Sunday, December 21, 2014


1.          Embraceable Vincent Chandler (Self-produced) Trombonist Vincent Chandler left Detroit this year to run the Jazz Studies department at Claflin University in Orangeburh, S.C. For Detroit, it was a big lost. Chandler was a top player and jazz educator on Detroit’s scene. Chandler left behind the city with an outstanding album titled “Embraceable”. The album, which features some of Detroit’s leading veterans and young players, was Chandler’s first full-length date as a session leader. Some years ago, he co-led two sessions with the great ensemble Urban Transport. “Embraceable is a gem and shows Chandler at the height of his virtuosity. Chandler composed all the tunes on the album.  The more you play this album the more you'll love it. 

2.               Improvise Sean Jones (Mack Avenue Records) This is a milestone album for trumpeter Sean Jones, marking his tenth year on Mack Avenue Records. Jones was one of the company’s first stars, and he’s consistently put out great jazz music. “Improvise” is his best to date, and it can serve as sufficient proof that all the talk about Jones being the finest jazz trumpeter of his generation is correct. Jones could blow the heat off the sun. He pulled off this exceptional date with the assistance of some of his running buddy’s pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvarie.

3.              Afro Physicist Theo Croker (DDB Records)This is the jazz trumpeter’s first record on jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater’s record label, but it isn’t his first outing has a session leader. Suffice it to say, “Afro Physicist” certainly has all the energy and the work ethic of a debut. It’s Croker’s mission statement, and should solidify him as a major player in jazz. “Afro Physicist” is a melting pot of styles, the kind of jazz album that up-and-comers like Croker are making.

4.          Road Shows Volume 3 Sonny Rollins (Doxy Records) This is the best of the “Road Show” albums, which Rollins started releasing a few years back. It’s a live date, and Rollins is in top improvisational form. “Solo Sonny” demonstrates why he’s been the reigning king of improvisation for five decades.

5.         In My Solitude Branford Marsalis (Marsalis Music) Marsalis gave his working band the night off and performed this date solo. The album was recorded live at Grace Cathedral. A cathedral is a suitable venue to accommodate Marsalis’s massive tone. The saxophonist works out on a number of well-known standards. This album feels as if Marsalis invited a bunch of people to his house to experience one of his marathon practice sessions firsthand.

6.        Midnight Melodies Cyrus Chestnut (Smoke Sessions) It isn’t too premature to call pianist Cyrus Chestnut a legend. Chestnut has the body of work to support such a distinction. “Midnight Melodies” is Chestnut’s first live album, a date he’s been plotting for years and finally got around to executing. Chestnut’s version of the Milton Jackson oldie “Bag’s Groove” is the standout here. 

7.    Manhattan Stories Charles Lloyd (Resonance Records) A live two-disc recording that Lloyd made with guitarist Gabor Szabo, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Peter La Roca Sims. It's Lloyd in his glory after he’d worked all that John Coltrane shit out of his system. Throughout Lloyd and Szabo sound like kindred spirits.

8.     Acacia Jesse Kramer (Self-produced) Kramer’s net worth is growing around the Detroit jazz scene. The youngster is in demand. And “Acacia,” his debut as a leader is the kind of hybrid jazz music he’s into currently. The music on the album isn’t straight ahead jazz, and most jazz purists wouldn't cotton to it. But, man does the music swing.

9.          The Art of Conversation Kenny Barron and Dave Holland (Impulse!) On paper, this pairing seems odd. Barron and Holland are from different points of the music. Barron is a post-bop apostle who has blessed every band he’s played in, and Dave is a central figure in both jazz fusion and free jazz. Putting them in the studio together seemed foolish, but somehow it worked. “The Art of Conversation” is one of the best jazz duo dates ever made. Barron and Holland wisely selected to perform music from their songbooks.

10.          Kayak Gary Schunk Trio featuring Peter Erskine (Detroit Music Factory) Pianist Gary Schunk knows how to make an old school jazz trio album, the variety that Oscar Peterson, Red Garland and Ray Brown used to make. Schunk was in a near fatal car accident and recovered in sufficient time to experience the success of this album, which to date is the best the upstart label Detroit Music Factory has put out. The ingredient that makes every cut on this album memorable is the superior drumming of Peter Erskine. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Dee Dee Bridgewater
Jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater’s live shows can be R-rated at times, which her fan base enjoys because she is such a dynamic performer. Being over the top is part of her game. Friday night, at the Paradise Jazz Series in Detroit, She was tamed. She still put on a great show due largely to the young band she works with nowadays – trumpeter Theo Croker, pianist Michael King, saxophonist Irwin Hall, bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Kassa Overall.

