3 Cohens, “Tightrope” (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)

3 Cohens, “Tightrope” (Anzic)

With earlier 3 Cohens albums titled Family, Braid and One, the Israeli-born siblings have always conveyed an appealing unity vibe: They’re tightly bound together by artistic creativity, spirit, blood and, at this stage of their careers, a desire to collaborate on ambitious recordings.

Their appealing musical interconnectivity shines brightly on Tightrope, an album that indeed finds Anat Cohen (tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet), Yuval Cohen (soprano saxophone) and Avishai Cohen (trumpet) participating in a balancing act. They’re torn between vintage sounds and bracingly modern pieces, between unaccompanied tracks and those also featuring notable guests, and between conceptual grandeur and a penchant for all-out improvisation.

That togetherness is most clearly demonstrated on several of those aforementioned siblings-only tracks, including the opener, a bouncy take on Art Farmer’s “Blueport,” and Gerry Mulligan’s “Festive Minor,” with its call-and-response sections and various unison and harmony passages coming off as a lively discussion among equals. (Both pieces are from the repertoire of Mulligan’s pianoless quartet.) The Cohens are also heard sans others on five improvised “Conversation” pieces; a moody-to-sunny take on Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House”; a tricked-out “Indiana”; Yuval’s somber “It Might as Well”; the haunting traditional Yiddish tune “Ai Li Lu Li Lu”; and Avishai’s closing “Mantra.”

Still, it’s nice to have guests to spin things in a slightly different direction. Christian McBride does that chunky and woody thing he does so well on Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me.” 3 Cohens Sextet drummer Johnathan Blake creates a form-fitting rhythm pocket on Avishai’s bluesy swinger “Black.” And pianist Fred Hersch provides lush underpinnings on his “Song Without Words #4: Duet,” a sublime version of the ballad “Estate” and a playful take on Monk’s “I Mean You.”

Heavy Hitters Headed to Montreal Jazz Festival

The high-caliber talent, gorgeous concert venues, relaxed outdoor shows, and cosmopolitan setting conspire to make the Montreal International Jazz Festival one of the world’s best events of its kind (I attended the festival in 2012, after a long absence).

So, then, no surprise here: An onslaught of high-end artists are on tap for this summer’s 35th annual edition of the fest, June 26 to July 6.

Jazzers and others headed to Montreal:

  • Newport Festival “Now 60” Band (right): Randy Brecker, Anat Cohen, Larry Grenadier, Karrin Allyson, Mark Whitfield, Clarence Penn, Peter Martin — June 26now 60 band
  • Mike Stern/Bill Evans Band with Tom Kennedy and Steve Smith — June 27
  • Cecile McLorin Salvant (winner of the Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal Competition in 2010)– June 27
  • Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite — June 28
  • Stacey Kent — June 28
  • Brad Mehldau, solo — July 1
  • Marcus Miller — July 1
  • Kenny Garrett Quintet with Vernell Brown, Corcoran Holt, Rudy Bird, and McClenty Hunter — July 1
  • The Chieftains with Ry Cooder — July 2

Give the Bass Player Some: Ron Carter & Esperanza Spalding Top 77th Annual DownBeat Readers Poll

Veteran bassist Ron Carter and young bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding, a Grammy-winning star, grabbed the top spots in this year’s DownBeat Readers Poll.

Carter, an enormously influential double bass master heard on thousands of jazz recordings, a successful solo artist but probably best known for his association with Miles Davis’s second great quintet in the ’60s, was ushered into the Hall of Fame, just beating blues legend B.B. King.

Spalding, a gifted vocalist, upright and electric bassist, and songwriter who has wowed audiences as a leader and as a member of Joe Lovano’s US FIVE band (#14 in the Jazz Group category), won in the categories of Jazz Artist and Jazz Album of the Year, the latter for her pop-infused “Radio Music Society.”

Interestingly, neither won in the two bass categories: Christian McBride won for (double) Bass, while Stanley Clarke, who rode Return to Forever to stardom, won for Electric Bass.

Wayne Shorter, Carter’s old colleague in that Miles band, won in two categories — Soprano Saxophone, and Composer

The more than 17,000 voters in the poll, somewhat surprisingly, honored the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the Jazz Group category, and Big Band honors went to the Maria Schneider Orchestra, whose leader also won for Arranger.

