Bird is the Worm Best of 2012: Albums 2-5

December 30, 2012

Today’s post reveals the 2nd through the 5th Bird is the Worm albums of the year.


BitW square avatarFor each album considered for inclusion, I was looking for it to hit me right in my heart, provoke a strong emotional reaction.  I was also looking for it to engage my brain, provide some intrigue or fascination with the music being presented.  Extra points were awarded for doing Something Different or building on a premise that embraced the best qualities of creativity.  Strong musicianship alone is not enough.  Many solid albums didn’t make the list.  It literally pains me when I see some of the albums that weren’t included.  But I listen to a lot of music, and one of the rare downsides to encountering so much great Jazz is that some of it won’t receive the recognition it deserves.  So there you have it.

There is a link to a more formal review following each entry.  The text that accompanies each album isn’t a review so much as reminiscences of aspects of the recording I liked when I first heard it and how I still feel about it now.  I wasn’t looking to sum any of them up… that’s what reviews are for.  Most reviews are accompanied with embedded audio so you can hear some of the music, as well as personnel and label information, links to artist, label, and retail sites, and anything else that seemed relevant/helpful to me at the time.

Let’s begin…



2.  Amit Friedman – Sunrise

Friedman’s blend of Jazz and Middle-East music has had me enthusiastic all year long. An album that often soars, but doesn’t forget to swing. This is the kind of joyful music that defines Jazz as something special. Many Jazz albums have a joyful sound, but rarely one as inspiring as Sunrise. It still hits me right square in the heart. I originally wrote that it was an album I wanted to shout from the rooftops and share with the world. I still do.

Released on the Origin Arts label.

A Bird is the Worm review here.



3.  Omer Avital – Suite of the East

Avital makes the kind of music that I know years from now, decades even, that’ll I’ll come back to with the same enthusiasm that I do John Handy’s Live at Monterey and John Coltrane’s Live at Newport ’63. The kind of surging energy that culminates with joyful expressiveness, and part-and-parcel with intelligent music that isn’t trying to take the easy route to the listener’s heart.

Released on the Anzic Records label.

A Bird is the Worm review here.



4.  Matt Ulery – By a Little Light

This double-disc recording still leaves me in awe. A mix of jazz, classical, and folk that behaves more as a creation of a brand new sound rather than an amalgamation of its elements. Even surrounded by orchestration, Ulery displays the ability to sound small and vulnerable. But mostly, this is Big Music of an expansive scope and breadth. Art needs time to incubate, to let time bring context to the bigger picture. In the instance of By a Little Light, the endgame on that equation is a question of ‘masterpiece.’ This may very be just that.

Released on the Greenleaf Music label.

A Bird is the Worm review here.



5.  Jeremy Siskind – Finger-Songwriter

jeremysiskind_fingersongwriterA trio of piano, vocals, and bass clarinet/sax. A storytelling flair that could give Tom Waits a run for his money. Heartbreak stories about hopeless cases who can’t stop hoping for the best. Siskind has plenty of page-turning moments on keys, but doesn’t hog the spotlight from his trio mates. Harms has a way with vocals that give jawdropping turns of vulnerability and disarming playful missives. Pino charms on bass clarinet, and provides a noir-ish ambiance to an album that is moody as hell. Also, what you hear on the album is what you get live… the trio is just as evocative in a live setting. One of those albums that just seems to materialize out of thin air, full of intensity and presence.

This album is Self-Produced.

A Bird is the Worm review here.



Tomorrow I’ll reveal the Bird is the Worm 2012 Album of the Year.


Omer Avital – “Suite of the East”

December 21, 2012


Omer Avital - "Suite of the East"At the tail end of a residency at Small’s Jazz Club in 2006, bassist Omer Avital brought his group into the recording studio for a one day marathon session.  The goal was to capture the vibrancy of the time they’d been spending together playing live, and to play compositions that Avital had completed in New York after a three year residency in Israel.

What came out of that session is an album that will deserve strong consideration for Best of 2012.

Your album personnel:  Omer Avital (bass), Daniel Freedman (drums), Joel Frahm (sax), Omer Klein (piano), and Avishai Cohen (trumpet).

