New Releases

Nathan East

Nathan East

Delia

Bobby Hutcherson

Conversations

Stanton Moore

Southern Comfort

Regina Carter

Billy's Back On Broadway

Billy Porter

We Like It Here

Snarky Puppy

Beautiful Life

Dianne Reeves

Vocal Virtuosos Great Jazz Singers & Crooners

Liquid Spirit

Gregory Porter

WomanChild

Cecile McLorin Salvant
The U.S. debut album from jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, 2013's WomanChild is a bewitching, exuberant introduction to this immensely talented young singer. The winner of the 2010 Thelonious Monk jazz vocal competition, Salvant has the technical ability, lyrical sense, and undeniable charisma to sustain a career that could undoubtedly match those of her idols -- who include Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald. And while the distinctive influence of all three of these singers is evident here, with WomanChild Salvant reveals herself to be a genuinely original vocalist with a distinctive timbre, a singer steeped in tradition but with a style and phrasing all her own. And it's not just older artists whom she brings to mind; her reworking of "There's a Lull in My Life" evokes the sultry R&B influence of Sade. All of this merely speaks to Salvant's broad musical appeal and ability to integrate influences into her own sound. And it doesn't hurt that she's backed here by an all-star rhythm section of Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra regulars, including pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Rodney Whitaker, guitarist James Chirillo, and drummer Herlin Riley. Primarily here, Salvant delves into a superb selection of lesser-known standards and original compositions, putting her stamp on such songs as "Nobody," "You Bring Out the Savage in Me," and "Jitterbug Waltz." Salvant even taps into her French heritage on her original composition "Le Front Caché sur Tes Genoux," which features lyrics culled from Ida Faubert's poem "Rondel." However, it is the title track, also an original song, that showcases Salvant the best. A bluesy, roiling torch song, "WomanChild" is Salvant's declaration of womanly independence in the face of self-doubt. She sings, "WomanChild falters/Clumsy on her feet/Wonderin' where she'll go/When her time has come/Good she'll never know/Until she comes undone." With WomanChild, Salvant's time has definitely come and despite whatever fears she may have, it's clear she has the talent to go very far indeed.

Matt Collar, Rovi

To Be Loved

Michael Bublé
To Be Loved is the eighth studio album from Canadian crooner Michael Bublé. Featuring a mix of classic covers ("You Make Me Feel So Young," "Have I Told You Lately," "To Love Somebody") and special guest appearances from Reece Witherspoon, Bryan Adams, and the Puppini Sisters, this is a charming return to form for the popular singer and will surely delight his legions of fans. It also includes the original composition "It's a Beautiful Day."

Aneet Nijjar, Rovi

Sinatra: Best Of The Best

Frank Sinatra
Finally, a disc that combines Sinatra’s hits for Capitol and his hits for Reprise! Of course, since Capitol is the label releasing Sinatra: Best of the Best, the collection leans heavily on his Capitol sides, but the addition of such ‘60s staples as “It Was a Very Good Year,” “Strangers in the Night,” “Summer Wind,” “That’s Life,” “My Way,” and “Theme from New York, New York” to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Come Fly with Me,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” and “Fly Me to the Moon” makes this 23-track collection a superb sampling of Frank songs everybody knows by heart. Initial pressings in the fall of 2011 included the then out of print '57 - In Concert, a heavily circulated (and quite good) concert performed with Quincy Jones’ band in Seattle during 1957.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

I Put A Spell On You

Nina Simone
One of her most pop-oriented albums, but also one of her best and most consistent. Most of the songs feature dramatic, swinging large-band orchestration, with the accent on the brass and strings. Simone didn't write any of the material, turning to popular European songsmiths Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, and Anthony Newley, as well as her husband, Andy Stroud, and her guitarist, Rudy Stevenson, for bluesier fare. Really fine tunes and interpretations, on which Simone gives an edge to the potentially fey pop songs, taking a sudden (but not uncharacteristic) break for a straight jazz instrumental with "Blues on Purpose." The title track, a jazzy string ballad version of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins classic, gave the Beatles the inspiration for the phrasing on the bridge of "Michelle." This LP has been combined with the 1964 In Concert, Rovi

Every Man Should Know

Harry Connick Jr.
Following the Mardi Gras-influenced funk excursion that was Smokey Mary, Every Man Should Know finds Harry Connick, Jr. in cathartic mood. This, his 30th album, is the first on which he has written and arranged every single track. Guest musicians featured include both Wynton and Branford Marsalis as well as the Nashville-based guitarist Bryan Sutton.

