Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson

Soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom has always had a flair for the creation of compelling special projects. This body of music is created around, and alongside of, poems of Emily Dickinson, read by the actor Deborah Rush. The ensemble includes the multi-talented Seattle pianist Dawn Clement, along with stalwarts of the New York improvised music scene, Mark Helias on bass, and Bobby Previte on drums. True to the nature of jazz to be different each time out, the two discs here include mostly the same titles, only done … differently.

Outline, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Reminiscent – Stanley Cowell

Though once well known, with almost a cult hero status, Stanley Cowell dropped out of performing to devote himself to a professorship at Rutgers University until his 2013 retirement. Now solidly back in the music, Cowell and his trio mates Jay Anderson, bass, and Billy Drummond, drums, deliver these originals, including “A X-mas Suite,” and well-considered compositions by Brahms, Thad Jones and Richie Powell. The music is beautifully played in the jazz piano trio tradition, with a refreshing approach and delivery.

Steeplechase, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Shorter By Two – Kirk Lightsey and Harold Danko

American ex-pat in Paris, Kirk Lightsey, and Eastman professor, Harlod Danko – and the music of Wayne Shorter, who is destined to legendary status as one of the greatest composers for jazz ensembles. This 2017 release is a re-master of a much respected 1983 recording, when Lightsey was so much a part of the thriving New York jazz scene. There are a lot of notes flying around. The mastery with which this material is delivered is evident in its looseness, and faithfulness to Shorter’s roll in the second great quintet of Miles Davis, for which some of this material was written.

Sunnyside, 1983, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

To Love and Be Loved – Harold Mabern

Ah, the jazz continuum! Yes, it is largely relegated to expensive educational institutions these days, but it is still alive and well on the bandstands, and in the person to person life lessons shared by the seasoned masters. Pianist Harold Mabern, 81 at the time of this recording, has forged an epic musical link with the much younger, brawny tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, much of it played out on stage in the Smoke jazz club, on New York’s upper West Side, on Harlem’s southern edge. This warm and musically rich ensemble also includes the legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb, who was 88 at the time of this date, and who joined Mabern for a time in 1963 on Miles Davis’ Live at the Black Hawk sessions. (Cobb, incidentally, was also the drummer on the all-time top jazz recording, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.) The music is great; full of brilliance, sly references, and lots of love.

Smoke Sessions, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Pythiad – Jim Gailloret’s Jazz String Quintet

The body of this unique offering is a nine-piece suite composed by the leader for his Jazz String Quintet plus voice and bass violin. The Pythiad contains words and music written for “lesser-known Greek heroes and heroines,” unfolding under the steady guidance of a sage psychotherapist. It is fascinating throughout, and is made more so by the selection of the three additional tracks on this release; Jimmy Rowles’ beautiful The Peacocks, Jaco Pastorius’ Three Views of a Dream, and Joni Mitchell’s River.

Origin Classical, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Trip – Mike Stern

Always a distinctive instrumentalist in that part of jazz that leans toward the oft-scorned genre of Fusion, guitarist Mike Stern has been making ever-more serious music for 40 years. For this release, named for a 2016 fall that left him with two broken arms, Stern shows that he’s stronger than ever. The assembled band-mates are phenomenal, with fellow veteran Randy Brecker sounding better than ever on trumpet. Stern’s wife, Leni, also a unique guitarist, joins on two tracks. Other standouts are Victor Wooten on bass, Dennis Chambers, Will Calhoun, and Lenny White on drums, and the saxophonist Bill Evans, who worked to great effect on several late-career Miles Davis projects.

Heads Up, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Beautiful Love – Fred Hersch and Jay Clayton

This newly remastered release of the 1995 Beautiful Love recording brings a pristine clarity to the already intimate meeting of two masters. Vocalist Jay Clayton was a Seattle resident and Cornish College faculty member for years, before she moves back to New York. Though she is known for her extended improvisational techniques, this meeting with pianist Fred Hersch is an exquisite collection of standards, topped by Clayton’s signature rendition of Dimitri Tiomkin’s Wild is the Wind.

Sunnyside, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Bringin’ It – Christian McBride Big Band

Rock-solid bassist Christian McBride is going to excel at everything he does. In this case, it’s leading a first rate big band through a collection of his original compositions, and a thoughtful collection compositions by jazz greats like Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, and Wes Montgomery. McBride’s prodigious chops are equally rooted in jazz and funk, and are fortified by the strength of his love of the music and his bigger-than-life personality, both of which are propelling him to the top of the jazz world.

Mack Avenue, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Live at Caramoor – Jovino Santos Neto

“Two great pianists, one scintillating concert where they play together and apart…. Weber Iago starts off with a couple of solo pieces that demonstrate his more angular style, especially on “Alone Together,” where he melds post-bop shards of melody with some interesting rhythmic ideas. That sets the stage for Jovino Santos Neto, who has far more flow, before the two combine for a series of duets. The real joy is in discovering just how well they work together on a piece like “Ser Feliz,” and trip their way through several Brazilian classics… The pair is joined by saxophonist Joe Lovano for the final cut, Jobim‘s standard, “Wave.” It makes for a lovely ending, with Lovano‘s soprano trilling high above the keyboards and a glorious piece of bossa nova.” –AllMusic..

Adventure Music, 2008

Grace – Lizz Wright

The inflections and warm body of Lizz Wright’s honeyed voice have always been steeped in the Black Churches of the rural south, but with Grace, her sixth studio recording, the connection reveals itself to its most intentional, and beautiful result. Wright brings her countrified sophistication to lesser-known tunes by Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, and k. d. lang, and pulls it deep into the south with gorgeous renditions of “Stars Fell on Alabama,” and “Southern Nights.” Engaging and satisfying, Grace crosses genres of secular/sacred/jazz/country/blues so easily, the listener doesn’t know they exist.

Find the Common Shine a Light – Ryan Keberle & Catharsis

Trombonist Keberle is emerging as first-rate composer and band-leader, while building a body of work that captures the jazz spirit for progression and concern for today’s social justice issues, while remaining rooted in tradition. The music is familiar and new in a stimulating way, bringing global voices and approaches from singer-guitarist Camila Meza and trumpeter Mike Rodriguez to meld seamlessly with the terrific rhythm team of Jorge Roeder on bass, and Eric Doob on drums. Keberle is an artist to watch in the future.

Greenleaf Music, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Four in One – Heads of State

This all-star ensemble of post-boppers is as talented, experienced and exuberant as you’re likely to find in these times. With Larry Willis on piano, David Williams on bass, Al Foster on drums, and Gary Bartz on alto saxophone the credentials and the chops are extensive. Taking on compositions by Monk, Blakey, Wayne Shorter, Charlie Perker, and others, this burning quartet, three of whom are in their seventies, are intent on creation and discovery, and, like other projects coming out of New York’s Smoke jazz club, not at all bashful about their love of the music, and the life that brought them together.

Smoke Sessions, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Marseille – Ahmad Jamal

If anything, this elegant and venerable pianist is becoming more musically active in his late career. Perhaps best known for the spare phrases of his classic 1958 tune, Poinciana, from the Live at the Pershing LP, Ahmad Jamal’s recordings and live performances have kept all of the nuance, while becoming showcases of imagination and skill. In addition to standards and originals by Jamal’s established trio, Marseille includes three versions of its title track; one instrumental, one with a sexy French narrative by Abd Al Malik, and one smokey, Latin-tinged song, by Mina Agossi, in French and English.

Jazzbook Records, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Sinatra & Jobim at 50 – John Pizzarelli

Guitarist/vocalist Pizzarelli is becoming the consummate entertainer, without a bit of compromise. His guitar chops are incredible, and his mastery of vocal styles is stunning, and his knowledge of musical nuance is encyclopedic. The musical relationship between Sinatra and the genius Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim was not all sunshine. It is pointed out that Sinatra came to Jobim’s music some years after the bossa-nova craze swept American music in 1964. Their first recording together was beautiful; the second, not so much. But Pizzarelli honors the best of all of this material, and does so beautifully, across the board, adding Jobim’s grandson, Daniel, and a couple of tunes that are not Jobim’s, but definitely belong in the family.

Concord Music Group, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Seven Secrets – Larry Coryell’s 11th House

The last recording project of guitar master Larry Coryell, before his death in 2017, was a revisit to some of his pioneering work in jazz fusion. Seven Secrets includes three members of the original 11th House, trumpeter Randy Brecker, drummer Alphonse Mouzon, and bassist Jeff Lee. On this release, Coryell’s son Julian fills the role of the late keyboardist Mike Mandell with impressive work, funky and rocking, on a second guitar. Far from a slave to the Fusion era, Larry Coryell could play anything and make it sound like he invented it, but this incredible release is full of that jaw-dropping, razor sharp, absolutely slamming, stop-on-a-dime fusion playing that only true masters can achieve.

Savoy Jazz, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Radio Flyer – JD Allen

With the tenor saxophone being the most ubiquitous lead instrument in jazz, those aspiring to its top echelon have to be very strong and very unique. JD Allen’s path to the pantheon has been unencumbered by artifice. His hard work is anchored in the depth of his convictions and bolstered by the brilliance of his working trio of Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. For this release, which DownBeat called, “his best album ever,” the trio is further enhanced by the instantly telepathic guitarist Liberty Ellman, who adds much to the group without altering its established chemistry. The addition of another chordal instrument allows Allen to pull back on being the primary focus, and brings a new, and remarkably intense space to the music.

Savant Records, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

New Studies of the Starry Skies – Raymond Larsen

Over the past several years, Seattleite Raymond Larsen has surfaced as one of the most in-demand young trumpet players in the Pacific Northwest. Inspired by a 1903 encyclopedia, Modern Achievements in Science, Invention, Commerce and History, which Larsen found one day at the Fremont Sunday Market, this album is the second in his ambitious “Modern Achievements” trilogy series, on Seattle label Table & Chairs. With unique instrumentation and diverse compositional and improvisational approaches, Larsen has created three through-composed tributes to specific entries in the encyclopedia. On New Studies of the Starry Skies, he leads us on “a path through the heavens,” his compositions conjuring feelings of celestial loneliness.

Tables & Chairs, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Infinitude – Ingrid & Christine Jensen

Though they’ve recorded together over the years, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and saxophonist Christine Jensen have never recorded an album collaboratively, with both names sharing the marquee equally – which is why this record is so welcomed by fans. “While sharing has never been a problem for the Jensen sisters, Infinitude represents a truly egalitarian collective, where both sisters and their three band mates contribute equally, based on their specific and respective strengths….filled with compositional depth and improvisational heights, Infinitude is the record for which fans of the Jensen sisters have long been waiting,” praises All About Jazz.

Whirlwind Recordings, 2016

Copenhagen Live, 1964

Free-Jazz pioneer Albert Ayler was a force of nature in performance. In this live concert date his virtuosic extended lines are surrounded and propelled by bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sonny Murray, with fellow traveller Don Cherry on trumpet. This release captures the intensity and importance of Ayler’s creative convictions. The fertile jazz environment of 1964 was blessed with genius and itching for expansive change. Coltrane would record A Love Supreme that year, and Miles would convene his groundbreaking second great quintet. Yes, Ornette was already shaking up that world, but it was the brief, bright arc of Albert Ayler’s creative life that really pointed the way to the future, free from the shackles of form.

Hat Hut, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Morphogenesis – Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse

Like the universe of jazz itself, the relentlessly inventive force of saxophonist Steve Coleman seems to be expanding in all directions at all times. This release expands the size of the ensemble, reaches beyond any previous harmonic possibilities, and, though grounded in relentlessly funky rhythm, opens up the issue of time itself. Having won a MacArthur Fellowship relative late in his long career, Coleman shows that his blazing intellect is still on an outward arc. It’s kind of difficult to wrap words around this one. Block out some time, and dive in … or … out.

Pi Recordings, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Mr. EP: A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri – Charlie Sepulveda

New York trumpeter Charlie Sepulveda, originally from Puerto Rico, has been a mainstay of Latin Jazz for years, leading his own groups and lighting up the trumpet section of top Latin Jazz orchestras around the world. This tribute to, and showcase of, the famous pianist/bandleader Eddie Palmieri, keeps the fire burning brightly through a series of Palmieri compositions and solo improvisations, and a variety of Sepulveda originals, from traditional Bomba y Plena styles to jazz hip-hop, with an oration by rapper, SieteNueve. Caliente indeed!

Highnote, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Passion of Charlie Parker – Various Artists

With the fascinating premise to treat the music of Charlie Parker as if he were still alive and working today, the producer Larry Klein, who is known primarily for his very successful work with vocalists, has assembled an impressive group of artists to consider the arc of Parker’s work. Vocalists Gregory Porter, Luciana Souza, Madeleine Peyroux, and Kurt Elling, work with new lyrics for blazing Parker’s instrumentals. The band includes instrumentalists like Donny McCaslin, Ben Monder and Mark Guiliana, who are known for their work on David Bowie’s last record, Blackstar, alongside many of today’s top jazz players. It’s a bold idea, perhaps sacrilegious to some, but beautifully realized.

Impulse, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Destinations – Scenes

This beautiful release is the sixth by Scenes, a collective trio by top-flight Seattle bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer (and Origin label owner) John Bishop together with Portland guitarist John Stowell. The musicians are almost telepathic with empathy, and the music, though complex and virtuosic, is almost ghost-like in its manifestation. That it’s smooth and chunky at the same time says more about the confidence and stature of the musicians than about any contrived “sound.” This is beautifully understated perfection.

