In the Moment, features bassist Ben Rubens and drummer Itay Morchi, O’Neal’s regular working trio for the past year. The weightless swing and easy but deeply felt interplay the three share reveal the benefits of their regular residencies four and five nights a week including every Saturday at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club. The biggest names in jazz make a point of stopping by to hear O’Neal, and there’s no telling who might sit in during his sets on any given week. True to that policy, two very special guests dropped by the studio for this session—trumpet great Roy Hargrove and tenor-man Grant Stewart.
The wide-ranging repertoire on In the Moment provides a cross-section of the hundreds of pieces that make up the O’Neal Trio’s ever-changing book. The material ranges from blues to straight-ahead to post-bop to pop tunes to ballads, each one fully explored and deftly illuminated by O’Neal and his electrifying bandmates. Unlike most of his past recordings, it shows off several of O’Neal’s own compositions, some of which date back more than 20 years but have never been recorded.
“I’ve come through all these trials and setbacks,” he says. “Now I’m a veteran, and I’m grateful for that. Some people get so much praise when they're younger and they can't handle it. I can appreciate things much more now.”
There’s no avoiding the hard times. Every human being that’s walked this Earth has had his or her share of blues, from the personal to the political, the local to the global. But with another ominous headline coming every day, with news alerts constantly erupting from our various devices, with social media facilitating vitriolic shouting matches between friends and strangers alike, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that our present era offers more than its fair share of challenges and burdens.
Herring has convened his own boisterous and soulful cabinet for the occasion, featuring a core quartet with pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Carl Allen. The band is bolstered on roughly half the tracks by the horn section of trumpeter Brad Mason, saxophonist Sam Dillon, and trombone virtuoso Steve Turre. Guitar great Russell Malone casts his spell over two tracks, while the rich baritone of renowned vocalist Nicolas Bearde graces three tunes.The selection of repertoire for Hard Times came down to a single principle: these are quite simply songs that Herring has loved over the years and have seen him through his own hard times – and he hopes his renditions will do the same for listeners. “All through my life, whenever I’ve had ups and downs, music has been the one thing that’s always kept it positive for me,” he says. “It’s always been something that I could come back to and dig into to lift my spirits. This record is meant to be fun, it’s meant to be uplifting, it’s meant to be something that people will want to listen to over and over again.”
On his latest album, To Love and Be Loved, Harold Mabern is joined by a multi-generational band that brings together one of his legendary peers with some of his most acclaimed former students—all of whom play with the same love and respect that Mabern has shared with them over the years.
Due out August 25 on Smoke Sessions Records, Mabern’s To Love and Be Loved reunites Mabern with 88-year-old drumming legend Jimmy Cobb, with whom he first played in Miles Davis’s band during a brief but memorable stint in 1963. The rhythm section is completed by the impeccably swinging bassist Nat Reeves, while the frontline features Mabern’s prize student and frequent collaborator Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone and, on three tracks, another Mabern protégé, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix. Master percussionist Cyro Baptista completes the line-up with a performance on the opening track.
In discussing his reimaging of classic tunes and the inspiration for the album, Mabern quotes an unlikely mentor for a jazz musician: Albert Einstein. The famed physicist once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Mabern took that message to heart, letting his own imagination run free on his new release
A record release party two decades in the making and destined to become a classic of live jazz recording, Signs LIVE! reunites the four master musicians who came together 20 years earlier to record the acclaimed Signs of Life, the second album by guitar great Peter Bernstein. The album captures the long-awaited live debut of Bernstein’s once-in-a-lifetime quartet featuring pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.
Bernstein’s second release for Smoke Sessions Records, Signs LIVE! (out July 28) allows audiences around the world to share the experience of the lucky few who were in the room for this summit meeting of four of modern jazz’s most revered artists. The two-disc set documents encompasses both sets of the quartet’s third and final night with each soloist given the space to work out—an opportunity which each of these musicians seizes brilliantly.The fame of each member of this band speaks for itself. Bernstein, of course, is one of the most prominent guitarists in jazz, working notably with Sonny Rollins, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Jimmy Cobb, Lee Konitz and Lou Donaldson as well as a generation of stars that includes his Signs of Life band mates, Joshua Redman, Diana Krall, Nicholas Payton, Larry Goldings and Bill Stewart.
The selection of mostly original material on Signs LIVE! bridges past and present, including songs that were originally recorded for Signs of Life and have since become perennials in Bernstein’s repertoire (“Blues for Bulgaria”, “Jive Coffee”). The set list also features several pieces later recorded for Bernstein’s Smoke Sessions debut, Let Loose (“Let Loose”, “Resplendor”, “Cupcake”) along with other highlights from throughout the guitarist’s discography and a pair of Thelonious Monk classics.
