Saturday, February 28, 2015

News of Past Guests, March 2015

It's been awhile.  So without any further ado:

The results of the 2014 Expanded Jazz Times Critics Poll came out in the March 2015 issue, and who should we find at the top of the list?  Best New Artist: Melissa Aldana.  Artist of the Year: Miguel Zenón.  Farther down: Best trumpeter: Ambrose Akinmusire.  Tenor Sax: Mark Turner.  Alto Sax: Miguel Zenón again.  Clarinet: Anat Cohen.  Violin: Regina Carter.  Drums: Brian Blade (Joel Harrison).  Female Vocalist: Cécile McLorin Salvant.  Podcast: A Noise From the Deep with Dave Douglas.  We'll try not to break our arms patting our own backs--but you gotta admit, we do know how to pick 'em.

In other news:

Joel Harrison, who organized the Alt Guitar Summit in New York in February, speaks with guitar god Nels Cline on the latest episode of his podcast, Say What You Mean.

Also in February, René Marie was Michael Feinstein's guest on NPR's Song Travels, performing duets with Michael and talking about Eartha Kitt.

On March 4, Anat Cohen performs on NPR's Jazz Night in America with her group Choro Aventuroso, which plays the improvisatory Afro-Brazilian instrumental music known as "choro." You can pre-order the band's new album, Luminosa, at the Anzic Records Bandcamp store and preview three tracks from the album below:



And speaking of new albums, trumpeter Eddie Henderson (The Cookers) and The Vijay Iyer Trio both have new releases.  And guitarist Rez Abbasi, the subject of a feature in the March issue of DownBeat, has a fantastic new record with his Acoustic Quartet. With a nod to the late, great Bill Dixon, he's entitled it Intents and Purposes. It's available from all the usual suspects: iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, etc.--and, if you're an audiophile, at HD download sites like Pro Studio Masters and Qobuz. Here's the Video EPK:



Finally, to our great shame, we never got around to plugging what was probably our favorite album of 2014, Michael Blake's brilliant, swinging tribute to Hawk & Prez, Tiddy Boom:


Monday, January 5, 2015

Michael Quam, one of our founding members of the RJA, has this to say about the year 2014 and jazz:



My Favorite Jazz CDs of 2014 (Michael Quam)

It’s that time of year, basically November through January, when people are publishing their “best of” lists.  I can’t say which were the best jazz CDs of 2014, since I’m keenly aware that I didn’t hear many fine recordings.  But I can say which ones I found most compelling.

Because of publishing deadlines, many of the “best of” lists in the jazz press included recordings from late 2013.  So, I’m going to begin my list with A Trumpet in the Morning (New World Records 2013) by Marty Ehrlich’s Large Ensemble.  This work involving 24 musicians is brilliantly conceived and performed with dramatic orchestral passages and impassioned solos.  The title track is a concerto for J.D. Parran who narrates Arthur Brown’s poem and plays both soprano and bass saxophones.

Felipe Salles’s Uganda Suite (Tapestry) employs an octet for this five-movement work.  Each movement is named for and creates a musical image of one of the iconic wild animals of East Africa (buffalo, elephant, leopard, rhinoceros, and lion).  Salles is a fine soloist on reeds, and has invited Dave Liebman to join him in this recording.  His traditional quartet is augmented by African musicians playing indigenous instruments and percussion.  The music is often thrilling.

One of the tracks on Floating by the Fred Hersch Trio is titled “Arcata.”  Hersch composed this number after he performed here in November 2013.  It’s a lovely piece, as are all the other tracks of this elegant and lively performance.  Once again, the trio with John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums, is a perfect example of jazz as a creative conversation.