Origin Records, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Passin’ Thru – Charles Lloyd

Passin’ Thru is both a welcome follow up to the brilliant 2008 release by this quartet, and a reference to a point much further back in Lloyd’s storied career. The musicianship and spirit of this quartet ranks among the finest in the history of the art form. And Lloyd, always the Shaman, cooks up fresh inventions every time he walks on stage or into the studio. Though pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rodgers, and drummer Eric Harland are probably two generations younger than Lloyd, there is no hip-hop reference or new invention that they can throw at him, that he doesn’t smash back across the net with greater force. Even the older Charles Lloyd classics like Forest Flower are given fresh treatment that is pure truth.

Blue Note, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

What Time Is It – Giacomo Gates

Of the two male vocalists that have worked in and out of the shadow of the late Mark Murphy, Giacomo Gates has himself been too long in the shadow of Kurt Elling. This release deals with time, and it’s about time that Mr. Gates gets the recognition he deserves, especially after eight self-assured jazz releases. Gates draws in two other inspirations on this release; Oscar Brown Jr. and Betty Carter, and the music hits a serious good-time vibe of things already passed, as well as an enlightened encouragement for us all to use the time we have a little more wisely. Giacomo Gates is a jazz singer with depth, swing, and clear love of the tradition.

Savant Records, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

One Minute Later – Diego Barber

With clear devotion to the spirit of Granada in the south of Spain, guitarist Diego Barber delivers an exciting set of original music that calls freely on the considerable talents of his assembled band mates; Alejandro Coello on marimba and percussion, Ben Street on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. Harland, in particular, ignites this music, and undoubtedly propels the group to places it might not otherwise have gone.

Sunnyside, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Musician – Chick Corea

This three-CD set documents the pianist’s month-long 70th Birthday celebration at New York’s Blue Note jazz club in 2011. The cast of collaborating artists is long and distinguished, and the performances, far from “pat” celebrity turns, are demonstrations of some jaw dropping music making. Check out Bobby McFerrin, Stanley Clark, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, and on and on. It’s no wonder that Jazz Times calls Chick Corea, “a pianist virtually without peer.” We can’t wait for the recordings for his more recent 75th Birthday run at the Blue Note.

Stretch Records, 2016
3-CDs, 1 Blu-Ray
Notes by John Gilbreath

Forgive and Forget – Terell Stafford

Trumpeter Terell (TARE el) Stafford is one of a small group of straight-ahead jazz musicians at the top of the list for solo performance and education opportunities around the world, but rarely released records under his own name. A veteran of Bobby Watson’s burning bop band, Horizon, Stafford has mellowed his attack and refined his brilliance to wide public appeal. Check him in person some time at Jazz Port Townsend. Meanwhile, enjoy this great quintet recording.

Herb Harris Music, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Sixteen Drummers Suite – Dan Weiss

This tribute to jazz drummers, by a jazz drummer, defies what may be perfectly natural expectations. It is not a collection of drum solos. These seven compositions for a large ensemble of musicians, including Whidbey Island native Miles Okazaki on guitar, are complex and rewarding. Going further inside of the compositional concept, you find that the compositions; Elvin (Jones), Max (Roach), Tony (Williams), etc., are based on a particular phrase, or “lick,” in a particular solo by each of the drummers named. The ensemble includes harp, flutes, tuba, and remarkable wordless vocal sections.

Pi Recordings, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band – Charlie Watts

The Rolling Stone’s drummer has always had a love of jazz, and has done a variety of projects in his “down time” over the years. Yes, his rock drumming is solid and steady, but, as he proves in the company of this crack European Big band, we can swing – hard. There are a few covers of Stones’ tunes, but the tour de force is a two-part tribute composition to Coltrane’s drummer, Elvin Jones. The Elvin Suite has gorgeous orchestral colorings and comes to a powerful finish with Jones’s dominating 6/8 feel.

Impulse, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Music From Our Soul – Charnett Moffett

The powerhouse bassist Charnette Moffett is a force of nature in live performance settings, sometimes picking up the double bass instrument by the neck with his left hand and storming around the stage while playing. He has worked with masters from Ornette Coleman to Wynton Marsalis, and has 13 recordings of his own as a leader. This music comes from the soul for sure, with band mates like Cyrus Chestnut, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Stanly Jordan, and Charnette playing both acoustic and electric bass.

Motema, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Hudson – DeJohnette/Grenadier/Medeski/Scofield

This refreshing “supergroup” recording is engaging on a number of levels. Though all of the musicians are established – well, let’s just say legendary – through their work over the years in other contexts – going back to Miles Davis in the case of Jack DeJohnette and John Scofield – they come together beautifully here to make music that is brand new. Everyone contributes new compositions, and there are a couple of unusual covers. The group name comes from the Hudson Valley, in upstate New York, where they all live. This will be one of the top releases of 2017.

Motema, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Ella: Accentuate the Positive – Regina Carter

The MacArthur-Award winning violinist greets the 2017 centenary of the legendary jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald with appropriate reverence but, in the jazz tradition, but with unique musical direction all her own. There are only a few vocals, calling in the skills of Carla Cook and Miche Braden, but the music is closer to the back woods than to Carnegie Hall. Bassist Chris Lightcap always shines, as does long-time drummer, and Carter’s husband, Alvester Garnette. The sly and slippery blues of guitarist Marvin Sewell, and the perfect addition to Carter’s visions of Ella.

Okeh, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

A Rift in Decorum: live at the Village Vanguard – Ambrose Akinmusire

The brilliant Oakland-born trumpeter, of Nigerian heritage, is a rising star, wise beyond his years, with a firmly developed and quite distinctive artistic voice. Having won the prestigious Thelonious Monk competition and the Carmine Caruso trumpet competition in the same year, Akinmuisre landed an equally prestigious contract with Blue Note Records and has not looked back. This two-disc release, his third on Blue Note, finds them in New York’s legendary Village Vanguard, and hyper-aware of the spirits of the jazz legends that preceded them down the narrow stairwell and onto the Vanguard stage. Pianist Sam Harris shines. The band is incredible, and the music challenging but rewarding.

Blue Note, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Dialogue – Myra Melford & Ben Goldberg

This adventurous set of duo improvisations is not for the faint of heart. Both Melford’s piano work and Goldberg’s extended technique playing on a variety of clarinets, are studied and virtuosic, but the music is not restrained by traditions of time, melody, or conventional scales. Dialogue captures the ongoing conversation between these two geniuses, and delivers it in a language not immediately or easily understood.

BAG, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Wake Up Call – David Weiss & Point of Departure

Trumpeter David Weiss’ Point of Departure project re-examines some of the most innovative music of the late 1960s. Among the composers being re-examined and re-imagined on this, the fourth Point of Departure outing, are John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Charles Moore, and Joe Henderson. With saxophonists Myron Walden and J.D. Allen, featured guitarists Ben Eunson, Travis Reuter, and Nir Felder, bassist Matt Clohesy, and drummer Kush Abadey, Weiss performs with a fully realized, harmonically adventurous band with a unique sound and approach.

Ropeadope, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Rise – Shayna Steele

Ms. Steele’s expansive career has found her backing Moby, Bette Midler, and Kelly Clarkson, performing on Broadway, touring with Rihanna, and working alongside the likes of Dave Douglas and Snarky Puppy. “Now, for her sophomore album,” writes JazzTimes, she “seems bent on bringing that kaleidoscopic wealth of experience crashing together. Across 11 tracks anchored by her longtime musical partner and husband, pianist David Cook, but also featuring such jazz A-listers as Christian McBride, Marcus Miller and Eric Harland, she ventures from gossamer folk to hard-driving rock, adding generous dollops of jazz and soul, and even a hint of country, along the way.”

Ropeadope, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Déjà vu – Peter and Will Anderson

“On this thoroughly entertaining quintet session, twins Will and Peter Anderson team up with one of the most renowned and beloved siblings in jazz history, drummer Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, who turn[ed] 80 in May of ‘15. No surprise, then, that the young reedmen sound as if they’re fully enjoying the cross-familial connection here, buoyed by Heath’s rhythmic joie de vivre. Of course, given the Anderson’s bob-rooted influences and Heath’s obvious compatibility, who would have expected anything less?” (DownBeat)

Gutstring Records, 2015

Happiness – Benny Green

Long compared to Bud Powell, pianist Benny Green, who played in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Betty Carter’s band, is a celebrated musician who’s recorded for Blue Note, Telarc, and Criss Cross Jazz. Now he releases Happiness!, his second record for Sunnyside as a leader. The album, recorded live at Kuumbwa Jazz Workshop in the summer of 2016, features Green with bassist David Wong and drummer Rodney Green as they spin their way through colorful arrangements of tunes by Horace Silver, Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Wes Montgomery, and more. It’s certainly a record that reflects Green’s love of this music and spreads happiness to the listener.

Sunnyside, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Upstate Project – Rebecca Martin & Guillermo Klein

Singer/songwriter Rebecca Martin and pianist/vocalist/composer Guillermo Klein embark on a collaboration made possible by Klein’s move to Martin’s home of upstate New York. Martin, well known for her elegant songwriting and performance that is a blend of jazz and folk, has previously collaborated with Paul Motian and Kurt Rosenwinkel, who contributes a composition here. Other tracks include rearrangements of works by Bill Frisell, and Brad Mehldau whose trio mates, Larry Grenadier, bass, and Jeff Ballard, drums, join the mix for a truly remarkable project.

Sunnyside, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Akua’s Dance – Akua Dixon

Cellist/composer/vocalist Akua Dixon has stepped up her game on her third release. Moving away from her strings-centric sophomore album, Dixon enlists a driving rhythm section of bassists Kenny Davis and Ron Carter and drummer Victor Lewis, along with immensely capable guitarists Freddie Bryant and Russell Malone. Featuring a mix of original compositions and covers, including a standout arrangement by Bryant of the traditional Negro spiritual “I’m Gonna Tell God of my Troubles,” Akua’s Dance moves its way through the listener’s heart.

Akua’s Music, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Vitor Goncalves Quartet

This remarkable collection of reinvented Brazilian music by Rio-born pianist Vitor Gonçalves contains the bright essence of its original form while also engaging the creative spirit of a few of the most remarkable musicians on the New York jazz scene. Compositions by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Baden Powell, and Dolores Duran, are treated with obvious affection for another Brazilian genius, Hermeto Pascoal. The New York rhythm team of percussionist Dan Weiss and bassist Thomas Morgan are each gifted almost beyond reason, and come to this potentially unfamiliar music as if they’ve been playing it all of their lives. With this release, Gonçalves, a gifted composer and pianist, has emerged into the U. S. jazz community grace and brilliance.

Sunnyside, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Live from Jazz at the Bistro – Sean Jones

This release captures the hard driving and brightly burning hard bop, of trumpeter Sean Jones and his first-rate New York band in a 2015 small jazz club setting. Oh, to have been there. The music owes a debt to the 1970’s groups of Woody Shaw, but the similarities a fun to notice here. Jones, who frequently matched chops with Wynton Marsalis (and won!) when he was with the Lincoln Center band, is an incredible instrumentalist, educator, and mentor, who is just now getting well deserved recognition.

Mack Avenue, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Live in Sant’Anna Arresi, 2004

The 2016 release of this 2004 live duo set is definitely more of a blessing than an afterthought. The brilliant pianist Matthew Shipp and the powerful (and now deceased) tenor saxophonist David S Ware are master improvisers who had performed and recorded together many times before the tour that brought them together in Europe in 2004. The clarity and fidelity of this recording is gorgeous, remarkably so for a live setting. With just two long improvised pieces and one encore, the music is raw and powerful, unsettling and meditative, distinctive and necessary.

AUM Fidelity, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Duopoly – Kris Davis

The adventurous pianist Kris Davis has created her dream project in Duopoly. This is a series of two duo performances each – one improvised and one original – with forward-thinking artists with whom Davis had never played before this session. The artists are Don Byron, Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, Craig Taborn, Julian Lange, Marcus Gilmore, and Billy Drummond — two reed players, two guitarists, two drummers, and another improvising pianist – and the results are fascinating.

Notes by John Gilbreath

Listening to You – Judy Niemack

Vocalist Judy Niemack joins forces with pianist Dan Tepfer for a lovely outing on Listening to You. Since releasing her debut album in 1977, Niemack has gone on to collaborate with Toots Thielemans, Lee Konitz, Fred Hersch, Joe Lovano, and many others. A “bright, imaginative, inventive, beautiful, swinging” vocalist, she has matured into a strong performer, “her voice deeper and with some of the darkness that comes with time…, always singing into new musical horizons” (Michael Bourne, WBGO).

Sunnyside, 2017

Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions 1939-1958

“Try to describe the Goodman sound? Easy: Pure Swing. The big band he organized for the “Let’s Dance” radio program over NBC in New York eventually matured into the locomotive that barreled through the country to its famed and often told moment of discovery and success at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. The band delivered to the youth of America a new voice that was hot, cool, progressive and inventive… Mosaic Records Classic Columbia and OKeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958), a treasure trove of seven CDs, spans nearly 20 years of Goodman’s musical life, from the late 1930s when his popularity was already well established, throughout the 1950s when Benny would assemble the cream of the mainstream jazz world to be… The set features more than 24 tracks that are being released for the first time.” –All About Jazz

Mosaic Records, 2008

Project Freedom – Joey DeFrancesco & The People

Grammy-nominated organist/trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco delivers a gorgeous project that seamlessly blends jazz and blues, highlighting his stunning arrangement capabilities and proving, yet again, he is “one of the greatest B-3 players since Jimmy Smith,” says Quincy Jones. Opening with a prelude arrangement of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Project Freedom swells, bends, and breaks track after track with emotion, nuance, and big heart. Featuring mostly originals, the album also includes a stellar rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

Mack Avenue, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Ancient Africa – Abdullah Ibrahim

On February 18, 1973, in Toronto, after 10 years of exile from his home in South Africa, Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly named Dollar Brand) recorded two brilliant albums of solo piano; Ancient Africa is the second volume, and this record is a wonderful reissue, complete with a never-issued bonus track, “Khotso.” “Like Ellington, Mingus and Monk, [Ibrahim] has extended his career into many different pathways through the reworkings of his original themes,” wrote John Norris back in 1994. “Rarely, though, have they been so redolent of ‘home’ as in these performances.” And that still holds true over two decades later.

