Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all!

I guess one resolution I have is to try to keep this blog up for at least the coming year. Another should be to cut back on my purchases, but who knows if I can keep that one -- I already have a list of cds I know are coming soon, like the Monk Project on IPO, Aaron Goldberg on Sunnyside, Dialogues Trio on Babel, Billy Hart on ECM, and Mark Soskin on Kind of Blue. Not to mention non-jazz, like a big disk of Bob Dylan songs for Amnesty International.

My last disk for 2011 was just purchased -- Norma Winstone "Stories Yet to Tell." I did get a few at J and R in New York yesterday which pushed me over 800 for the year, but most were older OJCs -- Coleman Hawkins, Gene Ammons, Lockjaw Davis.

So enjoy the holiday with food, laughter, music, friends, and family, and see you again in 2012.

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Short(er) List

So if I downloaded from disk to ipod 797 recordings in 2011, with 350 to 400 being new music as opposed to reissues and found treasures, then a list of 84 of them constitutes what I think would be considered a sound number as "favorites." Anyway, without keeping count, I went through all the titles and wrote down those that I thought were favorites and that is what they came out to. At the end there are a few singers, and a few reissues and older disks that I particularly liked, and those are here as well.

I looked at what some others have for lists and note that Jazz Times critics went to 40 new issues (of which I own 25), and Jazz Breakfast in the UK lists 50 (of which I have 24). The two lists do overlap of course but still represent closer to 70 or so disks. Throw in all those on other lists, and I bet one could easily total 200 recordings on various best of lists. So my 84 seems reasonable, at least to me. I also note that only a few seem to appear nowhere else, while several are everywhere, like Ambrose Akinmusire or Keith Jarrett.

