Sorted in no particular order, these 22 selections (plus honorable mentions) from the KUVO JAZZ library (thanks to Music Director Arturo Gómez!), in my opinion, simply deserve wider recognition. Some are self-produced, some are digital release only, and some major label printings got noticed by the Recording Academy or by other radio programmers on the Jazz Week Top 100 (airplay). Whatever their status or means of distribution, we are hustling to build awareness of this interesting, funky-groovy, surprising, emotional music. Here’s to another great year of music ahead in 2023!
Artifacts – …and then there’s this (Astral Spirits)
It’s the second release for this formidable trio, flutist Nicole Mitchell, cellist (and recent MacArthur Fellow) Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Redd. At the same time modern and soul-grounded, their avant-garde explorations tease and soar (like the artwork on the jacket), and they always bring you home. You can trust these players to take jazz to new and interesting places.
Sean McGowan Organ Trio – Union Station
Yes, I am swayed by Colorado-based projects that salute the local landmarks, but guitarist McGowan says he’s inspired by his love of trains. Regardless, this trio swings HARD, with drummer Todd Reid and organist Jeff Jenkins shoveling coal to make this engine go. Another fine project funded in part by Pathways to Jazz from the Boulder County Arts Alliance and the Univ. of Colorado – Denver.
Mike Eyia – Ritmo Patria (Cold Plunge Records)
The Lansing, Mich.-based guitarist is a long way from his native Cuba, but musically, he’s right at home. In the U.S. since Operation Pedro Pan airlift in 1961, Eyia’s long-running Orquesta Ritmo has kept Michigan audiences dancing since the 70s. Writing and arranging duties are shared with Gregg Hill and pianist Arlene McDaniel. Kudos for warming up the Midwest with authentic Latin flavors on his first solo record.
The BBB featuring Bernie Dresel – The Pugilist (Dig-It Recordings)
This record is another reason to be impressed with the resurgence of large ensemble and big band music on the scene, especially since these 17 players were pandemic-separated, recording in their own home studios. In addition to works from trombonist James McMillen, bandleader/drummer Bernie Dresel curated a wide range of composers to swing through: Cole Porter, Michael Jackson, Edith Piaf, Gershwin, Miles and Zappa! It’s music worth fighting for!
Pete Malinverni – On the Town – The Music of Leonard Bernstein (Planet Arts)
Bernstein music for a jazz trio?! Why not? Pianist Malinverni’s A-list companions Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums bring nine of Bernstein’s compositions (and one original) to modern ears with good results, finding the soul of the music through the classic jazz trio. Show tunes and straight-up jazz are a happy place!
Eli Degibri – Henri and Rachel (Degibri Records)
The Israel-born and based tenor saxophonist captured the tenderness of his aging parents as they cared for each other (and with Eli as caregiver) in their later years. The melodies are delicate and memorable, and the players (especially Degibri’s tenor work) push rhythmically throughout. Among the 10 tracks are some wordless vocals. Talk about evoking the feeling of genuine, lifelong romance… wow!
Songon – Ventura Highway Latin Jazz (digital)
Technically released in 2021, these players (including pianist John Enrico Douglas and flutist Norma Latuchie) hail from Santa Barbara and Ventura County. With 10 songs that register “caliente” on the Latin jazz meter, you’ll have to find this music on Soundcloud or Spotify. But find it. Their take on Ravel’s Bolero is oh-so-good.
Azar Lawrence – New Sky (Trazar)
Tenor–soprano saxman Azar Lawrence brings together jazz, soul, and neo-soul á la funky with locked-in rhythms, a few vocals, and some “spiritual jazz,” making this record totally enjoyable. Lawrence directed collaborators John Beasley, Nduduzo Makhathini, percussionist Munyungo Jackson and others into what Downbeat’s review says is “a celebration of those things even a pandemic could not destroy.” Done.
Spike Wilner Trio – Plays Monk & Ellington (Cellar)
Pianist Wilner (with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth) presents such a de rigueur repertoire, it makes me think EVERY jazz trio should produce their own interpretations of Monk and Ellington favorites. This collection is bona fide, but now you know my favorite tunes from those giants (“U.M.M.G.,” “Intimacy of the Blues,” “Let’s Cool One,” etc.). Just put this one on the player and let it ride.