In life as in jazz, you never know what’s coming around the next corner – so it’s always best to think ahead. Trombonist/composer Steve Davis not only offers those two words as a sound piece of advice on his new album, Think Ahead, but exemplifies the art of putting it into action. Think Ahead offers a master class in reacting to the unpredictable from an elite group of jazz all-stars whose ability to create spontaneously borders on the clairvoyant.
In part, that’s simply due to the fact that Davis has assembled a stellar group of masters: the trombonist is joined by saxophonists Steve Wilson and Jimmy Greene, pianist Larry Willis, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash, each deserving the title of “jazz giant” in their own right. But add the fact that the bandleader shares with every member of the ensemble a long and deep history, and you have the makings of a truly profound, flawlessly swinging, flat-out burning set of music.
“I’ve been deeply involved with everyone in this band on not only a professional level but as friends for decades,” Davis says. “So it was more than an honor to have this group together.”
Davis is also well known as an important composer and the program on Think Ahead features seven of his originals including six striking debuts. The balance includes two beloved standards, Polka Dots and Moonbeams and Love Walked In, as well as two jazz classics by departed giants Tony Williams and Bobby Hutcherson. Williams’ “Warrior” and Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem”
Jazz great Bobby Watsoncelebrates some of the vital but less well-known contributions of African-Americans on Made in America, his first recording on Smoke Sessions Records. Saxophonist and composer Watson does his part to call attention to black pioneers in a variety of fields, from politics to pop culture, science to sports. These compositions are inspired by a few names that should be familiar to jazz fans&emdash;Sammy Davis, Jr., and Grant Green&emdash;but also by more obscure historic figures such as Wendell Pruitt, Butterfly McQueen, Major Taylor, Madam C.J. Walker, Isaac Murphy, Bass Reeves, and Dr. Mark Dean. Watson explains, “This project has been a history lesson for me and I hope it will be a history lesson for the listeners.”
Each piece paints its portrait with wit and feeling for the nuance of its subjects. The inspiration that Watson finds in these forgotten innovators comes through in his&emdash;and the band‘s&emdash;playing throughout the album. Watson‘s Kansas City roots shine through in the soulful swing and boisterous grooves that make for one hell of a funky history lesson. For this special project, Watson enlisted a few collaborators with whom he shares some significant history of his own: bassist Curtis Lundy, pianist Stephen Scott and drummer Lewis Nash. All four have tenures with the influential singer Betty Carter in common, while the album marks a welcome return to the scene for Scott, who has been largely silent for the last several years.
“This is not your typical jazz record,” Watson concludes. “I want to try, in the time I have left, to reflect the things that I‘m learning about history, about America and about the world and the people that came before me, and hopefully connect that with some of our young people and older people, both black and white.”
Heads of State made their debut in 2015 with Search for Peace, recorded just months after they played together for the first time as a quartet at Smoke Jazz Club in New York City. Now, with another year of playing together under their collective belts (on top of the nearly five decades of relationships shared by the various members), they return with a magnificent new album Four in One.
The title comes from the lesser-known Thelonious Monk composition that opens the record, but it also succinctly captures the group’s growing spirit and identity that have been forged by an all-star band that was originally meant to be a one-time thing. “We’re trying as best as we know how to establish our own identity,” Willis explains, “and not sound like a jam session band.”
Given the impeccable taste and wealth of experience of all four members, there was very little chance of a “jam session” sensibility emerging in any case, but in the short time they’ve been working together the Heads of State have developed a lithe and lively group sound that’s equal parts burning and elegant, sharp-edged and gregarious.
While the bands’ first album was thrilling because it brought together four revered and masterful musicians in one place for the first time ever, Four in One may be even more exciting because it announces their intention to continue to collaborate and evolve together. Given what happens when these four join forces, that’s one enticing prospect.
When I Fall in Love: The Ballad Collection, features some of the most powerful and poignant moments from the Smoke Sessions catalog. These romantic ballad selections include moving performances from piano greats like Harold Mabern, Larry Willis, Cyrus Chestnut, Eric Reed, Orrin Evans, Mike LeDonne, and Xavier Davis. There are legendary instrumentalists like Gary Bartz, Javon Jackson, Steve Turre, Vincent Herring, Eric Alexander, Steve Davis and a special vocal turn by Jane Monheit. This thematic program will delight everyone from the hardcore fan to the newcomer looking for an introduction to the jazz.
Pianist / composer Orrin Evans’ third album for Smoke Sessions Records, #knowingishalfthebattle, delivers the kind of edge-walking spontaneity that is familiar to anyone who’s ever seen him perform live. It is a raw, electrifying date that teams him with a pair of renowned guitarists who are also, not coincidentally, native sons of Evans’ own hometown of Philadelphia: Kevin Eubanks and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Invigorated by a thrilling sense of looseness and in-the-moment invention—an “anything could happen” vibe—the recording draws visceral performances from the full ensemble, but especially from the two six-string wizards that join in for the session. Orrin also features the latest in a long line of inspired rhythm sections, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr., along with up-and-coming saxophonist Caleb Wheeler Curtis and a longtime collaborator, vocalist M’Balia.