Sackville, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Columbia Years 1968-1969 – Betty Davis

Nearly 50 years after its recording in the Studios B and E at Columbia’s 52nd Street Studios, Seattle’s own Light in the Attic Records have unearthed Betty Davis’ landmark session, produced by Miles Davis and Teo Macero. Capturing Davis’ uniquely fresh and funky vibe, the previously unheard session highlights her futuristic capabilities that would go on to inspire modern artists including Prince, OutKast, and Erykah Badu. Featuring drummer Mitch Mitchell, guitarist John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock on keys, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and several other key players, along with rare documents and photos in the packaging, The Columbia Years is a must-need project for any jazz lover.

Light in the Attic, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Danse – Colin Vallon

The Colin Vallon Trio has earned its place in the world of the piano trio by quietly challenging its conventions, never more obvious than on Danse, their third ECM album. Pianist Vallon, recently nominated for the Swiss Music Prize, leads double bassist Patrice Moret and drummer Julian Sartorius not with virtuosic solo display, but by patient outlining of melody and establishing of frameworks in which layered group improvising can take place. On this record, gentle but insistent rhythms can trigger seismic musical events.

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

My Foolish Heart – Ralph Towner

“If ever there was a guitar player who captures the gorgeous nuance, the magic that a nylon string classical guitar can emote in the right hands it is Ralph Towner,” writes the Huffington Post. After critically lauded projects with trumpeter Paolo Fresu and with fellow guitarists Wolfgang Muthspiel and Slava Grigoryan, Ralph Towner returns to solo guitar for My Foolish Heart, his 29th album for ECM. Towner is a former Seattle resident and founder of the group long-running third stream group, Oregon. Whether on classical guitar or 12-string, Towner’s touch is immediately identifiable. Solo music is an important thread through his rich discography and this new album follows in the great tradition.

 

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Rebirth – Billy Childs

Grammy Award-winning pianist/composer Billy Childs assembles an all-star cast of saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Eric Harland on his latest endeavor, Rebirth, an album with groove, clarity, balance, and vision. The seamlessness of this group, steered by a stalwart captain, certainly renews one’s faith in the small-group format. “Even for those of us who already knew the truth about Billy Childs, it’s good to savor it anew,” says Vijay Iyer. “This album invites everyone in, so that we can all revel in his mastery and hear him keeping that flame burning bright.”

Mack Avenue, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

East West Time Line – Kevin Eubanks

Recorded in New York and California, this album celebrates the “energy and lifestyle” of each locale that has shaped guitarist Eubanks’ life. “This collection of songs might be considered a musical representation of two different time periods of seemingly disparate influences that I have grown to understand from living in New York, ages 20-35, and California, ages 36 to present day,” writes Eubanks in the liner notes. The New York sessions are original compositions, while the California sessions are arrangements of works by Chick Corea, Marvin Gaye, and others. Accompanied by top-tier artists, including bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and pianist Orrin Evans, Eubanks crafts a personal and thoroughly enjoyable listening experience.

Mack Ave, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Clockwise: the Music of Cedar Walton – Ben Markley Big Band

Pianist Ben Markley releases his latest project Clockwise: The Music of Cedar Walton. Featuring special guest trumpeter Terell Stafford, Markley celebrates one of the more influential and beloved figures in jazz through this unique project, showcasing many of Walton’s most revered tunes through new arrangements for big band. Bringing together faculty members from the University of Wyoming and top-flight Denver-area musicians, Markley produces an honest, swinging recording that honors Walton, while presenting his music in a new light.

OA2 Records, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Elegy – Theo Bleckmann

After appearing on two ECM albums (Meredith Monk and Julia Hülsmann), vocalist Theo Bleckmann makes his label debut as a leader with Elegy. This album showcases Bleckmann as a fascinating composer as much as a very distinctive singer, and combines the torrential talent of guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Shai Maestro, bassist Chris Tordini, and drummer John Hollenbeck, a long-time collaborator. A “sound painter” who creates what JazzTimes calls “luminous webs” in music, Bleckmann’s ECM foray is well worth a listen.

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Tipico – Miguel Zenon

Saxophonist, Grammy nominee, and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón is widely considered one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Zenón’s compositions are largely informed by his heritage. Performing with his quartet of 10-plus years – pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole – Zenón focuses on this nucleus on Típico, giving the album a more intimate feel with a distinct voice.

Miel Music, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau

Two geniuses of the age, mandolinist/singer Chris Thile and pianist Brad Mehldau make their duo debut with their eponymous album, a mix of covers and originals. Thile, the virtuosic darling of bluegrass, who was selected to follow Garrison Keilor on the beloved NPR staple, A Prairie Home Companion, and Mehldau, the most influential jazz pianists in the last two decades, combine their chops in a superbly delightful rapport – two artists who “come from different worlds but the same species,” writes the New York Times.

Nonsuch, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Rumbler – Bill Anschell

It’s been more than five years since celebrated Seattle pianist/composer Bill Anschell released a record, and Rumbler couldn’t be a more worthy one. A “globally aware musician of wide-ranging activities and interests,” Anschell “push[es] his music in new directions with odd meters, unexpected juxtapositions and textures, intricately creative arrangements and rock flavors, all without neglecting the elemental power of melody and nuance,” writes Andrew Luthringer in Earshot Jazz. Featuring his core trio of bassist Chris Symer and drummer Jose Martinez, Anschell also brings on guests including saxophonist Jeff Coffin and guitarist Brian Monroney to accentuate each texture and melody.

Origin Records, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Swivel – Honey Ear Trio

The sunny determination of drummer Allison Miller shines through all of the Honey Ear Music. The other constant in this group is the bassist Rene Hart, a former Seattleite having lived in NYC for a number of years. The new guy in Honey Ear is saxophonist Jeff Lederer, and the additional spark and depth that he brings is immediately noticeable, even if you’ve never heard the group before. This music is inventive, spirited, and fun.

Little i Music, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Daylight Ghosts – Craig Taborn

Keyboardist Craig Taborn celebrates his third ECM release as a leader, bringing together two other luminaries from the New York scene – Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet) and Chris Lightcap (bass) – as well as fellow Minnesota native Dave King (drums), of The Bad Plus. Informed by free improv, rock, electronic, world music, and more, these musicians are dynamic and questing, working proficiently together in an electrifying performance on Daylight Ghosts.

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Laughing at Life – Duchess

Since their 2015 debut, vocal trio Duchess (Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou) have captivated listeners with their joyful, sassy, and polished performances. On their new release, Duchess joins with instrumentalists of quite some talent, including guitarist Jesse Lewis, clarinetist Anat Cohen, saxophonist Jeff Lederer, and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon. Laughing At Life is filled to the brim of simply satisfying music, complete with tight harmonies and swinging surprises.

Anzic Records, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Up and Coming – John Abercrombie Quartet

Guitarist John Abercrombie, who has recorded as a leader for ECM since 1974, returns with a second album of his heavyweight quartet of pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Joey Baron. Of their 2013 39 Steps, Financial Times said, “The emphasis is on subtle intrigue, flowing lyricism and the interplay between the leader’s warm, cleanly articulated guitar and Copland’s piano…with bassist Gress and drummer Baron equally supple and sinewy companions.” Up and Coming highlights that same interplay, yet with even more emphasis on the enduring values of songs.

ECM, 2017
Notes by John Gilbreath

Henry “Red” Allen And His Orchestra 1935-1936

New Orleans trumpeter/vocalist Red Allen, one of the most popular bandleaders of the early “Jazz Age,” has been beautifully represented by this re-mastered set of early recordings. This release, 1935-1936, is part of a much larger Chronological Classics Series, and includes 24 super-clean early recordings, from a career that included 9 nationally charting hit singles. The liner notes are fascinating, and the music serves as a clear beacon to the distant past, from which ground work one can clearly hear the development of the art form; “America’s great gift to world culture.”

Classics, 1991
Notes by John Gilbreath

Urban Landscape – Manuel Valera & Groove Square

The Cuban pianist Manuel Valera continues to surprise with each new release. This Urban Landscape brings forward a host of cultural traditions, including Valera’s unique artistic vision and E. J. Strickland, the drummer from his most recent work, into a brand new stew. As AllAboutJazz says, “Decidedly adult contemporary, Urban Landscape is exactly what it purports to be; an urban vision of funk, groove, and habanera.”

Destiny, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Come Out Swingin’ – Eugenie Jones

(Local artist and Manieri “Second Sunday” performer.) “There is nothing standard about the standards Jones chooses. “All of Me” bounces and “Bye Bye Blackbird” give feature to Anderson’s expert timekeeping and Jones’ precise phrasing. Jones proves a capable scat singer, never overdoing it. Reaching way back to “Begin the Beguine,” Jones turns in a beautifully straight performance of the Artie Shaw classic, properly accented by Ernesto Pediangco’s conga playing and Jay Thomas’ trumpet and saxophone parts.” (All About Jazz)

BMI, 2015

Zenith – Marc Copland

In a first-rate quartet that includes trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Joey Baron, the sublime, and oddly under-recognized pianist Marc Copeland finds the perfect balance of virtuosity and feeling; freedom and restraint. Even the one Ellington composition here is a vehicle for exploration between piano and trumpet, taking this wonderful recording into territory that is refreshingly new and reassuringly familiar.

InnerVoice, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Live: an Evening with the Mel Brown Quartet

Portland drummer, and undeniable jazz master, Mel Brown, has been a solid and dignified presence in jazz for years. With impeccable swing, and a personal style that always makes him the best-dressed presence in any room, Mel Brown may represent a vanishing breed, but this date proves he’s not going anywhere soon. With Portland stalwarts Tony Pachini, Dan Balmer, and Ed Bennett, the quartet has sails full of modernism, and a keel deep in Brown’s soul-jazz roots.

Saphu, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Rise Above – Bill Evans

Saxophonist Bill Evans, who first came to light in the electric bands of Miles Davis, has issued his 24th release, Rise Above, a work of collaborations with an eclectic group of vocalists; including Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes, JJ Grey, and Murali Coryell. In addition to these powerhouse singers, the album features musicians including guitarist Mike Stern, bassist Dave Anderson, banjo player Ryan Cavanaugh, and keyboardist Marco Benevento, among others. Rise Above highlights Evans’ pedigree and love of soulful melodies with hard-hitting grooves, in solid, cohesive performances.

Vansman Records, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Peter Erskine is Dr. UM – Peter Erskine

The irrepressible drummer has successfully kept his feet on both sides of the divide between “contemporary jazz” and, what?, “straight-ahead jazz.” As the drummer in Weather Report from 1978 to 1982, Erskine established himself as a versatile master who became first call for recording dates with Barbara Streisand, Kate Bush, and Michael Buble’. He is also an educator, and, having attained the Doctoral level, has become the titular Dr. Um. Erskine is a virtuoso who knows how to have, and create, actual fun.

Fuzzy Music, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

30 – Trio Da Paz

Fleet Brazilian jazz by three of its top instrumentalists. Having first convened as a trio in 1985, the guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Nilson Matta, and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca, have individually become essential to the New York scene while remaining true to their deeply wired Brazilian traditions. This collection of mostly original composition includes one cover; Baden Powell’s Samba Triste, which brings the samba feel to the front, and keeps this music grounded on the balls of its feet.

Zoho Music, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Feeling Good – Randy Crawford & Joe Sample

Smooth Jazz pioneers Crawford and Sample, who hit gold with their Street Life release of 30 years ago, are still with us and sounding, perhaps because of a maturity of approach, very much at the top of their game. The distinct timbre of Randy Crawford’s voice, that has always given her the benefit of the listener’s double take — like, “who is that?” – is still present. Sample’s hip and smooth presentation is augmented by jazz bassist Christian McBride and L.A. guitarist Anthony Wilson.

PRA Records, 2007
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Dreaming Room – Laura Mvula

From a continuum that may run from the troubled soul of Nina Simone through the R&B/jazz fluidity of vocalists like Jill Scott comes the distinctive British “neo-soul” vocalist Laura Mvula. Her second release, The Dreaming Room, is filled with lush production and clever surprise. It is almost classical in form but contemporary in style, and conveys personal experience through creative expression, just like jazz. At just 36 minutes from start to finish, this release gives up a snapshot of an artist from whom we will surely hear much more.

Sony Music, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

He Was The King – Freddy Cole

Though Freddy Cole’s refined and funky charm has always been distinctly his own, the long shadow of his late, masterful, and enormously popular older brother, Nat King Cole, has always been an unavoidable blessing and curse. On this beautiful late-career recording, the 80-year-old Freddy Cole fully acknowledges the gifts his brother gave our culture, while still remaining true to himself. This is the end of a family legacy, going out with all of the grace and style with which it has always blessed us.

HighNote Records, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Dream Man – Birch Pereira & the Gin Joints

Birch Pereira & the Gin Joints is a top-shelf unit of superb musicians that, on their new album Dream Man, explores a keenly curated repertoire of classic sounds, steeped with an obvious affinity and love for the music. Bassist, vocalist, and arranger Pereira, an active player in the Seattle jazz scene, is a versatile musician, leading a talented crop of artists as they blend Willie Dixon, Hank Williams, Fats Waller, and more into a single tasty, and timeless, brew.

