by Scott Yanow
There are so many jazz releases each year (a minimum of 200 a month) that compiling a “Best Of” list that everyone would agree upon is impossible. Many other writers, when compiling their “Best Of” lists, tend to emphasize cutting edge and avant-garde jazz. I prefer to cast a wider net, including releases that are creative within the context of many styles and approaches from trad jazz, swing, bop, and post-bop to vocalists and Latin-flavored jazz.
Below (in alphabetical order) are my picks for 2022: 26 new releases and 26 albums of reissues and historical music (some of which was previously unreleased). The list was originally going to be 25 apiece but I could not talk into myself into eliminating any of these. One can certainly argue for the inclusion of dozens of other superb recordings. Suffice it to say that these 52 albums are all highly recommended and are memorable in their own way.
Lakecia Benjamin – Pursuance: The Coltranes – Ropeadope
Evan Christopher – Blues In The Air – Camille Productions
Craig Davis – Tone Paintings – MCG Jazz
Michael Dease – Best Next Thing – Positone
Roberta Donnay – Blossom-ing – Village Jazz Café
Diego Figueiredo – Follow The Signs – Arbors
Brent Fischer Orchestra – Pictures At An Exhibition – Clavo
Kevin Fort – Perspectives – Jeru Jazz
Pasquale Grasso – Be-Bop! – Masterworks
Connie Han – Secrets Of Inanna – Mack Avenue
Oscar Hernandez – Visión – Ovation
Eric Jacobson – Discover – Origin
Samara Joy – Linger Awhile – Verve
Charles Lloyd – Chapel – Blue Note
Roberto Magris – Match Point – J Mood
Mark Christian Miller – Music In The Air – Sliding Jazz Door Productions
T.S. Monk – Two Continents One Groove – Storyville
Joel Ross – The Parable Of The Poet – Blue Note
Richard Shelton – An Englishman In Love In LA – Self-Released
Hal Smith’s New Orleans Owls – Early Hours – Self-Released
Grant Stewart – The Lighting Of The Lamps – Cellar Music CM 110521
Melissa Stylianou – Dream Dancing – Anzic
Tierney Sutton – Paris Sessions 2 – BFM Jazz
Angela Verbrugge – Love For Connoisseurs – Gut String Records
Bobby Watson – Back Home In Kansas City – Smoke Sessions
Jeremy Wong – Hey There – Cellar Music Group
George Avakian – One Step To Heaven – Rivermont
Chris Barber – Just Once More For All Time – Lake
Sidney Bechet – Four Classic Albums – Third Set – Avid
Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers – First Flight To Tokyo – Blue Note
Connie Boswell – Concentratin’ On You – Retrospective
Ray Brown – The Early Albums Complete – Enlightenment
Dave Brubeck Trio – Live From Vienna 1967 – Brubeck Editions
Kenny Clarke – The Complete Albums Collection – Enlightenment
Chick Corea – The Montreux Years – BMG
Miles Davis – The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7 – Columbia/Legacy
Herb Geller – European Rebirth – Fresh Sound
Dexter Gordon – Soul Sister – Steeplechase
Joe Harriott – The Rake’s Progress at the BBC – R&B Records
Freddie Hubbard – The Complete Blue Note & Impulse’60s Studio Sessions – Mosaic
Ahmad Jamal – The Complete Okeh, Parrot & Epic Sessions 1951-1955 – Fresh Sound
Charles Mingus – The Lost Album From Ronnie Scott’s – Resonance
Charles Mingus – Presents Charles Mingus – Candid
Brew Moore – Special Brew – Steeplechase
Gerry Mulligan – Concert Jazz Band – Fremeaux & Associes
Madeleine Peyroux – Careless Love – Craft
Zutty Singleton – Icon Of New Orleans Drumming – Upbeat Jazz
Charles Tolliver’s Music Inc. – Live In Tokyo – Strata East
Lennie Tristano – Personal Recordings 1946-1970 – Mosaic/Dot Time
Various Artists – Classic Black & White Jazz Sessions – Mosaic
Various Artists – West Coast In Amsterdam – Nederlands Jazz Orchief
Bob Wilber – The Six – Fresh Sound
The Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra made its debut at Catalina’s with a colorful and well-received show. Trumpeter Winston Byrd is the band’s artistic director, guitarist Charley Harrison served as its conductor, and the 18-piece orchestra (driven by drummer Clayton Cameron) is filled with high-quality soloists and section players.
The night began with a cooking version of Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud” which had solos from trumpeter Ron Stout, tenor-saxophonist Justo Almario, and altoist Ian Vo. Byrd, playing lead, let out several memorable blasts, hitting stratospheric high notes with ease. The orchestra followed with three more instrumentals: Monty Alexander’s “You Can See,” which featured trombonist Robyn Javier, altoist Steve Murillo, and pianist Brian O’Rourke (he was in particularly excellent form throughout the set), “Save Your Love For Me,” and Harrison’s “B.S” which was an uptempo feature for tenor-saxophonist Jerry Pinter.