#knowingishalfthebattle shows Evans coming to terms with what he’s learned over his years on and off the bandstand—and more importantly, how to make use of that knowledge. The answer he’s come to involves letting go, forgetting what’s been learned and trusting the instincts that come along with it. By inviting such virtuosic musicians into his world, he’s asking them to do the same and making new discoveries through a collective act of forgetting.
In Orrin’s words: “When you let go of everything that you’ve been taught, the possibilities of what can happen on the bandstand are endless.”
The Cookers, the veteran jazz supergroup that The New York Times calls “a dream team of forward-leaning hard-bop,” returns with its fifth and most exhilarating album to date, The Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart. After nine years together, The Cookers have evolved from a summit of swinging road warriors to become simply one of the most burning and hardest-hitting bands on the scene.
The Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart marks The Cookers’ debut on Smoke Sessions Records and is the follow up to their critically acclaimed release Time and Time Again, which was the iTunes’ Jazz Album of the Year in 2014. Once again, the core of the band consists of five legendary, long-undersung musicians whose credentials read like a who’s-who of classic-era jazz: tenor saxophonist Billy Harper was a member of groups led by Lee Morgan and Max Roach and served a two-year stint with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers; trumpeter Eddie Henderson and drummer Billy Hart were both part of Herbie Hancock’s electrifying Mwandishi ensemble; pianist George Cables played alongside Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper; and bassist Cecil McBee anchored Charles Lloyd’s famed 1960s quartet with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. They’re joined by torchbearers Weiss and, in his second outing with the band, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison.
As always, the album’s repertoire is plumbed from the members’ vast discographies, a bevy of riches that Weiss says continues to yield surprises. “These guys should all be considered giants on their own,” Weiss insists. “The idea of The Cookers is to bring them to greater prominence, and a big part of that is this incredible legacy of compositions. I think this is our strongest record and top to bottom the strongest collection of tunes that we’ve done.”
Trombonist and composer Steve Turre shows off his full spectrum of sounds on his latest album, Colors for the Masters. The album’s ten songs, evenly split between jazz standards and original tunes that carry the torch for the tradition, offer a dazzling array of hues played in tribute to and alongside some of the elders that have inspired Turre. The leader’s own trombone virtuosity is only one color in a palette that also includes a variety of mutes and his wholly original conch shell artistry.
Colors for the Masters teams Turre with a rhythm section of legendary elders, each of whom shaped the trombonist’s distinctive voice: pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jimmy Cobb. On four tunes the band is joined by saxophonist Javon Jackson, like Turre an alumni of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers; and for the album’s final tune, a stirring rendition of Jobim’s “Corcovado” on which Turre shows off his innovative shell playing, virtuoso percussionist Cyro Baptista also joins in. Together, they pay electrifying homage to other, departed luminaries like John Coltrane, J.J. Johnson, and Thelonious Monk.
While he has shared the stage with each of them over the years in various bands and all-star configurations, he says, “I’ve never had them play my music. I wanted to hear how their interpretations would open up new avenues of expression to me. I’m still trying to grow. I have a certain feeling and a certain direction in mind, and everybody on this record is in the same frame of mind about what jazz is and what this music means to them.”
At a time when jazz bandleaders from across the musical and generational spectrums regularly lament the difficulty of keeping a band together, it’s all the more remarkable that a supergroup like One For All has stuck it out for twenty years. But this impeccably swinging sextet, made up of some of the most in-demand players in modern jazz, is not just celebrating past achieve-ments but charging forward into the future. Their new recording, The Third Decade, marks the dawn of the band’s next chapter.
Their 16th release, The Third Decade, is its first in five years and the first in its history to feature original compositions by all six members. The Third Decade, due out June 3 via Smoke Sessions Records, brings together once again tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. As always, the fiery and soulful musicianship is only match-ed by the warmth and spirit that results from a lifetime of musical friendships
Guitarist Peter Berstein is justly renowned as an interpreter of other people’s music. His unerring, relaxed swing, his stunning gift for crafting and developing sophisticated melodies, the un-showy but absorbing narrative arc of his solos, the just plain rightness of his in-the-moment choices—all of these account for his well-established status as one of the most in-demand musicians on the New York jazz scene.
Let Loose, Bernstein’s debut release for Smoke Sessions Records, shifts the focus to Bernstein the composer. Five of the album’s nine tracks stem from the guitarist’s pen. It also features a quartet of artists who are equally well versed in tradition and innovation, who can breathe ecstatic life into these pieces while simultaneously anchoring them with deep roots. Bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Bill Stewart are longtime collaborators stretching back nearly three decades. Gerald Clayton is the newcomer but brings along a reputation as one of the most respected pianists of his generation.
