One More Look At 2023: The Best of the Rest

The second album of the incredible Taiwanese vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu – Built In System (Live From New York) – is the latest in a series from Giant Step Arts called “Modern Masters and New Horizons.” She’s a Master alright (having graduated from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts with a Masters in Jazz Studies.) She wrote all eight tracks, co-produced, and plays as if the ghosts of bebop legend Milt Jackson and swing legend Lionel Hampton are hovering over her shoulder. She has trumpet/bass/drums support for her freeform flights of fancy.   

The self-release of A Message From by The Flying Horse Big Band (their eighth) is a tribute to Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, one of – if not the – most influential bands in jazz history. From 1947 all the way to 1990, so many future jazz stars came through Blakey’s ranks; not the least of which were Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Chuck Mangione, Keith Jarrett, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, and Big Chief Donald Harrison. The 10 tracks – written by Blakey alum – are played by five saxophones, four trombones, five trumpet/flugelhorns backed by a smokin’ hot rhythm section of piano, Fender Rhodes, guitar, bass, drums, and congas. Action Aplenty!  

Last Call For The Blues (Big Ear Audio) is a nifty little five-song EP by Cassius King and the Downtown Rulers where this 25-year veteran of audio engineering and production management finally gets down to doing what he loves best: singing, writing, and playing his keyboards. Backed by guitarist Chalo Ortiz, bassist Chris White, and drummer JR Lozano, he spits out his rockin’ blues like a true master.  The only cover is a doozy: Little Johnny Taylor’s 1963 soul-stirrer “If You Love Me Like You Say.”  

On his five-song sophomore effort, Long Beach keyboardist-composer-producer-arranger-educator Sam Ross is Live At The Mira Room Volume #2 (self-released) with his trio, Simba Distis on bass and Dr. Mimi Mured on drums. But there’s a twist – bandmates Distis and Mured do not actually exist. Neither does The Mira Room. (He invited 30 friends over.) Ross mastered production, piano, and programming himself. The Californian goes from bebop to fusion to funk, ending with “Dear Chick” as a loving Corea tribute.

Swing & Soul is the latest (and greatest) of Posi-Tone’s “Blue Moods” series, all produced by Marc Free, using the label’s incredible stable of A-List cats. This tribute to Duke Pearson stars sax man Diego Rivera, pianists Art Hirahara/Jon Davis, bassist Boris Kovlov, and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. Pianist-Composer-Educator Pearson [1932-1980] helped pioneer the 1960s Blue Note bebop sound.

To celebrate 90 years of legal booze after The Volstead Act made alcohol illegal in the U.S. for 13 years (1920-1933), Ireland’s Atomicat Records’ Booze Party: The Rockers has 30 slices of pre-’63 madness all dedicated to the proposition that anything is better when you’re drunk. It’s the unknown one-hit wonders that rule this Party like Alabama’s Chuck Murphy (“They Raided The Joint”), Whitey Pullen (“Moonshine”), Mississippi’s Lee Finn (“Pour Me A Glass Of Wine”), and the only song Tommy Law ever recorded, “Cool Juice.” Rockabilly cats like Sonny Burgess, Carl Perkins, Billy Lee Riley, and Gene Vincent add the star power.