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.

 

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Montreal Jazz Fest — Wishing I was there

I’ve had some incredible experiences hearing great performances and soaking up the other jazz happenings at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Not to mention getting a chance to enjoy the cosmopolitan culture of one of North America’s most beautiful and most historic cities.

montreal

Last summer’s festival was again jam-packed with great music, some of which I wrote about for JazzTimes, and in several posts on this blog.

Sadly, I can’t make it for the 38th edition of the fest, which runs June 28-July 8.

But if I WERE headed to Montreal at the end of this month, I’d do my best to catch the following jazz, blues and pop/rock artists (some of whom are playing in bands with others on the list):

Ambrose Akinmusire, Arturo Sandoval, The Bad Plus, Ben Street, Bill Frisell, Brian Blade, Buddy Guy, Carla Bley, Charles Bradley, Charles Lloyd, Charlie Musselwhite, Curtis Lundy, Danilo Perez, Dave Douglas, Diana Krall, Donny McCaslin, E.J. Strickland, Eric Harland, Essiet Essiet, George Cables, Gerald Clayton, Ingrid Jensen, Jack DeJohnette, Jacob Collier, Jane Bunnett, Jeremy Pelt, Jesse Cook, John Hollenbeck, John Medeski, John Pizzarelli, John Scofield, Joshua Redman, Joss Stone, King Crimson, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Larry Grenadier, Michael Blake, Nicholas Payton, Reuben Rogers, Robert Glasper, Robin Eubanks, Scott Colley, Stanley Clarke, UZEB, and Wallace Roney.

Headed to Montreal? Let me know your thoughts on what you hear.

As for me — better luck next year.

 

 

Straight Ahead: 16th Annual JJA Awards; UF jazz prof/trumpeter Gary Langford honored; Herb Snitzer a photography nominee

Jazz musicians and the music’s movers and shakers will be honored in 40 categories at the 16th annual Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) Jazz Awards, slated for June 20 at the Blue Note in NYC.

Pianists Horace Silver (left) and Muhal Richard Abrams, bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist Wayne Shorter are up for Lifetime Achievement in Jazz awards.

Saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods and Joe Lovano, pianist Keith Jarrett, guitarists John Scofield, Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell,  drummer Paul Motian, vibraphonist Gary Burton, and singers Kurt Elling, Freddy Cole, Tierney Sutton and Karrin Allyson are among the other veteran musicians nominated for awards, as well as rising-star talents including bassist Esperanza Spalding,  trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianists Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen, guitarist Mary Halvorson, vibist Warren Wolf and drummer Eric Harland.

(A Tampa Bay area note: The gifted St. Petersburg-based photographer Herb Snitzer, whose work was featured at the Tampa Museum of Art in recent months, is up for the Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Photography)

Organ Monk, a quartet led by Greg Lewis, will play the event, along with two duos: singer Paulette McWilliams and pianist Nat Adderley, Jr., and guitarist Gabriel Marin and bassist John Ferrara.

The ceremonies will also honor esteemed jazz writer Albert Murray with the “Music and Words” award, co-sponsored by the JJA and the Jazz Foundation of America.

A number of Jazz Heroes–  “activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz” — will be honored at a series of affiliated JJA Jazz Awards satellite parties in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Schenectady, and Tucson, as well as locations in Ca nada and New Zealand.

Two of those parties will be held in Florida — June 20 at B-Sharp’s Jazz Club, and June 21 at Leonardo’s 706 in Gainesville. I’m happy to say that the jazz hero being honored in Gainesville is my former jazz band director at the University of Florida, the gifted trumpeter and very influential educator Gary Langford. The Marty Liquori Jazztet will play that event.

Here’s the official citation for the award, as written by JJA member Dustin Garlitz:

“R. Gary Langford is Professor of Music Emeritus at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who as UF’s Director of Jazz Studies from 1981-2006 regularly taught a popular jazz history course that introduced thousands of undergraduates to the music. A trumpeter who, during his graduate studies at North Texas State University was a soloist with the One O’Clock (Jazz) Lab Band, he’s also an accomplished arranger and composer.

Gary held offices in the International Association of Jazz Educators, Florida Unit (President from 1984-1986), and was honored by IAJE in 1982-1983 as its Outstanding Jazz Educator.  He has been the recipient of many other honors: Teacher of the Year from UF’s College of Fine Arts, a TIP award for excellence in teaching, twice a finalist for the prestigious UF Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award, the Foundation For The Promotion of Music’s 1997 Musician of the Year and the 1998 College Music Educator of the Year for the state of Florida (conferred by the Florida Music Educators Association).  In 1999 he was awarded the prestigious “Distinguished Service to Music Medal” by Kappa Kappa Psi, the national band fraternity and he was named most co-UF Teacher of the Year for 2006-2007.