The spirit of the session is pithily captured in the title of the album: Let Loose, a case of simplicity masking complexity. The surface meaning suggests an unbridling of passion, an opening of the floodgates of expression that definitely characterizes the playing of all four members of the quartet. But there’s also the suggestion of the need to allow oneself to be loose, free, open to whatever may come—a guiding principle on the stage as well as off.
Like the pronouncements of a sage, legendary tenor saxophonist George Coleman’s new recording A Master Speaks communicates both wisdom and wonder that bespeaks Coleman’s half century in music. At 80-years-old, Coleman sounds, as ever, both vital and timeless. He’s obviously invigorated by the deep sense of swing and classic hard-bop feel of the quartet he’s assembled.
A Master Speaks is Coleman’s first release as a leader in nearly 20 years and first recording since the 2002 all-star live tribute album Four Generations of Miles. The rarity of the session is remarkable in itself; even more special is the fact that it grew out of a desire shared by Coleman and his son, drummer George Coleman Jr., to finally record together. They’re joined by a stellar band featuring pianist Mike LeDonne and bassist Bob Cranshaw, with guitarist Peter Bernstein making a special guest appearance.
A man of few words, Coleman nonetheless conveys his thoughts with unparalleled eloquence when he speaks through his instrument, as profoundly evidenced by the nine tracks on A Master Speaks, his long-overdue return to the studio
Available March 4, 2016
When people hear Jim Rotondi for the first time, they aren’t likely to forget it. For 20+ years, Rotondi was one of the trumpet heroes of the New York City jazz scene and a musician whose fiery playing and daring solos firmly established him as a torchbearer of the Lee Morgan-Freddie Hubbard-Woody Shaw trumpet tradition. Like so many jazz greats before him, he’s based in Europe now, but he’s still blowing with the same intensity, if not more. His new recording, Dark Blue, uses the importance of place as a central theme and features music inspired by pivotal locations in his career from Europe to New York and beyond. While the title itself doesn’t reference any particular place, it’s a vivid description of this breathtaking music and this spectacular quintet that brings together hard-bop stalwarts David Hazeltine (piano) Joe Locke (vibes) David Wong (bass) and Carl Allen (drums). Dark Blue is available for purchase as a deluxe 8-panel CD Album with liner notes, artist interview and original John Abbott photography, as a digital download (including Mastered for iTunes) and as 96kHz/24bit high resolution download.
Available February 5, 2016
Pianist/composer Renee Rosnes takes an intimate look at the wondrous sweep of the natural world on Written In The Rocks, her new album built around an ambitious new suite inspired by the evolution of life on Earth. A sense of discovery lies at the core of “The Galapagos Suite,” which makes up the bulk of the recording and is named for the island chain that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution. From the origins of life in the ocean billions of years ago through the unearthing of the human ancestor known as “Lucy” to the recent discovery of Tiktaalik, one of the earliest animals to venture out of the sea and onto the land, the progress of evolution and our own ever-evolving understanding of it, serves to inspire Rosnes’ compositional mind. Discovery is also a key element of the music created by Rosnes and her bandmates. Saxophonist and flutist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Bill Stewart excavate the riches and mysteries from the pianist’s gorgeous, densely layered compositions. “All of us have personal and musical relationships that have been growing for decades,” Rosnes says. “As a band, we’ve developed a focused sound with a wide and nuanced palette of colors and rhythms. We play off of each other.”
Orrin Evans embarks upon a new creative trajectory with The Evolution of Oneself and introduces an extraordinary new piano trio—featuring Christian McBride and Karriem Riggins—that takes listeners on a deeply personal journey that touches on jazz, folk, country, neo-soul, and hip hop. “This album is about personal evolution. The journey, the trip, and all the people you meet along the way. The people I’ve learned from and the people that have helped me. It’s a conscious musical list to remind me of the things and people that wake my mind, encourage the expansion of the full picture, always force me to embrace my emotions and search for new personality traits. That’s what this record is all about.” explains Evans. Conceived and developed over the past several years, it was recorded live in the studio and includes recurring themes that bind the music together. The album opens and closes with three very different arrangements of the jazz standard “All the Things You Are” including a penultimate track featuring his wife Dawn Warren Evans and a haunting album concluding version with vocalist JD Walter. Marvin Sewell contributes his ethereal guitar playing to a moving interpretation of the folk song “Wildwood Flower” made famous by the Carter Family and dedicated here to the memory of Matt Wilson’s wife, Felicia. Sewell also appears on Grover Washington’s soulful “A Secret Place.” Orrin himself has written several surprising new compositions including three “interludes” remixed by his son Matthew that are woven throughout the record. From start to finish, this arresting artistic odyssey reveals new layers of meaning with each listen. The Evolution of Oneself is available for purchase as an 8-panel CD-Deluxe Album complete with liner notes, interview and additional photos or as a high resolution download mastered for iTunes.