Croker is the band’s leader. Earlier this year, he put out a fine album titled “Afro Physicist,” which Bridgewater produced. Croker runs the band, but King is its workhorse and its star. As he proved during his soloing. 

He’s a tasteful pianist who communes with the piano instead of banging it as if he's angry at it. Bridgewater seemed to be in heaven surrounded by all the testosterone.

She shared the bill with vocalist and guitarist Raul Midon, a one-man band. He can turn his voice into a brass instrument at will. During his set, it seemed as if an invisible trumpeter was on stage. He sang a handful of cuts from his current album. His set scored with the crowd. He loosened them up for Bridgewater.

Her set was tamed mostly. She did unlock her inner hoochie a few times, making sexual remarks about Eric Wheeler's big bass, and rubbing Midon’s inner thigh when he joined the band for “A Christmas Song”. 

Bridgewater sang cuts from her Grammy winning “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959) To Billie with Love from Dee Dee Bridgewater”.

Her band stripped down and then applied new coats of varnish to Holiday’s “Lady Sings the Blues,” and “Fine and Mellow”. The band’s take of “God Bless the Child” was so touching it would’ve made Holiday weep in her grave. 

The band segued nicely into a gang of Christmas songs after Bridgewater’s nod to Holiday.

Bridgewater was a bit nervous when Croker put her on the spot calling Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas”. It was Bridgewater’s first time singing it. She sight read the lyrics and brought down the house in the process.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Bob James
Jazz pianist Bob James is the king of smooth jazz. He always brings sophistication and cool to the music. There’s an element of bop to his playing also. He can stretch out on a Horace Silver number, for example, with the same aplomb as on a smooth jazz number. Those strengths were on display at his concert Saturday at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI. James played the second concert of the University Musical Society’s 2014-2015 jazz series.

The first half of the concert was heavy on smooth jazz with James’ band – guitarist Perry Hughes, drummer Harvey Mason, bassist Carlitos del Puerto and saxophonist Aaron Heick – kicking ass on some of James’ greatest hits. The band was hardcore. 

They’re adept smooth jazz musicians who know their way around pure jazz also.  Heick subbed for James’ regular saxophonist Andy Snitzer. Heick blowing had a rich bop feel. Picture how Charlie Parker would’ve sounded had he invented smooth jazz.

Hughes, a Detroiter and one of the most respected jazz guitarist on the scene, was sort of a security blanket for James who was relaxed with Hughes at his side. The star of the band was del Puerto, a monster bassist from Cuba. He’s the youngest and the most colorful member. He delivered the most exciting solos.

After the band got the crowd going, they switch to more straight-ahead jazz. James saluted the late jazz greats Horace Silver and Dave Brubeck. James’ exchange with del Puerto on Silver’s “Sister Sadie” was outrageous. On the surface, it seemed as if they were horsing around, but midway it became a serious exchange of improvisational ideas. 

James played to original tunes honoring Brubeck “Don’t Go to College” and “Follow Me”. Both had Brubeck’s trademarks such as those odd time signatures Brubeck fancied.

The crowd got a big boner when James played the theme song of the hit 80’s sitcom “Taxi”.  James is 74 and he played as if in his prime. His solos were joyous, and he successfully married straight-ahead jazz with smooth jazz. Something different for the conservative crowd who supports the UMS jazz series.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


It’s a crying shame that a jazz vocalist who sings as divinely as Meri Slaven isn’t a household name. Sure, in Michigan, her home state, she's popular and she’s performs regularly at upscale clubs and restaurants. She’s also a key member of a hot vocal group the Metro Jazz Voices. Maybe the recent release of her new album “Get Out Of Town,” will get her the national attention she’s earned and she deserves. “Get Out Of Town” has 13 songs and she staffed the album with some top Detroit jazz musicians such as Ron English, Sean Dobbins, Paul Keller, and Scott Gwinnell. Hard to make less than a stellar album with such star power. Slaven pours her voice over well-known oldies such as “The Trouble with Me is You,” “Moonlight” and “Like a Lover”. The cuts likely to get played over and over are “A Blossom Fell,” “I Thought About You” and “True Colors” because you get to experience Slaven one on one with Gwinnell and Keller. Her voice could turn the devil into a romantic.

