Archive | April, 2009

Remembering Duke Ellington on his 110th Birthday with Clark Terry

29 Apr

dukeWhen your name is Duke Ellington, it doesn’t really matter what anniversary of your birth it might be, or how long you’ve been dead, there always seems to be a stream of celebrations and remembrances every April 29th. On this, the 110th anniversary of Duke Ellington, one of the greatest musicians and composers in history, I chose to remember Duke in a different way.

Ellington died five years before I was born, so for me to “remember” him might be a little out of place. Instead, I invite you to click the link below and listen to a portion of my 2007 interview with legendary trumpeter Clark Terry.

Terry spent years touring and recording with Duke, and in the audio Terry remembers Duke, talks about his attitude towards compositions that just didn’t quite work, and compares Ellington to Count Basie.

To hear this audio blog, click here. Enjoy!

John Coltrane and the Debate Over His Best

25 Apr

Every time I make the mistake of suggesting that one of John Coltrane’s albums is his best, no matter which album I choose, I am usually informed that I am crazy and I have no idea what I’m talking about. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve heard more debate over a particular artist or group and what their best album might be than Coltrane (with the exception perhaps being The Beatles).

If I suggest the best is Blue Train, I am told “no way, it is A Love Supreme“. If I spend the next two weeks listen to and analyzing A Love Supreme, and then concede that A Love Supreme is in fact the best, someone else tells me that the best is John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. You get the idea.

So which one is it? Rather than me offering my personal opinion on which album is Coltrane’s best, I will offer up a handful of albums by Coltrane, and ask you to decide with your responses and a poll. Which one do you think is Coltrane’s best?

Giant Steps

giant-steps1Highlighted by the title track and Naima, we get to hear Coltrane tear through this album with legendary improvisation. It is clear on this album the influence that working on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue had on him.

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

hartmanOne of two albums that Coltrane released following heavy early ’60’s criticism that Coltrane had gone off the jazz deep end. If there were still doubters that felt Coltrane couldn’t play music slowly and sweetly, this release should have done away with those doubts. Hartman’s voice is a wonderful pairing with Coltrane’s sax.

A Love Supreme

love-supremeThis album remains one of the best selling jazz albums of all time. It also remains Coltrane’s definitive spiritual release. It boasts one of the greatest rhythm sections of all time (McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones) playing at their finest.

Ballads

balladsThis was Coltrane’s first response to critics who said he couldn’t play, or had abandonded the slow, sweet stuff. Not only did he prove that he could, but he rose to be considered one of the best player of ballads in jazz history.

Blue Train

blue-trainWhile I might have said that  I wasn’t going to offer my opinion, I must say that Blue Train over the course of time has regularly risen to the top of my list. Maybe not as flashy as some of his other albums, but this one really connects with me, and as far as I am concerned, is the best Blue Note release ever (read up on my Top 10 Blue Note recordings here).

My Favorite Things

favorite-thingsMy Favorite Things strikes me as Giant Steps on steroids…and with a soprano sax. The songs and solos are longer and more complex, offering a wonderful intensity.

Let us know which album you think is best with your comments, and take our poll below.

Album Review: "Love Stories" by Russell Gunn

18 Apr

love-stories1In the first of what hopefully is many Groove Notes “audio blogs” KPLU jazz host Robin LLoyd was asked “Who in jazz is doing it right these days?” Her response was trumpeter Russell Gunn (hear the whole audio blog at here).

This was certainly an answer I found easy to agree with, since I still consider myself a young trumpet player (even though it has been a while since I’ve picked up the horn, and I seem to be getting less young every day).

I’ve always found the recordings of Russell Gunn inventive, and his covers of older recordings are always very distinctly “Russell Gunn-ish”.

Love Stories, released in September of 2008, is far from the exception. In fact, it may become the prime example of how inventive and creative Gunn really is.

