I have followed Wynton's music since the 1990s, put him on the first cover of Jazzwise, met him once briefly backstage at the Festival Hall a few years before when I was working for long defunct magazine Jazz on CD, interviewed him at the end of the 1990s over the phone when he was still on Columbia and at the peak of his early career powers, he was stubborn and talked about Bach eventually being helpful I guessed by his tone although he does that regularly in interviews, seen him play concert halls, jam in the Vortex, and even rap at Ronnie’s. The last time I heard him play was when he shared the stage with Wayne Shorter at the Barbican and afterwards sat with the super connected publicist Judy Lipsey waiting for the great man to show (which he did not) at Smithfield cocktail bar the Oriole as Tom Farmer warmed the room and Wynton's musicians and entourage chilled.
These days because Wynton plays mainly in big band settings, often just sitting among the trumpet section not needing at all to conduct or even with the grandest symphony orchestras in tow the distant days when he led a small band seem remote although from time to time he does it still and is an inveterate jammer in addition always in small band settings opening up say with 'Sweet Georgia Brown'. Live I would contend that he is even better than on record but some records are stone classics. Black Codes for instance has influenced players from different styles, say Byron Wallen who emerged out of the Woody Shaw sound. Incredible technique, brilliant stage manner. I don't care for the didacticism and his close relationship with big business but that is nothing to do with music and I suppose you could argue you cannot build an institution and maintain one as he has done by not doing this. No one else hand on heart could challenge him as the greatest living jazz trumpeter all caveats aside.
A brilliant film composer, superb live, I have seen him in clubs and concert halls, never interviewed him but would love to, he writes operas, leads bands, brings on new players and encourages everyone. He talks tough, knows his politics and collaborates with leading academics, did a huge amount after Katrina to help New Orleans his home town in any way he could. Blanchard rocks. Album to get: Bounce.
On the phone once Hargrove put me on hold. He's a busy man and does not mince words! Hard bop fans forget often that his sound goes back to Clifford Brown. Trad guys might even hear Little Jazz in his sound. He's big in neosoul (D'Angelo), cool, has incredible players you may have never heard of in his bands and is the best dressed male jazz musician on the planet. Albums? Go back to the 1990s and find Diamond in the Rough.
Well, Stanko I have interviewed many times and visited his home in Warsaw where we listened to Cecil Taylor records and he made very nice tea. Last time I saw him was in Bath. He is an aesthete and is well read. I love his music and always will particularly when he plays free which he does not do much now or when he does wraps it inside disarmingly simple melodies. A fine composer, albums to get: Leosia or Music for K.
I have never heard Rava play live or met him. His sound like Stanko's belongs with the angels. A hero in Italy he has brought on many young players including Giovanni Guidi one of today's most individual pianists anywhere. Album to get: The Pilgrim and the Stars.
Ambrose Akinmusire First time I heard Ambrose was when he was a teenager and was playing in the Steve Coleman Big Band. He did not become a star until much later. He's a fine composer and small band leader. He reminds me of Kenny Wheeler. Album to get: RisingGrace.
Wadada Leo Smith
The most significant avant jazz trumpeter on the planet. Check out his sublime fairly recent work with Vijay Iyer.
I have only heard Eddie once playing a club set in an upscale pizza place and spoke to him far too briefly beforehand a few years ago. We talked about Miles Davis, you got to have a gimmick Miles advised him! Eddie is a very intellectual and interesting person to talk to and like David Murray is good at deadpan tongue in cheek chat. We moved on to chat a bit about psychiatry an expertise of his and inevitably the Mwandishi band he was important in with the Herbster. Henderson has a lovely buttery sound and plenty of fire power. Go for his Capricorn period or any record that he is on.
Unique Japanese influenced sound involving the timbre of a flute, electronics and massive amounts of space.
Brilliant tone, Eastern language filtering in and quarter tone technique. Open sound.
Unique jazz rock and prog sensibility absorbed into her compositionally driven sound. Stratospheric rise with Dinosaur.
Mainstream Cubop. Influenced by Dizzy Gillespie. First bandleader I ever saw in Ronnie Scott's. A revelation.