GJ, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Work Songs – Jaimeo Brown Transcendence

This fascinating and powerful mix of recorded “samples” with a strong trio of saxophone, guitar, and drums, continues the work of Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence project, begun with his Masters thesis on The Black Church and Jazz. This work takes segments of field recordings of Work Songs from the American South, as well and India and Japan, mixed with a range of musical expression, from ferocious to flowing, by Jaleel Shaw on sax and Chris Sholar on guitar and electronics. In the most important role of an artist, drummer Jaimeo Brown successfully brings issues of Social and Racial Equity to the forefront through these respectful and absolutely original creations.

Motema Music, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Porgy & Bess – Ella Fitgerald & Louis Armstrong

“Producer Norman Granz oversaw two Porgy & Bess projects. The first involved Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and came together during the autumn of 1957 with brassy big band and lush orchestral arrangements by Russ Garcia. This is the classic Verve Porgy & Bess, and it’s been reissued many, many times… What’s really great about the Ella and Louis version is Ella, who handles each aria with disarming delicacy, clarion intensity, or usually a blend of both.” –allmusic

Entre Colegas – Andy Gonzalez

This is Latin Jazz that goes miles deeper than the gloss of the well-known Latin band leaders. Bassist Andy Gonzalez has almost 100 recordings to his credit over a 50-year career, including the compelling work with his brother, conguero/trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band. This recording conjures the fertile mix of the Cuban and Ruerto Rican scenes in the South Bronx, where countless musicians cut their teeth. The set includes some deep originals, and a sweet and meaty version of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing.”

Truth Revolution, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Rising Grace – Wolfgang Muthspiel

Though lesser known to American audiences, guitarist Muthspiel has assembled a bit of a supergroup of youngish heroes, including drummer Brian Blade, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, bassist Larry Grenadier, and the pianist Brad Mehldau. True to ECM standards, the five-way interplay is understated and beautifully recorded.

ECM, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

What We Bring – Ben Wendel

So far, Ben Wendel is best known for the brainy funk of his Kneebody band, and the remarkable intellect in his approach. This release is a little different, in that it may strike many as his most “straight-ahead” work so far. But musicians this bright and accomplished will resist easy classification. Wendel and his band-mates – Gerald Clayton, Joe Sanders and Henry Cole – are omnivores; comfortable, and even excelling, in many settings. These are the names, contributing to the existing canon, that people will remember in the future, but not because they sound exactly like this for the rest of their lives.

Motema, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Presidential Suite – Ted Nash Big Band

Saxophonist Ted Nash, a long-time member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, and, before that, the NYC Jazz Composers Collective, comes to his own big band project with well-formed musical ideas and a fascinating social comment. Subtitled eight variations on freedom this jazz suite includes key moments from historic speeches, read by an interesting group of individuals, from Glenn Close to Andrew Young. In 2017 Nash received 2 Grammy awards for this major work.

Motema, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Sting Variations – The Tierney Sutton Band

Among her successes, the refined Los Angeles vocalist, Tierney Sutton, has been able to accomplish one very special thing in her career: she has maintained her own working band of excellent musicians, and has continued to develop with them as a working ensemble, much to our benefit. Here, they approach 14 compositions by Sting, more as jazz tunes than pop songs. But regardless of the strength of the ensemble, it is the purity of Sutton’s tone that shines through, and makes these songs her own.

BFM Jazz, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Real Enemies – Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

This is adventurous big band advances the genre into decidedly new directions. The Real Enemies project was conceived as a multi-media project that moves logically through 12 sections (referring to Schoenberg’s 12-tone methodology) dealing with the way that conspiracy theories become part of our social fabric. Darcy James Argue (pronounced like argue) is originally from Vancouver BC, and has become a respected part of the New York music community, where his Secret Society bands can employ some of the top young players of the day. This is both challenging and rewarding.

Cercopithecine/BMI, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Heritage – Richard Bona with Mandekan Cubano

Heritage is a welcome return to the forefront by the Cameroonian bassist, and angelic vocalist, Richard Bona. This recording explores connections between jazz, West African, and Cuban music through the experiences of the five diverse musicians and the lens of Richard Bona’s unpredictable creativity. Bona finds a sweet spot between dreamy and dancey, and always creates a global outcome that it uniquely his own.

Qwest, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

All L. A. Band – Bob Mintzer

Fans of the genre will get the reference. The L.A. thing has always been a little different. Rooted in mild funk and finger popping. At the top of that historical mountain are long-time colleagues, saxophonist Bob Mintzer and drummer Peter Erskine, who assemble and drive this all-L.A. big band through a volatile program of funk and Afro-Cuban intricacies, delivered with typical jaw-dropping precision and fire. Pianist Russell Ferrante, from Mintzer’s small group, the Yellowjackets, understands how to assert himself through the incoming storm of top-rate musicianship.

Fuzzy Music, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Early Americans – Jane Ira Bloom

On her 16th release, soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom has settled into an accessible and beautiful expression of deeply felt music. Her seasoned creations with long-time New York collaborators — bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bobby Previte – affirm her assured ensemble work, but it is her unaccompanied pieces here, particularly on Leonard Bernstein’s Somewhere, that affirm her mastery of the instrument.

Outline Records, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Storming Through the South – The Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra

Stan Kenton made it clear that he did not want a “ghost band” on the road after his death in 1979. So, while The Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra is not exactly a straight up continuation of Kenton’s charts, the style and inspiration of his spirit clearly lives in the music. This recording, made on a 16-city road tour through the American south by the group of seasoned pros, captures all of the aspects of the genre, and is sure to please fans of traditional Kenton-era big-band music.

Summit Records, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Ballad of the West – Kevin Woods

Kevin Woods (the trumpet player who performed for our January Sunday concert in the FSW Trio) – “Kevin Woods started his jazz education when he was two years old. The current director of Western’s jazz program, Woods grew up with a trumpet player for a father. After graduating from Western in 2005, Woods taught as graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder and worked as an adjunct instructor at Western in 2008 and 2009 while also running the Whatcom County Community College jazz program at the same time.” –WWU AS Review

The Second – Derrick Hodge

Bassist Derrick Hodge, a constant in the Robert Glasper Experiment and the go-to bassist on a plethora of recent recordings, is an interesting artist in his own right. On this second studio release, he goes deeper into his own resources, mostly recording all of the instruments himself and successfully experimenting with sound creations not previously imagined. This is a great example of the rewards to be found in exploring individual work by artists typically listed as band members, behind other leaders. There is magic everywhere, and Hodge harnesses his share on The Second.

Blue Note, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

ArtScience – Robert Glasper Experiment

Houston pianist Robert Glasper first established his credibility on the jazz side of things in the early 00’s, with phenomenally fast and crisp piano chops in a traditional trio setting. In recent years, Glasper’s newer group has confidently established almost a whole new genre, relating jazz to Black popular music in such an authentic way that the “Experiment” is now like nothing else. On ArtScience the music continues to grow, but the idea to include original songs by the individual band members is less that successful. But, hey, that’s the nature of an “experiment.” I’m already looking forward to the next release.

Blue Note, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Madera Latino – Brian Lynch

The virtuoso jazz trumpeter Brian Lynch has always been rooted in Latin music, and has used that influence to great effect in past recordings like The Latin Side of Miles Davis. This Grammy-nominated release has emerged as one of the top recordings of 2016, and shows a master near the top of his form, so confident in his place that he has assembled this band of other top trumpeters for a tribute to the late Woody Shaw. The music is blazing where it needs to be, and sweet where it counts. Madera Latino is an original piece of art celebrating the fire and finesse of the jazz continuum.

Hollistic Musicworks, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Shift – Logan Richardson

Alto saxophonist Logan Richardson, young by jazz standards, is on his third release here, issued by the venerable Blue Note label. He has also attracted an amazing recording ensemble that includes superstar Pat Matheny, MacArthur genius Jason Moran, accomplished drummer Nasheet Waits, and former bandmate, bassist Harish Ragavan. The music is new, and the recording is clearly the work of an ensemble, rather than statements by individual all stars. Richardson’s tone is bold, right down the middle.

Blue Note, 2106
Notes by John Gilbreath

Country for Old Men – John Scofield

The lauded guitarist/composer’s latest album finds him paying tribute to such greats as George Jones, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, James Taylor, and Hanks Williams. Playing alongside colleagues including Steve Swallow (bass), Larry Goldings (keys), and Bill Stewart (drums), Scofield delivers a top-notch, seamless performance combining many of his interests and influences. Country For Old Men is an album that “suggests that not only does Scofield – playing better than he ever has – have plenty of surprises still up his sleeve, but that he may well be moving in a direction where the myriad of music he loves is now all fair game, all while still remaining firmly in the jazz sphere.”

Verve, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Stripped – Macy Gray

Many listeners won’t be surprised that the popular but idiosyncratic R&B/Soul singer, Macy Gray, has released a jazz record, but those familiar with her “sultry, raspy croon” (Mic), may be surprised to learn it’s only her first. The singer-songwriter rose to prominence with her 1999 hit single “I Try,” which fans will be happy to hear reimagined on her new album Stripped, along with several re-workings of her songs. The album also features covers, including “Redemption Song,” as well as brand-new recordings. Talking to Elle magazine, Gray said that recording a jazz album “was such a completely unexpected but refreshing and fun thing to do.”

Chesky Records, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

IV [Four] – BadBadNotGood

The fourth studio album of Canadian hip hop-jazz outfit Badbadnotgood finds Matthew Tavares (keys), Chester Hansen (bass), Alex Sowinski (drums), and Leland Whitty (sax) at perhaps their most sophisticated, tight, impressive, and forward-thinking. A group that’s only six years old, BBNG has sold-out many shows and has a deservingly devoted following. With echoes of John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, and even Can, IV demonstrates the group’s maturation and entices listeners to what’s to come next.

Leisure, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Lovers – Nels Cline

A record 25 years in the making, the celebrated jazz/rock/noise guitarist’s Blue Note debut, Lovers, features a variety of originals as well as standards from Rodgers & Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart, Henry Mancini, and even Sonic Youth. “It is meant to be as personal in its sound and in its song selection as it is universal in its endeavor to assay or map the parameters of ‘mood’ as it once pertained, and currently pertains, to the peculiar and powerful connection between sound/song and intimacy/romance,” says Cline. The gorgeous record certainly lives up to his vision of “celebrating and challenging our iconic notion of romance.”

Blue Note, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Blues and Ballads – Brad Mehldau Trio

The revered trio’s first new release in four years, Blues and Ballads is an album of interpretations of titular works by other composers, including Cole Porter, Charlie Parker, and Lennon & McCartney. Of their 2012 release Where Do You Start, the Financial Times said, “Mehldau never lets his peerless technique and meticulous timing interrupt the narrative flow of a well-told tale.” On this 2016 record, the pianist, along with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, uphold their ability to intricately weave their musical threads in a story.

Nonsuch, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Day Breaks – Norah Jones

Featuring nine new original songs and three covers, as well as top-notch guests Brian Blade (drums), Dr. Lonnie Smith (organ), and Wayne Shorter (sax), the award-winning vocalist’s latest album, out on Blue Note, draws heavily on jazz influences. This is a return to Jones’ roots, since the songstress had more recently been moving toward the folk/pop realm since the release of her enormously popular Blue Note debut several years earlier. “This new album feels full circle because I’m going back to my early influences,” she says. “After the first record, I drifted away from the piano a little bit….I really loved playing piano on this record.”

Blue Note, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Six Pieces of Silver – Horace Silver

The first classic album by the Horace Silver Quintet, this set is highlighted by “Señor Blues” and “Cool Eyes.” The early Silver quintet of 1956 was essentially the Jazz Messengers of the year before, with trumpeter Donald Byrd, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, and bassist Doug Watkins (while drummer Louis Hayes was in Blakey‘s place), but already the band was starting to develop a sound of its own. “Señor Blues” officially put Horace Silver on the map, and the album is a hard bop and gospel-tinged jazz gem. Some reissues add bonus tracks, including two additional versions of “Señor Blues,” including a later vocal rendition by Bill Henderson.”- (Scott Yanow, Allmusic)

Blue Note/Capitol Record, 2000

Zigzagger – Takuya Kuroda

The brilliant trumpeter from Kobe, Japan, is one of the more exciting new soul-jazz figures emerging from a resurgence of the legendary Blue Note Records label. His brand-new recording Zizagger further seasons his signature soul-jazz and post-bop sound with liberal elements of hip-hop and contemporary culture. Allmusic.com writes, “Blessed with a warm, robust trumpet sound and a knack for delivering lithe, soulful solos that bring to mind both Roy Hargrove and Hugh Masekela, Kuroda is truly a 21st century performer.”

Concord, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Dream in Blue – Sara Gazarek/Josh Nelson

Vocalist Sara Gazarek and pianist Josh Nelson have worked together nearly 15 years by this date, and their relationship has never been stronger than on this album, Dream in the Blue. Taking the better part of two years to tour and develop a diverse repertoire, the duo has taken their collaboration to a new level, showcasing their combined artistic maturation. Featuring reworkings of “Blackbird” and “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Cello Song” and “Without A Song,” and more, this album is “likely to endure in hearts and minds” (DownBeat).

Steel Bird Music, 2016

Beyond Now – Donny McCaslin

Making waves in mainstream publications with his performance on David Bowie’s Blackstar earlier this year, saxophonist Donny McCaslin hits the shelves with his own record, Beyond Now. Joined by pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Timothy Lefebvre, and drummer Mark Guiliana, as well as special guests Jeff Taylor and Nate Wood, McCaslin delivers powerful originals and covers of tracks by Mutemath, deadmau5, and The Chainsmokers. Fittingly, he dedicates the record to Bowie himself, and includes covers of “A Small Plot of Land” and “Warszawa.”

