Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Charlie Haden Tribute on Bass Channel

Charlie Haden, one of the greatest bassists in jazz history, passed away at the age of 76 on Friday, July 11. He will be remembered for generations as an unmistakably warm presence on some of the most influential jazz recordings of all time.

To commemorate Haden's awe-inspring musical legacy, we are featuring his music on AccuJazz's "Covering All the Bassists" channel. Listeners will hear Haden's playing from dozens of historic recordings, including albums he made as a leader and with important collaborators like Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Paul Bley and more. The tracks are interspersed with others on AccuJazz's diverse bass-centric channel, featuring the playing of other great bassists from throughout jazz history, such as Ray Brown, Charles Mingus, Dave Holland, Avishai Cohen, Christian McBride, Marcus Miller, Esperanza Spalding and many more.

Listening to Haden's playing on so many different albums over the past week, I've been struck with what a consistently strong impression he makes, no matter the musical situation. Whether it's a seemingly simple, straight-ahead standard, like his performances on two recent duo albums with Keith Jarrett, or an all-out free jazz aural assault with Ornette Coleman, like those on the Science Fiction sessions, the warmth, depth and assertiveness of Haden's bass come through loud and clear.

Haden's individual, earthy tone owes itself partially to his background as a country musician, having played with his locally-famous family band as a child in his home state of Iowa. Haden has said that he sees a "natural convergence" between country and jazz, two musics borne out of struggle and hardship. He likewise found inspiration in the songs of the Spanish Civil War, and used that music as a basis for his innovative and influential Liberation Music Orchestra, a big band that recorded Haden's politically-charged music on a number of albums from the '60s through the 2000s.

Below is some fine Haden-related reading that has popped up online since his passing. I'd recommend you press play on AccuJazz's "Covering All the Bassists" channel and get to reading:

New York Times obituary
Dozens of musicians' reflections compiled by Ethan Iverson at Do the Math
Carla Bley's brief remembrance at NewMusicBox
Keith Jarrett's tribute, posted on Peter Hum's Jazzblog.ca
Hank Shteamer obituary at Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches
Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizens lists his favorite Haden recordings

Friday, January 3, 2014

Ring in the new year with the best jazz of last year!

Happy New Year! We at AccuJazz genuinely hope your 2013 was a good one, and that you're optimistic for an even better 2014. No matter what you did to ring in the new year (your AccuJazz program director/occasional blogger celebrated by playing a gig with these guys, opening for this guy -- it was fun), we suggest starting off 2014 on the right foot by listening back to the best jazz of 2013. We at AccuJazz are here to help, with our Best Jazz of 2013 channel. The channel's programming is based on the results of Francis Davis' definitive jazz critics poll, which was hosted this year by NPR Music.

This annual poll, which used to be hosted by the Village Voice, tends to be topped either by elder statesmen or Vijay Iyer. Going along with that tradition, greatest-living-jazz-composer Wayne Shorter won this year's honors with Without a Net, a live document of his long-running quartet with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist Jon Pattitucci and drummer Brian Blade. You could call them an "event band": any time they get together to play a concert, headline a jazz festival, or, ever-so-rarely, put out a recording, it's an event, and every ear in the jazz world turns to listen. Without a Net seems to have lived up to the hype for most jazz critics, though many, including Davis, weren't quite won over.

Besides Shorter, many other critics' favorites are present, Craig Taborn, Steve Coleman, Tim Berne and Dave Douglas among them. Newer names also made impressive showings: young singer Cecile McLorin Salvant came in at #4 with her disciplined-but-thrilling WomanChild, and drummer Jaimeo Brown's debut album, Transcendence, won the 27th spot. You can check out the complete results of the poll here and read Davis' analysis here. The AccuJazz channel is playing most of the albums on the list, with programming determined by placement on the list -- i.e., you are more likely to hear Shorter than Mostly Other People Do the Killing, whose loud and fun Slippery Rock! placed 46th.

Happy listening, and watch out for my own list and channel soon. I like to be fashionably late to these things.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Emerging Voices Channel Now Featuring Monk Contest Winners

If you head over to AccuJazz.com right now, you'll notice at the top of the page that our Emerging Voices channel is featuring recent winners and finalists of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Emerging Voices exists to feature younger musicians and the Monk contest is the highest-profile platform for young jazz musicians to compete and gain exposure. It seems like a perfect fit to feature Monk alums on the channel. Go ahead and fire up the channel before you continue reading.

