Chris May's Best Releases of 2012
In 1959, when Whitney Balliett, the New Yorker's jazz critic, published a collection of his columns, he titled the book The Sound of Surprise. The promise of the unexpected, wrote Balliett, was jazz's most precious quality. In a year which went on to include the release of trumpeter Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia), saxophonist John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Atlantic), pianist Dave Brubeck's Time Out (Columbia)...continue.
It is tempting to say that, at age 82, Ahmad Jamal carries on getting better and better, but that would be to miss the point. The pianist long ago reached a level of perfection from which it is simply not possible to get better. It is a level, however, to which he habitually returns. In 2010, Jamal released one of the most sublime albums in his long and splendid career, the quartet set A Quiet Time (Dreyfus Records). Two years later, he has...continue.
Holy soul food, Batman! It feels good to listen to a musician who plays from the heart rather than the brain. Not that British pianist Zoe Rahman is deficient in the grey stuff or technique. She studied music at Oxford University, the Royal Academy of Music and Berklee; once, twice, three times an alumnus. But when Rahman is seated at the keyboard, and her band kicks in, it is her exuberant spirit that she channels, not her learning. That, anyway, is how it...continue.
Oriole's third album of sonorous South American and Iberian-flavored jazz has been some time coming. The London group, led by guitarist and composer Jonny Phillips, debuted with Song For The Sleeping in 2005 and followed up a year later with Migration (both F-IRE). There has been a six year gap before Every New Day, recorded in 2011 and originally planned for release the same year under a different title ("Mementos")...continue.
Over the decades since Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young were making their reputations, forging in their wake two very different paradigms for the tenor saxophone, the instrument's players have acquired something of the aura of the gunslingers of the American Frontier. Other instruments lend themselves to compare-and-contrast, too, but there is something uniquely high noon about the tenor and its place in...continue.
When a renegade instrumentalist such as keyboardist/sonic adventurer Marco Benevento records an album with a relatively big budget, and with the shock-horror addition of a vocalist, it can be bad news for the core audience. Bye bye bohemia, hello mainstream. TigerFace was tracked, not at Benevento's usual Brooklyn location, but at Los Angeles' EastWest studio, where the Beach Boys recorded its 1966 sonic masterpiece Pet Sounds, a...continue.
The Leopard Lounge Box Set
If you enjoy the TV series Mad Men, you are going to love The Leopard Lounge Box Set. Probably. You need to know what you are getting into. Should you be offended by the thought of guitarist Barney Kessel hanging on to a tremolo arm and twanging out George Gershwin's "Summertime," or cornetist Nat Adderley fronting a cheesy, Vegas-style big band arrangement of Tony Hatch's "Call Me," then The Leopard Lounge is not ...continue.
Alex Hutton Trio
There has been a flurry of activity around screen composers this spring 2012, all of it good. Warner Jazz has released an anthology of movie theme music written by Nino Rota, Collector Nino Rota; British pianist John Taylor is poised to release a tribute to the film and TV composer Carlo Rustichelli, Giulia's Thursdays (Cam Jazz); University of Illinois Press has published John Caps' Henry Mancini: Reinventing Film Music...continue.
Nó Na Orelha
There may be an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, but there's not an awful lot of Afrobeat. So here's some qualitative easing: the opening track on singer/rapper Criolo's Nó Na Orelha ("knot in the ear"). "Bogotá" has the rhythms, a turbulent horn arrangement, chopping rhythm guitar, booting tenor saxophone, politically-engaged lyrics and a rebel vibe. It is the real thing with a Brazilian twist....continue.
Anyone unfamiliar with Paris-based composer/producer Meeco and his gorgeous, sophisticated jazz can get approximate bearings from two other artists. One is Antônio Carlos Jobim, partly for the influence of bossa nova on Meeco's writing, partly for the heart-on-sleeve romanticism his songwriting shares with Jobim. The second is Astrud Gilberto, who is suggested by the Brazilian vocalist Eloisia, Meeco's regular collaborator...continue.