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We polled contributors Albert Brooks, J Hunter, Brian Patneaude, Tom Pierce, Randy Treece, Jeff Waggoner on their favorite jazz releases of 2006 ...

photography, concert reviews

1) STEFON HARRIS - African Tarantella (Dances with Duke) (Blue Note)
Stefon beautifully channels the spirit of Duke Ellington on this disc with selections from the Duke's "New Orleans Suite" and "The Gardner Meditations" and three of his own pieces, including the title track.  This exquisite music is played by Harris (vibes and marimba), Xavier Davis (piano), Derrick Hodge (bass), Terreon Gully (drums), Steve Turre (trombone), Anne Drummond (flute), Greg Tardy (clarinet), Junah Chung (viola) and Louise Dubin (cello), who joins Harris in a sensitively rendered "Single Petal of a Rose".
2) MICHELE ROSEWOMAN - The In Side Out (Advance Dance Disques)
Ms. Rosewoman steps back into the forefront where she belongs with this cd, showing off her awesome compositional and arranging chops, while adding to the rich layers of rhythmic and harmonic structures presented in each song through her work on piano, fender rhodes, midi keyboard and vocals.  Ms. Rosewoman's work is perfectly augmented and enlivened by the artistry of Mark Shim (tenor sax), Miguel Zenon (alto and soprano saxes), Brad Jones (bass), Derrek Phillips (drums), and special guests:  David Fiuczynski (guitar), Josh Roseman (trombone), Pedro Pablo Martinez (percussion) and Olu Femi Mitchell (vocals).

3) ERIC ALEXANDER - It's All in the Game (High Note)
Eric Alexander is showing more and more that he belongs in the upper echelon of tenor players, and "It's All in the Game" is a classic "tenor" cd - displaying Alexander's brawny tone to great effect on ballads and smokers alike.  Alexander's company on this cd includes the likes of Harold Mabern (piano), Nat Reeves (bass) and Joe Farnsworth (drums).  A particular delight is to be had in listening to his hard bop treatment of the standard, "Where or When".
4) DON BYRON - Do The Boomerang (The Music of Junior Walker) (Blue Note)
"I know you got soul!  Yes, you do now!" is a funky line from a very funky piece of music called "There It Is", a James Brown joint included on this set to exemply the Godfather of Soul's influence on Junior Walker - himself no funk slouch.  Byron gets to the source of the funky energy that Walker exerted in the 60's with his soulful sax and vocal stylings, and reinvigorates such Walker (and Motown) chestnuts as Shotgun, Pucker Up Buttercup, and What Does It Take (To Win Your Love For Me).  Walker's (and Brown's) vocals are soulfully delivered on the cd by Chris Thomas King and Dean Bowman.
5) DAVID "FATHEAD" NEWMAN - Cityscape (High Note)
One of the elder statesmen of jazz at this point, Newman gives notice that he's still the Man with the Midas Touch, displaying his burnished artistry on such classics as "Goldfinger", "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing", "Here Comes Sonny Man" and "It Was a Very Good Year".  Fathead is ably accompanied by David Leonhardt (piano), John Menegon (bass), Yoron Israel (drums), and special guests Howard Johnson (baritone sax, Benny Powell (trombone) and Winston Byrd (trumpet).

Honorable mention:
MULGREW MILLER - Live at the Kennedy Center (Maxjazz)
ERIC REED - Here (Maxjazz)
ANTHONY WONSEY - Blues for Hiroshi
CARMEN LUNDY - The New Jazz Standard
BILLY BANG - Vietnam Reflections

CD & concert reviews

1) BEN ALLISON - Cowboy Justice (Palmetto)
You'd think it would be hard to do protest music without lyrics, but Allison makes the grade with this venom-filled indictment of the Bush administration. Ron Horton's trumpet and Steve Cardenas' guitar growl and snarl like hungry beasts hunting for prey. Even a loping cover of the theme from Midnight Cowboy comes off like a smackdown! There's something happening here…

2) TRIO BEYOND - Saudades (ECM)
“But they don't play the music like Lifetime played it!” Oh, please! This two-disc live set is about the inspiration Tony Williams' seminal fusion trio engendered. Besides, you can't dismiss devastating performances by Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield and Larry Goldings. (DeJohnette organized the 2004 tribute to his friend and fellow Miles alum.) Don't turn away because it isn't Emergency! Join the celebration!

