With "Black Dahlia," saxophonist Bob Belden tells the story of the 1947 murder of Hollywood actress Elizabeth Short. It's a big, sweeping work in 12 parts, with elements of Gil Evans and Henry Mancini woven among classic film noir elements.
Larry Goldings Trio
Larry Goldings proved he was an awesome Hammond B-3 organist years ago, but he nails the point home anew with his long-standing trio on "As One." The grooves are understated enough to be super hip and magnetic, with guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart jamming at a kicked-back pace that smolders.
"Live At Starbucks [LIVE]"
Ray Brown Trio
Bassist Ray Brown has been in the jazz game since World War II, and on this live session he sounds as full-toned and as nimble as ever. Pianist Geoff Keezer moves from blues to bop to modal improvisation seamlessly, and Brown's there all along, as is drummer Karreem Riggins.
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Soul-jazz architect Kenny Burrell sounds as if he was born on the same long night as jam-band jazz trailblazers Medeski Martin & Wood when they jump all over Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues." Burrell and MM&W sound transported by the riffs and their own combined three-minute heat. Download "C Jam Blues" from the Ellington tribute "Red Hot + Indigo"--a Red Hot benefit for AIDS awareness and relief.
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FROM THE VAULTS
"The Prestige Jazz Quartet"
In 1957, the Modern Jazz Quartet was all the rage. Don't think, though, that the Prestige Jazz Quartet was a mere rip off. Here's pianist Mal Waldron, vibist Teddy Charles, bassist Addison Farmer, and drummer Jerry Segal delving into the blues and waltzes with the same instrumentation, but with a cut-to-the-quick sharpness and heftier, even bluesier feel.
"From Spirituals To Swing [BOX SET]"
This three-CD box set capturing the "From Spirituals to Swing" concerts of the late-1930s may have been released in 1999, but the set is a perennial classic. Social activist and impresario John Hammond brought together Benny Goodman, Count Basie, James P. Johnson, poet Sterling Brown, and several bluesmen and gospel ensembles to show the present and past of jazz and African American aesthetics. For that, the shows go down in history. Also check out our Vanguard Jazz Showcase.
"Structurally Sound [Limited] [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED]" Booker Ervin
Booker Ervin possessed an immense Texas tenor sax sound, robust and chowder-thick and hard-swinging. His agility took him toward John Coltrane, but his bluesiness kept him anchored in the Lone Star tradition. "Structurally Sound," among the latest in Blue Note's Connoisseur series, finds Ervin leading a burning quintet in 1966 with a young John Hicks on piano, and includes staggering takes on "Berkshire Blues," "Stolen Moments," and even "White Christmas." If you dig this, check out our Blue Note Store.
"Hunting The Snake"
A young but seasoned Evan Parker joins pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach's free-leaning quartet on "Hunting the Snake," a European jazz classic from 1975. The music skitters and squalls and goes from all-out energy to lengthy textural studies. It's one of the great Unheard Music selections offered by Atavistic Records.
FRESH AND SMOOTH
"Sketches Of James: Selections From..."
Singer Shirley Horn, saxist Gerald Albright, Latin-jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez, the New York Voices--each of these artists feels an indebtedness to singer-songwriter James Taylor, and that's led to "Sketches of James," a diverse set of 10 Taylor songs that touches many of jazz's milestones of the last generation.
"Dancing On The Water"
Bob James's piano and songs are the focus of his latest, "Dancing on the Water." He invites several duet partners aboard for some two-way considerations here, including Joe Sample, Keiko Matsui, and even Dave Holland. The playing is heartily melodic and lovely.
"Day & Night"
Touching on both the British acid-jazz scene and U.S. smooth jazz equally, drummer Gota intermingles the two well here. The surface is all smooth, with a glowing sheen that throws added light on how intricate the rhythms are. It's a learned balance that should delight smooth-jazz fans and have the acid-jazz crew on their feet as well.
GREAT JAZZ COMPILATIONS
A good jazz compilation can get you through almost any occasion, and "Pure Jazz" is a fine set indeed. Eighteen tracks range from early Nina Simone to classic Stan Getz and Billie Holiday. You also get Diana Krall doing Blossom Dearie, Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," and even Satchmo's "What a Wonderful World."
"The Prestige Legacy Vol. 1: The High Priests" Monk
The music collected on "Prestige Legacy Volume 1" is a primer for anyone interested in John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins's 1950s-era works. Monk's "Bemsha Swing," Miles's "Solar," Rollins's "Valse Hot," and four stellar Coltrane jams make this a great one for the Repeat Play button.