If you're a jazz fan and a viewer of TV singing competitions like American Idol, The Voice, or the X Factor you may have wondered to yourself what a similar contest for jazz musicians might look like. Well, the Monk contest might be the closest thing to a "Jazz American Idol." Granted, it's not quite as glamorous, but for young jazz musicians, it holds a similar appeal: an opportunity to gain significant exposure and career opportunities based [ostensibly] on your musical abilities alone and not on the puzzling and sometimes overwhelming maze of the music business. Past winners and finalists include such big jazz names as Joshua Redman, Chris Potter, Jane Monheit, Gretchen Parlato, Marcus Strickland, Jacky Terrasson, Ambrose Akinmusire, Aaron Parks, Marcus Roberts and many more.

The contest focuses on a different instrument each year. This year's contest, which was held in September, was for saxophone. A panel of judges that included Jane Ira Bloom, Jimmy Heath, Branford Marsalis, Wayne Shorter and Bobby Watson made history by crowning 24-year-old Melissa Aldana the first female instrumentalist winner. Aldana was awarded a recording contract with Concord Music Group and $25,000 in scholarships. 

Emerging Voices is now featuring Aldana's music (she has already released two albums on Greg Osby's Inner Circle Music label) as well as that of recent winners and finalists who fit the Emerging Voices channel's "young musician" description. Many of the recent winners and finalists haven't released any commercial recordings, so we're a little limited in whose music we can play, but there's still plenty of great music to include. Here's a list of all of the Monk folks that we're featuring on the channel (of course, the channel is still playing its usual broad playlist which includes hundreds of young musicians who weren't involved in the Monk competition):

Melissa Aldana - 2013 saxophone winner
Colin Stranahan - 2012 drums finalist
Emmet Cohen - 2011 piano winner
Cecile McLorin Salvant - 2010 vocals winner
Cyrille Aimee - 2010 vocals finalist
Ben Williams - 2009 bass winner
Joe Sanders - 2009 bass finalist
Jon Irabagon - 2008 saxophone winner
Tim Green - 2008 saxophone finalist
Quamon Fowler - 2008 saxophone finalist
Ambrose Akinmusire - 2007 trumpet winner
Jean Caze - 2007 trumpet finalist
Michael Rodriguez - 2007 trumpet finalist
Tigran Hamasyan - 2006 piano winner
Gerald Clayton - 2006 piano finalist
Aaron Parks - 2006 piano finalist
Lage Lund - 2005 guitar winner
David Mooney - 2005 guitar finalist
Gretchen Parlato - 2004 vocals winner
Kellylee Evans - 2004 vocals finalist

Start listening now! For a complete list of all winners and finalists since 1987, go here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Top 50 Jazz Albums of All Time! On One Convenient AccuJazz channel

AccuJazz.com's newest channel has been a long time coming. Following on the heels of Jazz 101, a channel designed to both educate and enrapture newer jazz listeners, we're very proud to announce a channel called, simply, "Top 50 Jazz Albums of All Time."

While there's a long tradition of list-making among music fans of every stripe, there is also usually an accompanying reaction, along the lines of: "who are you to judge music like it's an Olympic sport, telling me which jazz is 'better' or worse'? It's just music, man!" In fact, I might have been quoting myself just now. All the same, if you spend enough time around jazz, listening to it, reading about it, talking about it, you must face the fact that certain albums possess that certain undefinable quality of "greatness" that causes them to rise above the rest and maintain relevance for decades longer than the others.

Therefore, we make lists. To create this Top 50 channel, I consulted a few lists that other, smarter people had already made, including the Penguin Guide's core collection, this nifty aggregated list made up of 22 others, and this list, which looked pretty solid. I also left a little bit of room for my own opinion (choosing "Our Man In Paris" over of "Go", making room for Brad Mehldau and including Miles Smiles, which I'd put in the top 5 but, inexplicably, I didn't find on many lists). What you end up with is a pretty agreeable list that shouldn't offend too many folks, but might surprise you at times. I took care to keep the list diverse, so it wasn't just everyone's favorite 50's Blue Notes. There's old music (Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt), Fusion (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Bitches Brew, Weather Report), free jazz (Peter Brotzmann, Albert Ayler), and even some modern stuff (Brad Mehldau, Bill Frisell). Of course, there is also plenty of classic straight-ahead jazz and post-bop.

