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A personal view on the best of the best Jazz albums of 2011.

(1) My pick for best album of the year is – ‘Undeniable’Pat Martino Quartet – Live at Blues Alley *****. This is as close to a perfect album as it is possible to get and the move from ‘Blue Note’ to the ‘High Note’ label has worked well for Pat. Because it is a live recording and because there is a magical interplay between the band members and the audience the band drops deeper into the groove than ever. I love Jazz guitar and I love Pat Martino for his warm groove vibe. He is always superb but on this album he has reached new heights.

The trade mark sound is still there but the musical ideas appear fresh and exciting. While every track is near perfect, the last track ‘Side Effect’ is simply astonishing. After two listens I realised that the tune was based upon the changes to Cal Massey’s ‘These are Soulful Days’. Lee Morgan Played this tune and for a while it dropped out of the repertoire. It later appeared on a Joey DeFrancesco album on which Pat was the guest artist. It hardly seems possible to improve upon that groove Jazz classic but Pat has done so. Late last year I heard this band play in Birdland and during the break I spoke to Pat. For months ‘These are Soulful Days’ had been stuck in my brain and I could not recall who had recorded it. Thinking it was Grant Green or Wes Montgomery I asked him. ‘Oh I think it cropped up on a Joey D’ album’, he said. Then it all came back to me – it was Pat on guitar on that CD. I felt embarrassed and said, ‘you were on guitar I recall’. He smiled and told me that he had been working on a new version with a changed head. Now I realise that this was the tune Pat spoke of and that is the icing on the cake for me.

It is not only Pats extraordinary soloing but his comping that commands attention here. When the others are soloing he appears to comp a walking bass line in unison with the foot pedal bass line of Tony Monaco’s fiery B3. To me this comping feels as solid as Freddie Greens. The other band members are Tony Monaco (B3), Eric Alexander (ts), Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (drums). Tony Monaco just gets better and better and my friend B3 player Michel Benebig regards him as being up there with the all time greats. Eric Alexander is also superb here. He has had a long tenure with Pat and Tony and he is the perfect fit for this music. Lastly there is Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts. His credentials are second to none and because he is such a versatile drummer he was the perfect choice. His drumming is responsive and inventive and it may be his inclusion that lifts the album to perfection.

(2) My pick of first equal for the best New Zealand Jazz Album of the year is Alan Brown’s – Between The Spaces. **** For a review of this album see my earlier post. I play this album every week and my enjoyment has not diminished over the months of listening. I have purchased a number of copies to give to family as Christmas presents. Support New Zealand Jazz and purchase a few copies for presents now. There are copies available from JB Hi Fi in Queen Street. Other than that order from Ode Records online. The recipients will love you for it and you will put a groove into Christmas that can never be erased.

(3) The other pick for the best New Zealand Jazz album of the year (first equal) is Tom Dennison’s –Zoo. **** This album works on so many levels and every New Zealand Jazz lover should rush out and buy a copy. For more information read my review in an earlier post in this blog. I especially enjoyed writing that review and even though I may have resorted to hyperbole it was justified. The CD launch of ‘Zoo‘ is to be held at the CJC on Wednesday 25th January 2012. Again I would urge you to rush out to JB Hi Fi and grab a few copies as gifts. You can also purchase from Rattle Records online or download. Your Christmas holidays would be the poorer without these two albums and so if you want the love and admiration of your most difficult relatives – buy New Zealand Jazz as gifts.

(4) Best Jazz Club of the Year; no contest – the CJC. Thanks Roger, Caro and Ben for the music and the place to enjoy it in.

(5) Best New Zealand Record label – Rattle Records. Keep doing what you do Steve you are growing our music in the best possible way. You have the touch and the vision.

(6) Best World Music/Jazz album – Natalia Mann’s – Pacif.ist. This is also recorded by Rattle Records and it is an extraordinary and exotic journey to embark on. I will be doing a review of this fabulous album shortly. One rainy night I turned up to the launch of this album and was entranced from the first chord. Natalia Mann plays harp and on this album she is accompanied by 10 musicians (mostly Turkish musicians playing traditional instruments). Her husband is the drummer and the array of Turkish percussion instruments at his command is impressive.

(7) Best Jazz House Party of the year was when Roger Manins rocked Mt Wellington to its core with the help of Michel & Shem Benebig (B3 and voice) – plus a large and very enthusiastic horn section. It took me nearly a month to get ‘Every Day I Sing The Blues’ out of my head. I am not complaining though.

(8) Best Jazz anecdote of the year is from Peter Kings new biography on living the Jazz life. Peter is an alto player and he was playing at one of the better London clubs in the early 60’s when a very drunken Peter O’Toole sauntered over during a break and plonked himself down at the drum kit. The drummer yelled “Hey get off now” to which O’Toole starchily informed him that he was Peter O’Toole the actor. The drummer fired back immediately, “I don’t care if you’re Lawrence of Arabia, you can get off those fucking drums immediately”.

Lastly I must thank the musicians, many of whom have become close friends. Jazz musicians are the unsung heroes of music because they reach beyond the ordinary every time they play. They do this for the sake of creating something magical and best of all we get to participate in that magic. None gets rich or even earn a basic living from their playing but they do it anyhow. When walking a tightrope, backwards steps are not an option.

Thanks to all who read this blog which has been running now for around ten months. I have had over 6000 hits during that time and that is what keeps the momentum. The site has followers from many countries and that is satisfying, as it promotes New Zealand Jazz beyond these shores. Keep visiting the site, make comments and forgive my occasional typos. This blog is about promoting and analyzing the music we all love – Jazz and improvised music in all its forms.

These are soulful days – Pat Martino in 2009.               

Yours in the Music and have a happy and safe Festive Season.

John Fenton – Jazz Local 32.

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