As I said in my first post, when you start to see what I like best, you also start to see where I am coming from, what  I like, and therefore what value you might place on my thoughts. If you like piano soloists then my list will be appealing, trios too. But you will also find a few big bands, some avant garde, quintets; music from the U.S., Europe, Mid-east and Asia. The order is random, and there may be an occassional disk that was not from 2011.
  1. Harold O'Neal -- Marvelous Fantasy:  Fabulous pianist that has to get more exposure. Smalls
  2. Carol Morgan -- Blue Glass Music: Look at those players and listen to them work together. Great stuff
  3. Gerald Wilson Orchestra --- Legacy: The band plays on, and boy does it swing. Never ages for me
  4. Karen Sharp -- Spirit: Baritone, tenor, marvelous sound. Hard to find here (Trio Records UK)
  5. Trish Clowes -- Tangent:  Oops, she recorded this is 2010. But listen to another tenor in action (Basho UK)
  6. Eric Reed -- Something Beautiful: And that describes it to a "T". Classy veteran pianist. See also Dancing Monk this year.
  7. Three Cohens-- Family: Yuval, Anat, Avashai together, separataely, doesn't matter -- all good. Don't miss their other outings either. Anzic
  8. Joan Stiles -- Three Musicians: Clever arrangements, great interplay with Joel Frahm
  9. Kris Davis -- Aeriol Piano: Lovely sound from a young up and comer
  10. John Law -- This Is: A pianist you should look into, this is only his latest. Another UK player that needs to be heard
  11. Mats Eilertsen -- Sky Dive: you've heard this bassist on ECM, now hear his trio on Hubro Records. Has an outstanding discography to explore
  12. Enrico Rava -- Tribe: I am in love with Italian Jazz, the melody, unity,  the atmosphere. Giovanni Guidi on piano has some leader recordings on CamJazz you might want to hear. ECM
  13. Keith Jarrett -- Rio:  I am not sure I would call it the best, but then I might have a lot of trouble identifying the best from his discography, all the way back to Facing You. ECM
  14. Stan Tracey -- A venerable name in the UK, I have only just come to appreciate his playing, and this may be a disk from 2010. But you owe him a listen.
  15. Noah Preminger -- Before the Rain:  A young up and comer, watch for him. Lots of others are too based on the lists.
  16. Gwilym Simcock -- Good Days at Schloss Elmau: Simply gorgeous piano playing from a guy who has appeared on many disks. You might want to listen to the Impossible Gentleman, which also features Steve Swallow and Adam Nussbaum. Catch him on ACT or Basho, but do catch him, alone or in trio or quartet. Its all good.
  17. Omer Klein -- Rockets on the Balcony: Released late in 2010 by Tzadik label. Check out the cover art as well as the music -- it's great stuff.
  18. Helen Sung -- Going Express and (Re)Conception: A classical talent turns to jazz and produces two outstanding recordings on Blue Note and Steeplechase. Lovely trio settings.
  19. Lynne Arriale -- Convergence: Seems like it all comes together on this lovely album of originals and covers, with her trio and Bill McHenry. Listen to new takes on Paint it Black or Here Comes the Sun. Motema
  20. Trichotomy -- The Gentle War: A late 2010 release from Naim. New wave piano trio music a la EST or Bad Plus. Really worth a listen or seven.
  21. Colin Vallon -- Rruga: An ECM piano trio, lovely to listen to. Some say it goes nowhere, I say it takes you inside and anywhere you want to go.
  22. Jeremy Pelt -- The Talented Mr. Pelt: He sure is, as are all the members of the band. Nuff said.
  23. Brad Mehldau -- Live in Marciac:  How can the left and right hands play so independently yet in such complementary fashion? Are there two brains inside his head? This is the recording that really sets him apart for me.
  24. Jean Michel Pilc -- Essential and Threedom: Few take apart and reassemble tunes like Pilc -- Martial Solial comes to mind but few others. Twists and turns galore, whther solo or with Moutin and Hoenig on Threedom. Always a first rate listen.
  25. Kate Williams -- Made Up; The pianist has gone from trio to quaartet and now to septet. The expanded sound is a thrilling and expands her already prodigous musical imagination. kwjazz UK
  26. Julian Siegel --Urban Theme Park: A guest on the above recording, multi-reed leader here on an adventerous, energetic ramble with guest Liam Nobel on piano, another name to check out. Basho Records UK.
  27. Jake Saslow -- Crosby Street: Can't recall which blog mentioned this recording, but I am glad they did. Download only, it is a great start for the young tenorist.
  28. Sunna Gunnlaugs -- The Dream and Long Pair Bond:  Two great recordings from a marvelous Icelandic pianist residing in Brooklyn. Thjere are many wonderful earlier disks to hear as well.
  29. Joel Frahm -- Live at Smalls: He's been mentioned a couple of times so far as a sideman, but hear he blows it out at Smalls. Great live music, great energy, and a tip of the hat to Spike for producing these fine disks.
  30. Maria Baptiste -- Spring in Berlin: A late entry this year but a lovely piano trio, she also produced a large band album that I have yet to hear. Highly recommended.
  31. Zoe Rahman -- Kindred Spirit: Another pianist I am late to discover this year, I now have three of her recordings, including some with her brother on clarinet. Great blend of jazz and middle eastern sounds. Looking forward to listening to these more in the next few weeks. Another UK find.
  32. Emmet Cohen -- In the Element: A young pianist, a great start.
  33. Julia Hulsmann Trio -- Imprint: Another fine trio from ECM.
  34. Fred Hersch -- Alone at the Village Vanguard: Great music from a great pianist
  35. Matthew Shipp -- Art of Improviser:  A lesson in how to deconstruct music and create new visions.
  36. Kit Downes -- Quiet Tiger: Great music from the UK. Follow up to equally good "Golden" 
  37. Omar Sosa --- Calma: The title says it all. Beautiful piano playing.