James Wilkinson, Rovi

Glad Rag Doll (Deluxe Edition)

Diana Krall
For only the second time in her career, jazz pianist and vocalist Diana Krall deviates from her tried, true m.o. of covering easily identifiable jazz standards. On Glad Rag Doll she teams with producer T-Bone Burnett and his stable of studio aces. Here the two-time Grammy winner covers "mostly" vaudeville and jazz tunes written in the 1920s and '30s, some relatively obscure. Most of the music here is from her father's collection of 78-rpm records. Krall picked 35 tunes from that music library and gave sheet music to Burnett. He didn't reveal his final selections until they got into the studio. Given their origins, these songs remove the sheen of detached cool that is one of Krall's vocal trademarks. Check the speakeasy feel on opener "We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye," with Marc Ribot's airy chords, Jay Bellerose's loose shuffle, and Dennis Crouch's strolling upright bass. Krall's vocal actually seems to express delight in this loose and informal proceeding -- though her piano playing is, as usual, tight, top-notch. The shimmering sentimental nocturnal balladry there gives way to swing in "Just Like a Butterfly That's Caught in the Rain," which stands out because of the interplay between Ribot's ukulele, a pair of basses, and Bellerose's brushes. Krall's vocal hovers; she lets the melody guide her right through the middle. On the title cut, her only accompanist is Ribot on an acoustic guitar. Being the best-known tune in the bunch, it's easy to compare this reading with many others, but Krall's breathy vocal fully inhabits the lyric and melody and makes them her own. A few tracks stand apart from the album's theme. There's the modern take on Betty James' rockabilly single "I'm a Little Mixed Up," which allows Burnett to indulge himself a little and showcases a rarity: Krall playing rock & roll piano. The atmospheric reading of Doc Pomus' "Lonely Avenue" is somewhat radical, but is among the finest moments here. Burnett gets his obligatory reverb on here, but the weave of his and Ribot's guitars (and the latter's banjo) and the mandola by Howard Coward (Elvis Costello in one of several guest appearances) is arresting. The arrangement also contains an odd yet compelling reference to Miles Davis' "Right Off (Theme from Jack Johnson)"; Krall's piano solo is rife with elliptical, meandering lines and chord voicings. But vocally she gets inside the tune's blues and pulls them out with real authority. Glad Rag Doll is "not" the sound of Krall reinventing herself so much as it's the comfortable scratching of an old, persistent itch. The warmth, sophistication, humor, and immediacy present on this set make it a welcome addition to her catalog.

Blue Note's Best Celebrating 75 Years

The Complete Birth Of The Cool

Miles Davis
Capitol's The Complete Birth of the Cool is a double-disc set that's separated into two halves. The first contains all 12 tracks Davis cut in the studio in January 1949 with Gil Evans. The second contains three radio broadcasts that the Birth of the Cool nonet performed in September 1948 at the Royal Roost in New York City. All the recordings have been completely remastered, resulting in the best ever sound for these recordings. The set also features brand new liner notes from Phil Schapp, plus the original liners. All the added features help make The Complete Birth of the Cool the definitive chronicle of one of the most important eras in jazz history.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Big Beat

Art Blakey
Perhaps the best known and most loved of Art Blakey's works, The Big Beat is a testament to the creative progress of one of the best jazz drummers of all time. Now over 40 years old, The Big Beat is as thunderous as ever. Here, Blakey combines his rhythm with tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter's brilliant composing to make what could only be termed a "structurally raw" album. Each track rips through bebop as quickly as Blakey ripped through drum heads. "Dat Dere" and "Lester Left Town" stand out as part of the true canons for hot jazz. Two alternate versions of "It's Only a Paper Moon" round out the album, both brimming with the fluid integrity of the song and the drive only Blakey could provide. As one of the few drummers to step out and lead, not just play backup, Blakey created a true jazz treasure in The Big Beat. [EMI's 2008 Japanese edition included one bonus track.]

