Best Jazz of 2014: Tom Harrell, Chick Corea, Frank Kimbrough, Snarky Puppy & more

In 2014, Jazz meant a profusion of intriguing and sometimes provocative releases by veterans (Tom Harrell) and young stars (Ambrose Akinmusire) alike, the music as the nominal subject and/or driving force of the score in several films (“Whiplash,” “Low Down,” “Birdman”), and several unfunny satires of jazzers, followed by dust-ups in the jazz community (the Sonny Rollins “interview” in the The New Yorker, etc.).

Full-time institutions of jazz — namely Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and SFJAZZ in San Francisco — continued to flourish, with many, varied events, as did several competitions (Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival Piano Competition), and a profusion of festivals in the United States and abroad, although some of the festivals continued to lean heavy in the pop/rock direction while de-emphasizing their middle name.

Jazz clubs in NYC are still going strong, and still at the heart of the jazz world, as I was reminded during visits to the venerable Village Vanguard (for Christian McBride’s Inside Straight quintet; see my review) and Birdland (for Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, with my friend and former bandmate Jonathan Powell on trumpet; see my review). There are dozens more great venues, of course, in NYC.

More great jazz was released than one person could hear, of course. Here are 10 stand-outs, in a list I was asked to contribute to JazzTimes, NPR Music, the Jazz Journalists Association. and elsewhere.

TOP 10

tom harrell trip

1. Tom Harrell, “Trip” (HighNote)

2. Chick Corea, “Trilogy” (Concord)

3. Frank Kimbrough, “Quartet” (Palmetto)

4. Snarky Puppy, “We Like It Here” (Ropeadope)

5. Henry Butler-Steven Bernstein and the Hot 9, “Viper’s Drag” (Impulse)

6. Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band, “Landmarks” (Blue Note)

7. Ambrose Akinmusire, “The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint” (Blue Note)

8. Stanton Moore, “Conversations” (The Royal Potato Family)

9. Medeski Scofield Martin and Wood, “Juice” (Indirecto)

10. Keith Jarrett-Charlie Haden, “Last Dance” (ECM)

HISTORICAL/REISSUES

1. Charlie Haden and Jim Hall, “Charlie Haden-Jim Hall” (Impulse)

2. John Coltrane, “Offering: Live at Temple University” (Impulse)

3. Miles Davis, “Miles at the Fillmore — Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3” (Columbia/Legacy)

4. Jaco Pastorius, “Modern American Music … Period! The Criteria Sessions” (Omnivore)

5. Thelonious Monk, “Paris 1969” (Blue Note)

VOCAL

  • Tierney Sutton,  “Paris Sessions” (BFM Jazz)

DEBUT

  • Ben Flocks, “Battle Mountain” (West Cliff)

LATIN

  • Arturo O’Farrill, “The Offense of the Drum” (Motema)

 

Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden, “Last Dance” (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)

Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden, “Last Dance” (ECM Records)

(published before Haden’s death)

keith jarrett charlie haden

So maybe this project should officially be known as the Standards Duo. Four years after old friends and onetime musical collaborators Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden released their first batch of vintage material recorded at the pianist’s studio, they return with another set of intimate pieces culled from the same 2007 sessions.

Two of the tunes from 2010’s Jasmine are back in alternate versions: The pair move as one on the stately “Where Can I Go Without You?” and the similarly tinted “Goodbye.” (Yes, Jarrett’s humming again is heard in the background, but it doesn’t spoil the pleasure of his typically searching solos.) As on Jasmine, the feel here is largely relaxed in the extreme, beginning with the elegant “My Old Flame,” which runs more than 10 minutes, opening up for some of Jarrett’s most expansive soloing and a long melodic turn from Haden.

