There are certain venues that become a home away from home for many musicians. Places where the vibe is right, the crowd is always involved and management is friendly. The Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, California is one of these places and the favorite venue of pianist Benny Green. Returning to the site where he recorded a live album on his 30th birthday, Green recorded “Live in Santa Cruz” to mark both the 20th anniversary of that gig and his 50th birthday. The night and the performance were magical, as the trio featuring bassist David Wong and drummer Kenny Washington lit up Kuumbwa with a program of all original compositions by Green.
“Passion World” from vocalist Kurt Elling certainly lives up to its title. It is indeed his most ‘worldly’ CD to date, as Elling casts his net far and wide, from Brazil to Ireland, Germany to France, Scotland to Cuba to Iceland. In terms of its conceptual scope and its breadth of influences, it’s the most ambitious project yet from the preeminent male vocalist in jazz. It is also Elling’s most star-studded disc, featuring a small battalion of guest collaborators working in tandem with the singer’s much-traveled quintet. The guests include veteran trumpeter Arturo Sandoval; the widely lauded young vocalist Sara Gazarek; German trumpet star Till Bronner; French accordion virtuoso Richard Galliano; the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and its founder-leader, saxophonist Tommy Smith; and the world-renowned WDR Big Band and Orchestra from Germany, featuring pianist Frank Chastenier.
Also this week, pianist and composer Aaron Diehl follows up his 2012 debut with “Space, Time, Continuum,” as his core trio is joined by the iconic tenor saxophonist Benny Golson and the magisterial baritone saxophonist Joe Temperly; 11-year-old jazz sensation and piano prodigy Joey Alexander debuts with “My Favorite Things”; and guitarist Al Di Meola introduces his new six-piece band on “Elysium”.