A TOP 10 JAZZ RECORD OF 2014: For listeners who want to put the usual standards and post bebop swing on pause, the 33 year-old trumpeter Takuya Kuroda stands tall on his Blue Note debut, Rising Son, a polished set of jazz tunes with retro R&B riffs and de rigueur hip hop sonics. Produced by singer/songwriter José James whose own records, particularly 2013’s No Beginning, No End (Blue Note), smartly braid jazz with pop-glazed rhythm and blues, Kuroda’s album sets an after-hours party mood that starts with the rousing title track and flows throughout. Kuroda’s compositions fuse infectious urban rhythms with in the pocket Afro-centric grooves inflated by keyboardist Kris Bowers (an artist blowing up on the national scene with his Concord Jazz debut CD, Heroes + Misfits), electric bassist Solomon Dorsey, drummer Nate Smith and the satiny tones of trombonist Corey King. Kuroda and King redefine the classic two-horn frontline architecture that Blue Note built their reputation on. As a player, the trumpeter falls somewhere between Lee Morgan’s sound and Art Farmer’s supple capacity for storytelling, especially on the closing track, “Call,” an opus of sorts characterized by a classic CTI-style arrangement melded with a Prince-like jam coda.
Rockin’ In Rhythm: A Duke Ellington Tribute (Telarc)
A seriously entertaining record. Within his deep discography, John Pizzarelli has produced several tribute recordings (Dear Mr. Sinatra, Meets The Beatles, Dear Mr. Cole and one more, P.S. Mr. Cole) but this is his first time reinventing the Ellington songbook and it’s a doozy. The singer/guitarist is world-renowned for his showmanship, while his concerts, performances and radio show play up his easy-breezy personality. That persona, along with his fleet fingered prowess is in full force here on his ninth album for Telarc. I don’t know what it is about John Pizzarelli but he just gets better.
A big part of this album’s success lies with Pizzarelli’s core band – his brother Martin on bass, piano whiz Larry Fuller, Tony Tedesco on drums — and guests like vocalist Jessica Molasky (Mrs. Pizzarelli) and Kurt Elling (who joins the guitarist on a sizzling Gerald Wilson arrangement of “Perdido), saxophonist Harry Allen, dad Bucky, and violinist Aaron Weinstein. A vibrant four-horn section does Duke’s music proud, and the quality of those charts rests squarely on the shoulders of arranger Don Sebesky. The album combines snazzy vocals and instrumental arrangements (the band rockets “C Jam Blues” to the moon and back and it’s kind of awesome) but a bouncing version of “Satin Doll” and a seductively dark mash-up of “East St. Louis Toodle-oo with” Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” are winners, too. (12 tracks; 49:48)
Decisive Steps (Mack Avenue Records)
For her sophomore recording on the Mack Avenue label, saxophonist Tia Fuller lights up “Decisive Steps,” a bold artistic declaration spotlighting Fuller’s compositional strengths, musical ability and her dynamic band featuring drummer Kim Thompson, bassist Miriam Sullivan and Shamie Royston on piano and Fender Rhodes. This is a powerful and gifted group of women, rare on today’s jazz scene, and it doesn’t hurt that Fuller and her drummer toured as part of Beyonce’s band for the past two years. It’s a significant credential that Fuller rightfully trades on. Interestingly, “Decisive Steps” is a muscular post-bop modern jazz romp – no smooth jazz or R&B here. Her solos are often blistering (though tuneful) and her songs have a soulful, swinging Cannonball Adderley-like vibe. Favorite tracks include the title cut, “Ebb and Flow,” featuring guest bassist Christian McBride and the Latin flavored “Shades Of McBride” named for her friend. Label mate, trumpeter Sean Jones, adds his distinctive solo to the high-flying “Windsoar” and the standard, “I Can’t Get Started,” simmers late-night style with Fuller’s burnished sound and Warren Wolf’s melodic contribution on vibraphone. Overall, the album captures a band in its element – playing hard (and well) together. “Decisive Steps” has an aura of confidence that puts Tia Fuller among the top tier of current saxophone players. (10 tracks; 55:45)
Paul Motian/Chris Potter/Jason Moran
Lost In A Dream (ECM Records)
Drummer Motian, still legendary and intellectually impish, continues to make unpredictable music. “Lost In A Dream” documents a splendid February 2009 gig at the Village Vanguard with a fresh trio featuring a long-time partner saxophonist Chris Potter and a newer collaborator, pianist Jason Moran, on a set of ballads and freer musical explorations. The album is well titled since its pensive compositions evolve and mutate continuously, moving from chamber jazz to solos with classical shadings. Potter’s tenor often takes flight to hover and float over Motian’s idiosyncratic rhythms and Moran’s chords swirl in eddies of sound.
Their intergenerational relationship is remarkable — tunes like “Casino,” “Blue Midnight” and “Be Careful My Heart” coalesce around moods rather than structure and towards the end, on “Drum Music,” “Abacus” and “Cathedral Song,” the trio’s improvisation flutters and breaks free, notes fly and fall where they may and the audience reaction finally moves from polite appreciation to ecstatic approval. www.ecmrecords.com
Contextualizin’ (Kabocha Records)
West Coast trumpeter, Ian Carey, might also be described as a short story writer because his songs are uniquely narrative in form. Carey, who in tone and spirit resembles Art Farmer, writes tunes that are inquisitive and probing – they go somewhere — and his fine band stands at the ready as Carey’s imagination and musicality leads the way. On trumpet or flugelhorn he casts a warm patina over eight original compositions and one cover, “Just Friends,” that illustrates the organic sounding rapport Carey shares with alto saxophonist Evan Francis, pianist Adam Shulman, bassist Fred Rudolph and drummer Jon Arkin.
As a composer, Carey encourages thoughtful interplay. Witness the tension between Carey and pianist Shulman on the moody “Questions” and further in, where Francis’ alto explores pathways of sound as if in a hedge maze, venturing one way then another all the while framed by the bassist and drummer. The most rewarding tune, “Leap Year” has a modern texture provided by Shulman on Fender Rhodes, and it grabs your ear with its loping, waltz-like structure. But start with the title tune, with its confident theme and front-line horns, because it exemplifies Carey’s natural ability to express ideas that percolate with emotion and by its conclusion, you’ll feel a satisfying release that leaves you anticipating the next tale he will tell. www.iancareyjazz.com
“If You Would Dance” (BraJazz Records)
On this significant recording, jazz guitarist Wayne Brasel sweeps aside any hint of sentimentality on an evocative album of lovely, starry-eyed tunes played with a keen sense of swing thanks to a dream band – the superb drummer Peter Erskine, lyrical pianist Alan Pasqua and Tom Warrington on acoustic bass. Standout moments abound on this honest, gentle recording like the finger-popping “Celebration” that chugs along over Erskine’s cymbal rides, the Brazilian tinged “Elias” (named for Erskine’s peer, pianist Eliane Elias) and “Oleo de Mujer con Sombrero,” set against a subtle background of percussion, sensitive brushes and with another fine solo from Pasqua. The nine tracks have a cinematic feel and rustic tunes like “Aberdeen” and “A Heart On Fire” sound as if they were composed for the twilight hour, that abbreviated space of time where the sun is setting in a western sky and the landscape is bathed in glowing hues of reds and yellows. www.waynebrasel.com