Passion flower: A Proper Introduction to Billy Strayhorn – Billy Strayhorn

“During their nearly three decades of working together, Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington created a legacy of music for the ages. This set offers a rare opportunity to hear Strayhorn the composer playing many of his own songs, as well as some he wrote with Ellington and others…The first ten cuts in this collection, recorded in Paris during two midnight sessions in 1961, were originally released on an LP rather inexplicably called The Peaceful Side of Billy Strayhorn. To that set another eleven sides have been added here. Recorded at various dates in New York from 1946 and 1950, both Ellington and Strayhorn play the piano… Filled with brilliant, playful, intimate and thoughtful touches, this private party of giants is one we’re fortunate indeed to be able to share.” –
Proper Records, 2004

Brotherlee Love: Celebrating Lee Morgan – Terell Stafford

On Brotherlee Love, the virtuosic trumpeter Terrell Stafford honors the sometimes-dark legend of Philadelphia trumpeter Lee Morgan. Along with saxophonist Tim Warfield, pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Dana Hall, Stafford pays tribute to the soulful spirit that Morgan brought into jazz, and the City of Brotherly Love that launched so many jazz careers. “This project is about how I was embraced by this city and about a trumpet player who has always been a huge inspiration to me,” says Stafford. “There was so much joy wrapped around playing this music,” he says, “and I just hope some of that comes through to the listener.” Take a spin, and catch the soulful groove that helped propel jazz music into a new day.

Capri, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Crisis – Amir ElSaffar

With Crisis, Doris Duke Performing Artist Awardee ElSaffar produces his most ambitious recording to date. Commissioned by and debuted at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival, the work received a standing ovation after just the first song. An Iraqi by birth, ElSaffar composed Crisis after he spent a year living in Egypt and Lebanon, as a reflection on the recent history of Iraq and the Middle East. Backed by his Two Rivers Ensemble of Ole Mathisen (tenor and soprano sax), Nasheet Waits (drums), Carlo DeRosa (bass), Tareq Abboushi (buzuq), and Zafer Tawil (oud, percussion), ElSaffar, on trumpet, vocals, and santour, delivers a sweeping, vast musical exploration of a region in turmoil and strife, revolution, civil war, and violence: a culture’s struggle for survival. The Chicago-bred musician says of Crisis: “Out of the ashes emerges a sound. Overtones, harmonizing, becoming many. Intangible threads of humanity, too delicate to be broken or destroyed, emanating from a shared, infinite past that is our present.”

Pi Recordings, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Touchstone – Ariel Pocock

“With its pairing of a neophyte vocalist-pianist with four jazz heavyweights, this album might better have been titled Post-Millennial All-Stars Featuring Ariel Pocock,” writes JazzTimes. “Not that the 22-year-old Floridian can’t hold her own in the company of tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland. Indeed, she is gifted well beyond her years…She’s as impressive at maneuvering the tricky curves of Monk and Bob Dorough as she is navigating the densely powerful storytelling of Randy Newman and Tom Waits.”

Justin Time, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

In the Morning: Music of Alec Wilder – Stefano Battaglia Trio

With bassist Salvatore Maiore and drummer Roberto Dani, Italian pianist Stefano Battaglia has created an “enormously successful outing….the best of his trio recordings and a real pleasure to listen to,” writes Karl Ackerman on Paying homage to the late American composer Alec Wilder, In the Morning was recorded live in Torino, Italy, in April of 2014. The album “reflects the eccentric combination of styles in which Wilder composed.” Perhaps it’s the 12-minute-long title track that best exemplifies both Wilder’s work and the trio’s skillset, as noted by Ackerman: “[It] opens with the type of lyrical Bills Evans style that Battaglia has been understandably fond of over the years. Maiore interjects a brief solo, Dani washes over the cymbals and Battaglia then picking up a more abstract variation of the main theme that effectively incorporates Wilder’s pop experimentalism.

ECM, 2015

Rhodes Ahead Vol. 2 – Marc Carey

Keyboardist Marc Cary’s Rhodes Ahead Vol. 2 has become something of a critics’ darling since its release. With a funky, groovy backbone, the pianist brings in guests like trumpeter Igmar Thomas and tabla player Sameer Gupta to layer sounds and melodies, creating a futuristic, neo-soul feel. Rhodes Ahead Vol. 2 contains ambient textures with hip-hop beats, giving the listener a visceral aural experience.

Motema, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Synovial Joints – Steve Coleman and the Council of Balance

Guggenheim Fellow, Doris Duke Performing Artist, and MacArthur Genius Coleman delivers one of his most ambitious recordings in years. Featuring more than 20 musicians, a 17-minute-long, four-part eponymous suite, and “camoflauge orchestration” (derived from hearing birds and other animals in the Amazon rain forest), Synovial Joints generates a cerebrally and conceptually dense aural experience we have come to expect from the saxophonist. Like his 2013 Functional Arrhythmias, Coleman explores anatomy, this time with a big band to examine the most common and movable type of joint in a mammal. As the body structure themselves, Synovial Joints achieves movement, and, in turn, life.

Pi Recordings, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Passion World – Kurt Elling

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 postbop, 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.

Concord Jazz, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Play a Bill Frisell Set List – NDR Big Band

In a career that spans more than four decades – and as many continents –composer/guitarist/arranger/producer (and Seattle resident) Bill Frisell has become one of the most influential figures in jazz. In this collaboration with Frisell and Germany’s NDR Big Band, Michael Gibbs has arranged a program specifically for the guitarist and band for a “tour de force” performance.

Cuniform, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath

Currency of Man – Melody Gardot

Here is a jazz singer who understands how to embraced popular music without compromise. “The aural equivalent of Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep and Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, jazz chanteuse/songwriter Melody Gardot delivers a cinematic-styled blockbuster on her fourth release. From slinky horn arrangements courtesy of Jerry Hey to the Euro-styled orchestrations from French arranger Clement Ducol, combined with Larry Klein’s sympathetic production, this is a culmination of everything the evocative Gardot has promised over her past three albums.” (American Songwriter)
Verve, 2015
Notes by John Gilbreath