As usual I have trouble confining my annual “Best of the year” list to the traditional ten and have thus weaseled my way around the issue by adding a few vocal releases and reissues. Your sympathetic tolerance is appreciated. Our hungry ears were substantially rewarded through the year with these fine recordings:
Frank Basile – Modern Inventions – independent through CD Baby - Omaha native and baritone burner Frank Basile leads a vibrant sextet on this refreshingly straight-ahead release.
Jerry Bergonzi – Shifting Gears – Savant - Veteran saxophonist Bergonzi has a husky, burnished tenor tone and a delightful manner of negotiating intricate phrases on his horn that at once seems effortless and cooks with seasoned aplomb.
Graham Dechter – Takin' It There – Capri Records - Chops aplenty. An impressive release with lots of rhythmic variations, establishing Dechter at the forefront of current guitarists.
Towner Galaher – Uptown! - Rhythm Royale Records - Drummer Galaher leads a meat and potatoes organ combo with a three horn front line through a program of originals and numbers from the jazz book with fine statements by the group.
Takuya Kuroda – Six Aces – independent through CD Baby - Kuroda's trumpet leads a sextet date featuring original compositions and stimulating musicianship that's straight-ahead and in-the-groove.
Tom Matta Big Band – Components – independent through CD Baby - A superb big band effort with first-class composing, arranging and soloing. Nothing raucous or blaring – just well-orchestrated substance.
Bob Mintzer Big Band – For The Moment – Manchester Craftsmen's Guild - Stellar musicianship and alluring arrangements contribute to the appealing flow of a performance comprised of selections evoking the spirit of Brazilian music.
Steve Turre – Woody's Delight – High Note - Turre scores another direct hit with an album that welcomes the listener with attractively conceived and executed sounds that are at once easy to enjoy and artistically rewarding.
Manuel Valera – New Cuban Express – Mavo Records - Vivid, rhythmically-charged music from the Cuban pianist, imbued with influences of the Cuban son, bolero, danzon and rumba beats.
Pharez Whitted – For The People – Origin Records - The leader's trumpet spearheads a sharp, cooking group through an intriguing program of music. Chris says it's a “bright, optimistic, heartfelt session” and it's useless to disagree.
Cheryl Bentyne – Let's Misbehave – The Cole Porter Songbook – Summit Records - First-class singer, tons of Cole Porter tunes, impeccable arranging and accompaniment. What more do you need to know?
Connie Evingson - Sweet Happy Life – Minnehaha Music - Evingson's pleasing mid-range voice is soothing as a summer's breeze and the music wafts about the listener in much the same fashion as she sings the lyrics of Norman Gimbel.
Stacey Kent – Dreamer in Concert – Blue Note - Kent's soft voice, conversational style and an enjoyable repertoire make for a thrilling vocal outing, recorded live in Paris. The quartet, featuring her husband, Jim Tomlinson, on tenor saxophone, adds to the appeal of this fine date.
Kathy Kosins – To The Ladies of Cool – Resonance Records - A personalized nod to Anita O' Day, Julie London, June Christy and Chris Connor, the concept is cool and the execution is delightful.
Wes Montogmery – Echoes of Indiana Avenue and Bill Evans Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of The Gate – Resonance Records - Both of these albums are previously unreleased sessions. The Wes Montgomery dates to his Indianapolis days circa 1957/58 and provides a marvelous insight into his exhilarating playing before he had a recording contract. The Bill Evans release is two CDs and finds the trio in excellent form at New York's Top of the Village Gate in 1968. These exciting and well-produced projects from Resonance Records feature large booklets with information and photographs.