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Jeff Dayton-Johnson's Best Releases of 2013

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Every year the list gets longer and more heterogeneous. There are blockbusters and obscure little gems, loud jazz and quiet jazz, hip hop and kora music, some of it downright unclassifiable. Which is fine. “Junku," a 1984 track anthologized on Herbie Hancock's spectacular box set below, is in fact both hip hop and kora music! In an interview with the New York Times earlier this year, Hancock said, “The thing that keeps jazz alive, even if it's under the radar, is that it is so free and so open to not only lend its influence to other genres, but to ...

INTERVIEWS

John Hollenbeck's September Songs

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John Hollenbeck's productivity would be astonishing in its own right, but the uniformly high quality of this high output places the drummer among the top tier of jazz (and not only jazz) musicians. Hollenbeck's recordings, compositions and performances defy certain expectations. He can be as seriously intellectual as a stereotypically stuffy classical musician, but his music is interlaced with humor and fun. As befits a 21st century drummer, he is rhythmically complex but the music is underlain with a deep groove. He borrows ecumenically from a diversity of musical (including the rhythms of the spoken word) sources and manages to ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Wayne Wallace: Latin Jazz Jazz Latin

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Trombonist Wayne Wallace and his Latin Jazz Ensemble have a well-oiled record-making machine that seems incapable of turning out a subpar album.Therein lies the mystery. The ingredients that Wallace and his bandmates pour into the machine are eminently predictable--a studiously well-sampled array of Latin rhythms, didactically specified in the liner notes; a mixture of strong original compositions and Latin settings of jazz standards; tight ensemble playing by the quintet with plenty of space to breathe; a smattering of tasteful contributions by guest artists. The wonder is that this recipe, trotted out more or less annually, loses none of ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Gustavo Cortiñas: Snapshot

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With Snapshot, drummer Gustavo Cortiñas emerges from that challenging rite of passage: the début album. Following years of training (with saxophonist Victor Goines, among others, who is on the record) and sideman duty (on a record with saxophonist Roy McGrath, who also shows up for this date), a young artist seeks to craft a meaningful and representative musical statement and calling card.The musician has in the short span of the début record's length to establish him or herself as a soloist and instrumentalist, as a bandleader, as a composer, and as a kind of producer, capable of communicating ...

EXTENDED ANALYSIS

Kanye West: Yeezus

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Ben Jonson said of his dead child, my sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy. We too easily take what the poets write as figures of speech, as pretty images, as strings of bons mots. Sometimes perhaps they speak the truth. --Margaret Drabble, The Millstone (1965).Every time I write these words they become a taboo Making sure my punctuation curve, every letter is true Living my life in the margin and that metaphor was proof I'm talking poetic justice, poetic justice If I told you that ...

EXTENDED ANALYSIS

Chris Kelsey & What I Say: The Electric Miles Project

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Trumpeter Miles Davis' post-Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970), pre-hiatus (1975-1981) electric music--dense, loud, dark, funky, vast--has posed problems for musicians. The Yo Miles! collective, led by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and guitarist Henry Kaiser, gamely approached it as a repertoire: these are songs, they seemed to say; let's just play them (and so they did, on albums like Upriver, Cuneiform, 2005). Bassist/impresario Bill Laswell, meanwhile, approached the releases of the period as post-performance collage, woven together from miles of Ampex tape; thus he remixed the original recordings rather than re-performing the tunes (on Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis, 1969-74, Columbia, ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Mike Wofford: It's Personal

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Pianist Mike Wofford can boast decades of high-caliber sideman gigs: notably with vocalists Ella Fitzgerald (for whom he served as music director), Mel Tormé and Sarah Vaughan, as well as drummer Shelly Manne, saxophonist Phil Woods, guitarist Joe Pass and others. His studio work is amply represented on records by a dizzying variety of artists. And his frequent collaborations with his wife, flutist Holly Hofmann, have been warmly received. Solo sets are not unknown in Wofford's lengthy discography but, on the evidence of the solo recital It's Personal, would be welcome with greater frequency.In particular, Wofford's style is ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Mark Masters: Everything You Did

