Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Mark Masters Ensemble, featuring Gary Smulyan
American Jazz Institute Presents Ellington Saxophone Encounters (Capri Records)
When bandleader and composer Mark Masters, who runs the American Jazz Institute, and his frequent collaborator baritone sax player Gary Smulyan bounced ideas off each other for a Duke Ellington tribute album they wanted to make, the two decided from the onset against making a predictable tribute album of well-known Ellington and Strayhorn favorites. The streets are over-populated with such albums. After considerable brainstorming, the two decided on a novel but risky idea. Make an album of songs composed by  some of Ellington's sidemen. Masters and Smulyan ran with it, and the outcome is a unique Ellington tribute. Honestly, the album is more of a salute to Ellington’s sideman than Ellington, which is perfectly cool. The album is due out the 21st of August. Masters and Smulyan picked one tune by Ben Webster, one by Jimmy Hamilton, one by Harry Carney, and one by Paul Gonsalves. There are two by Johnny Hodges. The album has plenty of  elegant swinging and some gutbucket wailing, too. Masters loaded his band with laureate caliber sax players such as Gene Cipriano, and Gary Foster.  

The Brubeck Brothers Quartet
LifeTimes (Blue Forest Records)
The Brubeck Brothers Quartet, is run by Chris and Dan. They have put out four albums of mostly originals. It was only a matter of time before they cut one celebrating their famous dad jazz piano player Dave Brubeck. LifeTimes is the name of the album and it was released the 24th of July. Chris is a bass player and trombone player and Dan is a drummer and they have been playing together a lot since the 1970’s. On  LifeTimes, they scraped the rust off and remodeled four of their dad’s classics Jazzanians, Kathy’s Waltz, My One Bad Habit, The Duke, and Take Five. Chris and Dan grew up listening to their dad practice them with his band Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright and Joe Morcello. Desmond, wrote Take Five. It's the song most associated with Brubeck. Chris and Dan dropped a new engine in it and cruised the town.

Natalie Cressman
Unfolding (Self-produced)
Natalie Cressman is a jazz singer and at 20-year-old she’s under the legal drinking age and so are most of the members of her wonderful band Secret Garden. On August 10th Cressman’s first albums as a leader Unfolding comes out, and it’s the kind of eclectic album jazz musicians of her generation are making nowadays. Cressman sings in the vein of Esperanza Spalding and Gretchen Parlato. Like Spalding, Cressman is an instrumentalist, too. She plays the trombone impressively, but on Unfolding listeners will be swooned by Cressman’s voice. Cressman’s take of Charles Mingus’ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat calls to mind Joni Mitchell's version. The standout band-member is trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg. He’s an imaginative trumpeter, but not into grandstanding. Cressman gives the impression she wouldn’t stand for that. She’s no push over. Rosenberg is most comfortable shooting the breeze in the upper register of his trumpet. Cressman kept Unfolding in her generation, which was brave and was smart. Saxophone player Peter Apfelbaum was the only grown up  guest star she invited to her coming out party.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Mose Allison
NEA announced 2013 Jazz Masters
Mose Allison, Lou Donaldson, Lorraine Gordon, and Eddie Palmieri were awarded the 2013 NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship, given yearly by the National Endowment for the Arts to jazz musicians who have dedicated their musical gifts to jazz. The honor is the highest a jazz musician can receive, and it comes with $25,000 to be used at the winner’s discretion. The NEA started awarding the fellowship in 1982, and 2013 will be the first year a non-jazz musician will receive it. Lorraine Gordon owns the famed jazz club the Village Vanguard and she continues to book top national and international jazz acts. Supposedly, the Vanguard is the oldest jazz club around. Some jazz historians say Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit, Michigan is, but chances are the jazz world will never know. For years, jazz historians across the globe have been trying to sort it out.

