Preston Frazier’s Best of 2014 (Jazz and Fusion Jazz): Simon Phillips, Oz Noy, Bobby Broom

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From the Breithaupt Brothers to Simon Phillips to Oz Noy, from Fabian Almazan to Bobby Broom to Miguel Zenon, it’s been an impressive year for jazz and fusion jazz. Here are my picks for the Best of 2014 …

No. 10 — THE BREITHAUPT BROTHERS – JUST PASSING THROUGH: SONGBOOK VOL. II: Sure, it’s a combination of many great recent tracks. Collectively known as Breithaupt Brothers, Don and Jeff Breithaupt have weaved a collection of strong collaborations on this release. “Songs For Swingin’ Lovers” featuring Denzel Sinclare and “Ghost Writer” featuring Sophia Milman not only showcases the brothers’ writing chops, but also their skill at arranging and production. There are too many fine elements on this record to overlook this CD.

No. 9 — FABIAN ALMAZAN – RHIZOME: The Cuban-born New Yorker follows up 2011’s Personalities with a more nuanced and challenging release. Fabian is an expressive and passionate jazz pianist and Rhizome gives him an additional canvas to paint his mosaic. He aptly employs a string quartet, vocals and a touch of synthesizer to entice and challenge the listener. “El Coqui’s Dream” and “Espejos” are two of my favorite jazz compositions of the year.

No. 8 — MIGUEL ZENON – IDENTITIES ARE CHANGEABLE: The New York-based tenor saxophonist explores his Puerto Rican roots with an effective blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms, complex time signatures and vocal interludes. The results are brash, festive, poignant and beautiful. The song “Through Culture and Tradition” effectively reflects the Puerto Rican experience, given a hint of the traditions of the island and the intensity of New York City. The rhythms are infectious and Miguel’s Zenon’s playing is dynamic and powerful. If music’s purpose is to take you to another place, Identities are Changeable is a total success.

No. 7 — HIROMI – ALIVE: I would initially think the album Alive would be a clash of cultures. In reality classically trained, Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara is quite at home as a jazz band leader and composer having worked in the past with Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea and Lenny White. On Alive she teams up with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips for their third full collaboration together. The sparks are undeniable as both Jackson and Phillips play off each other and Hiromi with wild abandon. Composer Hiromi weaves her Yamaha CFIII-S grand piano with amazing dexterity, sometimes rubbing against the rhythm but never stepping on it. Tracks such as “Wanderer” and “Seeker” demonstrate the bands versatility, as they effortlessly negotiate time signature changes and shift dynamics.

No. 6 — BILLY CHILDS – MAP TO THE TREASURE: REIMAGINING LAURA NYRO: The CD kicks off with a surprisingly effective reworking of “New York Tendaberry,” featuring Renee Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma, and ends with a stellar reading by Alison Krauss (featuring Jerry Douglas on dobro) of “And When I Die.” All 10 songs, aptly produced by Larry Klein, demonstrate Billy Childs’ passionate arranging skills — and, of course, his inventive piano playing. Childs and Klein do a fantastic job casting singers and players who only complement these classic compositions. The results are magical.

No. 5 — KIKI EBSEN – THE SCARECROW SESSIONS: More than a jazzy father’s day tribute to her father Buddy Ebsen, The Scarecrow Sessions give Kiki Ebsen a chance to showcase her excellent arranging chops. Who would have guessed that the song “If I Only Had A Brain” could sound so substantial? Part of the album’s success also lies in Ebsen’s classically trained and soulful voice. A compact but powerful core group of players (including John Patitucci, Chuck Loeb, David Mann and Henry Hey) fill out the sound nicely.

No. 4 — OZ NOY – TWISTED BLUES VOL. 2: This Israeli-born and New York City-based guitarist returns with another electric blend of tasteful electric blues and fiery jazz. Musicians are often known by the company they keep, so it’s telling that Noy’s Twisted Blues Vol. 2 features such luminaries as drummers Keith Carlock and Anton Fig, bassists Roscoe Beck and Will Lee, and guitar buddies Eric Johnson and Warren Haynes, among others. That said, the guests never outshine Noy’s talented writing and dynamic playing. You’ll be amazed, from the first track (“You Dig”) to the last (“Freedom Jazz Dance”). Oh, go out and get Twisted Blues Vol. 1 too!

No. 3 — CHRIS GREENE QUARTET – MUSIC APPRECIATION: This Chicago-based quartet mixes elements of blues, and rock in with traditional jazz — and the result is anything but smooth. Music Appreciation was recorded in a two-day span, yet shows a sophistication of a band who loves playing together. Credit four musicians who are masters of their instruments. Greene’s tenor saxophone hints of Wayne Shorter and Warren Marsh, but has a tone all its on. Drummer Steve Corley and bassist Marc Paine are perfect foils for each other — supportive yet expressive. Damian Espinosa is a master of his domain on the Fender Rhodes and acoustic piano. Listen to the track “Papuera” and you are hooked. But don’t stop there.

No. 2 — SIMON PHILLIPS – PROTOCOL II: The original Protocol album arrived from this jazz-rock great and Toto alum back in 1989. In 2013, after his final tour with Toto, Phillips assembled a phenomenal band with Steve Weingart on keyboards, Andy Timmons on guitar and Ernest Tibbs on bass. They recorded live, producing an astonishing collection of original jazz-fusion songs almost 25 years after Phillips’ first solo album. He excels as a band leader, producer, engineer and composer. In fact, one can almost forget that Phillips is one of the best drummers in the world. That is, until you hear the lead off track “Wildfire” or his deep groove on “Soothsayer.” Truly a band effort, Timmons, Weingart and Tibbs all shine in the ensemble. This is a must have for drummers, and jazz-fusion connoisseurs alike.

No. 1 — BOBBY BROOM – MY SHINING HOUR: I almost panicked when I discovered I didn’t have Bobby Broom’s My Shining Hour on my hard drive. I have gone a few weeks without hearing his elegant and expressive playing. Broom is just an expert at arranging of these classic songs. Combine that with a sublime and instinctive band featuring bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Makaya McCraven, and My Shining Hour is simply unforgettable. Put on the title track or the brilliantly vibrant Cole Porter classic “Just One Of Those Things,” and you’ll instantly know what I mean. For a man who has consistently made stellar records, this one stands out. Lucky for me, I found my CD.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at
Preston Frazier
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