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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Tampa Jazz Notes: Christian McBride Rules at the Mahaffey; Ybor Jazz Fest Continues; Rickie Lee Jones Cancelled

 
Christian McBride
, easily the most recorded and most honored jazz bassist of his generation, brought his trio to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg  Saturday night for two impressive sets’ worth of standards and original compositions.

Much of the music was taken from McBride’s new CD, due early next year on the Mack Avenue label.  It wouldn’t be overstating things to say that the group, with McBride (Mahaffey photo by Bridge Burke) joined by monster young pianist Christian Sands and similarly talented drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. (photo by Bridge Burke), played the hell out of the material.

Unlike some of his recent ventures, McBride’s current trio is focused on the acoustic bebop, hard bop and swing side of jazz, with a nod to funk and R&B only coming only at the end of the show, courtesy of a version of Johnny Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love” that also referenced Michael Jackson’s “Gonna Be Starting Something” and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Sands, 23, throughout displayed astonishing chops that were sometimes reminiscent of the likes of Oscar Peterson, and he also showed a lighter, more genteel touch, in the vein of the late Billy Taylor, one of the New Haven, Conn. native’s early teachers. Owens demonstrated precise, intuitive playing, throwing unexpected accents and bomb drops into the mix, and sometimes switching to brushes.

McBride, of course, was the show’s star, turning in jaw-dropping runs, chords, slides and harmonic plucks, and offering beefy tone and walking grooves that were heavily influenced by Ray Brown and Ron Carter, while still distinctly his own.

The trio offered standards and familiar pieces — “Monk’s “I Mean You,” “My Favorite Things,” Billy Taylor’s “Easy Walker,” Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe” — as well as McBride’s smartly turned originals.

Nice seeing McBride back in the Tampa Bay area so quickly, after bringing his “Kind of Brown” quintet to last year’s Clearwater Jazz Holiday; before that, he was last here with Pat Metheny‘s Trio, with drummer Antonio Sanchez, at the Tampa Theatre. McBride more than once told the audience how much he felt at home. So maybe he’ll make it an annual tradition?

(I’m writing a more detailed review of the fest for a jazz mag; I’ll link to it in this space when it’s published)

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If the Mahaffey audience felt like a hometown crowd to McBride, maybe that owed in part to the number of locally based jazz musicians and jazz aficionados in attendance for what felt like a must-see on this year’s jazz calendar. We ran into pianists Kenny Drew, Jr. and Stan Hunter, drummers Ian Goodman, Mark Feinman and Steve Bucholtz (my old rhythm-section mate from the University of Florida jazz band), and bassist Alejandro Arenas, as well as Bob Seymour, the longtime jazz director for WUSF, 89.7 FM. Several musicians, and students, had a chance to attend a Q&A with McBride during sound check on Saturday afternoon.

That “just like home” feeling probably stemmed, too, from the fact that some McBride family members were in the audience, including a cousin, Faith Walston. McBride took a few minutes to give a shout-out to Walston’s recent book, “All Paws In: Lessons Learned From Loving My Rescue Dogs.”

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Many of the above-mentioned locally based musicians are on the bill for the third annual Ybor Jazz Festival, which continues through Sunday at the HCC Performing Arts Building in Ybor City. Drew plays tonight, with Latin supergroup Guisando Caliente. Sunday, the trio Jazztek will be followed by Rayzilla’s Dreamboats. Admission is $15 daily. For more information, click here.

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As mentioned on my Facebook page, I was REALLY looking forward to hearing Rickie Lee Jones, next Sunday (Nov. 11) at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg. Jones’ voice, jazz-pop songs and arrangements and great bands first impressed me back in the summer of ’79, when Chuck E.’s in Love” was part of the soundtrack of my teenage life (and background for an early romance). She had me at hello.

Unfortunately, the show was suddenly cancelled this week. I’ve not made any official inquiries as to why it’s no longer happening. On a whim, I contacted Rickie Lee through her Twitter account, and this is what she wrote in response: “Cancelled by promoter and manager. Come to the other date n florida.”

She’s also playing Nov 7 in Little Torch Key, Nov. 9 in Ponte Vedra, and Nov. 10 in Orlando. For more info, visit her site.

