Monday, October 31, 2011


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


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


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.

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


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.

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


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


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


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.