By John Stevenson
As the stranglehold of the so-called ‘major labels’ continues to loosen through the power of the internet and more and more artists find distribution channels to get their work before mass audiences, 2013 has seen some fine jazz recordings.
I also had an opportunity to sample a few recordings that pricked my ears (in the best possible way of course) while listening to a few online radio channels during the year.
I’ll start off with some of the more seasonal fare.
The New York Voices, a premier league vocal ensemble that has given us close to three decades of fine jazz, also brought Christmas cheer this year, with the excellent Let It Snow. The group, comprising Kim Nazarian, Lauren Kinhan, Darmon Meader, and Peter Eldridge, transformed a cluster of Yuletide tunes into polished gems with the able assistance of Don Sebesky, Pat Hollenbeck and Michele Weir. Particularly enjoyable are Holiday For Strings, We Three Kings and Sleepers, Wake. Other top Christmas jazz CDs that I listened to include Merry Christmas To You (Jonathan Butler); It feels Like Christmas Time (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy); Smooth Jazz Christmas 2013 (various artists), A Charlie Brown Christmas (Vince Guaraldi Trio) and Zat You Santa, Jeepers Creepers (Louis Armstrong).
I also found the simply titled, Christmas (2008), by Nate Birkey, a revelation. If you like tastefully played jazz trumpet with Chet Baker-esque vocals, then Nate’s laid back, sophisticated takes on tried and true holiday fare might just tick your boxes. His wistful rendition of What Are You Doing New Year, is special, and he is ably assisted by Jim Ridl and Steve Rudolph on piano, Tony Marino on bass, Marko Marcinko on drums and Vic Juris on guitar. In similar vein, pianist Mark Kramer also brightens up the seasonal period with his beautiful Jazz Greetings (2009). Recently departed Charles Fambrough anchors this session on bass while Jim Miller keeps impeccable time. Kramer is a lyrical and sensitive player. His work reflects the jazz tradition that he has dedicated his life to studying. His Bill Evans influenced phrasing finds expression on a brace of classics such as Hanuka Blessing-Hatikvah Blessing, March of the Toys and We Three Kings.
I was also impressed with the following recordings released in 2013:
Life in the Sugar Candle Mines (Gerald Cleaver’s Black Host); Without a Net (Wayne Shorter); Meadowlands, Stolen Jazz (Kheswa & Her Martians); Familiar Fields (Hristo Vitchev Quartet); Just Play (Tom Kennedy); Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio (Kenny Barron, Gerry Gibbs, Ron Carter); The Changing Lights (Stacey Kent); CinemaScope: Orchestration for Piano (Bill King); Liquid Spirit (Gregory Porter); When She Smiles (Jacques Lesure); Road Ahead (Mark Perry-Duncan Eagles Quintet); The Head of the Circle (Tim Horner); All Seasons (Emmanuel Waldron); Creole Soul (Etienne Charles) Blessed (Scott Neumann Neu 3 Trio); So (Antonio Loureiro); Saturday Morning (Ahmad Jamal); Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012 (William Parker); Prism (Dave Holland).
What an incredible year for jazz!