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Professor Bebop’s Favorite Jazz Releases of 2020
Benjamin Boone – The Poets Are Gathering (Origin): “There are incantations and supplications to be found here. Also: elegies and headlines, howls and mantras, reveries and outbursts. They instruct and affirm. They urge you to dance while offering road maps to reflection. They rouse you from deep slumber and offer solace for your worst nightmares.” ~ GENE SEYMOUR (Noted Cultural Critic, from the liner notes) “The Poets Are Gathering” is the third in a series of acclaimed recordings from saxophonist/composer Benjamin Boone that integrate the music and poems from some of America’s leading jazz musicians and Poet Laureates, Guggenheim fellows and Pulitzer Prize winners. Where “The Poetry of Jazz” volumes offered the voice of the late U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine, here, notable contributors include Tyehimba Jess, Juan Felipe Herrera, Patricia Smith, T.R. Hummer, and Edward Hirsch, along with pianist Kenny Werner, guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Ari Hoenig, among many others. This recording possesses a visceral, in-the-moment force as the poetry responds to the roiling, insurgent energies against racism and other societal ills. The themes of immigration, racism, homelessness, poverty, abuse, protests, and war can overwhelm and distress, but through the voices of some of the world’s great literary minds there are clues to be found to absorb the blows, summon the spirits, engage the moment and as Tyehimba Jess suggests, “murder the silence” that threatens to immobile us, to keep us away from the reasons to commit, to deal, to hope – and, above all, to imagine. “Boone knows where the thing called poetry lives, an ocelot among the waters, a sky-shaped Rain God that flares down upon us. He does this with a myriad of instruments, with human breath chiseling and burning through brass and string, reeds and skin and hands and resin.” ~ U.S. POET LAUREATE JUAN FELIPE HERRERA (https://benjaminboone.bandcamp.com/album/the-poets-are-gathering) This collection is intensely hard hitting and just exactly what it has to be to face up to the racial realities that continue to be ignored. It is difficult listening and terrific poetry with fantastic instrumental accompaniment. Click here and scroll down to listen to samples of the songs and recitations on this powerful release.
Ella Fitzgerald – The Lost Berlin Tapes (Verve): This is a live performance by Ella Fitzgerald in Berlin in 1962. Norman Granz produced the performance but being constantly on to the next production, this tape was not rediscovered until very recently. While I would acknowledge that it’s not her best outing, I would bet she NEVER had a bad performance and there are many wonderful moments here. Fitzgerald was backed by Paul Smith (piano), Wilfred Middlebrooks (bass) and Stan Levey (drums). Songs range from “Cheek To Cheek” and “Cry Me A River” to “Jersy Bounce” and “Mack The Knife” with a great version and reprise of “Hallelujah, I Love Him So” and a rare blues, Joe Turner and Pete Johnson’s “Wee Baby Blues”. Let’s face it: there is no such thing as a bad performance of Ella Fitzgerald. She was accompanied by Paul Smith (piano), Wilfred Middlebrooks (bass) and Stan Levey (drums). Click here to listen to Ella singing “Mack The Knife” from this performance.
Charles Owens Quartet – Charles Owens Quartet: Live At Smalls (smallsLive): Charles Owens is a master sax player who decided to leave the New York scene for the Richmond/Charlottesville area. This disc was performed and recorded at Small’s in NYC in 2010 and it is a total killer! He is a terrific form and has terrific backing from Jeremy Manasia (piano), Barak Nori (bass) and Daniel Freedman (drums). They even offer of the hottest version of “Norwegian Wood” you’ll ever hear. Click here to listen to samples of the songs on this disc.
Jihee Heo – Are You Ready? (OA2): “Jihee Heo, Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, New York based Jazz Pianist and Composer. She began playing classical piano at age 4. Influenced by greats such as Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, and Keith Jarrett, Jihee switched to jazz piano at age 16. Jihee’s love of jazz piano and travel took her abroad to the Conservatorium Van Amsterdam 2004. Conservatorium van Amsterdam is a school comprised of mostly international music students. While studying at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, Jihee’s music and style was many influenced by different cultures, helping develop her musical ideas…. After moving to New York City in 2011, Jihee obtained her Master’s Degree in Jazz Piano Performance from the Manhattan School of Music in 2013, while studying under Garry Dial, Phil Markowitz, Cecil Bridgewater and Dave Liebman. Jihee currently resides in New York City, performing as both a leader and sideman in the metropolitan area. She is also the Music Director, Pianist and Arranger at New York First Presbyterian church in New York since 2012. (https://musicians.allaboutjazz.com/jiheeheo?width=1440) Heo sings beautifully on the opening song, but dedicates her full attention to the piano from there on out. Her talents shine in both aspects. Her rhythm section is filled by Marty Kenney (bass) and Rodney Green (drums) and rapper Saidu Ezike guests on the song “Trust”. This is a dazzling set from beginning to end. Click here to check out “Blurring The Blues” from this release.
