Best Jazz Discs of 2018

My favorite jazz releases of 2018 (as submitted to JazzTimes mag and elsewhere), listed alphabetically:

Kenny Barron Quintet Concentric Circles (Blue Note)

Eddie Daniels Heart of Brazil: A Tribute to Egberto Gismonti (Resonance)

 

Larry Goldings/Peter Bernstein/Bill Stewart Toy Tunes (Pirouet)

 

Chris Lightcap Superette (Royal Potato Family)

 

Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas/Sound Prints Scandal (Greenleaf)

 

Nolatet No Revenge Necessary (Royal Potato Family)

 

Joshua Redman/Ron Miles/Scott Colley/Brian Blade Still Dreaming (Nonesuch)

 

Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band West Side Story Reimagined (Jazzheads)

 

Antonio Sanchez (featuring WDR Big Band) Channels of Energy (CamJazz)

 

Wayne Shorter Emanon (Blue Note)

Disc of the Day: Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery, “Smokin’ in Seattle”

Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery, “Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse” (Resonance Records)

Before Wes Montgomery became the commercially successful star guitarist known simply as Wes by fans, he was, of course, a burning bebop guitarist of the highest order. “Smokin’ in Seattle” handily captures the calm before his career explosion, with Wes and longtime collaborator Wynton Kelly’s trio joining forces for a set at popular Seattle jazz club the Penthouse recorded live — via four-channel tube mixer — for a radio show hosted by Jim Wilke. Shortly later, the 43-year-old guitarist’s Verve album “Goin Out of My Head” started climbing the R&B charts on the road to selling a million copies and scoring a Grammy.

Wes couldn’t have found more suitable musical partners than pianist Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb (both ex-Miles) and young bassist Ron McClure, recently with Maynard Ferguson. The guitarist and Kelly’s original trio, with another former Miles sideman, Paul Chambers, had notably worked together on the live “Full House” and the widely acclaimed “Smokin’ at the Half Note”; the latter disc was called “the gold standard” by guitarist Pat Metheny, a Wes devotee,

It’d be hard to beat Montgomery’s soulful “West Coast Blues,” with its inventive twists and the guitarist’s unpredictable, typically brilliant and rambunctious solo work, or Sonny Rollins’ uptempo “Oleo,” which closes the set but, unfortunately, fades out midway through the tune, as does “Blues in F” (blame radio-broadcast conventions). There’s lots more to savor here, including the start-stop head and steady swing of Montgomery’s “Jingles,” the rich balladry of Bob Haggart’s “What’s New?”, and a Jobim tune, “O Morro Nao Vez.” And four tracks featuring Kelly’s trio minus Wes.

As if that weren’t enough, the set is contained in the kind of vessel that makes one happy CDs are still being produced: the beautifully designed package includes a 40-page booklet featuring contributions by Cobb, McClure, Wilke, disc producer Zev Feldman, pianist Kenny Barron, guitarist Pat Metheny, and jazz journalist Paul de Barros. It’s a keeper.

Jimmy Cobb

Ron McClure

Resonance Records

 

 

 

Jazz in Montreal

The Festival International De Jazz De Montreal — aka the Montreal Jazz Festival — remains one of the best and largest events of its kind in the world.

Hundreds of jazz, pop, blues and world-music artists from North America, Europe and beyond will play indoor and outdoor shows from June 29 through July 9 in venues throughout the city’s downtown district.

I love the international flavor of the fest, the welcoming nature of Montreal and its people, the high-quality musical fare, and the beautifully appointed, comfortable venues.

The fest, by the numbers:

  • Visitors: 2 million
  • Concerts and activities: 1,000 (two-thirds are free)
  • Musicians: 3,000
  • Countries represented: 30
  • Indoor concert halls: 15
  • Outdoor venues: 10
  • Accredited journalists: 400

I’m really excited to be headed back to Montreal this summer to take in some of the creme de la creme of the jazz world, as well as artists from several other genres.

