Tuesday, December 26, 2023




This was another year when historical gems from the world of jazz were discovered, thoughtfully curated, and sonically improved where possible before being released to a dedicated and anxious audience of fans. The producers of many of these important releases dedicate time, effort, and expertise to make these often-overlooked recordings into wonderful keepsakes. They assemble rewarding windows into the lives and music of some of the art's most revered jazz artists as they went about their workmanlike business of creating and performing music often in live performances. These releases were, at times, recorded without the knowledge of the performers for personal use by fans for posterity, or maybe for reasons that deemed them unworthy of being commercially released. They capture the artists and their bands in an unlacquered, unrehearsed, at times rough but often brilliant process of spontaneous creation. The releases can be released in both vinyl and CD/digital formats and the packaging can be miniature pieces of art that include beautiful booklets that accompany the music. They have detailed track listings and compositional notes, rare photographs of the artists, authoritative recollections from writers and interviews of musicians of note, essays from producers, band members, and associated jazz aficionados that can put the recording into a historical perspective with inside knowledge. A veritable treasure chest of jazz information for the fan.

I have received several releases from this year that are worth notice. Here are a few of my favorite releases that I can recommend.

Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah: Released September 15, 2023, by Luaka Boo Records. This is a new boxed set of a remastered version of the original recording of the same name from 1977 including two never-before-released performances of his "Harvest Time." Made with Sander's permission.

For those who have always been influenced by Pharoah's playing and his connection to the spiritual, this recording is a window into some of his most inspired work from that time.  You can really let the vibe of his music take you to a special place.

Pharoah Sanders, Tenor Saxophone, Percussion and Vocals; Bedria Sanders, Harmonium; Steve Neil, Bass; Tisziji Munoz, Guitar; Greg Bandy, Drums: Clifton "Jiggs" Chase, Keyboards; Lawrence Killian, Percussion. 

John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy: Evenings at the Village Gate: Impulse Records released July 2023. 

These are various cuts from Coltrane's quintet with Eric Dolphy and their live performances recorded at New York City's Village Gate during the group's stay at the club in August of 1961. In the spring of that year, Trane had released his popular "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music, but by summertime, he had signed with Impulse, a new record label, and he was already less moved to follow the path of commercial success. His alignment with Dolphy was a short-lived one, but you can hear that these two were heading in similarly expansive directions. It's an important link in the chain of Trane's musical evolution that should not be missed and there are rare photos and some illuminating comments from saxophonist Branford Marsalis and jazz journalist Ashley Kahn. The sound quality is not as bright or definitive as we would like- it was recorded with a single ribbon microphone that was hung over the band as a test for the club's recently updated sound system- but it's hard to fault any chance we get to hear these guys in their prime exploring to create new directions.

John Coltrane, soprano and tenor saxophones; Eric Dolphy, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and flute: Art Davis, double bass; McCoy Tyner, piano; Reggie Workman, double bass; Elvin Jones, drums. 

Bill Evans: Treasures: Solo, Trio & Orchestra Recordings from Denmark (1965-1969): Elemental Music, released 

Treasure is an appropriate name for this gem of a compilation from Bill Evans in his solo, trio, and orchestra format. It shows the different ways Evans adapts his playing to match the diverse settings and changing bandmates. Besides offering several beautiful solo performances, it's just a treat to hear Evans and his liberating approach as he plays with three distinct trios; one with European master Neils-Henning Orstead Pedersen on bass and the drummaster Alan Dawson; one with Pedersen and Danish drummer Alex Reil; and one with his long-time bassist compatriot Eddie Gomez and sometime trio drummer Marty Morell. The two CD box set includes thirty-eight selections, some multiple takes on his well-explored standards like Waltz for Debbie and Time Remembered. Evan's work in front of the Royal Danish Orchestra features some empathetic arranging and conducting by the Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg. This must-have set is produced by Zev Feldman who continues to surprise and delight with his informative well-written notes and the high quality and diversity of his releases.

