Top 10 of 2001 – John Barrett

Top 10
John Barrett’s Top Ten
New Jazz Albums of 2001

  1. Abdullah Ibrahim with the NDR Big Band – Ekapa Lodumo (Enja) Ibrahim is his old bluesy self (listen to “Mindif”, where he spins some Thelonious Monk); the feeling is heightened by the band, which hollers like a soul-jazz unit. Excellent arrangements by Steve Gray; this is a must-hear, especially if you like Abdullah or African music.
  2. Freddie Hubbard – New Colors (Hip Bop) The old master is back in a big way, joined by the rising stars of The New Jazz Composers Octet. Arranger David Weiss paints with broad strokes, getting big band power – and Freddie coasts on top, clearly enjoying the company. Includes Hubbard’s standard “Red Clay”, and a lot of names to watch in the future.
  3. Greg Piccolo – Homage (Emit Doog Music) Twelve hard-honking, bar-walking classics, played in fine style by an underrated tenor. These numbers romp, helped by a swingin’ band (Reese Wynans is great on the organ.) Excellent liner notes by Bob Porter, who produced many albums in this style.
  4. René Marie – Vertigo (MaxJazz) René succeeds at an impossible task: How do you sing Billie’s songs and make them your own? Her acting is strong, her delivery playful, her song choice exquisite. A dignified reading of “Dixie” dissolves into “Strange Fruit”, its bitterness profound – this must be listened to. On top of this, her own intricately crafted compositions could legitimately become standards. Impressive by any criterion.
  5. David Chevan / Warren Byrd – Let Us Break Bread Together: Further Explorations Of The Afro-Semitic Experience (Reckless DC Music) Intimate, almost telepathic duets, playing the spiritual music of two different cultures. Their interaction is wonderful, as the mood turns from timid to passionate to abstract to furious to placid – often within the same tune. This stuff will touch your heart – almost profound in its beauty.
  6. Nancy Wilson – A Nancy Wilson Christmas – (MCG) Lavishly produced, loaded with guest stars, songs both sacred and secular … and a voice that can still charm. Highlights are everywhere: a densely-orchestrated “O Holy Night” leads to a peaceful “All Through the Night”, backed only by rhythm and a wordless choir. The New York Voices are spellbinding on “Carol of the Bells”; Monty Alexander follows with a Tyneresque solo. On all of the performances Nancy is heartfelt, and you can tell she loves the season. One of my favorite Christmas albums ever.
  7. Ed Cherry – The Spirits Speak (Justin Time) This one has a delicate balance: a calm, tart soprano sax (Joe Ford), a slow-burning organ (Dr. Lonnie Smith) and the sweet wispy guitar of Ed Cherry. Unassuming at first, these tunes will grow on you – and Lonnie is great as always. Laird Jackson’s vocal on “Peace” is a sweet dessert.
  8. Steve Korn – Pride And Joy (OriginArts) A fantastic organ date, full of the old sizzle. Two saxes duke it out, with the prize going to Mark Taylor’s alto. All of these guys deserve more attention, especially Taylor, Dan Heck on guitar, and Joe Doria on the mighty B-3.
  9. Fred Ho – Once Upon A Time In Chinese America… (Innova Recordings) The man who created the Monkey series of albums spins another tale from ancient China: a martial-arts ballet, powered by intense, Zappa-like music. Ho may be my favorite baritone sax working today – and listen for Shyaporn Theerakulstit, hilarious as the narrator.
  10. Jeri Brown – Image In The Mirror: The Triptych (Justin Time) This could be called a jazz opera: ten connected songs about finding, losing, and regaining love. Brown is in fine voice, acts her part well (she trashes her beau on “Who’s Been Loving You?”) and sings two duets with the drummer Grady Tate. Conceived as a theater piece, it hasn’t yet been performed on stage … but I hope it is.

David Basse – STRIKE WHEN YOUR IRON IS HOT (City Light)
Bluiett/Jackson/El’Zabar – THE CALLING (Justin Time)
John Boutte – AT THE FOOT OF CANAL STREET (Valley Entertainment)
Lou Donaldson – LIVE ON THE QE2 (Chiaroscuro)
Epiphany Project – EPIPHANY PROJECT (Epiphany Records)
Luqman Hamza – WITH THIS VOICE (Groove Note)
Shirley Horn – YOU’RE MY THRILL (Verve)
Rob McConnell – ROB McCONNELL TENTET (Justin Time)
Andy Narell – LIVE IN SOUTH AFRICA (Heads Up)
Chico O’Farrill – CARAMBOLA (Milestone)
Slice of Pi – SLICE OF PI (Eklektic Records)
Paul Tobey – STREET CULTURE (Arkadia)
Various Artists – LIVE AT THE BAKED POTATO, VOLUME ONE (Tone Center)
Various Artists – BLONDE TELEVISION SOUNDTRACK (Concord/ Playboy Jazz)