Cory Weeds Quartet – Day By Day (Cellar Live): While several of the promos for this release list both alto sax player Cory Weeds and pianist David Hazeltine, it is actually Weeds’ release. Certainly the reason for that is these two players blend wonderfully and have actually performed together many times. Surprisingly however, this is only the second time they have recorded with each other. Each one contributed a new composition to the set as well and Hazeltine arranged all of the performances. Ken Lister (bass) and Jesse Cahill (drums) make up the rhythm section. A solid outing! Click here and scroll down to listen to samples of the songs on this disc.
Benjamin Boone with the Ghana Jazz Collective – Joy (Origin): “Joy documents the inspired collaborations saxophonist/composer Benjamin Boone experienced while living in Ghana for a year as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar. He performed frequently with Accra-based tenor saxophonist Bernard Ayisa, pianist Victor Dey, Jr., bassist Bright Osei, drummer Frank Kissi and vocalist Sandra Huson, with this set recorded in Boone’s final week in country. Bathed in joy, exuberance and dance, the band tackles four Boone originals, Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” “Curtain of Light” by Ethiopia-based saxophonist Jonovan Cooper, and the title track by the late saxophonist, Gerry Niewood.” (https://benjaminboone.bandcamp.com/album/joy) This blend of musicians is a beautiful and energetic sample of the positive energy of music. Click here to listen to the songs on this disc.
Michael Wolff – Bounce (Sunnyside): “In the summer of 2015, a grueling and often bewildering four-year battle with a rare cancer had the acclaimed pianist-composer Michael Wolff on the ropes. His sons Nat and Alex, in the midst of their ascent as two of the most talented actors of their generation, had returned home to be with their father and try to comfort him…At one point, as Wolff was being cared for by his wife, the award-winning actress, director and writer Polly Draper, a doctor asked her if she’d signed a Do Not Resuscitate order. Through the haze of drugs and debilitating illness, Wolff interjected. Lifting his head up, he growled: “Resuscitate me!”…Now 66 and completely free of cancer (and cancer medications), Wolff has seen his personal and creative outlook transform in the profound way that occurs only in those who have been, as the pianist puts it, “to the brink and back.” “My view of life, art and music has changed, developed, matured, widened and focused simultaneously,” says Wolff, who continued to practice and compose diligently throughout his fight.” (https://www.michaelwolff.com/about/) After months of physical and mental rehabilitation, he was ready to approach music again with a new trio. This trio would be formed with New York natives, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Allan Mednard.Wolff and received terrific kudos. That release – Swirl – received tremendous praise and Bounce the follow-up. These two releases are the most dazzling and successful of his career. The trio is intact and son Nat Wolff sings on a composition of his own entitled “Cool Kids”. Allison contributed one song, “Milton” and the group also covers “You And The Night And The Music” and “Omar Sharif”. The remaining seven pieces were composed by Wolff. A wonderful story and terrific music. Click here to listen to songs on this disc.
Ian Hendrickson-Smith – The Lowdown (Cellar Music): “New York City based saxophonist and flutist Ian Hendrickson-Smith is mostly noted for his remarkable tone, soulful approach and blues driven melodies. Equally adept on all the saxophones, Ian stays very busy doing what he loves and loves staying busy! Currently you can find Ian playing on the road with The Roots or on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. From 2004 to 2010, Hendrickson-Smith maintained an intense recording and touring schedule as a member of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.” On this disc, Ian Hendrickson-Smith stretches out with a soulful and blues drenched outing. The Lowdown features an all-star New York rhythm section featuring Rick Germanson on piano, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. Joining Ian on the front line is tenor saxophonist Cory Weeds.” (https://www.urbanvinyl.org/products/ian-hendrickson-smith-the-lowdown-lp) It has truly special meaning for Henrdrickson-Smith to list this as a tribute to longterm friend and drummer Lawrence “Lo” Leathers who tased away in June of 2019 and to record again with Cory Woods (tenor sax extraordinaire) who introduced Henrickson-Smith to the “Cellar” in Vancouver and having the opportunity to record on the Cellar Music label. Additional players are Rick Germanson (piano), John Webber (bass) and Joe Farnsworth (drums). The music is terrific – end to end! Click her to listen to a clip from the title song and you will get the “Lowdown”.
