Archive for December, 2013

the top 10 albums of 2013

Redemptive songs from the South, a British folk vet making electric noise in Nashville and the chilled spiritual bliss of a longstanding gospel troupe – that, along with sounds that stretch from Louisville to Mali – make up the best new recordings to surface during the past year.

As has been the case in past years, this critic’s pick list of the Top 10 contemporary music albums of 2013 is presented without rankings. While there were enough also-rans to fill out another entire list (with Elvis Costello and The Roots, Mike Keneally, Linda Thompson, Bill Frisell, Nick Lowe and Randall Bramblett leading the charge), these 10 picks come you as equals. Each is as rewarding and recommended as the other.

Here, then, is the best of what 2013 gave us.

jason isbell southeastern+ Jason Isbell: Southeastern – Former Drive-By Trucker Isbell, already one of today’s finest new generation Southern songwriters, offers an album of personal redemption. Largely acoustic, it celebrates his new marriage and sobriety. But the confessional fare is given greater weight when contrasted next to nasty electric recollections like Super 8 that just tell us how out of control his demons became.

richard thompson+ Richard Thompson: Electric – British folk-rock songwriter and guitarist Thompson teams with his Americana equal, Buddy Miller, to create possibly the most ruggedly English sounding album ever to emerge out of Nashville. While the title speaks to Thompson’s incendiary guitarwork, the record’s final songs, The Snow Goose and Saving the Good Stuff for You, are acoustic reminders of his outstanding compositional prowess.

aoife o'donovan fossils + Aoife O’Donovan: Fossils – Given her work over the years with the bluegrass unit Crooked Still and recent collaborations with The Goat Rodeo Sessions, Noam Pikelny and even Garrison Keillor, O’Donovan is no rookie. But Fossils is her splendid solo debut, a record that allows the whispery mystery of her singing to address songs of wistful folk authority and Band-like jubilation.

blind boys of alabama+ Blind Boys of Alabama: I’ll Find A Way – Over a decade has passed since the Blind Boys became a Grammy winning, genre busting voice of gospel music. After recent efforts that flirted with country and New Orleans R&B, the Blind Boys decelerated with the help of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon for a record of wintry cool. Still, when the group kicks into Jubilee with Patty Griffin, it sounds as soulfully rambunctious as ever.

the next day+ David Bowie: The Next Day – Just when we thought he had vanished, Bowie resurfaces with a record that bridges the lyrical chill of such late ‘70s classics as Heroes and the rockfish accessibility of comparatively recent triumphs like Heathens. Mostly, though, The Next Day represents the elder Bowie without the props. It relies instead on rock solid tunes that make this pop icon sound consistently vital.

neko case+ Neko Case: The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight; The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You – Everything you’ve loved before about Neko Case is still here – the clear but otherworldly vocal wail, the Americana Twilight Zone production touches and the world class support from longtime pals Kelly Hogan and Jon Rauhouse. But the songs – all tales of solace, confidence and candor – steal this exquisite show.

vieux farka toure+ Vieux Farka Toure: Mon Pays – Instead of a postcard from home, Malian guitarist Toure fashions Mon Pays (“My Country”) as a letter of remembrance to his wartorn West African homeland. Nothing here is sung in English. But the sentiments within this decidedly non-protest album play out in ballet like runs of guitar (and, on two sublime duets, kora) that bloom into songs of contemplative splendor.

henry fool+ Henry Fool: Men Singing – Despite the title offered by the Henry Fool collective of keyboardist Stephen Bennett and guitarist Tim Bowness, Men Singing in a refreshing instrumental affair that runs from the bright ethnic fusion of mid ‘70s Weather Report to more proggish guitar designs created by guest guitarist Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music. The resulting songs are as exquisitely listenable as they are beautifully unfashionable.

jim james+ Jim James: Regions of Light and Sound of God – For his solo album debut, Louisvillian James (leader of My Morning Jacket) gets spiritual. At times, this pop-soul clearinghouse of a record sounds like an ambient version of Van Morrison. In other instances, it blends The Beach Boys and Radiohead. And then there are the tunes where James’ wispy falsetto approximates Marvin Gaye. The result is a sound both retro and futuristic.

steven wilson+ Steven Wilson: The Raven that Refused to Sing – Maybe he has grown tired of his proggish metal turns as frontman for Porcupine Tree. Or it could be because he has immersed himself in vintage prog by remastering classic albums in recent years by King Crimson and Jethro Tull. Either way, Wilson has designed a prog adventure of rich, organic beauty that sounds both fanciful and refreshingly human.

2013 concert scrapbook

avett brothers-paul-hooper

scott and seth avett performing at rupp arena in november. photo by paul-hooper.

If you had nothing but television to guide you, 2013 would go down as a year where country music ruled the commercial roost and the artistic advancement of contemporary pop was halted by something called twerking.Luckily, live music is just that – a performance art that was ignited not on TV screens, but in venues throughout Lexington over the past 12 months. Some concerts played to arena size crowds in the thousands while others had only handfuls of die-hards and the simply curious at dance studios and theatres to cheer them on. All were equally vital.

Here is a scrapbook of recollections from a few of the finer moments. It’s not a Top 10 list, mind you, but a simply an overview of 10 outstanding concerts that took place in 10 different performance venues within Lexington during 2013.

+ Richard Thompson Electric Trio at the Kentucky Theatre (April) – When Thompson chooses to favor electric music in a performance setting, one can be easily overwhelmed by his remarkably versed guitar play, especially when he evokes Jimi Hendrix by playing a cover of Hey Joe. Luckily, the veteran songsmith’s extraordinary compositions remained at the helm of this keen mix of vintage British folk-rock and contemporary Americana.