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Bandleader/arranger Mark Masters has recorded a set of Steely Dan tunes with a big band, which can be set on the shelf next to his celebrated albums dedicated to the music of George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Dewey Redman. A Dan jazz album makes sense. It's clear from the rock band's '70s albums that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker warmly loved jazz: the intro to their hit “Rikki Don't Lose That Number" is lifted directly from pianist Horace Silver's “Song for My Father"; their “Parker's Band" is a sincere love letter to Charlie Parker. Several top-flight jazz players appeared on ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

The Caravan: The Caravan

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The Caravan, the self-titled second album from a Halifax, Nova Scotia-based hybrid hip hop trio, has attracted attention for the track “What Up Steve?." It's a new kind of political protest record for Canada, a reaction to the new kind of conservative politics practiced by the Stephen Harper administration. But “What Up Steve?," whatever its effectiveness, only partially represents the musical breadth of the record. The album merges the easy-going collective sensibility of the Maritime Canadian kitchen party music session with that of rap music. A rap kitchen party would possibly draw upon banjos and pedal steel guitars, ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Eric Le Lann: I Remember Chet

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French trumpeter Eric Le Lann has a bit part in Bertrand Tavernier's 1986 film Round Midnight, the story of a French jazz fan's friendship with wayward American jazz musician Dale Turner, played by tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon. Le Lann plays a French jazz trumpeter--not much of a stretch. More to the point, the film's story mirrored, however approximately, an episode in his own life, in which Le Lann befriended the expatriate Chet Baker during the latter's troubled final decade.On I Remember Chet, Le Lann pays tribute to the older trumpeter, a quarter century after his death. The record ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Berserk!: Berserk!

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Bassist Lorenzo Feliciati is the driving force behind Naked Truth, whose Ouroboros (RareNoise, 2012), featuring trumpeter Graham Haynes, is an invigorating sonic slab of post-Miles Davis post-jazz-rock. Feliciati and vocalist Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari here convene a coterie of like-minded post-everything musicians to go Berserk!The hybrid music they make takes Naked Truth as a starting point and stretches in some new directions, notably that of various forms of heavy metal. Their ecumenical enthusiasm obviates the need to define what “genre" they play. Nevertheless, particularly at All About Jazz, it's revealing to consider just what the Berserk! sound shares with ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Manu Codjia / Geraldine Laurent / Christophe Marguet: Looking For Parker

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It's very much a trio of equals that recorded Looking For Parker, but alto saxophonist Géraldine Laurent sometimes muscles her way out front. This is partly just the nature of the horn, and partly because she plays the same instrument as Charlie Parker, to whose music the record is dedicated. And most of all, Laurent, more than her band mates, clearly derives from the bebop lineage initiated by Parker.The record begins, almost literally, looking for Parker in the midst of an uneasy rock 'n' roll figure played by the guitar and drums; from this sonic material, Laurent emerges ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Kin Trio: Breathe

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The Kin Trio--saxophonist Sunjae Lee, bassist Andre St. James, drummer Tim DuRoche--call what they do “minimalist bebop." An apparent oxymoron, given that bebop has such maximalist tendencies (exhibit A is trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's dizzying “Bebop"). They don't mean to be taken so literally, of course. The Kin-men have ably absorbed the sparer offshoots of the bebop impulse--like alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, swinging in an understated way in a similarly piano-less setting on Two of a Mind (RCA Victor, 1962), most clearly recalled on the new album's title cut. Or, to take a ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Jonathan Suazo: Extracts of a Desire

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Albums by bassist Joan Torres ( Before, self-produced, 2012)) and guitarist Gabriel Vicens (Point in Time, self-produced, 2012) give every indication of a burgeoning jazz renaissance in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Marked by technical proficiency, these players have matter-of-factly eschewed New York and set about to build a scene in San Juan.Among the most satisfying aspects of the Torres and Vicéns records is the alto saxophone of Jonathan Suazo, who lent his fluid, swinging chops to both dates. It is therefore particularly gratifying that Suazo has released his début record.Extracts of a Desire opens with a ...



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