Sunday, 10 January 2016

Top Jazz CD Releases in 2015

Top 10 Instrumental Albums Chosen by Jim Dupuis of Jazz Notes on CFBX-FM in Kamloops, BC.

Jazz Notes with Jim as host will have its 15th Anniversary in May.

#1 for 2015 Gerry Shatford Trio When I Sit Down to Play the Piano : Compositions Inspired By the Poetry of Al Purdy                (Independent)
I haven’t heard a trio release that sounded this good in ages. It doesn’t hurt to have one of the best rhythm sections in bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Terry Clarke in your band, but there’s more to this than just good playing. Shatford composed tunes based on the work of the iconic, hard drinking Canadian poet Al Purdy and booze and blues are a good fit. So, not surprisingly here is a strong leaning towards the blues in many of the tracks, such as “Love At Roblin Lake (Blue for Al)” and a hint of ragtime in ‘At the Quint Hotel.” This album has so many possibilities for a program host and I plan to play tracks alongside readings of Purdy’s poetry in the future. Wonderful concept, great compositions and great playing is why I chose When I Sit Down to Play the Piano : Compositions Inspired By the Poetry of Al Purdy as my favourite release of 2015. 

#2 for 2015 John Scofield             Past and Present              (Universal Music)
 John Scofield is an iconic name in jazz guitar. He seems to be able to combine any other genre with jazz and come up with a respectable piece of work. This time he goes back to mainly band members he had in the early nineties; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone, Larry Grenadier, double bass and Bill Stewart on drums. Oh, and Scofield the composer of every tune makes the band work. This highly talented group is heard as frequently as he is and are given many solos and leads. While there are a number of styles of guitar heard here, I’m still mindful of him as a fusion player and thankfully the fusions are still evident. Whether it is there or not I heard John Mayall in “Hangover;” Steely Dan in the intro to ‘Get Proud;”   “Chap Dance” certainly has that jazz/country fusion feel and maybe Lenny Breau-ish chords elsewhere. There are really no throw-away tracks on this CD. On Past and Present John Scofield shows that is both versatile and talented in what is his best release in years.

#3 for 2015 Tony Wilson 6tet      A Days Life          (Drip Audio)
Another album on this list that has a tie-in with literature. I had read Wilson’s novella A Days Life some time ago and heard rumors that music would be coming out inspired by the book. This gritty book is the story of life on the mean streets of the downtown Vancouver eastside, which leaves an avant-garde jazz musician and composer plenty of leeway. To say this was my most anticipated album of 2015 is not an understatement. I was not disappointed. To some extent the music is composed to tie-in with a theatrical presentation of the book and titles can be matched to chapters and characters in the book. For example, “The Laundry Room” has a mellow guitar and cello/violin sound. In the book, the main character would find refuge in a building’s laundry room, where he could escape the cold and his dismal life. “Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be” eventually crosses over to the dark side with some dramatic drumming followed by wild horns from JP Carter and guitar from Wilson. The 6tet contains seasoned veterans of the Vancouver free jazz scene:  JP Carter on trumpet, Jesse Zubot on violin, Peggy Lee on cello, Russell Sholberg on bass and Skye Brooks on drums. This is probably Tony Wilson’s most accessible album and would be a great start to learning the art of this enigmatic man for those unfamiliar with his work. The book is a great read, too!
My recent feature on Tony:

# 4 for 2015 Cory Weeds/Jeff Hamilton Trio        The Happy Madness       (Cellar Live)
The multi-faceted Weeds was involved in a number of recordings that could be on anyone’s best of lists for 2015, but this one stands out the most. Drummer Jeff Hamilton’s trio consists of himself, Christopher Luty bass, and Tamir Hendelman piano. Hamilton has played with the likes of Oscar Peterson, Diana Krall and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. His touch is exquisite. Check out the brushes in the intro to Cole Porter’s “Get Out of Town.” In “Max” he provided that hard bluesy, rocking feel and he and Luty can be part of anybody’s rhythm section. The pianist Hendelman offers some great arrangements and inspired playing. This brings us back to Cory Weeds. Right off the bat, he shows his talents in the speedy “Blow Your Own Horn” and later shows his versatility in the classic ballad “I Thought About You.” He is a great addition to this trio and he manages to slip in a few soul inspired, greasy tunes from the likes of Horace Silver that he is known for. For fans of great drumming and saxophone this is a must album!