Bill Evans Trio:  CD1,  1-3 Evans, piano; Neils-Henning Orsted Pedersen, bass; Alan Dawson Drums:

Bill Evans Trio:  CD1,  4-8 Evans, piano;Neils-Henning Orsted Pedersen, bass; Alex Reil, Drums; 

Bill Evans Trio: CD 1, 9-14  Evans, Piano: Eddie Gomez, bass: Marty Morell drums with the Royal Danish Symphony Orchestra & The Danish Radio Big Band w/ Palle Mikkelborg Trumpet/arranger/Conductor

Bill Evans Solo and Trio :  CD 2, 1-16

Wes Montgomery/Wynton Kelly Trio: Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings: Resonance Records, released November 2023

The gentlemen at Resonance have once again unearthed and released a 2 CD  jewel of a record. Guitarist wizard Wes Montgomery performed at the New York City jazz club the Half Note in 1965 with the Wynton Kelly Trio. The trio included Kelly on piano, Jimmy Cobb on drums, and a rotating bass chair that featured Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Larry Ridley, and Herman Wright on various nights on bass. At the time, the music was broadcast over the radio by host Alan Grant on his "Portraits in Jazz" series. The originally released album Smokin' at the Half Note is an iconic Montgomery album that features the trio on a night with Chambers on bass and was released in 1965. It was recorded live at the club in June of 1965, but Verve producer Creed Taylor re-recorded the takes of three of the songs ("Unit 7", Four on Six" and "What's New") for the album again in September at Rudy Van Gelder's Studio in NJ.  This album features seventeen songs all recorded live at the Half Note and with the four different bassists. Because it has been restored and preserved from the original dates this release is a more detailed chance to hear Wes and the trio perform in all their glory. Great interviews with Bassist Ron Carter, guitarist Bill Frisell, and Mike Stern, and bassist Marcus Miller just add to the experience. The Producers George Klabin, Zev Feldman, and Richard Seidel should all be commended for such a memorable put-together snapshot of jazz guitar history. 

Amhad Jamal: Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968 The third in a series of brilliant releases from the pianist Amhad Jamal and his varying trios are titled Emerald City Nights and are curated by the seemingly never-sleeping producer Zev Feldman.  The series covers live performances recorded at Charlie Puzzo's Seattle Jazz Club The Penthouse from 1963 through 1968 and to say that these recently released gems are priceless is an understatement. It's nice to know that Producer Zev Feldman got the now-passed pianist -the master musician left us on April 16, 2023, at the age of ninety-to give him his blessing to release these recordings from the Penthouse's archives. The album includes Jamal on piano, bassist Jamil Nasser, and drummer Frank Gant.  The two previous releases found Jamal with additional players like Richard Evans on bass and drummers Chuck Lampkin and Vernal Fournier on drums on various cuts. When you listen to the three 2 CD albums in succession you are treated to a time capsule glimpse into a period from Jamal's working development. I'm especially pleased that each album stands by itself with no song being repeated between the six-disc set of selections! On the latest release you get to hear Jamal's mind working through his own interpretations of such classics as Earl Garner's "Misty," Jobim's Corcovado" Mande;'s "Emily" and Henry Mancini's "Mr. Lucky." It's like having your own Jamal piano trio in your living room.

Some other worthy historically rewarding releases this past year include:

Steve Davis Meets Hank Jones Vol 1 on Smoke Records Recorded 2008. It may be the last recording made with the great pianist and includes Steve Davis' soulful trombone and sympathetic bass work by Peter Washington. 

Kenny Wheeler: Gnu High from 1975 is a reissue on ECM Records of the original recording. This three-song album, although the 21-minute "Heyoke"  feels more like multiple explorations in one, includes the enigmatic Canadian trumpeter and a stellar supporting group that includes Keith Jarrett on piano, Dave Holland on bass, and Jack De Johnette on drums. Jarrett is expansive and Wheeler a tonal delight.