Songs for my father
The late great jazz piano player Harold McKinney died in 2001. He was nationally known, and in his hometown, Detroit, he was a jazz apostle. For years, McKinney ran The Detroit Artist and Jazz Performance Lab at the Serengeti Ballroom on Woodward Ave. Every Thursday, budding jazz musicians flocked to the session to study with McKinney, and he only charged a small $10.00 cover fee. Oddly, most of the participants were aspiring jazz singers and very few piano players. The piano players who attended regularly McKinney taught how to accompany singers.

McKinney' s eldest daughter, jazz drummer Gayelynn McKinney, has been on a crusade to continue her dad’s good work. As a jazz drummer, Gayelynn has built an awesome résumé. She is best known as the ace drummer of the all-female jazz outfit Straight Ahead. Regionally, she is the go-to drummer for any bandleader wanting a swing conscious drummer. Back to her crusade. Gayelynn is not restarting her dad’s Thursday night workshop.

Her goals for his legacy are grander. Her dad left 30 boxes of unrecorded music, and for a year or so she has been raising money via the internet to record some of that music. Recently, Gayelynn informed I Dig Jazz that she has raised enough money—over $5,000—to start the project. Detroit jazz musicians Dwight Adams, Wendell Harrison, Marion Hayden, Ian Finkelstein, and Marcus Miller have signed on. 

Will any nationally known jazz musicians be on board? Yes, Gayelynn said, but she won’t reveal who they are right now. Asked if her dad wanted her to put out his music after his passing, Gayelynn said no. A series of dreams motivated her. “I had three dreams about my dad. On the third one, we had a conversation and he said ‘I want you to do something with my music’. Then my cell-phone rang, and I woke up,” Gayelynn recalled. She plans to start recording in September.

Rumor of a new Tia Fuller album
DL Media's publicist Jordy Freed emailed I Dig Jazz the other day, confirming a rumor that saxophone player Tia Fuller has a new album going on sale the 25th of September. It’s titled Angelic Warrior and it’s her follow up to the 2010 gem Decisive Steps. Freed said more information about Angelic Warrior will be available early next week. Fuller is an uber dynamic sax player who has put out a string of wonderful jazz albums. She grabbed I Dig Jazz’s ear when she was a member of trumpeter Sean Jones’ band. On the pop music front, Fuller has played in Beyoncé Knowles' band for many years. The pop world offers better pay, but Fuller is a jazz musician foremost.

What I've been listening to
Last Saturday, I hung out in Ann Arbor, Michigan with a friend. I visited one of my favorite shops Encore Records, and I picked up two dates by jazz bass player Charles Mingus The Clown and Mingus One. I also bought The Blues Book by Booker Ervin and the bebop classic the Quintet Jazz at Massey Hall, featuring Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Those albums tide me over until hump day.

Thursday and Friday, I listened to sax player JD Allen’s Shine!, Victory and I Am I Am. That’s a lot of music to consume in one week, but I didn’t stop there. My friend loaned me Don Pullen Plays Monk. Pullen played the best interpretation of Monks’ Well You Needn’t, ’Round Midnight, Trinkle Tinkle, and In Walked Bud I’ve heard. The solo album, which Pullen cut for Candid Records in 1984. For me, the album was a paranormal  listening experience. Pullen did all kinds of novel things to those Monk favorites, stretching them as far as they could go, and somehow he clung to their melodies like a trophy wife.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Finally, Cyrus, I’ve found a moment to put down my thoughts about your latest album The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet, which puts me in the mind of those splendid albums you cut for Atlantic Records. I’m running four months late, so you have to excuse me. WJ3 Records released the album in March. Two weeks ago, I bought the last copy that Street Corner Music in Oak Park, MI had. I’ve played it every day since then. 

Of your generation you’re my favorite jazz piano player. Every time you’ve played in Detroit or near Detroit I’ve made it a plus to hear you. For many years, you could do no wrong in my book. You put out one stellar jazz album after another such as Revelation, Dark Before the Dawn, and Earth Stories. After you left Atlantic Records where those albums were born, you hit a rough patch. Your post-Atlantic albums were inconsistent. 