"The Prestige Legacy Vol. 2: Battles Of The Saxes" Getz
The music collected on "Prestige Legacy Volume 2" highlights 11 fantastic saxophone battles. Here Sonny Stitt and Booker Ervin go head to head, just as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane do on the famous "Tenor Madness." And so does Stan Getz in a throwdown with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, and Wardell Gray with Sonny Criss. It's a fabulous document of an age in jazz when trading fours and blowing doors were second nature.
ESSENTIALS BY STYLE
From spry scat singing to yearning narratives and high-stepping standards, our Vocal Jazz Essentials feature Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Jimmy Scott, and much more. Check out Amazon.com's list of Vocal Jazz Essentials.
Browse all of our Jazz Essentials
On the heels of Ken Burns's sometimes hotly contested Jazz PBS series, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has proffered their batch of Grammy awards on the jazz community once again. It goes without saying that jazz is a living, breathing, mutating art form, and this year's award winners show that growth generously.
BEST CONTEMPORARY JAZZ ALBUM
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
Banjo maestro Bela Fleck wins listeners with whatever he touches. Outbound features his electric jazz-fusion combo the Flecktones (as opposed to his more rootsy acoustic bandmates on albums such as "The Bluegrass Sessions"). Fleck and his 'Tones do a fine job here, and this award recognizes Bela's versatility and staying power.
"Here's The Deal" Liquid Soul
If the Best Contemporary Jazz Album award was looking to predict the future direction of jazz, it would end up with Liquid Soul's acid jazz/funk throwdown "Here's the Deal," which wins a tug-of-war with Tim Hagans and Bob Belden's dance-club tempered "Re-Animation: Live!" Liquid Soul has their fingers on the dance-floor pulse and jams thoroughly.
BEST JAZZ VOCAL ALBUM
"In The Moment: Live In Concert [LIVE]"
Dianne Reeves commands the same jazz terrain that Sarah Vaughan made her own; that is, Reeves easily crosses from jazz to pop and stops at many points in between, just as Vaughan did. Consider "In the Moment"'s mix: Jobim, Mongo Santamaria, Cat Stevens, and Cole Porter, among others. As she receives this Grammy, Reeves is riding high on an apt new CD, "The Calling:
Celebrating Sarah Vaughan."
"Live At Yoshi's [LIVE]"
Dee Dee Bridgewater
For every genre-stretching step in Diane Reeves's repertoire, Dee Dee Bridgewater has a more streamlined, rock-solid answer. Of course, they're terrifically different singers. Bridgewater's "Live at Yoshi's" is a sleek, rocking set that puts her agile chops to the test. The good news? She sounds better than ever.
BEST JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL SOLO
Pat Metheny Trio
"(Go) Get It": Here's why guitarist Pat Metheny won in 2000: because "Trio 99-00" wasn't just a CD. The band, with drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Larry Grenadier, was a road-tested unit that followed their studio album with a great two-CD concert set, "Trio Live," that showed incredible rapport. "(Go) Get It" is a track that will wow Metheny's fusion fans as well as anyone who has a fondness for (or fanatical devotion to) jazz guitar.
Metheny's prior attempts at recording trios were big creative successes, but none of them led to as rich a group-oriented interplay as the 99-00 trio's.
BEST JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM, INDIVIDUAL, OR GROUP
Branford Marsalis Quartet
With "Contemporary Jazz," Branford Marsalis focused on a straight-ahead acoustic jazz quartet session that's at once ambitious, easy to love, and relaxed. Pianist Joey Calderazzo sounds great here, as does Branford, who blows lyrically and wildly without ever indulging one muse too much.
Dave Holland Quintet
As much as "Contemporary Jazz" is a deserving session, bassist Dave Holland's "Prime Directive" is an even more deserving nominee. Holland's band intermingles straight-up jamming with a melodic inventiveness whose range recalls that of Charles Mingus. Holland's resonant bass and saxophonist Chris Potter's boundless talents, joined with vibist Steve Nelson's colorful additions, help make "Prime Directive" a should-have-won.
BEST LARGE JAZZ ENSEMBLE ALBUM
"52nd Street Themes"
Joe Lovano Nonet
Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano's tribute to the bebop era centers around Tadd Dameron, with whom Lovano's father and the album's prime arranger, Willie "Face" Smith, both played. He vigorously runs down these tunes, never hurrying to deconstruct them, but honoring them, and then showing how flexible they can be with his killer nine-piece band.
