Where It All Begins (Stax/Concord) is the sixth album from “The First Daughter Of Soul,” Lalah Hathaway, whose father, Donny Hathaway (1945-1979) recorded five ‘70s albums (two with Roberta Flack). Its 12 tracks bespeak a sly insinuating sensuality, perfect for her oh-so-soulful retro stance. If her dad was a crooner, she’s a breather, imbuing each track with colorful personality. Starting with “Strong Woman,” with stops along the way for the flirtatious “Small Of My Back” and “You Were Meant For Me,” one could get lost in a dreamy state of groove with Lalah’s style, her songwriting and that voice, which doesn’t so much remind you of her dad’s but takes a portion of his charm to an obvious next level.
Ain’t nobody ever played the piano before or since like Thelonious Monk (1917-1982), and the best way to listen to Monk is unaccompanied. He stands for everything your piano teacher will tell you not to do. He chops at the keys like karate. He dances around his piano in a funny hat. His solo style is like listening to an orchestra. Unlike such solo masters as Art Tatum or Oscar Peterson, he doesn’t dazzle with dexterity as if he had 30 fingers instead of 10, but he entertains and surprises with his left-field detours, grunts and odd timing. Thelonious Alone in San Francisco (Concord Music Group) is a perfect example. Originally released in 1959 as a follow-up to Thelonious Himself, it is the second of three solo works. Hypnotic, endlessly fascinating, it doesn’t even matter if you own some of this material—like Irving Berlin’s “Remember” and his own “Blue Monk,” “Ruby My Dear” or “Pannonica”—because he never played the same song in the same way twice. Buy this sucker now. And study it. And to understand why Monk was arguably the most enigmatic and culturally significant jazzman of the 20th century, you’d be doing yourself a favor by hitting up a bookstore and grabbing Robin D.G. Kelley’s Thelonious Monk: The Life And Times Of An American Original.
Talk about fascinating! Columbia/Legacy’s re-release of Billy Joel’s 1973 Major Label Piano Man debut (after his 1971 independent Cold Spring Harbor) comes with a second disc recorded live at Sigma Sound Studios in front of a small audience and broadcast live on Philadelphia’s hippie haven WMMR-FM radio. Hearing the brash 23-year-old Billy Joel—complete with kick-ass band—rumble through 23 songs like his western “The Ballad Of Billy The Kid” and the achingly beautiful “She’s Got A Way” is galvanizing enough… but the in-between song personality that emerges while he noisily slurps his beer is like an audio reality show… one is glued to the speakers. Back then, he was known mostly for “Captain Jack,” controversial in its day for what was perceived as a pro-drug stance (plus use of the word “masturbate”), yet there’s more truth in this one song than there is in a thousand Republican Party debates. As far as the remixed, remastered album itself, there’s enough banjo, dobro and fiddles on it to sit squarely amidst the Southern California Eagles/Jackson Browne/Ronstadt crowd. And this from a Jewish kid from the Bronx? In the context of his career twists and turns as the American Elton, this re-release is a keeper.
When one thinks of New Orleans, one thinks of the Marsalis clan or Dr. John before Terence Blanchard, but this brilliant trumpeter has made great album after great album ever since coming out of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra in 1980 and continuing his education, as so many others have, with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. Straight-up hard bop was his early forte yet he evolved into African Fusion and composing for film before becoming the Artistic Director of the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute in 2000. His stunning series of ‘80s albums with saxophonist Donald Harrison set new standards for post-bop traditionalism but it was his 2007 reaction to what Hurricane Katrina did to his hometown that resulted in the heartbreaking A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem For Katrina). I’m tellin’ you: Dude’s the best, his tone, his phrasing, his impeccable production and compositional skills, everything he does. That said, his new album with bandleader/conga player/salsa singer Poncho Sanchez, Chano Y Dizzy (Concord)—where they emulate the pioneering work of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993) and percussionist/singer/dancer/composer Chano Pozo (1915-1948)—is a thing of pure joy. Its high-octane Latin grooves with percolating percussion that pops, sizzles and explodes from the speakers is just the thing to raise the temperature in the room. Maybe the album of the year.