Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 10 + 5 of 2009

Here are ten jazz records and five not-jazz records I really enjoyed this past year:

1. Ben Wendel - Simple Song (Sunnyside)
A collection of nine intricately composed and arranged, yet highly accessible original compositions - as well as an arrangement of John Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament" and a beautifully orchestrated version of Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" - featuring Wendel on soprano and tenor sax as well as melodica and bassoon.

2. Ben Allison - Think Free (Palmetto)
A perfect sythisis of jazz, rock and country music that's easy on the ears yet contains enough harmonic twists and turns to keep things interesting.

3. Chris Potter - Ultrahang (Artistshare)
The latest chapter by Potter's electric and eclectic quartet features a combination of original material and covers of songs by Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell performed by guitarist Adam Rogers, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Nate Smith.

4. Gary Burton - Quartet Live (Concord)
Gary Burton + Pat Metheny + Steve Swallow + Antonio Sanchez. = good music, but some serious demerits for the gaudy cover art.

5. Dave Douglas - A Single Sky (Greenleaf)
The first of two recordings by the prolific trumpeter on my list, this one features arrangements by Douglas and Jim McNeely performed by the Frankfurt Radio Bigband (featuring some killer tenor solos by Tony Laktos) ...

6. Dave Douglas - Spirit Moves (Greenleaf)
... while this one features the five-piece brass ensemble Brass Ectasy performing nine original compositions plus covers of Otis Redding and Steve Cropper's "Mister Pitiful" and Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Douglas' trumpet is joined by french horn, trombone, tuba and drums, played by Vincent Chancey, Luis Bonilla, Marcus Rojas and Nasheet Waits respectively.

7. Sam Yahel - Hometown (Positone)
Primarily known for his organ work, Yahel switches to piano on a collection of tunes by composers ranging from Thelonious Monk & Duke Ellington to John Lennon & Bebel Gilberto.

8. Kendrick Scott - Reverence (Criss Cross)
A collection of compositions by iconic jazz composers - Shorter, Heath, Pearson, Hancock, Dorham, Coleman, etc - given a modern spin by a quintet featuring saxophonist Walter Smith, guitarist Mike Moreno, pianist Gerald Clayton and bassist Derrick Hodge.

9. Le Boeuf Brothers - House Without A Door (Le Boeuf Brothers)
I don't know much about these twin brothers but I really like the music they create.

10. Joshua Redman - Compass (Nonesuch)
The saxophonist mixes and matches two bassists and two drummers in a variety of configurations on a collection of mostly original music. He calls this ensemble a "Double Trio" and seeing them perform live was a highlight of the year.

Some music that isn't jazz that caught my ear this year:

Brian Blade - Mama Rosa (Verve)
U2 - No Line on the Horizon (Interscope)
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (Warp Records)
Death Cab For Cutie - The Open Door EP (Atlantic)
Super 400 - Sweet Fist (Rock Ridge Music)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Recommended listening: Ben Allison "Think Free"

One of my absolute favorite musicians is bassist/composer Ben Allison. While I thoroughly enjoy his bass playing, I find myself most enamored by his work as a composer.

To my ears Allison's music is a perfect sythisis of jazz, rock and country music. It's easy on the ears with enough harmonic twists and turns to keep things interesting. He always surrounds himself with a first-rate band and the group assembled for his latest release is no exception.

On Think Free the bassist/composer is joined by Steve Cardenas (guitar), Shane Endsley (trumpet), Jenny Scheinman (violin) and Rudy Royston (drums) for eight original compositions.

The record isn't technically out yet, but you can stream the entire thing and purchase a copy (CD/MP3/FLAC) through the Palmetto Records website.

Take a listen, I think you'll enjoy what you hear.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Recommended listening: Terence Blanchard "Choices"

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard has just released a brand new album with his long-standing group entitled Choices.

For the past few years the New Orleans native has surrounded himself with a band comprised of musicians half his age who contribute their unique aesthetics and compositions to the group's sound.

In addition to regulars Kendrick Scott (drums) and Derick Hodge (bass), relative newcomers Fabian Almazon (piano) and Walter Smith III (saxophone) round out the core quintet. They are joined by former Blanchard band member Lionel Loueke (guitar) and vocalists Bilal and Cornel West.

West's contributions - spoken word vignettes culled from an hour-long conversation with the trumpeter - are what set this record apart from previous releases and help give the music a sense of urgency - at least to my ears.

Take a listen yourself ...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Recommended listening: Robert Lindquist "Old Roads ... New Paths"

Earlier this year pianist Rob, ahem, Robert Lindquist, released his second album on Narrow Path Records - Old Roads ... New Paths.