Chicago is home to some of our finest jazz vocalists, for example, Patricia Barber and Kurt Elling.  Add to that list the wonderful Dee Alexander, with her rich alto and her deep sense of rhythm and nuance.  We’ve waited five years since her last album, but now we have Songs My Mother Loves (Blujazz), and her mother has impeccable taste: along with several beautiful standards, her selections include songs by Julian Priester and Tommy Turrentine, Junior Mance, Billie Holiday, Max Roach and Abbie Lincoln, and Juan Tizol.  Alexander can shape a song and improvise with the best, and her band is the finest of mainstream Chicago jazz musicians.

Ever since his Lucky Thompson project, it’s been clear that Michael Blake has a deep respect for the giants of the tenor sax.  His latest, Tiddy Boom (Sunnyside), is a tribute to Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young (with a nod to Wardell Grey).  He’s put together a quartet of terrific New York downtowners: Frank Kimbrough on piano, Ben Allison on bass, and Rudy Royston on drums.  And his compositions are not retro imitations, but engaging tunes that bring the contemporary spirit of those tenor sax ancestors to life.

Each year trumpeter Tom Harrell issues an album, usually of original compositions played with great elan.  And each year that record makes it onto many “best of” lists.  This year was no exception.  Trip (High Note) is unusual for Harrell, his first without a pianist.  The addition of Mark Turner on tenor is a strong element in the quartet’s sound.  At the center of the CD is a six-part suite based loosely on a Don Quixote theme.  Harrell sounds amazing, as usual.

My favorite big band album of the year is Mother’s Touch by Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone).  From track to track, burners and ballads, the band is a high energy machine propelling the soloists (especially Tatum Greenblatt on trumpet, Stacy Dillard on tenor, and Evans himself on piano) to new heights.  Of special note: the closing track “Prayer for Columbine.”

As more young jazz musicians from the Caribbean come to the States, we are experiencing a revolution in what “Latin jazz” can be.  Cuban pianist David Virelles’s new record Mbókò: Sacred Music for Piano, Two Basses, Drum Set and Biankoméko Abakuá (ECM) is a celebration and imagining of Abakuá, “a magic-religious male initiation society in Cuba, based on a West African ethnolinguistic identity and its emblematic masked dance performance.”  Even without this background, the music itself, especially Virelles’ remarkable piano work, is riveting, highly charged and mysterious.

Another example of the forms Cuban influence can take in the American jazz setting is The Invasion Parade (Mack Avenue) by Alfredo Rodriguez.  Rodriguez on keyboards is joined by bright stars like Esperanza Spalding, Pedrito Martinez, Henry Cole and Roman Filiu.  You may recognize several of the tunes, standards in Latin jazz, but Rodriguez has found fascinating reharmonizations.  The Latin feel is still rhythmically powerful.

Trio 3 (old lions Oliver Lake on alto, Reggie Workman on bass, Andrew Cyrille on drums) has been recording and performing together for quite some time.  In the last few years, they’ve been inviting guest pianists to record with them, notably Geri Allen and Jason Moran.  Their latest is called Wiring (Intakt) by Trio 3 + Vijay Iyer.  As one might expect, there’s some free blowing, but also some very moving ballad work.  Iyer plays on all tracks and contributes four compositions, most notably his three part “Suite for Trayvon (and Thousands More).”

Although the roots of jazz remain American, as creative improvised music it has become an international art form.  Some of my favorite European jazz musicians are Italians, and trumpeter Paolo Fresu is high on my list.  He plays in a variety of settings, but his quartet has been together for thirty years (hard to believe—they seem like such young guys), and this year they issued a CD called 30 (Bonsaï) which is an excellent example of their musical rapport and the range of their compositional skills.  Every member of the quartet contributes at least two numbers, and their spirited performance is delightful.

This past year I had the pleasure of discovering a new European jazz group, the Matthias Tschopp Quartet.  This Swiss band has released their first album, Plays Miro (Unit Records), nine Tschopp compositions inspired by specific paintings by Joan Miro.  Tschopp on baritone sax is clearly the leader, but he gets fine support from his rhythm section, and the pieces are inventive and evoke the images of the paintings’ titles.