To this day, I don’t understand why you made Cyrus Chestnut Plays Elvis. Honestly, Cyrus, when I heard it I thought you had lost your mind. And worst, I was concerned the jazz world had lost one of its brightest piano players. I wish you had consulted me before you cut the album. I would’ve stopped you for fear you’re going to alienate a chunk of your fan base.  

Of your discography many albums, Cyrus Chestnut Plays Elvis is the only eyesore. Cyrus, on this very blog, I dogged the album. If you saw the review, probably you thought you’d lost a longtime fan forever. Well you did not. I continued to buy your work, and some of it I enjoyed. You bounced from label to label--Telarc, Koch Records, Legacy Production, 1-2-3-4Go, and WJ3--after Atlantic closed its jazz division, but you maintained a healthy recording output. The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet is the finest of your post-Atlantic work. 

On your quartet albums, you showcase your band-mates more. For example, on The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet saxophone player Stacy Dillard is the center of attention throughout. Dillard blows brilliantly on every single cut. He goes into the basement of your originals with a searchlight and finds hidden nuances you hoped he'd unearth. 

People who have this album mistaking Dillard for the leader isn't surprising. Not that Dillard is a showoff. On Annibelle Cousins, What’s Happening and Indigo Blue, Dillard case the melodies like a car thief, improvising carefully without setting off any alarms. 

Cyrus, nowadays the jazz scene is overrun with slackers. On The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet, your staff has a strong sense of responsibility. Bass player Dezron Douglas and drummer Willie Jones III, jazz musicians you’ve been running the streets with lately are dependable role players. Neither has a issue with performing most of the manual laborer. Cyrus you designed and executed The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet perfectly. It feels like those homemade albums you made for Atlantic Records.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Hot Club of Detroit  cuts fourth disc
The Hot Club of Detroit is a gypsy jazz band that enjoys bucking convention. The HCD respects the tenets of gypsy jazz co-founded by guitar player Django Reinhardt and violin player Stephane Grappelli, but the HCD go to great lengths to put an up to date spin on the music. On their last album, It’s About That Time, the HDC gave Charles MingusNostalgia at Time Square a gypsy jazz twist. On the 14th of August, Mack Avenue Records makes available Junction, The HCD’s fourth studio disc. According to the jazz writers who have an advanced copy, it’s the HCD’s most daring outing yet. How so? Pictured the outcome of a Reinhardt, Ornette Coleman, Pat Metheny and John Zorn collaboration. Junction is the HCD’s first time hooking up with a singer. Cyrille Aimee, who won the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition, is a guest star. Sadly, Junction is also the first time the HCD has recorded without saxophone player Carl Cafagna. In 2010, he left the band. On Junction the HCD uses two sax players Jon Irabagon and Andrew Bishop. They’re suitable replacements.

Mosaic celebrates Charles Mingus 90th birthday.
2012 marks the 90th birthday of the famed jazz bass player and composer Charles Mingus. To celebrate the occasion, Sue Mingus, his wife, teamed with legendary jazz record producer Michael Cuscuna to release Charles Mingus the Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-1965, a limited edition six disc box set. Mosaic Records releases the set September 16th, which contains mostly unreleased live dates in Amsterdam, in Monterey, in Minneapolis, and in New York’s Town Hall. Eric Dolphy, Charles McPherson, Johnny Cole, Jaki Byard, Clifford Jordan, and Dannie Richmond were members of the Mingus' workshop . Although it’s Mingus birthday, the box set is a present to Mingus’ fans who never heard his workshop band live.

