Archive for the ‘Significant Jazz Releases’ Category

grammy 58

Who deserves the Jazz Awards at the Grammys is, inevitably, a topic for debate among most jazz critics.  Some expect the jazz stalwarts to be recognized; some the young talent; almost all are disappointed in one way or another.

However, this year’s 2016 Grammy awards should please the majority of jazz critics and fans.  This year’s awards represent a respectable cross-section of veterans, young lions, and up-and-comers.  For my jazz show tonight (All That Jazz, on KMUN, Astoria, Oregon, coastradio.org, 6-8 pm, pacific), I’ll play examples of the music from all of the so-called jazz category winners.

There were some blatantly overlooked nominees, i.e. Phil Woods’ final recording with his brilliant quintet, Live at the Deer Head Inn, 2015, on Deer Head Records (see the last entry on this page) and Bill Frisell’s brand new record When You Wish Upon a Star on Okeh records, released in  January of this year, probably too late for consideration, which is too bad because the record is a tour-de-force in jazz guitar.  There were, of course, others as well.  However, for those who did earn a Grammy, their recognition was well-deserved.

Here are some highlights of Tuesday night’s show.  The playlist follows.

maria schneider orchestraGrammy—Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album:  Maria Schneider Orchestra, The Thompson Fields on Artistshare.  Maria Schneider composed, arranged, and conducted the music on her album. This is beautiful music.  Does it fall under a rigid category of jazz?  Thanks to God, no.  Too many jazz critics are purists, defining jazz by historical standards, not modern ones, and that is a serious mistake.  The album is a paean to the pastoral, Midwestern world of her upbringing in Windom, Minnesota, in the southern part of the state, not far from where I once lived near Fairmont, Minnesota.  Having lived in that area, I have a real sense of what a rich source of inspiration it is for the music in this album.  The lush, tonally rich music in this album is at once moving and poetic, vibrant and, at times, highly impressionistic.  Though Schneider’s music is certainly complex, there is an earthiness to her orchestrations that will yield to the patient listener nuances of sound and texture that are almost global in their sound textures.  Listen to “Lembrança” (which is the Portuguese word for memory) and you’ll hear the tango sound of Gary Versace’s accordion.  The rhythm is march-like at first, like a Brazilian Carnival parade.  This is Schneider taking her experiences and emotions and molding them into beautiful orchestral jazz.


david bowieGrammy—Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals:   For Maria Schneider and David Bowie’s song “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime),” music by Maria Schneider Orchestra, lyrics by David Bowie, from Bowie’s 2014 compilation Nothing has changed on ParlophoneThe song is seven-minute jazz experiment, and what makes it particularly interesting is that the song seems to have been stuck at the last minute into a Bowie greatest hits album, almost certainly condemning it forever to obscurity and it would have been had it been for earning a Grammy.  Bowie’s voice is haunting and his lyrics cryptic. Schneider’s music is at times atonal with big brass sounds, free-jazz sax sounds, and strident, rapid drums, all a perfect complement to Bowie’s often tuneless voice and arcane lyrics:

Sue, I got the job
We’ll buy the house
You’ll need to rest
But now we’ll make it

Sue, the clinic called
The X-ray’s fine
I brought you home
I just said home

Sue, you said you wanted writ
“Sue the virgin” on your stone
For your grave

Why too dark to speak the words?
For I know that you have a son
Oh, folly, Sue

Ride the train, I’m far from home
In a season of crime, none need atone
I kissed your face

Sue, I pushed you down beneath the weeds
Endless faith in hopeless deeds
I kissed your face
I touched your face
Sue, Good-bye

Sue, I found your note
That you wrote last night
It can’t be right
You went with him

Sue, I never dreamed
I’m such a fool
Right from the start
You went with that clown

David Bowie, Maria Schneider, Paul Bateman, Bob Bhamra—Lyrics © PEER MUSIC

So what does the song “mean” you may ask?  Well, frankly, I couldn’t tell you, but it really doesn’t matter since the lyrics, in my view, are nothing more than a vehicle by which Bowie is able to deliver a melody (or lack of one, depending on how willing you are to suspend disbelief and plunge the depths of atonality, search for a bit of melody here and there) that perfectly characterizes Schneider’s music, which he does brilliantly.  This is truly amazing stuff, and stretches our understanding of how jazz will ultimately be defined.  In some ways, “Sue” foretells the work to come two years later with the release of Blackstar, his final album before his untimely death January of this year, the same month the album was released.

