BEST OF 2013: J Hunter’s Best Jazz Albums, Part II

Reviews by J Hunter

Having given credit where credit was due in our last episode… let’s count ‘em down:

ETIENNE CHARLES: Creole SoulNumber Ten…
ETIENNE CHARLESCreole Soul (Culture Shock Music)
Want some impressive numbers? This native son of Trinidad has four discs to his name, all on his own label – and he’s still in his 20s! Heeding the words of mentor Marcus Roberts that “going backwards is the only way to go forward,” Etienne Charles mixes the Afro-Caribbean beats of his native land with modern jazz idioms to create a set that makes you dance as much as it makes you think. Along with tasty originals like “Creole” and “Doin’ the Thing,” Charles re-shapes Monk’s “Green Chimneys” and Bo Diddley’s “You Don’t Love Me (no no no).” George Allen said, “The future is now” in the ’70s, but with young players like Charles on the scene, it’s jazz’s future that’s now!

ANTONIO SANCHEZ: New LifeNumber Nine…
ANTONIO SANCHEZNew Life (CamJazz)
Many artists try to do too much on their first release as a leader, and it usually turns into a train wreck in short order. But Antonio Sanchez – a big-time sideman who’s visited Greater Nippertown with Pat Metheny and the New Gary Burton Quartet – threads the needle perfectly, serving up 8 superb originals that are just complex enough to make the brain bubble but not boil over. Next-level keyboardist John Escreet joins sax monsters David Binney and Donny McCaslin on the front line, and Sanchez teams with bassist Matt Brewer to drive this beautiful machine up and up and up. Maybe next time we see Sanchez in these parts, it’ll be with his own band.

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LINDA OH: Sun PicturesNumber Eight…
LINDA OHSun Pictures (Greenleaf Music)
Greenleaf isn’t just trumpeter/entrepreneur Dave Douglas’ way to stay free from major labels: He’s also building a solid stable of bright young artists, and Douglas Quintet bassist Linda Oh really shines on her third outing as a leader. Proving her outstanding 2012 Greenleaf debut Initial Here was no fluke, Oh switches out Fabian Almazan’s florid keyboards for James Muller’s skin-tight guitar and bringing in Kneebody saxman Ben Wendel. Oh expands her already-wide compositional horizons even as she simplifies and tightens her overall sound, giving the free-form sections a freshness that this genre needs much more of.

ARTURO O’FARRILL & THE CHICO O’FARRILL AFRO-CUBAN JAZZ ORCHESTRA: Final Night at BirdlandNumber Seven…
ARTURO O’FARRILL & THE CHICO O’FARRILL AFRO-CUBAN JAZZ ORCHESTRAFinal Night at Birdland (Zoho)
All good things must come to an end, and that includes this big band’s 14-year run of Sunday nights at one of NYC’s legendary jazz clubs. Arturo O’Farrill kept his late father’s gig going for ten of those years, and the virtuoso keyboardist wasn’t going to go out with a whimper. The elder O’Farrill’s multi-movement pieces “Tanga Suite” and “Three Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods” soar on billowing updrafts created by the ACJO’s 14-piece brass section, as do free-standing Chico numbers like “Delirio” and “Havana Blues.” Arturo caps it off with his own vivid tale “Fathers and Sons, from Havana to New York and Back Again.” The run may be over, but we’ll always have this set. Cool!

Dave Holland: PrismNumber Six…
DAVE HOLLANDPrism (Dare2)
After the first minute of the volcanic opener “The Watcher,” I decided Prism was just an all-star nod to when Dave Holland made his bones playing bass for Miles Davis’ post-Bitches Brew outfit. Some days I’m really pleased to be wrong. What we have here is a fully functioning band, with the writing credits as evenly distributed as the solos, and the blistering fusion of “The Watcher” shares space with the R&B gospel of “Choir” and the swirling waltz “The Color of Iris.” Kevin Eubanks continues to surprise the uninitiated with his range as a guitarist, while drummer Eric Harland and keyboardist Craig Taborn find a new place to spread their magnificent wings.