  38. Paulo Fresu -- Songlines: Hard to find in the U. S. but worth the effort for this wonderful trumpeter.
  39. Iro Rantala--Lost Heroes: A beautiful set of songs on ACT.
  40. Kris Bowers -- Blue in Green: A young up and coming pianist shows his early skills here
  41. Abdullah Ibrahim -- Sotho Blue:  A really nice set of music from an old pro.
  42. Terrell Stafford -- This Side of Strayhorn: Can a trumpet sound more soulful than this?
  43. Dado Moroni -- Live in Beverly Hills: I have molto disks of his from Italy. This is his first U.S. release and is a good sample of his work.
  44. Kenny Werner -- Balloons: Nice quintet work live at the Blue Note with David Sanchez and Randy Brecker.
  45. Marcin Wasilewski -- Faithful:  Another ECM trio continuing its fine work.
  46. Lee Konitz -- Live at Birdland: Wow what a live disk! Great work by Mehldau and Haden.
  47. Gerald Clayton -- Bond: A young pianist with a great pedigree shows that he has it.
  48. Mats Vinding -- Open Minds: Another of those surprise disks. The back ups are the story -- Jean Michel Pilc and Billy Hart. Great trio disk.
  49. Matthew Shipp and Darius Jones -- Cosmic Lieder: Alittle further out than most of the others, but interesting creative music
  50. Ran Blake -- Grey December: I am a big fan of almost anything Ran Blake does.
  51. Pee Wee Ellis -- Tenoration: Had no clue who he was but once I found out I was enthralled by the big bluesy sound of  his tenor.
  52. Danny Grissett -- Stride:  A very nice pianist making a name for himself with his trio.
  53. Craig Taborn -- Avenging Angel: Who knew he could make such beautiful and contemplative music? A must for any jazz fan who likes Taborn or ECM.
  54. Aaron Goldberg and Guillermo Klein -- Bienestan: Beautiful music together, what more can I say?
  55. Shimrit Shoshan -- Keep it Movin': Not even sure how I found this, but hope you can too. Another Israeli musician, this one on piano
  56. Claire Ritter -- The Stream of Pearls Project: Lovely, peaceful music that captivates the soul.
  57. Stefon Harris et al -- 90 miles: Take a trip to Cuba and enjoy.
  58. Nicole Mitchell -- Awakening:  Mitchell hits it big this outing with her lovely flute and great band.
  59. Ketil Bjornstad -- Early Music: On Hubro label, see where he began. A great set of improvised piano music.
  60. Leszek Mozder -- Komeda: ACT label, give it a listen.
  61. Danilo Rea and Flavio Boltro -- At Schloss Elmau: Another great disk from the Schloss, this time with a great Italian hero Danilo Rea. Look for his backlog of great music too.
  62. John Taylor -- Requiem for a Dreamer: The dreamer is Kurt Vonnegut, the player the great pianist John Taylor. Love it.
  63. Helge Lien Trio -- Natsukashii:  Hubro label. Really nice Northern European trio music.
  64. Bobby Wellins -- Time Gentlemen Please: Straight ahead jazz from a veteran tenor sax. Trio Records UK
  65. Neil Cowley -- Radio Silence: A bit of a cheat but only released here in 2011. Interesting modern piano trio
  66. Ambrose Akinmusire -- When the Heart Emerges Glistening:  Everyone's hit, mine as well.
  67. Trio M -- The Guest House: Modern piano trio led by Myra Melford. Atmospheric probably fits the bill
  68. Denys Baptiste -- Identity by Subtraction:  I cheated and listened to this after it was posted by Jazz Breakfast, but enjoyed every minute of the sax led group.
  69. Aquarium -- Aquarium: Another UK product worth getting a hold of.
  70. Marcus Strickland -- Triumph of the Heavy: Two disks, one live and one in studio, one with and one without piano. Strong strong showing on the trumpet, the shape of things today.
  71. Francesco Turrisi -- Fotografia: Lovely piano musi. Delicate.
  72. Uri Caine Trio -- Siren: It was worth the wait to hear the trio once more in action. Deconstruction and reconstruction of some familiar tunes, strong interplay among the trio, and constant feeling of moving forward with the music. Go back and hear the earlier trio settings for Mr. Caine as well.
  73. Bruce Babad -- A Tribute to Paul Desmond: A smooth alto sound captures the Desmond feeling, with wome up to date touches.
  74. SF Jazz Collective -- 8rth Annual Concert:  Stevie Wonder gone jazz and it works so well, along with some very progressive charts of originals in the same moods. Very classy band.
  75. Chick Corea and Stefano Bollani -- Orvieto: Two pianos, two masters, too good.
  76. Poncho Sanchez and Terrance Blanchard -- Chano y Dizzy: A tribute to two masters played by two modern masters and their band. Will have you swaying to the beat in no time.
  77. Roy Haynes --Roy-Alty: An isn't he just that, here with the Fountain of Youth Band. A continuation of their earlier upbeat music underpinned by a drum legend. 
  78. Cory Weeds -- Just Like That -- The Cellar Live label from Canada offers some nice straight ahead music, and Weeds Alto stands out in this live outing. Check out some others on the label. 
  79. Ed Puddick Big Band -- Guys and Dolls: I am a sucker for all things "guys and Doll', but even I I wasn't these takes on one of the best scores ever are original and fun to listen to. 
  80. Miguel Zenon -- Alma Aldentro: Another unanimous selection this year on most lists. Zenon's trip home brings us the wonderfu l flavor of his childhood. 
  81. Sonny Rollins -- Road Shows Volume 2: Oh to have been there at the Beacon. This captures much of the moment, although the short segment of St. Thomas from a Japanese outing seems extraneous. Wish there was more or none at all. 
  82. Icelandic Musicians:  Gunnar Gunnarsson, Sigurour Flosason, and Arni Heidar Karlsson all cuaght my ear, as did Trio K. May be very hard to find to listen to, but I love the music I am hearing from there.
  83. John Taylor and Stephane Kerecki -- Patience: Patience is not needed to listen to the interplay between the two, and you will be rewarded.
  84. Curtis Fuller -- The Story of Cathy and Me: Fuller describes in words and music his life with, and the passing of, his wife Cathy with some very touching songs, and with outstanding support.
And now for some singers:

