Monday, February 9, 2009

Featured Albums for February

A new addition to in the wake of our web site launch is a feature that highlights new releases, creatively titled "Featured Albums." We used to have a little box called "featured
albums this month," but it wasn't updated regularly and was just a random grab-bag of jazz albums from different time periods that I liked. This new-and-improved feature box will highlight exceptional new albums getting a lot of play on AccuJazz. Without further ado, the featured albums for February are:

1) Bill Cunliffe - The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2 (Resonance)
Tribute albums are not uncommon, but it's less often that you see one in the form of a re-creation of an entire album. This is the case with LA-based pianist/arranger Bill Cunliffe's magnificent "The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2," on which he pays homage to saxophonist/compose r/arranger Oliver Nelson's landmark album. Cunliffe's take on the classic album is quite personal, interesting and even witty at times, but nowhere near irreverent. The intricate arrangements clearly present the original melodies, taking small liberties that freshen up the familiar material just enough: an extended phrase here, a reharmonization there, an unpredictable orchestration here, a odd-time signature there. Cunliffe enlisted some of the best in the business to carry out his vision, with Terrell Stafford on Trumpet, Jeff Clayton guesting on alto sax, and a crew of top-notch LA studio players filling out the horn and rhythm sections. There's no wonder that this album has been at the top of the JazzWeek chart for 14 weeks. Thoroughly enjoyable modern mainstream jazz.

for it on AccuJazz Main Channel, Piano Jazz, Everybody's Boppin', New School, and New Releases

Buy from Amazon

Reviews: All About Jazz
; AllMusic; Audiophile Audition; JazzTimes

2) The Blue Note 7 - Mosaic (Blue Note, duh)
This is a really good time for tribute albums. "Mosaic," by the newly formed Blue Note 7, is another successful tribute to historic recordings of the past. In this case, it's all for the sake of a birthday party: Blue Note turns 70 this year, and central to the celebration is the release of this all-star group's album and their subsequent national tour. Led by pianist and Blue Note artist Bill Charlap, the group includes mostly non-Blue Note musicians: on the front line are trumpeter Nicholas Payton and saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Steve Wilson. Joining Charlap in the rhythm section are guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. Sure, I could spout all sorts of praise for these fantastic musicians, but there really is no need; their reputation precedes them. The septet presents original arrangements of classic tracks from Blue Note's golden age. Much like the Bill Cunliffe album, the arrangements are engaging and clever without being irreverent. Payton's re-imagining of Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge" may be the most out-of-left-field of the bunch, with a fragment of the original melody acting as a rhythmically knotty ostinato that underlies the whole tune. Another no-brainer for the stations submitting to JazzWeek.

Listen for it on AccuJazz Main Channel, New School, and New Releases

Buy from Amazon

Reviews: All About Jazz; AllMusic; Pop Matters

3) Joshua Redman - Compass (Nonesuch)
And now for something that, for whatever reason, hasn't yet made a showing on the jazz radio charts, even though it peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard jazz album chart: Joshua Redman's "Compass." It is a freewheeling and enchanting album featuring Redman alongside two piano-less trios. Redman mixes and matches the two bassists and two drummers, often creating a piano-less quintet. Save for a beautiful arrangement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, the songs are written either by Redman or his collaborators (Reuben Rogers and Larry Grenadier on bass; Gregory Hutchinson and Brian Blade on drums). There's free improvisation, Avant-Garde composition, and downright gorgeous songcraft here. "Faraway" is one of the most memorable melodies I've heard in a long while. The playing is superb, and the trio format allows for limitless group interaction. The two-bassists/two-drummers quintet can sometimes be a bit much to absorb, but for the most part it's enjoyably busy. I'm playing this on the AccuJazz channels like it's charting No. 1 on JazzWeek; I don't know what everyone else is missing.

Listen for it on AccuJazz Main Channel, Saxophone Jazz, New School, Cutting Edge, and New Releases

Buy From Amazon

Reviews: All About Jazz; AllMusic; Pop Matters

4) Toninho Horta - To Jobim With Love (Resonance)
And again with the tribute albums! This one comes to us from Brazilian guitar master Toninho Horta, who pays tribute bossa nova pioneer Antonio Carlos Jobim. Horta interprets nine Jobim chestnuts and also offers a few original tunes in homage. Some of the arrangements get a little close to kitsch in their utilization of backing choirs, synthesizers and string orchestras, but the playing by Horta and a star-studded cast of guests including Gal Costa, Bob Mintzer and Gary Peacock is consistently great. Of particular note is the incredible authentic rhythmic feel provided by a whole stable of Brazilian drummers and percussionists. Horta's singing is almost as strong as his guitar playing, for which he has been described by none less than Pat Metheny as "an incredible musician, the rare guitarist who understands harmony in its most intimate ways." Horta delivers on that promise here.

Listen for it on AccuJazz Main Channel, Guitar Jazz, Latin Jazz, and New Releases

Buy from Amazon

Reviews: Audiophile Audition; NPR; AllMusic

5) Keith Jarrett Trio - Yesterdays (ECM)
Does this really need a description? The greatest working piano trio in the world plays their favorite standards before an enthralled audience. Genius improvisations, sophisticated interplay, gorgeous piano voicings, Jack DeJohnette's full-force drumming, Gary Peacock's lyrical bass solos, etc. It's the Keith Jarrett trio, for cryin' out loud! You know it's going to be great. Like the Joshua Redman album, it's beating out plenty of smooth jazz for a spot on the Billboard chart, but isn't even on the JazzWeek radio chart. What's going on here?

Listen for it on AccuJazz Main Channel, Piano Jazz, Live Jazz, New School, and New Releases

Buy from Amazon

Reviews: All About Jazz; AllMusic; Audiophile Audition

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