Christopher Fielder, Rovi

Come Away With Me

Norah Jones
Norah Jones' debut on Blue Note is a mellow, acoustic pop affair with soul and country overtones, immaculately produced by the great Arif Mardin. (It's pretty much an open secret that the 22-year-old vocalist and pianist is the daughter of Ravi Shankar.) Jones is not quite a jazz singer, but she is joined by some highly regarded jazz talent: guitarists Adam Levy, Adam Rogers, Tony Scherr, Bill Frisell, and Kevin Breit; drummers Brian Blade, Dan Rieser, and Kenny Wollesen; organist Sam Yahel; accordionist Rob Burger; and violinist Jenny Scheinman. Her regular guitarist and bassist, Jesse Harris and Lee Alexander, respectively, play on every track and also serve as the chief songwriters. Both have a gift for melody, simple yet elegant progressions, and evocative lyrics. (Harris made an intriguing guest appearance on Seamus Blake's Stranger Things Have Happened.) Jones, for her part, wrote the title track and the pretty but slightly restless "Nightingale." She also includes convincing readings of Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart," J.D. Loudermilk's "Turn Me On," and Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You." There's a touch of Rickie Lee Jones in Jones' voice, a touch of Bonnie Raitt in the arrangements; her youth and her piano skills could lead one to call her an Alicia Keys for grown-ups. While the mood of this record stagnates after a few songs, it does give a strong indication of Jones' alluring talents.

David R. Adler, Rovi

Let 'Em Roll

John Patton (Big)

The Real McCoy (The Rudy Van Gelder Edition)

McCoy Tyner
Two and a half years after his last recording as a leader for Impulse, pianist McCoy Tyner emerged to start a period on Blue Note that would result in seven albums. Having left John Coltrane's Quartet in late 1965, Tyner was entering a period of struggle, although artistically his playing grew quite a bit in the late '60s. For this release, the pianist is teamed with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Elvin Jones for five of his originals. Highlights of the easily recommended album include "Passion Dance," "Four by Five," and "Blues on the Corner."

Scott Yanow, Rovi

Maiden Voyage

Herbie Hancock
Less overtly adventurous than its predecessor, Empyrean Isles, Maiden Voyage nevertheless finds Herbie Hancock at a creative peak. In fact, it's arguably his finest record of the '60s, reaching a perfect balance between accessible, lyrical jazz and chance-taking hard bop. By this point, the pianist had been with Miles Davis for two years, and it's clear that Miles' subdued yet challenging modal experiments had been fully integrated by Hancock. Not only that, but through Davis, Hancock became part of the exceptional rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, who are both featured on Maiden Voyage, along with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and tenor saxophonist George Coleman. The quintet plays a selection of five Hancock originals, many of which are simply superb showcases for the group's provocative, unpredictable solos, tonal textures, and harmonies. While the quintet takes risks, the music is lovely and accessible, thanks to Hancock's understated, melodic compositions and the tasteful group interplay. All of the elements blend together to make Maiden Voyage a shimmering, beautiful album that captures Hancock at his finest as a leader, soloist, and composer.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Genius Of Modern Music: Vol. 1

Thelonious Monk
Volume 1 of the two-volume Genius of Modern Music set comprises the first sessions Thelonious Monk recorded as a leader, on October 15 and 24 and November 21 of 1947. It's impossible to overstate the importance of these sessions. They include some of the earliest recordings of Monk compositions that would become standards, despite their angularity and technical difficulty: the strange, sideways chord progression of "Thelonious"; the bouncy and cheerful but melodically cockeyed "Well, You Needn't"; the post-bop Bud Powell tribute "In Walked Bud"; and, of course, "'Round Midnight," which is now one of the most frequently recorded jazz compositions ever. There are kinks to be worked out: Art Blakey's drumming is fine, but he obviously hasn't quite taken the measure of Monk's compositional genius, and on the November session, alto saxophonist Sahib Shihab employs a fat, warbly tone that sounds out of place. But the excitement of discovery permeates every measure, and Monk himself is in top form, his solos jagged and strange, yet utterly beautiful. This first volume of Genius of Modern Music, along with the second, belongs in every jazz collection.

Rick Anderson, Rovi

JuJu

Wayne Shorter
Fulfilling the potential promised on his Blue Note debut, Night Dreamer, Wayne Shorter's Ju Ju was the first really great showcase for both his performance and compositional gifts. Early in his career as a leader Shorter was criticized as a mere acolyte of John Coltrane, and his use of Coltrane's rhythm section on his first two Blue Note albums only bolstered that criticism. The truth is, though, that Elvin Jones, Reggie Workman, and McCoy Tyner were the perfect musicians to back Shorter. Jones' playing at the time was almost otherworldly. He seemed to channel the music through him when improvising and emit the perfect structure to hold it together. Workman too seemed to almost instinctively understand how to embellish Shorter's compositions. McCoy Tyner's role as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time was played here as well, and his light touch and beautiful, joyful improvisations would make him a much better match for Shorter than Herbie Hancock would later prove to be.

