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DownBeat Editors‘ Picks

Editors’ Picks

Cedar Walton Featuring Freddie Hubbard, Reliving The Moment

Just too good. Let’s start with that simple fact. Reliving The Moment: Live At The Keystone Corner is just too good. Here we catch pianist Cedar Walton’s immensely popular quartet from the late ’70s and early ’80s doing an extended New Year’s gig from Dec. 29, 1977, to Jan. 1, 1978, at the famous San Francisco club. Add the bonus of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard sitting in and you’ve got magic. Reliving The Moment is a set of six extended jams—from Walton’s “Midnight Waltz” to John Coltrane’s “Impressions.” The rhythm section of Walton, drummer Billy Higgins and bassist David Williams swings madly throughout with the pianist beautifully leading, then laying back. Tenor saxophonist Bob Berg explodes with power and invention here. And Hubbard is at the top of his game; he kills it on his tune “Byrdlike.” After Walton introduces the head, Hubbard takes off, soloing at a blistering pace, demonstrating with swoops, sailing high notes and rapid-fire attack why he was one of the baddest trumpeters ever. The underrated Berg has the difficult task of following Hubbard’s gymnastics, but proves to be more than up to it, launching into delicious runs. Another highlight is the 12-minute version of Walton’s “Ugetsu.” It’s an amazingly catchy tune that perfectly illustrates the qualities that made Walton (1934–2013) such a unique composer and pianist: soulful, bright and glorious. I love that these moments have been captured and lovingly restored. Reliving The Moment is a reminder of just how spectacular Walton and Hubbard really were.

iTunes | Amazon

Alex Mercado Trio, Symbiosis
(Fonarte Latino)

Pianist Alex Mercado is one of the finest jazz musicians that Mexico has produced. On his new trio album, he teams up with simpatico collaborators who are equal to his incredible talent. Bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez know each other’s styles extremely well because they’ve recorded and toured together in the New Gary Burton Quartet, and they’ve worked in the trio format with pianist Enrico Pieranunzi. Here, on Mercado’s Symbiosis, the rapport between all three musicians is deeply impressive. Like Colley, Mercado is a highly melodic player; and like Sanchez, the pianist is masterfully adept at shifting tempos and building drama over the course of a long tune. The result of these musicians’ telepathy is a richly cohesive program of 10 original Mercado compositions. The leader’s playing is characterized by fierce dynamics and a command of the entire keyboard, whether he’s coaxing gentle, delicate notes with his right hand or generating explosive propulsion with his left. From the shimmering pianism of the title track, to the whimsical flair of “What Lays Beyond,” to the melodic motifs of “Two Doors,” everything here is delivered with power and confidence. There’s no hint of wandering or meandering; this trio knows exactly where it’s going and precisely how to get there.

iTunes | CDBaby

Sean Jones Quartet, Never Before Seen
(Mack Avenue)

Trumpeter Sean Jones made a major career decision four years ago when he stepped away from his post as the lead trumpeter for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. It could not have been easy. That’s one of the great gigs in jazz—play with the world’s finest musicians, travel in style, good pay, nice perks. But that single decision has led to a significant leap in his music. He had a chance to tour with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock’s Tribute To Miles project. He watched, he listened, he picked their brains. He continued to work on his craft, both as a player and composer. And now he’s in the next full bloom of his musical development as an artist. All of that shows on Never Before Seen, Jones’ seventh album as a leader. Every note is crisp, every composition intimate and lush. Take, for example, the beautiful ballad “The Morning After.” This memorable song floats on clouds, pulling listeners in with the soothing tones of Jones’ rich trumpet and pianist Orrin Evans’ beautiful timing and touch. Drummer Obed Calvaire and bassist Luques Curtis offer perfectly understated accompaniment until the song builds to a majestic crescendo. Jones follows that by taking the program to late-night chill with his “I Don’t Give A Damn Blues.” Defying the title, this band does give a damn about the blues and they deliver it with laid-back fire and fun. Overall, this album is packed with great performances, like Curtis’ blistering bass line on “Dr. Jekyll,” Jones’ beautiful writing on “Dark Times,” Evans’ tasteful solo on his composition “Don’t Fall Off The L.E.J” and Calvaire’s quirky rhythms on the opening track, “60th & Broadway.” But the element that makes so special is the interplay between the bandmates. Jones decided to go old-school during the recording sessions by having all four musicians in the same room, playing live. You can hear it. You can feel it. is a major statement from one of the best trumpeters in jazz today.

iTunes | Amazon

Cyrille Aimée, It’s A Good Day
(Mack Avenue)

