James on Jazz: 2015 highlights and New Year offerings

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Thank you and much love to everyone for continuing to read the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and James on Jazz. I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays, and doing what makes them happy. Time goes by quickly — pretty soon it’ll be time for Valentine’s Day.

Now that it’s 2016, and I’ve had time to assess which albums released in 2015 really stood out for me. I’ve put together a list.

As always, some of the albums mentioned have been previously featured in James on Jazz columns. I believe they’re all worthy of highlighting here.

Check out the list below, which appear in no particular order.


Noteworthy albums of 2015:

JazzonJazz collage

Cyrus Chestnut – A Million Colors in Your Mind (HighNote)

Christian Mcbride Trio – Live at The Village Vanguard (Mack Avenue)

Charles Lloyd – Wild Man Dance (Blue Note)

Mary Stallings – Feeling Good (HighNote)

Eric Alexander – The Real Thing (HighNote)

Cecile McLorin Salvant – For One to Love (Mack Avenue)

Luis Perdomo – Twenty-Two (Hot Tone Music)

Duane Eubanks – Things of that Particular Nature (Sunnyside)

Vijay Iyer – Break Stuff (ECM)

Kenny Burrell – The Road to Love (HighNote)

Russell Malone – Love Looks Good on You (HighNote)

Lionel Loueke – Gaia (Blue Note)

Ben Williams – Coming of Age (Concord)

Jamison Ross – Jamison Ross (Concord)

I love the music on this list for several reasons. Not only do I think these artists express the beauty of originality by way of song, I believe they perform with a very high-level of musicality, and know their craft. They have a great understanding of what works on and off the bandstand. But that’s what makes them great artists. They know how to do it all.

The artists that I’ve mentioned here have constantly amazed audiences on a multitude of levels. Yes, they can play, but they can also inspire an audience of any size no matter where they’re at in the world. They can impressively and authentically deliver their own original compositions with vivid imagination, style, and great ease, just as they can put their own spin on a beloved standard. But more than that, what makes them stand apart from the rest of their peers is something truly magical.

A lot of the music from the albums on my list, I heard first while listening to WBGO Jazz 88.3 via Live stream (Tune-in), so I have to thank the weekday and weekend radio hosts for introducing me to so much great music over the past year. I always learn something new about the music and really enjoy listening to all the programs. It’s no wonder the publicly supported station, based in Newark, New Jersey, is well-known for being the premier jazz radio station in the world. I am proud to be a contributor to the station.

Many of these outstanding artists and their current music have received not just national acclaim, but international critical acclaim, and may even receive Grammy awards on February 15. Stay tuned as announcements of the Grammy winners are made available.

tcj-logo-2I can recall the first time I heard Chestnut play his rendition of Lionel Richie’s classic “Hello” at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival a few years ago. It was inspiring to witness what I would describe as a one-of-a-kind experience. He sounds equally inspired on his debut HighNote album, A Million Colors in Your Mind. In the world of jazz, Chestnut is well-known and celebrated as one of the very gifted pianists of his generation, and I believe he will be remembered as such in the future. He’s made quite an impact on the Twin Cities jazz community, so much so that the TC Jazz Festival organizers have invited him back to perform at this year’s TC Winter Jazz Festival on January 31.

There’s so much I admire about bassist Christian McBride’s trio album, Live at the Village Vanguard. It’s hard to know where to begin in explaining why I enjoy it. Pianist Christian Sands rendition of Michael Jackson’s “The Lady in My Life” is one of my favorite songs of the year. And McBride’s playing on “Cherokee” has earned him a Grammy nomination. After hearing it, you’ll know why.

What can I say about twenty-something vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant’s album, For One to Love? I love it and play it often. Have you seen the music videos of her singing songs from this album? If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to check them out. Her artistry is truly profound and I feel fortunate and blessed to have experienced her music live and on record in 2015.

(Courtesy of Blue Note)
(Courtesy of Blue Note)

With so much music out there, it’s understandable to have mistakenly missed a few albums and then remember them after you’ve finished your list. Some honorable mentions include music by: Marcus Miller (Afrodeezia), Carmen Lundy (Soul to Soul), Eric Reed (Groove Wise) and Dee Dee Bridgewater (Feathers), also deserve to be recognized for their musical excellence in 2015. Miller’s album is nominated for a Grammy award. Another one of my favorite songs this year included Lundy’s “Everything I Need,” from Soul to Soul, which featured a brilliant arrangement.

Looking ahead

Performances by multi-instrumentalist Charles Lloyd and Friends, featuring guitarist Bill Frisell, are scheduled to play at the Dakota Jazz Club on February 2. Dakota audiences are familiar with these returning artists including bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, and know to expect world-class new music by these veteran on their new album.

On February 8, the John Scofield and Joe Lovano quartet will perform together. Both musicians have previously played at the Dakota with their own bands, but never together as I recall, so you don’t want to miss this opportunity to see them in action.

Also, if you’re in the New York area, consider checking out the Jazz Connect Conference happening January 14-15 at Saint Peter’s Church in New York City, with panel discussions and workshops on a variety of current topics.

At this year’s conference Miles Ahead, the bio-pic on Miles Davis directed by actor Don Cheadle will be a hot topic of interest, and a panel, along with speakers, will be featured to discuss the music created for the movie. The annual conference is organized by Jazz Times and the Jazz Forward Coalition.

I’m excited about what’s to come in 2016 and look forward to bringing you more news about what’s happening in the vast and colorful world of music.

Happy New Year!

Robin James welcomes reader responses to jamesonjazz@spokesman-recorder.com or on Twitter at @Robin_James1.