He has directed numerous county, district and all-state bands, including the Alachua County Youth Orchestra; he’s been music director and conductor for more than 25 years.  He’s a Gainesville Jazz Hero deserving wider recognition, and thanks to the JJA is getting some.”

More info on the Gainesville event is here.

The NYC Jazz Awards gala is a fundraiser for the 24-year-old JJA, which numbers jazz writers, broadcasters, photographers, new media producers and other supporters of jazz journalism among its membership (I’m a longstanding voting member).

For more info on the JJA, visit the organization’s site – Jazz House. Complete details on the JJA Jazz Awards 2012 is available here.

Tommy Bolin and Friends, “Great Gypsy Soul” (CD review)

(recently published in Relix; direct link)

Tommy Bolin and Friends, Great Gypsy Soul (429/Samson)

It’s easy to imagine that ace blues, hard rock and fusion guitarist Tommy Bolin might have eventually collaborated with likeminded six-string monsters. Great Gypsy Soul has a roomful of great players jumping aboard outtakes from Bolin’s debut solo album, Teaser.

The title track from the album is one of this disc’s highlights, with Warren Haynes’ tangy slide spinning off of the original’s metallic riff and his Allmans bandmate, Derek Trucks, working similar magic on “Smooth Fandango.”

Jazz master John Scofield applies his burr-edged axe to “Savannah Woman,” Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford plugs into the hard rocking “Wild Dogs,” Steve Morse adds fusion gusto to “Crazed Fandango” and Joe Bonamassa and Nels Cline bring fascinating new textures to “Lotus.”

While not organic, the project serves as a potent reminder of Bolin’s prowess.

Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood, MSMW Live: In Case the World Changes Its Mind (CD review)

(recently reviewed for JazzTimes; direct link)

Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood, MSMW Live: In Case the World Changes Its Mind (Indirecto)

MSMW, in the studio and onstage, everywhere from Bear Creek Music Festival in the north Florida woods to the Montreal Jazz Festival, always sounds like a natural-born partnership—the deep jazz-funk and experimental genius of Medeski, Martin and Wood running smack into the similarly tinted explorations of guitar master John Scofield. The particular pleasures of the quartet’s live work have finally been captured on an official release, with the two-disc In Case the World Changes Its Mind, a dozen tracks recorded during the tour supporting the group’s 2006 CD Out Louder.

The set begins, logically enough, with “A Go Go,” the title tune from the 1997 John Scofield album on which he was joined by MMW—the quartet’s initial collaboration. Billy Martin sets up the piece’s low-slung, laidback pocket groove, John Medeski flashes candy-colored keys, Chris Wood slides in on woolly upright and Scofield, his slightly overdriven, burred-edge tone intact, finally brings in the lean, catchy melody, which Medeski doubles before the solos arrive. Sco slithers and snakes through the heavily percolating rhythms while Medeski turns in a similarly zig-zagging improvisation. The traditional “Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing” opens with a long intro full of percussion sounds and scrapes before Wood plays the bluesy melody, Martin kicks in with a beat straight outta New Orleans and the band sets sail. The title track, credited to all four musicians, thrives on a simple but effective melody, repeated multiple times before the group heads out to space.

The second disc offers its share of gems, too, starting with Sco’s “Little Walter Rides Again,” with the guitarist and organist engaging in a bit of call-and-response on the hooky theme and Wood turning in a particularly inspired bass guitar solo. “Amazing Grace” thrives on a loosey-goosey guitar lead and soulful B3 declarations, and the disc closes out with the chunky-to-soaring “Hottentot,” powered by wah-wah and some of the set’s most impressive soloing. All-star bands seldom sound so organic, or play as well together, as this one. Letdowns? Only that “Chicken Dog,” “Chank” and MSMW’s gorgeous version of Lennon’s “Julia” weren’t included. Maybe next time.

Clearwater Mayor on Jazz Holiday: “You get what you pay for”

As fellow musicians, other friends, and readers know by now, I have a complicated relationship with the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.

I’ve covered the festival for many years, for both daily newspapers in the Tampa Bay area, and also for national music magazines. During the period when jazz advocate (and humanities prof) Frank Spena programmed the fest, and for several years later, the Jazz Holiday was home to the creme de la creme of jazz talent — established artists as well as a long list of rising stars who now figure prominently in various critics and readers polls conducted by DownBeat, JazzTimes, and the Jazz Journalists Association.