Gary Schunk has been an in demand jazz pianist for decades. Early this year, the Detroit jazz community almost lost him. He was in a near fatal car accident. Fortunately, he’s bounced back and is back on the scene swinging harder than ever. There’s a lot of work yet to do. First order of business is he has to push his new album “Kayak,” one of the finest jazz trio recordings made in Detroit in a while. Pure down to the bone jazz, akin to the classic trio dates great jazz pianist such as Red Garland and Tommy Flanagan used to make. “Kayak” is the sixth album on the Detroit Music Factory. Schunk is at the top of his game, which isn’t surprising. There’s never been a time when he wasn’t. As some of his peers have noted over the years he's gifted and he can play everything R&B, classical, bop, Latin, and swing. Fronting a trio, as the album clearly proves, is his true calling. There are 12 cuts on “Kayak” that Schunk, drummer Peter Erskine, and bassist Ray Parker approach with the adherence to craftsmanship of master tailors.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Dianne Reeves

The jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves’ concerts are hit or miss. When she’s on point, her concerts are something to behold. When she has an off night, you feel letdown as if she didn’t give her all. She has one of the best voices in jazz, and her scatting rivals any of the great jazz vocalists of any era. Friday night at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, Reeves played the first concert of the 2014-2015 Paradise Jazz Series.

Reeves scatted a hell of a lot, which is often heavenly when she does so in moderation. She’s a natural born storyteller. The thing is the stories haven’t changed over the years. You wish she’d update them, or better yet spend more time singing.

During the second set Friday, for example, Reeves was chatty, particularly when gushing about actor George Clooney who hired her for the movie “Good Night, and Good Luck,” and talking about her aunt fooling a group of vegetarians at a family cookout by lacing their vegetables with bacon grease.

The first set smoked thanks to Reeves’ band – pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist James Genus, guitarist Romero Lubambo, and drummer Terreon Gully – The band is tighter than pricey dress shoes, and they supported her like four big brothers.

Clayton is the new member. It was his second show with the band. He’s a young buck and he’s made quite a name for himself. As a session leader, he’s released three excellent albums, and he showed his knack for backing a world-class jazz vocalists throughout the concert.

The band warmed the stage for Reeves, opening with the standard “Summertime”. Then she floated on stage, scatted her way through the second song, which didn’t have words. At the end of it, she tacked on an amusing story about attending a Stella Cruz concert in L.A. back in the day. Reeves likes to include amusing stories in the middle or at the end of songs.

Reeves is a wiz at improvising. She does it as skillfully as a horn player. That was on full display when trumpeter Terence Blanchard joined the band for a seductive take of “Stormy Weather”.  

Note for note, she matched Blanchard. At one point, it seemed as if they were making love musically on stage. The concert could’ve ended after that number with the audience satisfied she’d given them a good show.

But the concert carried on. And Reeves sang less and talked more. The audience didn’t mind though. However, when you pay to hear a top jazz vocalist, you want the vocalist to at least sing for 90% of the concert.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Gregory Porter
No doubt, Gregory Porter is the top male vocalist in jazz right now. His 2012 album “Be Good” put him on the map, and his follow up “Liquid Spirit” earned him a Grammy. He caught many jazz fans off-guard when he hit the scene about five years ago. Jazz has male vocalists of all makes and models, but none as dynamic or as grassroots as Porter.

Wednesday evening at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, Porter opened the University Musical Society 2014-2015 jazz series with a near flawless two-hour set. Porter and his band – saxophonist Yosuke Sato, pianist Chip Crawford, bassist Jahmal Nichols, and drummer Emanuel Harrold – performed cuts from Porter’s albums “Water,” “Be Good” and “Liquid Spirit”. The two-hour set was heavy on music from the latter album.

Porter’s band came out first. Right off, they got chummy with the melody of “Painted On Canvass,” one of the best cuts from “Be Good”. Then Porter walked out. He was only a handful of choruses into the song before the crowd lost their ever-loving minds. He’s a vocalist capable of singing R&B, blues, and jazz with equal aplomb.

Porter has a lot of stagecraft. All concert long, he had the crowd geeked, and yelling the title of songs they wanted him to sing. At times, he had the swagger of a country preacher, especially when he belted “No Dying Here” and “Be Good”. Porter is big on crowd participation also. Often during the set, the crowd was working and singing harder than Porter.

The night’s most endearing moment was Porter’s duet with pianist Chip Crawford on “Imitation of Life”.  Porter’s voice melted over the lyrics. His band is capable for the most part, and he allowed them more leeway than any band backing vocalists should get.

