Vijay Iyer: Historicity (ACT, 2009)
There are a lot of things I like about pianist and renaissance man Vijay Iyer, but perhaps my favorite of his qualities is his unswerving commitment to speak the truth. That comes across when you listen to him speak, but it also shines through when you hear him play. Iyer is always in pursuit, always moving forward, always absorbing and reconfiguring improvised music. Oh, and his current trio kicks ass, if I may use a technical term. Start with the track “Galang” on his new record, Historicity. And turn it up loud.
Fay Victor Ensemble: The FreeSong Suite (Greene Avenue, 2009)
Vocalist Fay Victor will amaze you. Her voice is strong and expressive, and her musical conception is unlike anything I’ve heard recently. Or maybe ever. This CD is divided into three large sections, and each of those sections is made up of vignettes and stories that will hold your attention lyrically as well as musically. The band is first-rate, feauting guitarist Anders Nilsson, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Michael “T.A.” Thompson. From free improv to the blues to alt-rock and back again, The FreeSong Suite is easily one of my top 10 records of 2009.
Terence Blanchard: Choices (Concord Records, 2009)
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Terence Blanchard began to use his public profile to advocate on behalf of his home city of New Orleans. He did this first with A Tale of God’s Will, his brilliant and moving recording documenting the devastation and the emotional response to it. On his new CD, Choices (Concord, 2009), Blanchard puts a more positive — but no less forceful — spin on the music, documenting the progress made by the people of New Orleans since the storm. Featuring spoken word from Dr. Cornel West and a killer band, Choices is a great bridge for your friends who are into conscious hip hop and for your activist friends.
John Ellis & Double-Wide: Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow (Hyena Records, 2008)
Many of your friends may already have heard John Ellis (even if they don’t know his name) because of his years with guitarist Charlie Hunter. On this record, Ellis brings the funk with organ, sousaphone (!) and drums. The title of the record says it all: This is music that will reach your hips as well as your head. Ellis is a wonderful player, and he knows how to make fun, grooving music that never sacrifices intelligence on the altar of style.
Kate Schutt: Telephone Game (ArtistShare, 2009)
Singer/songwriter Schutt is steeped in jazz, but not exclusively in jazz. And I already know this album works, because after Schutt appeared on The Jazz Session, a friend who is not a huge jazzhead bought the record and loves it. Schutt combines a love for stripped-down acoustic music with an adventurous spirit and an open heart.
Jason Crane hosts the online jazz interview show The Jazz Session.