No matter how great Lovano is in any given year, he's not likely to eclipse the unflagging, tireless genius of Sam Rivers. The version of Rivers's long-standing RivBea Orchestra on "Culmination" adds the name All-Star to denote just how many giants are in the sprawling band. The tunes are spiky, funky, swirling works of incredible depth.
BEST LATIN JAZZ ALBUM
"Live At The Village Vanguard [LIVE]"
Jesus "Chucho" Valdes
Chucho Valdes is a whirlwind pianist. His torrential intensity on the piano is fully suited to the music on this live set. The percussion that underscores Valdes's prancing, jumping piano adds a rumble that makes this a Cuban delight. As an arranger, Valdes brings several Caribbean standards to the fore here, always painting them in the most intensely fun colors possible.
Valdes is perfect for the task at hand here. He's a brilliant synthesizer who can bring Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk to bear on the bustling sounds of Cuba. We've come to expect a certain sound from the Cuban music movement, and Valdes adds generously to the tradition.
BEST INSTRUMENTAL ARRANGEMENT
"Corea Concerto [LIVE]"
"Spain for Sextet & Orchestra": Chick Corea and his sextet play here alongside a richly arranged orchestral accompaniment. The CD heralds Corea's return to the acoustic jazz stage and it delights with energy and feeling and sprawls with ambition.
Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra
"Nice Work if You Can Get It": Here's a case where semistandard jazz practice should've won more accolades. Pianist, arranger, composer, and bandleader Jim McNeely's work on Gershwin's "Nice Work if You Can Get It" (and throughout "Nice Work") is simply stunning. He's Ellingtonian in using the band as an instrument and adds colors to Gershwin's chestnut that aren't even in other arrangers' crayon boxes.
MISCELLANEOUS JAZZ WINNERS
Awards: Best Boxed Recording Package & Best Album Notes
"The Complete Columbia Recordings [BOX SET]"
It's about time we got around to a full accounting of the fruits of Miles Davis and John Coltrane's collaborations outside "Kind of Blue." "The Complete Columbia Recordings" wins here for Best Boxed Recording Package and Best Album Notes and is the clear winner in both categories. The bookbinding and deep-red slipcase are absolute winners, and the notes are comprehensive and compelling.
Award: Best Historical Album
"The Complete Hot Five... [BOX SET]"
Columbia Records's Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings isn't necessarily the definitive audio version of Louis Armstrong's nonpareil Jazz Age classics. But this presentation of the tunes makes the set worthy of its award. The book is outstanding, and the music is some of the century's best--an obvious choice in the Historical Album category.
Award: Best Male Pop Vocal Performance
"A Love Affair: The Music Of Ivan Lins"
"She Walks This Earth (Soberana Rosa)" by Sting: It seems strange to celebrate Sting from a jazz perspective in the Grammys, but consider this: the track Sting was awarded for comes from the celebrated tribute to Brazilian pop-jazz songwriter Ivan Lins. Sting helps cement the case for Lins as his generation's closest thing to Antonio Carlos Jobim.
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Cofounder of the Modern Jazz Quartet, pianist and composer John Lewis has been sailing the jazz waters for more than 50 years. "Evolution II" follows 2000's sublime solo piano CD, "Evolution," with a crisply swinging set of tunes played by Lewis's quartet. The piano is no less poetic in this guitar-bass-drums setting, and Lewis sounds like the super-accomplished giant that he is.
"Dot Com Blues"
Here's organist Jimmy Smith bounding down the road with a roster of blues greats and his own funky, woolly sense of a good jam. B.B. King, Etta James, Dr. John, Keb' Mo', and Taj Mahal join Smith on this rollicking, hip-shaking session. It's proof yet again that Smith's never lost his funky touch.
"The Calling: For Sarah Vaughan"
Dianne Reeves pays fitting homage to Sarah Vaughan on "The Calling." After all, Reeves, like Vaughan, is as at home belting out swinging jazz tunes as she is melting popular fare with her big, versatile voice. Reeves has range like Vaughan's, and she can take jazz beyond its usual constituency, the way Diana Krall has.