Dave Brubeck Quartet Live from the Northwest 1959: Brubeck Editions:
This live recording finds the iconic group in their prime at Multnomah Jazz Club and Clark College, both in the Portland, Oregon area. The personnel includes leader Dave Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond as his alto saxophone foil, a particularly lively Eugene Wright on bass, and the inimitable Joe Morello on drums. The group is a joy to hear as they are one of the earliest jazz groups to have approached the then poorly serviced college audience where they toured extensively and became country-wide popular.

Chet Baker: Blue Room: The 1979 Vara Studio Sessions in Holland: Jazz Detective Records. Recorded on two dates for the KRO radio jazz program Nine O'Clock Jazz in the Netherlands. The 2-CD set predominantly features a whispery Baker on horn and voice along with pianist Phil Markowitz, Jean-Louis Rassinfosse on bass, and Charles Rice on drums. There are also a few songs where Baker is accompanied by Fran Elsen on piano, Victor Kaihatu on bass, and Eric Ineke on drums. Relaxed session that adds a little more depth to Baker's discography from his European days.

Thursday, December 7, 2023




Wow, another year has passed again! Time flies, but for those of us who listen to hundreds of offerings in a year, it is the time to look back, reevaluate, and identify those recordings that we feel should be recognized as being among the best of this past year. In my case, that is predominantly in jazz music and its myriad of styles. The music can be cross-genre, world or ethnically-influenced, chamber-type jazz, Latin-infused, modern, traditional, big band, straight ahead, post-bop, blues-oriented, ambient, progressive, or just originally out there in a new exploratory mode. It should never be boring, predictable, or performed without consummate ability and determined effort. Have no doubt that those who have rung the "jazz is dead" bell are not keeping up with the incredible advances and astounding creativity that can be found in today's jazz and beyond music. This music should inspire listeners to enjoy sitting back and exploring the artistry through multiple listens even in these hyperactive times. Music can evoke excitement, inspiration, and kinetic movement. It can get the blood pumping, pull at the heartstrings, and at times provide the listener with an unexplainable magical connection with the musicians. 

My hope is that this thoughtful compilation can open up the reader/listener to some of these new and exciting artists and their music, and inspire them to offer their support to these musicians by purchasing their recordings.

This is a purely subjective compilation of favorites and certainly, these selections are somewhat limited to the new and reissued music that I had the privilege of being exposed to over the past year as a reviewer. I don't believe in rating music in some kind of ascending or descending order of hierarchy. The music is just so diverse. The artistic approaches used are so unique, even in a particular genre, that any attempt to choose the "best," in my opinion, is an exercise in futility. My list for 2023 is, therefore, in no particular order of excellence. There was a great deal of listening and an enormous amount of effort putting this together, and it was a lot of fun. I hope you all find this music inspiring, creative, and as enjoyable and expansive as I do. I will list my favorite Historical Reissues of importance in a subsequent post. Have a great holiday and enjoy this splendid year in creative music.

Billy Childs: The Winds of Change: Mack Avenue Records

Splendid piano trio/quartet work inspired by film noir and growing up as a youth in LA. 

Billy Childs (p), Scott Coley(b), Brian Blade (drms) guest Ambrose Akinmusire (trmpt)

Nick Finzer: Dreams, Visions, Illusions: Outside in Music

Inventive ensemble music led by Finzer's ideas and trombone.

w/Nick Finzer (trmb), Lucas Pino (t sax, bass clarinet). Alex Wintz (g)
Glenn Zaleski (p), Dave Baron (b), Jimmy MacBride (drms) 

Kenny Barron: The Source: Artwork Records  

Superb mastery in the solo piano format.

Kenny Barron, solo piano

Tyshawn Sorey Trio: Continuing: PI Records

The drummer slows the music down to great effect.

Tyshawn Sorey (drms), Aaron Diehl (p) Matt Brewer (b)

Rudy Royston & Flatbed Buggy: Day  Greenleaf Music

Americana music at its best.

Rudy Royston (drms), John Ellis (bass clarinet), Hank Roberts(cello),
Gary Versace (accord), Joe Martin (b)

John Scofield: Uncle John's Band: ECM Records

Guitar master and his trio reinterpret some new classics.