I’ll be covering the fest for a four-day sprint beginning July 5. As usual, there’s a cornucopia of great performances to pick from, including evening concerts featuring:

TUESDAY, JULY 5

  • Veteran pianist Kenny Barron‘s Trio
  • Rising-star guitarist Tal Wilkenfeld, best known for her stint with jeff Beck
  • Ukelele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro and guitarist Tommy Emanuel
  • B3 organ master Dr. Lonnie Smith (below), just named a new NEA Jazz Master, and touring for “Evolution,” his return to the Blue Note label after 45 years
  • dr lonnie smith
  • Singer Lauryn Hill, formerly of the Fugees
  • Alto saxophonist Steve Coleman and Five Elements 
  • Sacred steel gospel family band The Campbell Brothers, playing Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”
  • Pianist Fred Hersch, solo (I caught his trio’s superb performance last year at the Chicago Jazz Fest)

 

WEDNESDAY, JULY 6

  • Roy Hargrove Quintet
  • Lauryn Hill
  • The Wainwright Sisters, “Songs in the Dark”
  • Veteran fusion guitar master Larry Coryell’s (below) Eleventh House featuring trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Alphonse Mouzon
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    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • Bass guitar master Marcus Miller
  • Bilal

 

THURSDAY, JULY 7

  • (Montreal trumpeter) Ron Di Lauro, “My Funny Valentine”
  • Roy Hargrove Quintet
  • Brian Wilson Presents “Pet Sounds,” celebrating the 50th anniversary, with special guests Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin (of the Beach Boys)
  • The Wainwright Sisters, “Songs in the Dark”
  • (B3 organ master) Joey DeFrancesco
  • Volcan Trio: Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba (below), drummer Horacio “El Negro” Gonzalez, and bassist Armando Gola
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  • Swing revivalists Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
  • Roy Hargrove Quintet
  • Pianist Vijay Iyer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, touring in support of their acclaimed duo project “A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke” (ECM)

 

FRIDAY, JULY 8—————

  • Singer Jose James featuring Takuya Kuroda, “Chet Baker Sings”
  • Italian-born singer Roberta Gambarini, “Homage a Len Dobbin”
  • The London Souls
  • The Wainwright Sisters, “Songs in the Dark”
  • (French trumpeter) Erik Truffaz Quartet
  • Brandi Carlisle
  • Ron Di Lauro Sextet, “Kind of Blue, Hommage a Miles Davis”
  • Roberta Gambarini (below)
  • roberta_gambarini_340x255_2
  • Swedish indie pop/rockers Peter Bjorn and John

For complete information on the Montreal Jazz Fest, click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy 80 Candles to the Village Vanguard!

village vanguard

Has it really been 30 years since I interviewed Max Gordon at the Village Vanguard for The Villager newspaper, for a story on the 50th anniversary celebration of the venerable Seventh Avenue South nightspot? Hard to believe. That summer, during my brief stint as a grad student in cinema studies at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, hardly seems so long ago. In addition to Gordon, I spoke with some of the many jazz greats who played the anniversary show, including trombonist Al Grey.

Gordon, the short, somewhat gruff, cigar-smoking, Lithuanian-born owner of the Vanguard, opened his place in 1935, and in its early years it became a home to poets, singing/acting revues, Caribbean artists (Harry Belafonte), folk and blues singers (Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie), and comedians (Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen).

Its most lasting legacy, though, is that rooted in its late-’50s rebirth as the city’s finest listening room for performances by great jazzers, of the bebop variety and beyond, many of whom are immortalized in the gorgeous photos still hanging in the basement club. John Coltrane and Miles Davis played there. So did Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Carmen McRae, The Modern Jazz Quartet, and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra (which became the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, which still plays there Monday nights).

Christian McBride quintet

The Vanguard is practically a temple to the high art of jazz, and I’m happy to have seen bassist Christian McBride’s Inside Straight quintet (above; see my review of his December show), guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and the late guitarist Tal Farlow at the Vanguard over the years.

