. I’m playing bogey golf so far. I had two good shots, one bad shot and two putts.”

“I just did a gig, a small gig, in Atlanta, for a golf tournament. The guy’s a friend of mine and good golfer. Said he wanted me to play a tune. I said, ‘I don’t play by myself.’ He said he would get a bunch of local guys. So I meet this guy. At the beginning of it, Mac Davis played. He wrote songs for Elvis. He wrote ‘In the Ghetto’ and all this stuff. So Mac’s playing and the people are screaming and hollering. So already I get it. The audience is not a jazz audience. I’m keenly aware of that. In my thinking, this should inform the decision about the song you play.

“So it’s our turn to play, and this guy plays ‘Well You Needn’t’ as fast as a motherfucker. It takes the audience about 45 seconds to start talking (among themselves). How can you be that unaware of the surroundings? We should have played ‘Cheek to Cheek’ and they would have liked it. And all of Thelonious Monk’s songs, the slower they are the better they sound. … That’s what I mean when I say there’s a disengaged understanding of the showbiz elements of music.

“I want to play jazz. I have an informed opinion on it now. I’m not 22 anymore. I have a sense of what works and what doesn’t work. There’s slight adjustments you can make and you can fuck around and accidentally have a 50-year career. Or you can choose not to do that.”

Dig or not, there’s a commitment there. A design. His band is always busy. Road tested. Ready to wail. Agree or disagree--Fine either way. Marsalis is one to stand up and be counted. The chips will fall where they may, and for he and the quartet, they’ve fallen in the right spot.

My only advice? Head down. Follow through … Cuss away.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Farewell Dave Brubeck

Iconic Pianist/Composer Is American Legend, Icon, Music Master, Worldwide Legend

Dave Brubeck would have been 92 today. Instead, the world mourns the loss of his passing yesterday at the age of 91. A master of music, particularly that which we call jazz. He knew and composed much more music than that. He did so much in his storied career that the lengthy obits in major newspapers and the tributes that will come through jazz websites and periodicals can do little more than scratch the surface.

[Photos are all mine, taken at the Newport Jazz festival in recent years. © R.J. DeLuke]

I won't even attempt to survey his career. His Washington Post obit is here.

He and Miles Davis are the two most recognizable figures to the general public in jazz history. Despite the woeful stature of jazz in America, around the glove it's hard to find anyone who doesn't know those two, even if they know nothing about their mighty musical deeds.

By all standards, Dave Brubeck was a great man. His musical accomplishments are incredibly vast. he was also, by all accounts, a gentleman, generous of spirit. He was a family man. It shows in his children, who are the same. I have never met Dave. I know Dan and Chris. They are tremendous musicians and great guys. The apples falling near the tree.

The last time I saw Dave perform was in 2011 with a band called Triple Play that includes Chris Brubeck. One wouldn't expect a 90-year-old man to come running out on stage, and he didn't. It was a slow, gingerly approach. But the man still played some important piano and he beamed like a child on Christmas. Not all the dexterity was there on the keyboards. But he played the RIGHT stuff and knew how to deliver meaningful music. It might have been his last public performance

The world has lost a fine spirit and a tremendous musician who made a vast, deep imprint on world culture, not just American culture. Buy the albums, go to YouTube. Experience Dave Brubeck. The music is intricate, intelligent, varied...and joyful.

Glad I got to see him going back to the '70s, playing with Two Generations of Brubeck, a band that included sons Darius, Dan and Chris. Glad I saw the Dave Brubeck Quartet many times through the decades. Glad I saw him over the last few years play at Newport with Tony Bennett and Wynton Marsalis. Glad we had a Dave Brubeck.

Consolences to all the Brubecks --Wife Iola; sons Dan, Chris, Darius and Matt; daughter Cathy; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, among others.