BEST OF 2018: J Hunter’s Top Women in Jazz Albums

Anat Cohen at A Place for Jazz in November

By J Hunter
Photograph of Anat Cohen by Rudy Lu

One immutable truth about Facebook is that, at some point, it will show you something that pisses you off – usually because somebody posted it with your name among a plethora of tags, accompanied by a headline along the lines of “Have you SEEN this shit???”

In my case, it was an article on the US edition of a UK web site: The writer was decrying a recent initiative related to gender disparity in jazz; specifically, a group called Keychange was pushing for the implementation of a “50-50 gender balance” on all jazz festival bills in the UK by 2022. In addition to insisting that four years is an impossibly short time for such an “insensible” goal, the author also disses gender-equality initiatives at Berklee School of Music and the Europe Jazz Network, and generally maintains that all efforts to address “hairy-chestedness in jazz” are “injurious to the music” and is “a tempest in a teacup.”

It’s not just that the author – who is female, by the way, and married to a jazz musician – maintains a tone worthy of a conservative politician mansplaining why it’s neither important nor necessary to proactively address issues like women’s health and the Right To Choose; it’s the idea that the only thing anybody can do about the unequal playing field women face in this genre is shrug and say, “Twas ever thus.” No, this problem won’t be solved overnight – but if we don’t heighten awareness of the issue and start developing real solutions to stopping the rot at the root of this music, then that journey of 1,000 miles doesn’t even get to the first step.

On top of all this, the author declares that it’s impossible to create gender equality in the festival scene because female musicians “who are… ready for prime time” simply aren’t there! This is rubbish on SO many levels! The number of outstanding releases by women jazzers in 2018 is off the charts, and this year wasn’t a one-time thing. In that light, here are some discs you need to look for (and you can hear this Saturday night on “Jazz2K @ The Saint”):

ADI MEYERSONWhere We Stand (AM Records)
One of the most in-demand bass players on the NYC scene, Meyerson’s self-released debut as a leader busts out of the gate like an old-school Blue Note session, with rock-solid players like saxman Joel Frahm and trumpeter Freddie Hendrix hitting home runs on Meyerson’s killer originals. Of special note are two marvelous tracks featuring Camila Meza, whose captivating guitar provides additional snap to the session, and whose singular vocals add an ethereal note to an already-outstanding overall harmonic.

ANAT COHEN TENTETHappy Song (Anzic)
Jazz’s reigning clarinet champion is like a Monarch butterfly on Pepsi max: She simply does not light! This year alone, we’ve seen Cohen release a mesmerizing duo date with pianist Fred Hersch and two separate examinations of the Brazilian music she dearly loves. For me, though, Anat’s best work comes on this big-unit date, if only because her trademark powers of lyricism and invention aren’t dimmed by fronting an outfit that’s over twice the size of her usual band. So, yeah: Anat Cohen can do it all, and does it in fine style.

BRENDA NAVARRETEMi Mundo (Alma)
This Cuban vocalist/percussionist may be conservatory-trained, but every track on Mi Mundo feels like it was taken straight from the streets of Havana, blanketing you with a vibe that’s both historical and contemporary. The energy and positivity that runs through tracks like “Namaste” and “Baba Ellegua” is downright addictive, and Navarrete’s Afro-Cuban reboot of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” takes the jazz staple through a whole new door. A dynamic debut that literally demands that you have a good time, and who are you to argue?

CYRILLE AIMEELive (Mack Avenue)
After sensational appearances at The Egg and at Jazz at the Lake 2016, Greater Nippertown is well acquainted with the powerful voice and magnetic stage presence of this native of Fontainebleau, France. Now the world gets a taste of the magic on this exciting-yet-intimate live date recorded at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village. With material ranging from Sidney Bechet and Stephen Sondheim to Thelonious Monk and Michael Jackson, Aimee has something to bewitch everyone.

JAMIE BAUM SEPTET +Bridges (Sunnyside)
There’s only one subject that’s more dangerous for Thanksgiving dinner-table conversation than politics, and that’s religion. For Jamie Baum, religion is the catalyst for the latest riveting release from the flautist/composer’s ever-expanding big unit. By turns reflective and explosive, Bridges links belief systems from every corner of the globe, stitching them into a sonic tapestry that honors the core values we all share while acknowledging the infinite diversity that makes this world interesting, unpredictable and undeniably volatile.

MIKI YAMANAKAMiki (Cellar Live)
In the eight years since her move from Kobe, Japan to NYC, pianist Miki Yamanaka has been extremely busy, studying with the likes of Jason Lindner and Fred Hersch and playing with stalwarts like Victor Lewis and Peter Bernstein. On her first full-length recording, Yamanaka displays the stunning harmonic chemistry she’s developed with another former employer, vibes master Steve Nelson, as she rolls through a bubbling mix of originals and standards. This could be the start of something memorable!

ROXY COSSThe Future Is Female (Positone)
Already established as one of jazz’s up-and-coming players, this Seattle native combined music and activism earlier this year on a date that’s electric in both the musical and spiritual sense. From the rippling opener “Nevertheless, She Persisted” through hard-charging tracks like “Females Are Strong As Hell” and “Nasty Women Grab Back,” Coss’ instrumental and compositional attack takes center stage and never lets it go. In this age of Government by Tweet, simple messages are the most effective messages, and The Future Is Female is effective in the best way possible.

SHAREL CASSITY & ELEKTRAEvolve (RelSha Music)
One of the best closing acts in the history of Jazz at the Lake, Evolve is the culmination of a vision the Oklahoma-born altoist has been working on for several years. Teaming with superheroes like trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Linda May Han Oh, vocalist Christie Dashiell and drummer Luciana Padmore, Cassity pairs enthralling originals like “Be the Change” and the title track with glowing reboots of Alicia Keys’ “New Day” and Bjork’s “All Is Full of Love.” The message is clear throughout: Time to do things differently, and do it with a smile.

Some other releases on your Must-Hear list:

AMANDA GARDIEREmpathy (Green Mind Records)
AMY CERVININo One Ever Tells You (Anzic)
KRISTEN STROMMoving Day: The Music of John Shifflett (OA2 Records)
LENI STERN3 (LSR)
RENEE ROSNESBeloved of The Sky (Smoke Sessions)
SASHA MASAKOWSKIArt Market (Ropeadope)
TIA FULLERDiamond Cut (Mack Avenue)
YELENA ECKEMOFF QUARTETDesert (L&H Productions)

In our next episode: The 2018 Jazz2K Awards! Be there. Aloha.

“Jazz2K @ The Saint” celebrates “Women In Jazz2K” this Saturday night (December 8) at 12midnight on WVCR 88.3FM (also streaming live at www.wvcr.com).

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