Meet Vasil Hadzimanov, the son of a famous Macedonian singer (Zafir Hadzimanov) and a famous Croatian singer (Senka Veletanlic). Vasil vacillates between electric keyboards and acoustic piano. Going into the family fame business, he's been a successful Serbian composer and bandleader for the last 15 years with six CDs to his credit. Now, with American saxophonist David Binney, he's never been more 'Alive' (MoonJune Records).
For those who like their meals overflowing with flavor, spices, sumptuous mounds of mashed and smashed morsels all congealing to create a scientific gumbo of taste like never before, this Italian septet from Naples called Slivovitz must have gorged itself on Frank Zappa records before recording 'All You Can Eat' (MoonJune Records).
'Send One Your Love' (Summit Records) by New West Guitar Group, despite being released last year, deserves to be rediscovered. NWGG started in 2005 at the University of Southern California. Jeff Stein, John Storie and Perry Smith's acoustic/electric mix needs no rhythm section. Their sound is perfect the way it is.
When it comes to the use of the harmonica in jazz, one immediately thinks of the 93-year old Belgian master Toots Thielemans. Well, Toots has a musical son. Meet Hendrik Meurkens, also now known as 'Harmonicus Rex' (Height Advantage Records).
Leave it to Willie Nelson, 82, to thank the Library of Congress in song for being the first country music artist to win the prestigious Gershwin Prize last year-joining Paul Simon (the first such honoree), Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Hal David, Burt Bacharach, Carole King and Billy Joel-by releasing 'Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin' (Legacy Recordings).
Star musicians who gig or record in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and who have to find a local rhythm section, usually do what Dizzy Gillespie did: come up with bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich, they of Professor Longhair's band. These two, as an established NOLA rhythm section, have been known as the go-to rhythmic thrust since 1977. Meanwhile, their friends-vibraphonist/percussionist Mike Dillon and pianist Brian Haas-have also been playing together for years in and out of the bands Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Dead Kenny Gs. So why not form your own damn band? Enter 'Dogs' by Nolatet.
Violinist Jason Anick, 30, comes out of the Grammy-winning John Jorgenson Band to front his own Gypsy Jazz ensemble, Rhythm Future Quartet, now on their second CD, Travels (Magic Fiddle Music). It's a heady brew for a music that originated in 1934 in the Quintette du Hot Club de France with three-fingered guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli.
In 2013, Ralph Alessi's ECM debut as a leader, 'Baida,' gave Wayne Shorter's 'Without A Net' a run for its money as best of the year. The trumpeter has followed up 'Baida' with 'Quiver.' Gary Versace replaces Jason Moran on piano. The rhythm section of double bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits stays the same. But 'Quiver' ain't Baida. It's too gloomy.
'All My Yesterdays' by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, sub-titled 'The Debut 1966 Recordings at The Village Vanguard,' is a 2-CD set of jazz history celebrating a half-century of Monday night performances by one of the-if not the-greatest big bands ever.
When Ella Fitzgerald and McCoy Tyner wanted to spice up their mix with salsa percussion, they called Michael Spiro. When Count Basie and Sonny Rollins wanted some Afro-Cuban know-how, they called trombonist Wayne Wallace. Together, the two have collaborated for almost three decades. Their latest adventure, 'Canto America' (Patois Records) uses La Orquestra Sinfonietta to deconstruct, then reconstruct, Afro-Caribbean music.
A weekend in Montreal--at least one like that of November 20, into which I was fortunate enough to air-drop--can seem like a build-your-own festival. Canada loves its fests. And Montreal has more of them than any other city in the country, with over 100 arts, comedy, food and fashion fêtes across the year. While the premiere of the Opéra de Montreal's production of Elektra was the reason for my visit, I was also able to attend the opening concert of the city's Bach Festival and a couple of concerts in the city's fertile (and under recognized) jazz scene. Most everything happens within walking distance of downtown. And meal breaks at Foodlab in the impressive Société des Arts Technologiques building (an excellent gnocchi with roasted Brussels sprout leaves) and the tasty Qing Hua Dumpling in nearby Chinatown, a weekend in downtown Montreal proved to be as enjoyable as it was easily navigable.
Leave it to Matt Parker to follow up his 2013 'Worlds Put Together' debut-which had his tenor sax augmented by bass, drums, piano, guitar and alto sax-with 'Present Time' (on his own BYNK Records), surrounded by only bass (Alan Hampton) and drums (Reggie Quinerly). It's a brave, bold move. No piano or guitar to fill in the chord changes? Parker also blows some soprano here as well as pounding a big gong.
You have to be damn near genius to get a full-boat scholarship to Berklee but Julian Shore's 'Which Way Now?' (Tone Rogue Records) realizes that grandiose perception. Rather than being tongue-tied into existential crisis by asking that titular musical question, Shore has no such directional problem. He's staked his claim by traversing Classical, Folk and Cabaret that somehow remains all jazz.
Benny Goodman would be 106 years old if still alive today. We might not have "The King of Swing" but damn if we don't have Ken Peplowski, 56, to inherit that mantle. Cleveland resident Peplowski's new 'Enrapture' on Capri Records proves you can swing mightily on tunes from any genre.
Take one French bandleader/composer/double bassist in Michel Benita, add a Japanese koto player, a Swiss flugelhornist, a guitarist from Norway who also adds electronics and a French drummer and you have Ethics. 'River Silver' (ECM) cannot be categorized. I like to think of it as an instrumental folk CD but it's so much more.