Saxophonist Yosuke Sato was all over the map. He has the stage presents of a smooth jazz saxophonist, heavy on long soloing and grandstanding. Yes, he sounded good, but there wasn’t much meaning to his solos.  He seemed to recycle the same note during one long solo after the other.

At first, his solos were engaging and they got the crowd psyched. But roughly four songs into the set the long soloing became annoying. Crawford was guilty of the same sin. To Sato's and Crawford's credit, the audience was engrossed. 

Sato and Crawford were definitely showboating. It appeared as if they were competing with Porter. Porter encouraged the behavior. So not only is Porter a freakishly awesome vocalist he's also a generous  and a liberal bandleader. 

Monday, September 22, 2014


Leonard King Jr., James Carter, and Gerard Gibbs
The jazz saxophonist James Carter formed his organ trio in Detroit soon after he made the album “Live at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge” in the summer of 2001. Since then the trio, which includes drummer Leonard King Jr. and organist Gerard Gibbs, has become a household sensation. The trio has toured the world and has put out three albums. The most recent one is the blues inspired “At the Crossroads”.  

The trio has one apparent flaw, failing to hit Detroit regularly. Sunday afternoon, for the first time in nine years the trio played in Detroit at the First Unitarian Universalist Church. During the three-hour plus concert, Carter never let on why the trio has put off play in Detroit.

Carter, Gibbs and King Jr. put on a phenomenal concert. Chances are no one cared why they haven’t made time to hit Detroit. Of late, the trio has toured overseas, playing the music of the great gypsy jazz giant Django Reinhardt. Carter called the tour “Django Unchained”. 

Sunday, the trio performed some tunes from "Django Unchained". Carter was all over the saxophone, making it do things that defied logic. On the opening number, Carter violated several commandments and blew so forcefully on one tune it could’ve blown Jesus off his cross. One of Carter’s trademarks is playing cadenzas. Throughout the concert, he played many memorable ones. 

There were moments when Carter blew so recklessly it appear the saxophone was going to explode in his hands. Throughout the trio played as if making up for lost time. Apparently, Carter, King Jr. and Gibbs absolutely love playing with each other.The trio played an enough music the first set to satisfy the audience. The second set was more of a bonus. 

The trio tore through cuts from “At the Crossroads” such as “Walking The Dog,” “Lettuce Toss Yo’ Salad,” and “The Hard Blues”. Of course, the audience came for Carter, but Gerard Gibbs was a scene-stealer and King Jr. had his moments of brilliance. Gibbs had the church organ preaching.

Gibbs is the soul of the trio, and the feats Carter created on the saxophones Gibbs matched on the organ. Highlights of the concert were witnessing the exchanges between Carter and Gibbs. He plays the keyboard in a number of bands and he plays piano in Carter’s quintet. He's a decent enough pianist but the organ is his natural habitat. He’s one of the top jazz organist around presently.

King Jr., the trio's elder statesman, drummed so ferociously he destroyed a pair of drumsticks. His singing was a nice contrast to all the hell the trio raised. Wonder why Carter didn’t feature him on more tunes. Not surprising, the response to the concert was overwhelmingly positive. Maybe the trio won’t wait another nine years to hit Detroit again. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014


Cyrus Chestnut
Saturday, marked the first full day of concerts at the 35th Detroit Jazz Festival. Although I got an early start, I didn’t catch all the concerts I planned to. I started the day at the Absopure Pyramid Stage. I caught Hallady/Schunk Latin Experience set. The group of Detroiters played from Doug Halladay’s latest album “Celebrando!”.

I bumped into Halladay’s wife opening night of the festival. She implored me to check out the set, promising it would be smoking. She was right although there was some overkill. The soloing was too long. I wondered if the first two numbers would ever end. Hallady is a fine composer and he put together a solid group of Detroiters to play his music. If this band stays together, it will be one of the best in Michigan.

After Hallady’s set, I shot over to catch alto saxophonist Phil Woods’ set at the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage. Woods is one of a handful of remaining players from the bop era, and although he had to me wheeled onto the stage and he carries an oxygen tank to help him breathe, he still sounds wonderful. His chops hasn’t aged one bit.

His band trumpeter Brian Lynch, pianist Bill Mays, bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin sprinted through a number of goodies from the American Songbook. Woods had to take a break after a couple of meaty solos. Emphysema has slowed him down some. Woods made light of his medical condition, joking that when a saxophonist is hit with emphysema it’s a sure sign he plays too many notes.