John Scofield (g), Vincente Archer (b) Bill Stewart (drms)

Chris Potter: Got The Keys to the Kingdom: Live at the Village Vanguard: Edition Records

Incendiary saxophone and his group light up the stage at the classic venue.

Chris Potter (ts),  Craig Taborn (p), Scott Colley (b), Marcus Gillmore (drms) 

Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loueke: Lean In : Editon Records

Enchanting vocals backed by world sounds and infective rhythms.

Gretchen Parlatp (voice/perc), Lionel Loueke (guitar/perc), Mark Giuliana (drms),
Burniss Travis (elec bass), Marley Guiliana (Voice 3,6 & 12), Lisa Loueke (voice 3)

Steve Lehman & Orchestra National De Jazz: Ex Machina: PI records

Avant-garde orchestration of impressionist music with electronics.

Steve Lehman (alto sax/composition/electronics), guest artists Jonathan Finlayson (trpt), Chris Dingman (vibes), the Orchestra National De Jazz under the direction of Fredric Maurin (composition).

Ralph Towner: At First Light: ECM Records

Superlative solo guitar exploring some old favorites and some originals.

Ralph Towner solo ( classic and acoustic guitar) 

Sullivan Fortner: Solo Game: Artwork records

One of the most talented young pianists performs a solo album of great sensitivity and invention.

Sullivan Fortner (solo piano) 

Brad Turner Quintet: The Magnificent: Cellar Music group

A top-notch outing by this Canadian trumpet player and his talented group that includes an homage to flugelhornist Thad Jones.

Brad Turner (trmpt/piano), Cory Weeds (ts), Peter Bernstein (g), Neil Swainton (b), Quincy Davis (drms)

Denny Zeitlin: Crazy Rhythm: Exploring George Gershwin:
Sunnyside Records

This pianist has never failed to find his own unique and inspired ways to reimagine some of the canon's classic gems. Gershwin as you never heard quite like this.

Denny Zeitlin: (live solo piano)

Michael Blake: Dance With The Mystic Bliss: PM Records

A saxophonist who used the passing of his mother,, who was a dancer and a singer, as an inspiration to create and perform this uplifting and optimistic music.

Michael Blake (ts,sop sax, flute, alto fl, composer), Guilherme Monteiro (elec g), Mauro Refosco (per & marimba), Skye Steele (violin, rabeca, gonji), Chris Hoffman (cello), Michael Bates (b).

Champian Fulton: Meet Me at Birdland: Champion Records

A talented pianist/vocalist who brings joy to her live performance at Birdland.

Champian Fulton (voice/piano), Hide Tanaka (b), Fukuski Tainaka (drms)

Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band: Kings Highway: Stoner Hill Records

This band creates cinematic vignettes that are gorgeously executed with melodicity, polyrhythmic drive, sometimes fusion tilting, and spectral artistry.

Brian Blade(composer/drms), Jon Cowherd ( piano/synth/composer), Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar/ elect effects), Myron Walden (alto sax and bass Clarinet), Melvin Butler (tenor sax), Chris Thomas (b)

Chuck Owens with the WDR Big Band: Renderings: Mama Records

A composer/arranger who always finds a way to make beautiful music with a big band. 

Chuck Owens (comp/arranger), The WDR Big Band w guest artist Sara Caswell (v)

Art Hirahara: Echo Canyon: Positone Records

An upcoming pianist who plays beautifully with intuitively responsive partners on this wonderful album.

Art Hirahara (p), Boris Kozlov (b) Rudy Royston (drms)

Ryan Keberle & Collectiv Do Brasil: Considerando: Alternate Side Records

The trombonist and his cohort's wonderful modern take on Brazilian music.

Ryan Keberle (trmb), Felip[e Silveira (p), Paulinho Vicente (drms), Felipe Brisola (b)

Pat Metheny: Dream Box:  Modern Records/BMG 

A solo guitar album from a master.

