Top Ten CDs from 2015

This is the list of the best CD of 2015, according to me. These days I mostly listen to jazz and I have big preference for jazz guitar and for organ trios (that’s a group with guitar, Hammond B3 organ and drums) and in general I prefer small groups as opposed to large bands.

The list below is mostly in random order, except for the first entry – which for me was the best CD of the year.

  • “Messin’ With Mister T.”  (Dave Stryker)  I have followed guitarist Dave Stryker for over ten years, and he seems to be getting better every year.  This CD is a tribute to tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, in whose band Dave Stryker played for over 10 years.  In addition to his regular organ trio Dave has invited premier saxophonists of today to play on this record. The list includes Eric Alexander, Chris Potter and Jimmy Heath.  It’s hard to pick my favorite cuts from this record – at the moment I would choose “Impressions” and “Gibraltar”.  In my opinion this is the best jazz CDs to come out this year.
  • “Family” (Steve Johns)  Steve Johns is a drummer and on this record he leads a band consisting of his son on bass and his wife on tenor and soprano saxes. In addition he has two special guests playing guitar: Bob DeVoe and Dave Stryker.  I listened to this CD a lot, and even attended the CD release gig at the Kitano in NYC.
  • “Blue” (Vic Juris) – This trio (guitar, bass, drums) record was first released in September, but I only found out about it in December. I was driving in my car when the song “Lonely Woman” came on and it was beatiful! “Lonely Woman” is a tune written by Horace Silver, and made famous by Ornette Coleman. Vic’s version is actually very close in arrangement to the original recording by Horace Silver, he is showing his chops by playing piano lines and chords on a guitar. A beautiful record.
  • “The Real Thing” (Eric Alexander)  Great CD form tenor man Eric Alexander. I’m familiar with Eric’s work because I have seen him perform on Tuesdays with Mike LeDonne quartet. This record has an additional treat for me – guitarist Pat Martino is a guest on several tracks.
  • “Say When” (Steve Davis) Steve Davis is trombonist I like.  Among other bands he plays in a group called One For All, which also includes Eric Alexander and Jimmy Rotondi. I was lucky to meet Steve Davis at the Jamey Aebersold summer jazz camp in Louisville.  This record is hard swinging main stream jazz album, with some unusual takes on standards  “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “What Is This Thing Called Love”.
  • “Afro Blue” (Harold Mabern) Harold Mabern is a pianist who has been on the jazz scene for a long time (for example he played with Wes Mongomery). This record is collaboration between Harold Mabern a stable of some of the best jazz singers and musicians on the scene today. This includes singers such as Nora Jones, Jane Monheit and Kurt Elling, horn players Eric Alexander,  Jeremy Pelt and Steve Turre and guitarist Peter Bernstein appears.  In fact to promote this record Harold Mabern appeared at Google. Check out that performance here.
  • “AwwlRight” (Mike LeDonne) Mike LeDonne is an organist who leads a “Goover Quarter” at Smoke nearly every Tuesday evening. Typically this group includes Eric Alexander on tenor and  Peter Bernstein, a favorite of mine, on guitar. This CD is a sampling of what this group does. I dare you to listen to this CD and not tap your foot!
  • “Catch and Release” (Nick Hempton) I confess, I bought this CD because Peter Bernstein was one of the musicians. Turned out Peter was only on one cut, yet the rest of the CD is actually great. Nick Hempton is saxophonist whose compositions comprise this record.  All the songs were recorded at Smalls jazz club in NYC. The title “Catch and Release” refers to the unusual way this CD was put together. Each cut was recorded, mixed and then released on the Internet, and only then the musicians returned to Smalls to record another. Eventually there were enough tunes to make a whole record.
  • “Search for Peace” (Heads of State) Another gem from Smoke Session Records. Four veteran musicians, whose names I have often heard on the radio but wasn’t very familiar with, came together and made this record.
  • “All I Know” (Rachel Caswell) Rachel Caswell is a vocalist from Loiusville (I think). This is an unusual record in that the only accompaniment consists of guitar or bass – that is all the songs are performed with voice and guitar or voice and bass. There are couple of reasons I like this record. First Rachel has a lovely voice that is pleasant to listen to, second I like music that is minimally arranged and having just one instrument plus voice is very effective, finally the guitar player is Dave Stryker and I love the way his style of playing mixes with the singing.

Old Speakers

So, I had a set of nice Infinity speakers sitting in the basement from the days of having big stereo systems. They were collecting dust. Until recently I discovered Amphony audio amplifiers. The are tiny stereo audio amplifiers, that use bluetooth input. I got one from Amazon and now I can play music from my phone, iPod or tablet through my nice speakers again.

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Lead sheet for “These are the Soulful Days”

I always liked this tune – I heard Pat Martino play it – and I finally figure out the chords and made out a lead sheet. Here is Pat Martino playing the tune.

I had most of the chords correct – but I got some final help from a transcriptions book by Joerg Heuser. Visit his site to see a lot of incredible transcriptions he has done.

I’m pretty sure all the melody notes are correct pitches – but timing may be a little off. I’ll gladly accept correction.

“These Are The Soulful Days” Lead Sheet

Please note that the tune was written by Cal Massey.

Fender Blues Jr.

>Turns out the small Fender Blues Jr. is ok for practicing. But when playing with my partner it’s too low and does not have enough bass. So, I have to stick with my bigger fender amp for playing out.


>Got a new amp this weekend. First I bought a Fender Princeton 112. But it had a low level hum that really drove me crazy. So I returned and got a Fender Blues Jr. Now this amp sounds like I wanted it to sound.