A word about my picks for 2015. The term, BEST is not in my vocabulary. Each and every artist and recording is extraordinary, unique and deserving of wider recognition in their own right. Congratulations to everyone who made the music possible and apologies to the artists I failed to mention. Thanks to you, 2015 was a good year for Jazzdelapena.com.
Titanes del Trombone pays tribute to the great trombonists of jazz and Afro-Cuban music, through the lens of varied Latin idioms including mambo, guaguanco, bata, boss nova, samba and Latin jazz. The center point is the story of a modern trombonist and it brings attention to the many trombonists who are formidable composers and arrangers in their own right (particularly Barry Rogers). Titanes del Trombón runs the full gamut, featuring extended brass for rhythmically intense salsa selections and delicate string and harp scoring for two of my favorite selections, Enigma, and Folhas Secas. There’s so much to like it’s difficult to select a favorite but I’m partial to Elis Regina’s Folhas Secas and Boranda, which pays tribute to Papo Lucca and La Sonora Ponceña. Doug Beavers is a formidable trombonist, composer, arranger, educator and now, leader. (ArtistShare)
Alex Conde’s Descarga for Monk is another recording that immediately captured my attention and held me in its spell. On Descarga for Monk, his ZOHO Music debut (and third recording as a leader), the gifted pianist-composer and Chano Dominguez protege has his way with the high priest of bop in an adventurous all-Monk program that is teaming with the spirit of Spanish duende. Accompanied by the Bay Area rhythm tandem of bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Jon Arkin, and featuring special guest percussion master John Santos, Conde draws on his personal experiences in the rich flamenco tradition to craft a stirring set of music that pays tribute to Monk while taking great liberties with the familiar themes and rhythms of such staples as Bemsha Swing, Evidence, Monk’s Dream and others. From his fiery buleria interpretation of Played Twice to his clave-fueled Catalan rumba rendition of Thelonious, as well as dramatic solo piano extrapolations on Monk’s hauntingly beautiful ballads Pannonica and ‘Round Midnight, this flamenco-flavored take on Monk is as inventive as it is invigorating. (Zoho Music)
Master percussionist, scholar, and composer Román Díaz is a ‘living repository’ of Afro-Cuban music. This Olù Batá (master drummer) is the inspirational mentor behind Grammy nominated Pedrito Martinez (who produces, arranges and performs on this recording), the award-winning saxophonist Yosvany Terry and pianist David Virelles, and many more exciting stars of today’s burgeoning Afro-Cuban jazz scene in New York City. “Recorded in the shadow of New York City, these praise songs to the major Lukumí Orishá emerge from Havana lineages of batá playing styles developed and nurtured by past leaders of the batá guild including Andrés ‘Sublime’, Pablo Roche, Andrés Isaac, Trinidad Torregroso, Raul Díaz, Jesús Pérez, Regino Jiménez, Sergio y Papo Angarika Angel Bolaño, Francisco Hernandez Mora (Pancho Quinto), Jose Fernández Almendáriz (Pito El Gago), Andres Chacón and many others who are evoked by contemporary players in their moyubas or ‘prayers to the ancestors’. As a child in La Habana, captivated by the fierce devotion of his elders to their African-Cuban heritages, Román learned from them and has passionately studied their legacies ever since.” Dr. Ivor Miller of the University of Calabar, Fulbright Scholar and Smithsonian Fellow (Motema)
Piano + Rhythm is double trouble, a breakout recording and the sleeper of the year. Before listening, I was not familiar with Eckroth, or his music, a few minutes into Plato Roto (track 1) I was hooked by Eckroth’s impeccable sense of timing and swing and the dynamic rhythm section. The supporting cast is off the charts: Jimmy Delgado, John “Dandy” Rodriguez, Nelson Gonzalez, Pedrito Martinez, Ralph Irizarry, Andy Gonzalez and Jose Clausell, to name a few. An impressive debut from start to finish.
An excellent tribute to the seminal New York City-based Fort Apache band. Jerry Gonzalez and arranger, Miguel Blanco interpret eight tunes associated with the Fort Apache band through the lens of a big band and capture its essence. Jerry is joined by a cast of Spanish and Cuban colleagues who understand and do justice to the material. Much has changed since the Fort Apache Band came onto the music scene 30 years ago but it remains one of the most influential groups of its kind. (Import: Youkali Music, Spain)
The Bronx Pyramid is an impressive debut for the Bronx-born Nuyorican bassist, composer, arranger, Carlos Henriquez. Tracks like “The Bronx Pyramid” with special guest percussionist Pedrito Martinez and “Descarga Entre Amigos” featuring Rubén Blades demonstrate why Henriquez has been performing with greats like Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, and Celia Cruz since he was 14. Henriquez expertly combines the best of the Latin and jazz traditions into an impressive recording. The Bronx Pyramid marks the arrival of a full-fledged jazz master. Expect great things from Henriquez in the years to come. (Blue Engine Records)
Bassist, bandleader Charlie Haden, who died in 2014, had a special relationship with pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who was 25 years his junior. Here’s how Haden described his first encounter with Rubalcaba at a festival in Havana in 1986: “Gonzalo’s band came on, he took a piano solo, and I nearly fell off my chair. I told the organizers, ‘Take me back to meet him.’ He spoke very little English at the time. But we arranged to meet the next day. We played for hours and hours.”) Rubalcaba’s produced two Haden albums, “Nocturne” and “Land of the Sun,” both Grammy winners. Tokyo Adagio marks the pinnacle of the American bassist’s collaborations with Gonzalo Rubalcaba. (Impulse/UMC)
It’s hard to believe it’s been two decades since Ralph Irizarry & Timbalaye made their debut. After a long absence, the group is back with 20th Anniversary. Essentially, it’s the same concept, the same soul with new arrangements and compositions by former members and die-hard Timbalaye fans, some of which were too young to experience the original group, live. The arrangements are modern, uncompromising, swinging. 20 years after the fact Irizarry takes a page from Ray Barretto and New World Spirit by leading a group of upstarts who are taking Timbalaye to the next evolution. (Truth Revolution Records/Reyes)
Pianist, composer Luis Perdomo celebrates the 22nd year that he’s been living in New York as well as his label debut for Hot Tone Music Records. “2015 marks my twenty-second year living in New York City, and I left my hometown when I was twenty-two years old,” recollects Perdomo.”I remembered the exact moment when I moved, and the feelings I had had at the time…especially during the last two days in Caracas and the first two days in New York City. There again, I saw the two and two formula and realized that there was a little recurring theme there. So I began scoring all of those memories and trying to convey them through music: translating some dates that were very significant to me into notes.” Joining Perdomo in celebration of the release of Twenty-Two are bassist Mimi Jones as well as drummer Rudy Royston.