3) DAVE DOUGLAS - Meaning and Mystery (Greenleaf Music)
It just gets better and better. Compared to some of Douglas' earlier work, Meaning and Mystery is relatively sedate. But don't think jazz' biggest online entrepreneur is mellowing out. Douglas can still shake 'em up and blow 'em out, and his writing is some of the best in the genre. The textural elements just can't be beat here, thanks to nasty saxwork from Donny McCaslin and sweet Fender Rhodes from Uri Caine.

4) BILL FRISELL - Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian (Nonesuch)
After the meandering Intercontinentals and the sample-saturated Unspeakable, it's good to hear Frisell do an organic date. By not disappearing inside an effects machine, Frisell has made his best disc since The Willies. Motian does things with brushes Picasso never dreamed of, and Carter is still one of the sharpest cats in town, whether he's in the spotlight on “Eighty-One” or comping behind Frisell on “You Are My Sunshine.”

5) AMINA FIGAROVA - September Suite (Munich)
A disc I got early in the year that just stayed with me. Forget World Trade Center and United 93; a native of Azerbaijan had the best take on 9/11 and its aftermath. With a playing and composing style reminiscent of Herbie Hancock, Figarova conveys the horror and loss of that day - as well as New York City's resilience, and its dogged determination to go on - in a hypnotizing, multi-faceted opus.

Honorable mention:
DAVE HOLLAND QUINTET - Critical Mass (Dare2)
CHRISTIAN SCOTT - Rewind That (Concord)

Local hero (Tie):
KEITH PRAY - One Last Stop (PrayNation)
LEE RUSSO - Trading Off (LRS)
Okay, I'm an indecisive wuss. Sue me. What links Pray's outstanding live party date with Russo's exciting new take on West Coast jazz? Drummer Joe Barna, who ramrods both discs with a sense of rhythm and nuance that lifts both performances above the norm. Highlights: Pray invoking James Brown on “Roots”; Russo's smoking duets with father/alto saxman Leo Russo.


1) JOHN ELLIS - By A Thread (Hyena)
While I enjoyed his previous two records immensely, saxophonist John Ellis has crafted a masterpiece (at least to my ears) with By A Thread. The band--guitarist Mike Moreno, pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Terreon Gully--interprets nine original compositions that span a variety of styles. The playing on the record is superb, but I believe what really hooked me was Ellis' clever writing. The saxophonist includes enough hooks to leave melodies lingering in your memory with plenty of room for soloists to stretch out.

2) BOB REYNOLDS - Can't Wait For Perfect (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Saxophonist Bob Reynolds augmented pianist Aaron Goldberg's working trio (featuring bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland) with Mike Moreno's guitar and his own tenor for a program of listener-friendly, original compositions with enough rhythmic and harmonic sophistication to keep things interesting. The addition of David Soler's pedal steel guitar on a pair of tracks gives the music a unique flavor reminiscent of Brian Blade's Fellowship records.

3) DAVE HOLLAND QUINTET - Critical Mass (Dare2)
There's something to be said about hearing an entire album's worth of new material being road tested just before it gets recorded. About a year ago Dave Holland brought his quintet to Schenectady and provided those of us in attendance with such an opportunity. Not that they needed the public rehearsal mind you - the band absolutely killed the material on stage - and did so once again a few days later in the studio. Critical Mass is easily my favorite Dave Holland Quintet record yet. Is it the mix of clever compositions from all the band members? The top notch soloing from everyone involved? The dynamic interplay between the rhythm section and the soloists? It's probably all of this plus the eight months of waiting to hear these songs once again and recapture the magic of that night last December ...