The record features an acoustic jazz trio - featuring bassist John Menegon and drummer Jeff Dowd - performing new arrangements and re- harmonizations of classic jazz standards.

If you like swinging straight ahead jazz, do yourself a favor (while supporting some homegrown talent) and purchase this record!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Recommended listening: Elbow "The Seldom Seen Kid"

Earlier this week I joined the sea of humanity on the lawn of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for a concert by Coldplay.

The foursome put on an memorable show, complete with dazzling lighting, multiple stages (including one out on the lawn!), a Michael Jackson cover and countless giant yellow balloons.

As engaging as the headliner was, it was one of the opening acts that left the biggest impression on me.

Elbow are an established British band that has yet to make a splash on this side of the pond. They've been around since 1990 and have released several albums and EPs including their latest - The Seldom Seen Kid- which I've been listening to nearly non-stop since Monday.

The band opened their set with the album's lead-off track - "Starlings" - which is about as mellow of a song as I've ever heard, that is until the guitar players picked up trumpets, unleashed one long blast of brass and then went right back to their axes as if the exchange had never happened.

The rest of their set followed suit - mostly mellow pop music along the lines of Pink Floyd and Radiohead - with enough melodic and harmonic twists to keep it interesting. Front-man Guy Garvey engaged the crowd with his witty between-song banter and self-depreciating and at time comical lyrics.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Recommended website: Nippertown

Thought I'd change things up a bit this week and recommend something other than music ... by recommending a website that writes about music - and lots of other art-related happenings in the Capital Region - Nippertown.

Nippertown is an online magazine created by former Times Union scribe Greg Haymes and his wife Sara Ayers. The two write about art, music and anything else that interests them. Of particular note at this time of year is the ongoing Real Good for Free list of free performances in the area.

Greg's weekly column in the Times Union's Preview section was unparalleled in its coverage of the local music scene and it's great to see him back at it online!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Recommended listening: Jesse Lewis "Atticus"

When I met guitarist Jesse Lewis earlier this year, he gave me a copy of his second album Atticus and I was blown away.

The record is a collaboration between Lewis and bassist Joseph Davancens, also an avid songwriter and composer of electronic music. Other musicians featured on the recording include Obed Calvaire (drums), Rohin Khemani (percussion & tabla), Jon Irabagon (flute), Amali Premawardhana (cello) and Pascal Archer (clarinet).

There are so many musical styles seamlessly blended together on Atticus that I don't even know how to begin to describe the sound. Best bet is to take a listen for yourself.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Recommended Listening: Dave Douglas "Spirit Moves"

Dave Douglas is back with yet another new record. After releasing killer albums with his "Keystone" and "Quintet" groups in the past two years, the trumpeter has just released Spirit Moves with his five-piece brass ensemble - Brass Ectasy.

While the material is what one would expect from the prolific composer - nine original compositions plus covers of Otis Redding and Steve Cropper's "Mister Pitiful" and Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" - the instrumentation is a departure from his previous ensembles. Douglas' trumpet is joined by french horn, trombone, tuba and drums, played by Vincent Chancey, Luis Bonilla, Marcus Rojas and Nasheet Waits respectively.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Recommended Listening: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society "Infernal Machines"

I've read several recent articles on an apparent big band revival and composer Darcy James Argue's name always seems to be at the forefront of the movement.

His ensemble, Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, has just released its debut recording Infernal Machines to rave reviews.

Argue describes the music made by his 18-piece group as "steampunk big band." I hear it as a combination of rock, classical and jazz music that will hopefully tune a younger generation of listeners in to instrumental big band music.

The composer's blog also serves as the band's website and there are a ton of free mp3s of live performances available. If you like what you're hearing, support the musicians and purchase the album!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Recommended Listening: Chris Potter "Ultrahang"

Saxophonist Chris Potter has just released a new record with his group "Underground."

The album, entitled Ultrahang, features Adam Rogers (guitar), Craig Taborn (Fender Rhodes) and Nate Smith (drums) on a collection of original material and covers of songs by Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

Potter is releasing the album himself through ArtistShare. Since 2003, ArtistShare has been allowing fans to show appreciation for their favorite artists by funding their recording projects in exchange for access to the creative process, LTD Edition recordings, VIP access to recording sessions and even credit listing on the CD.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Recommended Listening: Ben Wendel "Simple Song"

I was first introduced to the playing of saxophonist Ben Wendel through his work with the genre-defying band Kneebody.

After listening to the band's records countless times, I had the privilege of seeing them perform live at Bennington College a few years back and was blown away not only by Ben's playing but how personable he was after the show. We've kept in touch over the years and I was elated when he sent me a pre-release version of his new record Simple Song this winter.