#5 for 2015 Maria Schneider Orchestra  The Thompson Fields      (ArtistShare)
Schneider has assembled a large ensemble project that is inspired by “being descriptive of the open landscape of my home in southwest Minnesota” and various other ideas. The music is a mix of classical and jazz. Depending on the track you might find an alto clarinet, flugelhorn or trombone playing a major role. The horn section parts are tight and soloists like sax player Donny McCaslin on “Arbiters of Evolution” shine on through. Gary Versace’s accordion adds a pleasant, but unexpected sound to the track called “Home.” The title track has a slow, pretty guitar intro and later on a sublime piano section. n Schneider shows us what can happen when a talented artist puts many years and terrific musicians, who are all on the same page, into a musical project.

#6 for 2015 John Stowell and Michael Zilber Quartet  Live Beauty             (Origin Records)
San Francisco area guitarist Stowell and sax player Zilber have released a live set of music performed in 2012 at Berkeley's California Jazz Conservatory. This is fairly straight ahead jazz performance where the guitar and sax play off each other in front of a strong rhythm section. They put a New Orleans touch on to John Scofield’s Wabash III and lay down a somewhat unusual arrangement of My Funny Valentine, but it all works. Three of the seven tracks are over nine minutes and this gives plenty of time for the band members to show their talents. Indeed like the title track suggests, this CD is “Shot Through With Beauty.”

#7 for 2015 Robert Glasper Trio Covered   (Universal Music)
I’m not a big fan of some of Robert Glasper’s projects that combine jazz with urban R&B, but with Covered he is more in the modern acoustic jazz groove and he show’s what a master he can be. While he still covers hip-hop artists, he also includes Joni Mitchell, Radiohead and the Victor Young-Ned Washington classic Stella by Starlight. There’s even a cameo appearance from Harry Belafonte. Mostly it’s a collection of ballads and mid-tempo tracks that show off the talents of three old friends in front of an invited audience in a really cool hall. The opening track “I Don’t Even Care,” shows that bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reed are not just here for the ride. There is almost a feeling of perfection within the interplay of the Glasper’s piano and Reed’s drums in the “The Worst.” Yes, there’s only two words you can say about the ballad “So Beautiful”—they are “it is.” This was a once in a life-time evening for those lucky people in the Capitol Records’ Studio A. Happy it was recorded. Sad that I wasn’t there.

#8 of 2015 Pugs & Crows & Tony Wilson               Everyone Knows Everyone           Independent
This is a 2 CD release and I’m including it based on only hearing Part 1.
I had a recent chat with violinist Meredith Bates and she informed that Pugs & Crows were not a jazz band per se, and I would have to agree with her. They are so much more and maybe impossible to categorize. They are a medium sized ensemble with musicians from backgrounds such as classical, rock and many sub-genres of jazz. Lead guitarist Cole Schmidt has the rock sensibility, while Tony Wilson brings that “bad boy” advant-garde feel to some of the tracks. Bates’ violin can switch from classical as in” Goya Baby” to an Easter European or Middle Easter feel such as in “Sloppy Slaugher.” There is plenty of space for all the musicians to strut their stuff as signified by Cat Torens’ piano part in “7even.” The final track of Disc 1 “Slowpoke” starts with pleasant violin and builds slowly to a fitting climax and fades out. Kind of reminds of Pink Floyd. This is truly a band where musicians are allowed to be themselves and it shows through in such a positive light.  

#9 of 2015 Emie R Roussel Trio   Quantum             Effendi
Quebec has always been a jazz hotbed and it is good to see that this is continuing. Emie R Roussel is a young keyboard player who grew up in Montreal and Rimouski. She has plenty of jazz training, but started out in classical music and this shows through in her performances. Her CD Quantum has a mix of contemporary jazz ballads and a few blues selections like “Les Deux Saisons.” The title track starts with a soft drum intro and then morphs to an electric bass with the piano in the background. Her trio mates Dominic Cloutier on drums and Nicolas B├ędard on drums get a good workout as is expected in a trio CD. Roussel has been recording since 2010 and I hope to hear more from her in the future.