Motema, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Je Dis Oui! – Pink Martini

Pink Martini’s ninth studio album finds the beloved group sonically traversing the world. Je dis oui! features an array of songs – many original – in French, Farsi, Armenian, Portugese, Arabic, Turkish, Xhosa, and English, affirming the band’s two-decade-long history of global inclusivity and collaborative spirit. The latter is particularly apparent on this album, as Pink Martini works with a variety of guests, including NPR’s Ari Shapiro, who sings a new Arabic version of “La Soledad,” from the group’s first album, and singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, who covers the Rodgers & Hart classic “Blue Moon.” Fans should “say yes” to this album, indeed.

Heinz Records, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Secular Hymns – Madeleine Peyroux

One of the most acclaimed modern female jazz vocalists, Madeleine Peyroux recorded her eighth studio album at the Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Oxfordshire, England. Backed by guitarist/vocalist Jon Herington and bassist/vocalist Barak Mori, Peyroux covers songs ranging from Allen Toussaint’s “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On),” Tom Waits’ “Tango Til They’re Sore,” Townes Van Zandt’s “The Highway Kind,” and Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Shout Sister Shout.” This beautiful record shows how her “throaty, highly resonant voice” has “only ripened in the decades since her debut” (Allmusic.com).

Verve, 2016

Nearness – Joshua Redman & Brad Mehdau

The longtime friends’ and collaborators’ first duo album, Nearness is a selection of duets recorded live during their recent European tour. Before becoming a bandleader himself, pianist Mehldau was a member of Redman’s quartet in the ‘90s; the pair then reunited in 2010 for Mehldau’s album Highway Rider. The musicians are “among the most potent and influential jazz instrumentalists of their generation,” says the Ottawa Citizen, and they perform “world-class improvising before rapt audiences.”

Nonesuch, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

French Fries + Champagne – The Hot Sardines

One of the most delightfully energetic bands on New York’s ‘hot’ music scene” (DownBeat), The Hot Sardines release a down-and-dirty, effervescent record of covers and originals, including a collaboration with Alan Cumming, who sings on “When I Get Low, I Get High,” a hit popularized by Ella Fitzgerald. Evoking New York speakeasies, Parisian cabarets, and New Orleans jazz halls, French Fries & Champagne is a thoroughly enjoyable album of hot arrangements from this celebrated group.

Decca, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Upward Spiral – Branford Marsalis Quartet

The bold saxophonist/bandleader/composer, along with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Justin Faulkner – an incredibly strong unit in and of itself – joins forces with one of today’s top jazz vocalists on their latest record, Upward Spiral. “He has the most flexible voice around, is always in tune and is a true jazz musician,” Marsalis says of Kurt Elling. Elling, the Grammy-winning vocalist, lends his warm, versatile voice to the record, which is one of beautiful collaboration between vocalist and instrumentalist.

Okeh, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Sunday Night at the Vanguard – Fred Hersch Trio

The eight-time Grammy nominee jazz pianist/composer seems to always surpass expectations with each recording. When he’s alongside bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson – an ensemble that’s earned critical acclaim with each recording – Hersch is unstoppable in his ability to unfold a dramatic, beautiful musical narrative. Recorded at the venue that’s become like his second home, Sunday Night finds the trio playful, lyrical, rhythmic, and exploratory, all with a certain level of trust and poise.

Palmetto Records, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Milt Jackson & Ray Brown – Norman Granz Jazz in Montreux presents Milt Jackson and Ray Brown ’77

Of all the vibists in jazz – and there have been a number who have played with much elan, swing, and ingenuity – none has equaled Milt Jackson for his combination of blues-rooted emotional directness and simultaneous lyrical, relaxed, graceful phrasing.” –Nat Hentoff, June 2004

DVD

The New Breed – Jeff Parker

Multi-instrumentalist and a pillar of Chicago jazz and experimental music scene, Jeff Parker has been through many iterations as sideman, companion, and leader; each project he touches he helps bring to life with creativity and motion. On New Breed, a title taken from a clothing store owned by Parker’s late father, the musician finds himself in a funkier, soulful sphere, rooted in jazz and funk with some experimental beats. “The whole time I was working toward trying to fuse all my interests in a recording,” he told Aquarium Drunkard. “It’s a record I always wanted to make.”

International Anthem Recording Co., 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Plays Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite – Slavic Soul Party

For the raucous party band that they are, Slavic Soul Party has conceived and executed a more-than-credible covering of one of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington’s most distinctive, and prescient, creative projects. This Far East Suite has its own distinctive flavor, but SSP brings considerable musical talent to bear on clever, and even poignant arrangements, once again creating a recording that brings the jazz canon into new territory. As it should.

Ropeadope, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Classic! Live at Newport – Joe Lovano Quartet

His 25th album on Blue Note, saxophonist Joe Lovano’s Classic was recorded at the Newport Festival in 2005 and released on the eve of the 2016 festival (at which he performed with John Scofield). Featuring the late Hank Jones on piano, George Mraz on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums, the album is of typical Lovano magic, and includes melodies and rhythms that made All About Jazz declare, “If your foot isn’t tapping, your body isn’t moving, and your head isn’t bobbing along…you may be suffering from some form of paralysis.”

Blue Note, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Harlem On My Mind – Catherine Russell

New York jazz vocalist Russell pays tribute to the Golden Age of Harlem jazz, celebrating the legacies of Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, Etta James, and Dinah Washington, as well as iconic compositions of Benny Carter, Fats Waller, and Irving Berlin. The 12-song record swings with soulful interpretations, befitting the daughter of jazz musicians. “My mother was born and raised in Harlem, and my father led one of the leading orchestra in Harlem, which was part of the inspiration for this album,” she told DownBeat. “It’s about not forgetting your roots.”

Jazz Village, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Expansions Live – Dave Liebman Group

Soprano saxophone master, David Liebman, has never been content to rest on the laurels of his important side-man contributions to the Miles Davis “electric” period. This two-disc set has him in the company of a stunning new ensemble of players, taking whole new harmonic approaches to some familiar, and some not familiar, musical statements for both acoustic and electric live performance. Three of the acoustic pieces were recorded live at the Earshot Jazz Festival event at Cornish College of the Arts.

2 CDs
Whaling City Sound, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Live in Sant’anna Arresi, 2004 – David S. Ware & Matthew Shipp

The late tenor sax titan David S Ware always had one of the most distinctive sounds of New York’s Black avant-garde, and this beautifully recorded live concert captures it at its full glory. Ware seems absolutely at ease, and perfectly in synch with his long-time collaborator, pianist Matthew Shipp, who is another prolific modern master. The music is adventurous, but so passionately performed and beautifully recorded that it can speak to any listener.

AUM Fidelity, 2016

Notes by John Gilbreath

The Westerlies – The Westerlies

While it is not unusual for the New York jazz world to be impressed by the young talent coming out of Seattle, the charming and virtuosic brass quarter, The Westerlies, have taken the equation to a whole new level. This second Westerlies release is a beautifully presented two-disco offering of mostly original compositions, with the only “covers” being, tellingly, Duke Ellington and Charles Ives. It is pristine, engaging, virtuosic, and utterly charming music for two trumpets and two trombones.

2 CDs
Songlines, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Atomospheres – Tigran Hamasyn, Arv Henriksen, Eivind Aarset, Jan Bang

The Atmospheres created by these four European masters are quiet, spacious, and absolutely gorgeous. The younger of the four, Armenian pianist Tigran, brings a churning but elegant energy under the pristine trumpet work of Arve Henriksen and the live sampling of Jan Bang. Almost like a pointalist painting of a serene setting; the overall image is so pleasing that one doesn’t realize how much is going on inside it.

Steve Lehman & Selebeyone – Steve Lehman & Selebeyone

This exciting release represents a bold new direction for the blazing genius of alto saxophonist Steve Lehman. In the Wolof language of Senegal, Sélébéyone, represents a confluence, or coming together. This new project brings Lehman into partnership with the French saxophonist/producer, Maciek Lasserre; and allows the already fluid elements of hard-driving post-bop jazz, Senegalese rap, and avant-global electronics, to flow together into a whole new vocabulary for music.

Pi Recordings, 2003
Notes by John Gilbreath

Countdown – Joey Alexander

Here is one of the most astounding prodigies to ever come along. Joey was just 12 when this recording was made. Never mind that his technique and mechanical skills are top level, it is the maturity with which he understands and expresses music that are most impressive. This date features originals and standards, recorded with some of the top artists of the day, mostly in a jazz trio setting, with the exception of a guest appearance by saxophonist Chris Potter. Absolutely amazing.

Motema Music, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Dark Territory – Dave Douglas

The mid-20-teens have been an incredibly productive time Dave Douglas. The respected trumpeter, a prodigy in his early years, has remained a pioneer of musical expression, and has become a mentor to new generations; moving fluidly between styles as diverse as shape-note-singing, straight-up jazz, and this example of explorations of down-tempo beats with dark electronic coloring. His “High Risk” ensemble is anchored and propelled by the drummer Mark Guilliana, who also helped to define David Bowie’s last release.

Greenleaf, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Stranger Days – Adam O’Farrill

This debut recording as a leader from the old-soul-in-a-young-body trumpeter, Adam O’Farrill, grandson of the great Chico O’Farrill, seems to be more of a continuation than a debut. The recording title alludes to Albert Camus, and the music is more inspired by Charles Mingus than any Latin Jazz master. This stuff is deep, dark, and inspiring.

Sunnyside, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Wanderlust – Allison Adams Tucker

In the company of a stellar lineup of New York heavy-hitters, including Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez, and Scott Colley, the vocalist Allison Adams Tucker offers musical impressions of her travels, delivered in six languages, and overseen by award-winning producer, Matt Pierson. It’d be tough to go wrong with support like that, and Adams steps right up with assured pitch and delivery on a distinctive selection of tunes. On Seattle’s Origin record label.

Origin Records, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Second Impression – Eric Alexander

Known as one of the most solid tenor saxophonists on the main-stream jazz scene, Alexander should also be given credit for keeping the talents of be-bop masters like the pianist Harold Mabern and bassist Bob Cranshaw in the spotlight. He brings his muscular, post-Coltrane attack to bear on a couple of jazz standards, and some original works, so well delivered that they sound like standards.

Highnote, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Declaration of Musical Independence – Andrew Cyrille Quartet

The drummer Andrew Cyrille has been a long-time stalwart of New York’s black avant-garde, known for important work with some of the legends of the form. Always a modern thinker, he has formed and recorded a brand new quartet here with artists other than the “usual suspects;” including the bassist Ben Street, the rarely heard pianist Richard Tittlebaum, and the globally loved, Seattle resident guitarist Bill Frisell. The music is spacious and inventive, and, like all ECM recordings, beautifully presented.

ECM, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Frogtown – Anthony Wilson

Long known more as a capable and inventive guitarist – and the son of the cherished big band composer Gerald Wilson – than a vocalist, Wilson has assembled a fascinating group of musicians for a pretty fascinating collection of songs, which he delivers in a pleasant, warmly reedy tone. One of the surprises of the group is Petra Haden — one of the triplet daughters of the late bassist Charlie Haden — who is also becoming well known as a vocalist, but who plays violin on Frogtown, for the most part. Interesting

Goat Hill Recordings, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Peggy Lee & Benny Goodman: the Complete Recordings 1941-1947

Although the whole collection ranges across six years, 32 of the 35 cuts on this two-CD set were recorded within a year of Peggy Lee‘s joining Benny Goodman‘s band, and the vast majority within a six month period through the winter of 1942. It is possible during that span to hear Lee evolve from a competent but scarcely confident vocalist (“Elmer’s Tune”) into a bold interpreter, equally adept at blues (“Blues in the Night”), ballads (“When the Roses Bloom Again”), rhythm numbers (“My Little Cousin,” “I Threw a Kiss in the Ocean”), and everything in between. Aside from an improvement in sound over 1993’s Best of the Big Bands: Benny Goodman Featuring Peggy Lee, the real beauty here is in the material that wasn’t on that earlier disc, most notably the small-group sides “Where or When” (perhaps the most beautiful rendition of that song ever cut), “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and “Blues in the Night,” the latter one of Lee‘s earliest blues numbers.” –All Music

Columbia Legacy, 1999

Exploring Mars – Josh Nelson

Pianist Josh Nelson brings his own person fascination with our planetary neighbor to fore with Exploring Mars, a science fiction/science fact/jazz follow-up to his Discoveries…Nelson opens with “Bradbury’s Spirit,” a reading from Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, describing the music of the Red Planet—strange and beautiful and unbidden sounds invading the art of Martian musicians and singers, featuring a spare and “silvery” accompaniment by guitarist Larry Koonse….(Later tracks include) otherworldly tints imbued in no small part by the use of the EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument) of John Daversa.” –allaboutjazz.com

Origin Records, 2016

In My Room – Jacob Collier

Though the young Londoner seems at times able to redefine precociousness for the digital age, the outcomes are generally so charming and engaging that one easily forgets whatever criticism may have just been cooked up in the mind. Now under the wing of Quincy Jones, Collier seems destined for great things. This is a chance to get in on the ground floor.

Membran, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Los Guachos V – Guillermo Klein

The Argentinian composer/pianist is respected for his sophistical harmonic structures and seamless arrangements. With V, coming now some 20 years after the first convening of the incredible Los Gauchos ensemble, he has reached a point where the music is so engaging, and the individual musicians so masterful and astutely interwoven, that one can’t tell the differences between the improvised and through composed passages. Klein’s subtle mastery becomes more clear with each listen.

Sunnyside, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Throttle Elevator Music IV – Throttle Elevator Music

Cross Coltrane with The Clash and it would resemble the departure point for this adventurous leap. The much-praised Washington joins with stalwarts of the “Wide-Hive players,” Matt Montgomery and Gregory Howe, along with punk drummer/guitarist Mike Hughes, to raise the bar of this new tradition with 16 original compositions, ranging from 45-second punk flurries to full-out cosmic explorations. Inventive to the maximum.

