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

December 16th, 2013, 4:00 pm by Greg

By J Hunter

One of the “problems” with doing this thing on the radio – “Jazz2K” is also broadcast from 6-8pm on Tuesdays on WSPN (91.1FM), including this Tuesday’s (December 17) Best of 2013 edition – is that I have 60 or 70 discs to consider instead of 20 or 30. Whoever said, “Be careful what you wish for…” had a good point. Anyway, with the brand-new chainsaw I got for our anniversary (Thanks, honey! Love ya bunches!), I was able to cut the pile down to a Top 10 and eight outstanding “Honorable Mentions.” Let’s get the Honorables out of the way first – mainly because I need to get those bowling trophies off the mantle so we can hang the Festivus decorations:

Their performance at Freihofer’s felt like Saturday night during Mardi Gras, as opposed to the “jazz funerals” they’ve staged in the past. And it’s all thanks to That’s It, Preservation Hall’s first-ever all-originals release. Maybe My Morning Jacket’s Jim James produced the session, but there’s an Old School echo to the 11 studio tracks that makes them seem like gems from NOLA’s marvelously shady past. Even live takes on “Oh Liza” and “Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing” jump around like newborn colts. This righteous set is Preservation Hall’s message to “modern” marchers like Rebirth and Dirty Dozen: “Pump the brakes, youngsters! We ain’t dead YET!”

CLIFF HINESWanderlust (Self-released)
Some members of Preservation Hall have ties that are older than this fellow Big Easy resident. That said, multi-instrumentalist Cliff Hines really gets his his Marco Benevento on, with an eclectic assortment of musical styles and cinematic takes on everything from Tehran’s Green Revolution and the Fukushima meltdown to the firebombing of Dresden in World War II. Bewitching vocalist Sasha Masakowski is the not-so-secret weapon in this intricate tapestry, as Hines plays Second Line one moment, Indian raga the next, and quotes William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” while mashing up jazz and thrash. Wanderlust is truly addictive. More, please!

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LIVE: A Piano Workshop With Fred Hersch @ Williams College, 2/3/12

February 23rd, 2012, 3:00 pm by Greg
Fred Hersch

Fred Hersch

Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

Arguably, Fred Hersch is one of the most important and brilliant jazz pianists in the historical linage of the jazz piano. In addition to more than three dozen recordings under his belt, he’s been nominated numerous times for a Grammy – including two at this month’s ceremonies, but alas, Chick Corea stole the show, winning both of those.

It’s unfortunate, because Hersch is every bit the pianist Corea is, but unlike the winner of those Grammys, Hersch sticks to the evolution of the art form and not to the popular style of the day.

Looking around the small but enthusiastic audience for Fred Hersch’s workshop at Williams College just a week before the Grammy Awards, there were students, professors, music fans, professional musicians… and there sitting among the onlookers was Avery Sharpe, the famed acoustic bassist with the McCoy Tyner trio.

Just think about that for a moment. If the “six degrees of separation” rule applies, then, spiritually speaking, John Coltrane was listening in.

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This Week’s Hit Parade

May 9th, 2011, 3:00 pm by Greg

PICKS OF THE WEEK: Jazz Appreciation Division, Part I

April 30th marked the end of Jazz Appreciation Month, a ten-year-old campaign by the Smithsonian to get more recognition for what the late Dr. Billy Taylor called “America’s classical music.” And that’s all well and good… except where I live, EVERY month is Jazz Appreciation Month, so why wait ‘til next year? With that in mind, here are a few things to look for the next time you think your iPod’s not stuffed enough:

Ryan Cohan: Another LookRYAN COHAN – “Another Look” (Motema, 2011)
This Skidmore Jazz Institute alum’s compositional skills have been well-documented; the title suite of his 2007 disc “One Sky” is a soaring soundtrack for the way life should be. “Another Look” delivers another set of great tunes, but most importantly, Cohan trims back his arrangements and shows the world what anyone familiar with him already knows: He’s also one kickass piano player! The funny-but-serious “Monkin’ Around” is a perfect tone-setter, the deconstruction/Latinization of Ellington’s “Caravan” is suitably epic, and Cohan’s two-part “Song for my Grandfather” is the kind of tribute everyone would want. GO, SKIDMORE!

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Fred Hersch, What Was the First Album You Ever Bought?

August 20th, 2010, 2:01 pm by Greg

Fred Hersch (photo by Matthew Sussman)

Fred Hersch (photo by Matthew Sussman)

“The first record album that I ever bought? I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that. And I don’t know the answer.

We had a motley collection of shit around the house … some classical music, kiddie records and just weird, assorted stuff. My parents were symphony-goers, and my grandparents were classical musicians, but not professionals really. So there was music around the house.

But I’m sure that with my hard-earned money, I went out and bought a Beatles single when it first came out. Of course, I was around in the late ’60s for the great flowering of American pop … Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and Motown, James Taylor, Paul Simon … and they had an effect on me, certainly. And my lifelong interest in classical music. which is still an active part of what I do. All of that is in the soup.

I came to jazz relatively late, even though I was an improviser from day one. I never took jazz piano lessons. I learned jazz by playing on bandstands, essentially.”

The masterful jazz pianist Fred Hersch takes the stage for a solo performance at Maverick Concerts in Woodstock at 6pm on Saturday. Reserved tix are $40; general admission is $25; children under 12 $5.

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