Chrysler sponsors Detroit Jazz Fest
The 33rd Detroit Jazz Festival is being billed as the best festival in years. That’s not PR bull-crap. Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins, Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Garrett, Pat Metheny, and Joe Lovano are headliners. On July 12th DL Media announced Chrysler is the festival’s new sponsor, which is a big deal. For nearly a decade now Gretchen Carhartt-Valade, the owner of Mack Avenue Records has mostly bankrolled the festival. "The automotive industry and jazz music both have rich histories in the city of Detroit. The partnership between Chrysler and the Detroit Jazz Festival bridges these great histories and brings key elements of our city together," said Valade. "Welcoming Chrysler as a presenting sponsor, and hosting its vehicles for a ride and drive, further proves this year will be the best festival we've seen yet".

Coltrane takes Spirit Fiction on the road
Jazz saxophone player Ravi Coltrane gears up for a multi-city tour that starts the 27th of July. Bank on Coltrane playing many of the tunes from his outstanding debut disc for Blue Note Records Spirit Fiction, which has been talked about lovingly by many jazz writers. The jazz world has been looking over Coltrane’s, the son of the great Alice and John Coltrane, shoulders since he put out his first disc Moving Pictures in 1998. It must’ve been tough establishing his brand with such famous parents, but Coltrane has built a bulletproof body of work, and Spirit Fiction is his opus. Coltrane will perform in Albuquerque, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles,  and Oakland,

Sunday, July 8, 2012


I promised myself a few days ago I’d stop reviewing jazz albums. The past three months, I’ve been swamped with new ones. I needed a break, and I figured a week or so would be enough time to unwind. I reneged on that promise yesterday.  Never will I be able to stop listening to jazz. I could stop writing about it for a few days at least I thought . Eric, I discovered expecting that was unrealistic. I played Friendly Fire, the live album you cut with alto sax player Vincent Herring that High Note Records released in March.  

From the opening cut Pat’ N ’ Chat, the album kidnapped my ears. Friendly Fire is the second time you and Herring have hooked up for what writer Donald Elfman, called a classic cutting contest. Eric, I disagree with Elfman calling Friendly Fire that.

Friendly Fire could’ve been mistaken for a cutting contest. It had the same attitude and energy those historic blowing sessions that starred tenor sax players Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lock Jaw” Davis. Friendly Fire is a  textbook blowing session.

I won’t claim you and Vincent have the same styles, but you share a brotherly understanding of each other’s mechanics, which made Friendly Fire transcend a cutting contest. Someday, the album will be a classic studied by budding tenor sax tag teams. You can bank on that.

Friendly Fire showed two licensed swingers blowing like mad. I wondered if the band--drummer Carl Allen, piano player Mike LeDonne, and bass player John Webber--had to fireproof the clothes they wore to  prevent them from catching fire when you and Vincent soloed. The great thing about Friendly Fire was you and Vincent never intended to upstage each other, or turn the session into a meaningless cutting contest. Of course, things  could’ve gone that way, but the rhythm section kept the session kosher. 

Had the late saxophone player Hank Mobley witnessed how you and Vincent repainted his masterpieces Pat ’N' Chat from Mobley’s Blue Note album The Turnaround and Dig Dis from Soul Station I’m sure Mobley would’ve bragged to his friends what masters you guys have become.

Eric, your style is like some of the tenor sax players Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Ike Quebec,  and of course Mobley. Forgive me for comparing you. Players of your ilk and accomplishments hate being compared, but I couldn’t help myself. When you soloed on Sukiyaki, Inception, and Timothy I thought about those saxophone players.

The true sign of a great sax player is his ability to play ballads. That’s my opinion. Working on up-tempo burners is second nature for most jazz saxophone players. There’s a science to playing ballads. You and Vincent know how to cheer up a sad song. 

Vincent wrapped his arms around You Have Changed, comforting it, and you put your hands on Mona Lisa’s waist and dance with it like a prom date. Friendly Fire is the kind of throwback blowing session expected when you and Vincent hook up. I reneged on my promise to stop reviewing jazz albums for a week or so. For that I blame you guys.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


In 2009, jazz drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts split from the Branford Marsalis quartet after a 10 year run. Watts formed his own record label, Dark Key Music. Last year, he put out two excellent discs Family and his wife’s Circular. Marsalis hired a young Philly native named Justin Faulkner to replace Watts. Four MFs Playin’ Tunes, on sale the 10th of August, is Faulkner’s first time recording with  Branford’s quartet and by all accounts he’s a sufficient replacement.