4) E.S.T. - Tuesday Wonderland (ACT)
The Esbjorn Svensson Trio continues its streak of highly crafted individualistic albums with a collection of songs said to be based on J.S. Bach's "Well Tempered Clavier." I don't believe this one has been released stateside just yet but the title track alone, with it's shifting odd-meter grooves and memorable melodies, makes this record worth seeking out overseas.

5) CHRIS POTTER - Underground (Sunnyside)
I had been blown away by a bootleg video of this group that I acquired about a year before this record came out. I waited anxiously to hear the 'official' documentation of Potter's fusion quartet to see how it would measure up to that live performance I had listened to so many times. I'm happy to report that the studio record was just as good as the live performance. The quartet - comprised of tenor sax, guitar, fender rhodes & drums - stretches out on Potter's original material as well as tunes by Radiohead, The Beatles and Billy Strayhorn.

Honorable mention:
FRANK LOCRASTO - When You're There (Maxjazz)
BEN ALLISON - Cowboy Justice (Palmetto)
MARCUS STRICKLAND - Twi-Life (disc 2) (Strick Music)

CD & concert reviews

1) KARRIN ALLYSON - Footprints (Concord)
I was enchanted by the pleasing intimacy created by her soft, almost husky vocal quality and melodic phrasing; but there was so much more on this outstanding CD. First & foremost, the basic raw material is superb - absorbing compositions by masters like Dizzy, Coltrane, Cannonball, Wayne Shorter & others, many made even more expressive by delightfully appropriate lyrics by Chris Caswell. One must also salute Allyson's artistic vision in using the renowned Nancy King and Jon Hendricks in marvelous duets to add wonderful depth and variety. Last & certainly not least, enormous credit should be given to the very effective & swinging rhythm section led by Bruce Barth on piano that provided a buoyant lift to the vocals. All in all, I can't recall hearing a more imaginatively conceived and stunningly executed Jazz vocal album in quite some time.

2) NANCY KING (W/FRED HERSCH) - Live at the Jazz Standard (MAXJAZZ)
In an initial superficial listening, some might be a bit underwhelmed by this CD, which consists of just solo piano and voice on mostly ballads and a few medium tempo songs. However, close attention quickly reveals that a great deal is happening. This is not only with Ms King's fearless improvising and peerless, but very musical and humorous, scatting (in all tempos), and with Fred Hersch's uplifting voicings, but also the subtle interplay between them. I found the songs very accessible, no matter how adventuresome her phrasing became, as she never departed from the story's meaning and always stayed on pitch. Another aspect that helps explain the high regard so many singers have for her is the wonderfully loose, relaxed delivery, despite her clearly intense feelings.

3) ROBERTA GAMBARINI - Easy to Love (Kindred Rhythm)
Roberta Gambarini's first album on her own in this country immediately makes it clear why there has been so much buzz about her by legendary musicians, like Hank Jones, Benny Carter & James Moody, since she came into this country in 1999 and placed third in the Thelonious Monk competition behind the late great Teri Thornton and Joan Monheit. The first thing one hears, as is usually the case with superior vocalists, is the beautiful sound. Her range is the kind that singers would die for and her timbre is so rich that it's hard not to be drawn in from the start. But equally stunning is the elastic feel she has for rhythm that gives the listener the joyfully light & easy sensation of flying or sailing. Anyone who appreciates Ella and Carmen, her primary role models, is sure to hear some pleasing aspects here. And all of this comes with absolutely no trace of an accent.

4) ROSEANNA VITRO - Live at the Kennedy Center (Challenge Records) The first word that comes to mind with Roseanna Vitro is passion. This is the first of her ten CD's that's recorded live and does an excellent job showcasing that quality. However, the emotion is musically under control and a fine complement to her extraordinary voice, as it also was in the occasions I've seen her in clubs. She earnestly projects a strong personal belief in the message of these songs, with spirited support by Kenny Werner, piano, Dean Johnson, bass and Tim Horner, drums.