I stayed at the Chase Stage. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut followed Woods. Chestnut had a young band with him who looked like high school music students, but they swung like veteran players. Chestnut set was a tribute to the late great jazz pianist Dave Brubeck. 

Chestnut did an excellent job remaking many of Brubeck’s signature tunes. The crowd had a collective orgasm when Chestnut broke into the hippest take of “Take Five” I ever heard, a classic written by Brubeck’s band-mate Paul Desmond.

Before the set started, Chestnut warned the crowd he did not intend to play Brubeck’s music as originally written. It was Chestnut's first stop at the Detroit Jazz Festival since 1992. 

Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders was the musician I wanted to see the most. I wondered if Sanders was still deep into his free-jazz bag. Sanders played a straight-ahead set with little of the antics on the sax he’s known for. 

Sanders didn’t announce the tunes his band played. The crowd was so wrapped up into the performance they really didn’t give a damn. Sanders gave them what they wanted undiluted jazz and brilliant soloing from his staff drummer Joe Farnsworth, pianist Will Henderson and bassist Nat Reeves.  So far, my favorite set of the festival

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Bad Plus & Joshua Redman
After 25 minutes of backslapping by the big sponsors of the Detroit Jazz Festival, the 35th installment of the nation’s largest free music festival opened with a brilliant set from the jazz trio Bad Plus. Drummer David King, bassist Reid Anderson and pianist Ethan Iverson make up the trio, and their special guest was saxophonist Joshua Redman, the DJF’s artist-in-residence. Honestly, the Bad Plus’s set would’ve been badass without Redman, but his being there was a bonus.

The Bad Plus is a tough band to label. One minute they played what appeared to be rock fusion. The next they stretched out on a free-jazz piece. Then they slipped in a ballad played so lovingly it would've made a stingy bastard donate his life-savings to charity.

Bad Plus kept changing the game plan, playing a bunch of multi-layered original compositions the conservative DJF crowd ate up. Redman was terrific throughout. You could follow the logic of his playing whether he played mellowly as he did on the set opener “Love is the Answer,” or played wildly as he did on the set closer. Anderson wasn't being cocky when he said the band's performance set the tone of the festival.

The second set was billed A Night at the Apollo starring Ted Louis, Margot B, Kevin Mahogany, the Wonder Twins and David Berger’s NYC Big Band. It was a big project design for the DJF. On paper, the project seemed easy to pull off. But the result was a cluster fuck.

Berger’s Big Band was on point playing swing, bebop, and the blues with heart, energy and efficiency. The other acts were flat. Ted Louis is a competent tap dancer and singer. But his impression of Sammy Davis Jr. and Cab Calloway were lame. The Wonder Twins dance routine was puzzling. Kevin Mahogany is a great jazz singer, one of the best in jazz. But his booming voice couldn’t rescue the set.

Mahogany did get a brief rise from the crowd when he belted a blues, his best punch. If Berger’s big band had played the set alone, it would’ve been good enough to maintain the spirited tone Bad Plus had established. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Randy Weston and Billy Harper
July was a good month. I received a bunch of excellent jazz albums, and I picked up writing drive-by album reviews. The kind of reviews that come in under 100 words. A former music editor at the Metrotimes--a weekly newspaper in Detroit where I covered jazz for 17 years--coined the name years ago. I continued using it because it fits the short reviews I enjoy writing. 

Anyway, I spent the better part of July listening to new music. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins' and pianist Cyrus Chestnut's albums were the best followed by bassist Rodney Whitaker and pianists Eric Reed and Orrin Evans.

In August, things have slowed down, which is OK. The Detroit Jazz Festival is around the corner. My friend jazz historian Jim Gallert asked me to interview pianist Randy Weston and saxophonist Billy Harper at the Jazz Talk Tent.

At first, I turned Jim down because I’m uncomfortable talking to crowds. I’ve interviewed many jazz musicians mostly one on one or via telephone. Jim is a salesman at heart, and he convinced me I’m the right man to conduct the interview. 

The past three weeks, I’ve been researching Weston and Harper. I’ve talked to jazz legends before. In fact, I’m an old pro at it, having picked the brains of Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Richard Davis and many others.

I bought Weston’s autobiography “African Rhythms”. It’s taken me a week to get through it. Weston led an upstanding life and that doesn’t make for riveting reading as Hampton Hawes’, Miles Davis’ and Art Pepper’s autobiographies was. They led troubled lives.