Boris Kozlov – First Things First (Posi-Tone)
It’s been said you know a person by their friends. Bring in certain players and you get a certain sound. Russian-born bassist Kozlov set the course of his Posi-Tone debut by assembling reedman Donnie McCaslin, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, keyboardist Art Hirahara and drummer (our homeboy) Rudy Royston. Springing off a solid bottom line, all the artists dance in and out of solos and never separate.
Brew Moore – Special Brew (Steeplechase)
A historical release, if you would allow. (They say we jazz folks live in the past. Ha!) Tenor saxophonist Milton Aubrey “Brew” Moore (nicknamed for his ale affections) was all about Lester Young’s stylings, but evolved through Parker to find his own sound, and play that sound across Europe. These 1961 recordings (with 16-year-old Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen at bass) come from a concert in Denmark and a TV recording in Sweden. I’m glad this moment in time is now available to modern ears.
Goldings Bernstein Stewart – Perpetual Pendulum (Smoke Sessions)
Beware three players with fire in the eyes (or their fingers as the case may be). Organ trios are their own thing now, and this group is at the top of that game. Originals offer the fanciful like Golding’s “Let’s Get Lots” (not a typo, but an upside-down play on Chet Baker’s classic), Americana fare from Gershwin and Arlen/Mercer, and selections from Shorter, Ellington, John Lewis and Gary Bartz.
Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion with Howard Levy – Living in a Daydream
Ensconced as one of Colorado’s flamenco virtuosos (we have at least two!), Espinoza has surrounded himself with comrades-in-talent and passion: cellist Dianne Betkowski, bassist Randy Hoepker, percussionists (including tabla) Andy Skellenger, Mario Moreno, Linda Richardson and Nabin Shrestha, and diatonic harmonica master Howard Levy (of The Flecktones fame). The result is a true fusion of global influences dazzling to the ear.
J3 – Opus 1 (Shanachie)
The next round of teen talent comes from South Africa, brother-sister team of Justin-Lee Schultz (piano) and Jamie-Leigh Schultz (drums) with Dallas-based Jaden Baker (bass). They’re too young to be bound by stodgy jazz traditions and expectations, so they’re free to play with Michael Jackson pop hits, present hip-hop originals with spoken word elements, and a worthy tribute to Chick Corea. These are seriously talented artists with solid improvisational instincts.
Jason Marshall – New Beginnings (Cellar)
We lost Ronnie Cuber in 2022, but we gained a new record from baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall in the cosmic exchange. His up-tempo approach brings energy to a solid choice of tunes from the mostly jazz songbook, and a favorite original “Mrs. Garvey, Mrs. Garvey!!” His website offers his four records, as well as big band charts and arrangements. As a fan of the instrument, I’m happy to have his voice in the mix.
Doug Webb – The Message (Posi-Tone)
I can hear the players in this saxophone–organ quintet saying at the top of their recording session, “Let’s go! Let’s have fun!” With Webb (busy on the LA soundtrack scene) and Bob Reynolds (Snarky Puppy) at tenors and Greg Osby at alto, Brian Charette at organ, and Charles Ruggiero at drums, it’s a full-on swing fest. The pedal’s to the metal on this one, kids!
Oscar Peñas, Ron Carter and the Harlem String Quartet – Almadraba (Musikoz)
This Catalonian guitarist with Ron Carter and the Harlem String Quartet offers a musical tribute to the millennia-old tuna fishing method. The musical mood ranges from intimate to emotionally intense, with a gentle virtuosity and just enough string quartet to lift the sound another 10,000 feet.
Katalyst – Jazz is Dead 13 (Jazz is Dead)
The provocatively-named record label (and simplified album-numbering nomenclature) proves precisely that American improvised music is NOT dead. The LA-based Katalyst Collective has earned a rep for making cutting-edge music with solid community bona fides (and credits with Roy Ayers, Gary Bartz, Anderson .Paak and lots more). They’re right at home with Younge and Muhammad’s JID crew. This is where jazz is going.