(Complete list of winners)

Other honorees:

  • Trumpet: Wynton Marsalis
  • Trombone: Trombone Shorty
  • Alto Saxophone: Kenny Garrett
  • Tenor Saxophone: Sonny Rollins
  • Baritone Saxophone: James Carter
  • Clarinet: Anat Cohen
  • Flute: Hubert Laws
  • Piano: Brad Mehldau
  • Keyboard: Herbie Hancock
  • Organ: Joey DeFrancesco
  • Guitar: Pat Metheny
  •  Violin: Regina Carter
  • Drums: Jack DeJohnette
  • Vibes: Gary Burton
  • Percussion: Airto Moreira
  • Miscellaneous Instrument: Toots Thielemans
  • Female Vocalist: Diana Krall
  • Record label: Blue Note
  • Blues Artist or Group: B.B. King
  • Blues Album: Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton, “Play the Blues: Live From Jazz at Lincoln Center”
  • Beyond Artist or Group: Robert Glasper
  • Beyond Album: Robert Glasper Experiment, “Black Radio”

For more on the poll, including interviews with the winners, get the mag’s December issue or click here.

Jazz Times: Best of 2008 – Charles Lloyd, Bennie Maupin, More

Rabo de Nube, a 2007 live recording by Charles Lloyd’s quartet, tops the list of 2008 critics’ picks in Jazz Times. lloydFor the CD, documenting the veteran saxophonist’s 7oth-birthday concert in Basel, Switzerland, he was joined by pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland.

The Top 10 highest vote-getters in the poll include three – by Pat Metheny, Cassandra Wilson and Anat Cohen – that made it onto my own list, published online at Jazzhouse (Jazz Journalists Association) and in print at Las Vegas City Life.

The remainder of the Jazz Times top 10:

  • Bennie Maupin, Quartet, Early Reflections
  • Joe Lovano, Symphonica
  • Pat Metheny, Day Trip
  • Dave Holland Sextet, Pass It On
  • Bill Frisell, History, Mystery
  • Carla Bley Big Band, Appearing Nightly
  • Cassandra Wilson, Loverly
  • Various Artists, Miles From India
  • Anat Cohen, Notes From the Village

For the complete list of the top 50, click here

More:

The year-end round-up: “The year started off with a big surprise in the music industry: Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters (Verve) broke out of the jazz category and won Album of the Year at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards.” The rest

Complete critics’ picks

Jazz Times Readers’ Poll results

Best Jazz CDs of the Year?

It’s always one of a music critic’s toughest jobs.

How do you pick out the “best” recordings, of any genre, for any given year?

And, given the volume of CDs that continue to be unleashed, who – anywhere – has the time and wherewithal to listen to all the good, or even great, stuff that’s out there?

I never feel like I get it quite right – as soon as one of my year-ender pieces is published, I feel like I ought to go back and sub one of the discs for another that I’ve decided is more deserving.

At any rate, with the certainty that I’m leaving out one or two, or a dozen or more, great recordings, below is my “working” list of the year’s best jazz CDs.

This, of course, doesn’t include my favorites from other genres, a list that would include Radiohead’s In Rainbows, Lucinda Williams’ Little Honey, and the self-titled debut from The Steeldrivers.

An expanded version of my jazz list, with teensy descriptions of each disc, will soon be published elsewhere. When that happens, I’ll link to it.

The Best Jazz Discs of 2008 (in alphabetical order)

  • Brian Blade Fellowship, Season of Changes (Verve)
  • Anat Cohen, Notes From the Village (Anzic)
  • Chick Corea & Gary Burton, The New Crystal Silence (Concord)
  • John Ellis, Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow (Hyena)
  • Lionel Loueke, Karibu (Blue Note)metheny
  • Pat Metheny, Day Trip (Nonesuch)
  • Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 1 (Doxy)
  • Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza (Heads Up)
  • Robert Walter, Cure All (Palmetto)
  • Cassandra Wilson, Loverly (Blue Note)

Early Christmas Present: New Orleans Jazz Fest Lineup Coming Tuesday

Christmas will come early for Jazz Fest fans — the full lineup  for next year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will be announced this Tuesday, Dec. 16, according to a report published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The roster for the 40th annual edition of the festival, April 24-26 and April 30-May 3, will be announced during a press conference scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. (Central).

The announcement of the full lineup typically comes in January or February. Why so early this year?

Blame it on the economy.

“With the general economic downturn likely to affect leisure travel and ticket sales, the early announcement also allows for extra time to market the festival,” according to Keith Spera’s story in the Times-Picayune.