I should start by saying that Gunn refers to Love Stories as a hip-hop record. If that frightens you, don’t let it. I for one typically dislike what often seems a forced combination of modern beats mixed with jazz, especially if the goal of the record is simply to try and modernize jazz. Gunn doesn’t appear to be out on a mission to create a modern revolution, but instead to create sounds and songs that are enjoyable and follow a theme that doesn’t age: love.

The whole album follows the theme of love, as the title might suggest, touching that theme in a variety of ways. This is highlighted right off the bat with a tune called Love Requiem, a tune from one of Gunn’s previous releases, although it has been completely transformed. This transformation no doubt follows the transformation of the marriage Gunn was in, and as Gunn puts it “started my whole love-hate relationship with love in the first place”.

Gunn also touches on the kind of “love” found by some with a “weaker mind” by arranging a version of rapper T-Pain’s song I’m In Love with a Stripper.

The highlight of the album to me is a song called B***h, You Don’t Love Me. The changes are based on the changes to St. James Infirmary, and offers wonderful trumpet, sax, and piano solos on top of a beat that even the purest jazz fans might enjoy…might.

Sax men Brian Hogans (who Gunn suggests will be a top ten player), and Kirk Whalum offer two different attitudes, but both bring the type of energy and soloing that Russell Gunn would demand on an album of this nature.

While the debate over whether or not hip-hop and jazz might continue, please don’t let the thought of that mix, or the titles of the songs, scare you away from checking out this album. In fact, I would go so far to say that this album is the prototype of how the blend of pre-programmed sounds and sampling and acoustic sounds should be mixed.

Love Stories – Released September 9, 2008 on High Note Records

Russell Gunn – Trumpet, Keyboards, Drum Programming

Kirk Whalum – Tenor Saxophone

Mike Scott – Guitar

Montez Coleman – Drums

Orrin Evans – Piano, Keyboards

Carlos Henderson – Bass Guitar

Heidi Martin – Vocals

Brian Hogans – Alto Saxophone

Khalil Kwame Bell – Percussion

Groove Notes Album Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Album Review: “Love Stories” by Russell Gunn

18 Apr

love-stories1In the first of what hopefully is many Groove Notes “audio blogs” KPLU jazz host Robin LLoyd was asked “Who in jazz is doing it right these days?” Her response was trumpeter Russell Gunn (hear the whole audio blog at here).

This was certainly an answer I found easy to agree with, since I still consider myself a young trumpet player (even though it has been a while since I’ve picked up the horn, and I seem to be getting less young every day).

I’ve always found the recordings of Russell Gunn inventive, and his covers of older recordings are always very distinctly “Russell Gunn-ish”.

Love Stories, released in September of 2008, is far from the exception. In fact, it may become the prime example of how inventive and creative Gunn really is.

I should start by saying that Gunn refers to Love Stories as a hip-hop record. If that frightens you, don’t let it. I for one typically dislike what often seems a forced combination of modern beats mixed with jazz, especially if the goal of the record is simply to try and modernize jazz. Gunn doesn’t appear to be out on a mission to create a modern revolution, but instead to create sounds and songs that are enjoyable and follow a theme that doesn’t age: love.

The whole album follows the theme of love, as the title might suggest, touching that theme in a variety of ways. This is highlighted right off the bat with a tune called Love Requiem, a tune from one of Gunn’s previous releases, although it has been completely transformed. This transformation no doubt follows the transformation of the marriage Gunn was in, and as Gunn puts it “started my whole love-hate relationship with love in the first place”.

Gunn also touches on the kind of “love” found by some with a “weaker mind” by arranging a version of rapper T-Pain’s song I’m In Love with a Stripper.

The highlight of the album to me is a song called B***h, You Don’t Love Me. The changes are based on the changes to St. James Infirmary, and offers wonderful trumpet, sax, and piano solos on top of a beat that even the purest jazz fans might enjoy…might.

Sax men Brian Hogans (who Gunn suggests will be a top ten player), and Kirk Whalum offer two different attitudes, but both bring the type of energy and soloing that Russell Gunn would demand on an album of this nature.