With Watts gone, you can finally hear the other band member’s bass player Eric Revis and piano player Joey Calderazzo. Watts wasn’t a spotlight monger. Rather he’s a drummer with a lot of chops, and he consumed a lot of space. Like Watts, Faulkner is an athletic drummer. 

Marsalis gave Faulkner the floor right away. On the opener The Mighty Sword, Faulkner shadowed Marsalis like a stalker. On Maestra, Faulkner solo sounds as though Watts left him instructions on how to solo in Branford’s band. The emphasis on Four MFs Playin’ Tunes is  on the member's interpretation of each song not on individual or collective improvisation. Compositionally, all the members pitched in. For example, Calderazzo wrote As Summer Into Autumn Slips, and Revis Brews. The album's MVP is Thelonious Monk’s  Teo.  Four MFs Playin’ Tunes is Faulkner’s official coming out party.

Lyrical Volume 1, is jazz singer Milton Suggs sophomore outing. Skiptone Music releases it nationwide the 24th of July. Things to Come released in 2009 was Suggs’ debut as a session leader. The disc was crazy good and it caught many jazz writers off guard. Suggs wailed on some well-known standards. He’s voice sound as if pieces of Joe William’s, Kevin Mahogany’s and Eddie Jefferson’s voices were hand stitched together. 

On Lyrical Volume 1, we get to experience Suggs as a composer. Suggs wrote lyrics for and renamed songs by jazz great such as Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, and Benny Golson. At heart, Suggs is a romantic. Suggs family lore says he started writing love songs as a kid. Lyrical Volume 1 is full of quiet storm  slow jams. The best is Jayme’s Song, a touching ode to Suggs' niece. Suggs sings it so beautifully it’ll make a 400 pound Sumo wrestler weep.

The readers of this jazz blog know I dislike solo jazz piano albums. In the past, I’ve regarded them as purposeless and self-indulgent excursions, or worst overblown practice sessions. In the last year or so, my outlook on solo piano albums have softened a bit. Recently, I’ve listened to some excellent  ones Me, Myself, and I by Kenny Werner, and This Time the Dream is on Me by Larry Willis.

This week, I experienced another excellent one The Noguchi Sessions by Cuban jazz piano player Arturo O’Farrill. This disc was recorded in the Noguchi Museum, in the gallery that houses some of Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi's signature works. 

By nature, O’Farrill is an ensemble oriented piano player, and he’s made many great albums over the years Risa Negra, Arturo O’Farrell Live in Brooklyn and The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra to name three. 

Doing a solo album was a stretch for O’Farrill, and it’s an album O’Farrill wanted to make for sometime.   Of the 12 cuts, the most endearing are those composed by O’Farrill The Sun At Midnight, In Whom, Alsionia, and Once I Had A Secret Meditation. The album, which ZoHo Music releases July 10th, shows “O’Farrill is an elegant improviser and the songs he composed are works of art.

Jazz organ player Kevin Coelho is 16-year-old, and Funkengruven the Joy of Driving a B3 is his debut disc. A teenager recording as a leader is not uncommon. Alto sax player Grace Kelly, trumpeters Lee Morgan and Booker Little were teens when they cut debuts. Coelho has what mystics call an old-soul. It’s mindboggling how funky and how soulful Coelho is. He has a command of the B3 comparable to jazz organ player’s generations older. Clearly, Coelho spent time studying albums by Jimmy Smith, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Joey D. Francesco and Tony Monaco. Monaco produced Funkengruven. The album is a mix of originals and standards. The cuts that will receive the most play are Cantaloupe Island and Dock of the Bay. Chicken Coup/Summit releases Funkengruven  the 10th of July.