Saturday, December 31, 2011

WALLACE RONEY'S BAND KICKED OFF TEMPLAR JAZZ SERIES

Wallace Roney
Trumpeter Wallace Roney’s band opened the Templar Jazz Series at the Masonic Temple in Midtown Detroit Friday night with two hot sets of jazz music best described as hard bop on steroids. Roney came to town with a band of young players who looked like teens—with the exception of Roney’s brother sax player Antoine Roney—but they showed they have big league skills. 

 How good were they? If Roney had come down with a bad cold that prevented him from performing, his band bass player Rashaan Carter, drummer Kush Abadey, alto sax player Arnold Lee and the piano player whose name I did not catch could have carried the concert. No one would have demanded their money back.  

The band was hyped up both sets, partly because of the loud and aggressive drumming of Kush Abadey. I could not tell if his microphone was set higher than the others, or if he just liked playing loudly, which is common among too many young jazz drummers out to prove themselves. He has nothing to prove. For goodness sake he is touring with Roney. That speaks volumes. 

 Anyway, when a jazz band has a pushy and a loud drummer, he makes his band mates work harder than normally required. Abadey pushiness was the only glaring eyesore. Otherwise the band was tight, particularly Antoine Roney. 

Clearly, Roney has spent time pouring over John Coltrane’s early albums as a leader and his worked while on Miles Davis’s payroll. I wonder if Roney hired his brother because he plays like Trane. 

 Anyway, on sax Roney has a tone so big and wide it could fill up a fat man’s boxer shorts. Roney’s soloing was one of the highpoints of both sets. As for his big brother Wallace, he finally after years of copying his hero Miles Davis, sounds like his own man. 

 My pal Luis, a red-blooded American jazz fan, disagreed with me. Roney is known as a great jazz trumpet  player and a Miles Davis copycat. After the concert, Luis said Roney’s sounded like Miles did on “In a Silent Way” and on “Water Babies”. 

To me, Roney’s onstage behavior favors Miles’s. Last night, Roney never acknowledged the audience. Nor did he give the title of the tunes his band played. 

Those were forgivable sins given how good his band played. Both sets were a big step toward establishing the Templar Jazz Series as worthwhile program in a city with a jazz series on damn near every corner.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

TOP TEN JAZZ CONCERTS OF 2011



Omar Sosa
1.) Omar Sosa (Jazz Cafe)

2.) The Stanley Clark Band (Orchestra Hall)

3.) Ahmad Jamal (Hill Auditorium)

4.) Jeff “Tain” Watts (Charles A. Wright Museum of African-American History)

5.) Bob Hurst (Virgil Carr Center)

6.) Steve Nelson and Mulgrew Miller (Virgil Carr Center)

7.) Karriem Riggins wsg Common (Detroit Jazz Festival)

8.) The Gerald Clayton Trio (Detroit Groove Society)

9.) Bunky Green, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Vijay Iyer (The Power Center)


10.) Kate Patterson (The Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

DRUM ROLL PLEASE...TOP TEN JAZZ ALBUMS OF 2011

James Carter Caribbean Rhapsody (Emarcy)
This is Carter’s first masterpiece in what’s shaping up to be a hall of fame jazz career.

Christian Scott, David Sanchez, Stefon Harris Ninety Miles (Concord)
For serious acoustic jazz lover this date is the equivalent of comfort food.

The James Carter Trio At the Crossroad (Emarcy)
What a grand way to celebrate the trio’s tenth anniversary with a blues and gospel tinged outing.

Christian McBride Conversations with Christian (Mack Avenue)
The greatest jazz bassist of his generation having some one on one time with many of his favorite musicians.

Michel Camilo Mano Mano (Emarcy)
The jazz pianist served up the tastiest version of Lee Morgan classic “Sidewinder” I’ve never consumed.

Rene Marie Voice of My Beautiful Country (Motema)
Marie gave me my first ear-gasm listening to this offering.

Rahasaan Barber Everyday Magic (Jazz Music City)
This glorious album is proof Tennessee is still making top choice jazz saxophone players a la Sonny Criss, Hank Crawford, and Frank Strozier.

Rez Abbasi Invocation (Enja)
A killer jazz album from a not so well-known jazz guitar player with Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa riding shotgun.

Robert Hurst Unrehurst Volume 2(Bebob Records)
Could serve a template for future generations of how a trio jazz date should sound.

Noah Jackson Contemplations: A Suite (Self-release)
Jackson’s senior recital project when he was a student at the Michigan State University, and it has the polish and seriousness of a major label release.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

VIBING WITH STEVE NELSON

Steve Nelson
Steve, I just want to drop you a note to thank you and Mulgrew Miller for putting on two wonderful sets Friday evening at the Virgil H. Carr Cultural & Arts Center in Detroit. Man, it was cold as all get out last night, but inside the center it felt like summer.

Jazz concert promoter Bill Foster put together the all-star band. Bass player Bob Hurst and drummer Karriem Riggins rounded out the band. You and Miller should keep this band together. It seemed as though you guys have worked together for a long time.

I dug how you started the concert with two well-known songs played at quick tempos “Up Jumped Spring” and “It Could Happen to You”. Then giving the audience a breather with Monk’s “’Round Midnight” before playing “If I Were a Bell” at the fastest tempo I have ever heard it performed. Your buddy Miller was great. You were right pointing out Miller is a living master on the piano. No one in their right mind would refute that.

Bob Hurst is a genius on the upright bass. Wherever you took the music Hurst was right there. And I knew it would only be a matter of time before you let Karriem Riggins loose. You know as well as I do you cannot contain Riggins for long.

He exploded on “You and the Night and the Music” like a kid shaking a bottle of soda then removing the cap. For me that solo was the highlight of the concert. Steve, the band cooked all night long. You could tell that because Rebbecca Hope danced both sets.

Hope was the tall white lady wearing the printed green dress who yelled out as if she was having an orgasm when the band closed the concert with “Bags Groove”. Hope is a big time supporter of the music. All the local jazz musicians know and respect her. She goes to all the jazz concert big or small.

Steve, I know that you Miller, Hurst, and Riggins are busy, but sometime soon, you all should think about touring nationally and cutting an album.

Friday, December 2, 2011

GRAMMY NODS

Ron Carter
I Dig Jazz would like to take a minute to tip its hat to the jazz musicians and bands who’re recently nominated for a Grammy. This year was an excellent year for jazz music. Many of the albums selected were talked about on this blog, and I Dig Jazz agrees wholeheartedly with the nominations. Here’s a sample of the jazz musicians nominated.