Pianist Matthew Shipp's playing is perhaps best described as turbulently lyrical. On "New Orbit," he brings Wadada Leo Smith's trumpet to his quartet. The piano work is resolute in its exploration of miniature figures that create a weaving theme throughout the CD. The melodies are intoxicating, and Smith variously caresses, carouses, and cajoles with a huge palette of trumpet colors.
"This Is What I Do"
Like many Sonny Rollins sessions, "This Is What I Do" can slip by on first listen. But on the second trip through, it becomes clear how great Rollins's imagination is. He plays the paint off these tunes, running around, above, and through them. Rollins can shape and reshape melody a thousand ways, and that seems his fascination on this great album.
"Some New Stuff"
A new album from Lee Konitz is always reason to celebrate. And this trio session, with its looseness and high energy, shows how great a rapport Konitz has with the fine rhythm section of drummer Joey Baron and bassist Greg Cohen. The tunes and setting recall Konitz's landmark set, "Motion," which is no small praise, indeed.
NEW GUITAR JAZZ
"Works for Me"
Guitarist John Scofield's outdone himself on "Works for Me." First, he's brought together an unbelievable band--including pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Kenny Garrett with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Billy Higgins. Second, Scofield's translated his funky guitar sound so it grooves and creates pristine melodies without losing touch with the band's acoustic dexterity.
"The Next Step"
Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel's sophomore effort shows a mature, rounded sense of his instrument's range. From luminescent Jim Hall-like glowing to a more rugged, thorny attack, Rosenwinkel sounds entirely fresh. Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner plays with all the same vigor, energizing Rosenwinkel's sharp-minded quartet.
Bill Frisell veers away from his 2000 solo guitar effort, "Ghost Town," and toward the bands the guitarist led throughout the 1990s. Horns, a rhythm section expanded by pedal steel guitar, and a grittier vibe make "Blues Dream" a nerve-tingling success. While certainly not a straightforward blues session, this is a genre-bending display of where jazz, country, blues, and umpteen other sources converge.
"You Remind Me of Someone"
Ranking with Kurt Rosenwinkel as one of jazz guitar's up-and-coming major talents, Pete McCann brings together a laid-back, cool style and a raft of rapidly developing, advanced ideas in harmony and rhythm. His melodies can float and burst, always marking their territory strongly. McCann's sophomore effort shows that jazz guitar is in good hands.
YOU MIGHT'VE MISSED
"Written in the Stars"
In the line of impressionistic jazz pianists, Bill Charlap stands as an unhurried, imaginative magician. He teases nuances and new meanings from a handful of standards on "Written in the Stars," drawing favorable comparisons to another Bill (Evans) and Tommy Flanagan, too. This is fantastically fleet piano jazz of the first order.
"New New York"
As one of the saxophonists in Joe Lovano's "52nd Street Themes" nonet, Steve Slagle has a tight grasp of bop's energies and rhythms. He invites Lovano aboard for this incredible session, which leaps and bounces with the electricity of the Big Apple. Bassist Cameron Brown, drummer Gene Jackson, and guitarist Dave Stryker make Slagle's latest a festive blast.
With "Emit," saxophonist Chris Speed shows how mature his sense of post-Ornette Coleman jazz is. His is a jaunty, thick mix of propulsive rhythms and two-horn melodies that have a funky, twisting beauty. This is engaged, tight, creative jazz at its best.
"Elements of Poetry"
Expansive and lyrically inclined, pianist Oskar Aichinger makes a bold creative statement with "Elements of Poetry." On the one hand, it's a Bill Evans-ish tumble of impressions and melodies. But Aichinger wanders beyond, roiling and delving deeply into his tunes with bandmates Achim Tang on bass and Paul Skrepek Jun on drums.
FROM THE (PIANO) BENCH
"Dodecaband Plays Ellington"
Pianist and bandleader Martial Solal's never gotten the attention he deserves in North America. Perhaps "Dodecaband Plays Ellington" will change that. This is a fine tribute to the Duke, showing off how richly Ducal tunes can be explored. Solal's piano is at the core here, but so too are the talents of the leader's French band, which changes tempo and tune seamlessly and riffs so well that they sound positively Ellingtonian.
"Live in New York"
Pianist Chucho Valdes is able at any time to fly across his keyboard with the speed and tempo of the most heated Cuban melody. On "Solo--Live in New York," the mostly warm, profusely flowing tunes show off his intimate side. "Somewhere over the Rainbow" and "Besame Mucho" are two of the treasures here, both moving at slow tempos, while other tunes come galloping out of the gate.
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