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