I spent a long time whittling this list down and I'm confident that it reflects a broad scope of jazz's greatest moments. Your favorite record might not be on here, and there might be a few albums you hate, but I really do hope you enjoy listening to it.

Never at any point during the creating of the list did I think of ranking the albums from 1 to 50, so I'll list the albums in alphabetical order by artist. The titles are links to the albums' pages on Amazon. Click here to listen to the channel while you read. Enjoy!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Best of 2012

Another new year, another chance to reflect on all of the music, good or bad, that was released in the past 12 months. Though this ritual has become clockwork for Internet-savvy music fans like myself, I must admit that I still get excited when poring over the many best-of lists that clog up my RSS feed in December and January.

Of course, the excitement of reading about so much great music is quickly met by an urge to hear what all that vaunted music actually sounds like. That's where AccuJazz comes in. We've created an entire "Best Jazz of 2012" channel playing nothing but the most critically-acclaimed jazz from last year.

To make the BEST "Best of" channel, we had to find the best critics' list to help craft our playlist. The list to end all lists is Francis Davis' critics poll, originally printed in the Village Voice and now hosted by Rhapsody.com. This year, Davis asked 119 jazz critics from around the world to rank their top albums from 2012. He then aggregated the results into one huge list that reflects the closest thing to a critical consensus on 2012 jazz.

As he did in 2009, the unstoppable Vijay Iyer topped this year's list. The winning album, Accelerando, is his trio's follow-up to 2009's Historicity, and like its predecessor, Accelerando searches for the Platonic ideal of jazz that is simultaneously modern and traditional, mainstream and avant-garde. Along with typically knotty Iyer originals, the album includes covers of songs by avant-garde jazz titans Henry Threadgill and Herbie Nichols and also includes left-field song choices from Flying Lotus, Michael Jackson and '70s disco group Heatwave. Iyer's trio has developed a synergistic playing style that is completely their own (and which I was fortunate enough to have witnessed live in October -- it was amazing).

Filling out the rest of the top 3 are excellent albums by avant-garde veterans -- Sam Rivers and Wadada Leo Smith, respectively. Further on down the list things get much more diverse, with Robert Glasper’s zeitgeist-defining jazz/R&B hybrid, “Black Radio,” Chick Corea and Gary Burton's shimmering standards  and some decades-old, newly unearthed live recordings from Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans.

Head on over to AccuJazz.com to listen to these albums and many, many more, on our "Best Jazz of 2012" channel. As with all AccuJazz channels, it's free and available 24/7. Happy listening!


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Let the Festival Season Begin! (In New Orleans)

The onset of warmer weather can mean only one thing: music festival season is nigh! There may be other joys that Summer brings, but for me it's all about savoring great music in the great outdoors. AccuJazz has a tradition of creating channels dedicated to the jazz festivals we're most excited about, from Montréal to Monterey, and we're getting ready to offer up updated playlists based on all of this year's big fests, too.

The first of the main jazz events to happen each year is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, taking place this April 27 through May 6. Naturally, that's also the first festival channel we're launching on AccuJazz. (How about you launch the channel now before going on?)

If you visit the festival's official website, you'll see pictures of big-name headliners like the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen and Cee Lo Green. But if you check out the full line-up, you'll notice there is indeed a wealth of exceptional jazz scheduled to take place at this year's event. Our channel (you just launched it, right?) leaves out the Eagles and the Boss in favor of a diverse mix of jazz artists, from Grammy-winning "It" girl Esperanza Spalding to the legendary Herbie Hancock. Of course, there's always a slew of exceptional local New Orleans talent including Ellis Marsalis, Trombone Shorty and the usual line-up of stellar brass bands (Dirty Dozen, Rebirth, and Soul Rebels, for starters).

Whether you're actually planning on attending Jazz Fest or just wish you were, AccuJazz's New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2012 channel makes for a great listen. Be sure to look out for more channels as the festival season really gets under way in the next few months.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Favorite Jazz of 2011

Coming in a mere 2.5 months later than your average jazz critic, I'm presenting my very own list of favorite 2011 jazz albums. The list has already been available in channel form for a few days, on my Staff Picks channel (listen now), but now I'm finally presenting it in numerated list form.

When looking for themes in my picks, I'm slightly (but only slightly) embarrassed to see that the top-10 is heavy on long-established personal favorites: Ben Allison [pictured], The Claudia Quintet, Dave King, Roy Haynes. This might suggest that I was biased to like these albums before I ever listened to them. What's more likely is that these bands and musicians are consistently excellent and didn't fail in 2011. Also, my 2nd favorite album of the year is by a little-known DC-based musician of whom I had no previous knowledge. So maybe I did give everyone a fair shake.

