My cousin Marla Kleman lives, breathes, eats and sleeps jazz. A former radio DJ, she now works at Scullers, Boston’s legendary jazz club. As a kid, Sarah Vaughan befriended her and called her “Little One.” Vocalist Rebecca Parris legally adopted her. Anytime I want some help jazz-wise, I call my cousin, which I did for this 2012 jazz best-of.
If any genre has to compete with its own past, it’s jazz. Our list proves the music is still vital, being played today by some extremely talented musicians, and not just a relic meant to be appreciated in a museum, as one would look at a picture on a wall. Jazz fans should put down their Miles, Monk and Mingus albums every once in a while and go out and hear today’s generation of extremely talented practitioners.
Joey DeFrancesco, Jimmy Cobb and Larry Coryell/Wonderful, Wonderful (High Note): This is a blowing session of the highest order. Groove is the king here and it doesn’t stop.
Branford Marsalis/Four MFs Playin’ Tunes (Marsalis Music): Pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, drummer Justin Faulkner and saxman Marsalis are the four MFs in a variety of moods and tempos. Branford’s ballad mastery is showcased on standard “My Ideal” amidst the burners. Faulkner is 21, and won his drum seat with Marsalis at 18.
Tia Fuller/Angelic Warrior (Mack Avenue): Saxophonist Tia’s third for the label is her most powerful. In addition to regular bandmates Shamie Royston (piano), Rudy Royston (drums) and Mimi Jones (bass), special guests Dianne Reeves (vocals), John Patitucci (bass) and drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Ralph Peterson, Jr. shine. Fuller takes the music out to the edge but brings it right back in every time. Not a dull moment. Originally from Colorado, she came to acclaim within Beyoncé’s all-female band before moving to New Jersey, where she now lives.
Gregory Porter/Be Good (Motema): A real winner. He’s even up for a Grammy in the Traditional R&B Performance category for his vocals on “Real Good Hands.”
Ryan Truesdell/Centennial—Newly Discovered Works Of Gil Evans (Artist Share): Composer/arranger Truesdell did a beautiful job interpreting master Gil Evans’ compositions.
Joe Alterman/Give Me The Simple Life (Miles High): Pianist Alterman offers up some good ol’ straight-ahead groove on this, his second outing. “Give Me The Simple Life,” influenced by Red Garland and Ahmad Jamal, still remains true to his own pianistic voice. Bassist James Cammack and drummer Herlin Riley round out this powerhouse trio with special guest, tenor saxophonist Houston Person adding to the bounce and joie de vivre of this recording.
Louise Van Aarsen/Destiny (Lavana): Rebecca Parris’s reputation as a producer is growing, and Van Aarsen’s debut puts this Dutch-born vocalist’s own compositions in front of some great arranging and playing by a variety of Boston music scene veterans.
Cat Conner/Cat Tales (Rhombus): Smoky, sultry-voiced vocalist Cat Conner and the late pianist, George Mesterhazy, multi-woodwind player Gene Cipriano and guest bassist Jim Hughart do the Great American Songbook proud.
Ravi Coltrane/Spirit Fiction (Blue Note): A lesson in creativity and exploration. The son of saxophone titan John Coltrane and harpist/pianist/organist Alice Coltrane has forged his own path, and does so here with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, drummers E.J. Strickland and Eric Harland, bassist Drew Gress and saxman Joe Lovano.
Many of the recordings listed above have extensive liner notes written by journalists using their vast knowledge, plus their research and writing skills to bring you the detailed stories behind these gems. Kudos to the great liner note writers and may the advent of the digital download age allow them to continue to keep us informed.