JuJu rests in the uphill portion of Shorter's creative peak. While the sidemen may have been an even better match for him than the ensembles he would put together for later albums, he was just beginning to find his footing as a leader. His performances were already showing evidence of great originality -- yes, they were influenced by Coltrane, but only in the way that they broke apart the structures of the bop sound to create a sound that had all of the variety and flexibility of the human voice. On later albums like Speak No Evil and The Soothsayer, however, Shorter would rise to an even higher level as a performer with more powerful, confident playing that reached farther afield in its exploration of melodic textures.

What really shines on JuJu is the songwriting. From the African-influenced title track (with its short, hypnotic, repetitive phrases) to the mesmerizing interplay between Tyner and Shorter on "Mahjong," the album (which is all originals) blooms with ideas, pulling in a world of influences and releasing them again as a series of stunning, complete visions.

Stacia Proefrock, Rovi

Great Grooves Jazz Funk & Soul

Root Down

Jimmy Smith
Toward the end of his stint with Blue Note, Jimmy Smith's albums became predictable. Moving to Verve in the mid-'60s helped matters considerably, since he started playing with new musicians (most notably nice duets with Wes Montgomery) and new settings, but he never really got loose, as he did on select early Blue Note sessions. Part of the problem was that Smith's soul-jazz was organic and laid-back, "relaxed" and funky instead of down and dirty. For latter-day listeners, aware of his reputation as the godfather of modern soul-jazz organ (and certainly aware of the Beastie Boys' name drop), that may mean that Smith's actual albums all seem a bit tame and restrained, classy, not funky. That's true of the bulk of Smith's catalog, with the notable exception of Root Down. Not coincidentally, the title track is the song the Beasties sampled on their 1994 song of the same name, since this is one of the only sessions that Smith cut where his playing his raw, vital, and earthy. Recorded live in Los Angeles in February 1972, the album captures a performance Smith gave with a relatively young supporting band who were clearly influenced by modern funk and rock. They push Smith to playing low-down grooves that truly cook: "Sagg Shootin' His Arrow" and "Root Down (And Get It)" are among the hottest tracks he ever cut, especially in the restored full-length versions showcased on the 2000 Verve By Request reissue. There are times where the pace slows, but the tension never sags, and the result is one of the finest, most exciting records in Smith's catalog. If you think you know everything about Jimmy Smith, this is the album for you.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Move Your Hand

Lonnie Smith

Places and Spaces

Donald Byrd
Reuniting with Larry Mizell, the man behind his last three LPs, Donald Byrd continues to explore contemporary soul, funk, and R&B with Places and Spaces. In fact, the record sounds more urban than its predecessor, which often played like a Hollywood version of the inner city. Keeping the Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, and Sly Stone influences of Street Lady, Places and Spaces adds elements of Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Stevie Wonder, which immediately makes the album funkier and more soulful. Boasting sweeping string arrangements, sultry rhythm guitars, rubbery bass, murmuring flügelhorns, and punchy horn charts, the music falls halfway between the cinematic neo-funk of Street Lady and the proto-disco soul of Earth, Wind & Fire. Also, the title Places and Spaces does mean something -- there are more open spaces within the music, which automatically makes it funkier. Of course, it also means that there isn't much of interest on Places and Spaces for jazz purists, but the album would appeal to most fans of Philly soul, lite funk, and proto-disco.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

You've Got It Bad Girl

Quincy Jones

Electric Funk

Jimmy McGriff
The title of Electric Funk may lead you to believe that it's a set of unrepentant, rampaging hard funk, but that's not quite the case. The record is laid-back but undeniably funky, with Jimmy McGriff and electric pianist Horace Ott leading an unnamed group through a set of soul workouts. It's not jazz, it's jazzy soul, and it's among the funkiest of any soul-jazz records from the late '60s, filled with stuttering drum breaks, lite fuzz guitars, elastic bass, smoldering organ, and punchy, slightly incongruous horn charts.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Inner City Blues