Eddie Palmieri presents: Sonido Solar (Truth Revolution Recording Collective)
Venerable Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri says the young musicians on this record inspire him to play at another level. This Palmieri tribute band is virtually a super-group of younger players: Louis Fouché, The Curtis Brothers (Zaccai and Luques), Jonathan Powell, and a host of percussionists, taking you through a playlist of nine can’t miss standards and an original.
Sharp Radway – Black Woman (A Conversation)
Bandleader Radway puts this timely and diverse project in the hands of drummer Camille Gainer-Jones, reedwoman Camille Thurman and bassist Endea Owens as the main ensemble. Numerous guests fill out this suite that includes instrumental jazz, vocals and recorded conversations, all addressing the beauty, strength and diversity of Black Women. Sometimes jazz is literally dialogue.
Charlie Gabriel – Eighty-Nine
The senior member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, at 89 years young, still shows them how it’s done. Playing on-point clarinet, saxophone, and singing, this musical celebration earns a spot as one of the best jazz/”trad jazz” records of the year.
Medianoche Honrado – Curaçao
Pianist Justin Adams with Greg Gisbert, Leo Corona, Gonzalo Teppa and Alejandro Castaño, a musically rich tribute to late bandleader (and KUVO radio host) Jimmy Trujillo. A top-flight effort worthy of national notice.
Grace Fox Big Band – Eleven O’Seven (Next Level) – very young, all-female group with great arrangements and compositions. Produced by drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr.
No Hands Brass Band – Off the Curb (Ova Yonder Records, – This four-song EP is just what the funky, brassy doctor ordered. Hope this Denver band blows up!
Juan Carlos Quintero – Table for Five! (Moondo Records) – Columbian guitarist soothes and excites with fresh Latin jazz covers of classic repertoire (“Giant Steps,” “Song for My Father,” “Manhã de Carnival”).
Tawanda – Smile (Resonance) – 2021 Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition co-winner with exceptional power and range. Standards with great accompaniment serve as a nice debut recording.
San Gabriel 7 – Under the Stars feat. Sinne Eeg (JL -SGS Records) – fun arrangements with great Danish singer Eeg.
Jennifer Hartswick – Something in the Water (Brother Mister) – Nashville singer with deep and modern soul tinge debuts on Christian McBride’s label.
Michael Dease – Best Next Thing (Posi-Tone) – Joining trombonist Dease are players with more to offer than standard fare: Mahanthappa, Sipiagin, Rosnes, Kozlov, Royston. He curated and wrote 10 great tracks.
John Lee – The Artist (Cellar) – bassist Lee in trio format representing the strength of the Vancouver straight-ahead scene. Co-producer Cory Weeds sits in at sax on three tracks.
Bill Heid – Dealin’ Wid It (Savant) – I don’t know this five-decade organist, but I know the funky, groovy sound of a tight organ trio. Pleasing to the ear and the hipbone.
Remy LeBouef’s Assembly of Shadows – Architecture of Storms (SoundSpore) – Grammy nominee’s latest work is equally intricate and inviting. Massive ensemble makes quite the calling card for Univ. of Denver-Lamont’s new Jazz & Commercial Music Studies director.
David Bernot – Never-Ending Cycle (Nocturne) – infectious originals from reedman Bernot, in Colorado since 2012 and surrounded by Gisbert, Amend, Teppa and D’Angelo.
Brian Charette – Jackpot (Cellar) – NY organist Charette made a brilliant move bringing in Ed Cherry on guitar for this quartet set of nine jammin’ tracks.
Adonis Rose & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra feat. Cyrille Aimee (Storyville) – New Orleans’ finest musicians with THE French chanteuse of our times. Modern. Soulful. Swinging.
Eugenie Jones – Players (Open Mic Records) – a great list of compositions and arrangements from “legacy activist” Jones. A-list players: Workman, Purdie, Priester, Sanabria, Plaxico, Marquis Hill and more.
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