#10 for 2015       Steve Kaldestad                               New York Afternoon       (Cellar Live)
Tenor sax player Kaldestad has spent a lot of time working with and for Cory Weeds on his Cellar Live label and club and it is now beginning to pay off. On this outing he is joined by three musicians who are band leaders in their own right. Renee Rosnes on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums can play for anybody they want. In New York Afternoon Kaldestad puts them through their paces in a blues infused romp. Rosnes and Kaldestad team up on “I’ve Just Seen Her” giving you that late night bar feel. Nash and Washington’s contributions are noted throughout with Washington notably on Joe Henderson’s “Punjab” and Nash on “Yeah!” and “Icelight.” Wonderful playing from all. This is one of the most swinging CDs I’ve heard in some time.

Top 5 Primarily Vocal Albums Chosen by Jim Dupuis of Jazz Notes on CFBX-FM in Kamloops, BC.

#1 Cecile McLorin Salvant            For One to Love                 (Justin Time Records)
Probably the most obvious pick on this list. McLorin Salvant gets plenty of press and Grammy mentions and it is well deserved. She is so versatile and has a unique voice that brings to mind Bessie Smith, but at other times a singer who would be comfortable in a large Broadway show or a dimly light, small French cabaret. She doesn’t gravitate to the standard songbook and pulls lesser covered songs, like “Wives and Lovers” from Burt Bacharach and Hal David. While most of her tracks are from the two to four minute range, yet she can comfortably throw in a ten minute plus version of Leonard Bernstein and Steven Sondheim’s “Somethings Coming.” The talents of Aaron Diehl on piano, Lawrence Leathers on drums and Paul Sikivie on double bass are showcased throughout the CD. A very good CD from a very talented vocalist.

#2 Ariel Pocock Touchstone        (Justin Time Records)
Young musicians don’t get the likes of Julian Lage (guitar), Eric Harland (drums), Larry Grenadier (bass), and Canadian Seamus Blake (saxophone) playing for them unless they are quite special and Pocock is. She puts her own touch on old standards like Devil May Care and All the Things You Are and then covers songs from Randy Newman, James Taylor and Tom Waits. Both her vocals and piano playing are great and she also interprets tunes from Monk and Keith Jarret. Easily my favourite vocal album this year.
#3 Nancy Lane   Let Me Love You               (Independent)
This album seemed to come out of nowhere and I’m guessing she is one of those well kept secrets in Montreal. I said “Wow!’ the minute I heard her voice. She certainly has her own sound but she reminds me somewhat of Diana Krall. I’m not really familiar with the musicians on her album, but a bit or research turned up that they have all played with important bands and certainly sound outstanding here. Let Me Love You contains two tracks each from Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein, along with the French track “Tout ce Que Veut Lola.” My favourite track is her version of Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me A River.” Hopefully we will hear more from Ms. Lane. 

#4 Carol McCartney        Be Cool                 (Independent)
McCartney is a vocalist and music teacher from the Toronto area that has sang with big bands and much smaller outfits. She can put her own touch on a ballad like “For Heaven’s Sake” or get it swinging like in “I’m Old Fashioned.” This CD contains mostly lesser known compositions from the standard songbook, but she throws in a delightful version of “S’wonderful” and “More Than You Know” to balance that out. As usual she has some of the best Toronto musicians in Brian Dickinson on piano, Lorne Lofsky on guitar, Kieran Overs on bass, Terry Clarke on drums, Chris Robinson on sax and Mike Malone on flugel horn. We certainly don’t hear Lorne Lofsky often enough. McCartney’s probably phrases her songs as well as anyone on the jazz scene these days and once again has shown that she is “cool.”

#5           Andrea Superstein          What Goes On  Cellar Live
Vancouver’s Andrea Superstein has put out good independent CDs that cover some of this work, but this time she has a producer, Les Cooper, that she is happy with and Cellar Live as her distributor. This CD is a more complete package.Some of her tracks are presented with more of a pop feel than others on this list. Still her versions of “I Lost My Baby’ and “After You’ve Gone” still remind us that she has a jazz background. She can also come off as a vamp like in “I Want to Be Evil” and shows another side in “I Love Paris.” I guess she picked up the French language during her years in Montreal. Many non-standard jazz instruments featuring Robbie Grunwald on keyboards, accordion, vocals, Les Cooper on guitar, lap steel, ukulele, vocals, Steve Zsirai on bass, vocals, Adam Warner on drums, vocals, Drew Jurecka – clarinet, and Rosendo “Chendy” Leon on percussion. This certainly is a fun CD!