Jarrett delays sounding the familiar melody of Monk’s “’Round Midnight,” handily putting into practice his interpretation-equals-composition ethos, until after Haden’s solo, and makes a foray into midtempo swing on Bud Powell’s “Dance of the Infidels” (more tunes at this tempo would have brought some welcome contrast to the proceedings). And yet the two are experts at crafting ballads, bringing out all the inherently poignant colors and melancholy textures of “Everything Happens to Me” and Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Both, like many of the other performances on the disc, are keepers, artfully illuminating well-trod standards.

 

Disc of the Day: Lionel Loueke, “Mwaliko” (CD review)

Lionel Louke, Mwaliko (Blue Note)

It seems like just a minute or two ago that Benin native Lionel Loueke was making his first splash on the global jazz scene. He provided gorgeous West African-flavored flourishes for trumpeter Terence Blanchard‘s mid-’00s groups and made key contributions to performances and recordings by bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Herbie Hancock (including a stellar show with the latter at Jazz Fest in New Orleans).

Several indie releases and two Blue Note discs later, the guitarist, educated in Africa, France, and at Berklee College and the Thelonious Monk Institute, is more than fulfilling the promise of those early appearances. Mwaliko has Loueke joined by instrumentalists and singers from Africa and the U.S. for a variety of originals, a traditional from Benin, and a slippery, brightly interactive duet with drummer Marcus Gilmore on Wayne Shorter‘s “Nefertiti.”

That tune, like nearly everything else on the recording, suggests a real musical intimacy between Loueke and his collaborators. Clearly, there’s some wavelength-sharing going on here, including beautiful, bouncy exchanges between his guitar lines and mouth sounds, and longtime Benin-born friend Angelique Kidjo‘s singing, on the opening, joyful “Ami O” and the pensive “Vi Ma Yon,” a Beninese folk song.

Loueke, bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth — AKA the guitarist’s touring band, known as Gilfema –sound like three of a perfect pair, so attuned they are to each other, on Loueke’s searching, vocals-showered “Griot,” Nemeth’s haunting ballad-to-groover “L.L.” (which feels a bit Methenyesque) and Biolcati’s rhythm-tricked “Shazoo.”

Two other bassist-vocalists team with Loueke to great effect.

Young upright phenom Esperanza Spalding joins in on the pretty, lilting “Twins,” and the aptly named, funk-edged “Flying,” both written by Loueke and both suggesting that these musicians’ singing and instrumental talents are made for each other.

Cameroon-born electric bassist Richard Bona is aboard for the floaty “Wishes” and the closing, insistently percolating “Hide Life,” as sunny and intoxicating a piece of African-infused jazz as you’re likely to hear this year.

———-

For more on Lionel Loueke, check out Steve Hochman’s interview with the guitarist, online at Spinner.

Jazz Bassists on Parade: David Finck, Ben Wolfe, Anne Mette Iversen, Bill Moring

Jazz sessions led by bassists long ago stopped being the exception to the rule.

Notable bass-playing sidemen — from Ron Carter and Dave Holland (Miles Davis) to Charlie Haden (Ornette Coleman), from Christian McBride to practically every four-string anchor who’s backed Chick Corea, including Stanley Clarke, John Patitucci and Avishai Cohen — successfully graduated from character actor to lead roles, applying distinctive, readily recognized tonal conceptions and compositional approaches to their own projects and tours.

Last year was no exception, with a flood of fine bass-led CDs, including the eclectic Esperanza (Heads Up), a mix of jazz, Latin, Brazilian, pop and funk from rising star Esperanza Spalding, also an affecting singer; Richard Bona‘s rambunctious, live Bona Makes You Sweat (Decca); Charlie Haden‘s Americana-rooted  Rambling Boy (Decca); and  Todd Coolman‘s Perfect Strangers (ArtistShare), an unusual project incorporating tunes penned by little-known composers (see my earlier post).

Also notable were a pair of ambitious sets of compositions and arrangements — Windy City musician Larry Gray’s 1,2,3 (Chicago Sessions), a trio recording with guitarist John Moulder and drummer Charles Heath, and Roberto Occhipinti‘s jazz/Latin/Brazilian/classical project Yemaya (ALMA).