Let’s not forget: The festival, launched in 1980, played host to such greats as Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie (left), Herbie Mann, and Dave Brubeck during its first five years. Then came Count Basie (85), Stan Getz (86), Tito Puente and Phil Woods (87), McCoy Tyner (88), and Sonny Rollins (89). Ask anyone who cares about jazz: All of these musicians fall into the category of “major” jazz artists, who have played a significant role in jazz history.

Since then, there have been some great performances by some very good musicians. But only a handful of major, poll-winning jazz artists have played.

By way of newspaper columns and reviews, and blog posts, I’ve consistently pushed the fest to focus on high-quality jazz, of the straight-ahead variety. I’ve begged the fest to ditch the bland, generic (and sometimes pricey) “smooth” jazz acts who apparently are so beloved by the most influential members of the festival’s music committee.

Truth be told, I’ve also urged organizers  to bring in the kind of jazz that artfully incorporates other elements, including funk, rock, jamband, and experimental edges; that kind of music could serve to bring in a more youthful group of music aficionados. My old jam-oriented band, Ghetto Love Sugar, even played the fest in 2002 (kudos to the Jazz Holiday for continuing to include performances by strong local talent). And I’d like to think that my encouragement to bill artists in that vein played at least some role in the decision to book John Scofield (2001) and Medeski Martin and Wood (2007). Two impressive artists in a somewhat similar vein, New Orleans brass man Trombone Shorty (below) and one-time James Brown saxophonist Maceo Parker, are on this year’s bill — good stuff.

I’m rewinding all this history as a reminder: I have nothing but good wishes for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, and many fond memories of great shows at the fest. I want to see the festival fulfill its mission, and again become a gem on the Tampa Bay area’s arts calendar.

That’s why I’m surprised by those fest organizers, public officials, and even some in the media who take offense at even mild criticism of the lineup; some observers, who may or may not know the difference between Lady Day and Lady Gaga, have derided as “purists” those jazz fans who hope to see the Jazz Holiday upgrade its programming.

Take, for example, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard. In a recent post post on the Holiday, I praised the inclusion of such artists as omnipresent bassist Christian McBride (below), veteran singer Dianne Reeves, and rising-star pianist Gerald Clayton, while also noting the utter absence of major, legendary jazz artists in headlining positions.

In response, in a comment on the post, Hibbard had this to say, in part: “We all know the sad state the Clearwater Jazz Holiday is in, and year after year many of us jazz fans are disappointed with their Jazz-less lineups. But again its FREE !”

So, then, because it’s free, jazz fans should lower their expectations regarding the quality of the music presented?

And what, exactly, does he mean regarding the fest’s “sad state”? Is it on shaky financial footing (I presume so)? If so, just what is the state of the fest? Why not reveal the details, so that supporters can have a greater opportunity to perhaps spread the word and help get the fest in better shape, financially?

Another commenter on this blog, Carl Harness, wrote something that, I think, gets at the heart of the Jazz Holiday’s issues:

“One of the problems that the CJH group has is that everyone you talk with gives you a different answer to the question, what is your mission? There is no consistency in their message. The Board members seem to have different ideas of what the mission is or should be. Some speak of the event being a “major national jazz festival” others talk about tuning it down to something that appeals more to a local audience. It is obvious from the lineups that we have had the past couple of years we are not competitive on the national front. All you have to do is compare our lineups with that of Jacksonville and/or Seabreeze in Panama City Beach.”

I’ve heard this kind of commentary from other sources, and it makes sense. If Jazz Holiday organizers and the City of Clearwater do want to again see the Jazz Holiday become a major jazz festival, the kind that draws jazz fans from all over the Southeast (and beyond), then why not go all-out in that direction?

As I’ve pointed out in the past, the money isn’t really the obstacle. Such smooth-jazz acts as The Rippingtons and Boney James, with their considerable production requirements, charge at least as much as anyone who fits in the category of legendary jazz artist. Alternatively, if the fest desires to become merely another nice event in the park, with a few jazzy artists, then why not revise the mission statement and change its name to something like Clearwater Music Festival? Not that there’s anything wrong that: There’s no law stating that Tampa or St. Petersburg can’t take over the task of putting on a major jazz festival.

Again, my hope is that the Jazz Holiday will pledge to take its mission seriously, and renew its efforts to present a program of world-class jazz. Other large metropolitan areas can do it, and have done it — and, yes, without charging admission. Why not us?