I just want to take one moment to highlight that album, Secret Handshake by Brian Settles. I was hooked from the first few seconds of the lead-off track, and it has remained in steady rotation on my iPod, computer and car stereo ever since. It's a seemingly low-budget, humble affair that nonetheless creates a very distinct and disciplined sound-world unlike anything I've heard in a long time. I didn't even receive a press release about the CD; it managed to make its way to the forefront of my listening habits with zero hype or back-story preceding it. That's unfortunately not as common as you'd think. But still, the much more hyped and more expensive-sounding Action-Refraction by Ben Allison did eke out a close 1st place finish in my list.

Below, I've listed all 30 albums that are playing on the Staff Picks channel: an ordered top 20 plus 10 honorable mentions. I hope you enjoy listening to the channel and discover a new favorite album or two for yourself.

Top 20

1. Ben Allison - Action Refraction
2. Brian Settles and Central Union - Secret Handshake
3. Ambrose Akinmusire - When the Heart Emerges Glistening
4. Miguel Zenón - Alma Adentro: the Puerto Rican Songbook
5. Claudia Quintet - What Is the Beautiful?
6. Dave King Trucking Company - Good Old Light
7. Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Matt Penman and Eric Harland - James Farm
8. Mike Reed's My Silence - It Only Happens at Night
9. Roy Haynes - Roy-Alty
10. Rez Abassi - Suno Suno
11. Starlicker - Double Demon
12. Chris Speed's Endangered Blood - Endangered Blood
13. JD Allen Trio - Victory!
14. Gretchen Parlato - The Lost and Found
15. Gerald Cleaver, William Parker and Craig Taborn - Out of This World's Distortions
16. Amir ElSaffar - Inana
17. Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo - Songs of Mirth and Melancholy
18. Benny Green - Source
19. Darius Jones Trio - Big Gurl (Smell My Dream)
20. The Four Bags - Forth

Honorable Mentions:

Led Bib - Bring Your Own
Jason Adasiewicz - Spacer
Chris Dingman - Waking Dreams
Steve Coleman - The Mancy of Sound
Brad Mehldau, Kevin Hays and Patrick Zimmerli - Modern Music
Carlo De Rosa's Cross Fade - Brain Dance
Josh Nelson - Discoveries
Deep Blue Organ Trio - Wonderful!
Colorlist - The Fastest Way to Become the Ocean
Noah Preminger - Before the Rain

Listen to the Staff Picks channel now!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Best Jazz of 2011, According to the Critics


Click here for our Best Jazz of 2011 Channel.

The best jazz album of 2011, according to the 122 people who participated in this year's Rhapsody Jazz Critics' Poll (formerly the Village Voice Jazz Critics' Poll), was made by an artist who first came to prominence in the 1950s. Road Shows, Vol. 2, by Sonny Rollins, won in a landslide. Rollins also received recognition from much higher powers than jazz critics, receiving the Kennedy Center honors from the president. Interestingly, the Rhapsody poll's No. 2 spot belongs to one of the youngest musicians on the list, 29-year-old trumpet phenom Ambrose Akinmusire. Akinmusire's exhilarating Blue Note Records debut, When the Heart Emerges Glistening, seemed to appeal to more traditional- and progressive-minded voters alike.

The rest of the list is typically diverse, ranging from quintessential New York free improvisation (David S. Ware's Planetary Unknown) to R&B-inflected modern jazz (Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic Project) and many well-conceived experiments in fusing jazz with ethnic musics from around the globe (Amir ElSaffar's Inana Suite, Vijay Iyer's Tirtha and Miguel Zenon's Alma Adentro). There are also an eye-opening six-and-a-half solo piano discs (the half being one disc of Matthew Shipp's double-disc Art of the Improviser).

To bring you, the listener, the best of what jazz had to offer in 2011, we're continuing in our annual tradition of creating a channel based on this definitive crtitics' list. Just click here to start listening. Our channel is playing 42 out of the 60 albums on the list, with programming weighed more heavily towards the highest-ranking albums. Therefore, you'll hear more Sonny and Ambrose than Starlicker (a great Chicago trio that came in 58th place).

As for my personal favorites, you can listen to my Staff Picks channel to hear my top 30 albums. I'll be posting a blog soon about the selections.

