CD Reviews

Embracing the Unexpected

Theoretically, surprise should be part of every jazz performance, but this month’s instrumental CDs offer plenty. Thomas Cunniffe and Ben Markley offer reviews of a Harry Allen/Scott Hamilton tenor duets that eschews the fever pitch of other such efforts, a rhythmically rich album by Joe Lovano’s Us Five and an understated interactive album by Ron Miles, Bill Frisell and Brian Blade.

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Expanding the Repertoire

Discovering new repertoire is an ongoing challenge for jazz musicians, whether they are vocalists or instrumentalists. Thomas Cunniffe reviews the latest albums by vocalists Claudia Acuña, Kellye Gray, Gretchen Parlato and Janis Siegel where they explore music that lays outside of the standard repertoire.

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Finding Common Ground

It has been said that the music of the future will be a combination of different styles, rather than a new form of an established genre. In this month’s vocal CD reviews, Thomas Cunniffe discusses albums by Dena DeRose, Camila Meza, and Sofia Ribeiro which blend elements of seemingly disparate styles.

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For Our Jazz Heroes

This month’s instrumental CD reviews are all (in one form or another) tributes to jazz giants. Thomas Cunniffe reviews Marc Cary’s salute to his former boss, Abbey Lincoln, Eli Yamin and Evan Christopher’s homage to a wealth of jazz heroes, Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway’s live performances of Ellington and Hush Point’s debut CD which examines the continuum between cool and free jazz.

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Four Jazz Masters

It’s been about six years since pianist Renee Rosnes and saxophonist Lew Tabackin released albums under their own names, but each of them has a new disc out, and as Thomas Cunniffe notes in his reviews, both albums were worth the wait. Also reviewed is a collection of 2005 duets by trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and pianist John Taylor. The album was originally issued as a memorial to Wheeler, but by the time of its release, Taylor had also passed away.

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Francisco Mela: “Tree of Life”

On his new CD, Tree of Life, drummer/composer Francisco Mela creates a multicultured musical journey with his band, Cuban Safari, and guest vocalist Esperanza Spalding. The recorded results are explored by our Latin jazz expert, Janine Santana.

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Fred Hersch Trio: “Sunday Night at the Vanguard” (Palmetto 2183)

The live recording sessions for the new Fred Hersch Trio CD Sunday Night at the Vanguard were nearly canceled, until Hersch changed his mind at the group’s initial sound check earlier in the week. It’s a good thing that he did. The album features the astounding music primarily created during a single set at the storied Greenwich Village club. Thomas Cunniffe’s feature review focuses on the ensemble work of this extraordinary trio.

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Fred Hersch: “Alone at the Vanguard” (Palmetto 2147)

After Fred Hersch lapsed into an AIDS-related coma in 2009, many in the jazz community feared he would not survive it. Thankfully, he emerged with renewed strength and creative spirit. His CD, Alone at the Vanguard was recorded shortly after his illness and reviewer Thomas Cunniffe calls it one of Hersch’s finest recordings.

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Friends and Family

This month–without planning it–all of our featured CDs share the theme of family and community. Thomas Cunniffe and Amy Duncan review five albums by the Clayton Brothers, Brandi Disterheft, Diego Figueiredo, Eric Person and Houston Person that feature or salute family members, reunite longtime friends, or share the communion of faith.

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From 1 to 11

The above title is not a reference to Spinal Tap’s amplifiers. Rather, it designates the size of the ensembles featured in this month’s Instrumental CD Reviews. Thomas Cunniffe reviews these fine new albums by Fred Hersch, Bill Charlap, Annie Booth, and Josh Nelson.

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Donna Wickham: “Myth and Memory” (Gizmo 2)

Vocalist Donna Wickham draws from her vast experiences in jazz, classical, folk and pop music for her debut CD, Myth and Memory. Jazz History Online’s newest reviewer, Ellen Johnson, explores this passionate journey into the feminine mystique.

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Genre Blenders

The mixing of jazz with other genres is nothing new. Louis Armstrong’s majestic solo finales have been linked to Italian opera, Django Reinhardt freely borrowed from gypsy music, and the entire movements of Third Stream and fusion were based on the combination of styles. This month, Thomas Cunniffe reviews the latest recordings of three vocalists who create new composites of existing genres.

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Gentlemen Songsters

Male jazz vocalists are a rare commodity these days, but performers like Kurt Elling, Allan Harris and John Proulx enhance jazz with their unique approaches to the music. Thomas Cunniffe reviews the latest albums from these fine gentlemen of song.

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Robert Glasper & Esperanza Spalding: “The Elements of Style”

Released three weeks apart, the new albums by Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding make a concerted effort to blend elements of pop music and jazz. Thomas Cunniffe reviews both albums, noting that each artist has a unique way of mixing the styles.

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