While the debate over whether or not hip-hop and jazz might continue, please don’t let the thought of that mix, or the titles of the songs, scare you away from checking out this album. In fact, I would go so far to say that this album is the prototype of how the blend of pre-programmed sounds and sampling and acoustic sounds should be mixed.

Love Stories – Released September 9, 2008 on High Note Records

Russell Gunn – Trumpet, Keyboards, Drum Programming

Kirk Whalum – Tenor Saxophone

Mike Scott – Guitar

Montez Coleman – Drums

Orrin Evans – Piano, Keyboards

Carlos Henderson – Bass Guitar

Heidi Martin – Vocals

Brian Hogans – Alto Saxophone

Khalil Kwame Bell – Percussion

Groove Notes Album Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Concert Review: Joshua Redman at Jazz Alley 4/9/09

11 Apr

redmanI often make mention that I find tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman the coolest man holding a saxophone these days. Each time our paths cross, I am not only reminded why, but his “coolness” factor only seems to grow exponentially.

Redman was in the same setting as the last time I saw him…just him, bass, and drums. Gregory Hutchinson joined him this time on drums, while Matt Penman played bass.

The band crept on stage behind me while I introduced them, and then Joshua Redman pretended to count off the first tune while I was still talking. I looked over at him, as he smiled wryly as if to suggest humor, but also  quite possibly a reminder that perhaps the audience was there to listen to him play, not to hear me talk. Mixing that thought with my my lack of comfort with standing in front of large crowds, I shortened my introduction and let the audience hear what they payed for.

There is not much debate going into a Joshua Redman concert that it is going to be good. But what surprised me, to a degree, was how artistic not only his playing was, but his new compositions as well.

Redman’s new album is titled Compass, which is worthy of a wonderful review on its own, and many of the songs performed that night were off the new release.

This is not to say that Joshua was not previously artistic, because he was, both live and on recordings. However his performance this time around just seemed to have an additional level of artistry and emotion that I had not previously heard from Redman. Three tunes in particular (Identity Thief, Ghost, and Insomnomaniac) were highlights of this artistry. The trio was in perfect sync, and drummer Hutchinson put it best as he addressed the crowd at the end of a drum solo by saying: “This isn’t exactly what you thought you would hear when you showed up tonight, is it?”

It was, and it wasn’t, but it was all good. It is always wonderful to see one of your favorite artists playing well, but even more exciting to see that they haven’t come close to hitting their ceiling.

Between shows I stuck my head in the dressing room, unsure if I would be bothering the Harvard graduate by saying hello, or if he would even remember me from the other times we had met outside of tonight. He did, asked how I was doing, what I was up to these days, and told me to say hello to my Program Director, who he mentioned by name. That, combined with his performance, completely added to his cool factor. Frankly I hate the word “cool”, but it most certainly should be used to describe someone who defines it.

My Top Ten Jazz Albums That You Probably Don't Own

8 Apr

I recently found myself doing some cleaning of my album collection. More than cleaning, it is a chance for me to revisit some albums that have, through no fault of their own, been sitting on the shelf too long.

I came to realize that I am fortunate to have the opportunity to be a jazz radio disc jockey, as well as someone who can spend hours in jazz record stores. With the decline in jazz record sales, and the bulk of jazz album sales going to big name vocalists or timeless classic recordings like Kind of Blue, it hit me that just because I have exposure to some wonderful gems of the last thirty years, doesn’t mean that everybody has.

That being said, I decided that I wanted to share my favorite albums from the last thirty or so years that, for one reason or another, might not be sitting on your shelf. And, as always, I encourage you offer your hidden gems.

1. Pilgrimage – Michael Brecker (2007)

pilgrimageEven without the sentimental value of this album (Brecker recorded it while battling MDS and Leukemia, and never did live to release it), it is the best jazz album over the last twenty years. The writing and improvisation from Brecker is stellar, and each member of the band play to their full potential. Winner of two Grammy awards.