Wide Hive, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Chemistry – Houston Person & Ron Carter

Here are two seasoned masters – saxophonist Person, 81, and bassist Carter, 79, at this recording — delivering a timeless collection of jazz standards, wrapped only in the warmth of their burnished tones. While working in a paired down duo format like this, with no net, might be daunting for younger musicians, these two work with such assured grace that the listener couldn’t even imagine a fall.

Highnote, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

John Beasley Presents Monk’estra Vol. 1 – John Beasely

As far as the project goes, the title says it all. But, as for potential, the music speaks volumes for itself. Yes, the big-band brashness can be a bit at odds with the quirky funk of Monk, but Beasley wisely comes behind any screech with some well-placed skronk. This is an incredible band playing great arrangements. I can see Monk spinning in circles next to the piano with this one.

Mack Ave, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Meeting of the Waters

Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra – The Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra features some of the top jazz musicians and arrangers in the Pacific Northwest, primarily focusing on original music written for the band. The tight harmonies of the ensembles and strong soloists are key ingredients to their success. This is not strictly an all-female band like Diva, as drummer Jeremy Jones and lead trumpeter Dennis Haldane are regular members and there are several male guests in the trumpet section. Musical director Daniel Barry contributed several charts and guests on his “Encontro das Águas (Meeting of the Waters).” Hazel Leach wrote the powerful, complex ballad “Self Portrait,” which features a moving vocal by Greta Matassa, and the perky “The Tulip Wonder,” which showcases trombonist Jennifer Kellogg.”—allmusic.com

OA2 Records, 2007

Moxie – Jessica Jones Quartet

Moxie is both an extension of tenor saxophonist Jessica Jones’ previous work and a glimpse back to an earlier point in her career: she continues to explore the possibilities inherent in a piano-less quartet with a two-tenor front line while reuniting with a rhythm duo that she worked with in the ’80s—bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Kenny Wolleson. The music that she makes here, with that team and fellow tenor/husband Tony Jones, is predictably unpredictable, grounded yet far-reaching, and irresistibly intriguing in its unfolding.” –All About Jazz

New Artists, 2015

True Stories – The Rippingtons

The Grammy-nominated contemporary jazz band celebrates its 30th anniversary with the release of True Stories, their 22nd album. Recorded over an intensive three-month span, the album is a refreshing compilation sure to please established fans and attract new ones. Joined by original member, saxophonist Brandon Fields, drummer Dave Karasony, bassist and Rhodes player Rico Belled, and special guest Jeffrey Osborne, founder/guitarist Russ Freeman orchestrates 10 compelling original tracks.

Entertainment One, 2016

Notes by John Gilbreath

Kneedelus – Kneebody + Daedelus

Considered an instrumental “mind-meld,” the complex collaboration of Kneebody and Daedelus is a spiraling electro-jazz-rock fusion that has scorched in the indie music scenes up and down the West Coast. Filled with deft synth beats, at-times dizzying percussion, and sensual horns, the 10-track Kneedelus is an album that moves the listener – a cross-genre experience that opens the doors for many more real/virtual mash-ups.

P&C Brainfeeder, 2016

Notes by John Gilbreath

Super Petite – The Claudia Quintet

A collection of musical vignettes, of sort, Super Petite is the new release from New York drummer/composer John Hollenbeck and his Claudia Quintet (Chris Speed, sax; Matt Moran, vibes; Red Wierenga, accordion; Drew Gress, bass). Featuring notably short compositions, this record (the group’s eighth) explores the dichotomy between brevity and complexity. Taking its name from a friend of the quintet’s, Super Petite contains 10 original compositions filled with the wit and virtuosity listeners have come to expect from this group.

Cuneiform Records, 2016

Notes by John Gilbreath

Everything’s Beautiful – Miles Davis & Robert Glaspar

A remix project for the award-winning pianist, Robert Glasper was given access to Sony’s Miles Davis catalogue to revamp and extend the jazz icon’s legacy. Bringing Davis’ innovative and unpredictable spirit into the 21st century, Glasper invites heavyweights including Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder, and John Scofield, as well as up-and-comers like Hiatus Kaiyote and L.A. trio King, to collaborate in creative reinvention. With textures of R&B, rap, future-soul, funk, Latin, and more, Everything’s Beautiful is just the Davis tribute we need. As Glasper noted, “Miles didn’t have one audience…his music traveled.”

Sony, 2016

Notes by John Gilbreath

Leslie Odom Jr. – Leslie Odom Jr.

After taking Broadway by storm in Hamilton, the Tony Award-winning star makes his debut as a jazz singer with his self-titled album. Staying close to home, Leslie Odom Jr. features a collection of jazz and Broadway classics, including soulful, R&B-inspired tracks like “Autumn Leaves,” “Cheer-Up Charlie,” and “The Party’s Over.” His smooth voice glides effortlessly through each track, proving that he is “not throwing away [his] shot” as a recording artist.

S-Curve Records, 2014

Notes by John Gilbreath

Soul Eyes – Kandace Springs

Young artist Kandace Springs releases her debut album Soul Eyes, which touches upon soul and pop while channeling her jazz influences as well as her Nashville upbringing. The singer, songwriter, and pianist counts such stylists as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, and Norah Jones as her heroes, yet she has a sound all her own; her warm alto effortlessly delivers an amalgam of soul, jazz, and pop tracks on this record, produced by Grammy-winning producer Larry Klein (Melody Gardot, Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock).

Blue Note, 2016

Notes by John Gilbreath

American Tunes – Allen Toussaint

Though the beloved musician, songwriter, and arranger passed away in the fall of ‘15, Allen Toussaint has left a posthumous album filled with his distinctive style: American Tunes is a collection of standards, repurposed with the New Orleans legend’s elegance and energy. Bringing special guests including Bill Frisell, Charles Lloyd, and Rhiannon Giddens into collaboration, Toussaint swings through tunes by Fats Waller, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, and more, as well as his own “Southern Nights.” It’s a wonderful tribute to the American popular song, and a nearly perfect parting gift.

Nonesuch, 2016

Notes by John Gilbreath

While Strolling Through the Park – Nancy Erickson

Erickson is a Seattle native who has managed to surround herself with the Origin Arts musician stable and other Northwest Coast stalwarts. She beautifully duets with bassist/vocalists Clipper Anderson on “I Just Dropped by to Say Hello,”…Top notch takes on “Perdido” (at deliberate tempo…slowly revealing the genius of Juan Tizol) and a rocking-rapid “That Old Black Magic.” Erickson is smart in her song choice and arrangements.” –All About Jazz

Vital Flame, 2016

Rare Django – Django Reinhardt

Very early recordings of Django Reinhardt (banjo, guitar), working as an accompanist in Paris from 1928 to 1938, playing with a variety of vocalists and orchestras. (Some recordings are previously unissued.) Many of the recordings include his brother Joseph (guitar) and Stephane Grappelli (violin). –liner notes

DRG Records, 1990

Habana Dreams – Pedrito Martinez Group

Cuban-born, New York-based percussionist Pedrito Martinez and his group release the follow up to their 2013 self-titled, Grammy-nominated debut. Habana Dreams pushes forward the gorup’s cutting-edge sound with some of the biggest names in Latin music: Rubén Blades, Descemer Bueno, and Issac Delgado. Recorded in both Cuba and New York, the album sees a return to Martinez’s Afro-Cuban roots, and showcases the group’s impressive range, from contemplative ballads to electrifying rumbas, while his magnetic personality and dynamic musicianship shine throughout.

Motema, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

 

Americana – JD Allen

The New York tenor saxophonist and DownBeat Critics Poll Winner, hailed by the New York Times as having an “enigmatic, elegant and hard-driving style,” has released his latest album with one goal: “To become a better musician.” “Learning how to compose and convincingly play a blues feel is learning how to humanize an inanimate object or a stream of notes,” he says. “The blues is the gateway to the past and future of American music; the well from which gospel, jazz, rock, country, rhythm & blues and hip hop are drawn.” Performing alongside bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, Allen delivers a “blend of emotive intensity balanced by workman-like diligence” (All About Jazz).

Savant, 2016

Sound of Red – Marie Rene

An album that attempts to cover the spectrum of human emotion, Marie’s Sound of Red indeed runs the gamut of joy, nostalgia, innocence, and feeling lost. The vocalist leans toward the theatrical in certain spots, but never oversells it, maintaining a sense of authenticity and relatability. She’s a clever lyricist with the vocal chops to impress many a listener. As John McDonough says in DownBeat, “There are many fine singers out there these days, and Marie is one of the best.”

Motema, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

 

Birdwatching – Anat Fort Trio

On her third record on ECM, Anat Fort invites special guest, the Italian Gianluigi Trovesi, on clarinet, alongside her steadfast trio companions Gary Wang on bass and Roland Schneider on drums. Birdwatching is a lively and bright outing, with the Israeli pianist’s improvised solos interspersing quartet music, and Trovesi’s presence elevating the musicianship to “an alert sense of joy in the playing,” says DownBeat.

ECM, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

 

Land of Gold – Anoushka Shankar

A daughter of musical royalty, Anoushka Shankar delivers a compelling, evocative, gorgeous sonic journey on her latest album, inspired by the humanitarian plight of refugees. With her compositions, Shankar evokes shades of aggression, anger, and tenderness, while incorporating elements of classical minimalism, jazz, electronica, and Indian classical styles. Featuring the likes of M.I.A., Vanessa Redgrave, Alev Lenz, and Girls for Equality children’s choir, Land of Gold is a diverse, spiritual, emotional journey indeed.

Deutsche Grammophon, 2014
Notes by John Gilbreath

 

Take Me to the Alley – Gregory Porter

Since his debut in 2010, Gregory Porter has become a celebrated jazz singer-songwriter, going on to win the 2014 Grammy for Best Vocal Jazz Album with his stunner Liquid Spirit. His first release since then, Take Me to the Alley highlights the soulful singer’s versatility and emotion, particularly on the singles “Holding On” and “Don’t Lose Your Steam.” This is a must for any modern vocal jazz lover’s collection.

Blue Note, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

 

Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny – Cuong Vu and Pat Metheny

The Grammy Award-winning guitarist/composer/bandleader finds himself accompanied by a trio led by onetime Pat Metheny Group trumpeter, Cuong Vu, now a Seattle resident and UW jazz professor. Vu, with bassist Stomu Takeishi and fellow Seattle resident Ted Poor on drums, join Metheny on this record that is comprised of five tunes written by the trumpeter, and one each from the bandleader and Andrew D’Angelo. “This project is something that Cuong and I have talked about doing for years,” says Metheny. “For as much as I loved what Cuong has brought to my bands along the way, I always wondered what it would be like to join his group for a project, to see what I might be able to offer those guys.” And the result is worthwhile.

Nonesuch, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

 

Quiver – Ralph Alessi

Following a remarkable ECM debut with 2013’s Baida, trumpeter Ralph Alessi releases Quiver, a thoughtful, immaculate record. Teaming with pianist Gary Versace and Alessi’ longtime rhythm section of choice – bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits – Quiver is an impressive follow-up complete with quick melodies, subtle rhythms, and moody lyricism. The 10-track album is all original Alessi compositions; in particular, his tone is clear and decisive on “I to I” and the title track.

ECM, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Written in the Rocks – Renee Rosnes

DownBeat magazine has already declared Renee Rosnes’ latest album “an exceptional achievement.” With a band of Steve Wilson (saxophones, flute), Steve Nelson (vibraphone), Peter Washington (bass), and Bill Stewart (drums) backing the pianist/composer, Rosnes is at her most fluid, vibrant, and natural musical self on Written in the Rocks. Inspired by the natural surroundings of her native British Columbia, Rosnes composed each track about our planet’s evolution – “a stimulating concept and one brimming with possibilities,” she says.

Smoke Sessions, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

New Direction – Herlin Riley

New Orleans native Herlin Riley emerged from a bloodline of drummers during the creative area of all things rhythm in the late 70s and early 80s, to join such ensembles of pianist Ahmad Jamal and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. A musician with an authoritative style of melodic percussion, Riley enhances every creative effort of which he’s a part. With the release of his Mack Avenue debut, the drummer joyously delivers his lifetime of experience into each song, infusing the New Orleans style with Afro-Cuban, jazz, and blues. “Everything on this record is something I’ve lived,” says Riley. “It’s my life.”

Mack Avenue, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Tenderly – Stacey Kent

Vocalist Stacey Kent – a “tender” cross between cabaret and jazz – draws from the Great American Songbook on her debut for Okeh Records. Backed by Jim Tomlinson on tenor sax and flute, Roberto Menescal on guitar, and Jeremy Brown on bass, Kent delivers beautifully languorous, fluid interpretations of songs including “The Very Thought of You,” “If I Had You,” and, of course, the title track. Tenderly is a nice, intimate showcase of Kent’s vocal talents.

Sony, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

What Was Said – Tord Gustavsen

Well known for the majestically slow tempos of his early recordings, Norwegian pianist/composer Gustavsen broadens his musical palette on this latest record for ECM. Featuring longtime collaborator Jarle Vespestad, on drums, and introducing German-Afghan vocalist Simin Tander, What was said explores the tradition of Norwegian church music in untraditional ways: “For the repertoire of the new project, Simin and I have been working with Afghan poet B. Hamsaaya, translating and shaping a selection of hymns that I grew up with in Norway into Pashto,” Gustavsen explains. “This process has been challenging and really fruitful.” Tander also sings, in English, verse of Persian mystic Rumi and Beat poet Kenneth Rexroth. What was said is simply a beautiful, lyrical, and introspective, and sure to grab any listener.