Simple Song is a collection of nine original compositions - as well as an arrangement of John Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament" and a beautifully orchestrated version of Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" - featuring Ben on soprano and tenor sax as well as melodica and bassoon! The music is intricately composed and arranged but highly accessible.

I've been listening to this record a lot and encourage you to do the same. "Simple Song" is out now and available from iTunes and the countless other places music is sold online.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Recommended Listening: Matthew Loiacono "Penny Riddle" & "Kentucky"

For this week's recommendation I'd like to direct your attention to the multi-talented Matthew Loiacono.

I've known Matthew for a long time - he was the original drummer in first incarnation of the BPQ when I moved back to Albany from Cincinnati. Over the years the multi instrumentalist has become an integral part of the Capital District's music scene, most notably as a member of "upstate porch rock" favorites, the Kamikaze Hearts.

More recently Matthew has focused his efforts on a solo career and running the Collar City Records label as well as an all encompassing blog/website documenting his endeavors, both musical and otherwise.

Last year, as part of the RPM Challenge he produced an incredible album entitled Kentucky using only his voice and his mandolin, though you'd never guess it by listening to the music. I've listened to this record quite a bit and I often find myself humming these melodies at the most unexpected times.

Earlier this year Matthew released Penny Riddle - a collection of eight one minute songs - an EP for the Twitter generation if you will. Matthew expanded his instrumental pallet on this one, even including several tunes with drum loops. It's a credit to his song-writing skills to hear what is accomplished in just sixty seconds. In addition, Matthew also printed up some sharp looking t-shirts featuring the cover artwork of Phil Pascuzzo.

Both Kentucky and Penny Riddle are chock full of great tunes and I highly recommend checking them out!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Recommended Listening: David Caldwell-Mason "Sharp As Knife"

Over the years I've had the pleasure of performing with pianist David Caldwell-Mason on numerous occasions. His constant creativity and unique approach to the piano never ceases to amaze me.

David has just released his debut CD Sharp As Knife which features his long standing trio of bassist Kellen Harrison and drummer Bryan Bisordi.

To my ears the music has shades of jazz, classical, gospel, indie rock and electronica all blended into a sound that is uniquely David's.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Top 10 + 5 of 2008

Better late than never, here are ten of my favorite jazz recordings as well as five of my favorite non-jazz records from 2008 ...

1) AARON PARKS - Invisible Cinema (Blue Note)
Terence Blanchard's former pianist creates a varied instrumental soundtrack to an untold story.

2) BRIAN BLADE FELLOWSHIP - Season Of Changes (Verve)
After an eight year hiatus the Fellowship returns with another collection of songs that transverse music genres with ease.

3) JOHN ELLIS & DOUBLE WIDE - Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (Hyena)
Ellis' inventive writing and saxophone playing backed by organ, drums and ... sousaphone!

4) BEN ALLISON & MAN SIZE SAFE - Little Things Run The World (Palmetto)
The bassist's new quintet performs his signature blend of jazz/folk/rock on seven originals and a cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy."

5) MIKE MORENO - Third Wish (Criss Cross)
A studio snapshot of originals and jazz standards by the likes of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and Billy Strayhorn.

6) MATHIAS EICK - The Door (ECM)
Incredibly atmospheric ECM debut from trumpet player previously heard on recordings by Jacob Young and Manu Katche.

Impeccably recorded mix of originals and compositions by Gary Peacock, Ennio Morricone, Tomasz Stanko, Carla Bley and Prince.

8) LAGE LUND - Early Songs (Criss Cross)
Modern jazz originals played by top notch musicians.

9) DAVE DOUGLAS & KEYSTONE - Moonshine (Greenleaf)
The evolution of the trumpeter's electric band continues.

10) LEONARDO CIOGLIA - Contos (Quizamba)
Intriguing set of originals performed by the bassist and John Ellis, Mike Moreno, Stefon Marris, Aaron Goldberg and Antonio Sanchez.

Contrary to popular belief, I do listen to quite a bit of music that isn't jazz. Here are five records that caught my ear in 2008 ...

1. COLDPLAY - Viva la Vida (EMI)
If it were possible to wear out mp3s, I'd be looking for another copy of this.

2. Q-TIP - The Renaissance (Motown)
This became my gym soundtrack for about three months straight.

3. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE - Narrow Stairs (Atlantic)
Not as good as Plans to my ears, but a solid record nonetheless.

4. METALLICA - Death Magnetic (E/M Ventures)
This brought me back to freshmen year of high school.

5. MATTHEW LOIACONO - Kentucky (Collar City Records)
Solid set of original tunes performed on mandolin from the original BPQ drummer!