Gerald Clayton Bond: The Paris Sessions (Best Jazz Instrumental Album)

Joe Lovano Us Five (Best Jazz Instrumental Album)

Sonny Rollins Roadshow Vol.2 (Best Jazz Instrumental Albums)

Christian McBride The Good Feeling (Best Jazz Large Ensemble Album)

Ron Carter You Are My Sunshine (Best Improved Jazz Solo)

Fred Hersch Work (Best  Improved Jazz Solo)

Gerald Wilson Legacy   (Best Jazz Large Ensemble Album)

Karren Allison 'Round Midnight (Best Jazz Vocal Album)

Kurt Elling The Gate (Best Jazz Vocal Album)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

JAMES CARTER AT THE CROSSROADS

James Carter
Detroit jazz saxophone player James Carter is having a really good year. In May Decca Records released Carter’s much anticipated first classical album Caribbean Rhapsody Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, which critics have called a masterwork. With the recent release of At the Crossroads, Carter’s organ trio celebrated its tenth anniversary. Recently, I Dig Jazz talked to Carter about the two new albums and the trio’s milestone and a few other jazz related topics.

Your organ trio is coming up on its 10th anniversary. What’s the key to keeping a band together that long?

It goes back to my musical father, Donald Washington. He always said longevity is the key, and, of course, that plays well with singular longevity and collective longevity. The longer a group stays together the more it becomes of one mind as the relationship and musicianship progresses. Case and point, look at the classic Coltrane quartet albums Night at the Village Vanguard and One Down One Up. Those recording are great as the result of the band playing together for a while as opposed to doing the recording with pickup bands. Those recordings weren’t some all-star hookup.

Jazz record companies nowadays are big on all-star projects it seems.

I fought tooth and nail with Atlantic Records back in day when they were trying to hook me up with New York-bred individuals. They’d say, “Why don't we try something different?” If I wanted a Detroit drummer, they’d say he played too much hi-hat. You want that on the record?' I’d say, “Yeah!” That's something that can be worked out when the album is mixed. As far as letting them dial in some musician that I wasn’t in tune with, wasn’t going to happen. Especially when this is a document I have to live with for the rest of my life.

Why are you so loyal to Detroit cats?

I think it's because I feel musically and socially connected to them. That definitely makes for a better and more cohesive project. As fate would have it, after the formation with my first group with Tani [Tabbal}, Jaribu [Shahid] and Craig [Taborn] ran its course, that’s when Leonard King and Gerard Gibbs came on board.

Gerard Gibbs is outstanding on At the Crossroads. All the slick tricks you can do on the horns Gerard can do on the organ.

Gerard has grown a heck of a lot. When you look at Live at Baker’ Keyboard Lounge’ recorded in 1996 up until now that's a heck of a lot of growth. And that's definitely come from us growing on stage, and also growing as men. I think he told me a long time ago that music and life don’t separate. With this group, it's not only about us on stage; we check on each other; we check on our families, see if there's anything we can do.

You guys are brothers.

Yeah, and it manifests itself in the music. I can definitely and truly say that.

Does the current generation of Detroit jazz musicians have the same type of no-nonsense mentoring from older cats that your generation had?

Mentoring and the outlets have definitely disappeared. It's funny you mention that, I'm back here in Detroit working on my mom's place. I just put in a new furnace and an alarm system. I was rummaging and going through things. 

 I came across old newspaper clippings from back in the day. I kept quite a few of them like, there was a one from the Michigan Chronicle that I had. Teddy Harris' band was down at Bomac’s, Larry Smith and Ray McKinney were playing at other clubs, this was all within a week. Teddy's band was also playing at Dummy George's. We could either play with the group if you knew them, or you were a part of that group. Like all that has mad changed within the past 10 years or so.

You are known as a killer improviser, and you have done some amazing shit on the saxophones. You are also a damn fine composer. Why don't you write more?

I actually compose whenever the muse hits or if I’m commissioned. Like if I have an album coming up and we need six banging songs on it or whatever. I mean, the closest I've done something on that end was on ‘Present Tense’. Whenever the vibe hits, and you know, I do have some stuff I’m sitting on that I need to develop more.

You have a knack for putting a spin on obscure jazz tunes. Your take on Julius Hemphill’s tune “The Hard Blues” is a prime example. When you put together an album like At the Crossroads what do you look for?

Well, with At the Crossroads, I think this is the first time that you'll actually see it being billed as a group as opposed to James Carter. We all picked our tunes and OK'd them. On my other albums, I came and said these are the tunes, this is how we're going to do them. We all picked stuff out on this one, it was more of a team involvement. We all brought individual things to the table.

Has the jazz world changed much over the years?

It's definitely changed, as far as the packaging goes, being online and actually using online as one of the main routes to get jazz music out. I think it's a good thing, but at the same time, you miss the connection with the people doing the in-store appearances. Now you have to do live blogs. I guess exposure is exposure either way it goes. If you got people that are able to just tune in the comforts of their home and have music streamed live it’s kind of similar to staying at home with Netflix, or making it a Blockbuster night or whatever. So why go to the concert? So, that's the downside.

Is there an upside?

The upside is, as a musician you're potentially getting a lot more people. Hopefully that will act as a catalyst to get them to the real thing and want to see musicians in real time. So many people I think are just disconnected. Here's the irony, that they are connected you know with cyberspace and all that stuff. It's still real-time music, it's real-time art, it's art of the moment; It's one thing to see it online, but it's another to be in a club. 

Could you imagine getting someone saying, “Yeah I heard the Trane at the Vanguard live stream” and get that same effect out of hearing Trane live. My mom talked about the first time she saw Billy Eckstine live at the Paradise Theater in Detroit and how his sound hit her body. You can’t get the same effect listening to an artist streamed live.

The latest thing is how jam sessions are basically replacing group stints at jazz club. If a group was playing and somebody sat in that's just an extra bonus. Like if I happened to be in town I’m going to sit in. Maybe the best case scenario is you'll get somebody like a house band that plays their own set, they'll take a break, then they'll come back and their next two sets they'll open it up for folks to come up and play.

And that's good as far as what the promoters and club owners do, because they're get off cheaper by paying them a certain amount. Their patrons get to hear a whole lot of cats playing. The bad part about that is, the house band or the band that should've been playing their own repertoire, they don't get a chance to grow or play that repertoire. Sometimes the core members of that group wind up going to the bar while somebody else sits in. So there's no growth, and that's becoming the standard at most venues nowadays.

On Caribbean Rhapsody, why did you make the album with the Warsaw Symphony Orchestra instead of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra?

There were some logistic problems. I think when it came time to do it, it was the Warsaw Symphony that stepped up to the plate. We were kind of up in the air because I hadn't heard really much of the Warsaw Symphony.

Of the two new albums which is your favorite?

They're both different children and I've always said that about the albums. I've also said it about horns. They're different people and they do certain things for you. The concerto continues to grow for me, there's been mad growth on that piece since you've seen it at the world premiere with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

One of things I love about Caribbean Rhapsody is Roberto Sierra compositions leave plenty of space for you to improvise and play your trademark cadenzas.

I remember showing the compositions to three different saxophone professors and they said, “Who’s going to be able to play all this?” Yeah, the piece has grown big time, and Roberto has put so much harmonic and melodic information in there that I can keep feeding off of for years.

Michael Cuscuna has produced Caribbean Rhapsody and At the Crossroads. How is it working with a living legend?