The “best of” lists sometimes include historic reissues.  I haven’t heard most of those that appeared this year, but one caught my attention, and I’m glad I bought it: The Giant Is Awakened (Flying Dutchman) by the Horace Tapscott Quintet.  Horace Tapscott was a legendary jazz pianist who eschewed fame in New York to remain in South L.A. leading community jazz groups and developing young musicians.  This recording was first issued in 1969 as an LP, and then disappeared.  The quintet has two bassists, a drummer, and a young Arthur Blythe on alto.  They’re playing Tapscott’s compositions, and the music is as fresh as if it were recorded just yesterday.







Monday, December 15, 2014

OPTT (Other Peoples' Top Ten) for 2014

For the first time in a long time, we're not publishing our favorite recordings of the past year. (No external incentive. Come back, Bob Doran!) But we can point you towards plenty of other people who have done--and we can promise you that there's significant overlap between their faves and ours. We can also promise you that past and future RJA guests are well represented on almost every list.

More lists appear on the interwebs every day (expected soon: The [London] Guardian, KQED), and we'll add 'em as we see 'em.

Friday, October 17, 2014

News of Future Guests II

On a recent episode of WBGO's The Checkout, we hear Miguel Zenón (November 12th) play the suite that forms the centerpiece of his forthcoming album Identities Are Changeable, recorded live at this year's Newport Jazz Festival.  Zenón, who's on the cover of this month's DownBeat magazine, was also on All Things Considered recently, talking about the piece:


On November 5th, one week before Zenón arrives in Arcata, his Newport performance will be featured on NPR's brand-new jazz showcase, Jazz Night In America. (Read more about Jazz Night, a weekly radio show and video webcast, here, and find out more about Identities Are Changeable on the project's Kickstarter page, from a short YouTube teaser, or in the full EPK below:)




Melissa Aldana (February 3, 2015) is an admirer, onetime student, and former labelmate of Greg Osby. Aldana's latest record with her Crash Trio has been out on Concord Jazz for a few months already, and back in August, Kevin Whitehead reviewed it on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross:



Finally, trombonist Ryan Keberle's new album with Catharsis (April 13th, 2015), Zone, is out and available for purchase on Bandcamp. (And it's getting great reviews!)



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

News of Future Guests

Our upcoming season's performers are making news. To wit:

The Cookers (September 30th) have a new album, Time and Time Again, out on Motema on September 16th, just two weeks before they arrive:



Meanwhile, a new album on Greenleaf Music by Ryan Keberle and Catharsis (April 13th, 2015), Into the Zone, appears September 30th, the very day that The Cookers touch down in Arcata:


Greg Osby (October 19th) has made a new record with Dutch alto saxophonist Tineke Postma (and RJA alumni Matt Mitchell on piano, Linda Oh on bass, and Dan Weiss on drums) called Sonic Halo. Released on Challenge Records, it was funded on Kickstarter.  You can hear Postma and Osby preview the project here:


Melissa Aldana (February 3, 2015) is an admirer, onetime student, and former labelmate of Osby's. Aldana's latest record with her Crash Trio has been out on Concord Jazz for a few months already, but Kevin Whitehead reviewed it recently on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross:


And on WBGO's The Checkout, we hear Miguel Zenón (November 12th) play the suite that forms the centerpiece of his forthcoming album "Identities Are Changeable," recorded live at this year's Newport Jazz Festival.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

News of Past Guests, Summer 2014 Edition

New albums:

Eclectic, prolific, endlessly creative guitarist-composer Joel Harrison has a new disc, Mother Stump, with covers of tunes by Luther Vandross, Paul Motian, and Leonard Cohen, among others. You can nab the album at Cuneiform Records' Bandcamp site. And you can stream Harrison's cover of the traditional gospel blues "John the Revelator" right here:



Some people are putting David Binney's new one on Criss Cross, Anacapa, among the restless alto saxophonist's all-time best.  Brad Farberman, for instance, in a profile of Binney, "The Long Haul," in the June issue of Jazz Times.

