Woman Child Cecile McLorin Salvant (Mack Avenue Records)
I doubted jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant was great as many music industry people claimed she was. I figured it was overpraise comparing her to greats like Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters. But I became a believer after listening to her debut “Woman Child”. The comparisons and the praise was correct. Her voice and every song on the album were flawless. I begged anybody that would listen to buy it.
Liquid Spirit Gregory Porter (Blue Note Records)
Gregory Porter can sing jazz, R&B and classic soul, pop, and blues. Porter debut for Blue Note Record “Liquid Spirit” proved he’s foremost a jazz man. I listen to a lot of albums in a given year. I rarely fall for an album like I fell for “Liquid Spirits”. Porter’s mixed genres without losing his grassroots style. I’ve listened to “Liquid Spirit” every day since he released it in June. “Brown Grass,” “Hey Laura,” “Wind Song” and “Water Under Bridges” were the cuts that stuck to my ribs.
For the Love of Abbey Marc Cary (Motema Record)
The late jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln was jazz pianist Marc Cary’s biggest musical mentor and I suspect given the care he put into this solo album honoring her, his life coach. In my book, Cary is the finest jazz pianist of his generation, which includes Cyrus Chestnut, Jason Moran, Jacky Terrasson, and Craig Taborn. Cary has made some remarkable music with his Focus Trio. “For the Love of Abbey” was the most personal album Cary has ever put out. Listening to it I wondered if Lincoln’s spirit was in Cary’s piano.
Out Here Christian McBride (Mack Avenue Records)
Is Christian McBride the greatest jazz bassist of his generation? His body of work may answer that question; particularly the music he’s made for Mack Avenue has been remarkable. In 2011, “The Good Feeling” won a Grammy. The album was his first big band recording. He returns to a trio format on “Out Here”. I’m not sure it’ll get a Grammy nomination although it’s worthy of one. On the album, McBride, drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. and pianist Christian Sands poured their imaginations all over standards such as “My Favorite Things,” “East Of the Sun (And West of the Moon) and “Cherokee”. The latter is the album’s best bet. Though the album is McBride’s brainchild, he’s not the star attraction. Sands is, and the album comes off as if McBride designed it as a showcase for the pianist.
Magic Beans Benny Green (Sunnyside Records)
This album won me over because it resembled that Blue Note sound during its heyday. In fact, Green wanted the music on “Magic Beans” to have that hard, soulful, and swinging vintage Blue Note feel. I believe he nailed it, particularly with the cuts “Kenny Drew” and “Jackie McLean”. They were two jazz musicians who made classics for Blue Note. Of course, there’re other awesome cuts on “Magic Beans”. But “Kenny Drew and “Jackie McLean” were the ones that spoke to Green’s vision for the album.
Without A Net Wayne Shorter Quartet (Blue Note Records)
This jazz quartet has been together for nearly 15 years now. And it’s revered as one of the tightest jazz quartets of all-times. It has star power namely pianist Danilo Perez and drummer Brian Blade. The quartet’s albums are stellar. For my money, “Without A Net” is the quartet’s best work. It marked Shorter’s return to Blue Note Records. Most of the album is from a live performance. The quartet concerts can be iffy. But it killed this time around. Shorter wrote all the music, which was heady as a graduate dissertation but it swung. The title “Without A Net” speaks to how fearless the quartet has been since day one.
Bob a palindrome Robert Hurst (Bebob Music)
Robert Hurst is a jazz bassist with a solid body of work. The albums he's put out on his label, Bebob Music, “Bob Ya Head,” Unrehursted Volume 1-2, and “BoB a palindrome,” which he release nationwide in early 2013 represents a golden period in his studio work. “BoB a palindrome” is star-studded. Branford Marsalis, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Bennie Maupin, Adam Rudolph, Marcus Belgrave and Robert Glasper are on the album. That’s enough horsepower to guarantee a hit. What made this album ultra-special were the 10 great compositions Hurst gave to the fellows to feast on. The “Middle Passage Suites” are the most engaging. “BoB a palindrome” was one of the first jazz albums I listened to in 2013 and it hasn’t worked its way out of my system yet.
Eye Of The Beholder Tim Warfield (Criss Cross Jazz)
A musician asked me recently if I was kidding around when I said saxophonist Tim Warfield has never cut a bad album. I meant what I said. I have sufficient proof to support my belief Warfield’s album “Eye Of The Beholder”. This is my favorite. He staffed it with four jazz musicians he came of age with pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Rodney Whitaker, drummer Clarence Penn and trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Neither has lost their boyhood enthusiasm for the music. “Eye of the Beholder” feels like a big class reunion.
pushing the world away Kenny Garrett (Mack Avenue Records)
Yes, this is another album where alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett honored some of the musicians who influenced him. It’s even better than his 1996 tribute to saxophonist John Coltrane “Pursuance: Music of John Coltrane”. Garrett wrote all the music for “pushing the world away”. There’re shout-outs to Mulgrew Miller, Donald Brown, Chick Corea and others who Garrett admire. “pushing the world away” showed Garrett orbiting around another plateau in his playing.
The Roots of the Blues Randy Weston & Billy Harper (Sunnyside) One of the oddest collaborations in jazz pianist Randy Weston and tenor saxophonist Billy Harper. Their styles and approaches to the music is different as night and day, Weston with deep roots in music from the motherland and Harper with a sound on tenor that’s wider than his native Texas. On the surface, Weston and Harper seem like as odd pairing. But the jazz giants pull it off. They jam on blues with an African themes written by Weston such as “Blues to Senegal,” “Blues to Africa,” and “African Lady”. There are a few standards “Take the A Train,” and “Body and Soul” that serve as space fillers. On “If One Could Only See,” Harper let Weston play solo. Weston returned the favor on “Roots of the Nile”. The solo performances are the album’s strongest.