Maria Schneider and David Bowie


cecile mclorin salvantGrammy—Best Jazz Vocal Album: Cécile McLorin Salvant’s album For One to Love (2015) on Mack Avenue Records  Cécile McLorin Salvant, vocals; Aaron Diehl, piano; Paul Sikivie, bass; Lawrence Leathers, drums.

The critics love Cecile McLorin Salvant, and for good reason; she is a brilliant, young jazz singer.  But to say that she is simply a singer of jazz, while true, hardly characterizes the true nature of her crazy talent.  Maybe a better characterization is that she is an effective “channeler” of great female jazz singers.  How else can you explain such talent?  Talent is talent; we can’t explain it.  It just is.  At the young age of 26 (born in Miami, Florida, 1989), she already has three exceptional jazz vocal albums to her credit:  her 2010 debut album Cécile and the Jean-François Bonnel Paris Quintet (originally released in France after winning the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition); her Grammy-nominated 2013 album WomanChild  (her U.S. debut album); and her 2015 album For One to Love.  Her second album WomanChild puts her vocal and technical skills on display.  Salvant has this incredible ability to effortlessly channel the lyrical styles of her idols—Billy Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald—creating an emotional, and often stark, vocal atmosphere reminiscent of smoke-filled, lower Manhattan jazz clubs like Cafe Society in the 40’s.  This is not by accident. At 18 Cécile moved to Aix-en-Provence, France, to study classical and baroque voice at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory. It was her teacher Jean-François Bonnel who steered Cécile in the direction of improvisation, picking up a vocal repertoire ranging from the 1910s on, which undoubtedly included studying her idols.  Though steeped in the tradition of those great female jazz singers, Cécile brings a style and phrasing to her vocals all her own.  And now with the release of For One to Love, she realizes all the possibilities of her vocal talents with a sound that is both hypnotic and emotionally resonant and, at times, provocative and sensual (see video example below).  The themes of For One to Love center around the songs themselves—many of which are her own compositions—which on the surface seem nothing more than the ordinary expressions of romantic love, loss, melancholy, and sensuality.  But in the singing of them, ordinary they are not.  Judge for yourself in the video below where she sings “Look at Me”:

Of course, I’ve discovered watching her sing is part of the emotional experience of hearing her sing.  She sounds like Sarah Vaughan here, yet not like her.  The depths of her reach for a lyrical, emotional interpretation are stunning, and the results are very much her own.  While the chills I feel from Cecile McLorin Salvant’s voice are different from those of Sarah Vaughan, they are certainly just as deep.

Here’s the playlist:

Maria Schneider “Lembrança” composed by Maria Schneider from The Thompson Fields on Artistshare — Maria Schneider Orchestra; Gary Versace – accordion; Scott Robinson, alto clarinet; Jay Anderson – bass; Frank Kimbrough – piano

David Bowie “Sue (or in a season of crime)” composed by David Bowie / Maria Schneider / Plastic Soul from Nothing has changed (2014) on Parlophone — Music composed, conducted and performed by the Maria Schneider Orchestra; David Bowie, vocals, and

Cecile McLorin Salvant “Left Over” composed by Cécile McLorin Salvant from For One to Love (2015) on Mack Avenue — Cécile McLorin Salvant, vocals; Aaron Diehl, piano; Paul Sikivie, bass; Lawrence Leathers, drums

Grammy—Best Improvised Jazz Solo:

christian mcbride trioFor “Cherokee” composed by Ray Noble and performed by the Christian McBride Trio from Live at the Village Vanguard (2014) on Mack Avenue — Christian McBride, bass, leader; Christian Sands, piano; and drummer Ulysses Owens.  Well-deserved, without a doubt.  This is hot jazz performed expertly without sacrificing the soul of jazz performance—improvisation.  Jazz style of this music?  Hard bop?  Swing?  Again, classifying McBride’s music is impossible because he doesn’t rely on ordinary conventions of hard bop.  Yeah, there are amazing, bop-like runs, but there is also a kind of clarity in the sound that is very “modern,” which, in my view, makes it accessible (Hey, accessibility is not a bad thing; it earns Grammys and sells records and makes money!).

