Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top Albums of 2013

Always a tricky thing is the selection of "best" of lists for the year. I don't get to hear everything that comes out, so a lot of fine music is missed. Also,, the selection itself is subject to whims. An album may hit you right from the get-go. Another might take time to grow on you, and maybe it never gets that time.

Then there are the many good albums that fall by the wayside in the selection process. Are they not as good?

So here are some of the top albums where I thought thew work was fine. In some cases the approach intrigued me and I thought it was pulled off in a great way. Other music just pleased me greatly. (despite some tendencies that being complex is the only aesthetic, I think making beautiful music is difficult. And necessary).

So, here it is. In no special order. Read it an weep .. or jump for joy.

Wayne Shorter, Without a Net (Blue Note). A great example of the superb quartet and how they converse. Always exploring.


[Wayne Shorter at the North Sea Jazz Festival, 2012. © R.J. DeLuke]

Terri Lyn Carrington, Provocative in Blue (Concord). An interpretation of a Duke Ellington outing with Max roach and Charles Mingus, which was very different for Duke. Carrington's presentation is solid and carried out with great style.

Wallace Roney, Understanding (High Note). Everything Roney puts out is quality. His playing, his approach, are high-level art. And his young group is fantastic. More people need to give him much-deserved credit.


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

Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe 1969; the Bootleg Series Vol. 2 (Sony). Exciting music from an exemplary collection of musicians who were willing to explore.

Ryan Keberle, Catharsis, (Alternate Side Records). Great interplay by this group. And Keberle, on trombone, and trumpeter Mike Rodriguez are wonderful soloists.

Alex Sipiagin, From Reality and Back (5Passion). A great trumpeter who always plays with creativity and passion. His recorded output is consistently fine.

David Weiss, Endangered Species (Motema Music). Another fine trumpeter whho puts together outstanding groups. This one is for the interpretation of Wayne Shorter music, which they do in fine fashion.

Terrence Blanchard, Magnetic (Blue Note). This guy can play. But it's the group that makes his recoding so fine. Drummer Kendrick Scott continues his wizardry. Everyone is tight, and Blanchard uses compositions from the talented people in his group, as well as his own fine writing.

Joshua Redman, Walking Shadows (Nonesuch). Love hearing Redman play ballads. He doesn't always do it live, but he kills it with his tone and phrasing.

[Joshua Redman at Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival, 2012. © R.J. DeLuke]

John Escreet, Sabatoge and Celebration (Whirl Wind Recordings). Always interesting pianist puts together a very cool suite with strings. Nice work.

Michael Pedicin, Why Stop Now? Ubuntu (Ground Blue Records). This gentleman knows the tenor sax. Great sound. Fluid. Creative. This recording covers some different styles and does it well.

Jorge Sylvester, Spirit Driven (Four). Ambitious mix of music and voice. Free sections and tradition. Twists and turns. It works on two discs. Intense and cool.

Shamie Royston, Portraits (Self Produced). Brings this pianist to the forefront for the first time. Fine player showing different moods, driven by the superb Rudy Royston on drums.

Enrico Granafei, Alone and Together (Cap Records). Outstanding, clear, robust harmonica sound on exquisite tunes. Joined by outstanding guests. This is beautiful music.

Vocalists

These were all new to me--except Porter--and delightful finds. Each has a nice style and wayy of phrasing that is captivating. Salvant has tremendous pipes and soul. The others achieve sweet satisfaction with their own approach and treatment of their material. All impressive. Porter continues to be a soulful force, sweet and swinging.. And he can write!

Nancy Harris, Dreams In Apartments (Gazelle Records)

C├ęcile McLorin Salvant, WomanChild, (Mack Avenue)

Heather Masse/Dick Hyman, Lock My Heart (Red House Records)

Suzanna Smith, Halfway Between Heaven & Love (Ink Pen Records)

Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit (Blue Note)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

You Can Be a Part of the Miles Davis Statue project

Sorry about the previous post ... it was inaccurate. They didn't unveil the statue in Alton, Ill., where he was born ...they unveiled the plans and the fact that they are going to do it. With a band and some hoopla. A little weird to have a ceremony, with a band, for plans. but--It;s MILES! The goal is to have the statue up by his 2014 birthday -- 2014. And here's how you can be a part of it: This from The Telegraph in Alton: "The Miles Davis Memorial Project has a fund-raising goal of $150,000 for the statue and landscaping. Commemorative bricks or 12x12 granite blocks can be purchased or donations can be sent to Miles Davis Memorial Project, c/o Pride Inc., 5800 Godfrey Road, Alden Hall, Godfrey, IL 62035." all the best to this effort!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Miles Davis Statue

