We're fortunate to experience so much new music year after year at SFJAZZ—2014 being no exception! We've compiled a list (in no particular order) of our Top 15 albums of 2014 that we've also experienced live. The list isn't exhaustive—if you have any favorites from the year, comment below or give us a shout on social media! Below are the first five... look for the second batch tomorrow.
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Drummer, California-native Jeff Ballard's debut as leader, Times Tales (Okeh Records) brings together a monster trio—featuring guitarist Lionel Loueke & 2013-14 SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director Miguel Zenón—with unbelievable chemistry (as Ballard put it: "We’re all really drum-heads"). The trio kicked off the 32nd Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival back in June!
2013-14 SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director Bill Frisell debuted Guitar In The Space Age (Okeh Records) during his January 2014 residency, before heading into the studio. Featuring slide guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen, the project pays tribute to the birth of the electric guitar. As Frisell told us back in 2013:
"We start talking, and I hadn't even heard [Greg Leisz] play, I didn't really know anything about him, but in that conversation, I just knew that we were sort of destined to be playing together. There are just some people like that, that I just know right away... We grew up with the history of that Fender guitar, you know Fender happened, and Rock & Roll happened in our childhood… So I've been wanting to do something, acknowledging all that guitar stuff."
Violinist Regina Carter treated San Francisco to the world premiere of Southern Comfort (Sony Masterworks) back in May 2013, part of her first residency as a 2013-14 SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director (in which she also presented the late John Blake, Jr. and Carolina Chocolate Drops). In Southern Comfort, Carter traces her father's Alabama roots through music. After releasing the album earlier this year, Carter brought Southern Comfort back to SFJAZZ for her second residency.
Also: Carter gave an insightful interview and in-studio performance on KQED Forum.
Torch bearer of the afrobeat legacy, Seun Kuti (son of the great Fela Kuti) & Egypt 80's performance at the 32nd Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival in June remains one of our wildest dance parties ever (the show was seated too!). A Long Way To The Beginning (Knitting Factory) blends the sounds and stylings of contemporary music (enter producer Robert Glasper) with the traditional afrobeat sound—music for the head, heart and feet.
Concerts at Grace Cathedral are an SFJAZZ tradition going back to the origins of the organization. In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral (Okeh Records), recorded live at the 30th Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival (2012), sees Branford Marsalis join the ranks of Joe Henderson, Pharoah Sanders, Charles Lloyd, Dewey Redman, Anthony Braxton and many others. Marsalis notes:
"Every room has a sound of its own... and there is definitely a difference playing in Grace Cathedral, with its seven-second delay. Playing solo interludes in other rooms where my quartet performs was not going to prepare me. I had to hear that Grace Cathedral sound in my head."
Read more on SFJAZZ's history with Grace Cathedral and Marsalis' solo album via our full review of In My Solitude.