Well, with him, he's part of one of the soundtracks of our lives. The stuff he used to do for Blue Note, and Mosaic. Inside the studio, he opens up more possibilities.

What some of your future aspirations?

I have aspirations to keeping myself open to all possibilities.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ONE ON ONE WITH CHRISTIAN McBRIDE

"Conversations with Christian” is the second album the jazz bass player has put out this year. The first was “The Good Feeling”, McBride’s first shot at a big band album, which focused on his star-packed band, and his arranging skills. The second album is way different.

McBride is in a one on one setting with musicians he think the world of. “Conversation with Christian” is the offspring of McBride’s satellite radio show of the same title. McBride interviewed  bigwig  musicians such as Sting, Dee Dee Bridgewater, George Duke and Dr. Billy Taylor.

This album is better than “The Good Feeling”. On that date,” McBride was happy putting the spotlight on his band members. Listeners got the chance to see McBride as an arranger. Not that McBride needed to prove himself.

No other jazz bass player on the planet understands his role more than McBride does. McBride is special and he’s been blessed with alien chops. That’s what listeners of “Conversations with Christian” get to hear firsthand.

The album displays McBride skills more than any of his other albums. My favorite track “On Conversations with Christian” is McBride’s session with Dee Dee Bridgewater. They have a lustful kind of magic. McBride and Bridgewater should consider making an album.

The only track on “Conversation with Christian” that comes up short is McBride session with trumpet player Roy Hargrove. They grew up in the same generation, and have endured the test of time, so you’d think chemistry would be a given. But the session is flat and a pimple on an otherwise smooth album.

In the one on one sessions McBride is relaxed and is having a swell time with his peers, letting the music happen naturally. There’s a lot of ad-libbing, but even that comes off as choreographed instead of hatched on the spot.



Monday, November 14, 2011

UP CLOSE WITH THE GERALD CLAYTON TRIO

Gerald Clayton
At one point during the Gerald Clayton’s trio first set at the Detroit Groove Society’s home concert series, I feared Andrew Rothman, the series producer, would have to call in the West Bloomfield Hills fire department. Clayton’s trio drummer Quincy Davis and bass player Joe Sander nearly set the house afire on the “Bolivia”.

Sander called the number and it was a sample of the level of swing the trio would offer the second set. Clayton kept the first set to a simmer, getting the crowd good and ready for the second where his trio played hits from his first album “Two Shades” and his most recent outing the “Bond: the Paris Sessions”.

Clayton is a killer jazz piano player. Three years ago, Clayton gave two hot sets at the Detroit Groove Society, and the concert series regulars have been anxiously waiting for Clayton return.

Sunday’s concert was wonderful, and a fitting end to a four night run for Clayton’s trio. Wednesday through Saturday they played the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. There was no sign the concerts took a toll on the trio.

For nearly three hours Sunday, the trio was crisp and creative. Clayton showed his skills, and his enjoyment of playing songs with many tempo changes. Clayton loves playing in Detroit, and we love having him here whether it’s at a jazz club or at a house concert.

Clayton always does his best. Rumor is Mack Avenue Records wants to sign Clayton. That would be a big score for the Detroit based record company. Clayton will be on the team with Christian McBride, Sean Jones, Gerald Wilson, and Gary Burton. Not bad company.

During the break Diane Rothman told Clayton why she and Andrew started putting on concerts. They were big timed jazz concert goers.

The Rothman’s became dismayed. They would pay good money but not be able to enjoy a concert because of people yapping away while the musicians played.

So they decided to host concerts in their home. They did a dry run by holding a concert for Andrew’s 40th birthday. It was a big hit. George Cables and Geri Allen are two of the big time musicians who played in the Rothman’s home.

Andrew has an eye for the top jazz talent and a complete love for jazz. When the Detroit Jazz Festival’s board was shopping for a new director, the board should have considered Andrew. Of course, he would have turned them down flat, but he would have been a good fit.

The home jazz concerts are gifts for jazz fans because at each gig they have a ringside seat, and they can mix and mingle with the musicians during the break. The concerts are reasonably priced and the Rothmans have plenty to eat and drink.

Unfortunately, the Rothman’s only held two concerts this year. Maybe next season the supporters of the series will insist the Rothman’s put on more shows and, of course, bring Clayton’s trio back.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

NEW ORLEANS BLOCK PARTY IN HILL AUDITORIUM

Donald Harrison
Donald, it was the wildest jazz concert I’ve attended at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor Michigan. What an over the top spectacle you and the Rebirth Brass Band put on Friday night.  New Orleans cats know how to through a party, but last night you all got carried away.

It was my least favorite concert in all the years I’ve covered the University Musical Societies jazz concert series. The Rebirth Brass Band seemed like a pieced together band of New Orleans street musicians with entry level skills.

They were super loud, and the music they played lacked grit. Even the four special guests Cyril Neville, Dr. Michael White, James and Glen Andrews could not save the evening. 

James Andrews made a complete ass of himself dancing around the stage like a drunken fool. Then again he's known as the Louis Armstrong of the ghetto. 

And Glen Andrews parading through the audience blowing his trombone was over the top. Donald, even the first solo you played was dull, and came off like you were practicing. The only part of the concert I liked was Dr. Michael White's take of "St. James Infirmary".

Overall, the concert felt like a neighborhood block party. The only things missing were the Mardi Gras beads and some women exposing their boobs. 

And I didn’t understand why the front man of the Rebirth Brass Band invited people to join the band on the stage.

I wouldn’t be surprise if I was the only person there who absolutely hated the concert. It was my worse concert experience ever.

Friday, November 11, 2011

OPEN LETTER TO CHRIS COLLINS

Saxophonist Chris Collins
Dear Chris,

There are rumors flying around about how you landed the job as the artistic director of the Detroit Jazz Festival, and how you orchestrated Terri Pontremoli's ouster. I'm sure you've heard them. One rumor circulating is as a DJF board member you had your eye on Terri’s job for some time. You convinced your fellow board members you could do a better job. Chris, I’m not part of the DJF's inner circle so I will never know for sure what went down and why Terri was ousted.

I'm a Terri Pontremoli fan. Not because she treated me with respect and valued my insight as a jazz journalist. I liked Terri because she had vision and she brought a certain level of excitement to the jazz festival. She saved it from the bone yard, and she elevated it to international acclaim. The reality is you’re now the captain of the ship.

You’re lucky. You’re taking over after all the hard work has been done. Terri deserves credit for saving the jazz fest. You’re stepping in when the fest has international standing. Sadly, In a few years, Terri will be forgotten about and there will not be a monument to celebrate the wonderful job she did.

Unfortunately, she will be a distant memory, and you will get all the glory. That’s not right. At this point, it doesn’t matter if any of the rumors are valid. Yoi have some big shoe to fill. I don’t envy you one bit. But I’m a fair man, and hope you have a successful run. 