Recommended tracks: Tumbleweed, Anagram

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 3

2. Trumpet Evolution – Arturo Sandoval (2003)

trumpet-evolutionMany critics called this the best trumpet album of the last twenty years. Sandoval’s ability to capture the sound and emotion of each trumpet player he honors (19 in all) is something I don’t believe any other musician has the ability or talent to do.

Recommended Tracks: I Can’t Get Started, Up Jumped Spring

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 6

3. Beyond The Missouri Sky – Charlie Haden/Pat Metheny (1996)

beyond-the-missouri-skyTo be honest, I am not a huge Pat Metheny fan. On this album however, you are hard pressed to find a track that isn’t increadibly beautiful. The two musicians are in perfect sync, and you could have this release playing in your CD player over and over for days and continually enjoy it. A Grammy award winner.

Recommended Tracks: Two For the Road, The Moon Song, Cinema Paradiso (Love Theme)

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 1

4. The Birthday Concert – Jaco Pastorious (1981)

the-birthday-concertJaco Pastorious decided to throw himself a 30th birthday party in the form of a concert, and what a party it was. Jaco shows why he is the best electric bass player ever, and his supporting cast (Bob Mintzer, Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine, Don Alias, and the Peter Graves Orchestra.

Recommended Tracks: Soul Intro/The Chicken, Invitation

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 7

5. Flow – Terence Blanchard (2005)

flowAfter going through an embochure change (which just sounds painful to brass players), Blanchard came back strong with this release. Working with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Aaron Parks, this album features wonderful arrangements and performances with alot of intensity.

Recommended Tracks: Over There

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 10

6. An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea – Herbie Hancock/Chick Corea (1978)

an-evening-with-herbie-hancock-and-chick-coreaHerbie and Chick had both gone pretty electric during the late 70’s, so to have them come together and do a live acoustic set was somewhat of a shock. They play extremely well together, and this concert is a wonderful result of that.

Recommended Tracks: Liza

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 8

7. Contemporary Jazz – Branford Marsalis (2000)

contemporary-jazzBranford displays a wonderfully artistic side on the first album with this quartet, which as of today has spent ten years together. While many of the compositions are complex, no member of the band struggles with them. On the contrary, each band member shines as part of a quartet that would continue to make fantastic music together. A Grammy award winner.

Recommended Tracks: In The Crease

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 12

8. Democracy – Kenny Werner (2006)

democracyI know Kenny Werner is talented. But until this live recording, he had yet to truly move me. David Sanchez and Brian Blade are especially good on this album, and all of Werner’s compositions are especially good.

Recommended Tracks: One For Joni

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: N/A


9. Lucky To Be Me – Taylor Eigsti (2006)

lucky-to-be-meJust 21 at the time of the recording, Eigsti proved that he is the future of jazz piano (in addition to virtuoso Eldar). The performances show maturity, energy, and complexity. Even more impressive is 17 year old guitarist Julian Lage.

Recommended Tracks: Giant Steps, Woke Up This Morning, Love For Sale

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 15

10. Earfood – Roy Hargrove (2008)

earfoodIt is wonderful when a musician can continue to put out music that demonstrates that they have yet to peak. Roy Hargrove continues to get better and better with every album, and this no doubt is his best. While Earfood was snubbed when it came to Grammy nominations, it is widely agreed upon that it was easily the best jazz album released in 2008.

Recommended Tracks: I’m Not So Sure, Speak Low, Bring It On Home To Me

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 7

My Top Ten Jazz Albums That You Probably Don’t Own

8 Apr

I recently found myself doing some cleaning of my album collection. More than cleaning, it is a chance for me to revisit some albums that have, through no fault of their own, been sitting on the shelf too long.

I came to realize that I am fortunate to have the opportunity to be a jazz radio disc jockey, as well as someone who can spend hours in jazz record stores. With the decline in jazz record sales, and the bulk of jazz album sales going to big name vocalists or timeless classic recordings like Kind of Blue, it hit me that just because I have exposure to some wonderful gems of the last thirty years, doesn’t mean that everybody has.