What were your favorite albums released in 2011? Do you agree with the critics? Do you think important albums got snubbed? Leave your opinions in the comments, or talk to me on Twitter.

Again, click here to start listening to the Best of 2011 Channel.

Monday, January 16, 2012

R.I.P. Sam Rivers

The great multi-instrumentalist, composer and bandleader Sam Rivers died Monday, December 26 at the age of 88. Rivers' death makes for the third important jazz figure to pass in the final months of 2011, along with drummer Paul Motian and trombonist/composer Bob Brookmeyer.

To celebrate Rivers' legacy, we are featuring him on the AccuJazz Saxophone channel. Along with the usual lineup of hundreds of jazz saxophonists of every style and era, you'll hear an extra large dose of Rivers' playing. We've included his well-loved 1960s Blue Note output as well as his adventurous big band work and albums where Rivers appears as a sideman with artists like Miles Davis, Bobby Hutcherson and Dave Holland.

Whether playing swinging post-bop with organist Larry Young or grand-scale avant-garde jazz with his own Studio Rivbea Orchestra, Rivers always played the saxophone (or flute, or piano, or whatever else was in his hands) with strikingly clear articulation and sonic focus. His music reflected a rigorous and uncompromisingly unique vision, whether creating stirring improvisations seemingly out of thin air or constructing intricate soundscapes for other musicians to interpret. His idiosyncratic composition style, which fused complex written material with free improvisation, influenced generations of adventurous jazz musicians including Steve Coleman and Jason Moran.

For a musician often affixed with the "avant-garde" label, Rivers was quite versatile: he played with bebop pianist/composer Tadd Dameron early in his career, played briefly in Miles Davis' renowned 1960s quintet, and even toured in Dizzy Gillespie's band. There is also a broad stylistic palette among music recorded under his own name. Consider the gorgeous melodicism of 1964's "Beatrice" (Rivers' most famous composition) and the frenetic energy of "Capricorn Rising," a 1975 album co-led by Rivers and pianist Don Pullen.

While many octogenarian jazz musicians find their skills steadily waning, Rivers was arguably still playing at his peak up until his death. He spent the last two decades of his life in Orlando, where he led a version of his famed Rivbea Orchestra. This video of a 2010 performance by that group displays not only Rivers' vital sax playing, but his continued compositional ingenuity and playful rapport with his band. Isn't it just great to see an old guy so happy doing what he does?



Enjoy our Sam Rivers feature on the Saxophone channel and look below for further reading:

-Nate Chinen's obituary in the New York Times
-Peter Hum's blog post, with some great videos
-Hank Shteamer's post, with recommended listening

Here's the list of albums featuring Sam Rivers to listen for on the Saxophone channel:

As a leader

-Fuchsia Swing Song
-Countours
-Dimensions and Extensions
-Crystals
-Culmination
-Celebration
-Violet Violets

As a sideman

-Miles Davis: Miles in Tokyo
-Larry Young: Into Somethin'
-Bobby Hutcherson: Dialogue
-Tony Williams: Spring
-Dave Holland: Conference of the Birds
-Don Pullen: Capricorn Rising

Friday, December 23, 2011

Last Minute Christmas Gifts

I'm definitely no stranger to last-minute Christmas shopping, and apparently that also goes for Christmas channel-creating. Just in time for Christmas Eve-Eve, we're introducing two new, and very different, Christmas jazz channels: Mellow Christmas Jazz and Non-Standard Christmas Jazz.

Our Mellow Jazz channel is one of AccuJazz's most popular, so I figured our listeners would be interested in sampling a holiday flavor of it. You'll hear plenty of versions of both "The Christmas Song" and "Christmas Time Is Here" as well as newer, original songs that also set a soothing and cheerful mood.

Speaking of new and original Christmas music, that's what the Non-Standard Christmas Jazz channel is all about. This channel is for listeners who love Christmas music but are tired of hearing the same 10 or 15 songs over and over again. Highlights include Jimmy Rushing singing "Good Morning Blues" with an early incarnation of the Count Basie Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald belting out the novelty tune "Christmas Island," and Geri Allen's brand new "Journey to Bethlehem."

Of course, you can also listen to one of our four other Christmas Jazz channels: Swingin' Christmas, Christmas Instrumentals, Christmas Vocals and New Christmas Jazz. Here's wishing you and yours a very happy and jazzy holiday!