Grammy—Best Jazz Instrumental Album: 

john scofieldFor John Scofield’s album  Past Present (2015) on Impulse!  “Slinky,” composed by Scofield, is the first of three tunes I played from this great record.   Features John Scofield on both acoustic and amplified guitar; Joe Lavano, tenor; Larry Grenadier, bass; Bill Stewart, drums.  Lavano’s horn adds a little heat at just the right time to cut the sweetness of Scofield’s improvisations.  In “Slinky” the beat wants to stay in a funky, bluesy groove, but as soon as Lavano comes in with that rough-around-the-edges-smooth-in-the-middle tenor tone of his, their sound is straight-ahead, pre-fusion jazz.

Grammy—Best Contemporary Instrumental Album:

snarky puppyFor Snarky Puppy’s Sylva (2015) on Impulse!  The selection I played is “Flight” composed by Michael League.  The band, primarily, is composed of leader, bassist, composer Michael League with Cory Henry, organ; Justin Stanton, Rhodes piano; Chris Bullock, tenor; Robert “Sput” Searight, drums, and the Metropole Orkest.  Snarky Puppy (Yes, and this is “snarky-style” jazz!) is a jazz-funk collective from Brooklyn unlike anything you’ve probably ever heard before.  The album seems to be recorded as a single take, making song divisions begin and end abruptly if you’re listen to itunes digital downloads.  My guess is that this is probably not the case on the CD.

Grammy—Best Instrumental Composition:

arturo o'farrillAwarded for Arturo O’Farrill’s composition “The Afro Latin Jazz Suite” (in four movements) composed by Arturo O’Farrill from his Cuba the Conversation (2015) album on motema music.  In addition to the Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro-Latin Orchestra, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is featured soloist throughout the album.  I played “The Afro Latin Jazz Suite Movement I: Mother Africa” which runs around 9:26.

bill frisellBill Frisell “To Kill a Mockingbird, parts I & II,” composed by Elmer Bernstein from When You Wish Upon A Star on Okeh, featuring Bill Frisell, guitar; Eyvind Kang, viola; Thomas Morgan, bass; Rudy Royston, drums; Petra haden, voice.  This is another strong record from guitarist Bill Frisell.  Maybe even a great record.  Though released to late for Grammy consideration (next year), I played the two cuts off the album as a tribute to the passing of American author Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my top five all-time favorite books and a novel I taught every year for over twenty years.  The music is Frisell’s interpretation of Elmer Berstein’s theme to the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Grammy—Best Latin Jazz Album:

eliane eliasGrammy went to the whiskey-throated Eliane Elias for her album Made in Brasil (2015)  on Concord Jazz.  I played “Brasil (Aquarela do Brasil)” composed by Ary Barroso, featuring Eliane Elias, vocals; Marcus Teixeira, guitar; Marc Johnson, bass; Marcel Mariano, electric bass; Edu Barata, drums.  The album celebrates Elias’ Brazilian heritage with Bossa-Nova and standard jazz songs.  Beautiful Brazilian music.

John Scofield “Mr. Puffy” composed by Scofield from Past Present (2015) on impulse! — John Scofield, guitar; Joe Lavano, tenor; Larry Grenadier, bass; Bill Stewart, drums

Maria Schneider “Walking by flashlight” composed by Maria Schneider from The Thompson Fields on Artistshare — Maria Schneider Orchestra; Gary Versace – accordion; Jay Anderson – bass; Frank Kimbrough – piano

John Scofield “Past Present” composed by John Scofield from Past Present (2015) on impulse! — John Scofield, guitar; Joe Lavano, tenor; Larry Grenadier, bass; Bill Stewart, drums

Christian McBride Trio “The lady in my life” composed by Rod Temperton from Live at the Village Vanguard (2014) on Mack Avenue — Christian McBride, bass, leader; Christian Sands, piano; and drummer Ulysses Owens

Cecile McLorin Salvant “Look at Me” composed by Salvant from For One to Love (2015) on Mack Avenue — Cécile McLorin Salvant, vocals; Aaron Diehl, piano; Paul Sikivie, bass; Lawrence Leathers, drums

Eliane Elias “No Tabuleiro da Baiana” composed by Ary Barroso from Made in Brasil (2015) on Concord Jazz — Eliane Elias, vocals, piano; Marcus Teixeira, guitar; Marc Johnson, bass; Marcel Mariano, electric bass; Edu Barata, drums

Arturo O’Farrill “The Afro Latin Jazz Suite, Movement II: All of the Americas” composed by O’Farrill from Cuba: The Conversation (2015) on motema music — Featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa, alto

phil woods deer head innPhil Woods “I’ve Got about Everything,” from the album Phil Woods Quintet live at the Deer Head Inn.  Listen to this and your life will be changed.  Phil Woods, alto, leader; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Bill Mays, piano; Steve Gilmore, bass; Bill Goodwin, drums.