John Barrett’s Top Ten
ReIssue Albums of 2001

  1. Sonny Stitt – JUST THE WAY IT WAS: SONNY STITT AND HIS ELECTRIC SAXOPHONE “LIVE” AT THE LEFT BANK (Label M) From the early ‘Seventies, Sonny took his organ trio to Baltimore … and all cylinders are firing. Not only is this my favorite Stitt album with Don Patterson and Billy James, it’s also my favorite disc where Stitt uses the Varitone electronic attachment. (It gives the horn an added buzz, which helps for this kind of music.) Raucous shouts, tender ballads, and a truckload of blues – all the good stuff.
  2. MJT + 3 – MESSAGE FROM WALTON STREET (Koch) Technically, this isn’t a reissue – it’s a session recorded for Vee-Jay in 1960, unreleased until now. A strong, soulful rhythm section (Harold Mabern, Bob Cranshaw, Walter Perkins) interacts with two horns on the rise, including the great Frank Strozier. They compare very well to the Jazz Messengers; some of the tunes (“Aon”, “No Land’s Man”) would later be recorded by others, including Booker Ervin. Beautiful, beautiful stuff.
  3. Wayne Shorter – WAYNING MOMENTS (Koch) Another treasure from the Vee-Jay vaults: Shorter’s second disc as a leader, plus a bunch of alternate takes. He was joined by fellow Messenger Freddie Hubbard, former Messenger Jymie Merritt, and Chicago pros in the rhythm section. The tunes are simple and effective: I like “Devil’s Island”, “Callaway Went That-a-Way”, and a soul-jazz version of “Manha de Carnaval”.
  4. Louis Armstrong – THE LEGENDARY BERLIN CONCERT, VOLUME ONE (Jazzpoint) This East Berlin show from 1965 (part of a short tour) was the first time Louis had gone behind the Iron Curtain – both he and his All-Stars shine. Armstrong’s tone is razor-sharp, his band responsive (you gotta hear Tyree Glenn on trombone) and his charm takes hold on a ton of vocals. The packaging is excellent, with informative notes and lots of great pictures. Volume Two (with more emphasis on instrumentals) is also good, but this is the one to get first.
  5. Ray Bryant – SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE (Label M) Ray Bryant found this in a bag of his old concert tapes; it’s a French date from 1992, but beyond that Bryant cannot remember the details. The crowd is large, informed, and enthusiastic; Ray regales ’em with stories and rolls the old boogie. Favorites include “Con Alma” and an uproarious “Take the ‘A’ Train”.
  6. George Shearing – OUT OF THIS WORLD (Koch) Playing solo in 1971, Shearing avoids his famous block chords for a classical approach, playing “Hey Jude” as a minuet and the title cut in the style of Debussy. The playing time is short but the pleasure is long.
  7. Bill Henderson – HIS COMPLETE VEE-JAY RECORDINGS, VOLUME TWO (Koch) The TV actor began his career as a singer; many of these tracks, recorded in 1960 and ’61, have not been released until now. The backing ranges from a trio to a string orchestra; the songs are eclectic, with many underheard gems. (Examples: “Hooray for Love”, “Old Country”, “Don’t Like Goodbyes”, and Oscar Brown’s “Opportunity, Please Knock”.) Eddie Harris has a terrific solo on “Please Send Me Someone to Love”.
  8. Frank Strozier – FANTASTIC (Koch) Powerful but slightly undisciplined, Frank Strozier roars through his first session as leader, reminding people how passionate he could be. The personnel will drop your jaw: the Miles Davis rhythm section of the day (Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb) plus the incredible trumpet of Booker Little. The tunes are both fast and furious; includes an early version of Little’s most famous tune, “Waltz of the Demons”.
  9. Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters – ANDY AND THE BEY SISTERS (Prestige) Andy’s first two albums are compiled here; he is featured less than is the vocal blend he forms with his sisters. Their harmonies are thick and churchy – works well with the quiet rhythm and the occasional horn of Jerome Richardson. Uneven, but there are many thrills: the “‘Love’ Medley” of three songs, a mournful “Willow Weep for Me”, a swift “Hallelujah, I Love Her so”, and Andy’s exuberant take on “Feeling Good”.
  10. Walter Benton and Julian Priester – OUT OF THIS WORLD (Milestone) This was a total surprise: while trombonist Priester is good on his 1960 album, his pianist is a thrill – McCoy Tyner, a month before joining John Coltrane. His style veers between conventional accompaniment and his familiar thick chords; he’s changing before our very ears. On tenor was Walter Benton, who once recorded with Clifford Brown; he was so good that he was offered his own album – where he is backed by Freddie Hubbard. These discs are a little uneven, but definitely worth hearing for the sidemen.

Gene Ammons/Sonny Stitt – GOD BLESS JUG AND SONNY (Prestige)
Stan Getz – MY FOOLISH HEART (Label M)
Bobby Hutcherson – MIRAGE (32 Jazz)
Bireli Lagrene – A TRIBUTE TO DJANGO REINHARDT (Jazzpoint)
Mavis Rivers/Red Norvo – A TRIBUTE TO MILDRED BAILEY (Koch)