Of immediate interest is the comparison of the Avital composition “Free Forever.”  Coincidentally, a live version appeared on the 2011 Avital release of the same name.  It’s near the same ensemble, but replacing Ferenc Nemeth with Daniel Freedman at drums and bringing in Jason Lindner to replace Omer Klein on keys.  This is a song to jack up the volume for.  Roll down the car windows, turn up the volume, and hope there’s no cops around as you speed down an empty country road.  Euphoric, uplifting, and so full of life and electricity, the studio version of “Free Forever” is just as thrilling as the live version.

That’s not an easy accomplishment.  Generally speaking, studio versions of songs are going to sound cleaner than their messy live counterparts, whereas the live version will jump right out at the listener.  However, on Suite of the East, Avital’s quintet brings all the bombast and power of a live performance.  It’s gotta be completely attributable to the fact that this recording session followed this quintet’s residency.  They brought the live energy into the studio with them.  No better example of this than “Free Forever.”

But it doesn’t end there.  Title track “Suite of the East” alternates between statements of melody with a gentle lilt on trumpet and sax, then with the full effect of the ensemble blasting it through the speakers.  Half way through, an interlude changes to an easy groove, Klein and Avital in the lead on piano and bass, then Cohen and Frahm step in on horn and sax.  Freedman accentuates both groups without sacrificing his own sound.  The tune ends much how it began, though with Freedman throwing in some rhythmic wrinkles.

And third track “Song For Peace” opens with a festive statement that’s got a little groove in its soul.  Develops some tension, but then the tension dissipates and both Cohen on trumpet and Klein on piano take turns with some nice solos.  Some wonderful interplay between Frahm and Cohen to close the tune out with more of that festivity.  But this, like the songs that preceded it, are full of life and energy.  Celebratory.  No different with on “The Mountain Top,” which plays with tempo as they achieve increasingly higher elevations.

The song “Sinai Memories” calms things down a bit.  It opens with a lovely bass section by Avital, and Klein offering some accompaniment before taking the baton for a lovely section of his own.  It has a contemplative presence, palpable in that way that Abdullah Ibrahim always seemed to invoke at will.

“The Abutbuls” has a driving cadence, and Cohen’s trumpet is like flames over a sheet of gasoline.  It begins with a peacefulness marked by where “Sinai Memories” left off, but that’s quickly dispelled with a vibrant Middle-Eastern influence.  It builds up to a thunderous climax, which, interestingly, is a different approach than Avital, Cohen, and Freedman take as three parts of the Third World Love quartet.  On their 2012 release Songs & Portraits, they bring a fusion element to the composition, and behave more as lightning than thunder.  But on Suite of the East, it’s full speed ahead, and from my perspective, the better of the two renditions.  Avital gets to the heart of the song and makes it thump loud and clear.

Oddly, the album ends with “Bass Meditation,” a solo bass piece.  Also, oddly, it doesn’t kill the flow of the album at all.  After an hour of perpetual intensity, there’s something refreshing about the gentle comedown of a meditative bass solo… like watching a bird soar gently back to earth after an extended flight in turbulence.

You want to know who the new Monks, the new Coltranes, the new Davises are on the modern jazz scene?  Start listening to Avital, and start with this recording.

Released on the Anzic Records label.  You can stream most of the album, and purchase it, on their bandcamp page.

Jazz from NYC.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3

Anat Cohen – “Claroscuro”

November 30, 2012


If you’re not careful, you might take Anat Cohen for granted.  Having released one solid album after the other under her own name, in collaboration with Choro Ensemble and 3 Cohens, and as a supporting musician in Duduku Da Fonseca’s quintet, Cohen’s commonplace excellence on reeds might lead a person to lose sight of how special her music is.

There is a buoyancy to her sound, even when the tone of the music lends to brooding and darker thoughts.  And this really speaks to me of a very classic element of Jazz… the music’s uplifting nature even when coming down with a strong case of the blues.  That via a combination of improvisation, composition, and group interplay, many facets of the emotional landscape can be presented with one voice, representing all while sanitizing none.  In a world of modern jazz that has become as disparate as the mind can express creativity, Anat Cohen plays Jazz, both in spirit and form.