Earlier in his career Winston Byrd had played trumpet with the Stylistics, befriending its lead singer Russell Thompkins, Jr. Thompkins, hearing some of Byrd’s big band records, expressed a strong interest in singing with a jazz orchestra someday, so this night was his chance. He sang “Let’s Fall In Love,” “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning,” “Lullaby Of Birdland,” “The Very Thought Of You,” “Satin Doll,” “People Make The World Go Round,” “Betcha By Golly Wow”, and “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” Byrd arranged the latter two big band versions of the Stylistic hits. Although there were times when Thompkins overused his falsetto a bit (particularly during “Lullaby Of Birdland” which was completely sung in falsetto), he showed a real feeling for the lyrics of the songs and certainly had a great time, as did the audience.
Now that they are off to a strong start, one looks forward to the future concerts and projects of the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra.
One of the top jazz pianists in the world, Hiromi is a witty and consistently creative virtuoso who can spontaneously play anything that she thinks of. She is heard at her very best as an unaccompanied soloist but her recent collaboration with the PUBli Quartet (which is comprised of violinists Curtis Stewart and Jannina Norpoth, Nick Revel on viola, and cellist Hamilton Berry) which she calls her Piano Quintet, is a very close second. Hiromi teamed up with the strings on her most recent CD Silver Lining Suite and they performed at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
The first number had the strings playing a bit of a fanfare, Hiromi swinging like Oscar Peterson over the walking cello, the pianist playing some dazzling runs with her right hand, and the piece building up to a colorful climax. It received a giant ovation from the audience, and that was only the beginning of the night. Other highlights included the moody ballad “Isolation,” an original that sounded like a Yiddish dance, plenty of stunning written-out unisons from the strings, sections of pieces where the string players had opportunities to improvise (sometimes wildly together), and lots of rather remarkable piano playing. The string quartet was also featured a bit by itself (including one number where they surprised the audience by singing a little) and Hiromi took “Blackbird” (strange how that has become the most covered Beatles song in the jazz world) as a solo exploration.
Most of the music was simply beyond simple description. Suffice it to say that all jazz listeners owe it to themselves to see Hiromi playing live.
At the Grammy Museum, the Manhattan Transfer (who are celebrating their 50th anniversary) chatted for an hour about their beginnings, their roles in the vocal quartet, and about the often-humorous difficulties that Trist Curless had to surmount when he succeeded the late Tim Hauser. Plenty of humor and mutual affection was displayed during the talk with Curless remembering how he had to sometimes learn his parts while onstage (far from an easy task), Cheryl Bentyne mentioning that she still is considered by some to bel a brand new member of the Transfer (having only been with the group for 43 years), and Alan Paul and Janis Siegel reminiscing about how it all started.
While the talk was enjoyable, the mini concert afterwards was particularly memorable. Accompanied by their longtime pianist Yaron Gershovsky and his trio, the four singers pared down their performance to an hour of their very best and most jazz-oriented material. They sang such numbers as “Route 66,” a very exciting “Stompin’ At Mahogany Hall” (their rendition of “Mahogany Hall Stomp” with Siegel singing Louis Armstrong’s solo), “Jeannine,” and “Birdland.” They showed throughout their performance that, not only are the three veterans (along with the much younger Curless) still very much in their musical prime, but they have not lost any of their enthusiasm for creating music together.
Guitarist Stephane Wrembel is one of the top interpreters of Django Reinhardt’s music and style in the world. In his series of recordings titled “The Django Experiment,” he has stretched Reinhardt’s music a bit while still retaining its essence.
At the Lisa Smith Wengler Center For the Arts at Pepperdine University, Wrembel was featured during a night called “Shades Of Django.” First he performed two of Django Reinhardt’s unaccompanied solo improvisations, referring musically to Debussy, Ravel and Bach along the way. He was then joined by rhythm guitarist Josh Kaye, bassist Ari Folman-Cohen, and drummer Nick Anderson for a pair of French waltzes (“Montagne Sainte-Geneviéve” and “Indifference”) that
symbolized Reinhardt’s musical roots and the type of music he played in his earliest days. Violinist Luanne Hornzy (who was particularly outstanding), guitarist Tommy Davy and bassist Folman-Cohen next performed a medley of four different folk songs from Hungary that evolved from classical music to a hard-swinging romp.