Nils Petter Molvær
Influential Norwegian future jazz charismatic player currently with a Sly and Robbie album out. Album to get: the classic Khmer.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Go for Anthem. Snappy dresser, very affable guy to talk to. Imaginative, brave, daring.
Nicholas Payton Controversial, radical trad, influential New Orleans figurehead digging deep into trad and mainstream terrain. Increasingly plugged in. Expect the unexpected.
16 Jeremy Pelt
Best hard bop stylist on the planet. Think Freddie Hubbard. Live, I have seen him in a school hall and in a club, he is a natural communicator.
I first heard him as an unknown in Robert Glasper's band. Now's the time. The new Roy Hargrove??
Innovative middle eastern sounds and a cool amalgam of compositionally driven concepts heralded Ahmed's remarkable rise. On Radiohead's radar.
His records are hugely collectable. I have only seen him once playing a theatre in Warsaw in the 1990s. That was unforgettable. Think Clifford Brown, think the song of singing.
China Moses, Nightintales, MPS **** RECOMMENDED
THE THING about this album is that it tears up a notion of genre because the sound is so open and weirdly contemporary yet sort of retro as well particularly in some of the later tracks. There is no dumbing down. ‘Running’, the first track, sprung forward from the bass of Level Neville Malcolm provides a hustle and ignites with the energy of Anthony Marshall’s production that draws in the heat of R&B and yet chills it for a good few minutes in the jazz fridge. China Moses has a whole lot of style and is completely in control, poised and primed. ‘Put It On The Line,’ has a monster kick drum and bass-constructed groove roaring up at you from the wiry basement throb to the ease of reluctant horns simmering as Moses languidly reaches the chorus against the deliberately lazy backing blend of vocals peeking in. Luke Smith is on piano, Rhodes and organ; Sir Nev on bass playing a blinder; and Jerry Brown is on drums crafting the core of it all.
The big song? Well it has got to be the beautiful, ‘complicated,’ torch song ‘Ticking Boxes’ introduced lovingly by Smith on piano where China shows her emotions best of all on a song you could well hear Mary J. Blige hardly do more justice to but yes of course you’d like to hear Blige pile in with a version of her own. The lyrics are never trite in China’s hands, she has the ability of making you believe it all however make believe, the empowering chorus like an anthem of self-help and let it go. Ain’t about the past/ain’t about worrying ’bout tomorrow she solemnly relates,all neat and direct, an enveloping shadow conveyed in such a layered way, the drama of the song spun from the flimsiest of threads into the purest of silk and complete with an oblique ending. And the contemporary beats coming in here play their part after the main business of the song is done and the smoke of trumpet adds to the mood and yet is not too much of a pose. The songs were written by Moses and Marshall, and this is their most moving one for sure.
Overall China seems to have grown as an artist on this album and she has as ever formidable interpretative powers at her beck and call, the confessional resigned quasi-chanson-like asides of ‘Whatever’ one angle she can curl her voice around, and by contrast the sass and cheek provided by the flapper-like fun of ‘Watch Out’ part of the entertaining Caro Emerald-like mix and a boon for fans of a more vintage sound. The only weak spot is ‘Hungover’ towards the end but that’s also the most fun. I suppose China has learnt a good deal from her mother Dee Dee Bridgewater in shaping her voice and storytelling and how to project and pounce meaningfully on every little nuance; and China’s idol Dinah Washington’s influence is also surely fed into her overall approach but now so embedded you would scarcely notice as her own timbre and styling is so different. The main thing about this album is it is about now and not then. Its pithy elegance, sheer catchiness and joie de vivre also more than play their part. Groovy trumpeter Takuya Kuroda guests on the big ballad trumpet solo on ‘Lobby Call,’ the other stand-out song on the album and a number that contains a certain Strayhornian passion and architecture, while Kuroda’s fellow trumpeter Theo Croker adds dash to the little doo-wop retro Francophile craziness of ‘Blame Jerry.’ Released at the end of March. China Moses (above: photo Sylvain Norget) will be appearing as part of Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project Love and Soul in Birmingham on 21 May. Tickets link