Your album personnel: Anat Cohen (clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano & tenor saxes), Jason Lindner (piano), Joe Martin (bass), Daniel Freedman (drums), and guests: Paquito D’Rivera (clarinet), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), and Gilmar Gomes (percussion).

On Claroscuro, Cohen hits upon a variety of music forms… New Orleans jazz on the gently swaying “La Vie en Rose,” Malian rhythms in “All Brothers,” NYC swing era jazz with Artie Shaw’s “Nightmare,” Brazilian choro in the haunting interlude of “Kick Off,” South African jazz with a cover of Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Wedding,” a bit of the flavor of Middle-East jazz with “Anat’s Dance,” and several tracks that touch the meeting points between African and Brazilian musics so very reminiscent of Don Pullen’s masterful work.  One album track is Cohen’s own, two album tracks are from album personnel (one from Lindner and Freedman each), and the rest are taken from the songbooks of other musicians.

But the thing of it is, whether it’s her own compositions or those of another, Cohen delivers it with an easily identifiable personal voice that transcends music influences and roots.  When we talk about the language of music, it’s a reference to an agreed upon lexicon of instrumental and compositional approaches, and also to the songbook of generally accepted standards, but of equal importance is the ability of the artist to communicate the music in a voice that is all their own, that the creative thought is illustrated through the artist’s personal point of view.  The talent to do that is something that artists spend a lifetime developing, and it’s the essential element to forging a bond between the music and the listener.  Cohen is doing that now.  Her sound is very much her own, and that’s an accomplishment that shouldn’t be overlooked as one makes their way through Cohen’s wonderful discography.

Nothing could be more symbolic of what I’m talking about than the delightful Claroscuro.

Released on the Anzic Records label.

Jazz from NYC.

You can stream a few album tracks at the artist’s bandcamp page.  You can also purchase the album there.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3

Daniel Freedman – “Bamako By Bus”

June 27, 2012


Daniel Freedman – Bamako By Bus

The title for drummer Daniel Freedman‘s expansive music vision came about on extensive bus ride through Mali, which was just one leg of his journeys through West Africa, the Middle East, and Cuba. He brought back with him to NYC more than just photos and souvenirs… the various regional musics came, too. And it was the coalescence of those sounds that inspired him originally to name this album NY Nation, because, as Freedman states, “[the music] from all over the world, it could only have come together here.” Here, in this instance, is New York City, a place of vast diversity, and arguably the center of the universe for Jazz, a music which is as diverse and as populated by music influences as the city Freedman calls home.

The album is built around a quintet of drums, trumpet, guitar, bass, and keyboards, but Freedman adds textures as if drawing a map.

Your album personnel: Daniel Freedman (drums, percussion), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Lionel Loueke (guitar, vocals), and Meshell Ndegeocello (bass). Jason Lindner (keyboards), and guests: Mark Turner (tenor sax), Joshua Levitt (Ney/Arabic flute), Yosvany Terry, Davi Viera, Mauro Refosco, Pedrito Martinez, Abraham Rodriguez (various percussion, some vocals), and Omer Avital (bass).

Though just a two minute intro, but opening track “Odudua” gives a decent peek at this album’s disparate elements. Latin rhythms and soulful vocals, it flirts with a Caribbean groove before transitioning to a rustic folk. And like the urban landscape suddenly changing the view from any major metropolis street corner, the second track leads into a West African tune, with Loueke’s spoken word chant, Cohen’s trumpet calling out over the top of a percussive flurry of congas, drums, and chekere.

The scene shifts again for “Deep Brooklyn” and its thick R&B groove. Lindner’s keys develop the tune’s casual strut while Cohen flexes on trumpet. Freedman provides the song with sharp teeth. And after the thick Latin percussion and chanting of “Rumba Pa’ NYC”, which explodes with life as piano and more voices join in, Cohen’s trumpet rising up out of the crowd, the sound transitions on the next track to a late night jazz club for “Alona”. Turner lets his tenor sax sing a wistful ballad. Linder and Cohen accompany on piano and trumpet, but their tones display an unwillingness to alter the moody atmosphere.