I hope you will book topnotch international jazz musicians. Surely, you will be partial to the local jazz musicians who’ve been complaining about being shunned when Terri ran the show. Man I hope you don’t bogged down the jazz fest with local acts.

I can’t speak for other DJF goers and supporters, but I don’t want to sit at a for four day jazz fest listening to local jazz acts I can hear nightly at Bert’s, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Cliff Bell’s and the Jazz Café. Chris, time will tell if the DJF board made the right move, or if you sold them a bill of goods.

I wish Terri the best. Surely, she will land on her feet. And she will be snapped up by a fledgling jazz festival and do for it what she did for the DJF.

I wish you the best. I hope you have the vision, drive, and commitment to grow the DJF. I’m going to be watching you like a hawk. If you succeed, which I have my fingers cross you will do, I’m going to praise you as I did Terri. And if you stink up the place, I’m going to be on your case big time.

Chris, you deserve a fair shot. Terri got one and I’m sure there were people who questioned her abilities. Terri proved them wrong. Now you have to prove yourself.

Best wishes,
Charles

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

RAW DEAL


Terri Pontremoli
Terri, I’ve been calling around trying to find out why the bigwigs at the Detroit Jazz Festival decided to let you go. So far, all I’ve come across are rumors. There’s one circulating the bigwigs are going to replace you with the man who runs Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I can picture it now A-list jazz musicians such as Regina Carter, Wayne Shorter, and Jason Moran arriving to the DJF opening night on a parade float dressed like pilgrims. Maybe the jazz fest bigwigs want to turn the number three jazz festival in the world—a distinction the DJF reached last year—into a spectacle.

Terri, under your watch the DJF was major. You brought in Regina Carter, Christian McBride, John Clayton, Mulgrew Miller and Jeff “Tain” Watts as artist in residence, making them an integral part of the jazz fest education programing. You made the festival world-class with outstanding programming year after year.

How many jazz fest directors could’ve pulled off booking Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer, Dave Holland and the Sun Ra Arkestra on the same bill? Not many I bet.

Terri, another rumor I heard was you got canned because you got too big for your britches, and you were behaving as if the festival was your pet project.

Terri, I bet the real reason you were let go was you rubbed one of those bigwigs the wrong way. They had to teach you a lesson. That being the D JF can thrive without you. The jazz fest bigwigs will find out soon enough. 

The fest won’t be the same with you gone. I bet there’re others Detroit jazz fest fans who share my view.

You took hold of the DJF when it was on life-support. And you pumped new life into it. Once it got back on its feet the festival soared to international respectability. You should have received a key to the city. Instead, you got a pink slip. Shame on bigwigs for making that foolish decision.

I hate to see you go. You were world-class. I witnessed your predecessors in action. They did a fairly decent job of running the festival.  But, in my book, You were the best director the DJF ever had.

Before I sat down to write this, I received an electronic press release, announcing Wayne State University's professor of Jazz Studies Chris Collins as your replacement. 

Time will tell if Collins is the right person for the job. The jazz fest bigwigs are confident he will grow the festival. Maybe he will. In all fairness, he deserved the shot to prove he has the goods.

I don’t know if Collins has the vision to take the jazz fest to the next level. I hope he won’t be the bigwig's puppet in their quest to turn the DJF into a watered-down version of Arts, Beats &Eats where the emphasis will be on attendance. For now, I’ll assume Collins is a good man who has some big shoes to fill.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

THE DWIGHT ADAMS QUARTET MUSCLED THROUGH JAZZ CLASSICS AT THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFE

Dwight Adams
Dwight Adams is one of the top jazz trumpet players breathing. It’s a crying shame Adams is not on a major jazz label like his peers Sean Jones, Terell Stafford, Jeremy Pelt, Nicholas Payton and Marcus Printup. Being unsigned doesn’t bother Adams at all. Adams told me so between sets at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe Saturday night.

We set at the bar. I asked if he was working on his first album yet. Adams said, “Some cats have a lot to say musically, and they have a desire to be in the spotlight. I think that’s okay, but I’m not that kind of guy”.

I shot back, “You need to document that you’re a major figure on the Detroit jazz scene”.

“I’m documented on a lot of albums,” Adams countered.

That’s true. Adams has played on albums by James Carter, Donald Walden, Rodney Whitaker, Buddy Budson, Sean “Thunder” Wallace, Stevie Wonder and a host of others. 

For now, Adams is perfectly happy with recording as a sideman. Adams is a fine bandleader. When he’s not touring with Stevie Wonder, he leads a righteous quartet that includes bass player Ralphe Armstrong, drummer Alex White, and piano player Rick Roe.

Saturday night, that quartet muscled through jazz staples “Seven Steps to Heaven,” “In Your Own Sweet Way,” “One Finger Snap,” “Freedom Jazz Dance,” and “Ask Me Now”.

Adams never the attention hog put the spotlight on White and Roe. White is a promising young drummer. He was comfortable sharing the bandstand with Detroit jazz royalty. His solos were thought out.

I heard White for the first time a few months ago at Cliff Bell’s. White was louder than a drunken sports fan. Last night, White proved he’s capable of modifying his playing to suit any musical setting.

Adams is a no-nonsense boss. He won’t tolerate showboating under his watch. He picked up that hard-nose trait during his apprenticeship with the great piano player and jazz educator Teddy Harris.

Roe and Adams have been running together for ages it seems. Lately, Roe has been inactive. His wife is ill. Roe dropped everything to take care of her. Roe only plays occasionally, but his chops are still up.

Roe had the house piano swinging like a puppet on Herbie Hancock’s “One Finger Snap”. Then Roe lulled the standing room only crowd like a mother does a newborn on Thelonious Monk’s ballad “Ask Me Now”.

Adams gave the crowd a gift, inviting drummer Karriem Riggins to sit-in for two songs. Riggins set the drums ablaze, and White jokingly refused to resume playing afterward. Adams had some choice solos. On slow tempo number he glided through the tunes like a world champion figure skater.

Adams runs a disciplined band. Even Ralphe Armstrong who’s prone to clowning around was on his best behavior. Maybe one day soon, Adams will give his fans a gift by putting out his first album.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

HAL GALPER CHRISTENED FIRST ANNUAL PARADISE JAZZ FESTIVAL

Jazz pianist Hal Galper
Hal, I didn’t know what to expect from your show at the Virgil Carr Center Friday night, which opened the first annual Paradise Valley Fall Jazz Festival. My friend, jazz critic Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press gushed about your unorthodox style in his weekly column. Another friend who publishes the weekly jazz e-newsletter the Usual Suspects raved about you also, and encouraged his subscribers to attend your show and bring some extra cash to buy your CD’s.

Yesterday evening was the first time I heard your music. Thursday, I did a google search, and I watched some videos of you explaining your style of jazz. I learn you’ve performed with some big name jazz musicians Chet Baker, Phil Woods, and Stan Getz to name three. And you’re heavily into Rubato, which as I understand is stretching the beat and modifying the rhythmic structure of a composition.

