C. Andrew Hovan's Top 10 for 2014

C. Andrew Hovan By

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This will be a first in some time. For a variety of reasons, I had to curtail my writing activities about five years ago. As a result, my limited work for All About Jazz consisted mainly of photography and live reviews. As a result, I felt less then prepared in previous years to present any kind of coverage of the "end of the year" variety. However, over the past twelve months, I have found myself back in the loop. I initiated my new column, The Vinyl Post, to start spreading the good word about vinyl's resurgence and I have been able to listen to much more music than had previously been the case.

With all this being said, I have to admit that I just don't connect with a lot of the music being marketed as jazz these days. Be it hip-hop inflected or pulseless meanderings, this curmudgeon needs those vital elements that make jazz what it is, swing being a key factor. As a result, my end of the year offering is decidedly mainstream with a healthy dose of reissues thrown in as well.

Dave Stryker
Eight Track

A criminally underrated guitarist for way too long, Dave Stryker has built an incredible and diverse catalog of releases over the years that has presented him in a variety of settings. This fantastic outing features Stryker in an organ combo with vibraphonist Stefon Harris serving as a viable front line partner. The material covers pop radio hits of the '70s and even though this music has provided similar fodder for others recently, this set is the best of the lot. Even such tired numbers as "Wichita Lineman" and Bread's "Make It With You" find new life in the hands of this super group.

Walt Weiskopf

From 1992 to 2010, saxophonist Walt Weiskopf made a string of eleven albums for Criss Cross that still stand as some of the best straight ahead jazz of the past 25 years. In recent times, Weiskopf has been a valuable member of the Steely Dan road show and his recorded work has leveled off. This makes his Posi-Tone debut such a welcomed release. As usual, Weiskopf chooses to record mainly his own originals and they are chock full of exciting twists and turns. The line-up is also a tantalizing one featuring Behn Gillece on vibes and Yotam Silberstein on guitar.

Dena DeRose
We Won't Forget You...An Homage to Shirley Horn

Of all the female jazz vocalists out there, Dena DeRose continues to be one of the best, despite the fact that she is still unknown to many. This comes from the fact that she is an accomplished pianist and musician, not just a singer. Working with regular cohorts Martin Wind and Matt Wilson, DeRose turns in another fabulous set in tribute to the great Shirley Horn. Adding some extra spice are guests Eric Alexander, Jeremy Pelt, and Gary Smulyan.

Pat Metheny Unity Group

Some may lament the fact that Pat Metheny is probably not interested in getting the old group back together with Lyle Mays. Still, this latest incarnation of the Unity band offers its own many rewards, even if the addition of Giulio Carmassi adds little beyond an additional layer of sound. Metheny's compositional genius is still at the fore and Chris Potter is a dynamo.

Cyrus Chestnut
Midnight Melodies
Smoke Sessions

One of the most encouraging debuts this year was the formation of a label by the great New York jazz club Smoke. The label put out a steady stream of well recorded and well packaged releases, with this trio set by Cyrus Chestnut being one of the best. In fact, this might be Chestnut's best album yet as a leader, more than ably supported by bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Lewis. Just dig the lengthy take on John Hicks' "Naima's Love Song" to soak in the magic that must of surrounded these performances.

Orrin Evans
Liberation Blues
Smoke Sessions

While Cyrus Chestnut had the trio gem of the inaugural Smoke Sessions releases, pianist Orrin Evans gets the nod for the most adventurous set from the label. His five-part "The Liberation Blues Suite" is a heady work dedicated to the late bassist Dwayne Burno. Sean Jones and JD Allen are a fantastic partnership, while drummer Bill Stewart provides the grease to keep everything working like a fine machine. In a word-brilliant!

Donald Edwards
Evolution of an Influenced Mind
Criss Cross Jazz

Known largely to those who follow the releases on Criss Cross Jazz, drummer Donald Edwards is a phenomenal talent deserving of wider recognition. Let's hope that his maiden voyage for Criss Cross garners him some needed attention. In a program of eleven tunes penned mainly by the drummer, Edwards impresses throughout, as do guitarist David Gilmore and pianist Orrin Evans.

Bill Evans
The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961
Concord Music Group
(1961) 2014

Probably the best music ever recorded by pianist Bill Evans, these live recordings put you there in a seat near the stage. Bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian gelled with Evans into one of the true super groups of the era. Now available on a 4-LP set, this music has never sounded better and this box is easily one of the most important reissues of 2014.

Gary McFarland
This Is Gary McFarland
Century 67 Films

The biggest surprise of the year was the long delayed availability of Kristian St. Clair's acclaimed documentary about Gary McFarland. Released in 2006 and shown almost exclusively at major jazz festivals, it has taken all this time for this brilliant film to gain a wider audience. As for McFarland, he was a gifted genius that should be better known and anyone interested in the pop and jazz period of the mid to late '60s should hear his music. Added to this release is a previously unreleased radio recording featuring McFarland and his group in Seattle back in 1965. Miss this major discovery at your own peril!

Roland Kirk
The Limelight/Verve Albums
(1964-1967) 2014

In a nutshell, the original albums featured here include the three Roland Kirk recorded for Mercury Record's Limelight subsidiary, namely I Talk With the Spirits, Rig, Rig & Panic, and Slightly Latin. The concluding set, Now Please Don't Cry, Beautiful Edith, was produced by Creed Taylor for Verve. Sadly to say, these albums are all but impossible to find on CD these days. The boxed set compiling all of Kirk's Mercury sides is out-of-print as well. The only title obtainable with a little effort is the Verve album, which can be found on a Japanese reissue. This information alone makes this boxed set a no-brainer purchase, in addition to the quality 180 gram pressings produced by QRP.

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