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.
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)
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 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.
The proficient fusion master and boss guitarist John Scofield has been perfecting his brand of jazz/rock and fusion for more than 40 years, beginning with his early association with Miles Davis, who Scofield credits for keeping his sound both current and accessible.
Out Here (Mack Avenue) is a seriously entertaining and musically affecting trio record from monster bassist Christian McBride that also serves as a splendid introduction to two of the best up-and-coming players in jazz, pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. The Philadelphia-born McBride, whose solo career launched in 1995 with Getting To It (Verve), has sideman credits on over 300 recordings in addition to ten of his own as leader, but this is his first trio recording.