Here’s a really good video of the Phil Woods Quartet performing “Mitch” at The Deer Head Inn around 2012:




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Fourplay SilverThe 58th Grammy Award Nominations are just around the corner so there is a flurry of activity from jazz-oriented record labels pushing new artists and new records.

Seems like Concord records always has a new crop of jazz records and artists coming out every year. Some are new artists with their first releases, but many artists with familiar names who have been around for a long while are releasing new material. Like Fourplay.

Fourplay’s newest album Silver on Concord is set to be released in late November and celebrates the group’s 25th anniversary as a band. It’s rare that a group of highly talented musicians are able to stick together for that long, but if the two cuts released in advance of the album—“Silverado” and “Windmill”—are any indication of what we can expect from this record, band members keyboardist Bob James, guitarist Chuck Loeb, bassist Nathan East, and drummer Harvey Mason clearly have lost none of that chemistry that helped define the band’s tight and cohesive sound.

But what about that sound? If you love Fourplay’s sound, then you won’t be disappointed by their newest record.  Jazz critics, especially the “new breed” of music critics like Justin Moyer, Django Gold (received so much backlash that he later claimed his essay was “satire”), Amy Rose Spiegal (“neo-critic” and former associate editor of BuzzFeed’s music section later deleted her post), may apply social-media age kinds of pop-culture criticisms and find little to praise in the record. And that’s all right because Fourplay will continue to produce their brand of jazz.

Since Fourplay’s 1991 debut album Fourplay—with the original guitarist Lee Ritenour—the band’s music has had to unfairly bear the burden of being labeled as “smooth” jazz or “lightweight” radio-friendly music. Having your music labeled by critics has always been a challenge for all jazz innovators. The problem is that too often the success or failure of an album is judged, at least in part, on how well the music fits into tightly defined and long-established categories. Historically jazz has always suffered from comparisons. To survive as an art form, modern jazz musicians understand the necessity of defying labels and breaking molds.

Jazz, since its inception, has always required innovation and change. Because of this, jazz will continue to survive as America’s greatest art form despite the die-hard jazz purists who want their jazz to fit neatly into the “traditional” jazz categories or the social-media style critics who claim jazz is just not all that great. Fortunately, jazz critics like Mark Meyers, Gary Giddons, Ted Gioa, and a few others recognize both the value of tradition as well as innovation in jazz.

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Salvant's new album For One To Love

Salvant’s new album For One To Love on Mack Records

Of Cécile McLorin Salvant Wynton Marsalis writes, “She has poise, elegance, soul, humor, sensuality, power, virtuosity, range, insight, intelligence, depth and grace.”

Cécile McLorin Salvant has earned more honors more quickly than any other jazz singer in recent memory.

Salvant first gained notoriety from her success at the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Her debut album WomanChild earned a Grammy nomination and selection as Jazz Album of the Year by the DownBeat International Critics Poll.

DownBeat also honored Salvant in three other categories including Best Female Jazz Vocalist.  And the Jazz Journalists Association selected McLorin Salvant as Up-and-Coming Jazz Artist of the Year as well as Top Female Vocalist. NPR also recognized her talent by honoring WomanChild as the Best Jazz Vocal Album of the Year in its annual critics poll.

I have not heard it yet, but JazzTimes describes her brand new album For One To Love as a “more intimate and confessional project that reveals new dimensions of this young vocalist’s artistry.” Salvant says in an interview, “I’m not playing anyone else here but myself. I can look at many of these songs, and see that this is an event that really happened, or a feeling I’ve lived through myself. That’s what makes it so difficult to share. It’s almost like a diary entry.”

Here’s a video of her performing the track “Look at Me”:

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