ECM, 2016

Livin’ On A High Note – Mavis Staples

Beloved R&B/gospel singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples has teamed up with an A-list roster of modern songwriters to release Livin’ On a High Note. Opening with “Take Us Back,” Staples proclaims, “I’m working on me…/I’ve got friends and I’ve got family/ I’ve got help from all the people who love me.” And help she certainly does have, from artists like M. Ward, Nick Cave, Justin Vernon, Merrill Garbus, and Neko Case. “I told the writers I was looking for some joyful songs,” the 79-year-old says. “I wanted to stretch out and sing some songs that were new.” The album sees a variety of tunes, from the refreshing, upbeat “High Note” to the more activist-oriented “Action.” Fans of Staples will truly enjoy hearing her stretch her wings on these tracks.

ANTI, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Distance – Michael Formanek

Bassist/composer Formanek leads an 18-piece band through his adventurous, skilled, and cinematic compositions, each with influences of Ornette Coleman, Henry Threadgill, Charles Mingus, and more. Formanek wrote parts for the specific musicians in this truly colossal ensemble of top-notch artists: Loren Stillman (alto saxophone); Oscar Noriega (alto sax/ clarinet, bass clarinet); Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet); Brian Settles (tenor sax, flute); Tim Berne (baritone sax); trumpeters Dave Ballou, Ralph Alessi, Shane Endsley, and Kirk Knuffke (cornet); trombonists Alan Ferber, Jacob Garchik, Ben Gerstein, and Jeff Nelson (bass trombone, contrabass trombone); Patricia Brennan (marimba); Mary Halvorson (guitar); Kris Davis (piano); Tomas Fujiwara (drums); and conductor Mark Helias. If that’s not an ensemble of the 21st century, then what is?

ECM, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Trying To Figure It Out – Grace Kelly

Seven albums and 11 years since she released her debut Dreaming at the age of 12, saxophonist/singer/songwriter Grace Kelly releases Trying to Figure It Out, an album on which she explores, in her words, “the world of jazz and beyond.” Expanding on her longstanding interest in genre-bending, while maintaining a foundation of jazz, Kelly shifts her approach from acoustic, conventional jazz to more contemporary production values on her latest record. The frequent DownBeat critics’ poll winner has collaborated with contemporary “stars” like Jon Batiste, and learned from masters like Frank Morgan, Lee Konitz, and Phil Woods. Not yet 25 here, she showcases the on-going evolution of her restless artistic spirit on this album.

PAZZ, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

This Is Not A Miracle – Food

The British/Norwegian duo of Iain Ballamy (saxophones, electronics) and Thomas Strønen (drums, electronics, percussion, Moog, Fender Rhodes) – team up once again with Austrian guitarist/electronics artist Christian Fennesz on this album of powerful grooves, evocative textures, and exploratory improvisation. It’s a hypnotic, exotic recording, with references to the Middle East and Africa, DownBeat magazine notes, the soundscape evoking “a desert wind of synthesized howl and holler, as on the eerie ‘Exposed To Frost’….Food walks a fine line between tension and excitement.”

ECM, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Book of Intuition – Kenny Barron Trio

NEA Jazz Master pianist Kenny Barron teams up with his veteran trio of Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums on a long-awaited recorded outing that highlights the group’s mastered interplay. Filled with technical chops and high energy, Book of Intuition is a collection of swinging and bopping originals, as well as grooving covers, including two Monk pieces: “Shuffle Boil” and “Light Blue.” Barron’s piano solo on the latter is simply (as one would expect) masterful.

Verve, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Sharp Nine Sessions – John Stowell, Brian Cunningham

John Stowell, Brian Cunningham – “The culmination of three days of recording over the past two years…The Jazz Project’s affiliation with the featured performers, guitarist John Stowell and Brian Cunningham, spans more than 20 years.” –liner notes

The Jazz Project, 2013

Blue Serenade – Brian Cunningham Quartet

Brian Cunningham Quartet – “Blue Serenade is Brian Cunningham’s third recording as composer and leader. While his last quartet CD paired two guitars, this one brings fresh new voices to his original compositions with saxophonist Josh Cook, Tom Anastasio on bass, and Jud Sherwood on drums.” –JazzProject.

The Jazz Project, 2012

Jimmy Heath: the Endless Search – Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra

After a guest spot with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra in 2001, longtime sax player Jimmy Heath went back to work at Queens College. Letting a few years pass, the SRJO came back with a commission — an attempt to create new music for the older structured form of big-band jazz. The result was a three-part tour de force of harmony that manages to showcase the formidable horns of Seattle individually without simply resorting to solos. Along with the outstanding set from (and featuring) Heath, the album throws in a bonus with live recordings of “Haitian Love Song” (which uses the deeper horns incredibly) and “Creole Love Song” (which brings the big-band aesthetic back to its roots, but uses Ellington‘s composition to highlight individuals yet again). There’s a smoothness to any big-band recording, but the SRJO, especially with Heath at the compositional helm, falls into the realm of Tadd Dameron more than Lawrence Welk. This is outstanding music with a bevy of fine musicians behind it.” –AllMusic

Origin, 2010

Mette Henriette – Mette Henriette

(2 CDs) – The young Norwegian saxophonist/composer delivers a contemplative, gentle, and fascinating two-disc debut album. The production is simply wonderful and engaging, as The Guardian notes the record “often catches the moistness and crackle of her sax-reed” and “sounds not unlike an insect buzzing in the sun…gong-like piano repetitions that draw the saxophonist out of hiding.” Though the record “may be an acquired taste for some,” Henriette “is a contemporary-music star on the rise.”

ECM, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Arclight – Julian Lage

The phenomenal jazz guitarist/composer has a seemingly relentless recording stamina, having just released the well-received World’s Fair last year and the beautiful ROOM with Nels Cline the year before, all amidst touring and sideman appearances. Though a veteran of sorts, he is still young, having first appeared as the subject of a film at age 8. Now, with Arclight, Lage makes his Mack Avenue debut, and presents his first recorded outing on electric guitar and in a trio format, backed by double bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Produced by Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Jesse Harris, the album is thoughtful, well-paced, and subtly dazzling. Standout tracks include the gorgeous “Nocturne,” as well as the bluesy album closer “Ryland.”

Mack Avenue, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Energies of Change – David Gilmore

The “multifaceted guitarist” demonstrates on his new record that he is “a thoughtful composer and ambitious performer” (DownBeat). Add to that now “bandleader,” as he simply commands on Energies of Change, his fourth release. Compositionally, Gilmore offers seven original tunes out of the nine on the record. The title track “opens the album with broad, flowing strokes” and “sets the stage for pensive alto saxophone and bass clarinet solos by reedist Marcus Strickland and extended explorations by Gilmore and pianist Luis Perdomo.” The remaining two tracks, including Wayne Shorter’s “Over Shadow Hill Way,” are equally captivating.

Evolutionary Music, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Restless Idealism – Roxy Coss

The Seattle saxophonist’s sophomore effort, from Seattle’s Origin Records, proves that she is “an exceptional young talent among millennial jazz musicians” (DownBeat). Coss, a cross-country transplant who now resides in New York, performs 10 originals, in a grooving post-bop, on Restless Idealism, focusing in large part on demonstrating her “impeccable technique” and “brawny tone.” With a backing band including pianist Chris Pattishall, guitarist Alex Wintz, bassist Dezron Douglas, drummer Willie Jones III, and guest trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, Coss is in good company to take on dense, unpredictable melodies and showcase her “strong lyricism and piercing intellect.”

Origin Records, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Return of the East West Trumpet Summit – Ray Vega & Thomas Marriott

Ray Vega & Thomas Marriott – After hitting #1 on the jazz charts with their 2010 release East-West Trumpet Summit, Vega and Marriott have returned to the studio, joined this time by Portlander George Colligan on B3 organ and Seattleite Matt Jorgensen on drums, to explore a collection of originals, standards, and jazz classics, including Wayne Shorter’s “United,” Lee Morgan’s “Totem Pole,” and Curtis Fuller’s “The Egyptian.” It’s a collaboration that International Trumpet Guild says is “brimming with creative imagination, technical fluency, and a deep respect for the jazz tradition.”

Origin, 2016

Into The Silence – Avishai Cohen

The Israeli trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s latest album (his first as a leader for ECM) is a tribute to his father, who passed away in 2014. The compositions on Into the Silence (a JazzTimes Editor’s Pick) reflect the album title: they’re introspective, contemplative, and beautiful. Working with pianist Yonathan Avishai, drummer Nasheet Waits, bassist Eric Revis, and tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, Cohen produces a lush, at times soaring, sound on this record, honoring his late father, and the musical legacy that includes his sister, the noted clarinetist Anat Cohen.

ECM, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

At This Time – Steve Kuhn Trio

The master pianist/composer/bandleader releases At This Time… with a contemporary, bassist Steve Swallow, and an important innovator of a later generation, drummer Joey Baron. Kuhn has an illustrious career having worked with some of the most important voices of his generation: John Coltrane, Sheila Jordan, and Kenny Dorham. But it is his work as bandleader of smaller groups, particularly the trio, where he has made his name. Swallow, an important figure on both acoustic and electric bass, and Baron, who has cemented himself as one of the most well rounded musicians, join Kuhn on this timeless, inspired outing featuring a solid mix of standards and a few originals.

Sunnyside, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Sarabande – Fred Hersch, Charlie Haden, & Joey Baron

Recorded 30 years ago, Sunnyside Records issues a re-master of this outing of pianist Fred Hersch, drummer Joey Baron, and the late legend Charlie Haden on bass. Sarabande is lyrical yet thrilling, with each track standing the test of time: three Tin Pan Alley classics, standards each from Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, and Jimmy Rowles, and three Hersch originals, including the sumptuous waltz that is the title track. Wistfully, the pianist writes in the liner notes, “Though – unfortunately – this trio never played a live gig after the recording, I felt like the three of us danced through the music together in a very special way.”

Sunnyside, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Emily’s D+Evolution – Esperanza Spalding

The great Wayne Shorter once said, “We should use the best of the past like a flashlight into the future.” In an interview with NPR, the remarkable bassist/singer Spalding reveals that she used this quote as a talisman in creating her ambitious, emboldened record Emily’s D+Evolution, a project three years in the making. Crafting an alter ego from the middle name she went by as a child, she says, “Emily is exploring these ways of performing and means of expression that I was curious about as a kid.” Many genre elements are at play to create a theatrical experience. The curtain opens on the playfully dissonant rocker “Good Lava,” and the act is carried through on thoughtfully composed and intricate tracks. With this record, the Grammy Award-winner/revolutionizer solidifies her status as a force in modern jazz.

Concord, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Dreamcatcher – Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra

The album was recorded from February-August ’03 at four venues, including an appearance at the XIII Festival Jazz in Lima, Peru (track 10). Five tracks (1-4, 11) were taped in a studio, the others at the Tacoma Jazz Festival or Seattle’s Jazz Alley. In every case, SWOJO is squarely on top of its game, carefully burnishing every chart to lay bare its inherent radiance and charm… As Dreamcatcher suggests, SWOJO is a remarkably impressive ensemble, one whose energy and talent assuredly point toward a bright and productive future.” (Jack Bowers – All About Jazz)

OA2 Records, 2004

Two of a Mind – Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan

Altoist Paul Desmond and baritonist Gerry Mulligan always made for a perfect team during their infrequent collaborations. Both of the saxophonists had immediately distinctive light tones, strong wits, and the ability to improvise melodically. Here the two masterful reed players are featured in piano-less quartets that also include Wendell Marshall, Joe Benjamin or John Beal on bass, and Connie Kay or Mel Lewis on drums. The songs all utilize common chord changes, including the two “originals” (“Two of a Mind” and “Blight of the Fumble Bee”), and the interplay between Desmond and Mulligan is consistently delightful.” –Scott Yanow

Bluebird/RCA, 2003

When You Wish Upon A Star – Bill Frisell

Beloved Northwest guitarist Bill Frisell performs equally beloved classic film and television music on this new record, from “Bonanza” to “Moon River,” “The Godfather,” and, of course, the album’s namesake. Always adept at conveying emotion and depth in any given tune, the guitarist yet again is skillful at drawing upon how this music shapes and informs our own emotional relationships to what we see. Performing with singer Petra Haden, violist Eyvind Kang, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Rudy Royston, Frisell succeeds in re-imagining these time-honored gems.

OKeh, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Songs From Afar – Lucian Ban & Elevation

On his latest endeavor, Transylvanian pianist Lucian Ban is joined by Abraham Burton (tenor sax), John Hebert (bass), an Eric McPherson (drums), plus guest appearances by violist Mat Maneri and vocalist Gavril Tarmure. The album incorporates the musicians’ collective, extensive knowledge of modern jazz and creative music, to create a program of music with a unique identity that spans continents and styles. “Songs From Afar is very personal for me because the album is intimately tied to my Romanian cultural heritage and to the jazz influences that help me find out more where I come from – and where I’m going,” says Ban.

Sunnyside, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

No One Ever Tells You – Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane, well-known for his turns as actor and comedian, received a Grammy nomination for No One Ever Tells You, his third album. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, the album features Frank Sinatra’s bassist Chuck Berghoffer, as well as a 65-piece orchestra. With big band and traditional pop influences, the album includes songs by Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Carroll Coates, and more. MacFarlane said of the record, “There was a time during the mid-1950s and early 1960s when popular song was stretching its creative boundaries, and experimenting with more ambitious structures and tones. During this period, a song set out to really tell a story: not just with the lyric and the vocal, but with the arrangements and orchestral interpretations. The songs on this record attempt to do just that.”

