Vijay Iyer Tops 2017 NPR Jazz Critics Poll

Congrats to pianist-composer Vijay Iyer, who again tops the NPR Jazz Critics Poll, a carryover from the old Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll. The Vijay Iyer Sextet’s “Far From Over” is named best new album, followed in that category by releases from alto saxophonist Steve Coleman, drummer Tyshawn Sorey, pianist Craig Taborn and flutist Nicole Mitchell.

I was honored to again be among the 137 jazz writers around the globe asked to participate. Only one of my Top 10 picks, Taborn’s “Daylight Ghosts” (ECM) made it into the poll’s final 10, and another, the debut from supergroup Hudson (Jack DeJohnette/John Scofield/John Medeski/Larry Grenadier) made the final 20.

I agree with the consensus on Cecile McLorin Salvant‘s “Dreams and Daggers” (Mack Avenue) for best vocal album, and my 3 picks for reissues/ historical, by Jaco Pastorius, Wes Montgomery/Wynton Kelly Trio, and Monk, are in the final Top 5 in that category in the poll.

Also in the poll:

  • Jaimie Branch‘s “Fly or Die” (International Anthem) is named best debut album; my pick — Nate Smith, “Kinfolk: Postcards from Everywhere” (Ropeadope)
  • Miguel Zenon‘s “Tipico” (Miel) is named best Latin album; my pick — Antonio Adolfo‘s “Hybrido — From Rio to Wayne Shorter” (AAM Music)

“Musicians of an intellectual bent dominated this year’s Top 10, and connections among them abound,” poll organizer and esteemed jazz critic Francis Davis writes in his overview of the poll. Read that piece, and his accompanying article “The Jazz Albums of 2017 and the Power of Gatekeepers,” and make some new musical discoveries.

Want to see ALL the results from the poll, with complete ballots from all the critics, including mine? Click here

Later, I’ll post my full Top 10 list here, along with some thoughts on those releases.

 

Jaco Pastorius, “Modern American Music … Period!” (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)

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

Modern American Music … Period!, released on CD, multicolored vinyl and via download, offers the unfettered 1974 Miami demo sessions for bassist Jaco Pastorius’ 1976 solo debut. These recordings, previously unissued in full, unedited form, have been in the possession of Jaco’s brother Gregory, as Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, a co-producer of the project, explains in the liner notes.

Jaco, at the time, was 22 and playing R&B with Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders, jazz with saxophonist/trumpeter Ira Sullivan and big-band music with Peter Graves. Within two years, he would make his first appearance on a Weather Report album and play on recordings by Pat Metheny and Joni Mitchell. Modern American Musicsuggests that nothing would stand in the way of his becoming, as he put it, “the world’s greatest bass player.”

For the demo, Jaco was joined by drummer Bob Economou, pianist Alex Darqui, steel drums players Othello Molineaux and Sir Cederik Lucious and percussionist Don Alias. “Donna Lee,” the jaw-dropping first track from the Epic debut album, is here in not dissimilar form, although it’s completely absent of Don Alias’ congas, which added urgency and interaction to the final version, and it closes with a long harmonics fade-out rather than that familiar segue to “Come On, Come Over.” Several other songs—or concepts for songs—would also reappear on the debut: The beautiful ballad “Continuum” is here twice, once as a stand-alone and once connected to “Havona,” which later landed, in a version with more sharp edges, on Weather Report’s Heavy Weather. There’s also “Kuru,” punchy and hyperactive and without the strings heard on the debut, and “Opus Pocus (Pans #2)” (called simply “Opus Pocus” on the debut), a blast of Caribbean-tinted groove music largely given to the whirling sounds of Molineaux’s pans. The stately, somber “Forgotten Love” here, unlike on the debut, is all Jaco.

The new-to-us tunes don’t quite trump any of the material that made it onto the final 1976 album. “Balloon Song (12-Tone),” with its tricky, speeding piano-bass unison melody, hard-driving groove and loads of open space for the leader’s soloing, comes in two versions, and has Jaco touching on the kind of harmonics derring-do that later came into play on “Portrait of Tracy.” “Time Lapse” is essentially an extended fusion jam, with Jaco madly slamming a riff in tandem with Alias’ churning congas, driven by Economou’s urgent drumming and topped with Darqui’s inside-and-outside Rhodes playing.

Is Modern American Music the holy grail of Jaco recordings? Maybe. The collection does provide revealing, once obscured views of a not-so-secret talent in bloom. It also makes another case—if we needed one—for the degree of influence Jaco exerted on Weather Report, as composer, colorist and rhythm-section driver. And, of course, as a barrier-breaking musical virtuoso.

Ira Sullivan Headed to Ybor City

Ira Sullivan, the legendary jazzer who’s equally adept on trumpet and saxophone, comes to Ybor City on Sunday afternoon, for a show sponsored by the Tampa Jazz Club. I recently spoke with Sullivan, for the St. Petersburg Times. The feature will be in print tomorrow, but it’s already available online here.

Or read the full text of the piece, below:

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Ira Sullivan

Given the depth and breadth of Ira Sullivan’s work in jazz, and the sheer longevity of his career, the list of greats with whom the multi-instrumentalist has played could easily fill up a newspaper feature or two.

Suffice it to say that Sullivan, 78, was 12 when he led his first band, a trio with a drummer and an accordion player, and he’s worked with everyone from drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to saxophonist and bebop forefather Charlie Parker to electric bass giant Jaco Pastorius.

Sullivan, a five-time Grammy nominee, has shared stages or recording studios with “every major jazz musician in the world,” he said recently from Miami, his home since the early ’60s.

