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1/30/2018 The 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far) | Observer

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OBSERVER MUSIC

The 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far)


By Ron Hart • 05/23/17 11:29am

    

Singer Diana Krall’s 13th album, Turn Up the Quiet, is one of our early favorites for the year’s best jazz records. Marc
Mccartney

From the coolest member of the Rolling Stones to a punk icon trying on his Sinatra
fedora to a former bartender who mixes sounds through her trumpet as potent as
a dirty martini, jazz music during this first half of 2017 is anything if not diverse.

But as our mid-year Top 10 list showcases, that’s just what makes the art form Miles
Davis once called “neighborhood music” so beautiful and meaningful with each
passing day: its ability to exist as an all-inclusive entity regardless of who you are or
the steps you’ve traveled doesn’t just make jazz’s possibilities infinite—this is what
makes jazz timeless.

If you have the aptitude to make a joyful noise in a way that helps transport us from
the stresses of everyday life, regardless of whether you were schooled at Julliard or in
the vinyl section of your favorite record shop, greatness awaits once the right jumble

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of notes comes together. That’s fate. That’s jazz. And if our Top 10 list is any
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indication of what’s still left to come in 2017, we’re in for one hell of a year.

10) Diana Krall, Turn Up the Quiet (Verve)

Diana Krall - L-O-V-E (Audio)

There isn’t a name more synonymous with the elegance of jazz than Tommy
LiPuma, whose work as a record producer and executive has earned him an
unprecedented 33 Grammy nominations and five statues throughout the course of
his 50 years in the business, not to mention the 75 million albums he’s sold. His
passing in March at the age of 80 has left a hole in the genre that will never be filled.

One of his greatest accomplishments was nurturing the career of Diana Krall,
helming the majority of the singer’s recorded output. So it’s only fitting that his final
production credit belongs to Krall’s 13th full length, completed mere weeks before
his untimely passing.

Turn Up The Quiet is a stunning collection of interpretations of selections from the


Great American Songbook by Krall, performed alongside a trio of ensembles
featuring longtime sidemen from throughout her career, including guitarists Russell
Malone and Marc Ribot, bassists Christian McBride and Tony Garnier and
drummers Karriem Riggins and Jeff Hamilton.

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1/30/2018 The 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far) | Observer

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LiPuma’s gorgeous production injects the singer’s breathy renditions of such staples
as “Night and Day,” “Blue Skies” and “Like Someone In Love” with a vibrancy that
helps keep these songs vital even today. This album is a fitting tribute to the genius
of a man who has been called the most trusted ears in music as much as it is the
enduring pulchritude of jazz music’s most beloved ingénue.

9) Matthew Stevens, Preverbal (Ropeadope)

Matthew Stevens

Were you a fan of the electric guitar that punctuated Esperanza Spalding’s acclaimed
2016 LP Emily’s D+Evolution? You can thank her guitarist, Toronto’s own Matthew
Stevens for those meaty Vernon Reid-inspired inflections.

On his great second album as bandleader, the guitar player doubles down on the
amplification in a way that envisions Sonny Sharrock’s Ask The Ages remixed by
Tortoise. If the presence of serious electric rock guitar is something you miss in your
jazz music, this is the album that surely has the late Larry Coryell applauding it from
the heavens above.

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1/30/2018 The 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far) | Observer

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8) Jimmy Greene, Flowers: Beautiful Life, Volume 2 (Mack Avenue)

Big Guy

Tenor sax great Jimmy Greene continues to be a beacon of strength as he channels


his grief of losing a child to gun violence into some of the most vibrant, lyrical jazz
coming out of America today. Flowers: Beautiful Life, Volume 2 is a gorgeous
testament to the vibrancy of his late daughter, 6-year-old Ana Márquez-Greene,
which relishes in the playful energy of childhood with the assistance of not one but
two phenomenal groups.

One, Jimmy Greene’s Love In Action, is a crew featuring Renee Rosnes on both
grand piano and Fender Rhodes, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jeff “Tain”
Watts with the help of percussionist Rogerio Boccato and, on three of the six tracks
featuring this ensemble, guitarist Mike Moreno.

The other is Greene’s quartet comprised of keyboardist Kevin Hays, bassist Ben
Williams and drummer Otis Brown III. Both bands do a such an incredible job
helping this loving and devoted father provide the kind of music that inspired his
daughter to dance, keeping the vibrancy of her beautiful, young spirit alive and well
in the hereafter.

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1/30/2018 The 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far) | Observer

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7) Linda May Han Oh, Walk Against The Wind (Biophilia)

Mimes may be unfortunately relegated to comedic punchline or city-park nuisance.


Yet when the age-old art form is done by a true master like the late French actor
Marcel Marceau like the time he performed his famed “Walking Against The Wind”
sketch, it’s literal poetry in motion.

On her gorgeous new album on Biophilia Records, bassist Linda May Han Oh finds
inspiration in the graceful frustration of Marceau’s performance art masterpiece,
utilizing it as a metaphor for her own journey as one of the most respected bassists
in modern jazz today.

With the assistance of a mind-blowing quartet rounded out by Kneebody’s Ben


Wendel on saxophone, guitarist Matthew Stevens and drummer Justin Brown
alongside further enhancement from guest spots by innovative keyboardist Fabian
Almazan and traditional Korean multi-instrumentalist Minji Park, the bassist
delivers an 11-song set that’s as much about the art of performance as it is the
performance of art with a multi-layered vibrancy that flows through your speakers
like a cascading waterfall of creativity.

6) Ralph Towner, My Foolish Heart (ECM)

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1/30/2018 The 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far) | Observer

Ralph Towner - My Foolish Heart


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For 45 years, Oregon guitarist Ralph Towner has recorded almost exclusively for
ECM as a solo artist. In February, the Chehalis, Wash., native released one of his
finest LPs for the label with My Foolish Heart, a collection of soothing original
compositions for solo classical and 12-string acoustic and highlighted by the Bill
Evans title track, a tune that, according to Towner, inspired him to make music.

It’s a perfect album to have playing in the background while enjoying dinner with
your beloved. At 77 years young, Towner is a national treasure, and there is no better
time to hear the pure romance of his genius on guitar than soothing your mind to
this gorgeous collection.

5) Dayna Stephens, Gratitude (Contagious Music)

Brooklyn-born, Bay Area-bred saxophonist Dayna Stephens named his eighth LP


Gratitude because that’s the exact sentiment he felt being able to return to recording
new music following a battle against Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, or FSG, a
hardening of the blood vessels in the kidneys that can lead to renal failure.

With the help of an amazing quintet rounded out by pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist
Julian Lage, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland, the dreadlocked
reedist strikes a resonant balance between feelings of hope and uncertainly through
a beguiling, spiritual set of compositions written by such friends and heroes as
Aaron Parks, Rebecca Martin, Billy Strayhorn and Pat Metheny among others.

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These are instrumental tunes meant to sing along to, and the joy that emanates
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through Stephens’ performances on both baritone and tenor sax indeed beams with
the gratitude of a man whose earned a new lease on life.

4) Charlie Watts, Charlie Watts Meets The Danish Radio Big Band (Impulse!)

Elvin Suite (Pt. 1 / Live At Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhage…

Perhaps the best kept secret within the universe of the Rolling Stones is the jazz
career of Charlie Watts.

If you’re the type of person who holds both Duke Ellington’s Blues in Orbit and
Beggars Banquet in equal regard, chances are you’ve already dove into the intrepid
drummer’s modest but masterful cache of titles for both big-band and small-
ensemble work, highlighted by such must-own recordings as his 1991 Charlie Parker
tribute From One Charlie and 2004’s dynamic live LP Watts at Scott’s.

This new jazz recording from Watts, culled from a 2010 performance in
Copenhagen, Denmark, with the Danish Radio Big Band for the country’s national
radio broadcast, is one of the great surprises of 2017.

Co-piloted by Watts with his childhood friend Dave Green on bass, the powerful
orchestra gives brassy, classy overhauls to such certified Stones classics as “(I Can’t
Get No) Satisfaction,” “Paint It Black” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
while also paying homage to one of the 76-year-old’s biggest heroes with “Elvin
Suite” a two-part homage to the late John Coltrane sideman Elvin Jones co-written
with Blondie Chaplin and Jim Keltner originally for 2000’s Charlie Watts Jim Keltner
Project LP.

If you’ve yet to discover the jazzworks of the best drummer in rock ‘n’ roll, Charlie
Watts Meets The Danish Radio Big Band is a great place to start your education.

3) Charnett Moffett, Music From Our Soul (Motema Music)

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Charnett Moffett- 'Music From Our Soul' Album Teaser


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If you were hip to the vastly underrated era of jazz during the late ’80s and early
’90s, you are well aware of the period’s hottest young prospect on the bass in
Charnett Moffett, who in the infancy of his career found him blessed with tenures at
the side of such giants as Ornette Coleman, Art Blakey, McCoy Tyner and Sonny
Sharrock.

Now, on the 30th anniversary of his classic Blue Note debut Net Man, the New York
City-born musician brings together an all-star squad of fellow Reagan/Bush-era vets
for his wildly diverse debut on the Motema Music label.

But while the combo of guitarist Stanley Jordan, pianist Cyrus Chestnut and
drummers Jeff “Tain” Watts and Victor Lewis is impressive in and of itself, it’s the
increasingly rare studio presence of sax legend Pharoah Sanders that makes Music
From Our Soul such a wonder to behold; the former Coltrane Quintet co-captain
leads these renowned modern jazz journeymen into the promised land like a hard-
bop Gandalf.

2) Jaimie Branch, Fly Or Die (International Anthem Recording Co.)

The beauty of jazz is its unabashed blindness to age, race, color or gender. It’s all in
how well you can play the instrument that’s chosen you to be its master.

For the last few years, Long Island-born trumpeter Jaimie Branch has been defying
all preconceived notions with every move she makes. Back in New York City now
after many years lightning up the Windy City underground jazz circuit, her hard
work has finally cumulated in Fly Or Die, her long-overdue debut LP that cobbles
together all of her experiences in the worlds of hip-hop, the avant-garde, noise rock,
classical and indie rock into one seamless skronk of freeform beauty.

Enhanced by the support of an utterly unique ensemble rounded out by cellist


Tomeka Reid, bassist Jason Ajemian, Chad Taylor of the Chicago Underground on
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drums along with special guests Matt Schneider on guitar and the twin towers of
jazz cornet Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman, Fly Or Die is a brilliant launchpad forSubscribe
the shape of Jaimie’s jazz to come as she quickly re-establishes her as a vital force
within her old hometown digs.

1) Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow, and Bobby Previte with Iggy Pop, Loneliness Road
(RareNoise)

Iggy Pop - Everyday (2017) - With Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow and …

For many years, Kerhonkson, N.Y., has been known mostly for its affordable getaway
resorts and endless acres of state property prime for deer hunting. These days,
however, the sprawling Ulster County mountain town has become a destination
residence for some of the most creative minds in modern music.

One of which is veteran jazz pianist Jamie Saft, who in his three decades in active
duty has done everything from translate the Bob Dylan songbook for creative bop to
reinventing the relationship between his art and dub reggae to collaborating with a
palate of acts ranging from Bad Brains to the Beastie Boys to Mike Patton to the
B52’s to most recently Garth Hudson of The Band.

But in recent years, Saft’s most rewarding work exists in the trio he’s established
with legendary ECM bassist Steve Swallow and multifaceted percussion guru Bobby
Previte.

Loneliness Road is the second album by this group, and the singularity by which
these men converse on their respective instruments with one another illuminates a
new shade of color to the art of the trio that falls somewhere between the elegance
of Bill Evans and the ecstatic urgency of Alice Coltrane.

But it’s the unlikely presence of Iggy Pop, who channels his well-deep baritone
through his love for Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours on three tracks (“Don’t
Lose Yourself,” “Everyday” and the album’s title cut) in a way that will make any fan
of the punk godfather’s work on such underrated albums of his as Avenue B and
Preliminaires swoon while the man born Jim Osterberg rings in age 70 with a
perfectly imperfect croon.

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