Ryan Cohan: The RiverNumber Five…
RYAN COHANThe River (Motema)
Ryan Cohan’s 2007 release One Sky gave voice to the revolutionary idea that we are all connected. The Skidmore Jazz alum is back with another tale of connection – only the connector is a river in Africa. Inspired by a State Department-sponsored trip to the region, Cohan spins a shimmering tapestry of Western and African rhythms to show how one string of water can affect many lives, including his own. The wide-eyed discovery of “Arrival,” the relentless attack of “Storm Rising,” the deep blues of “Brother Fifi” and the joyous celebration of “Last Night at the Mannenberg” will touch you just like this trip obviously touched Cohan. Make the connection!

New Gary Burton Quartet: Guided TourNumber Four…
NEW GARY BURTON QUARTETGuided Tour (Mack Avenue)
More often than not, there’s a disconnect between what you hear on a recording and what you hear in concert. Happily, that didn’t happen when iconic vibes master Gary Burton brought his “new” outfit to the region. This group has grown more muscular and more aggressive in the short time they’ve been together, and what we saw on stage at Lake George’s Shepard Park and College of St. Rose’s Massry Center is amply displayed on Guided Tour. Burton’s still right out front, still laying down solos that will brighten any room, but – as with Prism – the sense of “band” in this unit goes far beyond the multiple compositional credits. There’s a mutual inspiration society going on here, and that “new band smell” is getting sweeter!

Chris Potter: The SirensNumber Three…
CHRIS POTTERThe Sirens (ECM)
Fairly or unfairly, ECM has a reputation for releasing recordings that glorify precision over passion and prefer brains to brawn. That stereotype goes down the memory hole on Chris Potter’s ECM debut, as the tenorman leaves behind the wild bombast of his jam-band collective Chris Potter Underground. Then again, Potter was a disciple of Red Rodney, so the fact that he can pair Underground fervor with Old School subtlety isn’t much of a surprise. The “surprise” comes from keyboardist Craig Taborn, who steps out of his electric comfort zone to provide Potter with a razor-sharp acoustic foil. Smart, impassioned music from one of the best!

Terence Blanchard: MagneticNumber Two…
TERENCE BLANCHARDMagnetic (Blue Note)
It’s been four years since Terence Blanchard’s last release, and twice that long since he last recorded for Blue Note. Trust me: The wait was well worth it. In addition to reuniting with former sidemen Brice Winston and Lionel Loueke, my favorite NOLA trumpeter recruited heavy hitters Ravi Coltrane and Ron Carter to launch a series of musical lightning strikes that will leave the ground seared for quite some time. Three of those strikes come from the pen of Fabian Almazan, who continues his phenomenal growth as a keyboardist and a composer. A grizzled veteran now, Blanchard still shows the kids (and everyone else) just how it should be done.

…and the Number One Jazz Release of 2013 is…

udresh Mahanthappa: GamakRUDRESH MAHANTHAPPAGamak (ACT)
Theoretically, the pairing of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s alto sax and Dave “Fuze” Fiuczynski’s guitar should have been a massive train wreck: We’re talking two leaders with singular styles who can dominate almost any performance setting. The fact is, though, Fiuczynski’s WAY-outside-the-box attack fits Mahanthappa’s Eastern approach to Western music like a custom-made glove. When Fuze isn’t firing eye-crossing atonal solos at the sky, he injects Rudresh’s phenomenal compositions with a smoky, funky energy that takes each piece to a place far, far away. If this isn’t proof jazz is now a worldwide music, I don’t know what is!

And there it is! As usual, your results may vary, and if any of this music provokes a “crisis” that lasts longer than two to three hours, then turn it up so your neighbors can enjoy themselves, too. Happy Holidays!

MORE OF NIPPERTOWN’S BEST OF 2013 LISTS
J Hunter’s Best Jazz Albums, Part I

Got a Best of 2013 list that you’d like to share with Nippertown readers? Best concerts of the year? Best Local 518 music moments of the year? Best plays? Best art gallery exhibits? Best books by local authors? Best whatever? Please keep it local, but send it along to greg@nippertown.com

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