"They Say It's Wonderful," the first track on this marvelous new record from Kirk Whalum, opens cleverly with a sample (or a fresh recording made to sound like a sample, complete with the scratchy LP and old AM radio speaker sound effects), of McCoy Tyner's piano at the top of the classic John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman cut of the same tune from their eponymous 1963 record that serves as Whalum's inspiration. But following that clip, nothing further is lifted directly from Coltrane and Hartman except the spirit of excellence in musicianship and the mellow, romantic mood.
Whereas Coltrane and Hartman--the latter not well known at the time but nonetheless a brilliant vocalist--set out to make a recording of pop[ular] tunes in a jazz form (trio plus tenor sax and vocals), the Whalums instead are making a smooth jazz record on a core of what became jazz standards, then adding some of their own new music. Because great songs are great songs, both versions work very well. But don't think Kirk Whalum was trying to remake the original; this is a modern recording with its own fresh and eloquent voice.
Ron Hart and Gary Fitzgerald are old friends from the 1970s when they worked in a quartet together playing clubs in Cleveland, Ohio. The years of familiarity bring a relaxed and comfortable collaboration on this set of five standards, five originals and one creative jazz makeover of an old Percy Mayfield R&B tune made famous in the 1960s by Ray Charles, "Hit the Road, Jack." This duo proves that you don't need a guy with sticks to keep time, and the absence of the drums heightens the clarity of the remaining voices.
Ido Bukelman is an active Israeli free jazz performer, recording artist, composer and co-founder of OutNow Recordings. He plays with a sense of serious exploration, without frivolity, whether the tune is melancholy or frenzied. Cracked Song is one of four recordings Bukelman released in 2011, this one unique in that he supplemented his usual trio with cellist Yuval Mesner. Mesner adds some darkness to the sound and, of course, the more flowing lines of bowed instrument.
Mary Louise Knutson has produced a lovely jazz trio record with the release of In the Bubble, her second record following her debut release in 2001, Call Me When You Get There. Just like that debut, In the Bubble has landed Knutson in the JazzWeek Top 50 chart, where it's been for 12 weeks. Based in Minneapolis, she is another proof point for the fact that there are fantastic jazz musicians tucked away all over the U.S., far from the coasts.
Live at the Library of Congress is a joyful romp by two jazz greats through a collection of standards with a few originals sprinkled in for flavor. Without bass and drums, Eddie Daniels (clarinet) and Roger Kellaway (piano) are free to have a wide-ranging dialogue with each other over each tune, and the results are spectacular.
Andre Caporaso is an independent and determined musician, having self-produced six records for his own Blue Room label. His press kit quotes him: "The music I compose is more important to me than focusing only on the popular markets and record sales the record labels were looking for." Night in a Strange Land testifies to this guitar player's eclectic musical interests along with the chops to masterfully pursue them.
A winner in the 2008 Downbeat rising star poll, post-bop tenor man Donny McCaslin probably qualifies now as a fully risen star. He's worked with many jazz luminaries and has been a solid part of Dave Douglas's working quintet since 2005. On Declaration, McCaslin proves his chops as a player, composer and arranger...
John Blum is a New York-born free-jazz pianist. On this record you will hear music that is to mainstream jazz what abstract art is to renaissance painting. The same tools are in play: a musical instrument, notes, rhythm, harmony...and you will hear sound bites from time to time that hint at conventional jazz roots, but what ends up on the musical canvas is of a parallel artistic universe. When you hit “play” you will know immediately that you are not in jazz Kansas anymore.
Pamela Hines is a New England Conservatory of Music graduate who is making her mark in jazz with an eclectic series of releases. This Heart of Mine is her solo piano album from 2009. This followed her 2008 New Christmas, an adventurous record consisting entirely of holiday originals. You don’t see many artists try that any more—and Hines gets credit just for the effort, let alone the music.
Stevie Wonder brought the sound of the chromatic harmonica into mainstream consciousness with his numerous recorded solos on the instrument, such as the melody on his 1970s hit "Isn't She Lovely". Chromology will of course appeal to jazz harmonica fans who are looking to go beyond the familiarity of the legendary Toots Thielemans, but for those of you who think "jazz harmonica" is an oxymoron, give a listen and let Chet Williamson show you it makes perfect sense.