A Manhattan backdrop substitutes for prairie land and open sky on Jazz Country, the big-hearted hybrid album from singer Amy Cervini that’s as endearing and tender as a vocal recording can be in 2014. She smartly transcends genre boundaries or anything else that gets in the way of the purity of a song. The spare musical accompaniment by guitarist Jesse Lewis and bassist Matt Aranoff frame Cervini’s renditions of these classic American songs simply and earnestly, underscoring her candor and crystalline delivery.
Powerhouse records were released in 2013 from some of the most respected jazz musicians (Wayne Shorter, Tomasz Stanko and Chucho Valdes could take the top spots on an alternate list), but my choices for top jazz releases in 2013 were shaped by newer voices and rising stars, all of them uniquely notable for their artistry and leadership.
1. Terri Lyne Carrington, Money Jungle: Provocative In Blue (Concord Jazz)
Like hands and gloves, brass music and Christmas were made for each other. This new album from the always imaginative Canadian Brass is an affectionate tribute to the classic animated TV specials that continue to delight young and old during the holiday season.
Ever since he released his debut recording, Consequences, on Posi-Tone Records in 2008, British pianist John Escreet has persisted in pushing at boundaries. On his subsequent rhythmically adventurous recordings you can hear the influence of avant-pianist Andrew Hill and former teacher Jason Moran, but as beguiling as those recordings were, they were more like really good sketch books with one or two amazing tunes with ideas for days and musician line-ups where everyone, none more so than the pianist, played their ass off.
Blowing in from Chicago is the hot recording from trumpeter Marquis Hill, a rising regional star in Chicago whose third release, The Poet, is a skillfully played modern jazz record that’s steeped in retro styling.
A little night music, please. Actually, there's a lot of it to enjoy on this beautifully conceived and performed two-disc set dedicated to the art of the piano nocturne. The French word means "nocturnal" or "of the night." Though far from being lullabies, these single movement miniatures typically do begin and end softly and reflectively. But like an evening’s sleep interrupted by a bad dream or bout of insomnia, there is often much restlessness and turmoil within.
A serious-minded jazz pianist and A-list player, Orrin Evans is a strong talent from Philadelphia who joins a long line of jazz musicians that come from the City of Brotherly Love. Since his debut recording in 1994, Evans’ resume reveals an ever-growing list of ambitious achievements as a recording artist, producer, bandleader, composer and teacher. And his current numerous groups include the Captain Black Big Band, Tar Baby, LuvPark, the LikeMind Collective and more side man gigs on record and in performance than one can count.
Tierney Sutton is a singularly modern chanteuse. She pairs the bright, articulate pitch of a cabaret vocalist with the guts of a jazz singer, one with a strong instinct for improvisation and rhythm. On her tenth recording, a tribute to singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, After Blue stands out as one of Sutton’s most personal and revealing projects. She divulges that Mitchell’s Both Sides Now album is an important and favorite recording and considers it to be equal in stature to Sinatra’s Wee Small Hours album and Billie Holiday’s Lady In Satin.
From the opening moments of its recent CD Thrum, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet throws its cards on the table. Attitude and refined sound are the driving forces here. Even the first percussive beats that herald the strut through Harlem—the first movement of Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Ghetto Strings—are nuanced, a combination of tap, stroke, and pound. This is delicious playing.