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Mike’s Top Ten Jazz Recordings for 2013


No end of the year list is more contested than jazz fan’s lists of top ten releases at the end of the year. The lists are, of course, entirely subjective and shaped not just on personal taste but on one’s exposure to the gazillion jazz releases. No one has heard them all. I regularly see things on other DJ & critics lists that I’ve never heard, never even heard of, and that turns me on to some new artists. Without further ado, my top ten, in no particular order:

DAVE HOLLAND – PRISM (Dare 2 Records)
Bassist Holland’s winning formula for years now has been a cooking rhythm section roiling under vibes and horns in various combinations: from big band to octet or quintet. So it was a surprise to see him break the mold this year by releasing a quartet that featured the guitar of Kevin Eubanks (yes, ex-Tonight Show) and the keyboards of Craig Taborn. The result is a blend of electrifying improvisations over knotty compositions, a boon to fans of fusion. CHOICE CUTS: The Empty Chair (For Clare) by Dave Holland & Spirals by Craig Taborn. I’ve used Kevin Eubanks’ The Watcher to open a few shows.


A stunning debut by chanteuse Salvant. To say that she occupies the songs she sings is an understatement. She animates them. It’s something to bring really new life to Jitterbug Waltz or What A Little Moonlight can do. The quicksilver nature of her warbling shifts moment to moment, a trill, a quaver, from acrobatics to pure emotion. Yes, I hear touches of Ella or Betty Carter, but also (wait for it) Carol Burnett. She’s a hoot and must be heard to be believed. Aaron Diehl, Rodney Whitaker and Herlin Riley make for an elastic springboard for Cecile’s launch. CHOICE CUTS: Woman Child, I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, really they’re all good.

How is architecture like music? Compositions, like the ones Argue has crafted for Brooklyn Babylon, are constructed from disparate material, knowledge and artifacts drawn from various cultures and times, and create an impression of a whole much greater than the sum of it’s parts. This 18 piece band traverse from Eastern Europe folk music to prog-jazz, rock to Reich, carving structures for the dance of improvisation, just as architecture creates the spaces in which we live out our lives. Forget, for now, the allusions to Babel. This is a little masterpiece, ambitious, loose and tight. CHOICE CUTS: I have to bow out. This album should be experienced as a whole. Like a soundtrack. Now I’m mixing my metaphors…

The title of this release is revealing, the 72 year old Cuban pianist bridging the percolating rhythms of his homeland with the driving propulsion of hard bop. Jazz trumpeter Etienne Charles relates that he booked a flight from Michigan to New York, specifically to hear Valdes hold forth at the Village Vanguard. “I went to shook his hand, and my hand disappeared,” he related. Such was size of his mitt. His grasp of various genres and a virtuosic grip on the piano result in a thoroughly enjoyable set. Branford Marsalis joins the band for a handful of tunes. CHOICE CUTS: Congadanza, Afro-Comanche.

Trinidad trumpeter Etienne Charles has deep roots in Caribbean and Calypso, but his latest release branches out to vividly explore even more colors. The grooves are deep, and touch tones of reggae, bop and soul along with all that jazz. This music is just flat out fun. I may be biased, listening to several tracks alongside Charles on The Vinyl Side of Midnight while he devoured jerk chicken and picked other tunes to complement our debut of his album: The Mighty Sparrow and the late great Ralph McDonald. CHOICE CUTS: Creole, Roots, Turn Your Lights Down Low, Midnight.

Tributes are a tricky thing. Honoring an historical gem like Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle (which featured Charles Mingus and Max Roach), Carrington involves Christian McBride on bass and Gerald Clayton on piano. She then adds a little extra flavor, a horn arrangement here, a guitar there, samples from politicians to make a point. And Clark Terry doing a tad of vocalese. She throws in a trio of originals (two by her, one by Clayton) to create something much more than a recitation of the original by Duke, but something he was reaching for himself at that stage of his career: a creative collaboration to shake things up a little. CHOICE CUTS: Money Jungle, Fleurette Africain.

I’ve been a big fan of James since seeing him perform the music of Marvin Gaye, fronting a big band led by Christian McBride at the Detroit Jazz Festival several summers ago. The following year he gave an electrifying set featuring some of his own compositions at the same fest. The presence of Sinatra, the talent of a Marvin or Donny or Smokey. Exciting to see him signed to Blue Note. This is his best recording since his hard to find The Dreamer. Neo soul has a future. CHOICE CUTS: Trouble, Come To My Door.

The flute / vibes front line of this jazz quartet recall Eric Dolphy and Bobby Hutcherson, but the dissonance is muted. Bare bones, tones are effervescent and darting, a little symphony of interactive improv. Mitchell has recently moved to the West Coast after spending a couple of years in Chicago. Special note should be made of vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz. CHOICE CUTS: Adaptability, Sunday Afternoon, Fred Anderson.

Jazz organist Alfredson relates that Big John Patton was the link between Jimmy Smith and Larry Young, bluesy, funky and innovative. Jim, who also plays with the award winning blues singer Janiva Magness, knows how to smoke. So most of the tracks are Patton tunes. Added to the mix is young guitarist Ralph Tope and the elder statesman of jazz drums, Randy Gelispie, a man who toured with Wes Montgomery and who bring the clang-a-lang swing to the party. When I had Diego Rivera on the show recently this album was playing and he knew Randy (“Uncle G”) right away. “No one plays like that anymore. The era of Art Blakey or Max Roach or Elvin Jones.” Throw in a taste of vibes or horns and this disc is nothing but fun. CHOICE CUTS: Good Juice, Dirty Fingers, My Valentine.

Jaimeo Brown ingeniously blends vocal samples from the Alabama based Gee’s Blend Singers, who croon gospel while creating quilts, over which he places the Coltrane influenced sax of JD Allen, the hot rock guitar of Chris Sholar and his own manic drumming. Elsewhere he features Detroit pianist Geri Allen, or Indian singer Falu. It raises the ghosts of some of those great Impulse records by Pharaoh Sanders or Alice Coltrane. Transcendence is an appropriate title for the album, because Brown builds something greater than the sum of it’s parts, honoring the past and looking towards the future. CHOICE CUTS: Mean World, Somebody’s Knocking, This World Ain’t My Home.

Listen to my Top Ten show on Sunday, 12/29/13.

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