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.