  1. Ella Fitzgerald -- Ella in Japan
  2. Sophie Millman -- In the Moonlight
  3. Judy Wexler -- Under the Painted Sky
  4. Karen Allyson -- 'Round Midnight
  5. Cyrille Aimee -- Live at Smalls
  6. Tierney Sutton -- American Road
  7. Tony Bennett -- Duets 2
  8. Frank Sinatra -- Best of the Best
A few oldies not to miss:

  1. Tubby Hayes -- Tubby's New Groove
  2. Gigi Gryce -- Doin' the Gigi
  3. Paul Motian -- The Paul Motian Box (Soul Note/Black Saint)
  4. Herb Geller -- Fire in the West
  5. JATP -- Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl 

797 and Counting: Am I Crazy?

We've reached the end of 2011 and everyone is commenting on their favorite recordings of the year. As I think back on the year I know there were many that caught my ear, and stood out amongst those to which I listened. But weaning that number to a managable list, now that is difficult when one has purchased, as of today, 797 cds, not counting multiples more than one time.

And how do I come up with that number? Because I travel on business a lot, and also commute irregularly to our offices in Manhattan, I always carry around an ipod and earphones, and over the years have gotten into the habit of transferring purchases immediately into an external hard drive and onto an ipod. In the office too I usually have music playing while I work. To date I have filled two 160 GB ipods and am halfway through another.

So I just counted up the number of disks I loaded up since 1/1/11 and in all there are 797 of them. Not all jazz -- some blues, folk, country, pop/rock, shows....but mostly jazz, maybe 650 - 700 of them. Not all are from 2011, as I continue to find new discoveries, trace lineages, read the AllMusic catalogue or Penguin Guide, and read the blogs. Today I was reminded of Don Sleet, whose disk I picked up after reading of him in Rehearsing the Blues. Yesterday at my local record store, I stumbled over Don Wilkerson on Blue Note, and discovered another Texas tenor. (Note that this is another good reason for having the physical disk at hand, for on the same Wilkerson disk I see the names of some familiar  players -- Grant Green or Sonny clark as examples -- and some unfamiliar -- Johnny Acea and Lloyd Trotman. And thus off I go to do some more investigation into their biographies and discographies.)

If I cut down the list further, I would venture to say that perhaps half of the aforementioned 797 disks would be 2011 jazz pressings (does one still use that term? is the revival of vinyl going to bring it back?). In thinking about these purchases, I don't think it is a lack of discrimination on my part but rather a broad search for interesting music from here and abroad, and an interest in a range of sub-species of jazz, from chamber jazz to modern bop to big band, avant guarde, etc.  After all, I brought back 20 disks from Iceland this summer, a place with a liveley jazz scene and almost no international distribution. Simply reading the best of lists, I would surmise that well over 100 disks and closer to 200 are probably represented, so I don't think I am too far off the charts as a listener.

