2011 jazz round-up

Publication: Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches
Author: Hank Shteamer
Date: December 19, 2011

To check out Hank’s full list of picks for the best jazz of 2011, visit his blog here.

1.Branford Marsalis/Joey Calderazzo Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (Marsalis Music)

As you can see from my 2011 jazz halftime report, published back in June, this one grabbed me early on. Now that the year is winding down, I’m happy to report that it didn’t let go. There’s no embeddable stream of this record, but I implore you to sample it here, especially the tracks “Endymion,” “Face on the Barroom Floor” and “La Valse Kendall.” When mentioning my interest in this album to friends, I’ve received a few raised eyebrows, which pains me. As I discuss in a Time Out NY preview of Marsalis January 9, 2012 “A Duo of Duos” gig at Jazz at Lincoln Center (during which he’ll perform with both Calderazzo and Harry Connick, Jr., the latter of whom won’t be singing), Marsalis’s celebrity still overshadows his art. It’s a trite point at this stage, but the prejudices persist: He’s the saxophone player your mom likes.

And I’m not trying to say that moms wouldn’t love Songs of Mirth and Melancholy. But what I am trying to say is that this is an extremely deep record. There’s so much grace and poetry to this session.bra I don’t know enough about the connections between jazz and chamber music (or chamber music itself) to know how unprecedented Songs is, but I can’t think of another jazz recording I’ve heard that mixes raw beauty and virtuosic refinement the way this album does. I like Marsalis’s quartet with Calderazzo just fine, but in the end, it is an updating of a known quantity (post-Coltrane small-group jazz); this, on the other hand, feels like new terrain to me, or at least extremely underexplored terrain. Again, if you’re a Branford skeptic, please spend some time with this album and let me know what you think. I can’t imagine you won’t be at least a little surprised and impressed with what you hear.

Three quick notes:

A) Strangely, the opening track on here, “One Way,” a whimsical, rompy, bluesy type piece, does very little for me; if it weren’t for this quibble, Songs might have beat out Anthrax for the No. 2 spot on my TONY all-genres-in-play top 10 list.

B) Purchasing this record digitally from Amazon is a good idea, because you get a meaty 16-plus-minute bonus track, “Eternal.”

C) The Marsalis Music YouTube channel is streaming a series of making-of vids.

Submitted by Bobby on December 20th, 2011 — 11:32am