Heads of State, featuring four of the most respected and admired jazz artists of our time releases its first recording Search for Peace. A band over 50 years in the making, Gary Bartz, Larry Willis, Buster Williams, and Al Foster had performed together countless times in different combinations and contexts over their storied careers, but it wasn’t until September 2014 that they appeared as a quartet. The occasion that night was a tribute to McCoy Tyner, and the results were so inspired and the response so overwhelming that they knew right away they had something worth keeping. As pianist Larry Willis puts it, “I don’t think there are any bands that are doing quite what we’re doing right now.” Now, their unique chemistry and musicianship is documented on Search for Peace. It features selections by John Coltrane (“Impressions”), Jackie McLean (“Capuchin Swing”), Benny Carter (“Summer Serenade”), Billy Strayhorn (“Lotus Blossom”) and, of course, the moving title track by Tyner (“Search for Peace”) Gary Bartz contributes two compositions (“Uncle Bubba” which Gary performed with McCoy and “Soulstice”) and there are two standards (“Crazy She Calls Me” and “I Wish I Knew” which Tyner famously recorded with Coltrane). It is a well-chosen and balanced set, but the selections are somewhat beside the point; this all-star quartet makes everything sound like magic.
Steve Davis, one of the most beloved trombonists in modern jazz, first dreamed of recording the music of J.J. Johnson some 20 years ago. “Something kept telling me— just wait, just wait.” he says, “Then finally, a year and a half ago, I did the first J.J. weekend at Smoke with this sextet and I finally realized I think I’m ready.” During those 20+ years, Davis was doing a little more than simply waiting, he was busy establishing himself as a worthy heir to his idols: J.J., Curtis Fuller and Slide Hampton. Along the way, he worked with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, the Jackie McLean Sextet, Chick Corea’s Origin, Benny Golson’s New Jazztet, Horace Silver, Hank Jones, Larry Willis, One for All, Freddie Hubbard and the New Jazz Composer’s Octet, the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars, as well as the big bands of Christian McBride, Ron Carter, Jimmy Heath and Roy Hargrove. He’s earned the highest praise, too, such as Freddie Hubbard calling him “one of the greatest trombone players in the world,” James Moody commenting that “his solos never cease to amaze me,” and Chick Corea saying that he plays “some of the most melodic improvisations ever heard in jazz.” For Say When, he’s enlisted the support of the very best—Eddie Henderson, Eric Alexander, Harold Mabern, Nat Reeves and Joe Farnsworth—to breathe new life into six Johnson compositional gems, as well as Cole Porter’s classic “What Is This Thing Called Love,” Warren and Gordon’s “There Will Never Be Another You” and Coltrane’s “Village Blues.” It concludes with a surprising rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” that Davis vividly remembers hearing J.J. perform late in his career. It’s just another reason that Will Friedwald wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The highly respected contemporary trombonist Steve Davis is a perfect bandleader to present the vast riches of (J.J.) Johnson.” Say When is available for purchase as an 8-panel deluxe CD album complete with 2,000-word artist interview and additional photos, as a Mastered for iTunes download with digital booklet, or as an audiophile 96khz/24bit digital download.
Vincent Herring, one of the great jazz saxophonists of our time, matches his soulful, expressive playing with one of the baddest trumpet players around, Jeremy Pelt, in a quintet that also features the hard-driving rhythm section of Mike LeDonne, Brandi Disterheft and Joe Farnsworth. It’s a group of musicians that Herring knows well and there is an obvious rapport and chemistry from the very first note of the funky bebop opener, “Grind Hog’s Day”. Herring was Cedar Walton’s saxophonist for more than 20 years and he remembers him with Walton’s Latin-tinged “Theme for Jobim” and Mike LeDonne’s poignant dedication, “Walton”. Vincent remarks, “All of us are Cedar’s musical children. I wish we could have played this one for him.” There are blistering hard bop anthems, too, like Herring’s original “The Adventures of Hyun Joo Lee” and Donald Byrd’s classic “Fly, Little Bird, Fly”. The full spotlight is on Vincent on a handful of quartet tunes that include “The Gypsy”, which is something of an “alto saxophone classic” made famous by Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt and Phil Woods. Herring loves to play this one live and he give it an unforgettably moving reading. The other quartet numbers include Tex Allen’s beautiful “There Is Something about You (I Don’t Know)”, the bluesy “Wabash” by Vincent’s closest stylistic model and exemplar, Cannonball Adderley, and Cole Porter’s jubilant title track “Night and Day”. Herring also contributes the infectious, closing blues, “Smoking Paul’s Stash”. Vincent Herring is modern jazz at its best—unpretentious, smart, and timeless. Night and Day is available for purchase as an 8-panel deluxe CD album complete with 2,000-word artist interview and additional photos, as a Mastered for iTunes download with digital booklet, or as an audiophile 96khz/24bit digital download.