How does one even find this many disks, and sort them out and select?

First, as I said earlier, I read the blogs pretty much on a daily basis, and the NY Times music section (and Mancehster Guardian on-line), and those I read most often are shown on the site. I follow links, listen to the short bursts on the internet at amazon or cdbaby or itunes; through clips on you tube, on artist sites, and on label sites. For a disk I hear about, I look at the full list of players to see who I recognize and what I might think about them. A player that I may not know may be playing with folks I do know. Three really great examples:
  • Carol Morgan Quartet, Blue Glass Music:  I didn't know her, but did recognize Joel Frahm, Martin Wind, and Matt Wilson
  • Ferit Odman, Autumn in New York-- with Terrell Stafford, Vincent Herring, Anthony Wonsey, and Peter Washington
  • Augusto Pirroda, No Comment -- Paul Motian and Gary Peacock
  • Anders Christiansen, Dear Someone -- Paul Motian and Aaron Parks
A sideman I have heard on other disks might be a leader on his own, and I will try that too -- recently I bought some older Joris Teepe CDs as an example. Finally, young soloists that I read about in blogs, newspapers, etc. or from awards add to my list -- Emmet Cohen, Kris Bowers are recent examples that immediately come to mind.

Second, I read monthlies -- Jazz Times, Downbeat, the New York Jazz Record, Jazzwise (UK), Jazz(UK) -- articles, advertising, and reviews. Clearly I also read many comments about these sources, how record companies or artists may be paying for the good words, etc., so I take everything as a starting point, not as a given. Reviewers are individuals just like me, with likes and dislikes, favorites, etc. Get to know them, or at least the language. In my mind I associate certain adjectives and verbs with types of playing -- round sounds, angular sounds, skronks, all give me an image of the music. Instrumentation and words like dissonance are far easier to digest. See who the reviewer compares the music to, see who the players are. And listen to clips as possible. (As an aside, when I read the really fine biography of Monk a couple of years ago, the associations, names, and descriptions of other musicians, known and less known, took me on a wonderful voyage across the OJC, Bluenote, and other older catalogues.)

Third, I have bookmarked probably 30 record labels from large to small, but mostly small, which is the way of the world, and look them over from time to time. Some are better than others; some like Criss-cross are almost worthless for information, while Pirouet or Origin or Palmetto are excellent.

Fourth,  I am fortunate to have access to distributor catalogues to see what is coming, and what is being said about new and upcoming releases. Allegro is on line and covers a number of labels, but others are not. I also have access to a store that will play advance copies, open disks for buyers, and generally provides the old-fashioned service that one seldom finds today. More on Sally's Place at another time (Westport, CT).

Finally, I have bookmarked a set of music stores from here and abroad to see what is out there -- the obvious are Amazon or CDBaby, the less so or, the Jazz Loft for a wide range of music here in the U.S., Eastwind Imports for Japanese imports (pricy), Jazzos in Italy for Italian and European disks, JazzCDs in England.

Getting foreign labels at reasonable prices is probably the hardest thing to do; large labels like ACT or ECM or Challenge are easily found, but others not as much. I am still trying to figure out the ins and outs of distribution.

So there you have it, 797 new disks in a year -- my obsession with music boiled down into a set of steps. While it may seem crazy, I find it a combination of hearing good music, of researching a fascinating topic, and of a relaxing past-time. Were there perhaps 350 jazz disks from 2011 worth hearing? I think so, but others may think I am too inclusive, lack discrimination, etc. Sooner or later I think I end up reading something positive about almost everyone of them in one place or another, and remember, many began not with me but with a blog or magazine or other source.

And how often do I buy a disk I dislike intensely?  Maybe 5-10 this year, if that, and even then I have friends who I have given them to who like them -- after all, if we all had the same taste that would be awfully boring.

So, in my next post, I will take a stab at a list of my favorites from 2011 -- not THE BEST since that is presumes I can speak to good, better, best which of course I cannot -- but which I enjoyed most.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas in New York City: a shout out to Smalls Jazz Club

It's tough to sit in the suburbs for two days while everything is closed for those who are not celebrating Christmas, and are not with their families, so every year we come into New York, stay at a hotel, see some shows, and in my case visit one of the clubs on Christmas Eve. Three years ago it was the wonderful Cedar Walton at the Vanguard, and for the last two seasons it has been Spike Wilner's wonderful Small's Jazz club, which featured John Mitchell's quartet. Great atmosphere, good crowd, and wonderful music. Who knew John could sing. It was my second visit in about a month, with the last featuring Ethan Iverson in a trio setting.

