If I were to put together a musically inspired compilation of this year’s wide sampling of recorded music that I’ve heard and the live music that I’ve experienced this year, it would include an amazing group of talented artists who continue to challenge themselves as they give us something creative and personal.
As I surf the memories of my mind from this year I can’t help but start at the beginning.
To kick off 2013 in spectacular fashion was Minneapolis native and Blue Note Records artist Jose James who performed music
from his album No Beginning No End. His engagement at the Cedar Cultural Center was a homecoming celebration fit for an artist with much potential for growth in the future.
And who can forget Charles Lloyd’s performance with young up-and-coming pianist Gerald Clayton at the Dakota in March. If anyone knows how to connect with an audience, it’s Lloyd. His tenor sings stories that ring with truth and beauty.
That date was also a good opportunity to witness Clayton in action. He released his Concord recording Life Forum, which was one of the year’s finest recordings.
Craig Taborn, another pianist of note with ties to the Twin Cities also had a huge homecoming at the Walker Art Center in April. He appears to be performing at the peak of his powers now, so it was wonderful to get to see him stretch out in a venue such as the Walker, and with a variety of band mates that adapted to his music on the highest level. His new ECM recording Chants was released around the time of this concert and will probably standout as a cornerstone of any Taborn record collection in years to come.
In June, Cyrus Chestnut graced us with his energetic presence making this Twin Cities Jazz Festival one of the most entertaining. Seeing the abundantly talented saxophonist Walter Smith III in action during this warm summer occasion was equally satisfying as well.
I also saw two great shows in September. First was the United Trumpet Summit at the Dakota that featured Jeremy Pelt, Eddie Henderson, Randy Brecker, and Leon Jordan Jr. They played a number of songs suited especially for trumpet.
The second September show took place at the Artists’ Quarter and featured vocalist Diane Witherspoon. A consummate professional, her first set had plenty of surprise, sparkle, verve, and wit. I only wish I could have stayed for her second set which featured the music of the late great Cedar Walton whom she had worked with in the past.
I’m glad I had the chance to see her perform at the venue before its closing on New Year’s Eve. There have been many memorable moments that have taken place at the AQ, too many to list here. A huge thank you to Kenny Horst for everything he’s done at the club over the years. Best of luck to you and yours.
Beyond the fabulous live music, there was an abundance of great music released right up until the end of year. I don’t recall Blue Note Records ever releasing so many good albums in one year, but they did it this year.
In addition to James, it was good to see bassist Derrick Hodge branch out on his own with his adventurous Blue Note album Live Today.
Other outstanding albums from Blue Note included vocalist Gregory Porter’s Liquid Spirit. Porter’s natural soulfulness can be heard throughout the recording. I’m not surprised it’s up for a Grammy next year. Blue Note also scored with the Thelonious Monk Paris 1969 recording. It captures his ability to make people feel good with his music.
Not be be out done, add Mack Avenue Records to the list of record companies that shined brightest this year. Rising star vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant’s debut album, WomanChild showcases a young talent with depth and skills beyond her years. That album is also up for a Grammy for best vocal. Looking forward to seeing her live at the Dakota next year in March. Salvant is quickly earning a reputation for being the real deal.
Her labelmate bassist Christian McBride’s trio recording Out There is also deserving of a Grammy nomination, which it has garnered. The first time I hear the band’s fresh and inspiring rendition of “My Favorite Things” I was blown away. I found Mcbride’s other album from this year, People Music, to be equally thrilling for its smart ensemble work.
Multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Payton, 40, is always wonderfully, unapologetically himself. It’s what people love about him, and it
may well be why he’s a natural for leading his own record label, BMF Records, which released two of this year’s most exciting albums.
The first was #BAM:Live at the Bohemian Caverns, the second was Sketches of Spain. This achievement is an artistic highpoint for Payton, it reveals that he is perhaps, at the pinnacle of his powers. With Sketches of Spain, he’s saying rather than just refresh old memories, why not have a desire to create new ones.
Another artist who is unapologetically herself 24/7 is vocalist Rene Marie. Her new recording, I Want to Be Evil (With Love to Eartha Kitt) from Motema is definitely a 2013 recording standout. Just take a listen to her version of “Let’s Do It.” And if that doesn’t convince you, surely her take on “Peel Me a Grape” will do it. No one can accuse Marie of being dull. She does what all great experienced risk-taking artists do, she never stops giving 100 percent from the heart.
2013 marks the year we said farewell to artists Mulgrew Miller, Cedar Walton, Jim Hall, Yusef Lateef, and Dwayne Burno. Their passing is a reminder of the enjoyable times and that I had the good fortune to have experienced their music.
From listening to Walton on numerous recordings, and Hall with Sonny Rollins on the album, The Bridge, to hearing Lateef play the ultra beautiful song “Purple Flower” at the Walker, and bathing in the bold sounds of Burno’s bass both live and on albums. I was hit hardest by Miller’s passing as I would always say, he was my favorite living pianist on the planet.
With this coming 2014, and the knowledge of several exciting new recordings on the way, I am reaffirming my faith in music and artists who against all odds, continue to grow and evolve so that we may benefit from their exceptional work, unwavering dedication, and love.
Have a happy new year everyone!
Robin James welcomes reader responses at [email protected].