The saxophonist and trumpeter, who comes to Ybor City this Sunday for his 14th or so concert in partnership with the Tampa Jazz Club, in recent years has played with celebrated young saxophonist Eric Alexander. And last year he was heard on pianist Bob Albanese’s “One Way/Detour,” a widely distributed CD on the Zoho label.

Sullivan appeared on several tracks, including the standard “Midnight Sun.” “All I did was play the melody, and that’s the one that disc jockeys freak out about. It proves that with all the convoluted solos you can come up with, there’s nothing like a simple melody.”

His melodies and solos — some straightforward, some marvellously complex — haven’t taken top billing on a recording since 2001. That’s when he last led a CD session, “After Hours,” a set of originals and standards on which he primarily played soprano sax.

So it’s been nearly a decade since Sullivan has released a CD under his own name.

Why the wait?

“I never was interested in recording,” he said. “I’m only interested in playing. The only time I record is when somebody nails me down. First off, I don’t like wear earphones — they take the feeling away from your palette and your jaw, the feeling of your instrument. To me the playing is where it’s at.”

Sullivan’s aptitude for playing in front of audiences practically came naturally. At age four, the Washington, D.C. native learned trumpet from his father, and as a teenager, growing up in Chicago, he took on tenor saxophone at the behest of his mother. And the budding musician could always count on receptive crowds for his early performances, including the families of his father’s 14 siblings.

While in his early ’20s in Chicago, Sullivan fronted a group backing the likes of saxophonists Stan Getz and Sonny Stitt, trumpeter Nat Adderley, and singer Johnny Hartman. And in 1955, he spent a week playing trumpet with Parker, a bebop idol to the younger man.

“He was drunk the first night and it took six of us to lift him into the cab,” Sullivan recounted. “After the second day, he said, ‘Ira, I can’t get drunk.’ That was because the doctors had shot him with B-12. I had a beautiful, alert wonderful Charlie Parker the rest of the week. He was healthy and bright eyed a d bushytailed. We had a wonderful week together. He treated me like the greatest trumpet player he had ever played with. A month later, he died.”

Sullivan regularly switches between tenor sax and trumpet on most gigs, and even did so during his celebrated ’80s touring and recording partnership with trumpeter Red Rodney. For this Sunday’s performance with pianist Michael Royal, bassist Richard Drexler and former Bill Evans Trio drummer Marty Morell, he’s likely to also pick up alto sax, soprano sax, flute, flugelhorn and various percussion instruments.

“I think differently for each one,” he says. “One has nothing to do with the other. I don’t approach any of them as if it were the same instrument. It’s like having five alter egos.”

Tampa Jazz Notes 1.21.09: Jon Metzger, Ira Sullivan, Jazz at Lenny’s, Gumbi Ortiz

metzgerThe Monday Night Jazz Series at USF (Tampa) kicks off this Monday, Jan. 26, with a performance by vibraphonist, composer and educator Jon Metzger. Also coming soon:

  • The Mindy Simmons Trio’s tribute to Peggy Lee, Friday at the Palladium (Side Door Jazz)
  • The USF Magic Marimba Festival/Conference, this Friday and Saturday on the Tampa campus
  • Big Sam’s Funky Nation, from NOLA, Friday at the Crowbar
  • Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Tuesday at the Van Wezel.

For more details on the above, check out my concert calendar.

The Wednesday night jazz jam session at Lenny’s Latin Cafe in Temple Terrace is alive and well, and continuing tonight. Drummer Don Capone and pianist Chuck Berlin preside. 7 to 10 p.m. Free admission.

Ira Sullivan turned in a typically artful, warmly engaging performance during his Tampa Jazz Club concert, Jan. 11 at the Springs Theater, a former movie theater converted into a recording studio/concert space.

The longtime South Florida jazz giant, 76, mixed and matched instruments — tenor and soprano saxophones, trumpet, cornet, flute — on two long sets, backed by a top-rank trio of Florida-based musicians: pianist Michael Royal, bassist Richard Drexler and drummer Danny Gottlieb.

The quartet turned in plenty of gems that could very well see the light of day, if a CD of the concert indeed is released, as Sullivan mentioned at several points during the show. Sullivan also made a point of instructing listeners in recording-session etiquette.

The first set included “The Way You Look Tonight,” Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Mojave,” chestnut “Yesterday’s Gardenias,” Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father,” and Royal’s “Julie’s Lament.”

Set two: “The Toy Trumpet” (preceded by a piped-in tape of Shirley Temple singing that tune), “The Summer Knows,” Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser,” “Some Other Time,” “The Song is You,” and Sullivan’s traditional closing piece, “Amazing Grace.”

Sullivan, talkative and friendly, had lots to say on varied subjects, including:

  • His Christian faith: “I don’t know why Jesus led me to play jazz, but he certainly did.”
  • The meaning of jazz: “Jazz is America and freedom. That’s what it stands for.”
  • Why jazz is seemingly cherished more abroad than in its home nation: “A prophet is not without honor, even in his own country” (a New Testament quote)
  • The future for jazz: “Lo and behold, the world is going back to bebop.”
  • Hearing Charlie Parker play one of Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts.
  • Playing with the likes of regulars Tony Castellano (piano) and Steve Bagby (drummer) and many others, including Jaco Pastorius and Michel Legrand, during 14 years of performances at a Unitarian Universalist Church.

It’s great to see that my old friend Gumbi Ortiz, a superb conga player based in St. Petersburg, is on the road again with RTF guitarist Al Di Meola’s World Sinfonia. The group, touring in support of the just-released live album La Melodia, Live in Milano, recently played a New York show that was given a glowing review in Relix. The tour, with the sextet emphasizing the music of tango master Astor Piazzolla, continues in the U.S. through February, and then continues in Europe and Israel. Sadly, no Florida dates are on the itinerary.