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Bob Protzman: Ten 2009 Jazz CDs Worth Having

December 24th 2009

It seems someone’s always claiming jazz is dead. Well, a prominent jazz writer this year reported on his blog that he received 1,000 recordings for review. End of that discussion. After listening to a slightly lower number of CDs, I’ve come up with 10 that I found special for various reasons. Maybe you’ll agree.

In no particular order:

Dr. Lonnie Smith: “Rise Up!’’ (Palmetto) Jazz organ is everywhere, sometimes creating a “when you’ve heard one you’ve heard ‘em all feeling.’’ The soulful, funky, inventive “Dr.’’ Smith is a wonderful exception.

Joe Locke/David Hazeltine: “Mutual Admiration Society 2’’ (Sharp Nine)

Locke (vibraphone and marimba) and Hazeltine (piano) attest to their musical compatibility, complementing each other beautifully in a shimmering, swinging blend of their instruments and ideas.

Jackie Ryan: “Doozy’’ (OpenArt)

It all begins with the song, and the talented, versatile vocalist ‘s double CD has the most varied, surprising repertoire imaginable, plus smart arrangements and great playing.

Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow, Antonio Sanchez: “Quartet Live’’ (Concord)

The warm, singing sounds of Burton’s vibes and Metheny’s guitar thrilled listeners 30-plus years ago. This CD from a recent reunion tour proves the thrill is not gone.

Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge: “The Comet’s Tail: Performing the Compositions of Michael Brecker’’ (MAMA)

Owen and his outstanding big band recorded this terrific album several months after the 2007 death of exceptional and influential tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker. The CD, just released last August, affirms that Brecker also was a talented composer in the group’s performance of seven of his tunes, all given expanded and highly appealing arrangements by Owen and others. It’s a marvelous mostly high-energy fusion and modern jazz tribute (, balanced by a pair of impassioned ballads) to Brecker.

Tom Harrell: “Prana Dance’’ (HighNote)

Among trumpeters, Terell Stafford and Pittsburgh’s Sean Jones also produced high quality recordings, but Harrell gets the nod for maturity and consistency as player, composer and leader.

Elder: “Virtue’’ (Sony Masterworks)

Some would dismiss this 22-year-old Russian-born pianist as merely a virtuoso, but what a scintillating mix of various acoustic/electric styles and power and delicacy he offers. Whew!

Gerald Wilson Orchestra: “Detroit’’ (Mack Avenue)

On this commissioned suite of tunes honoring the Motor City, the senior citizen (91!) among today’s bandleaders proves again that his orchestra comes closest to having real style (ala Basie or Ellington) that is immediately recognizable and thrilling to hear.

Stefon Harris & Blackout: “Urbanus’’ (Concord)

Vibraphonist and marimba player Harris and Blackout are a hip combo of contemporary and straightahead jazz–funky, bluesy, bop-ish, grooving, and natural sounding rather than forced which so often is the case in this situation. Drummer Terreon Gully is as important as or more so than the leader.

Kurt Elling: “Dedicated to the One I Love: Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman’’ (Concord) Only the creative Kurt Elling among today’s singers would have the audacity to “cover’’ the revered Johnny Hartman-John Coltrane collaboration, and the voice, skill, and imagination to not only pull it off, but also make it his own.

Bob Protzman, Erie (PA) Life Magazine; “Everything Jazz,”  ng Jazz,” 3-6 p.m. Fridays, JAZZ FM, 88.5 & 104.9 (streams at

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