Miles' Home Town Honors Him This Weekend (7/27)

A quick blog--

IN Alton, Ill., where Miles was actually born, though raised in east St. Louis, they are unveieling a Miles statue this Saturday. Here's an artist's rendition of the statue and its resting place: Just letting folks know!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Anat Cohen Wins Holland Music Award

Awards Keep Piling Up for this Talented Jazz Artist

Anat Cohen has taken the jazz world by storm since her arrival from Israel to the United States in 1999. She's an extraordinary musician who has the technique, yes, but always plays with plenty of heart. Always joyous. She's been winning awards in magazines and from the Jazz Journalists Association and they keep piling up.

Anat travels to the Netherlands in July for the North Sea Jazz festival, a fantastic three-day event at a venue called AHOY on Europe's largest seaport, July 12-14. She is the winner of this year's Paul Acket Award given by the festival and to artists deserving wider recognition for their extraordinary musicianship. Past winners include pianists Craig Taborn and Stefano Bolani, trumpeter Christian Scott, and guitarist Adam Rogers.

Cohen will play with her quartet and also sit down for an interview with jazz journalist Dan Oulette before a live audience.

[Anat Cohen at the Newport Jazz Festival, 2012., © R.J. DeLuke]

She plays all the saxophone, except baritone, but is known for her ferocious clarinet playing, having won the Jazz Journalists Association's Clarinetist of the Year award seven times in a row. Personally, I love the way she wails on the tenor sax. She was fabulous last year at the Newport Jazz Festival, playing with her two brothers, trumpeter Avishai and saxophonist Yuval in the band aptly named the Three Cohens.

The North Sea Fest is a fabulous event featuring great bands in all kinds of genres: jazz, blues, rock, pop, soul. It goes on at 13 stages simultaneously from about 5 in the afternoon until 1 in the morning, or a bit later. It will be a pleasure to see Anat overseas, part of a wonderful lineup that includes Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis, Sting, Bonnie Raitt, Santana, Diana Krall, Steve Swallow, Robert Glasper, Ron Carter, Eliane Elias and many, many more.

It's not an easy venture from the U.S., but hardly impossible (many from the U.S. attend each year) for people who want to immerse themselves in a weekend of great music. The food and atmosphere are equally fine. The city of Rotterdam is a very hip place; friendly and fun.

Think about it ... even if it's next year.

And congrats once again to Anat Cohen!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Brubeck To Join Walk Of Fame in Saratoga

Dave Brubeck played the Jazz Festival in Saratoga 13 different years, far more than anyone in its 35-year history

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY, has hosted a world-class jazz festival since 1978. Invented by George Wein--an icon who invented the music festival, most famously the Newport Jazz Festival (though that only scratches the surface for his accomplishments)--it has had appearances by nearly every jazz legend. Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Dexter Gordan, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn, Count Basie, Jack DeJohnette, Ray Charles, Wayne Shorter and more.

No one played the festival more often than Dave Brubeck, who first appeared at the second edition in 1979 and last appeared in 2009--a total of 13 years. He was a close friend of Wein and close to the hearts of legions of music lovers around the globe. Brubeck died last December, one day shy of his 92nd birthday.

[Dave Brubeck Quartet plays the jazz festival in Saratoga in the 1980s. Chris Brubeck is on bass. © R.J. DeLuke]

A few years back, the people at SPAC started a Walk of Fame. Similar to the famous one in Hollywood, it immortalizes some of the important people in the facility's history with a star, emblazoned with the honoree's name, placed on one of the walkways at the performance venue. SPAC hosts all kinds of musical performances. It's first jazz honoree was Wein in 2011. And on Sunday, June 30, at Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival, Brubeck will join that group.

The ceremony is scheduled for 4:40 p.m.

It will be held on a day when a couple other old-timers will be doin' it on the main SPAC stage--86-year-old crooner Tony Bennett and 76-year-old blues legend Buddy Guy. Brubeck was 89 when he last performed at the Saratoga festival.

Brubeck's career is truly legendary and he has been honored in numerous fashions over the years, thankfully. He actually last played in Saratoga in 2011, as a guest with the band Triple Play, led by his son, Chris Brubeck. He left to a roaring ovation. Wonderful, because it was to be his last public performance.