Harold Mabern’s second release on Smoke Sessions Records, Afro Blue, is a very special recording featuring guest vocalists Gregory Porter, Norah Jones, Jane Monheit, Kurt Elling, and Alexis Cole. The chemistry of these artists with Harold—the sound of his piano voicings combined with their voices—is extraordinary. Well-known in jazz circles as a consummate accompanist for instrumental soloists, The Mabe also has a special gift for sensitive and supportive playing behind singers. It’s something he takes pride in and has been doing since he first hit the stage at Birdland half a century ago with Betty Carter. “I love vocalists. I love to play for singers because that’s really how you learn how to play the piano jazz-wise. They go through every aspect of music— changing keys, slow tempos to fast, playing rubato, playing verses, all of the Great American Songbook—that’s really how you learn how to play,” says Mabern. There is a lot of music and there are a lot of memorable performances on Afro Blue but Mabern’s soulful, blues-driven style is the constant highlight. He is joined by a stellar supporting cast—Jeremy Pelt, Eric Alexander and Steve Turre form a killer horn section while John Webber and Joe Farnsworth complete his reliable rhythm team. Guitarist Peter Bernstein also makes a special appearance on Steely Dan’s “Do It Again.” Mabern adds, I’ll tell you, it was really the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It was definitely a challenge, but I think we pulled it off. I’m quite pleased with it, you know.” Afro Blue is available for purchase as an 8-panel deluxe CD album complete with 2,000-word artist interview and additional photos, as a Mastered for iTunes download with digital booklet, or as an audiophile 96khz/24bit digital download.
STEVE TURRE, ONE OF THE WORLD’S PREEMINENT JAZZ INNOVATORS releases, Spiritman, his debut recording for Smoke Sessions Records. It’s something of a back-to-basics project for Turre who says, “It’s the first record I’ve done in a long time that really focuses on my trombone playing.” It also employs an ideal foil in saxophonist Bruce Williams whose timbre on soprano and alto is a perfect match for the trombone. Spiritman features several of Turre’s new compositions including “Trayvon’s Blues” a poignant, moving, jazz tone poem; “Bu” the record opener dedicated to his mentor Art Blakey; “Funky Thing” written for the Saturday Night Live Band; and “Nangadef” written for Senegalese percussionist Abdou Mboup and featuring Chembo Corniel on congas. His spirited rendition of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” begins with his own mystical “Spiritman“ played on shells. It’s a piece he performed to open the UN’s International Jazz Day concert in Osaka, Japan in 2014. This “All Blues” introduction is also the first recording of a newly developed technique where Turre plays into a piano with the pedal down and the strings open. The shell’s sound vibrates the open strings creating an ethereal, mystical, but acoustic sound. The rest of the band, Xavier Davis, Gerald Cannon, and Willie Jones III, know just what Turre wants and needs from a rhythm section and they help deliver this unforgettable music that also includes swinging standards and classic ballads. It’s music designed to make you feel better. As Turre explains in his thoughts about this recording and music in general, “Music is about giving and about searching. Without spirit, music is just notes.” It’s a philosophy of life and music that continues to produce inspired results. Spiritman is available for purchase as an 8-panel deluxe CD album complete with 2,000-word artist interview and additional photos, as a Mastered for iTunes download with digital booklet, or as an audiophile 96khz/24bit digital download.
“I DON’T LIKE TO WRITE IN ALL OF THE NOTES,” says legendary trumpeter Eddie Henderson with a laugh, ”Miles always said, ‘just write a sketch and let all the musicians fill in.’ He’d say, ‘A collective portrait is better than a self portrait.’” It was advice that resonated with a young Eddie Henderson who, even after 40-something years, still relies on it as a primary organizing principle for his music. Eddie is someone who thrives on—requires really—a group that embodies the risk-taking and creative freedom that Miles encouraged and for Collective Portrait he has chosen some of the very best: Gary Bartz, George Cables, Doug Weiss and Carl Allen. Eddie says that he knew “instinctively” that this combination would have just the musical chemistry he wanted. Eddie, George and Gary have been making music together since the 1970s when he was still based in California and having them together again, he decided to revisit some of this Blue Note Records “hits” from that era, some of which have been famously sampled in recent years by acid jazz and hip hop artists. With updated arrangements, they breathe new life into “Sunburst,” “Dreams,” “Morning Song,” and “Beyond Forever.” They also delve into some of the iconic works of the hard-bop trumpet canon—“Gingerbread Boy,” “Zoltan” and “First Light”—giving Eddie an opportunity to put his personal stamp on these works made famous by Miles, Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard respectively. Of course, no one today plays a ballad quite like Eddie Henderson and there are several memorable ones in this set including “Together,” which Eddie’s wife, Natsuko wrote for him in celebration of their 20 years together. Collective Portrait is available for purchase as an 8-panel deluxe CD album complete with 2,000-word artist interview and additional photos, as a Mastered for iTunes download with digital booklet or as an audiophile 96khz/24bit digital download.