Kenny Barron / Dave Holland Trio – Without Deception (Dare 2): Kenny Barron (piano) and Dave Holland (bass) are two of the finest players in the jazz world. Add drummer Johnathan Blake on drums and you cannot miss. Barron composed four songs on this set and Holland two and the covers come from Mulgrew Miller, Sumi Tonooka, Duke Ellington and Monk. “Separated in age by only three years, the two leaders – both honored as NEA Jazz Masters – represent an impressive spectrum of jazz history between them. The Philadelphia-born pianist apprenticed with such giants as Dizzy Gillespie and Yusef Lateef before collaborating with the likes of Stan Getz, Ron Cater, Buster Williams and Regina Carter, earning nine Grammy Award nominations along the way. The British bassist came to prominence in groundbreaking groups led by such legends as Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Sam Rivers, Betty Carter, and Anthony Braxton—as well as collaborations with the likes of Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Jack DeJohnette and John McLaughlin.” (https://kennybarron.com/recordings/without-deception/) The set flows with beauty and style throughout. It is hip to the tip all around! Click here and click on the titles labelled in blue to listen to samples of three songs on this disc.
Jason Marsalis – Live (Basin Street): Vibe player Jason Marsalis offers his first live disc and he obviously feels right at home! He’s performing with Oscar Rossignoli (piano), Jasen Weaver (bass) and Gerald Watkins (drums). The group is clearly in sync throughout this set and Marsalis tears it up! While Marsalis is most often identified as a drummer, he certainly tears it up on the vibes as well! This is a great performance throughout. Click here to check out another live performance of “Ratio Man Strikes Again” a song which is included on this disc as well.
Orrin Evans – The Evolution Of Oneself (Smoke Sessions): Pianist Orrin Evans presents a musical representation of his life and growth in music, including a few surprising musical connections. All songs are presented from his current perspective and mostly done as a trio that includes bassist Christian McBride and drummer Karriem Riggins. Guitarist Marvin Sewell and vocalist JD Walter are each added on to a take or so. This recording was performed live in the studio and its rhythmic quality truly stands out. This is a melodic set featuring standards such as All The Things You Are and Autumn Leaves, a few unique covers like Grover Washington’s A Secret Place and the country standard Wildwood Flower (fascinating version!), but mostly features Evans’ originals. Even in the “blended” styles, melodic and rhythmic jazz is the prime element. Click here for an introduction to this disc by Orrin Evans.
Ben Sidran – Who’s The Old Guy Now? (Bonsai / Nardis): There would seem to be more information coming, but Ben Sidran isn’t going to wait for that when there is some wacky wisdom to impart. Come to think of it, this may well be the best time. It’s a nice mix of thoughts to ponder or simply chuckle at. He obviously wanted to get this out in a hurry. Insights on life right now in the US, including “We The People”, “Who’s The Old Guy Now”, “The Blues Is The Bottom Line” because there are “Too Many People” and maybe “Old Wine in a New Bottle” is the best we can hope for! By the way, who IS that old guy? Don’t miss it!!! Click here to listen to songs from this release.
Various Artists – If You’re Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison (Fat Possum): “Born in 1927 in the Mississippi Delta, Mose John Allison grew up listening to jazz and blues greats such as Louis Armstrong, Memphis Minnie, Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan and the Nat Cole Trio. He learned to play the piano and trumpet as a boy. After a stint in the army and then several years playing in clubs around the South, he moved to New York City to make his career as a pianist, songwriter, and performer fronting his own trio. Allison performed with jazz greats such as Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Gerry Mulligan, and developed a distinctive style of playing that fused blues and jazz with succinct and timeless lyrics. Mose Allison became a favorite among his peers and his songs have been covered by other great artists.… Allison passed away in 2016 at the age of 89.” (https://sweetrelief.org/news/mose_allison_tribute/) The performers on this disc include Taj Mahal, Robbie Fulks, Jackson Browne, Fiona Apple, Ben Harper, Ben Harper, Chrissie Hynde, Iggy Pop, Bonnie Raitt, Loudon Wainwright III, Richard Thompson, Peter Case, Dave and Phil Alvin, and Amy Allison with Elvis Costello. This is a fitting tribute to such a monumental thinker and performer! Click here to listen to a song on this release.