But if there’s anything the album does consistently is, in fact, change. “Sa’aba” is a modern piece, with melodic ambient interludes, dynamic percussion that drives the tune into rock territory, spurred on by the lit match of Turner’s sax and Cohen’s cut-and-run trumpet lines. The album ends with the title track. A bouncing tune of plucked strings and the pleasant repetition of piano notes like gurgling of a stream. A subdued vocal chant falls easily into the flow of the tune.

It’s an album that takes an impressive stab at realizing a grand scope, of encapsulating a sense of his travels and his home city into the length of a single album. The result should be considered a success.

Released on the Anzic Records label.

You can stream, and purchase, the album on the artist’s bandcamp page.

Available at eMusic. Available at Amazon: CD | MP3

Tiny Reviews: Amy Cervini, Arturo Sandoval, Enrico Rava, & Julie Lamontagne

March 9, 2012

Featuring Tiny Reviews of:  Amy Cervini Digging Me Digging You, Arturo Sandoval Mambo Nights, Enrico Rava Quintet Tribe, and Julie Lamontagne Opus Jazz.

Let’s begin…


Amy Cervini – Digging Me Digging You

Excellent jazz vocal album by the talented singer and backed by a ridiculously impressive cast of Bruce Barth (piano), Jesse Lewis (guitar), Matt Aronoff (bass), James Shipp (perc & vibes), Matt Wilson (drums), Anat Cohen (clarinet), Jeremy Udden (alto sax), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Josh Sinton (bari sax), and Jennifer Wharton (bass trombone).  Amy Cervini pays tribute to jazz icon Blossom Dearie.  Lots of swinging tunes that match well with Cervini’s bounce and ballads that match with Cervini’s warmth.  Nice curation of songs for the album, and inspired choice of ensemble members.  The kind of jazz vocals album that will appeal to people who say, “I’m not really into jazz vocals albums”.  Very fun.

You can stream the entire album on Cervini’s Bandcamp page.

Released on the Anzic label.  Jazz from NYC.

Available on eMusic.


Arturo Sandoval – Mambo Nights

Oh man, this is nice. Trumpet legend Arturo Sandoval and the WDR Big Band for a series of bebop and Afro-Cuban compositions that just soar soar soar.  Nothing but sonic happiness here; even the cover of “Oye Como Va” (which, on most albums, pretty much makes me cringe at this point) delivers plenty of life and good cheer. This album is aces.  Highly Recommended.

Released by the Termidor Music Group.

Available on eMusic.


Enrico Rava Quintet – Tribe

Well, it appears that Emusic is getting caught up on it’s 2011 ECM releases.  This one from trumpet player Enrico Rava. Honestly, I just don’t connect with his sound, which to me is like audio quicksand, but people definitely like his stuff.  Rava is perpetually up there on Best Of lists from year to year, so I figured I’d mention this one. He’s got the nifty trombonist Gianluca Petrella on this recording, which is nice. Hey, give the samples a shot; maybe it’s your kind of thing.  I like the following song…

Your album personnel:  Enrico Rava (trumpet), Gianluca Petrella (trombone), Giovanni Guidi (piano), Gabriele Evangelista (bass), Fabrizio Sferra (drums), and guest: Giacomo Ancillotto (guitar).

Released on the ECM Records label.

Available on eMusic.


Julie Lamontagne – Opus Jazz

Former classical pianist and composer, now jazz pianist and composer, gives us a solo recording that attempts to fuse both. Seems to lean a bit more to the classical side, but whatever, I’m liking this on my first pass of the album. The Trilogie Coloree is just beautiful. Released on the Justin Time label, which can always be counted on for making tasteful choices in which albums they release.

Your album personnel:  Julie Lamontagne (piano).

Jazz from the Quebec, Canada scene.

Available on eMusic.


That’s it for today’s article, and the third of three parts of the Tiny Reviews from this batch of new arrivals.

Here’s some language to protect emusic’s rights as the one to hire me originally to scour through the jazz new arrivals and write about the ones I like:

New Arrivals Jazz Picks“, courtesy of, Inc.
© 2012, Inc.

My thanks to emusic for the freelance writing gig, the opportunity to use it in this blog, and the editorial freedom to help spread the word about cool new jazz being recorded today.