On one video, you demonstrated how you reshape standards. That’s what impressed me about your concert last night. Your trio drummer John Bishop and bass player Jeff Johnson played well-known standards “Embraceable You,” Alice in Wonderland,” “Four” and “ I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry”.

I’ve heard those standards a million times, but never like your trio worked them. On each song, you put the melody in the passenger seat, and let the harmony drive the tunes. It was intriguing how you stretched and stretched a song as far it could go before it snapped. 

It was great when you allowed the crowd to ask questions about the music, which proved you genuinely wanted them to understand and be consumed with your music.

The turnout was small. I counted 30 people. That was cool because it gave the concert a more intimate feel. Bishop and Johnson were on fire. I chatted with Johnson after the first set. I asked Johnson how it felts playing with a leader as unorthodox as you.

Johnson likened it to water skiing behind a powerful boat. Any musician brave enough to play with you must possess monster chops because your music demands they ad-lib over song forms and play counter-lines. The concert had many high points. 

My favorite was your duet with Johnson on “I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry”. It was originally written as a sad ballad, but you and Johnson made it zesty.

Hal, your concert christened the Paradise Valley Jazz Series, which is put on my the Jazz Network and Serengeti Production. Mulgrew Miller, Marion Hayden, Karriem Riggins, Mike Jellick,  and Barry Harris are also playing the fest. You set the bar high for them.

Friday, November 4, 2011

THE STANLEY CLARKE BAND OPENED 2011-2012 PARADISE JAZZ SERIES

Stanley Clarke
I caught your show Thursday night at Orchestra Hall in downtown Detroit. Stanley. I enjoyed last night’s show more than your show in 2010 at the Sound Board inside the Motor City Casino. That show was more rock than jazz, which irked the shit out of me. Sure the audience was totally into all the showboating you and piano player Hiromi fed them for two hours. The show was unnecessarily over the top.

The crowd at the Paradise Jazz Series is hipper, and they have sophisticated ears. Horsing around on the bandstand would never fly with them, no way. Your current band drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., piano player Ruslan Sirota, and violin player Zach Brock have to be the grooviest jazz band on the scene.

Until last night, Omar Sosa’s show at the Jazz Café was my top jazz show of 2011, and Ahmad Jamal’s recent show at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI was a close second. Your set bumped Sosa from my top spot. Your band started out swinging with the Return to Forever favorite “No Mystery” and continued swinging and swinging.

The band approached the tune like a relay race with Bruner running the last leg. Bruner was the crowd favorite. Funk driven drummers aren’t my favorite, but Bruner was excitable and animated. I bet he dropped 10 pound soloing on “Song to John”.

Brock was my favorite. He’s going to have to take his violin to a masseur for a rub down because of the workout he put it through soloing on “No Mystery,” “Black Narcissus,” and “Paradigm Shift”.
Stanley, I could’ve split after the first tune. It was that satisfying. It ran 28 minutes. I clocked it. It was a mini-concert in itself. 

Had I split I would’ve missed your duet with Bruner on Duke Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane”. The duet was the most memorable part of the concert. Your interpretation of Duke’s tune would’ve made him blush and would’ve given Coltrane goose bumps.

Stanley, it was smart giving the crowd an intermission. Had you not, 70 percent of them would’ve missed work tomorrow because of exhaustion. They were jamming that hard all night long. Two things annoyed me. Neither annoyance had anything to do with the band’s performance.

Before the show began, the volunteer usher who escorted me to my seat barked at me because I opened the $2.00 pack of Twizzlers candy I bought at the bar in the atrium. The usher barked that food wasn’t allowed in the auditorium. 

I asked the usher to back off because Twizzlers aren’t a part of the four basic food group. They are junk food, and I didn’t see any signs posted forbidding junk food. The usher stormed off just as the lady in front of me spilled the latte she snuck into the auditorium from Starbucks.

The other annoyance was the jerked seated to my left talking on his cell-phone during your brilliant solo on “Black Narcissus”. Had the jerk arrived on time, he would’ve heard the announcement to turn off all cell-phones and other electronic devices.

I started to give him a piece of my mind. But I decided not to, reasoning a jerk who wore dirty work boots to Orchestra Hall must have a few screws loose and maybe prone to violence. The usher never berated the jerk, or the people recording the concert with their smart-phones. What does all this have to do with your excellent show? Not a darn thing. I’m blowing off steam.

Stanley, you have an exciting band. Your bass playing is more exuberant than ever. You didn’t walk the bass, you ran with it the entire night. The show was the best opening night of the Paradise Jazz Series since Ramsey Lewis’s set in 2008. You know how to throw a concert.

Monday, October 31, 2011

FEELING FREE

Trumpeter Tim Hagans
Tim, I owe you and Ann Braithwaite, the publicist for Palmetto Records a big apology. Ann sent me an advance copy of your new album “The Moon is Waiting” two weeks before Palmetto released it nationwide October 11th. I gave Ann my word I’d post a review. I was smitten with the album right away, but I never got around to reviewing it. 

In October, I get flooded with new releases and I normally get behind. Last week, Ann shot me an email asking if I still planned to review “The Moon is Waiting”, pointing out the album is a killer and she loves it. I rarely get follow up emails from publicists.

Over the weekend, I replayed “The Moon is Waiting”. It’s the kind of album you’d get if the Miles Davis of the 70’s had joined forces with Ornette Coleman.

Honestly, I have to be in a certain mood to digest most free jazz and smooth jazz music. At heart, I’m a red-blooded jazz purist. “The Moon is Waiting” is a free jazz album I could listen to daily.

I’m listening to the album right now. You just finished a beautiful muted trumpet cadenza on the title cut, and now you and guitar player Vic Juris are doing some far-out rock-n-roll-ish playing on “Get Outside”.

The ballad “What I’ll Tell Her Tonight” shows you’re not all fire.  You have a warm and fuzzy side. Tim, the only thing on the album I couldn’t make sense of was the title. What does the “The Moon is Waiting” mean?

The eight compositions you wrote for “The Moon is Waiting” are intricate and require musicians of extraordinary chops to execute. That’s what drummer and piano player Jurkkis Uotila and your longtime collaborator bass player Rufus Reid bring to the table.

 It's neat how you gave Reid the floor on the closer “These Happen in a Convertible”. I’m familiar with Reid’s chops, but I didn’t know he had a flair for free jazz.

Tim, “The Moon is Waiting” comes off as if you spent months doing nothing else but perfecting each song.

Your blowing is breathtaking throughout, and although you’re a veteran trumpeter, I could still detect your musical influences Herb Alpert, Miles Davis, Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard. 

I'm going to shoot Ann Braithwaite an email to say thanks for turning me on to "The Moon is Waiting", and for staying on my case until I gave it the attention it deserves.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

DIGGING FOR COLE

After Mrs. Henry’s funeral last month, her family and friends gathered at a small hall in Southwest Detroit to unwind and to eat.  Mrs. Henry was a family friend for years. She was 82-year-old. She had three sons and two daughters. She was gentle. When she was younger, Mrs. Henry was the splitting image of Eartha Kitt. Mrs Henry died of breast cancer. She hide the illness from her family. They founded out after it was too late to insist she undergo treatment.