Sunday, the Vanguard turned 80. Tuesday, it kicks off a week of concerts presented by pianist Jason Moran. Pianists Moran, Fred Hersch, and Kenny Barron, and saxophonist Charles Lloyd‘s quartet (with Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland) are among the artists slated to play March 10-15.

While other NYC jazz institutions have come (Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Smoke) and gone (Bradley’s, the Village Gate), and others have routinely upgraded and renovated and even changed music policies, the Vanguard has kept folks coming in part because it has stayed the same — a generally low-dough admission charge, a focus on music listening (loud talkers get shushed), and a decision to not introduce food to the mix.

“One thing that’s great is that, through all the years, they’ve had the wisdom not to mess with it,” as Hersch told The New York Observer. “I like the Vanguard for its purity.”

Lorraine Gordon, Gordon’s wife, took over the club in 1989, when he died; at 92, she and her daughter, Deborah, run the place, with the Vanguard’s longtime manager, Jed Eisenman.

For more information on the Vanguard’s 80th anniversary celebration, click here.

NPR Music’s Best Jazz of 2014: Steve Lehman, Wadada Leo Smith, Ambrose Akinmusire, more

New releases by saxophonist Steve Lehman, trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith and Ambrose Akinmusire, and saxophonist Sonny Rollins topped the 2014 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll (I voted), organized by longtime jazz writer Francis Davis.

Also in the top 10: Releases by Mark Turner, Marc Ribot, Jason Moran, Brian Blade, Kenny Barron & Dave Holland, and Jane Ira Bloom. A wide swath of critics — 140 — were polled for their choices, and they nominated more than 700 albums for honors.

John Coltrane’s “Offering” was named best reissue, with best vocal album award going to Andy Bey, best debut to drummer Jeff Ballard, and best Latin to pianist and bandleader Arturo O’ Farrill.

For Davis’s thoughts on the Top 10 recordings, along with audio clips, and links to all of the voting data (including my ballot) assembled by Tom Hull, click here.

Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)

Gerry Gibbs, Ron Carter, Kenny Baron, “Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio” (Whaling City Sound)

gerry gibbs thrasher

For his seventh album as a leader, relatively unsung drummer Gerry “The Thrasher” Gibbs enlists two revered jazz veterans as rhythm-section partners, bassist Ron Carter and pianist Kenny Barron. Both were childhood heroes to Gibbs; he was 10, in 1974, when he first heard Carter, and 11 when he heard Barron, courtesy of albums bought at a used-records store in California. So why not call the group his dream trio?

Fortunately, the session isn’t merely a document of hero worship. Instead, the three connect as equal partners, with Barron and Carter, who figure heavily in each other’s discographies, livening Gibbs’ compositions. “When I Dream” is a pulsating, stair-stepping tribute to McCoy Tyner; “Here Comes Ron” is a spritely bebop tune for Carter, bolstered by some deft brushes work and a rubbery extended bass solo; “The Thrasher” is a bluesy groove tune for Don Pullen; and “The Woman on the TV Screen” is a lush ballad penned for Gibbs’ wife, Kyeshie.

The three also draw from the elder statesmens’ books, with the twists and turns—and hard swing—of Carter’s “A Feeling,” which he first recorded four decades ago, and the driving bossa rhythms and textures of Barron’s “Sunshower.” And the three explore plenty of tunes they’ve played on various bandstands over the years, including a lively version of Monk’s “Epistrophy,” a sprint through Herbie Hancock’s “The Eye of the Hurricane,” a surprising rework of Coltrane’s “Impressions” and a quick “Beat Box Version” of Miles’ “The Theme.” Another highlight is the swinging stroll through Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing.” No worries here.

 

 

Wynton Marsalis and the LCJO, Live and Streaming Tonight

Tonight’s NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) Jazz Masters ceremony and concert, featuring Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, pianist Cedar Walton with singer Annie Ross, a solo set from pianist Kenny Barron, and other performances, will be available on the air — via traditional and satellite outlets — and online tonight.

For details, check out Howard Mandel’s blog post.

The photo, above, is my shot of Wynton and the LCJO at last year’s Jazz Fest.