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by Andrew Elias
CHRISTIAN McBRIDE has long cemented his legacy in the pantheon of great jazz bassists, yet he continues to create music that is new and exciting. McBride has two new releases: Out Here, with his Trio, and People Music, with Inside Straight, a quintet featuring vibraphonist Warren Wolf. Both are outstanding, as expected, but Out Here is spectacular. And although McBride, as always, plays with class and heart, both plucking and bowing, much of the credit must go to the young pianist, Christian Sands. Sands plays with athleticism and soul, driving through jazz classics like Hallelujah Time and Cherokee as well as Johnny Taylors funky hit, Whos Making Love?. He and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. have both been playing in McBrides bands for years and the chemistry is especially apparent on their version of My Favorite Things. Out Here is one of the best jazz albums of the recent past and Christian Sands is a pianist worth keeping an eye on.
Aaron Diehls outstanding debut studio recording, The Bespoke Mans Narrative, is a smart, stylish and thoroughly modern outgrowth of the music Diehl grew up on Duke Ellington and the Modern Jazz Quartet. It, too, features Warren Wolf on vibraphone. Diehl and band are as comfortable revisiting Moonlight in Vermont and Bess, You Is My Woman Now as they are reimagining Ravels Le Tombeau de Couperin. And yet, its his original composition, Stop and Go that may be the highlight of the album, with Wolf matching him at every improvisational turn. An exciting debut that teases at the great music yet to come from a promising new pianist.
Another young pianist worth watching is Roberto Fonseca, a Cuban pianist who incorporates African elements into his urban Latin jazz. Fonsecas new album, Yo was recorded in a single week in Paris with musicians from Cuba and Africa, and exudes spontaneity and energy. Fonseca plays with power and speed (80s), and yet can be delicate and romantic, too (El Sonador Esta Cansado and Asi Es La Vida). Another highlight is Gnawa Stop, featuring the kora, a 21-string African harp. Yo is different, original and intriguing.
I am sure that Fonseca grew up listening to and influenced by one of the great Cuban pianists, Chucho Valdes. Valdes, 71, has a new album himself Border-Free and its a winner. Valdes and his Afro-Cuban Messengers have fused Cuban and hard-bop jazz traditions with flamenco and Moroccan Gnawa music even a little Bach and Rachmaninoff to create an album that pays homage to both his musical roots and his personal roots (with songs dedicated to his father, his mother and his grandmother, as well as several musicians he has known). Highlights are three tracks recorded with saxophonist Branford Marsalis (Tabu, Bebo and Abdel), who has never sounded better, and Afro-Comanche, an 11-minute tour-de-force with hints of Native American musical elements. Border-Free is one of the best jazz releases of the year.
Will Calhoun is best known as the drummer in the rock group, Living Color. With his new album, Life In This World, Calhoun returns to his bebop roots for a collection of first-rate tunes that, with the help of trumpeter Wallace Roney, evoke the best of the late-60s Miles Davis recordings. Calhouns original compositions are excellent, but the best tracks on the album are covers of the jazz standard Love for Sale, Coltranes Naima, Monks Evidence and Wayne Shorters Etcetera. Calhoun propels the music, offering it up to Roney, Donald Harrison, and the nimble and adventurous pianist Marc Cary to color and sculpt. Excellent modern bebop.
Marc Cary has his own new release, For the Love of Abbey, a solo recording and a real showcase of his many and considerable talents. Pianist for the late Abbey Lincoln for more than a decade, Cary has created an intimate and soulful tribute to the singer, mentor and friend. The 14 tracks are extremely varied, in tempo and in emotion, but The Music in the Magic (one of Lincolns signature songs), My Love Is You and Conversation With a Baby are standouts. A very personal recording and virtuoso performance by an intelligent and sensitive artist.
Years before Cary was accompanying Abbey Lincoln, Kenny Barron played piano in her band. At age 70, he is still going strong, as charming as ever, joining 91-year old Frank Wess on the tenor saxophonists new release, Magic 101. Wess, known for his bluesy tone and mellow style, reminiscent of Hank Mobley and Coleman Hawkins, sounds like a musician a quarter his age strong and mischievous but plays Irving Berlins Say It Isnt So, Ray Nobles The Very Thought of You and Johnny Mercer & Harold Arlens Come Rain or Come Shine (a wonderful duet with Barron) with the affection of an old friend. Wess beautiful solo interpretation of Duke Ellingtons All Too Soon is a terrific ending to a magical album.
Joshua Redman burst onto the New York jazz scene in the mid-90s, releasing several acclaimed and successful albums and playing with the likes of Elvin Jones, Pat Methany, Charlie Haden, Chick Corea, Christian McBride, and his father, Dewey. His new release, Walking Shadows, sees Redman re-teaming with pianist Brad Mehldau, who also produced the sessions. Mehldau, always tasteful, keeps a low profile, allowing Redman the space to explore and improvise against a string orchestra on songs such as Lush Life, Stardust, The Beatles Let It Be, and a number of excellent original compositions. Possibly Redmans best album in years.
...It Was Beauty is the 20th recording as a band leader by pianist Orrin Evans. Denser,and edgier than most of his recent releases (his Captain Black Big Band was one of the best jazz releases of 2011 and his Flip The Script, with his trio, was one of the best jazz releases of 2012), ...It Was Beauty finds Evans dueling with long-time drummer Donald Edwards and bassist Eric Revis (a member of Branford Marsalis ensemble). Best here is their cover of Ornette Colemans Blues Connection. ...It Was Beauty is another excellent effort by Evans, who also has new releases with the group Tarbaby and vocalist J.D. Walter.
Christian McBride Trio