Karl Stark's Best in Jazz

Posted: December 11, 2011

Jane Bunnett & Hilario Durán, Cuban Rhapsody (Alma Records). Saxophonist Jane Bunnett's 25-year obsession with Cuban music climaxes in this collection of duets with pianist Hilario Durán. The tunes, dating from the 19th century to the 1960s, are romantic and unspoiled. And the players' traipse through the Cuban canon made me yearn for a mojito.

James Carter Organ Trio, At the Crossroads (Universal Music). Tenor saxophonist James Carter is the jazz equivalent of a triple espresso. The Motown-born reed man conjures the sacred specter of the chitlin' circuit on this steamy set. Working with an organ-led quartet and various lord-have-mercy horns, Carter inspires spontaneous dancing and blows the lights out on ballads.

3 Cohens, Family (Anzic). The Cohens are leaders in a vanguard of Israeli players making their names in American jazz. With Anat on tenor and clarinet, Yuval on soprano sax, and Avishai on trumpet, their sextet shows respect for jazz history. Swing wafts in and out of these 10 tunes. And so do some mesmerizing vibes.

Joey DeFrancesco, 40 (HighNote). Onetime Philly jazz prodigy Joey DeFrancesco turned 40 this year. This set with drummer Ramon Banda and guitarist Rick Zunigar is a birthday cake of a recording that traverses from bluesy swing to postmodern, and scorches the ground in between.

Eldar Djangirov, Three Stories (Sony). Pianist Eldar Djangirov, who emigrated from the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan at age 10, is a hale 24 now, and his playing is scary. Here, on his first solo recording, he flits from jazz standards to Bach and Scriabin, from Monk and Parker to a Russian lullaby.

Fred Hersch, Alone at the Vanguard (Palmetto). Fred Hersch keeps racing time. The pianist, who lost the use of his hands and nearly died of AIDS, goes to the sacred ground of the Village Vanguard for a rare event: a solo concert. Recorded last year, Hersch is in fecund form, unrolling standards that glow and originals that seem like conversations with departed players.

Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian, Live at Birdland (ECM). At 84, saxophonist Lee Konitz is something of a national treasure. The long, cool years have led to this 2009 session with fellow travelers: the late Philly-born Paul Motian on drums, the amazing bassist Charlie Haden, 74, and the surprising pianist Brad Mehldau, a mere 40. The four combine for a mystical swing through six standards.

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Samdhi (ACT). Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa continues to mine his South Indian heritage, as he did memorably on 2008's Kinsmen. But Mahanthappa, who grew up in Boulder, Colo., and got a Berklee College of Music degree, assembles a deeply American fusion-jazz band for this accessible set. Accents come from the South Indian Carnatic tradition. But there's funk and glory here, too. Samdhi, Sanskrit for "twilight," is an apt name for this shape-shifting quintet.

Branford Marsalis & Joey Calderazzo, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (Marsalis Music). Saxophonist Branford Marsalis consorts with Joey Calderazzo, the pianist of his quartet since 1998, for a session that is surprisingly sublime. Marsalis and Calderazzo sound classical in the best jazz sense: handsome melodies creating beauty and lots of free space for interaction.

Pat Martino, Undeniable: Live at Blues Alley (HighNote). Guitarist Pat Martino published his autobiography this fall. The South Philly native may have to add some chapters after sessions like this one, which returns him to his organ-jazz roots. On these seven tunes, Martino creates a hard-driving set full of frothy climaxes.


Contact staff writer Karl Stark at 215-854-5363 or kstark@phillynews.com.

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