Anyway, I got some useful information from Weston’s book, particularly his musical partnership with trombonist Melba Liston which Weston likened to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's partnership.

I couldn’t find a lot of information about Harper. I checked All Music, All About Jazz, Harper’s official website and a few more online sources. All had the same basic biographical stuff so I won’t have a ton of questions for him. 

Weston and Harper put out a wonderful album in 2013 titled “Roots of the Blues”. I plan to make it the thrust of the interview. I want to know about their musical friendship and how it’s grown over the years. They’ve been collaborating for decades. I’ll warm up with that. Then I’ll question them about memorable chunks of their musical history. That should eat up most of the 45 minutes I have to interview them. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014


The jazz guitarist Bobby Broom last album was "Upper Westside Stories". He packed it with new music, and for the first time fans were able to take in the full range of his writing. It was a wonderful and a daring outing. For Broom’s new album "My Shining Hour," available August 19th on Origin Records, Broom drummer Makaya McCraven and bassist Dennis Carrol reworks some well-known tunes from the great American Songbook such as "My Ideal," “Just One of Those Things," "Jitterbug Waltz" and "Sweet Georgia Brown". It wouldn't be wrong to feel some of Broom’s best work is his take on music of renowned composers. This new album is on par with one of Broom's best dates "Bobby Broom Plays For Monk". Throughout "My Shining Hour" Broom strums so sweetly it would make the devil stop sinning. Whenever Broom picks up his guitar whether for a live set or for a studio date bank on some topflight jazz.
"When We Find Ourselves Alone" is jazz bassist Rodney Whitaker's third date for Mack Avenue Records and his first without his partner drummer Carl Allen. These days, Whitaker's hands are full running the Jazz Studies Department at Michigan State University and playing with a group of department staffers known around campus as the Professors of Jazz. So, his recording output has slowed down a bit. This new album marks Whitaker's return to the stellar post hard-bop music he put out during the late 90’s. Whitaker also reunites with players he's run the streets with in the past pianist Bruce Barth, drummer Gregory Hutchinson and saxophonist Antonio Hart. Hart is the centerpiece of this album, and arguably one underappreciated saxophonist. An added feature is Whitaker's daughter Rockelle Fortin, a fine vocalist on the move who doesn't blow the opportunity here her dad gives her. Fortin sings on five of the cuts. "When We Fine Ourselves Alone" is a darn good album, marking a welcomed return to Whitaker's roots.

I laughed reading pianist Eric Reed's main goal for his new date "Groovewise" was to make a great album. What was so amusing? Reed is one of jazz's elite pianist and he’s been making great music for a while. No doubt, Reed could make a great album in his sleep. Reed recorded live at Smoke in New York. The album is coming out September 9th on Smoke Sessions Records. It fines Reed working with his quartet that has saxophonist Seamus Blake. Its unfortunate a sax player as terrific as Blake isn't a household name. Reed allows Blake to carry this album, and Blake does so proudly. The crowd killers on this date are “Until the Last Cat has Swung” and “Groovewise (Intro).

Friday, July 18, 2014


Trumpeter Sean Jones has been with Mack Avenue Records for 10 years. He's celebrating that achievement with the release of his 7th studio album "im-provise never before seen" out Tuesday July 22nd. Jones has made some terrific jazz albums for Mack Avenue such as "No Need for Words" and "Roots," but none as well thought out as this one. He made it with pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire musicians, Jones has performed with for years. The album opens with "60th & Broadway," a burner that will make the hairs on your neck catch fire. Jones’ exchange between Evans on "Interior Motive" seems as if they're playing the dozens. The ballads on the album are perfect. No trumpeter plays ballads as beautifully as Jones does. His blowing on "Morning After" and "Not While I'm Around" will make your soul weep.

"Liberation Blues" is jazz pianist Orrin Evans third live album. Smoke Session Records, which is putting out live dates from some big shot jazz pianists, releases this album August 12th. This outing is an all-star date with two of the top names in jazz right now saxophonist JD Allen and trumpeter Sean Jones. (Drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Luques Curtis round out the rhythm section.) Evans has been throwing down for 20 plus years without all the press and hoopla lavished on other jazz pianists of his generation. Still, Evans is beloved by his peers and by serious jazz devotees. Evans has made 20 albums. "Liberation Blues" is the latest gem, showing he knows how to manage an all-star band among other things. The album starts with "Liberation Blues," a suite for Evans' departed band-mate Dwayne Bruno. The first two movements “Devil Eyes” and Juanita Bruno composed and are the most enticing. Overall, the album offers a complete picture of Evans, a pianist with impeccable manners not afraid to think outside the box. Putting together Allen, a deep thinking sax player with Jones who breathes, drinks, and eats swing is a gamble that pays off.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