ERIC REED DIDN’T WANT TO MAKE A GOOD RECORD, he wanted to make a great one. The celebrated pianist and musician says, “I could have called guys who play exactly what I want; it would have been good and not very interesting. It would have been swinging or it would have sounded nice—there wouldn’t have really been a spark. You don’t just want to sound good. You want it to be amazing.” And, his Groovewise is that killing record. It features a memorable quartet with Seamus Blake, Ben Williams, and Gregory Hutchinson and is the first recorded meeting of Reed and Hutchinson in over 15 years. They are clearly inspired performing in front of a live audience and the creative energy flies off the bandstand. They open with an impromptu rendition of “Powerful Paul Robeson” for Clifford Jordan whose wife, Sandy, who was in attendance and they close with the extended title track “Groovewise” bracketing a thrilling set of live jazz. Several of the compositions are dedicated to the memories of Mulgrew Miller, Cedar Walton, and Marian McPartland and Eric’s “Until the Last Cat has Swung,” is a declaration that jazz remains alive and well in the hands of a new generation. Although Eric might not feel ready to be a “keeper of the flame,” jazz music is much better off that he already is. Groovewise is available for purchase as an 8-panel CD-Deluxe Album complete with liner notes, interview and additional photos or as a high resolution download mastered for iTunes.
ORRIN EVANS—PIANIST, BANDLEADER AND NOTORIOUS MUSICAL CATALYST—is a bona fide, jazz original. Brimming with music and ideas, Orrin’s Liberation Blues debuts one of his most impressive projects yet, a new quintet lineup that includes Sean Jones, JD Allen, Luques Curtis, and Bill Stewart. The recording, made live at Smoke Jazz Club in New York City, occurred immediately following the passing of bassist Dwayne Burno, and the opening selections comprise the “Liberation Blues Suite” dedicated to his memory. Orrin explains, “In my eyes, Burno is now a ‘Free Man’ … but with that freedom, we’ve lost a great man right here on earth. So, there’s still a blues we feel missing our brother and friend.” Simply put, the playing is inspired. Sean Jones and JD Allen are a brilliant pairing and it is hard to miss Bill Stewart’s presence. Orrin says, “Let me do something that people wouldn’t expect, somethin’ that I wouldn’t even expect. Listen … now is the time for Bill Stewart.” After mining the compositions of Paul Motian, Trudy Pitts, Miles Davis, and, of course, Orrin Evans, the night concludes with a memorable encore visit from Philadelphia vocalist Joanna Pascale for a sultry version of “The Night has a Thousand Eyes.” Liberation Blues is available for purchase as an 8-panel CD-Deluxe Album complete with liner notes, interview and additional photos or as a high resolution download mastered for iTunes.
THIS NEARLY PERFECT PIANO TRIO SET BY CYRUS CHESTNUT, captured at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club in New York, is his first live recording date. It retains all of the feeling and power of his thrilling live performances but also benefits from Smoke’s Steinway B that Cyrus claims is the best piano in the city. “It’s just my ticket. We connect. It’s warm and it’s sharp at the same time with a lot of earth in it. I like clubs like the Jazz Standard or Smoke, where you can sit down at the piano and get down-home, because that’s the kind of audience they attract.” Joining Cyrus are bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Lewis who both worked with the late John Hicks who was an important mentor and friend to Chestnut. Together, they take listeners on a musical odyssey that includes the music by Billy Strayhorn, John Coltrane, and, of course, John Hicks. There are also originals by Victor Lewis and Cyrus culminating in an impressive extended version of “Naima’s Love Song.” Cyrus is one of the great piano voices of his generation—or any generation—as he proves again with this rewarding live debut. Midnight Melodies is available for purchase as an 8-panel CD-Deluxe Album complete with liner notes, interview and additional photos or as a high resolution download mastered for iTunes.
THERE’S NO ONE ELSE LIKE JIMMY COBB now in his seventh decade in music and swinging as hard today as he did when he started in 1950 with Earl Bostic. His surgical skill at the drums and his artistic genius generally is the stuff of legend from his work with Dinah and Cannonball to Sarah and Wes. Jimmy is best known for his time with Miles Davis that included the recording of several history making albums including the classic Kind of Blue. His new release, The Original Mob, features three former students who have all become successful artists themselves. Brad Mehldau, Peter Bernstein, and John Webber were just getting their own careers started when they approached their teacher, Mr. Cobb, about working together as a quartet. It wasn’t a hard sell, as Jimmy knew from experience that they were special talents. Soon after, they got some gigs as Jimmy Cobb’s Mob and the rest is history. The Original Mob is the first recording of this particular lineup in many years and their first recording together under Jimmy’s leadership. It’s a swinging affair that includes two of Jimmy’s original compositions, and one each by Brad, Peter, and John. The opening standard, “Old Devil Moon,” was spontaneously arranged at the date when Brad suggested this novel introduction. Other highlights include the standards “Stranger in Paradise,” “Sunday in New York,” and “Nobody Else but Me.” The Original Mob is the first Smoke Sessions Records release to be recorded using Smoke Jazz Club as a traditional recording studio—a process that Jimmy compared to recording in master engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s living half a century earlier. He adds, “it just sounds like us…like when we first started to play together years ago, but I remember like it was yesterday. I always enjoyed the way we played together.” The Original Mob is available for purchase as a 8-panel CD-Deluxe Album complete with liner notes, interview and additional photos or as a high resolution download mastered for iTunes.