At the after party, Mrs. Henry's husband of 60 years, William Henry Sr., played some of your albums. Mr. King. I didn’t get the titles, but I recall Mr. Henry saying you’re the greatest interpreter of loves songs from the American songbook, a red-blooded American legend.

As Mr. Henry boasted about you, I pictured him and Mrs. Henry snuggled up on the sofa, after the kids were put to bed, listening to you sing love songs. I wondered if Mr. Henry would be okay now that his queen is gone. He'll always have your voice to comfort him.

Mr. King I’ll level with you. I’m only familiar with some of the songs you made classics such as “Unforgettable”, “Mona Lisa” and Mel Torme’s the "Christmas Song".

I attended Natalie Cole's set at the 2003 Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival. She sang those songs while images and video footage of you played on a big screen overhead to the left of the bandstand. It was touching. The stroll down memory lane made Natalie cry.

 Mr. Henry boasting about you being the greatest balladeer of all-times made me curious. I wanted to buy some of your albums. But I was unsure where to start. I emailed my friend, Andy Rothman for some recommendations.

Andy runs the Detroit Groove Society's home concert series. Andy hosts the concerts in the living room of his West Bloomfield Hills home. Danilo Perez, George Cables and Geri Allen have performed there. Next month jazz piano player Gerald Clayton's trio is scheduled to perform. Your spirit should drop by. I’m sure Andy will let it in free.

Andy recommended I track down the trio albums you made for Capitol Records, saying the albums are collector items and maybe hard to find and pricey. Last Friday, I stopped by Melodies and Memories, a record store in Roseville, a small city north of Detroit. 

The owner ushered me to the store’s comprehensive jazz vocal section. Melodies and Memories didn’t have the albums Andy recommended. But they had 15 of your albums, and I purchased “Dear Lonely Hearts and “I Don’t Want to be Hurt Anymore”.

At the checkout counter, I told the owner I’m just getting into your music. I asked if those albums were good starting points. The owner vouched for both and recommended several others, which I’ll buy next week. Over the weekend, I listened to “Dear Lonely Hearts” and “I Don’t Want to be Hurt Anymore”.

If you remove the orchestras, and turn up the tempo a bit, you would've been left with two smoking blues albums. Most of the songs were touching with sad lyrics such as: I don’t want to see tomorrow unless it’s with you, or the ache in my heart is for you.

The only issue I had with the albums was the orchestras that accompanied you. They didn’t add anything novel or interesting to the mix. Your voice was good enough. I hate orchestras backing singers. Nine times out of ten, the orchestras get in the way. 

With a voice as smooth as your voice was, all the instruments and harmonizing in the background was overkill. That aside, I enjoyed “Dear Lonely Hearts and “I Don’t Want to be Hurt Anymore" enough to buy more of you albums.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I STRONGLY RECOMMEND


Alone time
I was certain jazz bass player Christian McBride couldn’t outdo himself after making “The Good Feeling,” his first big band album for Mack Avenue Records released nationwide September 27th, but I was wrong. McBride has another new album coming out November 8th “Conversations with Christian”. On this excellent album, Christian has some alone time with musicians that he admires. Dr. Bill Taylor, Regina Carter, Sting, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Hank Jones were some of the musicians McBride hooked up with. “Conversations with Christian” is better than his big band album. The selections I predict with get played over and over are McBride’s duet with singers Angelique Kidjo, and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Brotherhood
Luques is a jazz bass player. Zacci is a jazz piano player. They are known in jazz circles as the Curtis Brothers. They hail from Hartford, Connecticut and alto sax legend Jackie McLean taught the brothers the basics of swing. On October 25th Truth Revolution Records—the brothers own the label—is putting out the Curtis brother’s new album “Completion of Proof”. It’s a star studded modern hard bop album. Alto saxophone player Donald Harrison, drummer Ralph Peterson Jr., and trumpeter Brian Lynch are some of the household names who have a cameo. The Curtis Brothers are a righteous and a tough jazz tag team.

The Indian collection
Rex Abbasi’s is a marvelous jazz guitar player. But unfortunately, he’s not as well-known as say Pat Martino and Jim Hall, two jazz guitar giants. If Enja Records market Abbasi new album “Invocation” due out November 8th, properly it could catapult Abbasi into the national spotlight, where he deserves to be. “Invocation” is a borderline free jazz album worthy of a big reception. Two of Abbasi’s homeboys help make the album out of sight the alto sax player Rudresh Mahantahappa and piano player Vijay Iyer. It's impossible to make less than a hit with their participation.

 Dynamic Duo
On February 25th, Clarinet player Eddie Daniels and piano man Roger Kellaway gave concert goers at the Library of Congress a textbook demonstration of musical virtuosity. For that occasion the dynamic duo played some recognizable standards such as Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning" and the Gershwin's "Strike up the Band" and some exquisitely crafted originals. Fortunately, for those unable to catch the concert, IPO Recordings recorded it, and will make it available for public consumption on January 12, 2012. So you have plenty of time to save up for this album.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A LOOK BACK AT SOME MEMORABLE JAZZ CONCERTS

Omar Sosa
The past week or so, I’ve been thinking about some of the wonderful and not so great jazz concerts I’ve caught this year. It’s has been a banner year for jazz in Detroit both on the regional and on the national front. Last month, at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI jazz piano player Ahmad Jamal put an unforgettable show only rivaled by Omar Sosa’s hit earlier this year at the Jazz Café. 

Hometown jazz piano player Mike Jellick treated the Thursday night crowd at Cliff Bell’s in downtown Detroit to some hip and slick arrangements of some jazz classics beloved the world over. Jellick had two rising swingers on staff bass player Noah Jackson and drummer Jesse Kramer. 

In May, jazz singer Naima Shamborguer rocked the St. Matthew and St Joseph Episcopal Church on Woodward Ave with selections from her new album ‘Round Midnight’. Jazz piano great Larry Willis was Shamborguer’s special guest. They had the statue of St. Matthew snapping its fingers and bobbing its head all concert long. 

At the end of the year, I post a list of my favorite jazz albums. This year will be the first time I’ll post a favorite jazz concerts list. I decided to give my readers a preview of some concerts vying for a spot on my list. I've also pointed out some concerts that were disappointing.

Omar Sosa at the Jazz Café
This was the most memorable jazz set I’ve attended since I started writing about jazz in 1997. Old-school jazz critics and jazz journalists acknowledge Sun Ra and Dizzy knew how to put on a memorable show. I don’t doubt that one bit, but I doubt if Ra and Diz could captivate an audience for two sets like Sosa did. Sosa played the piano, keyboard and several percussive contraptions, blending Afro-Cuban jazz with bop, hip hop and some swing for good measure.