Pat Metheny: Solo guitar with overdubs  "I Always Fall in Love Too Easily"

Sammy Figueroa: Searching for a Memory: Ashe Records

Reclaiming a link to the music of his father Charles Figueroa a one-time famous romantic Latin singer whom his son Sammy didn't know well. 

Sammy Figueroa (per, voice), Gonzalo Rubalcaba (p), Aymée Nuviola (vocals), Miguel Zenón (a sax) John Daversa (trmpt), Felipe Lamolgia (sax), Magalys Herrera (flute), Ricardo Rodriguez (b), Munir Hossn (multi inst) 

Loren Stillman: Time and Again: Sunnyside Records

A powerful modern voice on the saxophone that is influenced by his heroes Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz but has created his own unique style. 

Loren Stillman (ts), Drew Gress (b), Mark Ferber (drms)

Nicole Zuraitis: How Love Begins: Outside in Music

A fresh voice that knows how to deliver a good melody.

Nicole Zuraitis (vocal/piano), Gilad Henkselman (g), Maya Kronfeld (org/Rhodes), Dan Pugh (drms) Christian McBride (b), Billy Kilson (drms) Thana Alexa/Julia Adamy (backup vocals on 2)

Ambrose Akinmusire: Owl Song: Nonesuch Records

The enigmatic trumpeter, who often finds there is more with less in playing his instrument, has camaraderie with the way owls seem to be more quiet observers in this otherwise rapid, frenetic world of oversaturation.

Ambrose Akinmusire (trmpt), Bill Frisell (g), Herlin Riley (drms)

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Dynamic Maximum Tension: Nonesuch Records

Using admiration for people like architect/futurist Buckminster Fuller, code buster/AI conceptualist Alan Turing, and sassy actress/satirist Mae West, composer/arranger Darcy James Argue creates a new suite of music for his Secret Society orchestra.

Darcy James Arge (composer/arranger/conductor), Dave Pietro (a sax), Rob Wilkerson (a sax), Sam Saigursky (a sax), John Ellis (t sax, Bass clar), Carl Maraghi (bar sax) Seneca Black (trmpt), Liesl Whitaker (trmpt), Matt Holman (trmpt), Nadje Noordhuis (trmpt) Ingrid Jensen (trmpt), Brandon Lee (trmpt), Mike Fahie (trombone), Ryan Keberle (trombone), Jacob Garchik (trombone), Jennifer Wharton ( bass tromb), Sebastian Noelle (g), Adam Birnbaum (p), Matt Clohesy (b), Jon Wilan (drms), Sara Caswell (viol), Hardanger d'Amore (viol), Cecile McLorin Savant (vocals)

Mark Turner Quartet: Live at the Village Vanguard: Giant Steps Arts

Distinctive saxophonist and his quartet captured live at the famous NYC club.

Mark Turner (tenor sax/composer), Jason Palmer (trmpt), Joe Martin (b), Jonathan Pinson (drms)

Claire Daly w/George Garzone: Vu Vu for Frances: Self Produced

Claire Daly (bari sax), George Garzone (ten sax), Jon Davis (p), Dave Hofstra (b),
David F. Gibson (drms)

A nostalgic but modern-sounding trip back to the days in NYC when 53rd Street was the jazz hangout for such fans as Frances, a ninety-year-old fan of Daly's to whom the album is dedicated.

Jim Snidero featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel: Far, Far Away: Live at the Deer Head Inn: Savant Records

This intuitive, well-polished rhythm section propels this live recording giving plenty of room for brilliant interactions to develop between the altoist, the guest guitarist, and the pianist.

Jim Snidero (a sax), Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar/electronics), Orrin Evans (p), Peter Washington (b), Joe Farnsworth (drums)

Geri Allen & Kurt Rosenwinkel: A Lovesome Thing: Motema Music

A magical and memorable one-time collaboration between the sensitive pianist and the enigmatic guitarist captured live at the Philharmonie de Paris in 2012.

