BEST OF 2013: J Hunter’s Best Jazz Albums, Part I

By J Hunter

One of the “problems” with doing this thing on the radio – “Jazz2K” is also broadcast from 6-8pm on Tuesdays on WSPN (91.1FM), including this Tuesday’s (December 17) Best of 2013 edition – is that I have 60 or 70 discs to consider instead of 20 or 30. Whoever said, “Be careful what you wish for…” had a good point. Anyway, with the brand-new chainsaw I got for our anniversary (Thanks, honey! Love ya bunches!), I was able to cut the pile down to a Top 10 and eight outstanding “Honorable Mentions.” Let’s get the Honorables out of the way first – mainly because I need to get those bowling trophies off the mantle so we can hang the Festivus decorations:

Their performance at Freihofer’s felt like Saturday night during Mardi Gras, as opposed to the “jazz funerals” they’ve staged in the past. And it’s all thanks to That’s It, Preservation Hall’s first-ever all-originals release. Maybe My Morning Jacket’s Jim James produced the session, but there’s an Old School echo to the 11 studio tracks that makes them seem like gems from NOLA’s marvelously shady past. Even live takes on “Oh Liza” and “Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing” jump around like newborn colts. This righteous set is Preservation Hall’s message to “modern” marchers like Rebirth and Dirty Dozen: “Pump the brakes, youngsters! We ain’t dead YET!”

CLIFF HINESWanderlust (Self-released)
Some members of Preservation Hall have ties that are older than this fellow Big Easy resident. That said, multi-instrumentalist Cliff Hines really gets his his Marco Benevento on, with an eclectic assortment of musical styles and cinematic takes on everything from Tehran’s Green Revolution and the Fukushima meltdown to the firebombing of Dresden in World War II. Bewitching vocalist Sasha Masakowski is the not-so-secret weapon in this intricate tapestry, as Hines plays Second Line one moment, Indian raga the next, and quotes William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” while mashing up jazz and thrash. Wanderlust is truly addictive. More, please!

GOLDEN BOOMERANG (Recording Division):
MARC CARY: For the Love of Abbey and Four DirectionsMARC CARYFor the Love of Abbey (Motema)
MARC CARY FOCUS TRIOFour Directions (Motema)
You’d be surprised how many artists came up with two releases in one year, even in this economy. 2013 saw double shots from major players like Christian McBride, David Weiss and Pennsylvania agents-provocateurs Mostly Other People Do the Killing. But at the end of the day, I had to look at the range of those releases, and keyboardist Marc Cary definitely spread his wings, starting with a beautifully expressive tribute to former leader and mentor Abbey Lincoln, and then taking his own group into the studio so he could place his own Size Whatever shoeprint on the keyboard-trio format. Players like Cary are jazz’s future. Get out your shades!

Tribute discs had a pretty good run this year, too: Cary’s Abbey Lincoln portrait was matched by Teri Roiger’s own ode to Lincoln, one of her heroes; we also heard homages to Billy Strayhorn, Wayne Shorter, Steely Dan and the music of Motown. But as Greg Haymes saw at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall the other night, vocalist Tierney Sutton has beautifully opened up the songbook of Joni Mitchell, who expressed her own love for jazz many times. Sutton gives the same big love to “Blue” and “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” that she lavishes on big hits like “Woodstock” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” Add this to the growing list of great work from one of this genre’s best interpreters.

ROBERT WALTER’S 20TH CONGRESSGet Thy Bearings (Royal Potato Family)
Back we go to The City that Care Forgot, because (All together now…), “There AIN’T no party like a NEW ORLEANS party!” This is the band Walter formed after the keyboardist left the Greyboy All-Stars, one of the most underrated bands NOLA ever gifted us with. Walter could have laid down a straight Hammond B-3 date and we’d probably all be happy, but the horn charts on pieces like “Hunk” and “Foxhunting” are OFF the charts, and Walter displays his own interpretive skill by tweaking Jimi Hendrix’s “Up From the Skies” and Donovan’s title track so that they sound straight outta NOLA. Get Thy Bearings is why speakers should be able to go to 11.

MICHELE ROSEWOMAN’S NEW YOR-UBA – 30 Years: A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America BEST CROWD-FUNDED PROJECT:
MICHELE ROSEWOMAN’S NEW YOR-UBA30 Years: A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America (Advance Dance Disques)
As many Greater Nippertown jazzers will tell you, a lot of musical dreams would die if it weren’t for outfits like ArtistShare, Kickstarter and Indiegogo. For example, Lake George Jazz Weekend might not have seen the loving treatment keyboardist Michele Rosewoman and her ever-expanding cast of musical characters give to the music of their native land. Not only does 30 Years stand up next to the raft of amazing Afro-Cuban releases we’ve been inundated with this year, but it also shows the historical and religious foundations that make the sub-genre as rich and beguiling as it is.

FRED HERSCH & JULIAN LAGEFree Flying (Palmetto)
Just like baseball pitchers need their own award, solo & duet releases have to be judged separately from “regular” releases because they require a different mindset – both from the player(s) and the listener. There’s so much about Free Flying that makes me smile: Fred Hersch is still painting vivid pianoscapes in the face of health issues that would make most people pack it in; Julian Lage’s singular guitar style dovetails so well with Hersch’s classical-meets-jazz attack; and this superb set of conversations was recorded live at Kitano, my favorite New York jazz club. “Intimate” doesn’t have to mean “dry” or “boring”, and Free Flying is neither!

MICHAEL-LOUIS SMITH – First Black NationLOCAL HERO AWARD (Recording Division):
MICHAEL-LOUIS SMITHFirst Black Nation (MLS Music)
Okay, he lives in New York now, and he only comes here nowadays to play gigs. And you know what? I DON’T CARE! When Smith dropped this disc at The Linda, he described his horror and helplessness as he listened to the reports on NPR Radio about the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which sent over 150,000 people to their deaths and left many more homeless and shattered. Smith created when others would have turned off the radio. First Black Nation takes you from fun in the sun to mind-numbing terror in a heartbeat, and touches on every aspect of what happened next. This ain’t no party; this ain’t no jazz club; and this definitely ain’t no foolin’ around!

J Hunter’s Best Jazz Albums, Part II

Got a Best of 2013 list that you’d like to share with Nippertown readers? Best concerts of the year? Best Local 518 music moments of the year? Best plays? Best art gallery exhibits? Best books by local authors? Best whatever? Please keep it local, but send it along to [email protected]

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