DRUMMER LOUIS HAYES, one of the chief architects of modern jazz drumming, was the rhythmic drive for historic recordings by Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Oscar Peterson, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, and McCoy Tyner. His playing has a rhythmic intensity that is as subtle as it is complex creating a musical feel and vibe on every track that is unmistakably Louis Hayes. When he reformed this band that he co-founded in the late ’60s with Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson—which Freddie dubbed the Jazz Communicators—Louis purposefully deviated from a conventional quintet lineup by featuring a vibraphone / tenor saxophone out front. It’s the esteemed pair of Steve Nelson and Abraham Burton, respectively, and their chemistry with Louis, pianist David Bryant and bassist Dezron Douglas makes The Return of the Jazz Communicators an inspired and rewarding set of music. The selections include a nice balance of standards and originals such as a ballad-feature for Nelson, Lush Life, and one for Burton, A Portrait of Jennie as well as the deep, loose groove of Mulgrew Miller’s Soul-Leo, which opens the record. Return of the Jazz Communicators captures this important jazz quintet in front of an enthusiastic and appreciative live audience. In the words of Louis Hayes, “I try to do what I do best and what makes me feel good…I guess I might as well keep on swinging. And, that’s basically what I’m going to do.” Return of the Jazz Communicators is available for purchase as a 8-panel CD-Deluxe Album complete with liner notes, interview and additional photos or as a high resolution download mastered for iTunes.
PIANIST DAVID HAZELTINE, a musician’s musician known for his harmonic sophistication and elegant pianism, delivers a thoroughly beautiful recording with his latest For All We Know. His rich sound and comping is often reminiscent of the late, great Cedar Walton and Hazeltine honors the piano master with several original compositions including “Et Cedra,” “Lord Walton,” and “Pooh,” as well as Kurt Weill’s “My Ship.” For All We Know also captures the first meeting between tenor saxophone sensation Seamus Blake and Hazeltine. It is abundantly clear on tracks like Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl” and Hazeltine’s “Eddie Harris,” that this collaboration is one worth returning to again and again. For All We Knowis available for purchase as a 8-panel CD-Deluxe Album complete with liner notes, interview and additional photos or as a high resolution download mastered for iTunes.
SOULFUL TENOR SAXOPHONE great Javon Jackson makes a crowd-pleasing statement with his new, Expression, featuring the Javon Jackson Band with Orrin Evans, Corcoran Holt, and McClenty Hunter. Expression is serious jazz music at its accessible best. Javon and company rework Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing,” Hathaway and Flack’s “Where is the Love,” and Nat Cole’s “When I Fall in Love.” Actually, every track aims to please including George Cable’s ’70s classic “Think on Me,” Wayne Shorter’s “One by One,” as well as several Jackson originals. It’s a set you’ll return to again and again. Expressionis available for purchase as a 8-panel CD-Deluxe Album complete with liner notes, interview and additional photos or as a high resolution download mastered for iTunes.
PLAYING ALTO SAXOPHONE that Cannonball, Stitt and Woods would love, not to mention Bird, Vincent Herring shows again on his new record The Uptown Shuffle why he belongs in their company. Like his heroes, he doesn’t rely on gimmicks or tricks, he just flat out swings. It’s a timeless approach that is paired perfectly with the incomparable comper Cyrus Chestnut who contributes several powerful solos of his own. This entertaining record includes classics like, “Love Walked In,” “Tenderly,” and “Strike Up the Band” and originals like Herring’s “Elation,” and Chestnut’s “Uptown Shuffle.” Herring has himself a thrilling straight-ahead record propelled in no small part by Brandi Disterheft and Joe Farnsworth. The Uptown Shuffleis available for purchase as a 8-panel CD-Deluxe Album complete with liner notes, interview and additional photos or as a high resolution download mastered for iTunes.
ANY DAY THAT YOU GET to hear jazz pianist Harold Mabern is a great day, and on his new release, Right On Time, you get two of those days with his trio distilled into one irresistible record. The recording weekend was a 77th birthday party, after all, and the extra energy on these tracks is unmistakable showcasing the complete Mabern experience. Right On Time delivers everything from classic blues and swinging standards to delicate ballads and modal tempests. There are definitely all the makings of a new classic here, an important addition to the Harold Mabern discography. Right On Timeis available for purchase as a 8-panel CD-Deluxe Album complete with liner notes, interview and additional photos or as a high resolution download mastered for iTunes.