It was a great year for Latin Jazz and for Jazz artists in general with some phenomenal recordings released. As I look at the best of the year, it seems dominated by so-called Latin Jazz artists -- so-called because I don't always like that kind of separation along ethnic lines. This point is proven to me once again as my choices for "Best of the Year" are not broken into ethnic categories but according to who was (in my estimation) the best... or at least my favorite. And the "Latin Jazz" were strongly represented.
Best Guitar Jazz Album of the Year...
"When You Passed By" by Toshi Onizuka
It was a remarkable album of incredible virtuosity and originality. It was the product of a Japanese guitarist who studied flamenco in Spain before coming to the United States and creating a jazz sound which bore the impressions of all of those influences.
The compositions were brilliant and the arrangements were unique. I have never heard anything remotely close to its grace and beauty.
Best Sax Jazz Album of the Year...
"Second Cycle" by Melissa Aldana
Melissa Aldana is a young sax player from Chile but is rolling through New York City like a storm front. Her album is also marked by superb original compositions and two well-placed and well-arranged covers.
As was written in the review of her latest album, she shows a great maturity and is extremely well-complimented by her three band-mates.
This is her second album and along with her first album "Free Fall" has already created a small body of recordings that hold great promise for the future.
Best Vocal Jazz Album of the Year...
"Winters & Mays" by Aimée Allen
The original review from October 16, 2012 is here: http://travisrogersjr.weebly.com/3/post/2012/10/october-16th-20121.html.
As sterling as her vocal performance is, her writing skills are just that impressive. Enough cannot be said of her sometimes sassy, often sultry and forever sweet approach.
Best Jazz Large Ensemble or Big Band Album...
"Multiverse" by Bobby Sanabria Big Band
The original August 8, 2012 review is here: http://travisrogersjr.weebly.com/3/post/2012/08/multiverse-the-latest-cd-release-from-bobby-sanabria.html
Bobby is one of the greatest drummers to ever grace the planet. I listen to him again and again and wonder just how many arms the guy has.
Don't let the kindness of the man fool you, he bursts forth with power and energy like Shiva on crack. In my list of all-time favorite drummers, Bobby is in the Top Three. This album shows why.
Best Jazz Duet or Trio Album of the Year...
Día y Medio (A Day and a Half) by Berta Rojas and Paquito D'Rivera
It is a rare occurrence to find a duet of Jazz guitar and saxophone but this was a delightful rarity and a collaboration that still charms me even four months after its release.
This was like a soundscape of Berta's homeland of Paraguay. The title is taken from a the day and a half that Berta and Paquito spent in Paraguay while on tour after which Paquito remarked that "a day and a half is not enough." It is a beautiful exploration of Paraguay through the music of Paraguay's great composers and performers.
Best Jazz Live Performance of the Year...
Live at the Candlelight in Portland by SoulMates
The original review of the March 16, 2012 performance is located here: http://travisrogersjr.weebly.com/2/post/2012/03/all-good-things.html
It seemed like all of Portland turned out for the final SoulMates performance at the Candlelight and the trio played with all the passion and fire that have marked every performance from them.
Ironically, the second place finisher was also a SoulMates performance--this time at Jimmy Mak's in Portland and you can read about that here: http://travisrogersjr.weebly.com/2/post/2012/04/i-believe-in-music-i-believe-in-love-a-tribute-to-donny-hatahway-and-roberta-flack.html
Best Jazz Song of the Year...
"Song for Fighter" by Toshi Onizuka
Song for Fighter was composed by Toshi Onizuka for solo guitar. It was written shortly after the March 11, 2011 disaster in Northern Japan. His dedication is to “everyone who follows a thorny path.”
It is not a cheer or an encouragement but a consolation. There are moments of utter heartbreak followed by moments of hope. The song fades on a sad but optimistic note.
This is my favorite track of the album "When You Passed By" and upon long reflection it must be pronounced my favorite song released in 2012.
Hear a sample here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/toshionizuka2
Best Jazz Album of the Year...
"Afro Blue Monk" by Chembo Corniel.
The original review is here from September 9, 2012: http://travisrogersjr.weebly.com/3/post/2012/09/afro-blue-monkthe-upcoming-release-from-the-chembo-corniel-quintet.html
It featured brilliant performances and arrangements from Elio Villafranca, a vocal interpretation of "Afro Blue" by Mongo Santamaria's own daughter, Ileana and world-class percussion from the amazing Chembo Corniel himself.
Of all the great artists, recordings and performances of 2012, "Afro Blue Monk" by Chembo Corniel has it all.
What a great year for recordings. So many wonderful people making wonderful, heartfelt music. A warm thanks to all of you musicians who made the year brighter and more hopeful because of what you have bestowed upon us all.