Todd Coolman, on Perfect Strangers, and Jazz Education (and Live Tonight on WKCR)

Todd Coolman, the journeyman jazz bassist and director of the jazz program at Purchase College (SUNY) will be heard live tonight at 8 on WKCR, 89.9 FM in New York. todd-coolman1

Show host Sharif Abdus-Salaam will talk with Coolman about his latest CD, last year’s Perfect Strangers. Listeners not in the NYC area can tune in here.

The disc, released on ArtistShare, a label that lets fans fund and directly participate in recording projects, has to count as one of 2008’s most unusual, if not most provocative, releases.

Coolman solicited tunes, online, from composers worldwide. Once he chose the compositions to be included in the project, he took several name musicians into the studio, and together they tweaked arrangements and played the tunes. He referred to his group, with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Brian Lynch, pianist Jim McNeely and drummer John Riley, as the Learning Community Quintet.

The result is a collection of vigorously played multicolor jazz, from the aptly titled, pleasantly grooving  “Crescent City Ditty” to pretty ballad “Pastorale,” built on a variety of surprisingly potent new voices. Alexander and Lynch work well together as front-line horns, and the saxophonist turns in a series of particularly well-constructed solos.

The music was penned by previously unknown jazz composers, ranging in age from 17 to 67, Coolman told me during a recent interview.

“I think I received somewhere between 15 and 20 compositions altogether,” he said. “This was the first-ever such venture for me. It’s probably unprecedented. And in some respects, it’s experimental. I’m hopeful that other composers would be inspired to participate in something like this in the future, should I do a volume two.”

Coolman, during our conversation, talked at length about the project, and about the path he has taken, from classical music student at Indiana University to orchestral gigs in Mexico to backing the likes of Sonny Stitt and Zoot Sims in Chicago to writing music books to creating Grammy-winning liner notes for the boxed set Miles Davis Quintet: 1965-1968. Much of what he had to say will be included in a  magazine feature slated for publication in March.

We also talked about a common concern of jazz educators: More and more musicians are graduating with jazz degrees, but the opportunities for those students to hone their skills by playing professionally with older mentors are shrinking.

“Not only is that disappointing, but it’s frightening,” he said. “It’s a huge dilemma, I think, especially in the area of a profound absence of both what I call apprenticeship positions and mentorship situations. In (former) days, all of your elders were your mentors. They were the ones that would put their arms around you and help you through and into this music, in all kinds of ways. Some taught by example, some taught orally. Some were mean, some were supportive. It took all kinds.

“There was an opportunity to grow and learn your skills with experts on a daily basis,” Coolman added. “I feel really very badly that young musicians are not being afforded that learning and development tool, and that the industry has been complicit in creating bandleaders and creating ‘geniuses’ and bestowing that (label) on people who haven’t really learned the craft yet.

“Up until recent times, these kinds of mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities had always existed in jazz music, from the beginning,” he said. “Starting in the early ’80s, that began to disappear. Guys in my generation are so lucky to at least have had that experience.”

So with opportunities for mentorships and live performing shrinking, why should a young musician pursue a formal  jazz education?

“We have to quit thinking of college as a vocational school,” Coolman said. “College, to me, is a place where you go to learn something, to develop intellectual and social skills so that you can become a contributing member of society. No one needs to go to college to learn to play jazz, anyway. In the same respect, college doesn’t create a brilliant economist.

“When I interview candidates for our program, I ask them if there’s any single thing in this world besides jazz music that they could conceivably be happy doing. If the answer is yes, then I urge them to pursue that. (I tell them) If you feel like the only way you can be actualized is to pursue a career in jazz performance, then we can help you along the way. But we can’t guarantee anything.”

Coolman’s next gig is this Monday, Jan. 12, at the National Arts Club in New York City, with a quartet led by trumpeter Jon Faddis. The group also includes pianist David Hazeltine and drummer Dion Parson. Seating is limited, and reservations are required. More info.

Later this month, he plays the Playboy Jazz Cruise with Moody, pianist Renee Rosnes and drummer Adam Nussbaum.

For his complete itinerary, click here.

In addition to Perfect Strangers, Coolman is heard on the following recent CDs:

  • James Moody and Hank Jones Quartet, Our Delight (IPO, 2008);
  • Rob Schneiderman, Glass Enclosure (Reservoir, 2008)
  • Pete Malinverni, Joyful! (ArtistShare, 2007)
  • Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Monterey Moods (Mack Avenue, 2007)