I reviewed several of the above for major music publications.

Herewith, a quartet of other bass-led CDs deserving of greater attention:

david-finck1The David Finck Quartet, Future Day (Soundbrush) — Finck, a reliably supportive presence on sessions by Latin and Brazilian jazz artists, offers a singing tone and typically sturdy rhythm work on this top-shelf collaboration with vibraphonist Joe Locke, pianist Tom Ranier and drummer Joe La Barbera.

The swing, on tunes like “Four Flags,” with aggressive solo turns by guests Jeremy Pelt, on trumpet, and Bob Sheppard, on tenor sax, is clean and hard driving. Locke, throughout, is a wonder – casually virtuosic and, on the gorgeous “For All We Know” and elsewhere, he turns in improvisations marked by clever twists and unexpected phrasings.

The arrangements, too, offer pleasant surprises, including a 5/4 version of “Nature Boy” (a redesign suggested by La Barbera);  a haunting take on Wayne Shorter’s “Black Eyes”; and the closing “Firm Roots,” by Cedar Walton, with more bracing improvisations  by Finck and La Barbera.

(Finck’s next appearances: April 25, San Raphael , California with the Manhattan Transfer; April 26, Denver, with the Manhattan Transfer; May 16, Washington DC with Sheila Jordan; May 22, Cambridge, Mass with Steve Kuhn Trio; May 29-June 1, Blue Note New York with John Faddis)

ben-wolfeBen Wolfe, No Strangers Here (MaxJazz) — Wolfe, best known as an eminently reliable, steady-beat wood chopper for the likes of Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall and Wynton Marsalis, mixes and matches his quartet (tenor and saxophonist Marcus Strickland, pianist Luis Perdomo, drummer Greg Hutchinson) with a string quartet and several guests on a set of dynamic originals.

The strings blend gorgeously with the band on the vintage-sounding, slow-swimming title track (and elsewhere), and Branford Marsalis raises the artistry of the proceedings even higher, playing soprano on the strolling “Milo” and tenor on “The Filth,” a dirty, twisting blues. Trumpeter Terrell Stafford also makes impressive guest shots, on the start-stop contours of opener “The Minnick Rule” and the aptly titled closer “Groovy Medium.”

anne-metteAnne Mette Iversen: AMI Quartet with 4Corners, Best of the West/AMI Quartet, Many Places (BJU Records) — Band meets string quartet, too, on Best of the West, a heady jazz-meets-classical outing led by Danish-born NYC bassist Anne Mette Iversen. New York/New Orleans tenor saxophonist John Ellis turns in a wonderfully buoyant conversation with the rhythm section and strings on the opening “North” and the searching “North West”; and Iversen’s sensitive work as an improviser is showcased on “North East.”Synchronicity is the byword for this set of intense, often intensely beautiful music.

Also included in this two-disc release is Many Places, which has the same quartet, absent of the strings, sounding considerably more loose and relaxed, and turning even more creative. The bright, swinging “Out the Atlantic” and the delicate “The Square in Ravello” are just two of many gems composed by the leader.

billmoringBill Moring & Way Out East, Spaces in Time (Owl) — The two-horn line of trumpeter Jack Walrath and saxophonist Tim Armacost frontloads Moring’s second CD with plenty of grit and heft, starting with funky opener “Sweat,” penned by Walrath.

Moring shows off his talents as a composer on the ballad-to-Latin piece, “Mary Lynn,” which opens with bowed bass and has Walrath turning in a muted solo; the pensive ballad “A Space in Time,” glued together, like other tunes, by Steve Allee’s electric keys work; and the chunky “iHop,” cued open with a grinding bass line and drummer Steve Johns’ chunky backbeat. The quintet drives furiously on Ornette Coleman’s “The Disguise.”

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.