For 2019, Some of My Favorite Things (on CD)
Written by Tom Lucci on December 27, 2019
by Tom Lucci
Note: Tom Lucci will be featuring songs from these CDs on the Monday, December 30th edition of Standard Time, 3-6pm on WICN.
It’s hard to miss end-of-year “Best Of” lists. Here’s a brief rundown of 2019 album releases that are, by and large, fixtures on my Standard Time playlists – and those of many WICN colleagues. They show that elements like taste and musicianship never go out of style. If you’ve got some holiday cash to spend on music, you can do a lot worse than these. Many are also on the major streaming services to freshen your playlists.
Here they are, In no particular order:
Yoko Miwa, Keep Talkin’. A great friend of WICN and winner (again) of a Boston Music Award, Yoko’s discs just keep getting better. Inspired, energetic, lyrical, and swinging, Keep Talkin’ once again deftly blends jazz chops with pop sensibility – from the Herbie Hancock-like soul-jazz title tune, to Monk and Mingus, to lovely Beatles and Joni Mitchell. The album ends with the elegiac original “Sunshine Follows the Rain,” a tune that somebody could have a big hit with.
New York Voices, Reminiscing in Tempo. The NYV remains perhaps the pre-eminent vocal jazz group, through 25 years together. This album features several lovely a capella pieces along with small-group and big band renditions. Their epic take on “Blue Rondo a la Turk” will be a highlight in next year’s Brubeck centennial. Peter Eldridge, Darmon Meader, Lauren Kinhan, and Kim Nazarian are all stellar singers in their own right – and Peter’s new Somewhere is lush and lovely in its own right.
Ted Nash, Somewhere Else: West Side Story Songs. I must say, I had neglected this release from reed man Ted Nash, a Wynton Marsalis stalwart, until seeing it on the Down Beat five-star review list. Careful listening reveals a masterful, intimate performance. Accompanied only by guitar (Steve Cardenas) and bass (Ben Allison), Nash really gets inside and brings out the beauty and power of these great songs – all without a wasted note.
Catherine Russell, Alone Together. Any Catherine Russell release makes my best of the year by default. Her vitality, care, humor, and chops on rarely performed tunes like “Shake Down the Stars” make A-List standards like “I Only Have Eyes for You” and the title track stand out all the more.
George Coleman, The Quartet (Smoke Sessions). This is a gift from two octogenarians. NEA Jazz Master George Coleman played tenor with Miles Davis in the early 1960s, and he remains a distinctive voice that combines urgency and ease in a big, earthy sound. On piano we have perhaps the last recorded testament of gentle giant Harold Mabern, who passed away in September after a superb renaissance of his long career.
Mary Stallings, Songs Were Made to Sing (Smoke Sessions). Smoke Sessions has hit on a winning formula by producing great-sounding sessions with top-flight, veteran musicians. Mary Stallings brings back the aura of Carmen McRae with her own sensibility on a most enjoyable program. A highlight is her slow, anthemic “Give Me the Simple Life” that’s a whole new take on that chestnut. The album title is actually the first line of “While We’re Young” – so right for Ms. Stallings, who is, one is astonished to learn, 80 years young herself!
Noah Preminger, Zigsaw. Noah is a WICN colleague (“Noah’s Arc,” Wednesday nights at 10!). In his day gig, Noah’s a Down Beat “rising star” winner on tenor sax who’s built a formidable catalog. Zigsaw: The Music of Steve Lampert is his most audacious project yet: one track, 48:35 in length, with a septet featuring his frequent partner in musical adventure, trumpeter Jason Palmer. Just go on the journey; you’ll be glad you did. One reference point: Frank Zappa fans, especially of his extended jams, will relate and be most enlightened. And you’ll know what a haken continuum can do.
Svetlana, A Night at the Movies. Cinema always had a deep meaning for cabaret star Svetlana, a Russian emigre. This romp through movie themes of all eras is great fun – and the musicianship shows through on repeat listening. Highlights include Steven Sondheim’s all-too-rarely heard “Sooner or Later” and spirited duets with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon on “Cheek to Cheek” and “Happy”, among a well-chosen, creatively-scored program.
Ralph Peterson and the Gennext Big Band, Listen Up! Professor Ralph Peterson of Berklee earned a real-world Ph.D. in musicality as Art Blakey’s protégé, and he brilliantly passes on the legacy of Buhaina and the Jazz Messengers to his students in the Gennext Big Band. After last year’s live I Remember Bu, their first studio album again features classic themes from the likes of Wayne Shorter and Curtis Fuller – plus a gorgeous “Skylark”. The energy and passion are palpable, the charts are formidable – and these young people have the musicianship to pull it off in style.
Chick Corea Trio, Trilogy 2. Whatever 78-year-old Chick Corea is doing to keep his music so fresh and exciting, it sure is working. This 2-disc live set is up with his best and most accessible work. Original classics, standards, new tunes: they all work. It sure doesn’t hurt to work with the best bassist and drummer in the business: Christian McBride and Brian Blade.
Erroll Garner, The Octave Remastered Series. Over the years, the jazz world has kind of put Erroll Garner to the side– for decades about the most popular pianist on record and in concert halls. His music is just too good and too enjoyable to bury; happily, his recorded archive is deep and well-preserved, so there’s a major project to get his sound back where it belongs. This year brings great-sounding reissues of six albums, coming on the heels of newly discovered gems Nightconcert (2018) and Ready Take One (2016) and the smash hit Complete Concert by the Sea (2015). You can’t go wrong with with any of them. Sometime, play “Name That Tune” with Erroll’s intros to put a big smile on your face.
Godwin Louis, Global. There were many adventurous discs worthy of attention released in 2019; this is a favorite. Saxophonist Godwin Louis, a native of Haiti, weaves an ear-opening, passionate web of sound from his African/Caribbean/American heritage and his travels to over 100 countries. Godwin’s troupe came to Worcester in 2018 for a memorable concert at Clark; this 2-disc set shows the full fruits of that powerful performance.
Godwin Louis (right) and colleagues at WICN, October 2018