That being said, I decided that I wanted to share my favorite albums from the last thirty or so years that, for one reason or another, might not be sitting on your shelf. And, as always, I encourage you offer your hidden gems.

1. Pilgrimage – Michael Brecker (2007)

pilgrimageEven without the sentimental value of this album (Brecker recorded it while battling MDS and Leukemia, and never did live to release it), it is the best jazz album over the last twenty years. The writing and improvisation from Brecker is stellar, and each member of the band play to their full potential. Winner of two Grammy awards.

Recommended tracks: Tumbleweed, Anagram

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 3

2. Trumpet Evolution – Arturo Sandoval (2003)

trumpet-evolutionMany critics called this the best trumpet album of the last twenty years. Sandoval’s ability to capture the sound and emotion of each trumpet player he honors (19 in all) is something I don’t believe any other musician has the ability or talent to do.

Recommended Tracks: I Can’t Get Started, Up Jumped Spring

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 6

3. Beyond The Missouri Sky – Charlie Haden/Pat Metheny (1996)

beyond-the-missouri-skyTo be honest, I am not a huge Pat Metheny fan. On this album however, you are hard pressed to find a track that isn’t increadibly beautiful. The two musicians are in perfect sync, and you could have this release playing in your CD player over and over for days and continually enjoy it. A Grammy award winner.

Recommended Tracks: Two For the Road, The Moon Song, Cinema Paradiso (Love Theme)

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 1

4. The Birthday Concert – Jaco Pastorious (1981)

the-birthday-concertJaco Pastorious decided to throw himself a 30th birthday party in the form of a concert, and what a party it was. Jaco shows why he is the best electric bass player ever, and his supporting cast (Bob Mintzer, Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine, Don Alias, and the Peter Graves Orchestra.

Recommended Tracks: Soul Intro/The Chicken, Invitation

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 7

5. Flow – Terence Blanchard (2005)

flowAfter going through an embochure change (which just sounds painful to brass players), Blanchard came back strong with this release. Working with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Aaron Parks, this album features wonderful arrangements and performances with alot of intensity.

Recommended Tracks: Over There

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 10

6. An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea – Herbie Hancock/Chick Corea (1978)

an-evening-with-herbie-hancock-and-chick-coreaHerbie and Chick had both gone pretty electric during the late 70’s, so to have them come together and do a live acoustic set was somewhat of a shock. They play extremely well together, and this concert is a wonderful result of that.

Recommended Tracks: Liza

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 8

7. Contemporary Jazz – Branford Marsalis (2000)

contemporary-jazzBranford displays a wonderfully artistic side on the first album with this quartet, which as of today has spent ten years together. While many of the compositions are complex, no member of the band struggles with them. On the contrary, each band member shines as part of a quartet that would continue to make fantastic music together. A Grammy award winner.

Recommended Tracks: In The Crease

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 12

8. Democracy – Kenny Werner (2006)

democracyI know Kenny Werner is talented. But until this live recording, he had yet to truly move me. David Sanchez and Brian Blade are especially good on this album, and all of Werner’s compositions are especially good.

Recommended Tracks: One For Joni

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: N/A


9. Lucky To Be Me – Taylor Eigsti (2006)

lucky-to-be-meJust 21 at the time of the recording, Eigsti proved that he is the future of jazz piano (in addition to virtuoso Eldar). The performances show maturity, energy, and complexity. Even more impressive is 17 year old guitarist Julian Lage.

Recommended Tracks: Giant Steps, Woke Up This Morning, Love For Sale

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 15

10. Earfood – Roy Hargrove (2008)

earfoodIt is wonderful when a musician can continue to put out music that demonstrates that they have yet to peak. Roy Hargrove continues to get better and better with every album, and this no doubt is his best. While Earfood was snubbed when it came to Grammy nominations, it is widely agreed upon that it was easily the best jazz album released in 2008.

Recommended Tracks: I’m Not So Sure, Speak Low, Bring It On Home To Me

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 7

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