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Cassandra Wilson’s Sterling “Silver Pony”

Singer releases new album featuring John Legend and Ravi Coltrane

Thanks in part to a series of genre-bending albums for Blue Note Records, Cassandra Wilson is one of the most influential jazz singers of the last 20 years. Her latest album for Blue Note, “Silver Pony,” is a hybrid of live and studio recordings with her working band, plus some special guests including John Legend and Ravi Coltrane. She talked with JT about her creative process when recording.

The Many Hats of Dave Koz

Saxophonist releases new album and hosts Smooth Jazz Christmas tour

Radio show host, TV show guest, cruise majordomo, tour organizer and, of course, saxophonist: Dave Koz may be the hardest-working man in the smooth-jazz field. His new album, “Hello Tomorrow,” produced by Marcus Miller and John Burk, includes mostly original material, with the exception of a cover of Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love With You.” Lee Mergner caught up with the multi-tasking Koz to talk about his singing, new album and upcoming smooth-jazz Christmas tour.

Ramsey Lewis’ Proclamation of Hope

Pianist performs large work dedicated to legacy of Abraham Lincoln

The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., recently presented the East Coast premiere of Ramsey Lewis’ “Proclamation of Hope: A Symphonic Poem.” The work was written in commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, and reflects on the life and legacy of the 16th president. Conducted by Scott Hall, “Proclamation of Hope” was performed by 23 musicians, including Lewis, bassist Josh Ramos, drummer Leon Joyce and vocalist Dee Alexander. In addition, the performance was taped by WTTW for future national broadcast on PBS stations. Lewis spoke with JT about his inspiration for the piece.

John McLaughlin Comes to America

Guitarist sits in with Roots on Jimmy Fallon and tours North America

In early November guitarist John McLaughlin kicked off his tour of America with a special appearance on the “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” show on NBC. McLaughlin sat in with the show’s house band, The Roots. Later this month, McLaughlin will perform and be the guest of honor at the New Universe Music Festival in Raleigh, N.C., on Nov. 20 and 21. That festival, organized by Abstract Logix founder Souvik Datta, also includes performances by Lenny White, Jimmy Herring and other noted jazz/fusion players. Go ahead, John.

Nina Simone: Strength & Bravery

Kellylee Evans is a Canadian-based jazz singer whose latest CD, Nina, was inspired by Simone's music.

Strong. Sweet. Sharp as ice. As gentle as falling snowflakes. Sometimes frightening. Always nourishing. That, for me, was/is/will always be, the music of Nina Simone. It's a sound so squarely wrapped up with the living of my life, that I can't say where my experience with Ms. Simone begins or where it ends. She's there and that's it.

Music Review: Ray Charles - Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters

Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters gives music fans a peek inside the Ray Charles vault with ten previously unreleased songs. Available October 26th on Concord Records, this is the rare archival release that actually hangs together like a real album. Rather than release an expensive box set only a hardcore completist would appreciate, Rare Genius offers forty or so minutes of prime Ray Charles. The songs were originally recorded over the course of three decades, the 1970s-'90s, yet the album flows smoothly. None of these are scratchy cassette demos — the fidelity of these studio tracks is sterling throughout.

Studio musicians were brought in to flesh out some of the more skeletal arrangements. Seeing as these were in some cases unfinished recordings, the producers decided to tastefully approximate the sound Charles likely had in mind. Whether or not this is appropriate, or even acceptable, is certainly debatable. Posthumous releases by a variety of artists have been ruined by the intrusions of overzealous producers.

Luckily this project was overseen by John Burk, co-producer of Charles' final studio album, Genius Loves Company, who approached the matter with the utmost respect for the material. Nothing on Rare Genius sounds out of place; the enhancements blend in perfectly. In fact, I couldn't even tell what elements were newly recorded.

As for the songs themselves, there are many highlights. "It Hurts To Be In Love" is a jazzy, swinging number featuring Charles' strongest vocal on the album. "I'm Gonna Keep On Singin'" coasts along on a light funk groove, with tasty horn licks and seemingly improvised vocal interjections. Charles' much celebrated country-and-western side emerges on a deeply soulful reading of Hank Cochran's "A Little Bitty Tear."

Speaking of country, Charles joins forces with another departed legend, Johnny Cash, on the closing track. The only tune not sourced from the Ray Charles vault, this 1981 version of Kris Kristofferson's "Why Me, Lord?" was found in Sony's vault. Billed as a duet, it should be understood that Cash actually sings lead with Charles' contributing backing vocals and keyboard accompaniment

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