Expectations are that the 40th anniversary lineup will be as impressive a lineup as ever. On the list of artists confirmed to play, or expected to do so:

4/24 – Wynton Marsalis, Jazz Tent; Ellis Marsalis; Amanda Shaw

Wynton Marsalis4/25 – Wynton Marsalis (pictured, right), Congo Square

4/26 – Paul Sanchez

Solomon Burke4/30 – Solomon Burke (pictured, below); George Wein 4oth anniversary band with Jimmy Cobb, Esperanza Spalding, and Anat Cohen; Anders Osborne

First weekend (unspecified date) – Don Vappie

5/1 – Esperanza Spalding; Washboard Chaz Blues Trio; Dr. John;

5/2 – O’Jays; New Orleans/Helsinki Connection

5/3 – Jimmy Cobb’s “So What” band (celebrating the classic Miles album) with Wallace Roney, Javon Jackson, Vincent Herring, Larry Willis and Buster Williams; Juke Joint duo (Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm); Radiators; Dash Rip Rock; John Boutte; Voice of the Wetlands

(Know of other confirmations or solid rumors? Updates? Corrections? Send ’em my way)

Here’s my pitch (hope) for the Jazz Stage: Why not tap Sonny Rollins, (IMO) the greatest living jazz giant?

Also promised for the 40th edition of the fest is “a new ticket package option.” Some fans have expressed hopes that that means something along the lines of a multi-day discount, or perhaps steep discounts for locals and/or kids. Others have suggested that the new “option” could mean another type of V.I.P. package.

Best Jazz CDs of 2008? Down Beat Looks Back

Down Beat’s official critics poll, which isn’t hinged to the calendar year, won’t arrive until August.

But the January issue of the magazine (to which I’m a longtime contributor) offers a list of the jazz CDs that notched the best reviews – highest star ratings – in 2008.

The five-star releases, although all deserving of high praise, may or may not deserve to be called “New Masterpieces”; a decade from now, will these recordings still resonate? Still, I was particularly impressed by the Caine, Haden, and McLaughlin discs. Here’s the list:

  • Gunther Schuller, Journey Into Jazz (BMOP Sound)
  • Uri Caine Ensemble, The Othello Syndrome (Winter & Winter)Uri Caine - The Othello Syndrome
  • Otis Taylor, Recapturing the Banjo (Telarc)
  • John McLaughlin, Floating Point (Abstract Logix)
  • Charlie Haden Family and Friends, Rambling Boy (Decca)

A step down are the 4.5-star releases, including several of my ’08 favorites – Clark, Corea/Burton, Herwig, and Frisell.

Here’s that list:

  • Anthony Braxton, Trio (Victoriaville)
  • Mike Clark, Blueprints of Jazz Volume 1 (Talking House)
  • Chick Corea and Gary Burton, The New Crystal Silence (Concord)
  • Marilyn Crispell, Vignettes (ECM)
  • Prieto Dafnis Sextet, Taking the Soul for a Walk (Dafnison Music)
  • Die Enttauschung, Die Enttauschung (Intakt)
  • Bill Frisell, History, Mystery (Nonesuch)
  • Mike Garson, Conversations With My Family (Resonance)
  • Jon Gordon, Within Words (ArtistShare)
  • Conrad Herwig, The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter (Half Note)Chick Corea & Gary Burton, The New Crystal Silence
  • Grace Kelly and Lee Konitz, GRACEfulLee (Pazz)
  • Moss, Moss (Sunnyside)
  • Rosa Passos, Romance (Telarc)
  • Mario Pavone, Trio Arc (Playscape)
  • Herb Robertson and the NY Downtown Allstars, Real Aberration (Clean Feed)
  • Wadada Leo Smith and the Golden Quartet, Tabligh (Cueniform)
  • Gebhard Ullmann, New Basement Research (Soul Note)
  • Norma Winstone, Distances (ECM)

It’s interesting to note that the music deemed among the best jazz of the year is spread out on nearly as many labels as there are releases. The exceptions – two are on ECM, and two are on Telarc.

The next level down, the four-star CDs, features 124 releases, including several, below, that struck me as particularly outstanding (and in some cases, deserving of higher star ratings):

  • Brian Blade, Season of Changes (Verve)
  • The Blind Boys of Alabama, Down in New Orleans (TimeLife)
  • Anat Cohen, Notes From the Village (Anzic)
  • John Ellis and Double-Wide, Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow (Hyena)
  • Drew Gress, The Irrational Numbers (Premonition)
  • Lionel Loueke, Karibu (Blue Note)
  • Pat Metheny, Day Trip (Nonesuch)Pat Metheny, Day Trip
  • Radiohead, In Rainbows (ATO) – not jazz, I know, but how could this CD NOT be on anyone’s best-of list?
  • Josh Roseman, New Constellations (Accurate)
  • Kurt Rosenwinkel Group, The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard (ArtistShare)
  • Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza (Heads Up)
  • Susan Tedeschi, Back to the River (Verve Forecast)

Yes, I’ll be getting around to submitting my Top 10 CD list(s) to one or more publications. But not quite yet.