"Midnight Melodies" is the jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut's first live album. He made it at Smoke, a favorite jazz club in New York for some jazz pianists. He’s always wanted to make a live album but for whatever reasons just got around to doing one. This is his best trio album in years. 
Since leaving Atlantic Records over a decade ago, some of Chestnut's albums have been below par. He put out a few good ones such as “Journey” and “Spirit,” and some not so good such as “Cyrus Chestnut Plays Elvis” and "Genuine Chestnut". But when he makes a quality album its quality from head to toe.
As for this new album, Chestnut staffs it with bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Lewis, star players in jazz for some time now, who have a history with the late pianist John Hicks,  Chestnut's mentor.
This album comes off as a nod to Hicks when the trio plays his “Two Heart Beats” “Pocket Full of Blues,” and “Naima’s Love Song”. On the latter, the trio is in full depth. 

Chestnut mixes bits of the hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer with the standard “For All We Know,” and it works gorgeously. He’s in the moment letting his imagination joyride. 
Sweet as Chestnut's reworking of "Naima's Love Song" is, it isn’t the standout. Milt Jackson's blues "Bag's Groove" is  and it's likely to be played over and over. 
Chestnut opens the blues toying with the melody before blowing it wide open. On it, Chestnut sounds a lot like the pianist Gene Harris when he was in the throes of a blues.
Chestnut always puts the spotlight on his band-mates when fronting larger bands, although he's the leader, he seems comfortable in a supporting role. In this live trio setting,however, he allows himself to thrive. 

Friday, July 11, 2014


The jazz trumpeter Theo Croker is the grandson of the late and legendary trumpeter Doc Cheatham. Croker is like him in a few ways. He has a soft tone and his phrasing is smooth like soymilk. Listening to Croker's new album "AfroPhysicist" it's clear he isn't the least bit interested in emulating his granddad, or putting out the kind of jazz he was into. 
Cheatham was a red-blooded American jazz man and a saintly swinger. Every band he played in was blessed to have him. Croker is steep in the traditional inner workings of jazz. He can swing up a storm listen to “The Fundamentals” and he can play angelically as he shows on “Visions” and on “Bo Masekela”.
This album suggests he's on a jazz fusion kick like a growing number of his peers pianist Robert Glasper, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, and trumpeter Christian Scott, which is OK because Croker does the jazz fusion thing exceedingly well. It wouldn't be wrong to regard "AfroPhysicist" as his breakthrough album, or better yet his mission statement to the jazz world. 
"AfroPhysicist is Croker's third album. It has all the markings of a serious jazz musician out to make a name. His kind of jazz fusion is like the listenable fusion Christian Scott has been making.  
The album opens with a nod to Cheatham titled “Alapa”. Croker sounds as if he tries to get in touch with his granddad's spirit. The next cuts “Realize” is a jazz fusion explosion, followed by the mid-ranged goodies “It’s Not You. It’s Me (But You Didn’t Help}” and “Light Skinned Beauty”.
"AfroPhysicist" is on vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater’s label DDB Records. She pitched in big as producer, and she sings wonderfully on two cuts “Save Your Love for Me” and “Moody’s Mood for Love”.  Her help doesn't make the album, but having her on it doesn't hurt. Croker isn't a household name yet like trumpeters Sean Jones and Terell Stafford are. However, this album is a major step toward the big leagues.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Whenever there's talk about the best jazz band working, bank on someone offering up the Wayne Shorter and the Branford Marsalis bands as the top. A case can be made for both bands. They have accomplished leaders, and gifted sidemen who have done great work outside the respective bands. Plus, the bands have been together nearly two decades, and that one sound most great bands shoot for Shorter and Marsalis achieved long ago. 

There're other noteworthy jazz bands that deserve props. One such band is drummer Ralph Peterson's Fo'tet, which has Steve Wilson, Joseph Doubleday, Flex Peikli and Eguie Castrillo raising pure hell. Sometimes Peterson changes the lineup as often as the great bandleader Art Blakey used to change his Jazz Messengers. 

Peterson is a former Messenger and Blakey was is mentor. Blakey cranked out jazz stars. Peterson is one of them. For proof, checkout his output and his ever increasing popularity over the years. 

