Jazz Junction Top Ten Picks For 2011

Jan 24, 2012

Miles Davis – Live in Europe 1967 – Columbia/Legacy

The great Miles Davis Quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams is documented in several fine studio albums, however, live recordings of this band are rare and isolated to the Live at the Plugged Nickle recordings and a number of privately recorded albums of mediocre quality. Now a series of live recordings from a European tour in the fall of 1967, previously only appearing piecemeal on bootlegs, has been issued by Columbia/Legacy in a three disc CD and one disc DVD collection.

The music is first rate, capturing this seminal band at the literal pinnacle of its startlingly creative evolution; demonstrating a sophisticated, seething ESP between group members and cutting-edge musicianship. Included are several standard Davis band numbers over the years such as "On Green Dolphin Street", "Walkin'", "No Blues", "I Fall In Love Too Easily" and "'Round Midnight". The program also includes more recent compositions including several takes of Davis's "Agitation" and Shorter's classic "Footprints" and a lesser known but equally intriguing Shorter selection "Masqualero".  From out of nowhere to a desert island classic, this is a genuine treat for Miles fans.

Sheryl Bailey – For All Those Living – Pure Music Records

Comparisons to the late guitarist Emily Remler come to mind, and Sheryl Bailey definitely has listened to and been influenced by Wes Montgomery and Pat Martino, yet her welcomed new release bears the strong stamp of individualism as well. Her indisputable guitar chops are delightfully evident throughout this fine release that features pianist James Ridl, bassist Gary Wang and drummer Shingo Okudaira. From uptempo blues on “Masa's Bag” to a laid back waltz on “For A Russian Princess” to hard bop with Hank Mobley's “Moblin'”, Bailey is in control and offers up some splendid sounds on this album.

Stan Killian – Unified - Sunnyside

Tenor saxist Stan Killian has issued a fine session upon which he is accompanied by horn players David Binney, Roy Hargrove or Jeremy Pelt and a rhythm section including Benito Gonzalez playing piano. Bassists Corcoran Holt or Bryan Copleland alternate, as do drummers Darrell Green or McClenty Hunter. “Unified” consists of original compositions by Killian and one by Gonzalez. They are all engaging and rhythmically diverse: “Twin Dark Mirrors” evolves from a searching and plaintive melody into a restrained cooker; “Elvin's Sight” is a minor groove number with intense interplay between Killian and Binney; “Center” pulsates with a Latin beat and “Isosceles” smokes. Pianist Gonzalez's work is quite enjoyable; indeed, all of the group members are in synch and working at a high level that yields a thoroughly captivating and stimulating album throughout.

Brian Lynch – Unsung Heroes – Hollistic Music Works

Push “Play” and cook. One of today's most remarkable musicians, trumpeter Brian Lynch soars with a quintet or sextet in a tribute to lesser known but influential forebearers on his instrument. The album features compositions of Charles Tolliver, Louis Smith, Kamau Adilifiu (Charles Sullivan), Idrees Sulieman, Tommy Turrentine, Claudio Roditi and Joe Gordon. There's plenty of sparkling musicianship here, led by Lynch's fiery and concise playing. He's accompanied by a crackling group including alto saxist Vincent Herring, tenor saxist Alex Hoffman, pianist Rob Schneiderman, bassist David Wong and drummer Pete Van Nostrand with Little Johnny Rivero adding the Latin beat on a few tracks.

Johnny Mandel – The Man and His Music – Arbors Music

“Theme From M*A*S*H” and “The Shadow of Your Smile” are just a couple of Johnny Mandel's compositions over the years. Known mostly as a composer, this live engagement at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola features Mandel conducting Sherry Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra with some delightful introductions to the selections from him, as well. A few tracks also include the vocalizing of Anne Hampton Callaway. Mandel has always created highly listenable music and the arrangements here add luster to a showcase for composition and soloing from members of the “no man band”, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra.

Pat Martino – Undeniable – High Note

A musician's musician, guitarist Pat Martino is in his sixth decade at the forefront of jazz guitarists - and rightly so. Having paid his dues and learned to get right after the groove in the bands of men such as Willis Jackson, Jack Mc Duff, Groove Holmes, Don Patterson and Sonny Stitt, and released some twenty-five albums under his leadership since the late 1960s, Martino hasn't lost his touch – incomparably blending formidable technique with inherent soul.

“Undeniable” was recorded live at Washington D.C.'s Blues Alley in 2009. He's accompanied by tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, Hammond organist Tony Monaco and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts in a program than runs from blistering straight-ahead to gospel and down home blues. Martino is in-the-groove with an album that is highly satisfying and a long awaited addition to his discography.

Alex Sipiagin – Destinations Unknown – Criss Cross

Russian-born trumpeter Alex Sipiagin has been active as a member of the Mingus Big Band, as first call sideman and has issued several albums under his leadership – the latest of which features a three horn front line including tenor saxist Chris Potter and alto saxist David Binney. Craig Taborn plays piano and Fender Rhodes. Boris Kozlov and Eric Harland round out this exquisite rhythm section.

Sipiagin plays either trumpet or flugelhorn with clear tones and a searching, fluid style. Tenor saxist Potter is a propulsive asset to the date with his brawny but clean tenor sound and Binney's alto playing has a contrasting edge. Pianist Taborn is a resourceful and engaging player. He uses the Fender Rhodes piano on a few tracks and it is a delight to hear this instrument's warm tones. The program is all original music from Sipiagin; challenging compositions that provide platforms for skilled musicianship and inviting repeated listening.

Roseanna Vitro – The Music of Randy Newman – Motema Music

Singer Roseanna Vitro has released a fine collection of Randy Newman compositions featuring solid instrumental embellishment from a trio led by pianist and arranger Mark Soskin and augmented with sharp violin playing from Sara Caswell. From the rambunctious “Last Night I Had A Dream”, the funky “Mama Told Me Not To Come”, a laid back yet swinging “If I Didn't Have You” to the contemplative “Sail Away”, this is a marvelous showcase for Vitro's consummate vocal talents.

Jessica Williams – Freedom Trane – Origin Records

Certainly at the top of the class of our present day jazz pianists, Jessica Williams has recorded a substantial and enthralling catalog of albums – the latest of which is a tribute to the music of John Coltrane, as the title of the album implies; but includes several of Williams's own original compositions in this light. With frequent musical companions Dave Captein at the bass and drummer Mel Brown, Williams runs the gamut of the keyboard and delivers an inspiring array of moods from the hard-driving title track to the exquisite “Naima” and the spiritual “Prayer and Meditation”.

Captain Black Big Band – Positone Records

Positone Records has been very active in its issuance of jazz recordings and this 2011 release is a stunner. Led by pianist Orrin Evans, aka Captain Black, and recorded in live performances in New York City and Philadelphia (Evans's home town), the band is a group of excellent musicians such as Josh Evans, Jack Walrath, Wayne Escoffery, Tia Fuller, Tim Warfield Ralph Bowen and Frank Lacy.

“Art of War” features the swinging band while “Here's The Captain” sails along rhythmic waves and “Captain Black” evokes a Basie feel with a solid Todd Bashore arrangement. Two or three band members deliver strong solos on each track and the music is cohesive, straight ahead and well-recorded - a feast for the ears.