I have to say, one of the greatest things about hearing live music is the chance to really hear the bass player, who often is lost on CDs. Watching the two young bassists, David Wong with John Mitchell and Corcoran Holt with Ethan Iverson, was a joy. The big sound they get out of the instrument, the wonderful solos, seeing the intricate fingerings, for me they are what made the nights really special. No disrepect to Sacha Perry, Tardo Hammer, Jimmy Wormsworth, and the others intended.

I have some recommended recordings with David Wong that readers may want to listen to, as each is a great listen:  Roy Haynes "Roy-alty" (2011), Sashal Vasandani "Hi-Fly" (2011), and Dmitri Baevsky "Down with It" (2011) are all recent, and if you want to go back some, look for Pete Zimmer's discs. Corcoran Holt evidently is new on the scene and I am sure his fabulous sound will appear soon on many recordings. Right now, I have him in my collection on a Stan Killian disc from 2011 "Unified" and a 2010 disc of Steve Turre's called "Delicious and Delightful". I'd watch for him playing live in your town and try to catch him if I were you.


I am an avid jazz listener, CD buyer, blog and magazine reader, with a simple objective: to get more people to listen to jazz, and to be willing to listen to new artists that they otherwise might not ever hear. I play a couple of instruments for my own pleasure, the piano and the bass clarinet, have some understanding of the technical aspects of music and its history, but make no pretense that I am a critic in the professional sense of the word. I simply know what I like and what I don't like. I probably purchased in the neighborhood of 500 CDs this past year of both historical recordings as well as new recordings. And by the way, that is specifically CDs and not downloads -- I love the physical presence of the disc, the written materials, the list of players, etc. And I try to support my local music store, an independent seller with an encyclopedic knowledge of the music who is fighting the good fight in this era of downloads and spotify, etc.

I will try to use this blog to feature some of the many recordings that intrigued me this past year, or even earlier, particularly those that may not get much play here in the U.S. With the demise of the large labels and more and more small labels and self-published music, it has to be hard for artists to be recognized. By researching the blogs, reading the distributors catalogues at my local store, cruising cdbaby, and going to clubs, I have been able to purchase a lot of interesting CDs this past year by American players.

At the same time there is a plethora of music being creataed outside the U.S. that may never get here. Sure, a lot of European jazz comes to us from ECM, ACT, Pirouet, and other labels; but even more never reaches the U.S. market. And sure, many players do get recognition in the U.S., and come here and play; but many never are heard here. This past year, for example, I travelled to Iceland and found a very robust jazz scene there. Many readers may know of Sunna Gunnlaugs, but how about Agnar Magnusson, Arni Forchammer Quartet, or Gunnar Gunnarsson? Similarly, recent recordings of Brit Gwilym Simcock are beginning to pop up in the U.S. either solo or with the Impossible Gentlemen, but what about Kit Downes, Curios, and others? Tricotomy and The Necks, Australians by the way? I love Italian jazz, but labels like Philology, EGEA, or Auand area hard to find here, and costly in many cases to order from abroad. Some of the familar names like Rava, Piernunzi, Battaglia, or Bollani are know from their ECM recordings or Camjazz, but there are many others as well playing wonderful, lyrical music.

My tastes are fairly widespread, although I do shy away from electronics and, to me at least, the extremes of the avant garde. As this blog unfolds I am sure that my likes and dislikes will become evident. Remenber though, they represent my tastes, they do not represent actual jazz criticism/reviews. I leave that for the professionals. But eventually, I hope folks who read this will understand where I am coming rom, and if they understand that then maybe they will try some of the music.

I hope I can bring new discoveries to those who find this blog, and encourage some risk taking among those looking for interesting music.  In the next few days I am going to add to the over-abundance of end of year lists and develop one of my own featuring those discs that really struck me during the past year. what the heck, that's as good a way as any to introduce myself.