The full sextet was featured during most of the remainder of the night, performing “Dinah,” “Nuages,” “Minor Swing,” and “Caravan.” In addition to Wrembel, guitarist Davy and violinist Hornzy showed their mastery of le hot jazz in their solos and accompaniment while Folman-Cohen was tireless. Singer Sarah King, who has a pleasing high voice and a basic melodic delivery, was an added touch on “Undecided,” and a medley of “I’m Confessin’” and “Lady Be Good.” Wrembel also performed his originals “Big Brother” and “Bistro Fada” (he wrote the latter for the Woody Allen movie Midnight In Paris) before the full group stretched out on their encore “Three Little Words.”
Fans of Django Reinhardt and Gypsy Swing in general are advised to go out of their way to acquire some of Stephane Wrembel’s recordings. Hopefully he will return to Los Angeles sometime in the near future.
Throughout her career, Eliane Elias has been a brilliant pianist who also sings music from her native Brazil. While her vocalizing is pleasing and certainly expands her potential audience, it is her piano playing that puts her on the top echelon.
At Catalina’s, Elias was joined by bassist Marc Johnson (who is also her husband), drummer-percussionist Rafael Barata, and occasionally guitarist Marty Ashby. While Barata contributed some powerful and colorful rhythms, Elias was in the spotlight virtually the entire time. Johnson only had two solos late in the set and Ashby did not have any although his accompaniment was valuable.
Eliane Elias had a four-night run at Catalina’s and, when I attended on the second night, she clearly enjoyed playing before a packed house that was quite enthusiastic and appreciative. Nearly all of the songs featured her singing but there were also plenty of inventive (if often too brief) piano solos. Thanks to Patricia Albela (an expert on Brazilian and Afro-Cuban jazz), I was able to get the song titles which included “Brazil,” “Voce e eu,” “Eu sambo mesmo,” a Dorival Caymmi medley, the bolero “Esta Tarde Vi Llover,” “This Afternoon I Saw Rain,” the samba “This Is What It Is,” Jobim’s “A Felicidade,” and “The Girl From Ipanema” (which she sang in Portuguese). The pianist-singer had a big smile on her face during the entire performance and was inspired by the crowd’s boisterous reaction to everything she played.
Roberta Donnay, a versatile and delightful jazz singer from the San Francisco Bay area, celebrated the release of her recent Blossom-ing recording (which pays tribute to the late singer-pianist Blossom Dearie) at Catalina Bar and Grill. She was joined by pianist Mike Greensill, guitarist David Marcus, bassist Karl Vincent, and drummer MB Gordy.
After the instrumentalists played an effective slower-than-usual version of “On Green Dolphin Street,” Ms. Donnay performed such numbers as “Roberta’s Blues” (a bit reminiscent of Billie Holiday’s “Fine and Mellow”), “Peel Me A Grape” (the Dave Frishberg song that Dearie originally made famous), “Just One Of Those Things” (shifting effectively between two different tempos), “The Party’s Over,” “Moonlight Saving Time,” an intimate and emotional “Someone To Watch Over Me,” “If I Were A Bell,” and the uptempo closer “Devil May Care.”
In addition to her excellent bluesy singing, Roberta Donnay proved to be quite humorous, ad-libbing plenty of funny comments between songs. While she did not attempt to sound like Blossom Dearie in her singing, there are some natural similarities in her style (which contrasts sophistication
with a low-down feeling) and she did full justice to Dearie’s musical legacy, in addition to showing the audience a fun time.
I have a new book that is available from amazon.com. Life Through The Eyes Of A Jazz Journalist. It is subtitled My Jazz Memoirs and is my 12th book and first in a few years. I discuss in an often-humorous fashion my early days and discovery of jazz, my period as the jazz editor of Record Review, the story behind my involvement with the All Music Guide, and I reminisce about some of my adventures as an amateur musician. Included are vintage interviews with Freddie Hubbard, Chick Corea, and Maynard Ferguson, encounters with Clint Eastwood, summaries of the Monterey and Playboy Jazz Festivals (including a full-length review of the 1985 Playboy Festival), memories of other events (such as the IAJE Conventions), and brief snapshots of many memorable club and concert performances. There is also background information about my other books, evaluations of the jazz critics who inspired me early on, and my thoughts on jazz criticism which includes advice to up-and-coming jazz journalists. Rounding out the book is a chapter on how the jazz writing business has changed over the past 50 years, and appendixes that include the jazz greats of the past, 86 jazz giants of today, 21 young performers to look for in the future, jazz books and DVDs that everyone should own, and a dozen enjoyable Hollywood jazz films.
Life Through The Eyes Of A Jazz Journalist, a paperback book, sells for $26 through Amazon.com Signed copies (which will take 2-3 weeks) are also available for $30 (which includes free postage) by sending the money via Pay Pal to email@example.com and by sending your mailing address to that E-mail.