Grover Washington, Jr.
The story behind Grover Washington, Jr.'s first session date as a leader revolves around a sheer coincidence of being in the right place at the right time. The truth is, the date for Creed Taylor's Kudu imprint was supposed to feature Hank Crawford in the soloist's chair. Crawford couldn't make the date and longtime sideman Washington got the nod. His being closely affiliated with organists Charles Earland and Johnny Hammond didn't hurt, and his alto and tenor saxophones' tone was instantly noticeable for both its song-like quality and Washington's unique ability to dig deep into R&B territory for his expression of feeling. Released in 1971, produced by Taylor, and arranged and orchestrated by Bob James, the list of players in this band is equally impressive: James played Fender Rhodes, there's Richard Tee on organ, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Idris Muhammad, then-new guitarist Eric Gale, percussionist Airto Moreira, Thad Jones and Eugene Young on trumpets, trombonist Wayne Andre, and baritone saxophonist Don Ashworth. James also added a violin section and a small vocal chorus on certain tracks.

Inner City Blues kicks off with its title track, a burning version of the Marvin Gaye tune with Washington lending a heft and depth to it that reveals the sophistication of Gaye's original. From Airto's hand drums and the hi hat whispers of Muhammad to the chunky wah-wah guitar vamp and a funky bassline by Carter, it becomes clear that Washington's methods of deep soul articulation on his horn extend into the heart of this mix. James decorated his charts with subtle organ flourishes and his piano, but this is early jazz-funk at best. While Miles Davis was abstracting jazz on the margins, Washington and his cohorts were keeping the music in the street, in the barroom, on the radio, and in the nightclubs and bowling alleys.

The tune was a hit at a time when fusion was becoming widespread; free jazz from both sides of the Atlantic was considering itself the new standard bearer for the music, and the many legends of the '60s Blue Note and Prestige eras were beginning to feel the music get away from them. With this entry, Washington's screaming, edgy solo stayed in the killer grooves with breaks laid down by Muhammad and Moreira, Gale and Carter. Washington was just getting started and it was evident here that this cat was deep. He walked the standards side of the fence on this date as well, bringing them into the jazz-funk era: his readings of "Georgia on My Mind" and "I Loves You Porgy" are sensitive, deeply lyrical, and sophisticated, but coming from the soul side of the fence. Carter's warm, bubbly bassline and the brief guitar break introduce the strings in the former tune while at the same time Washington begins playing the melody on his alto. Muhammad lays down some beautiful and pronounced rhythmic statements without getting in the way, and before long the groove develops, taking the tune right into the club with Gale's solo and some hot comping by James that fades as the strings and Grover return deeper in the cut to take it out.

The other cuts are modern standards, pop songs, creatively voiced by this soloist and band. They include a stellar, lightly funky version of Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)," and a knock-out take on Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," rivaled only by the original and Rahsaan Roland Kirk's flute version on Blacknuss. On the former tune, it's the popping rhythm groove dressed in some smoking hand percussion and fat chunky Rhodes chords that set up Washington's solo, which just burns and wails with all the pleading and pain in Gaye's voice. The latter cut begins subtly, nocturnally in the blues with Gale, James, Carter, and Muhammad. Washington enters playing the melody on the alto, and the strings sound draped around him just as the horn section comes into play counterpoint a beat behind. This is some deep soul. A vocal chorus begins almost subliminally with the "I know, I know, I know, I know" intonation and introduces the popping solos by Gale with the rhythm section in the bridge underscored by the horns. The strings well up with all the drama and emotion emanating from Withers' words, and then just drop behind to allow the saxophonist back in to work it all out with some very sophisticated grooves. The other "modern" standard here is also one that's endured after all these years, the sensitive reading Washington and company put in on Buffy Sainte-Marie's beautiful "Until It's Time for You to Go." Its melancholy sweetness after the eight-and-a-half-minute Withers' jam is breathy, clear, and quiet; James and Washington set it in a light bossa groove. Its shimmering strings and the saxophonists' restraint on the tenor is so elegant and graceful that the tune carries emotion, gentleness, and the bittersweet commitment of its lyric all the way through to its end. This is an amazing debut in so many ways, and it was followed by a run of albums for the label through the end of the '70s when Washington left for Elektra. Inner City Blues remains standing today as a landmark and a turning point in jazz. [Verve released a Stateside CD of the 1972 LP in 2008.]

The Electric Collection

Herbie Hancock

Sun Goddess

Ramsey Lewis
Lewis's most popular album since The In Crowd. Very good for what it is. Gold album.

Ron Wynn, Rovi

A Change Is Gonna Come

Brother Jack McDuff