Ahmad Jamal at Hill Auditorium
At Jamal’s hit, I saw a lot of Detroit’s rising jazz musicians in the audience. I hope they took copious notes. Jamal show was a textbook demonstration of how a tightly knit band sounds. Jamal played mostly songs from his lengthy discography, which I expected. And drummer Herlin Riley was animated and outstanding as always. How good was Jamal’s show? He received three ovations, and had Jamal not obliged the audience with two encores chances are a riot might’ve ensued.

Kate Patterson at the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church
Patterson has been battling Leukemia for sometime now. Patterson refuses to allow her illness to stop her from giving her fans 110 percent. Her annual concert at the Jazz Forum Concert Series has been the most anticipated and attended since the series started 22 years ago. Patterson is a beautiful old-school jazz singer who knows how to work an audience. Patterson served up songs from the American songbook, and she sang for an hour without coming up for air. 

Pianist Vijay Iyer
Bunky Green, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Vijay Iyer at the Power Center
Iyer is the top jazz piano player of his generation. That’s saying a lot because his generation includes Jason Moran, Marc Cary, Orrin Evans, Anthony Wonsey and a host of other fine jazz piano players. I had to contain myself from dancing in the aisle when Iyer played Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”. As for Bunky Green and Rudresh Mahanthappa, their set was like watching a master and his protégé working out. Rudresh is the best alto saxophone player working. Yes, I know Kenny Garrett, Vincent Harring, Miguel Zenon and Wessell Anderson are on the scene, but neither compare to Rudresh in my book.

Bob Hurst at the Virgil Carr Center
Pound for pound Hurst is the top jazz bass player on the planet. His chops are on par with the great Ray Brown, Oscar Pettiford, and Sam Jones. Hurst has an impeccable track record, and he’s a wonderful composer. Hurst unveiled his new band drummer Karriem Riggins, sax player Marcus Miller and piano player Ian Finkelstein. Hurst’s quartet played material from his excellent albums “Unrehurst” and “Bob Ya Head”. This was a night of some solid jazz music. I would pay to hear this band every day of the week.

Jeff “Tain” Watts at the Charles A. Wright Museum of African-American History
“Tain” was the artist in residence for the Detroit Jazz Festival. Honestly, by the time the jazz fest opened, I was tired of seeing “Tain”. But "Tain's" set at the museum was star-studded and outstanding. Geri Allen, Bob Hurst, Nicholas Payton, were in “Tain’s” band. It’s impossible to put on a less than stellar show with that kind of muscle. “Tain” is the type of jazz drummer who likes to swing outside the box and he demands his supporting staff have the same mentality.

DISAPPOINTING HITS
Robert Glasper at the Jazz Café
I’ve been a fan of Glasper since Blue Note Records put out his first album “Canvas” in 2005. I was anxious to experience Glasper live. He showed up to the gig without a game plan and I guess he thought Detroit jazz fans who paid good money to hear him weren’t hip nor sophisticated enough to notice his trio was winging it. After the show, the promoter asked me what I thought. I told her the show was nice, which was my nice way of saying I wanted a refund.

Rafael Statin at Cliff Bell’s
My friends have been boasting about Statin for months, comparing him to James Carter, which I figured was overpraise. Statin doesn’t have enough mileage on his horn to be compared to a jazz giant like Carter.  I was anxious to see if my friend’s comparison was accurate. Statin is a heck of a saxophone player and it was obvious he admires Carter, Kenny Garrett and John Coltrane.

So my friends were on the money in that regard. But Statin's presentation was a mess. Statin started late. He didn’t have a set-list prepared. The audience has to wait while the band agreed on what song to play next. And his band was unrehearsed. The solos his band members played her long and self-indulgent. At some point, he has to learn the bandstand is sacred ground not a playground

Bill Charlap and Rene Rosnes
I’m pissed at myself for attending Charlap and Rosnes’ hit instead of alto sax player Miguel Zenon’s. Zenon played the same night at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Individually, I’m into Charlap and Rosnes, but not together performing a duet. I’ve been going to jazz concerts for a long time and I’ve never walked out of one, but that’s what I contemplated doing at Charlap and Rosnes’ concert. The concert was a major bore equivalent to watching two piano players killing time practicing. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

THE BLACK FRANK SINATRA

Jazz singer Milton Suggs performed Saturday evening with his quintet vibraphone player Justin Thomas, bass player Nathan Brown, drummer Samuel Jewell, and piano player Michael Malis. Near the end of the first set Suggs let on that he met Malis hours before the hit, which I found shocking because Malis fit in nicely with the others.

I heard Suggs for the first time last year when his publicist provided me with an advance copy of his second album as a leader “Things to Come”. The album coldcocked me. “Things to Come” made my best jazz album of 2010 list, and I thought seriously about driving to Suggs’ hometown, Chicago, to catch him live.

That never happened. But I connected with Suggs on facebook. I was tickled pink when Suggs invited me to his hit at Cliff Bell's in downtown Detroit. I cleared my schedule. Nothing was going to keep me from catching Suggs’ live. His performance exceeded my expectations.

I sat at the bar flanked by jazz singer Audrey Northington and jazz super fan Rebecca Hope. Suggs started the set at 9:30 sharp with a spiritual, followed by Cedar Walton’s “Fantasy for Two, and Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”. Suggs wrote lyrics for both, proving he's also a gifted lyricist.

The first set Suggs turned the floor over to Justin Thomas and Michael Malis. Thomas worked the vibes like a masseur a tense neck, and Malis gave the out of town jazz musicians a taste of how it is to share the stage with a prime cut Detroit jazz piano player.

It wasn’t Malis plan to be a ball-hog, but he had the house piano testifying. Malis, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, he studied with the great jazz piano player Geri Allen. Suggs waited to the second set to take flight.

Suggs opened the second set with Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight”. Then he segued into Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty”. By the time, Suggs got to the Civil Rights anthem “Lift There Voice and Sing”, he’d hit his stride. Rebecca Hope danced about, and I overheard Northington tell her date Suggs’ style was like Mel Torme's and Frank Sinatra’s. And he should be billed at the black Frank Sinatra.

I agreed with Northington in part. Suggs is definitely classy like those singers were, but Suggs has a more booming voice. It could fill up Comerica Park. Suggs reminded me of Joe Williams and Kevin Mahogany.

Suggs put on a great show. It's worth pointing out his only visible shortcoming is his lack of stagecraft. That will come as he gains more experience. He’s a pure jazz singer nonetheless, and unlike many of his peers Suggs doesn’t scat his way through songs.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

TONY BENNETT ACT 2

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett
Mr. Bennett, I feel like a schmuck. A few weeks back, I wrote you expressing how much I enjoyed your new album “Duets An American Classic”, and my disappointment your collaboration with pop sensation Lady Gaga didn’t make the final cut. When I purchased the album at Barnes & Noble, I didn't know that you released two duet albums. Gay Talese didn’t mention that in his New Yorker article.. 

I overlooked the second one because both have the same cover art. Anyway, Mr. Bennett, I picked up “Duets II” Monday, and I like it way more than the first one. But—this may sound crazy—I can’t explain why at the moment.