For the record, schedule permitting I hope to catch this year’s performances by Trombone Shorty, and former “Tonight Show” guitarist Kevin Eubanks (10/13), the Gerald Clayton Trio, and saxophonist Valerie Gillespie (10/14); and Dianne Reeves, and Christian McBride (10/16). I have my own gig on 10/15, but if I were to get to the park I’d make a point of seeing Maceo Parker, master Latin percussionist Sammy Figueroa, guitarist and USF teacher (and friend) LaRue Nickelson (left), and rising-star singer Whitney James (right).

Hibbard’s comments, and my response, are below. What do you think?

———-

Well there you go again Mr. Booth,

People like you never cease to amaze me, Always Complaining !

I guess you get what you pay for, and when last I checked the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, and your VIP ticket, is still FREE !

We all know the sad state the Clearwater Jazz Holiday is in, and year after year many of us jazz fans are disappointed with their Jazz-less lineups.

But again its FREE !

If you don’t like the artists selected, I suggest instead of constantly complaining about the lack of Sonny Rollins, you find other ways to contribute to improve the artists selection process, or better yet, Just Don’t Attend The Event !

FH

Frank Hibbard

August 31, 2011

———-

(my response:)

“There you go again, Mayor Hibbard (if that’s really you).

So you’re saying that because the festival is free — FREE! — then it should lower its standards when it comes to presenting quality jazz? Or that it shouldn’t adhere to its stated mission? Have you read the mission statement?

There are other cities, larger (Chicago) and smaller than Clearwater, that manage to put on free-admission jazz festivals featuring world-class talent. Again, FREE!

In regards to complaining “about the lack of Sonny Rollins”: Most readers are aware that I was just using Sonny as an example as the kind of artist – undeniably a legendary jazz artist – who ought to have a home on a festival that wants to offer world-class jazz.

As far as supporting the festival, I’m probably one of the most loyal longtime boosters of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, having written multiple cover stories on the fest (positive stories, promoting the event) for both daily newspapers in our area, and being the first person to provide coverage of the fest – again, positive – in major national music magazines.

Yes, I’ve been critical of the lineup in recent years, but you’ll have to believe me when I tell you that it’s tough love. On the fest’s best nights, when good jazz is on the bill and a cool breeze is blowing, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere except at Coachman Park during the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. If I didn’t care about the festival, and about jazz, why would I spend time writing about it?

Your best suggestion for those who disagree with the festival’s programming is to “Don’t Attend the Event!”? Really? Is that the advice you give to folks who disagree with you on City of Clearwater matters? “Just Move Out of Clearwater”? Pardon me for saying so, but that’s a very skewed approach to civic leadership.

Just so you know (since, apparently you don’t): The fest’s music committee for many years has closed itself off to outside influence – except for one year when they asked several knowledgeable jazz people to come in and have a discussion about the lineup. So the only way for us to contribute now is through public forums, like this blog.

As a self-declared jazz fan, what have YOU done to ensure that the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, the only major, large-scale jazz festival in our area, brings in world-class jazz and not merely a mixed bag of sort-of jazzy artists?”

Sco Goes NOLA

Musicians wanting to dig into a certain type of groove — funky, earthy, rooted to a jazz vibe that goes all the way back to the African percussionists of Congo Square — go to New Orleans to find it.

Last year, the Blind Boys of Alabama headed to the Crescent City for Down in New Orleans, on which they hooked up with the trio of pianist David Torkanowsky (ex-Astral Project), bassist Roland Guerin, and drummer Shannon Powell (Harry Connick, Jr.). Guests included Allen Toussaint, the Hot 8 Brass Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

John Scofield, a fiercely talented guitarist rooted in jazz but also drawing from rock, blues, and fusion, worked with pianist-singer Jon Cleary and Meters bassist George Porter, Jr. (both based in New Orleans) and drummer Ricky Fataar — for the just-released Piety Street (Emarcy). The album of refried gospel tunes was recorded in the Crescent City.

Sco is taking the band, or a variation thereof, on the road. The tour touches down May 1 at Jazz Fest in New Orleans (is Porter REALLY not playing the Jazz Fest date, as indicated on Sco’s site?) and heads to Europe at the end of June. His show Sunday in New York generated a glowing review from New York Times critic Nate Chinen.

“…it’s Mr. Scofield’s old-time gospel album, recorded in New Orleans with a band drawn mainly from that city’s robust R&B scene. It’s a basic concept, and it makes all kinds of sense. (Scofield achieved) the proper blend of grace and grit. He didn’t sound like a visitor in the realm. He sounded at home and happy to be there.”

Click here to read the rest.

(I’ve yet to hear this disc – but it’s on my list …)

Note to Sco: Please bring the Piety Street band to Florida!