Brubeck logged so many miles, did so many gigs, won over people in so many countries, played so many notes. And he was special to SPAC and the audiences that faithfully flock to the event every year.

That star with that name will be special.

[Rumor has it Rudresh Mahanthappa, the wonderful musician who was named Jazz Journalists Association's Alto Saxophonist of the Year, will received his award from the association on Saturday, June 29, the day he will play two sets].

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Freiofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival Holds Big Promise

36th Annual Even at Saratoga Performing Arts Center Will Be Sweeeeeeeeeeet.

The jazz festival in Saratoga Springs, NY, every summer is one that fans and musicians have long appreciated. Created by George Wein and more recently under the excellent stewardship of Danny Melnick, it continues to be a gem. The festival grounds, in Spa State Park, are beautiful—pine trees, woods, serenity—are one thing that attracts folks. Fine music is another and this coming edition – June 29 and 30 is already positioned to be sweet as hell.

Among the big names that non-jazzers would know—and like it or not, it's those kinds of borderline acts that bring in the extra bodies to festivals everywhere-- are Buddy Guy and Tony Bennett. Sometimes festivals reach waaaay off the jazz path, to the point of exasperation, to get an act that will appeal to those outside the jazz pocket. Not the case in 2013. Buddy Guy has long been an artist at the pinnacle of the blues idiom. He'll be 77 in July but has lost very little of his fastball. There are few greater blues artists ever. (Some might say none better). Jazz and blues are first cousins, so bring on Buddy!

[Tony Bennett at the Newport Jazz Festival, 2010. © R.J. DeLuke]

Bennett does the jazz festival circuit every couple years. Debate if you will if he is a jazz singer or not (the same as people did with Sinatra). At the very least, this American icon has strong jazz feel and sensibilities and has always toured and recorded with jazz musicians: Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Count Basie and many more. At the Newport Jazz Festival in 2010, Dave Brubeck joined him on stage for a few numbers. A decade older than Mr. Guy, Bennett too sounds strong and vibrant. There is already buzz in the Saratoga Springs area that this music great is coming to town.

But as always is the case, the real guts of the festival lies in the overall quality of the lineup. In many cases, it's even names that jazz fans in attendance aren't very familiar with. SPAC is know for bringing in young talent that has gone on to prominence. But it's more than that. Sometimes a band under one person's name will have amazing sidemen who are superior musicians.

The Cookers, scheduled for Saturday, may not ring a bell for people. It's an outstanding group of veterans, some a little longer in the tooth than others. But superb players. Trumpeters Eddie Henderson and David Weiss are excellent. It's always a pleasure to hear Billy Harper wail on tenor sax. George Cables for way too long has been an under-appreciated master. And what jazz musicians doesn't enjoy playing over the rhythms laid down by the great Billy Hart? Craig Handy is a fiendish sax man as well, and bassist Dwayne Burno holds the bottom for some of the top groups around. This group will cook you into bad health.

McCoy Tyner, of course, is a legend and will be playing blissful music with the assistance of guitar hero John Scofield. A mighty paring. Fans of singers will not want to miss Gregory Porter, maybe the most dynamic jazz singer on the scene today. Powerful. Soulful. Swinging. He always has musicians around him that sizzle. This will be one people will talk about when they leave.

[Ingrid Jensen warms up just before hitting with the Maria Schneider Orchestra at the Newport Jazz Festival, 2010. © R.J. DeLuke]

Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen lights up every and she plays in, the large ensembles like Maria Schneider Orchestra or Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, or her own projects. She leads a group at the intimate gazebo stage that is sure to make a big impression. As should Ben Williams, a young in—demand bass player whose own group sparkles when he gets a chance to bring them out.

[Rudresh Mahanthappa at the North Sea Jazz Festival, Holland, 2012. © R.J. DeLuke]

Rudresh Mahanthappa has been gathering critical praise like a snowball rolling down a hill, and with good reason. He's a fiery player with creativity to match and his cohorts are always in step with his vision. SPAC is fortunate that he'll be playing two sets. Flammable. And then there's steady veteran baritone saxman Gary Smulyan, with rock solid sidemen like guitarist Peter Bernstein, drummer Kenny Washington and Mike LeDonne on keyboards. Pure joy.