5) (Tie) BARBARA LEA - Black Butterfly (
This CD made me happy for, and envious of, my parents and others who regularly got to see top flight orchestras, with magnificent vocalists singing quality material. Barbara Lea's consummate knowledge of the Great American Songbook, gained in over fifty years in the business, and her long association with saxophonist Loren Schoenberg and his orchestra pay huge dividends in this very special project. The extraordinary, thought-provoking compositions here of masters like Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Alec Wilder, Harold Arlen and others are beautifully served by Ms Lea's poignant vocals, the orchestra's strong ensemble passages and solos, as well as the engaging arrangements.

5 ) (Tie) FREDDY COLE - Because of You…Freddy Cole Sings Tony Bennett (High Note)
It isn't often we hear a CD by a truly talented 75 year old artist paying wonderful tribute to an enormously gifted 80 year old singer, who also is still performing marvelously. Cole wisely chose to not to emulate in any way, Tony Bennett's very vigorous style. But his own warm, laid back, almost conversational phrasing is clearly well suited to these songs that Bennett has recorded, especially the seductive “What Are You Afraid Of?” a real crowd pleaser when he performs it in person.

Although the above list only includes vocalists, the area I tend to specialize in, I do not want to overlook the excellent instrumental CD's I also enjoyed, including:

REGINA CARTER - I'll be Seeing You: a Sentimental Journey (Verve)
WINARD HARPER - Make It Happen (Piadrum Records)
TAYLOR EIGISTI - Lucky to be Me (Concord)
STEFON HARRIS - African Tarentella: Dances With Duke (Blue Note)
PAUL BOLLENBACK - Brightness of Being (Elefant Dreams)

features, concert reviews

1) EDSEL GOMEZ - Cubist Music (Zoho)
Much like a cubist painter, pianist Edsel Gomez’s seven original compositions on this recording attack the musical canvas with geometric aural configurations that are smart, energetic, and colorful. This is a cerebral production complemented by ever shifting musical motifs and rhythms. Each composition poses a distinct, commanding theme which are elevated by a top-shelf, passionate and gifted group comprised of, among others, Don Byron, David Sanchez, Miguel Zenon, and Steve Wilson. The angular variations, the juxtapositions make this a thinking man’s recording.

2) KENNY GARRETT - Beyond the Wall (Nonesuch)
Inspired by his trip to China, Beyond the Wall is a perfect platform for saxophonist Garrett, who is following in the spiritual footsteps of Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, that advances the spiritual and cathartic elements of music and the musician. In fact to lend greater bona fide to this endeavor, Garrett has invited the metaphysical griot, Sanders himself, to emote divinely without smothering the texture of the production with his signature wild cacophonies. Sanders is rather contained and it is Garrett who unleashes his passion. Augmenting Garrett and Sanders is a celebrate crew of Mulgrew Miller, Brian Blade, Bobby Hutcherson, Robert Hurst, just to name a few, who grace this recording with eloquence. Garrett has brilliantly infused exotic oriental themes and tonalities, such as oriental chanting and the hauntingly beautiful sound of the two-stringed erhu, over the musical framework of sincerity and passion. This is an innovative and seductive recording that deserves an earnest and discerning ear.

3) RAY CHARLES & COUNT BASIE - Ray Sings, Basie Swings (Concord)
The wonders of technology have prevailed on Ray Sings, Basie Swings. Ray Charles and the Count never recorded together so this recording is a virtual, "what if." Sound engineers masterfully manipulated rarefied unrecorded tapes of Ray Charles at the zenith of his musical prowess with the incomparable stylistic sound of the Basie Orchestra to serve up an authentic slice of music that swings hard. The engineers stretched Charles’ lively vocal interplays to enrapture the already solidified, savory Basie big band template, and members of the current Basie Orchestra expanded whatever component they could to make this the genuine article, a rich and rare platter of musical magic. The recording has depth, resiliency, and genius. A superior endeavor