When we saw pianist Fred Hersch in New York in January, he hinted that he might be naming his upcoming trio album on Palmetto after a certain city by the bay in Humboldt County. Looks like we have to settle for one tune. (We'll take it! See Track 6: "a regal, bracing straight-eighths piece [that] took its name from a Northern California [town] famed for its beautiful giant redwoods," as Peter Hum described it.) In the end, Fred entitled the album Floating, and it hit the streets (and the online stores) in mid-July. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviewed the album on NPR's Fresh Air, Scott Simon interviewed Fred for a feature story on Weekend Edition, and you can buy the album from Palmetto Records.

Old friends & collaborators, trumpeter Dave Douglas and keyboardist Uri Caine, issued an album of duets, Present Joys, inspired by the tradition of "shape-note" singing, on July 22.  You can hear a preview at Radio France's France Musique site or at the Greenleaf Music store.

Finally: saxophonist Michael Blake stopped by WBGO's The Checkout a few weeks ago with his trio "World Time Zone" (Ben Allison, bass and Ferenc Nemeth, drums) to play music from his latest project: music inspired by sax legends Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.  Also on The Checkout of late: Tom Harrell's chamber-jazz project "Colors of a Dream," recorded live at the 2014 Montreal Jazz Festival. Harrell also has a new album, Trip, out on HighNote, with Mark Turner, Ugonna Okegwo, and Adam Cruz.

And speaking of Turner: on September 9th, the highly regarded tenor saxophonist (and member of the trio FLY) releases his debut as a leader on ECM, Lathe of Heaven, with a quartet featuring trumpeter Avishai Cohen and two other RJA alumni, Joe Martin (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums).



(Kevin Whitehead reviews the album on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.) A week later, it's the latest release from Kenny Werner, Coalition, with a band that includes Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenon (who, coincidentally, are two-thirds of the trio on Mark Turner's FLY-mate Jeff Ballard's latest album...)

And in other news...

Not all of them are people, but of the "80 Coolest Things in Jazz Today" (according to DownBeat magazine--it's their 80th anniversary, see?), Humboldt County has experienced nearly 10% of them--viz., Ambrose Akinmusire, Vijay Iyer, Dave Douglas, Han Bennink, Instant Composers Pool, Fred Hersch, and Tony Malaby--under the auspices of the RJA.  Read all about it in the July issue.

RJA guests are also well represented in this year's DownBeat Critics Poll, whose results will be published in the August issue. Rising--make that skyrocketing--star vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, whom we will co-host with Center Arts in September in a special pre-season show--fairly cleaned up in the poll:


Other RJA-veteran category-toppers:
  • Ambrose Akinmusire, Trumpet
  • Joe Lovano, Tenor Sax
  • Anat Cohen, Clarinet
  • Vijay Iyer, Piano
  • Regina Carter, Violin
  • Wayne Escoffery, Rising Star Tenor Sax
  • Rudy Royston, Rising Star Drums
  • Matt Moran, Rising Star Vibes
  • Ben Allison, Rising Star Composer
Last: looking for a way to pass the time on a lazy late summer afternoon? Play "Drum Fill Friday" with Quizmaster Matt Wilson, courtesy of NPR's All Songs Considered.

Friday, May 2, 2014

News of Past Guests, May 2014 Edition

René Marie is back in the spotlight.  This time it's a leisurely 10-minute interview, studded with plenty of song samples, on NPR's All Things Considered.  The link just now will take you to the full transcript of the story (which is beguilingly entitled "On Singing, Sex, and the Importance of Being Eartha"), but you can also listen to it below:

Meanwhile, saxophonist Matt Bauder (Harris Eisenstadt's Canada Day) has a new album that's garnering justifiably strong reviews.  It's called Nightshades, and you can stream it on Spotify at the website of Matt's record label, the forward-thinking Clean Feed.


Finally, on The Jazz Breakfast, Peter Bacon interviews Phronesis bassist Jasper Høiby.