Good, memorable jazz outnumbered bad, or worse, tepid jazz this year. Many of the artists delivering outstanding records in this 2015 list received their just due, whether by major jazz publication or a penultimate Grammy® nomination.
Here’s a good start:
Children Of The Light by pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade featured plenty of catch-and-release movements, based more on feel than fixed concepts, catchy lyrics, or overdone covers. All of this music feels and is original — made in loving tribute to the legend who taught them all: saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The acoustic jazz trio tours together, as well as with Shorter on his gigs. Their new Mack Avenue record came out on September 18, 2015.
Blues People by Kim Nalley snuck up on a lot of savvy audiophiles hunting around for a real voice. She’s the real deal, getting down to the nitty gritty for rocking new looks like the theme from “The Jeffersons,” and “Amazing Grace,” as well as some new compositions inspired by today’s headlines for the October 16, 2015 release. Hers is a true blues revival. Why is it here in the jazz section? Because blues is the kissing cousin of jazz, and what Nalley does is as close to a jazz upgrade as you’re gonna get. Plus, check out her complete jazz-blues take-over of “Summertime.”
Breathless by New Orleans trumpeter and film composer Terence Blanchard seems on the surface to be a sturm und drang statement piece on racial injustice in light of the death of Eric Garner at the alleged hands of New York City’s finest. But the May 26, 2015, Blue Note release contains much more in the way of modern jazz-funk for those itching to get on the dance floor and move. He and his band of young guns, the E-Collective, just snagged a Grammy® nomination for Breathless too, in the category of best jazz instrumental album.
Flirting With Disaster’s Lorraine Feather and one of her songwriters, Shelly Berg, also snagged Grammy® nominations, including one for “Best Jazz Vocal Album.” It’s her best effort yet in marrying that incredible vocal mirage with a cohesive theme everyone can get behind. Not love thwarted every time, or star-crossed, haunted lovers in denial, just pure romantic love. “This is the first of my albums to be made up wholly of romantic love songs. The songs that my collaborators and I wrote, emphasize the risk that goes along with giving your heart away. ‘Any time you fall in love, you’re flirting with disaster,’” she explained in the album credits. Out since August 7, 2015 on Jazzed Media.
The Evolution Of Oneself [Smoke Sessions] by pianist Orrin Evans is as wonderfully deep as it sounds. The DownBeat Critics Poll “Rising Star” teams up with Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride and critically acclaimed drummer Karriem Riggins to work over jazz with some wild style departures (the countrified “Wildwood Flower,” for example). The 18-track exploration into all the things Evans is came out on September 11, 2015. “This album is about personal evolution,” Evans explained, from Dan Michael Reyes’s Revive-Music piece. “For me, there have been different moments or people in my life that have made me evolve. You can call it change, but ultimately you’re still the same person from the day you came out of your mother’s womb. But you evolve, and that process is what this record is about.”
The Hope Of Christmas by Ann Hampton Callaway may be a holiday album, but her new music with Emmy-winning lyricist William Schermerhorn and a host of other stars can play all year ‘round. The multi-platinum, Broadway recording artist seems to put out an album every other month and watch it skyrocket to the top of everyone’s personal charts. This one, released October 9, 2015, is actually a benefit album for MCG Jazz, featuring 12 distinct holiday creations for every mood — somber, tongue-in-cheeky, and earnestly hopeful, but definitely grown-up (thank God). “On Union Street” is the next “White Christmas,” a modern Christmas classic.
Displacement Over Time by the Seattle band of Velocity, featuring semi-famous Northwest saxophonist Cliff Colón, rolls over the jazz-funk better than Level 42, at least more creatively without the calculated mainstream pop attempts (“Something About You,” hello!). The band talks a great deal about the physics involved in jazz, but the lay person will enjoy the good-natured, surprise-around-every-corner feel of uncommon time, “rhythmic hemiola and counterpoint melodies” in this self-published, original album, released on December 9, 2015. Because feel trumps technical mumbo-jumbo every time, boys.