No need to run down the full batting order, but it's full of talent, diversity of styles and great potential. Nice to see jazz festivals stick to the spirit of the art form. Anticipation is already growing in the community. That is a damn fine thing.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lovano at 60

Heralded as one of the greats of his generation (my generation), Lovano keeps moving forward. But knows where he came from.

Joe Lovano plays the shit out of the saxophone, that much is clear. He's paid all his dues, come up though the ranks, including stints with big bands like Woody Herman. But he doesn't just play. He's an artist. The sound comes from inside a big heart, informed, of course, by his study and hard work on the instrument.

[Photo: Joe Lovano at the Newport Jazz Festival, August, 2012. © R.J. DeLuke]

He seems to be everywhere. Leading his fine Us Five group, playing with John Scofield and others, sitting in with all kinds of heavy hitters. Keeping his nonet alive. His sweeping, probing,muscular sound, particularly on tenor sax, is all over. Thankfully.

A conversation with Joe is always intriguing. Affable,insightful,intelligent and at the same time down to earth. Lovano is free with his thoughts; humble; engaging. As his Us Five tour swung through the Albany, NY, area earlier this year, we spoke again and, on this day at least, the saxophonist was pensive about his life, which had reached the age of 60 years. Like the sounds that cascade from the bell of his horn, his words are hearfelt.

Sixty is in the mind, people will say. It's he new 40. The new 30. Whatever. It can be the new fucking 15, who cares? Depends on the person. State of mind, for sure. For this major artist, it's prime years and there is surely much more on his plate and on his path.

"For me, it’s about reflections and projections. Definitely, 60 is kind of a milestone you look to as you’re approaching it. Like 50 is. Like 40 is ... The thing is, you realize more and more how you got to this place. Your travels and your experiences all build on each other to create tomorrow. I feel thankful and blessed to live in the world of music, as I do, and have such a beautiful family experience. In my personal roots. My mom’s family and in my dad’s family.

His mother died in 2012 but Lovano still draws inspiration from her.

"I feel I’m just scratching the surface in a lot of ways," he said. "Everything you do fuels your ideas. I’ve been real fortunate to have played with some of the masters of the music, from the earliest times, for me. Before I even joined the Woody Herman band, the great players that I developed under in Cleveland, with my dad (Tony “Big T” Lovano) and his whole crowd. Then playing with Lonnie Smith and Jack McDuff. Moving to New York. Joining Woody’s band at 23. Standing next to Stan Getz at Carnegie Hall playing “Early Autumn,” with him playing lead.

"That time was a heavy springboard into the future for me. Looking back on it, and the way I was embraced by Woody and his incredible legacy. To know Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and Jimmy Guiffre. Flip Phillips. I played on Flip’s last recording when he was 85, called 'Swing is the Thing.' It came out on Verve. James Carter and I were guests with Flip on that date. That was incredible ... Recently, Dave Brubeck passed. He did a record--he had just turned 75--called 'Old Lions and Young Tigers.' It turned out to be Gerry Mulligan’s last session. Mulligan was on that with George Shearing, Jon Hendricks. Other folks in Dave’s generation. Then myself, Mike Brecker, Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride. We were the tigers. (Brubeck) wrote a tune for everybody. He wrote a tune for me called 'The Joe Lovano Tango.'

"Then to play with Hank (Jones). He played on three sessions with me. I toured Europe four times in a quartet, which I led. Hank was around 82 or 83 when we started playing together. I played on his 90th birthday celebration at the Hollywood Bowl. Also in New York, at Birdland. To experience playing with some of the true masters of the music. Paul Motian, who passed last year. Bill Frisell and I joined him in 1981. We were playing with him until the end. He turned to when I started playing with him. He passed at 80."

Lovano isn't blowing smoke. He admires those who made and strengthened the art form, and suffered for it in many cases. Each different artistic step he takes, there are pieces of those people that inspire and inform that stroll.

"Reflecting on those things not only strengthens you for today, but you realize where you’ve been and how that’s influenced you in your music and as a man. I’m feeling all the blessings, that’s for sure."

The Us Five band has been playing for a while now,and like any good group of improvising musicians, they get a better feel for one another. They develop their own language. But they also bring their own influences that can change the direction of the music -- on a given night, at a given moment, or less conspicuous, over the course of time. He's happy with the way the band has developed and enthused that it contains so many musical possibilities.