4) ORNETTE COLEMAN - Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
I am the first to admit, due to my limited musical intelligence quotient, that I tend to shy way from Ornette Coleman and his ilk because I do not want to be embarrassed by my ignorance, but, somehow, Sound Grammar, a live recording, has a peculiar lure that has ensnared me in his musical net. A predominate aspect of that allure is the fact that this octogenarian, at 75, is still creating robust and challenging music not contemplated by us mere mortals. This is not a recording replete with rampant atonality and free form but, much to the contrary, it is well structured, soulful, plaintive at times, but always original, fresh, and spontaneous. Overall, the music is neither combustible nor will it leave you dangling; it has a sovereign flair. The manifestations of the unique sound and texture derives from the inimitable ensemble of two bass players, his son on drums, and Coleman alternating between sax, trumpet, and violin. The fountain of youth - energy, creativity, vitality, versatility, and virtuosity - is grounded in the amazing soul of Coleman which makes Sound Grammar the musical elixir we all need to imbibe.

5) CHRISTIAN SCOTT - Rewind That (Concord)
Scott is the new kid on the block from New Orleans with fresh ideas and an infectious, independent modern sound. Scott is creating his own inimitable body of work and Rewind That is the embodiment of a fertile and creative mind. Rewind That is a musical cornucopia abundant with rousing tempos, imaginative compositions, and aesthetic electicism. Other layers of ambiance, originality, and contour are created by a wonderful crew of young, outstanding musicians. This recording will have you bobbing and weaving to the intoxicating grooves and your ears will be pricked to absorb the engrossing musical fluency. This CD is a precursor to much more to come.

Honorable mention:
MULGREW MILLER - Live at the Kennedy Center (Maxjazz)
BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET - Braggtown (Marsalis Music)
D.D. JACKSON - Serenity Song

features & concert reviews

1) MICROSCOPIC SEPTET - Seven Men in Neckties (Cuneiform)
Folks who took in the concerts at the North Pointe Cultural Center in Kinderhook might remember a visit by Joel Forrester, the pianist and composer.  Forester’s and saxophonist Phillip Johnson’s witty and bizarre compositions are showcased in this two CD set by the Microcsopic Septet, which played in the New York ‘downtown” scene in the 1980s.

2) JESSE ZUBOT - Dementia (Drip Audio)
The uncategorical Dementia is definitely not for everyone.  A solo album made up of improvisations on violin,  it’s curiously both “out there” and very listenable, making it a mesmerizing CD by this Vancouver, B.C., resident.

3) THOMAS CHAPIN TRIO - Ride (Playscape Recordings)
This 2006 issue is the first appearance of a 1995 recording by the late-great saxophonist and flute player, Thomas Chapin, who died in 1998 at age 40. Chapin’s brilliant, Rahsaan Roland Kirk + John Zorn style of improvisation, is beautifully displayed on this live recording with his trio that includes Mario Pavone on Bass and Michael Sarin on drums.

4) ROY NATHANSON - Sotto Voce (AUM Fidelity)
Another quirky and fun CD. This one is from “Jazz Passengers” co-founder Roy Nathanson.  Nathanson, it is said, is committed to bringing “lively humor and entertainment back into modern jazz.” If that is his goal, he is wildly successful with “Sotto Voce” in which the fabulous “human beatbox” Napoleon Maddox is put to brilliant use.  Don’t miss the classic “Sunny” on this CD.

5) DON BYRON - Do The Boomerang (The Music of Junior Walker) (Blue Note)
Full disclosure.  Byron is more or less a “local,” as he teaches at SUNY Albany.  But despite my “hometown boosterism” here, this CD is another in a long line of Byron’s incredibly entertaining “concept albums.”  In this case, he makes a tribute to the great R&B tenor sax player, Junior Walker.  While Walker’s music was raw, Byron’s is tight, making it a great contrast to the original.  Don’t miss Byron’s fat and lush tenor playing and the great vocalists he features.