Dafnis Prieto’s Triangles and Circles is all about playing with forms. I spoke with him earlier this year and he described the album as, “a book with different chapters. Every song stands on its own and tells a story. All of the compositions are full of new musical adventures, it’s a fresh sound.” Prieto offers compositions and arrangements that are distinctly him, but he leaves plenty of room for improvisation. The supporting cast is outstanding. Standout tracks include Flores (dedicated to the late, great bass player, Charles Flores) and Blah Blah. Triangles and Circles is a tour de force for Prieto as a player, composer, and leader. (Dafnison Music)
Trombonist, composer, arranger, bandleader Papo Vazquez and his Mighty Pirates Troubadours perform with conviction and high energy. Vazquez is a proud Puerto Rican, but he’s so adept at blurring the lines between jazz and Afro-Caribbean music he makes it sound effortless. The music is vivid, optimistic, tender, spiritual, fierce and the supporting cast is superb. It’s no wonder The New York City Jazz Record chose Spirit Warrior as one of the Best Latin Jazz releases of 2015. (Picaro Records)
Earlier this year, I made it a point to catch Charanee Wade at the San Jose Summer Jazz Fest and she did not disappoint. Offering: The Music of Gil-Scott Heron and Brian Jackson is an ambitious project that celebrates Gil-Scott and Brian Jackson with the artistic integrity they deserve. “Most artists today don’t use their platform to shift consciousness like Gil and artists of his day used to do,” says Wade, “he inspires me to do my own thing, to not be afraid to say what I want to say.” Wade is a tremendous vocalist, composer, arranger, and a professor at the Aaron Copland School of Music, City College, and the Jazzmobile Workshop program. Her future is bright. (Motema).
Earlier this year the Los Angeles-based tenor saxophonist, Kamasi Washington debuted The Epic and blew everyone away. Everything about the recording is big, a 32-piece orchestra, a 20-piece choir and an impressive working band driven by a dream about a martial arts grandmaster and his disciples. I’m not big on hoopla but after seeing Kamasi and crew at the California Theatre in San Jose, California, I was sold. Kamasi is on a mission to remake the word “jazz” in the image of his generation. Suffice to to say he is on his way. Be sure to check Kamasi out when he performs at a venue near you. It’s a unique and exhilarating experience. (Brainfeeder)
AND … IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
Zoilapianista (Single) – Influencias (Homenaje al Maestro, Papo Lucca)
Wayne Wallace – Intercambios (Patois Records)
Miguel Zenon – Identities are Changeable (Miel)
Jorge Duran y su Jalea de Mambo (Independent, EPK)
Steve Turre – Spiritman (Smoke Sessions Records)
Pete Rodriguez Jr. – El Conde Negro (Destiny Records)
Paquito D’ Rivera – Jazz Meets the Classics (Sunnyside Records)
A Love Supreme/John Coltrane – The Complete Masters (Verve)
BEST LIVE PERFORMANCES
Etienne Charles – World Premiere, San Jose Suite, California Theatre, San Jose, California
Kamasi Washington, California Theatre, San Jose, California
Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, the Side Door, Old Lyme, Connecticut
Ibeyi – Nice Jazz Festival, France
The Curtis Brothers with special guest, Ray Vega at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, NYC
Afro Horn Residency at the Zinc Bar, NYC
Rahsaan-Athon – Steve Turre and the Eulipion All-Stars at Cafe Stritch, San Jose, California
BEST JAZZ FESTIVAL
San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2015
BEST JAZZ DOCUMENTARY FILM
What Happened Miss Simone? Director, Liz Garbus
The American Slave Coast, A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry – Ned and Constance Sublette (Lawrence Hill Books)
Puerto Rican Pioneers in Jazz (1900-1939) – From Bomba Beats to Latin Jazz – Basilio Serrano (iUniverse)
Artists, Publicists, Record Companies, Presenters, Managers, Club Owners, Colleagues, Music Lovers and Friends.