I listened to the second album non-stop for three days. I was thrilled you opened the album with your duet with Lady Gaga. The version of “The Lady is A Tramp” is a killer. I haven’t followed Gaga’s career much. I watched an interview she did with pop writer Toure’ on MTV, and I saw some of Gaga’s recent HBO special.

Strip away the outlandish outfits. Take away the lavish over the top production, and the scantily clad dancers and what you have underneath is a woman who can sing her ass off. I mean sing better than any—male or female pop star—I ever heard. Gaga could’ve been big in R&B, country & western and jazz if you wanted to. Mr. Bennett, we both know all the big money is in pop stardom.

As much as a liked “The Lady is A Tramp” it wasn’t my favorite duet on the album. (It was in the top five). My absolute favorite is your collaboration with Amy Winehouse on “Body and Soul”. Mr. Bennett, for the life of me I can’t figure out how Winehouse was able to sound exactly like Billie Holliday. It was as if Winehouse channeled Holliday’s spirit. Could you sense that when you were recording with Winehouse? Man, she was scary good. Holliday and Winehouse were great singers who led trouble lives.

My other favorite is your duet with country icon Willie Nelson on “On the Sunnyside of the Street”. How did you and Nelson pull it off? How sweet the duet was caught me off guard. You and Nelson are from different points of the music spectrum more so than the other singers on the album. 

 Mr. Bennett, there’re plenty more breathtaking selections on “Duets II”. For example, your duet with Sheryl Crow, Queen Latifah, Norah Jones, John Mayer, Faith Hill and Natalie Cole are off the chain.

The only gripe I have with “Duet II” is you using an orchestra on every selection. The album still would’ve been killer if you had decided against using the orchestra. The collaborations were that awesome. So Mr. Bennett, there you have it. You made two killer albums with many of the best singers in the music business. That was some feat you pulled off.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

THE NOMINEES ARE...


Pianist Monty Alexander
Around this time of year, I start compiling a list of the best jazz albums I’ve heard, which by the end of December I have narrowed down to my ten favorites. So far this year I’ve heard roughly 150 jazz albums. It may seem too early to talk about my favorites of 2011. There’re more jazz albums coming out before the end of the year. James Carter, Geri Allen Rez Abbasi's, and Oscar Perez have upcoming releases. Selecting 10  from a 150 stellar albums is tough. One reason is the quality of jazz music has gotten better. Anyhow, here're a preliminary list of the best jazz albums I’ve come across so far this year.

Uplift by Monty Alexander (Jazz Legacy Production)
With this album Alexander proved it’s still humanly possible to make a kick ass jazz trio album.

The Time of the Sun by Tom Harrell (High Note Records)
Sort of a weird title. Nevertheless, Harrell has everything I want from a jazz trumpeter beauty, lyricism, and in-your-face swing.

Faith by Gonzalo Rubalcaba (5Passion)
My readers Jazz know I can’t stand most solo piano albums. Most are boring. I have to admit that Faith caught me off guard. Rubalcaba is a virtuoso in every sense of the word.

No Need for Words by Sean Jones (Mack Avenue Records)
Sean Jones is the best jazz trumpeter of his generation. Jones has proven that album after album. Jones thing is hard bop. With this album he stepped outside of that comfort zone some. Jones takes a stab at free-jazz on the closer. I wonder if that foreshadows a new direction Jones is contemplating.

Pianist Gerald Clayton
Bond the Paris Sessions by Gerald Clayton (Emarcy)
The piano player is still a wet behind the ear swinger. To date, his best moments have been his work with the Clayton Brothers (his dad John and his uncle Jeff). Bond the Paris Sessions is Clayton second album as a leader. This is a sweet ass album. Clayton is still a few albums away from a breakthrough.

Song of Mirth and Melancholy by Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo (Marsalis Music)
Branford and Joey have been running the streets together for ten years now. Both are heady improvisers. This album isn’t austere as the title suggest. Branford and Joey are in lockstep from the beginning to the end.

Blues for Pekar by Ernie Krivda (Capri)
This is a downhome bop album. The most memorable I’ve come across in a long while. People familiar with Krivda understand that downhome bop is his specialty.

“State of Art” by Ben William (Concord Records)
As a bandleader the young jazz bass player doesn’t have a lot of frequent flier miles. State of Art is his first time in the pilot’s chair. Williams poured some of his musical influences into this album jazz, classical, and hip-hop, which could’ve been a disaster. With the grace of god, Williams pulled it off. State of Art is an excellent debut album.

Christian Scott, Stefon Harris and David Sanxhez
Ninety Miles by David Sanchez, Stefon Harris, and Christian Scott (Concord Records)
So far this year, Ninety Miles is my favorite jazz album. Sanchez, Harris, Scott are infallible. They’re masterful on their respective instruments. Somehow, they were able to avoid turning Ninety Miles into an ego fest.

Mano A Mano by Michel Camilo (Emarcy)
I set a world record for the number of times I replayed Camilo's take on Lee Morgan’s hard-bop classic the Sidewinder. Honestly, I know the exact number of times I listened to it. If I revealed it, you wouldn’t believe me.

Warren Wolf by Warren Wolf (Mack Avenue Records)
This is the vibraphone player’s third album, but his first for a big time record company. Wolf has the chops, and there’s no vibraphone player out there who play as fast as Wolf can. I bet during his formative years Wolf studied a lot of bebop music. This self-titled album will establish Wolf as a major force.

Jazz vocalist Rene' Marie
Voice of my Beautiful Country by Rene Marie (Motema)
To hell with Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, and Sheila Jordan. Yes I said it. For my money, Rene' Marie is the best female jazz singer of any era. On this album—her first for Motema—Marie voices melts in your hands.

Close to You by Penny Wells (CDBY)
I don’t know if Penny Wells considers herself a jazz singer. I do know Wells has an excellent voice. For her first album Shine, Wells wrote all the songs. With Close to You, Wells covers standards from Burt Bacharach’s songbook, proving she can sing standards as beautifully as she sings originals.

Everyday Magic by Rahsaan Barber (Jazz Music City)
Barber is not a household name yet. In his home state Tennessee—also the home of the late great sax players Sonny Criss, Frank Stozier and Hank Crawford—Barber is the shit. And so is his first album for Jazz Music City. He owns the label by the way. On Everyday Magic, his energy to swing is inexhaustible.

The Story of Cathy and Me by Curtis Fuller (Challenge Records) The trombone player's wife of 30 years passed away in 2010. This album is Fuller's final love letter to his beloved Cathy, and it one of Fuller best albums in years.


Dancing with Duke by John Brown (Brown Boulevard Records)
This is a cover album of some of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's well-known material. Yes, there're a million such  albums on the Market, but none sweeter than this one. What I dig most about Dancing with Duke is Brown did not take too many liberties with the compositions, and on several of the compositions, Brown relinquished control to Cyrus Chestnut, a killer piano player. Brown made an awesome jazz trio date.