"It’s like the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band. When Thad would conduct, night to night he would direct and change the way the rhythm section would play. He’d cut off the drums or bass. Things just happened from knowing each other and people paying attention. It could happen in any ensemble, like the way Miles’ bands always were. There’s certain things that take shape from night to night that are really beautiful and creative. That’s been happening in this group from the beginning. The idea of having double drummers, all of a sudden everyone’s not just playing a role. Everyone has to participate in a more personal way."

[Photo: Joe Lovano and Us Five, Esperanza Spalding on bass, at the Newport Jazz Festival, August, 2009. © R.J. DeLuke]

"Each of us are doing other things," he said. "Esperanza (Spealding, bassist) is emerging as a leader. She’s writing and touring as a leader with different size groups. Mela (drummer Francisco Mela) has different bands he’s putting together and playing with other folks. Otis (drummer Otis Brown III) also. James (Weiderman, pianist) and myself. During this whole time we’ve been together as a band, we’ve all been playing and doing things outside of that situation. When you come back together, you bring your experiences--where you’ve traveled, where you’ve been--into the mix. That’s been happening too. That’s, in a way, why the music keeps growing and developing. People that only play in one situation, the music can get routine. That’s not happening with us because everyone’s into some things."

A life experience builds upon another. For artists, it's essential to growth. It should be that wayy for everyone. (those results are still not in).

"When this band first started, I was doing stuff with Hank (Jones) that was influencing how I was going to have this band. That was a rich period, 2003, 2004. When I first met Esperanza, she was in some of my ensembles. My recording “Viva Caruso” came out. The recordings with Hank were starting to come out and I was playing a lot with him. Esperanza and all those folks, Mela and everybody I was playing with at that time, which is now about eight years ago already, those things were fueling their direction and approach at that young age."

He pauses, like he does at time before the next explosive statement of a sax solo.

"Everything you do fuels your ideas for stuff that’s gonna happen. That feels really good."

Hell, yeah. Sixty more, Joe.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wayne's Best in a While

Wayne Shorter's New CD Captures the Essence of His Quartet

Wayne Shorter released this month his first Blue Note Records CD in 40+plus years. That's really not the relevant part. People change record labels all the time. And Blue Note, while a strong label, doesn't bear the indelible stamp it did back in the day under Alfred Lion.

What Counts is the music, of course. It always does.

[PHOTO: Wayne Shorter, North Sea Jazz Festival 2012 © R.J. DeLuke]

This music, captured live during a European tour of the group in 2011, really is a great example how these amazing musicians function on the stage. Improvisations fly around with intensity and ease at the same time. Each member is involved in the conversations. Like most discussions, one voice will step to the forefront while others "listen," but what they say can spark a different reaction. That's encouraged. Hell, it's a mandate. Those series of reactions will vary from performance to performance.

But it doesn't come off as a hodge podge of stuff. There is form. Substance. Style. Brian Blade's drumming is wild, penetrating, yet somehow conversational. John Patitucci on bass is fantastic in his ability to listen to all the other voices and weave his playing in and around. Danilo Perez on piano--always remarkable in any setting--is unpredictable. Percussive. melodic. Serpentine. Almost like a point guard on a great NBA basketball team, keeping things at a high tempo and helping everyone else be at their best.

Then there's "the Wayne" As Miles once called him in an interview. AS in, "You know why I got The Wayne. He's so close to Coltrane."

That was then. In the now, Shorter bears little resemblance other than his willingness to experiment and let it fly. His soprano sax darts in and out of the rhythms created by his cohorts. Gone are the flowing lines that were part Trane and part Prez from the Blue Note days. He plays with bursts of statements that fit in the cracks sometimes; propel the music at others. His mind is always moving. And he brings that out in his longstanding band.

The CD sounds much like the concert at the North Sea Jazz Festival last summer, which was an ass-kicker. (George Rossy was the drummer on that tour, filing in with aplomb). It's even better to see live, because the looks back and forth. The smiles. The non--verbal communication is vivid. But this new CD is a great portrait of that.

There is also an extended piece in collaboration with the renowned Imani Winds which isn't part of the group's normal tour. But it's fine music. Regal and elegant in addition to maintaining it's improvisatory nature. Shorter plans to do more stuff with strings and larger aggregations. Being a composer without peer, that should be stunning.

In the meantime, his quartet continues to perform without a net.

At the Newport Jazz Festival this summer, and in Montreal, Wayne's group will play a concert that is part of his 80th birthday celebration this year. Herbie Hancock will be involved as well. In between those dates in Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, NY. No announcement yet (coming soon tho), but a logical fit? Let' hope so!