Mon, 21 December 2015
The newspapers and internet are swarming with critics “Best of 2015” lists right about now, but here at Straight No Chaser we once again take a slightly different approach. I am grateful to get the chance to listen to a great number of jazz-related releases during the course of the year, and rather than attempt to say what is “best” using some sort of rating system (A Christgau grade, perhaps?), I prefer to lay out a list of recordings that I found particularly moving or interesting, or those that I found myself returning to over and over again. The list changes over the course of the year, and follows a strict calendar year receipt basis.
To do this in a fair way, I create five different categories, ranging from “Great New Things from Old Friends” to “Reunions and Collaborations of Note”. I do this on the theory that it is simply wrong to compare an expanded re-release of John Coltrane’s groundbreaking album A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters with genre bending CDs like those from newcomer Kamasi Washington or constantly growing players like Donny McCaslin. Is a sophomore album on a major label from Cécile McLorin Salvant comparable to a project by Chris Potter that reflects years of growth? I choose to think the answer is no.
So, here are releases that are a few of my favorite things from 2015:
Great New Things from Old Friends
Maria Schneider – The Thompson Fields
Chris Potter Underground Orchestra – Imaginary Cities
Antonio Sanchez – Three Times Three
Jack DeJohnette– Made in Chicago
Charles McPherson – The Journey
New Artists and Those Hitting Their Stride
Donny McCaslin - Fast Future
Cécile McLorin Salvant – For One to Love
Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Chris Lightcap - Bigmouth Epicenter
Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou - Duchess
Memorable Reissues, Compilations, and Posthumous or Archival Albums
Miles Davis – Miles Davis at Newport: 1955-1975 - The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4
Weather Report – The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981
John Coltrane - A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters
Brad Mehldau – 10 Years Solo Live
Erroll Garner – The Complete Concert by the Sea
Tribute Albums of Note
Cassandra Wilson – Coming Forth By Day
Terence Stafford – Brother-Lee
Rudresh Mahanthappa – Bird Calls
The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble - Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarlane
Jose James - Yesterday I Had The Blues - The Music Of Billie Holiday
Reunions and Collaborations of Note
The Bad Plus and Joshua Redman – The Bad Plus Joshua Redman
The Heads of State (Gary Bartz, Buster Williams, Larry Willis, Al Foster) – Search for Peace
Bob James & Nathan East – The New Cool
John Scofield , Bill Stewart, Joe Lovano, Larry Grenadier – Past Present
Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Brian Blade – Children of Light
A few years ago I began naming a “Player of the Year”, honoring those who appear as sidemen on multiple top CDs, as well as leaders of their own groups. For 2012, it was drummer Joey Baron, for 2013, vibes player Warren Wolf., and last year, saxophonist Mark Turner. For this year, the winner is last year’s runner-up, avant-garde sax player Ivo Perelman who released a staggering six CDs in 2015 (some double CD sets), after releasing ten CDs over the previous two years.
Other items of Special Note in the world of Jazz in 2015 were:
- The continuation of Blue Note Records’ 75th Anniversary Vinyl Initiative, giving another generation a chance to experience jazz on the turntable, with readable liner notes;
- The release of a documentary on Jaco Pastorius, and significant progress being made on the Miles Davis biography feature Miles Ahead, with Don Cheadle as the great trumpeter. The completion of documentaries on Weather Report and John Coltrane are promised in 2016,
- The increased availability of jazz on streaming services, including Spotify and the new Apple Radio. Here’s hoping royalty payments to artists will catch up to the popularity of the technology..And will Apple Radio wise up and give some of the great jazz tastemakers or musicians their own shows on their service?
Mon, 21 December 2015
Five years ago I posted Podcast 200 in honor of Frank Zappa's 70th birthday. As today would have been his 75th birthday, I'm bringing it back for your enjoyment:
Was Frank Zappa as much of a jazz musician as he was a rock or classical artist? Let’s let Ed Palermo, the noted trombonist, answer the question. Here’s a quote from his essay on FZ’s music:
Frank Zappa wasn't what you would call a "jazz musician." In fact, he made fun of jazz and jazz musicians throughout his whole career. But that was Zappa. He derided EVERYTHING and EVERYBODY. You can tell, however, by listening to so much of his music that he really loved jazz. Since I never met him, everything I write about him is conjecture, but listening to a modal masterpiece like "King Kong" proves, at least to my ears, that he had listened to and digested a lot of Miles and Trane.
One thing is certain – Zappa hired the best and most versatile musicians to assist him in executing his demanding compositions, and many of them WERE in fact jazz greats. So, without further ado, let’s get to Podcast 200, a review of some Zappa recordings featuring jazz musicians as sidemen, including:
George Duke on “Big Swifty” from Waka-Jawaka. One of Zappa’s most frequent collaborators, I count more than fifteen releases that included the keyboard player. Here he joins Zappa and Tony Duran on guitars, Sal Marquez on trumpet and chimes, Erroneous (?) on bass and Aynsley Dunbar on drums on a 1972 track.
Ernie Watts on “Cleetus Awreetus-Awrightus” from The Grand Wazoo. The sax player who starred as a member of Charlie Haden’s Quartet West played woodwinds with Mike Altschul in sessions recorded in 1972. Marquez is joined by Ken Shrover on brass, and the rhythm section remains the same. That’s George Duke on electric piano and vocals.
Jean-Luc Ponty on “It Must Be a Camel” from Hot Rats. The jazz violinist may be best known for his work in the Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin, but he was a key member of the group that recorded Hot Rats in 1969, making it one of the first jazz-rock albums ever made. The rest of the band was Ian Underwood on keyboards, Zappa on guitar, bass and percussion, John Guerin (who played with Tom Scott in the LA Express) on drums, and Max Bennett on bass. Zappa would work with Ponty further that year, contributing songs, production and backup for the highly regarded King King: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa.
Vinnie Colaiuta on “Watermelon in Easter Hay” from Joe’s Garage. The drummer of choice for fusion musicians like Jeff Beck these days, Colaiuta anchored the rhythm section on Zappa’s three album opus. The rest of the band was Zappa, Denny Walley and Warren Cucurullo on guitars, Ike Willis on lead vocals, Peter Wolf on keyboards, Arthur Barro on bass and Ed Mann on percussion.
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:30am EDT