With the 2014 release of Kin (←→), Pat Metheny adds one more notch—another restlessly searching album that marks the zone between all jazz, all rock and all-world music—to his belt of aesthetic enterprises filled with zeal and innovation.
Bop Goes the Opera - In 2002, the brilliant saxophonist Joe Lovano took the jazz-meets-classical music concept outside of the box when he recorded jazz versions of tunes from the songbook of opera legend Enrico Caruso. While Viva Caruso was critically acclaimed and did well for Lovano and Blue Note Records, it represented, at the time, the beginning and end of jazz versions of operatic compositions and vice-versa. Until now.
Duke Ellington was a fascinating figure—so much so that quite a number of books and shorter profiles of the man came to be during his time, and well after his passing. Writers were always peering over his shoulder, trying to get a fix on how he operated his band and made it so successful; they even attempted to poke into his personal life, which the Duke managed to keep fairly secret.
For a jazz pianist, New York-based Helen Sung certainly fits into the “deserves to be better known” category. For those who do know and appreciate her art, Sung’s club gigs are adventurous, disarming, and always have an unexpected surprise or two. It was at one of these small club dates where I caught her during a late set in the summer of 2013 with much of the same band that accompany her on Anthem For A New Day, her glossy and rewarding debut record for Concord Jazz.
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.
ORGAN-IZING: In keeping with Philadelphia’s contribution to jazz through the years, it must be mentioned that the city and surrounding areas are also known for producing some of the finest jazz organ players in history. The most famous of them all, Jimmy Smith, was born in Norristown. Joey DeFrancesco, a native Philadelphian, helped put the Hammond B-3 organ back on the map. And who can forget area natives like Richard “Groove” Holmes and Trudy Pitts? Organist Dan Fogel has been at it for a long time, despite trends and ups and downs in jazz organ popularity.
This has been a swinging year, and a healthy one for jazz in these parts. The Kimmel Center is upping its commitment to jazz (see details below), non-profits like Jazz Bridge and The Jazz Sanctuary are presenting almost 100 concerts per season, museums have hosted jazz programs, mini-jazz fests are popping up all over, new and old jazz jam sessions are doing above average business, and restaurants and clubs that never used live music of any kind are now booking jazz. Destinations like The Prime Rib and Sullivan’s maintain a policy of booking jazz pianists seven nights a week.