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The best (and worst) music of 2011: Hank Shteamer's picks

Publication: Time Out New York
Author: Hank Shteamer
Date: December 11, 2011

The best albums

1 Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, Ultra (self-released)
To say that this 24-year-old crooner had a banner year would be like labeling the sun a pretty bright star; but even alongside guest spots on Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin and Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch the Throne, Ocean’s own debut—a challenging, charming, beautifully paced set of indie R&B—stood way out.

2 Anthrax, Worship Music (Megaforce)
Opening for their old-school thrash peers on the Big 4 tour, these NYC veterans drew bottom billing, yet they emerged triumphant on this hook-saturated fist-pumper of a comeback LP.

3 Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (Marsalis Music)
One of our few household-name jazzmen and his first-call pianist stepped away from their signature quartet and produced a duo session so stately, it felt avant-garde. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 13th, 2011 — 05:15pm

It’s the most jazz-list-y time of the year

Publication: Ottawa Citizen Jazzblog
Author: Peter Hum
Date: December 12, 2011

The jazz punditocracy has been weighing in on top jazz CDs of 2011:

The list from Patrick Jarenwattananon at NPR’s A Blog Supreme skews to the younger end of the jazz talent spectrum. Miguel Zenón (Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook) and Gretchen Parlato (The Lost and Found) get nods, for example, for their 2011 CDs, while Sonny Rollins does not, for example. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 13th, 2011 — 12:35pm

Critic's picks: Harry Connick, Jr. Trio, 'Music From The Happy Elf'; Ellis Marsalis, 'A New Orleans Christmas Carol'; Geri Allen, 'A Child Is Born'

Publication: Lexington Herald-Leader
Author: Walter Tunis
Date: December 12, 2011

How curious it is that three of the finer releases in an especially weak pack of new holiday recordings belong to jazz pianists whose take on yuletide sounds could not be more varied?

Pianist Harry Connick Jr.’s Music From The Happy Elf may be the most unexpected of the three. A veteran of several Christmas-themed recordings that showcase his big band and traditional (as well as overtly commercial) pop preferences, Elf presents the pianist in one of his most inviting and overlooked settings: the piano trio.

It’s hard not to smile at the percussive cracks of drummer Arthur Larkin and Connick’s sparse piano mischief during Naughty Children of Bluesville (which sounds like O Tannenbaum trying to escape from a blues cellar) or the way the light, lullaby turns of Christmas Day melt into the intimate swing of What a Night.

Music From The Happy Elf is, aside from a 10-minute opening medley with narration, completely instrumental. Add to that the fact that all of the music is original (but revisited from works Connick composed for the stage musical The Happy Elf) and you have a holiday recording risky and refreshing. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 12th, 2011 — 04:58pm

Broadway's Not So Incidental Music for Stick Fly, The Mountaintop and More

Publication: Playbill.com
Author: Stuart Miller
Date: December 9, 2011

Unexpected musicians — Alicia Keys, Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard — flavor a new crop of plays on Broadway.

As The Mountaintop, Katori Hall’s debut Broadway play, begins, we hear the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. accompanied by a trumpet, a lone horn singing with an elegiac yearning.

Those notes did not come easy.

The music was written by Branford Marsalis, best known as a saxophone player, former “Tonight Show” bandleader, jazz composer and recording artist. But he’s part of a new generation of composers and musicians bringing their talents to Broadway, not by writing showstoppers for musicals but by making subtler additions to straight plays. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 12th, 2011 — 01:21pm

The Best Jazz Of 2011

Publication: NPR’s A Blog Supreme
Author: Patrick Jarenwattananon
Date: December 9, 2011

With all acknowledgements that the idea of designating “the best” music is silly, and with full admission that I didn’t get around to every good record released in the last 12 months, and that this process is entirely subjective, yadda yadda yadda: Here is a list of my favorite jazz albums of 2011.

When I stare at this list, I see a lot of interpretation. I see four albums dedicated to imagining new settings for sources as disparate as Latin crooner anthems (Miguel Zenón), American patriotic songs (René Marie), forgotten jazz of the 1920s (Brian Carpenter) and PJ Harvey (Ben Allison). There’s a sort of radical creativity here, unmooring material from its original context and digging up its hidden lessons; it feels natural to our age.

I also see original visions of composition worth underscoring. There are the rollicking intensities from the James Farm collective, the juicy nuggets of the JD Allen Trio, the wandering wonder of Bill McHenry’s pen. This, too, is a sort of radical creativity, this search for new ways to express beauty. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 12th, 2011 — 12:25pm

Karl Stark's Best in Jazz

Publication: Philly.com
Author: Karl Stark
Date: December 11, 2011

Branford Marsalis & Joey Calderazzo, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (Marsalis Music)
Saxophonist Branford Marsalis consorts with Joey Calderazzo, the pianist of his quartet since 1998, for a session that is surprisingly sublime. Marsalis and Calderazzo sound classical in the best jazz sense: handsome melodies creating beauty and lots of free space for interaction. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 12th, 2011 — 11:46am

On Music: Branford Marsalis

Publication: The Paris Review Daily
Author: Sam Stephenson
Date: December 8, 2011

It’s sixty-two degrees and raining in downtown Durham, North Carolina, on a Tuesday in mid-October. At noon members of the Branford Marsalis Quartet gather at the former St. Joseph’s African Methodist Episcopal church, built in 1891, now converted into the Hayti Heritage Center, an arts-and-community nonprofit. Their goal is to record a new album over the next few days.

