Saturday, October 1, 2011


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.

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