Republic, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Chemical Language – Wally Shoup, Bill Horst/Paul Kikuchi

A power trio of Seattle improvisers, Shoup (saxophone), Horist (guitar), and Kikuchi (drums) delve into diverse sonics, with superlative technical skills augmented by a dazzling range of advanced extended techniques. An amalgam or genres, from nu-wave and free jazz, Chemical Language challenges listeners with its unique structures and propulsive improvisation.

New Atlantis, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Memory in the Center, an Afro Opera: Homage to Nelson Mandela

Earnest Dawkins’ Live in the Spirit Residency Big Band –

Recorded live on the opening night of the 2014 Chicago Jazz Festival, this compilation is a tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, filled with elements of South African dance and music along with post-bop, swing, improvisation, and a whole lot of heart. Composer and saxophonist Dawkins, a stalwart of Chicago’s Black avant-garde, puts down his instrument to lead a 16-piece orchestra, with soloists including alto saxophonist Rajiv Halim, trumpeter Marquis Hill, trombonist Steve Berry, pianist Neil Gonsalves, and vocalist Dee Alexander. The result is a fiery, spirited, and transcendent homage to one of the most remarkable figures of our time.

Dawk Publishing, 2014
Notes by John Gilbreath

Across the Bridge – Tom Collier

The Northwest’s vibraphone sensation and long-time UW professor, Tom Collier, pairs up with other regional heavy hitters for his latest recording. Bill Frisell (electric guitar), Larry Coryell (electric & acoustic guitar), Dan Dean (electric bass & electric guitar), John Bishop (drums), and Ted Poor (drums) accompany Collier through a set of nine originals inspired by places and recollections from his early years when his family lived on the other side of the West Seattle Bridge. This record contains powerful musical imagery, as Collier “turns phrases and builds lines that set a new musical standard for the vibraphone” (Percussive Arts Society).

Origin Records, 2015

Silver – Fourplay

For 25 years, bassist Nathan East, keyboardist Bob James, drummer Harvey Mason, and (more recently) guitarist Chuck Loeb have together explored the realms of “contemporary jazz.” Their intuitive, forward-thinking work may be best represented on this new album Silver. Demonstrating compatibility and chemistry, they each give their voice – cohesively – to this record. Not as dazzling or cutting-edge as longtime fans may be used to, but it is remarkably solid release.

Heads Up, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Let’s Get Lost – Cyrille Aimee

Since her joyful Mack Avenue debut It’s a Good Day, Aimee has been dazzling audiences around the world with expressive and immensely capable vocal stylings. On this new record, the singer reflects on her musical and personal growth, telling us the story of a nascent love coming to full bloom. Accompanied by two guitar wunderkinds, Adrien Moignard and Michael Valeanu, as well as an Australian rhythm section consistent of bassist Sam Anning and drummer Raj Jayaweera, she adds a pensive touch that will have listeners daydreaming for a while.

Mack Avenue, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Bactrian – David Friesen & Glen Moore

Two modern influential bassists, David Friesen and Glen Moore, both associated with the Portland, OR jazz scene, recently teamed up for a tour through Europe, culminating in this, their third duo recording over the last 40 years. Bactrian (named for the two-humped camel native to the steppes of central Asia) consistently offers surprises – and joy. As critic Nat Hentoff says, “Bassist David Friesen is a phenomenon, a player whose musicianship, tone, time and imagination are uncategorizable.”

Origin Records, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Evolution – Dr. Lonnie Smith

His first Blue Note Album in 45 years, Evolutionmarks the return of Dr. Lonnie Smith to the label where he first made a name for himself in the late 1960s. The legendary B3 organ master invites other modern heavyweights including pianist Robert Glasper and saxophonist Joe Lovano to feature on the album. Following a stellar performance at 2016 NYC Winter Jazzfest, Smith and his Evolution band are set to tour again.

Blue Note, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Solo Sessions, Vol. 1 – Bill Evans

(Originally released as part of multi-volume package, and offered here in part) – “Recorded January 10th 1963, Bill Evans on piano, unaccompanied, produced a body of music that was emotionally revealing and stylistically quite unlike anything he played at any other time.” –liner notes

Milestone – Fantasy, 1989

I Long to See You – Charles Lloyd & The Marvels

This profound release finds the iconic saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master in the company of a new band, featuring guitarist Bill Frisell and pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz, along with his longtime quartet members, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland. The record also features two guest vocal appearances by Willie Nelson and Norah Jones. It’s a sumptuous collection of 10 songs ranging from traditional hymns to anti-war folk protests to re-envisioned Lloyd originals from his earlier recording. “We don’t need to say much when we get together,” Lloyd says of this collaboration with Frisell. “It’s all expressed in the music, in the sound, the feeling.”

Blue Note, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Black Star – David Bowie

On January 10 – two days after his 69th birthday, and the release of his 25th and final studio album – the world lost David Bowie. In a career spanning more than five decades, the chameleonic, ever-evolving artist graced us with seemingly endless incarnations. And yet, in 2016, he was ready to show us David Bowie the Jazz Artist. According to NPR, it had been a dream of his to make a jazz record with a big band; and once Blackstar was released, it has been one of the most highly critically acclaimed albums of the year already. Crafted with producer Tony Visconti and featuring saxophonist/band leader Donny McCaslin, Blackstar pulls back the curtains to what new sounds Bowie was on the cusp of releasing in this new incarnation. One listen to the title track, or “Lazarus,” and Bowie’s legacy as one of the best musicians of our time is assured.

Columbia Records, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Bell – Ches Smith

One of the most exciting drummer/composers on the fertile Brooklyn jazz scene appears with veterans of the jazz vanguard, Craig Taborn (piano) and Mat Maneri (viola), on The Bell. The title song is one of the very first pieces Smith wrote for the new group, and it’s almost a blueprint for what follows on this album of chamber music for master improvisers of wide experience.What started as a one-off gig turned into a collaboration that drew positive critical reactions even early on. After the trio’s appearance at the 2014 Winter Jazzfest, Chicago Reader’s Peter Margasak said, “The best thing I caught all weekend was a superb trio led by drummer Ches Smith with pianist Craig Taborn and violist Mat Maneri, which expertly infused seductively draggy, narcotic writing with a mixture of brooding melody and rich texture.”

ECM, 2016
Notes by John Gilbreath

Live From the Detroit Jazz Festival – 2015 – Mack Avenue Superband

This recording documents the third incarnation of the Mack Avenue Superband, an ensemble of all-stars from the Detroit jazz label. Under the leadership of bassist Rodney Whitaker, the Superband – Carl Allen (drums), Aaron Diehl (piano), Tia Fuller (alto sax), Evan Perri (guitar), Kirk Whalum (tenor sax), and Warren Wolf (vibraphone) – ignited the stage and dazzled the festival audience. “A super festival, a super label and indeed, a Superband,” says DownBeat.

Mack Avenue, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

D-Stringz – Jean-luc Ponty, Stanley Clarke, & Bireli Lagrene

Though celebrated fusion violinist Ponty and influential bassist Clarke had collaborated years past, neither had worked with French jazz guitarist Lagrene. In a collection of 10 acoustic tracks, comprised of standards and originals, each artist delivers flawless technique. The album is bright flashes of soul-jazz and funk, brushstrokes of 21st century blues and gypsy jazz, and brawny bop and post-bop. A deep influencer of all three musicians, Django Reinhardt naturally is covered, with his iconic “Nuages” appearing on the record. D-Stringz is a wonderful, feel-good outing of three string masters.

Verve, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Trip Mode – Joey DeFrancesco

The Grammy-nominated organist once again asserts his chops on Trip Mode, which also features Jason Brown on drums, Dan Wilson on guitar, and Mike Boone on bass. Several tracks showcase his additional talents on trumpet and vocals, and nearly all are DeFrancesco originals – with the exceptions of Wilson’s own “Who Shot John,” and classic jazz composer Ray Noble’s hit “The Touch of Your Lips.” The swinging, hard-grooving artist and his band simply rock the house on this album.

Highnote, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Tenebrae – Gregg Belisle-Chi

Seattle-based guitarist and UW Masters student Gregg Belisle- Chi recently released his debut album Tenebrae, which features music for solo guitar and duo (with vocalist Chelsea Crabtree). Belisle- Chi, who’s studied and performed with many Seattle heavy-hitters including Cuong Vu, Ted Poor, and Bill Frisell, has crafted an album rich in beauty, character, and emotion. Earshot Jazz’s Andrew Luthringer writes: “There is a somber beauty, and ethereal, almost spiritual quality to the music, which offsets dark and even jarring textures with a pastoral radiance, often within the same piece.”

Songlines, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Out of the Blue – Clare Fischer

Though the noted keyboardist, composer, arranger, and bandleader passed away in 2011, Clare Fischer’s son, Brent, has brought together a collection of previously unreleased recordings of his father’s music. Featuring Brent, drummers Peter Erskine and Mike Shapiro, and vocalists Denise Donatelli and John Proulx, Out of the Blue is a wonderful collection of songs old and new, including a lovely arrangement of the classics “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.”

Clavo Records, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

We Are the Drum – Kendrick Scott Oracle

We are the Drum is drummer Kendrick Scott’s Blue Note debut. With his Oracle ensemble of saxophonist John Ellis, keyboardist Taylor Eigsti, guitarist Mike Moreno, and bassist Joe Sanders, Scott takes the listener through an expansive, immersive musical experience. Out of 11 tracks, the drummer has provided six compelling new originals, and each of Oracle’s members has a songwriting credit. “It’s not a percussion centered recording,” Scott says. “The accent is on ‘we’ in the title. There is a sense of community in how it was created and how we work together. There is a lot of space for each player to have their say.” And each member certainly has something worth saying.

Blue Note, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Sun Ra Arkestra: Live in Babylon, Istanbul

Celestial mayhem, gleeful abandon, vestigial swing and a joyously loose big band come together beautifully in this live recording by the Sun Ra Arkestra, post-Sun Ra. The visionary and impossible-to-categorize jazz legend, who claimed to have come from Saturn…died in 1993, but he would most likely approve of the project, which was recorded on the road in 2014 for what would have been Sun Ra’s centennial year” (DownBeat).

In+Out Records, 2015

Royal Bopsters Project – London, Meader, Pramuk & Ross

Jazz vocalist Amy London – a progeny of the recently deceased Mark Murphy – recruited vocal arranger/tenor Darmon Meader, alto Holli Ross, and newcomer Dylan Pramuk for this special Royal Bopsters Project, a “historic, multi-generational vocalese summit.” Along with veteran jazz singers Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross, Sheila Jordan, and Bob Dorough, the quartet has released a breakthrough album of truly masterful vocal work. From guest Murphy’s spoken-word on a selection from Kerouac’s On the Road to London’s vocalese on Charlie Parker’s “Chasin’ the Bird,” to nimble scatting and theatrical flair, The Royal Bopsters Project is a collection for which you should make room in your music library.

Motema, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Solo – Fred Hersch

Pianist Fred Hersch is well known for the remarkable balance of considerable technical expertise and rich emotional expression in his music. He is such a good pianist that one can almost overlook his skills; and his life experiences – living with full blown AIDS for over 30 years – are so well known that people expect rich emotional expression. Still, the sum of those qualities continues to grow, and this Solo set is the perfect showcase. Hersch is right at home in compositions by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Duke Ellington, and Thelonious Monk. He delivers a stately homage to Robert Schumann on ‘Pastorale, and a version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ that, as All About Jazz reports, “sounds as if it drifted up out of a prayer book.” Solo is another jewel by one of this generation’s finest pianists.

Palmetto Records, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Children of the Light – Perez, Patitucci & Blade

The three brilliant instrumentalists, pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patittucci, and drummer Brian Blade, originally formed in the Wayne Shorter Quartet behind the master saxophonist and composer, and have united as a group only in that setting, from its early 2000 origins until this 2015 release. Having honed their group chemistry in this chance-of-a-lifetime setting, and their individual talents in a myriad of group-leader and side-man settings, these three masters bring a sense of inevitability and an arsenal of incredible firepower to this spinoff trio, whose name, Children of the Light, is itself a twist on the Wayne Shorter composition, ‘Children of the Night.’ NPR music says, “in most ways, the group functions as a collective….with lively group improv like a family dinner where everyone’s talking at once yet somehow, everyone’s being heard”.

Mack Avenue, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

The Conduct of Jazz – Matthew Shipp Trio

Along with long-time Seattle bassist, Michael Bisio, and drummer, Newman Taylor Baker, composer/pianist Matthew Shipp has released a trio album that beautifully combines his hard-bop influences with his renown as a free improviser. Matt Shipp has been widely recorded over the years, and has enjoyed a lengthy relationship with Thirsty Ear, of whose Blue Series Continuum he was curator. This release is a joy of progressive jazz, especially for the deep swing underpinning the music in the gorgeous tone and time of Bisio’s bass. Listen for the Thelonious Monk-inspired title track, the free form of “Primary Form,” the fanfare of “Instinctive Touch,” and the hard grooves of “Blue Abyss,” all of which combine for an accessible yet adventurous album.

Thirsty Ear, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Looking Forward, Looking Back – Symphonic Jazz Orchestra

The 67-member Symphonic Jazz Orchestra, with special guests Christian McBride, Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, John Beasley, Chris Coelman, and Marvin “Smitty” Smith, recorded a live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach, California, as part of the “Arts for Life” series. Conducted by SJO Music Director Mitch Glickman, the concert featured George Duke’s “Dark Wood: Concerto for McBride” and Lee Ritenour’s “Symphonic Captain’s Journey.” The orchestra, joined by pianist Bill Cunliffe, also performed Gerswhin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” – the work that started the symphonic jazz genre 90 years ago.

Mack Avenue, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath