If you thought 2014 was a really good year for new jazz, stay tuned. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Jazz artists all over are coming up with different ways to play an old American art form that was once the pop music of the people back when Ellington and Dizzy were the Kanye West and Lady Gaga of their day. Some of these new artists have had major brushes with fame, even the Grammys. Others are starting out, hoping to be heard by a wider audience.
This short list includes the 2013 winner of the Chicago Music Award as “Best Jazz Entertainer” who played with the Buddy Rich Big Band, Arturo Sandoval, and worked on tracks with hip-hop co-producers Ski Beatz (of Jay Z) and Shock G (Digital Underground). And then there’s the daughter of the original Scarecrow himself… Man, can she sing.
Greg Spero follows up ‘Acoustic’ with ‘Electric’
Based in Chicago, Greg Spero’s musical roots go far for one so young. A prodigy on piano, Spero quickly encountered key contacts — like Robert Irving III (Miles Davis), Herbie Hancock, Ski Beatz (Jay Z), and Shock G. (Digital Underground) — who would propel the young musician on a jazz fusion/hip-hop/electronic track. His second release, out on 2014, is Electric, a suitable follow-up to his first, Acoustic. It’s tight, whirly, and fresh, with melodies wrapped in high fashion intrigue. His piano is a magnet. Check the bonus track, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” that doesn’t go the same places.
Thana Alexa dispenses ‘Ode To Heroes’
Just another jazz vocal album? Far from it. New York City-born/Croatian-raised Thana Alexa unifies a universe of instrumental voices through her own tones and textures. Her origins as a violinist play heavily in her lyrical, experimental voice. Ode To Heroes is a scary-different jazz debut (March 10, 2015, Harmonia Mundi/Jazz Village). She takes you to far-off, exotic places, then back home, closer, closer, into the very beats of the heart. Alexa thrives with equally challenging, scary-different musicians: saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Lenart Krecic, bassists Scott Colley and Jorge Roeder, drummer/co-producer Antonio Sanchez, pianist Sergio Salvatore, and vibist Christos Rafalides. Her upcoming album is a living, breathing tribute to what immortal influences can create in a voice so young, vibrant, and uniquely fortified with spirit through originals and covers from her heroes (Wayne Shorter, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck).
Dan Siegel turns ‘Indigo’
Dan Siegel’s new Indigo wraps itself around you and won’t let go. Laden with endless melody and a series of pleasant progressions that lead to an ultimate, romantic fulfillment — the hallmark of popular smooth jazz — Siegel’s 20th album satisfies in every regard. The 35-year veteran keyboardist/composer/producer from Eugene, OR plans a spring tour in the NW around his new release with co-producer Brian Bromberg, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, drummer Will Kennedy (Yellowjackets), guitarist Mike Miller, and guitarist Allen Hinds. Indigo is not only easy on the ears, but it’s Siegel’s first record in five years.
Kiki Ebsen devotes ‘Scarecrow Sessions’ to famous father
Everyone who ever saw The Wizard Of Oz remembers the Scarecrow and the Tinman. Buddy Ebsen, the famous actor on the TV show Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones, was originally tapped to play the Scarecrow, then the Tinman. He filmed for nine days as the Tinman before bowing out due to an allergic reaction to the aluminum dust in the makeup. It took him over a month and some spare change to recover. Only one part remained when the dust settled: his voice in one of the songs off the main soundtrack, “We’re Off To See The Wizard,” with former Broadway Melody Of 1938 co-star Judy Garland, and Ray Bolger. His daughter Kiki honors her father in a September 30, 2014 release, Scarecrow Sessions. Her covers from the Great American Songbook and that Scarecrow song from The Wizard Of Oz more than do him, his career, and that near-miss justice. She also sings a song Buddy Ebsen himself co-wrote, “Missing You,” which she discovered after he passed away in 2003. Her classical training gives the necessary foundation for the beefy transmissions through bluesy, mostly ballad tempos. Her band includes guitarist Chuck Loeb, bassist John Patitucci, keyboardist Henry Hey, drummer Clint de Ganon, and producer David Mann on flute and sax, along with a horn and string section. Her voice is phenomenal, able to slide through the hills and valleys of some intricate arrangements without sounding at all old fashioned. “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “Laura,” and “Moon River,” especially, are rendered helplessly exquisite, hauntingly mysterious in her tender, loving, almost ghostly care.
Steve Turre goes back to basics in ‘Spiritman’
The trombonist for the Saturday Night Live Band is coming out with a new album on March 10 with Smoke Sessions Records. Steve Turre’s dabbled in conceptual albums for awhile, his last with conch shell music. But on Spiritman, Turre honky-tonks back to his roots. “I like to swing and I like to play the blues. I’m not ashamed to swing and I’m not afraid to swing. I think it’s the foundation of the music and I’m proud of it,” Turre explained in a December 16th, DL Media press release. He swings on this upcoming record with alto/soprano saxophonist Bruce Williams, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Gerald Cannon, and drummer Willie Jones III, with special guest Chembo Corniel on congas. Turre blows in his distinctive style, as a foregone conclusion, on all but one song, diving into the Great American Songbook, as well as current events (“Trayvons Blues” is a wonder) for five originals.