Singer-songwriter Cyrille Aimée is starting to turn heads in the jazz world. On her debut disc for Mack Avenue, Aimée—who was born and raised in France—cheerfully mixes ingredients from Brazilian music, Gypsy jazz and Americana, throwing in a version of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” a cover of a Michael Jackson hit (“Off The Wall”), Oscar Pettiford’s “Tricotism” and four original compositions along the way. The title track, written by onetime Benny Goodman Orchestra vocalist Peggy Lee, has the bouncy drive of a bluegrass tune, and helps establish the feel-good mood of this disc. The French-Gypsy musical influence is close to Aimée’s heart: She grew up in Samois-sur-Seine—the town in which legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt retired in 1951 and which still hosts an annual jazz festival in his honor—and was captivated by the music from an early age. After hearing the instrumental composition “All Love” (written by Django’s son Babik and performed at Babik Reinhardt’s funeral), Aimée asked permission to write lyrics for it. “The birds flying high above you/ And the smell of rain/ All the memories you keep inside/ It’s love/ It’s all love,” she sings tenderly, accompanied by delicate acoustic guitar. Among the originals, “Nuit Blanche” stands out, sung in French, and featuring fine scatting, showing listeners why she took home top honors in the vocal contests at the 2007 Montreux Jazz Festival and the inaugural Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition in 2012. She also fared well at the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, placing third, behind winner Cécile McLorin Salvant and runner-up Charenée Wade. Aimée’s performances at those competitions caught the attention of industry insiders, but now, with the release of It’s A Good Day, she’s certain to raise her profile among a wide spectrum of jazz fans.

iTunes | Amazon

Dr. John, Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit Of Satch

As Dr. John tells it, the inspiration for his new Satchmo tribute album came to him in a dream: “Louis’ spirit came to me and told me to do something … . Louis told me, ‘Take my music and do it your way.’” Dr. John obliged. Ske-Dat-De-Dat places him alongside a who’s who of jazz, roots, r&b and hip-hop talent. Not surprisingly, the keyboardist features stellar trumpeters throughout, from Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Arturo Sandoval to New Orleans-born stars Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, James Andrews and Wendell Brunious. Among the vocal highlights on the disc are Dr. John trading verses with the Blind Boys of Alabama on “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams”; his duet with Bonnie Raitt on Harold Arlen’s “I’ve Got The World On A String”; and his heartfelt vocal on “That’s My Home,” featuring Brunious on flugelhorn, with background vocals by The McCrary Sisters. The keyboardist wasn’t afraid to venture into unexpected territory: “Tight Like This” has a funky Latin vibe, featuring Sandoval and vocalist Telmary, while “Mack The Knife” features rapper Mike Ladd in a long middle section. Treme-born trumpeter Andrews—the so-called “Satchmo of the Ghetto”—is well known in New Orleans, but less so than his younger brother Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews outside of the Crescent City. Here he shines on a raved-up, brass-band-style version of “Dippermouth Blues,” a tune by Armstrong’s mentor, King Oliver. The legendary Dr. John certainly doesn’t need a lot of extra star power around him, but he’s assembled an exemplary crew here to attain the heights required for a tribute to one of jazz’s ultimate heroes.

Amazon | iTunes

Paquito D’Rivera, Jazz Meets The Classics

I’ll confess that initially I was afraid to play Jazz Meets The Classics. I had the CD in my office for weeks, perhaps even a month, before I listened to it. And the reasons are simple. I’m a huge fan of Paquito D’Rivera. He is one of the most gifted and gracious artists I have ever heard. However, I’ve been a harsh critic of most of the jazz-meets-classical projects I’ve encountered. These concoctions usually seemed forced to me—too respectful of the original music, too disrespectful or just plain dull. But D’Rivera has proven me wrong (again) with Jazz Meets The Classics, a terrific album that will have you hearing—and humming—the classics in a new light. For this set of reimagined pearls, D’Rivera assembled a sextet of his favorite collaborators: Diego Urcola on trumpet and valve trombone, Alex Brown on piano, Oscar Stagnaro on electric bass, Arturo Stable on percussion and Mark Walker on drums. Pianist Pepe Rivero is featured on two Chopin arrangements and his original composition “Pa Bebo.” The ensemble recorded this program of Latin jazz-infused gems live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York City on June 14, 2012. The set kicks off at a breakneck tempo with Hilario Duran’s arrangement of Chopin’s “Fantasia Impromptu.” The band makes Chopin absolutely swing in a free and easy manner, while still executing very difficult passages at a pace that takes your breath away. D’Rivera introduces “Adagio,” based on Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto In A Major, by saying, “All my life, I’ve had this suspicion that Mozart was not born really in Austria. Mozart was born in Louisiana. Mozart was really from New Orleans.” And with that, he and the band turn “Adagio” into a beautiful New Orleans gospel hymn. The entire set of 10 tunes is equally as good and includes the work of Latin classical composers Ernesto Lecuona and Agustín Barrios. D’Rivera, a classically trained musician whose father was a classical performer, is a natural to play this music—and do it right. This group does it better than right. Jazz Meets The Classics is a recording of one of those magical concerts we all wish we could have attended. It’s perfection.