The past four years, Peterson has made some awesome modern day jazz albums "Outer Reaches" and "Duality Perspective," and now there is this new album "Alive at Firehouse 12 Vol 2: Fo'n Mo'". Live is a good light to catch the Fo'tet. 

Peterson is a showman. On this date, he has a number of astounding solos, though, overall the album comes off as a showcase for saxophonist Steve Wilson and vibe player Joseph Doubleday. Maybe that is how Peterson envisioned things going.  

The Fo'tet plays music from a wide range of composers such as Chick Corea, Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, and Stevie Wonder. Throughout, Wilson's and Doubleday's playing is sturdy as a parking structure. The album’s best cuts are the ones Peterson wrote "The Lady in Black,” The Tears I Cannot Hide," and "Surrender". 

The Fo'tet is just as deep, as hip, and as swinging as Shorter's and Marsalis' band. With Peterson’s last three albums, especially this one, he has made a solid case for having the top jazz band.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


"The Road Show Volume 3,” a taste of saxophonist Sonny Rollins' archived live concerts from 2009 to 2011 is the most dynamic of his Road Show albums. The other volumes felt cut and spliced together, and never really captured how otherworldly Rollins can be live. In June, Okeh Records released vol. 3 nationwide. 
The album shows Rollins having a ball with many of his trusted band-mates such as pianist Stephen Scott, trombonist Clifton Anderson, bassist Bob Cranshaw and guitarists Bobby Broom and Peter Bernstein. 
Seeing Rollins live is like witnessing God perform miracles for kicks. Nothing compares to watching Rollins take flight, soloing upwards of 30-minutes straight without coming up for air, or Rollins putting his drummers through intense workouts. 
The quality of "Road Show Volume 3" is so clear you think you’re front row at the concerts as Rollins and his band-mates swing through "Biji," "Someday I’ll Find You," and "Don't Stop the Carnival". 
The album's standout cut is "Solo Sonny”. On it, Rollins dives head first into his imagination and comes to the surface with a bunch of fresh improvisational ideas. This third volume shows Rollins remains in top condition. Live maybe the best context to experience him. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Vincent Chandler
"Embraceable” is sort of jazz trombonist Vincent Chandler’s first album as a bandleader. A decade ago, he made two outstanding albums with a jazz band he co-led called Urban Transport. Chandler is a first-class jazz musician with a solid work history, having performed with all-stars such as Joe Henderson, Donald Walden, Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove and James Carter. Musically, everything Chandler undertakes is of bulletproof professionalism. 

“Embraceable” shows every square inch of Chandler’s chops. Midway through the album, you'll feel that was an objective. On “Nature Boy,” and on “Falling,” his playing has a puppy love kind of innocence. Chandler wanted Geri Allen, Karriem Riggins and Robert Hurst on the album. Allen and Riggins couldn’t participate because of other commitments.

Hurst signed on and so did the supreme jazz pianist Rick Roe, plus some rising players such as Ian Finkelstein, Nate Winn and Ben Rolston. Giving “Embraceable” a good balance of vets and up-and-comers. Chandler wrote 10 of the 12 cuts. “Copycat,” “Coldest and “Embraceable” are the coldest cuts, making "Embraceable the kind of jazz album you want to play over and over.

Jesse Kramer
Jesse Kramer is a jazz drummer, and a graduate of the University of Michigan. In a short time, Kramer has become popular. In May, he became a session leader with the release of the fine debut “Acacia,” with Detroiters saxophonist Marcus Elliot, trumpeter Kris Johnson, bassist Damon Warmack and keyboardist Glenn Tucker. Kramer is one of the more tasteful jazz drummer’s working on Detroit’s scene. A scene that has its fair share of grandstanding drummers. Kramer will never be one of them

Kramer behaves as if he was born to make his band-mates look good. This debut is more than what’s expected from an upstart making a name for himself in a city full of accomplished jazz musicians. Kramer wrote all the music on “Acacia”. The album is 110% proof strong throughout. 

Some of the best playing comes from Kris Johnson, who’s too old to be considered a young lion and too young to be labeled a veteran. Over the past few years, Johnson has built a loyal following. Kramer seemed to have designed the songs around Johnson’s chops.

Kramer has been exposed to many forms of music obviously, because “Acacia” has traces of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian, and smooth jazz music.  After you listen to “Acacia,” you will want to wring Kramer's neck for not including at least five more cuts. Maybe, he intended to keep listeners pining for more.