When I think about the reasons I first fell in love with jazz, I think of tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum.
Among some of my most prized recordings, signed copies of his albums Unconditional (Warner Bros., 2001) and For You (Warner Bros., 1998) are included. We met in Chicago. Whalum was kind enough to grant me an interview after one of his concerts. His sound has always come across to me as extremely soulful and honest. As a person, I continue to admire him.
Romance Language (Rendezous/Mack Avenue) is Kirk Whalum’s latest album released February 14, 2012. And I couldn’t be more excited about the new music. His Mack Avenue artist webpage is worth checking out, especially for music lovers who might be unfamiliar with his background. Whalum is not only a Grammy-winning recording artist, he also is an educator, mentor, a devout minister, and as the page notes, a romantic passionate about his wife of over 30 years and family.
Also, Romance Language is Whalum’s 19th solo record — his 29th album (counting collaborations and compilations). It’s a rarity, but he has achieved both commercial success and critical acclaim in contemporary and straight-ahead jazz, not to mention in secular and non-secular music. Is there a French connection to the album title? The answer is yes. “French is the language of romance,” says Whalum, who is fluent in English, Spanish and French. He’s also lived in Paris.
According to his artist page, the essence of Romance Language is Whalum’s modern-day recreation of an album of duets recorded in 1963 by iconic jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and the then-underappreciated vocalist Johnny Hartman. The pair recorded six standards composed by the likes of Irving Berlin, Sammy Cahn, Billy Strayhorn, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. A number of critics have called the original recording a classic, thus Whalum treated the material with reverence and respect.
To bring the album to fruition, he followed Coltrane’s tact of selecting a singer whom he believed to be immensely gifted yet deserving of a far larger spotlight: his younger brother Kevin. “The timbre of Kevin’s voice is similar to Hartman’s,” Whalum states. “Not that I would ever liken myself to the genius of Coltrane but prior to his recording with Hartman, Coltrane was revered as a technical master yet he aspired to play more like Johnny Hodges, who was known for playing pretty.”
The first of three instrumentals, “I Wish I Wasn’t,” was penned by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Whalum produced and arranged Romance Language with John Stoddart.
Whalum attended seminary from 2007-2010 and earned a master’s degree in the Art of Religion last year. “My father was a preacher, thus being involved as a minister is part of my core identity. The challenge is to find a way to [minister] with my music and from the stage,” reflects Whalum.
If ever there was an artist who could treat such a classic recording with respect, it’s Whalum.
Debut album coming from Chris Dave
Mention drummer Chris Dave, and chances are you might recall that he once played drums in the Mint Condition band. He’s known for his original sound and now, according to a recent press release, Dave is exploring new territories in 2012. The drummer and producer recently signed exclusive representation with The JAE.B Group, an artist relations and management firm based in Los Angeles.
Chris Dave has an ambitious year planned for 2012. In addition to a debut album, set for release later this year, Dave has joined singer D’Angelo for his comeback 2012 European tour dates as his drummer and music director. The tour kicked off in Stockholm, and continued in cities including Paris, Amsterdam, and London, among others.
“Working with D’Angelo is an incredible experience; we both have the highest respect for each other musically,” reflects Dave.
Dave’s current projects include contributions such as being a featured drummer on Adele’s multi-Grammy-nominated album 21 (produced by Rick Rubin, among others) and Maxwell’s Grammy-winning BLACKsummers’night. Dave is most recently known for his collaboration with pianist Robert Glasper, including his work in Glasper’s Experiment project. As I’ve mentioned previously, he’s featured on Glasper’s new album Black Radio
(Blue Note Records).
Benny Golson Quartet, Nnenna Freelon at the Dakota March 7
Legendary saxophonist/composer Benny Golson’s all-time classics include “Killer Joe,” “I Remember Clifford,” “Along Came Betty,” “Stablemates,” “Whisper Not,” “Blues March,” and “Five After Dark.” His 2009 Concord Music CD is New Time, New Tet.
Golson, who was born in 1929 in Philadelphia, appears in the famous photograph of jazz legends from 1958, “A Great Day in Harlem.”
As for Freelon, if you’ve heard her 2000 Concord recording Soulcall then you have some idea what audience members are in store for come March 7. Freelon, who has collaborated with Kirk Whalum on Soulcall, is one of the most imaginative female vocalists on the scene.
The combination of Golson and Freelon together on one stage — well, that equals something special to truly behold.
Golson and his quartet, including bassist Rufus Reid, pianist Mike LeDonne and drummer Carl Allen, played at New York City’s Jazz Standard in February. Hopefully, the same players, all well-known and appreciated musicians, will also perform at the Dakota.
Jazz at Orchestra Hall:
‘A Love Letter to New Orleans’
The Piper Jaffray Jazz at Orchestra Hall concert will be hosted by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and feature New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and his Quintet with special guests Aaron Neville, Bill Summers and Jason Marsalis on Friday, April 6, at 8 pm.
Artistic Director of Jazz Irvin Mayfield caps the Piper Jaffray Jazz at Orchestra Hall season with a tribute to his home city of New Orleans in conjunction with the release of his new CD and book, both titled A Love Letter to New Orleans. Joining Mayfield for this musical journey are some of New Orleans’ finest, plus O’Brien, a nationally recognized television journalist who contributed the foreword to Mayfield’s book.
Robin James welcomes reader responses to jameson email@example.com.