Amazon | iTunes

Fredrik Kronkvist,
Reflecting Time

(Connective Records)

Swedish alto saxophonist Fredrik Kronkvist keeps good company. For his 2012 album New York Elements (Connective Records), he teamed up with pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Kronkvist recruited that same stellar quartet for his excellent new disc, Reflecting Time. His 12th album as a leader is a straightahead offering that includes seven original compositions, plus his knockout arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood.” When a leader surrounds himself with players of this caliber, sometimes it’s wise to simply step out of their way—as Kronkvist does during an extended section of the gorgeous “Embraced,” featuring supple solos by both Rogers and Goldberg. But when the altoist jumps back into that tune at the 3:27 mark, his smoldering, nuanced tone elevates the song from the merely memorable to the fantastic. Elsewhere, Kronkvist nods to heroes Stanley Turrentine and Cannonball Adderley with the strong compositions “Likely” and “Cannonballism.” The exciting hairpin turns in “Straight To The Point” allow each band member to show off his rapid-fire chops, while the Ellington number radiates a lush, romantic feeling. Kronkvist is more famous in Europe than in the States, but he continues to expand his fan base via appearances at numerous jazz festivals.

Yosvany Terry,
New Throned King

(5 Passion)

In 2010, Cuban-born saxophonist Yosvany Terry (who has lived in New York since 1999) returned to the country of his birth to study the Arará tradition in Matanzas (about 50 miles from Havana, on the other side of the island from his native Camagüey) with drummer-teacher Mario Rodríguez “Maño.” (Terry has dedicated this album to Maño, who died in 2011.) The saxophonist was joined by his brother, bassist Yunior Terry, and what the two of them learned during the yearlong initiation involved complexities that could confuse even an ethnomusicologist. The chants and rituals of the Arará Sabalú—one of three branches of a cabildo formed in the 1600s in Matanzas—come from the people who descended from the West African kingdom of Dahomey, modern-day Benin. Though the tradition is in some ways similar to the more well-known, Nigeria-derived Santería and Yoruba traditions, Arará has remained a fairly well-kept secret outside of Matanzas. Central to the music performed here is a set of specially commissioned Arará drums, played by Pedro Martínez (on the apitlí, or medium-sized drum); Román Díaz (on wewé, the smallest drum); and Sandy Pérez, who first introduced Terry to Maño and here plays the lead yonofó drum as well as the largest drum, akotó, on six of the 10 tracks. Despite the complexity of the proceedings, this stunning music will be completely accessible to anyone who enjoys Afro-Cuban jazz, folk music or any type of world music. Martínez serves as lead vocalist, supported by the coro (chorus) of both Terrys, Díaz and a fourth vocalist, Gema Corredera, on four tracks. The songs feature multilayered percussion, Martínez’s soaring chants and Terry’s fluid, post-bop saxophone lines. Each musician on the disc entered into a sort of crucible with Terry and the Arará tradition: Martínez and Díaz, each deeply embedded in Yoruban culture and its music, had to master new Arará chants and rhythms; Congolese guitarist Dominick Kanza was also open to adapting to a new style. (“It wouldn’t be Cuban without the Congo thing,” Terry writes in the liner notes.) The opening track, “Reuniendo La Nación,” features Haitian sound designer Val Jeanty and pianist Jason Moran, who help create an eerie underlying texture for Terry’s questing sax solo. (Terry’s longtime pianist Osmany Paredes is featured throughout the disc.) Terry calls this group Ye-Dé-Gbé, which translates to “with the approval of the spirits” in the African language Fon. By completing a serious study of folkloric traditions and then applying his own compositional gifts to the form, Terry should earn the approval of adventurous music fans everywhere.

Fred Lipsius, Rhythm,
Catch 4


Fred Lipsius may not be a household name, but his resume is mighty impressive: original saxophonist and arranger for groundbreaking jazz-rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears; recipient of nine Gold albums; multiple Grammy winner; touring band member for Simon & Garfunkel; educational author; and longtime professor at Berklee College of Music. He’s also a successful visual artist. Lipsius’ latest album, Rhythm, Catch 4, is a showcase for his compositional skills. This sextet recording includes 12 original jazz compositions, including two with titles that allude to a couple of his musical influences: Count Basie (“Basie-like”) and John Coltrane (“One For Trane”). The entire program—which features Lipsius on alto and tenor saxophones—is strong, and it’s juiced with great individual contributions. These nuggets include Les Harris Jr.’s dramatic drum solo on “Where At?”; the leader’s yearning, searching tenor tone on “Folk Song”; bassist Dave Clark and pianist Russ Hoffmann’s intimate duo conversation that kicks off the swingin’ “Basie-like”; and trombonist Jeff Galindo’s authoritative blasts on “Before And After.” Lipsius’ discography as a leader is rather sparse, so the superbly sequenced Rhythm, Catch 4 is a welcome addition to his body of work.




Jody Jazz

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