John Ellis Quartet: Bizet: Carmen in Jazz: Blue Room Music

The prolific multi-reedist and his quartet tackles the music of Carmen, an opera written by  Georges Bizet in the 1800s, and gives the music a jazz and at times New Orleans-like treatment that is inventive and quite enjoyable.

John Ellis (saxophones and bass clarinet(, Gary Versace (p), Reuben Rogers (b) Jason Marsalis (drms)

Cecile McLorin Savant: Melusine: Nonesuch Records

The chanteuse mixes five originals and interpretations of nine other traditional songs most sung in southern French, Haitian Kreyol, and English by this talented, always surprising talent. 

Cecile McLorin Savant (vocals), Sullivan Fortner (p) Weedie Braimah (Djembe), Aaron Diehl (p), Luques Curtis (b), Paul Sikivie (b), Kyle Poole(drms), Obed Calvaire (drms) Lawrence Leathers (drms)

Langren, Wollny, Danielsson, Haffner: 4 Wheel Drive II; ACT Music

A European supergroup plays their own take on popular music by Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins. Billy Joel and their own originals. 

Nils Langren(trombone/vocals), Michael Wollny (p), Lars Danielsson (baa/cello), Wolfgang Haffner (drms) 

Michael Dease: Swing Low: Positone Records

The phenomenal trombone artist and educator picks up the baritone saxophone to show he is not a one-trick pony and can swing on the big saxophone. 

Michael Dease (bari sax), Ingrid Jensen (trmpt), Art Hirahara (p), Boris Kozlov (b), Rudy Royston (drms) Altin Sencalar (trombone 7,8, 10) 

Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo: El Arte Del Bolero Vol 2 : Meil Music

Zenon's alto meets with Perdomo's piano in this follow-up duo recording of Latin American Boleros reimagined from a jazz point of view.

Miguel Zenón (alto sax) Luis Perdomo (piano)

J.D. Simo Trio: Songs from the House of Grease: Self-Produced

A roots guitar player who crosses the lines between blues with jazz and greasy blues.

J.D. Simo ( /vocal, vox, guitar), Todd Bolden (vocal, bass), Adam Abrashoff (drms)

Rachel Ekroth: Humanoid: Sam First Records

This talented composer/pianist/vocalist brings her potent quartet to LA's latest jazz club. The album is recorded live and the audience approves.

Rachel Ekroth (piano/composer), Andrew Renfroe (guitar), Billy Mohler (b), Tina Raymond (drms)

Blue Cranes: My Only Secret: Butcher Records

A West Coast, Portland-based group that has been together since 2004. They like to meld elements of post-bop jazz with challenging compositions that sometimes avoid definitive structure, can have rock influences, and create vibrant impressions.

Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone, keys, percussion), Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone, keys, percussion), Rebecca Sanborn (keyboards), Jon Shaw (bass)
Ji Tanzer (drums)

Joshua Redman w/ Gabrielle Cavassa: Where Are We: Blue Note Records 

The tenor master and his group explore new music with a talented new vocalist.

Joshua Redman (t sax), Gabrielle Cavassa (vocals), Aaron Parks (p0, Joe Sanders (b), Peter Bernstein (g), Kurt Rosenwinkel (g), Joel Ross ( vibes), Nicholas Payton (trmpt)

Walter Smith III: Return to Casual: Blue Note Records

A powerful album from an ever-growing voice on tenor saxophone and a new energetic group.

Walter Smith III (t sax) Kendrick Scott (drms), Taylor Eigsti: (Piano/Rhodes), Matt Stevens: (g) Harish Raghavan: (b)

Rob Luft: Dahab Days: Edition Records

A British guitarist who offers an original aerial sound with strings playing his own compositions, as well as his takes on music by Ellington, and Aphex Twins.

Rob Luft (guitar and composer), Joe Wright (t sax), Joe Webb (piano/organ), Tom McCreedle (b), Corrie Dick (drms), Alice Zawadzki (voice/violin), Byron Watson (trmpt), Steve Buckley (alto sax and penny whistle)