When Marsalis moved his family to Durham from New York a decade ago, the local press assumed he was replacing the retiring director of Duke’s jazz department, saxophonist Paul Jeffrey. But Marsalis, who’d grown up in Louisiana, simply wanted to return to the South and picked Raleigh-Durham because the area had an airport large enough to get him anywhere he needed to go. Later, he began teaching part-time in the noted jazz program at the historically black North Carolina Central University, which is a mile down the road from Hayti.

The original St. Joseph’s sanctuary remains intact: a wood-plank stage, hardwood pews, a balcony, chandeliers, and lots of stained glass. Marsalis began recording albums here in 2006 when he noticed that the room had a unique quality: there is no reverb at low decibel levels; it grows gradually with the sound.

His road manager, Roderick Ward, and sound engineer, Rob Hunter—who have been with Marsalis for twenty-seven and twenty-two years, respectively—spent two days creating a recording studio on the sanctuary’s stage and in adjoining rooms, hauling in seventy crates of equipment and cables and renting a Steinway grand from Hopper Piano and Organ in Raleigh. It’s the sixth time they’ve transformed this space. The advantage of working in Hayti, says Hunter, is that “we can build a studio the way we want to, rather than trying to adapt to an established studio’s specifications.” “The disadvantage,” he adds, chuckling, “is that we have to build a studio.”

I asked Marsalis if he had planned any overarching themes for this recording session. “Musicians who talk about their concept—that’s why all their songs sound the same,” he said. “We select good songs and we play them to the best of our ability. Then we move on to another song and do it again. That’s our concept.” Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 8th, 2011 — 05:45pm

[live review] Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo at the MFA

Publication: Boston Phoenix’s On The Download
Author: Jon Garelick
Date: December 8, 2011

That’s Branford Marsalis (center) with jazz guitar genius David Gilmore and David’s dad, Marvin — owner of the Western Front, music-enthusiast, and all-around man-about-town. The occasion was the latest in the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Celebrity Lecture Series at the MFA, also known as “Evenings with Creative Minds.” Which is probably why it didn’t show up on the MFA’s concert calendar. That said, there was plenty of great music. Yes, Branford began by talking, in his gloriously off-the-cuff, eloquent, and blunt-spoken style.

Over the past 30 years, jazz fans have grown accustomed to the rants of Branford and younger brother Wynton. But Branford at least has always been a charming and funny gadfly. In a short talk that began with a quote from Faulkner about the expressive powers of music. Marsalis went off on the particular powers of instrumental music. Differing with Faulkner’s contention that music was the easiest way to express emotion directly, Marsalis said that to the contrary, “music is not the easiest way to express anything.” Which is why people always lean toward music with lyrics. But, he said, the difference with instrumental music is that you can never say exactly what it’s about — and that’s it’s strength.

“The idea of instrumental music is difficult and tedious for most lay-persons to get their heads around, and it’s also difficult and tedious for most musicians to get their heads around.” Read more »

Up for a Grammy award, Arturo O'Farrill still fights for eliminated Latin jazz category

Publication: New York Daily News
Author: Monika Fabian
Date: December 7, 2011

An outspoken critic of the Grammys’ controversial decision this year to eliminate 30 awards categories was graced with a nomination last week by the host organization, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS).

“I’m extremely proud,” said bandleader and pianist Arturo O’Farrill, whose album “40 Acres and a Burro” has a bid for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.

However, he still opposes the elimination of the Best Latin Jazz Album category, calling it “horrific.”

“To compete with big, big, big names is very healthy, but it doesn’t bode well for us [Latin jazz musicians],” said O’Farrill, winner of the 2008 Best Latin Jazz Album award and a four-time nominee.

“A lot of what happens is brand awareness,” he added. “It would be an amazing vindication of our artistic integrity and the academy’s position of it leveling the playing field if any of the Latinos had a real shot at winning.”

Also competing for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album — the only category in which Hispanic artists were nominated that did not involve Latino/Mexican/World Music — is Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenón, who saw in the academy’s restructuring a chance for Latin artists to gain more widespread jazz cred. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 8th, 2011 — 12:14pm

Harry Connick, Jr. Trio: The Happy Elf

Publication: JazzWeekly.com
Author: George Harris
Date: December 8, 2011

There’s just something about Harry Connick Jr. that you just gotta love. He’s got great musical instincts, and a heart for service, as he’s shown by his unrelenting assistance for NO post Katrina. Here, he’s put together a disc that serves as a companion to his children’s book, just in time for the Christmas Season. The disc begins with Connick telling the story from the book, with background music supplied by himself and his regular team of Arthur Latin/dr and Neal Caine/b. After that, it’s strictly instrumentals, with the remaining dozen tunes spotlighting Connick’s clever writing skills, as well as his impressive chops. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 8th, 2011 — 12:55pm