+ The Engines at Mecca (April) – The ongoing Outside the Spotlight Series of free jazz and improvisational music performances finished off its 12th season this fall. But its strongest outing of the year came in the spring when The Engines – a quartet of Chicago instrumentalists that have all performed here previously in other ensembles – convened for music that shifted from cool balladry to blasts of improvisational immediacy.

+ Sturgill Simpson at Cosmic Charlie’s (May) – The modest indie awareness generated around the roots country musings of Breathitt County native Simpson was one of Kentucky’s great unsung breakthroughs of 2013. The former vocalist for the Lexington alt-country troupe Sunday Valley channeled several epic inspirations (Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Ralph Stanley) but still offered a rustic, restless country voice that was very much his own.

+ Alison Brown at Willie’s Locally Known (June) – A masterful instrumentalist, as well as the chieftain of Compass Records, Brown continues to use banjo-based bluegrass as a springboard for explorations into folk, pop and jazz. But this return outing at Willie’s also bolstered a week-long celebration leading up to the Festival of the Bluegrass called Best of Bluegrass (BOB). It became one of the year’s great music outreach events.

+ Buddy Guy at the Lexington Opera House (June) – With only weeks to go before his 77th birthday, Chicago blues giant Guy returned to ignite the inspirations of musical forefathers like Muddy Waters and Little Walter with electric bravado. But the resulting music was more in keeping with ’60 psychedelic rock than traditional blues. As was Guy’s way, everything was served up with a joyous gospel-like fervor.

+ Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom (August) – In the eight months since his previous Buster’s show, Isbell released the finest album of his young solo career, Southeastern.  He performed the better part of it here with solemn vigor, along with favorites from his Drive-By Truckers days (Never Gonna Change) and a killer encore cover of the Rolling Stones’ Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.

+ California Guitar Trio at Natasha’s Bistro (October) – For its first Lexington sellout, guitarists Paul Richards, Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya ran the gamut from Bach to (Dave) Brubeck but left room for fine original works (The Marsh) and hybrids (the cowboy infested Doors mesh-up Ghost Riders on the Storm). That the trio was so unassuming about the stylistic borders it crossed made the music even more fun.

+ Jerry Douglas at the Lyric Theatre (November) – Few artists have become as synonymous with the instrument they play as Jerry Douglas has with the dobro. For this rare visit to his former hometown outside of performances with Alison Krauss and Union Station, Douglas used the dobro as the lone instrumental color for an evening of  Leadbelly-based roots music, Chick Corea-inspired jazz and Josh Graves-directed bluegrass.

+ The Avett Brothers at Rupp Arena (November) – Throughout the past decade, when Lexington watched the Avetts grow from a novel club act to an arena sized hit, the level of songcraft within the group never seemed on par with its instrumental ingenuity. But with a strong new album (Magpie and the Dandelion) to promote, this Rupp return presented an Avetts outing that sounded, at long last, complete.

+ Arturo Sandoval and the University of Kentucky Wind Symphony at the Singletary Center for the Arts (December) – It started as a classically-dominated program. But the jazzman within Grammy winning trumpeter Sandoval couldn’t be harnessed. By the show’s conclusion, he was wailing away on Duke Ellington’s Caravan and playfully commandeering the UK Wind Symphony for an impromptu and jubilant master class on the art of jazz spontaneity.

kennedy center honors 2013

kennedy center honors

inductees for the 2013 kennedy center honors – (back): billy joel, carlos santana, herbie hancock; (front): shirley maclaine, martina arroyo.

One my favorite bits of post-Christmas holiday TV viewing occurs tonight with CBS-TV’s presentation of the 36th Kennedy Center Honors. It’s an awards program, of sorts, that celebrates career achievement in nearly every avenue of the performing arts.

Since it’s done with recipients announced ahead of time and performed in the company of the President of the United States, the usual industry hoopla is absent. What we are left with is a card of five honorees with extended and well-conceived tributes. The later is split between a sort of career highlights reel and a live performance tribute.

The performance section tends to be a tricky matter, especially since the honoree has to be content to sit in the audience and watch what others make of their work. Sometimes the results are a frightful mess, like a Bruce Springsteen tribute two years ago that hammered home the fact that no one matches the fervency of the Boss’ work better than the Boss himself. But some have been nothing short of transcendent, like Bettye LaVette’s torch song reinvention of The Who’s Love Reign O’er Me that left Who mainstays Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey visibly slack jawed.

This year’s recipients are vanguard jazz/pop instrumentalist Herbie Hancock, stage and screen actress Shirley MacLaine, rock/pop pianist/composer Billy Joel, guitarist/bandleader Carlos Santana and opera legend Martina Arroyo.

Musically, the Hancock and Santana tributes hold the most promise. Steve Winwood and Buddy Guy have been announced as participants for the latter’s tribute (the show was actually taped in Washington on Dec. 8) while Joel’s salute will likely enlist high profile help that includes Garth Brooks, who earned one of his early hits with a cover of Joel’s Shameless.

But look for the presenters to be become the true surprises of the evening. Tony Bennett saluting Joel? Bill O’Reilly honoring Hancock? Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor praising Arroyo? That’s the scheduled lineup. Not even Hollywood could have conceived of a roster that wild.

critic’s pick 310: the velvet underground, ‘white light/white heat’

velvet undergroundThe curve ball thrown to the pop mainstream by The Velvet Underground at the onset of 1968 packed a sting as potent as it was unexpected. Following a debut record (The Velvet Underground and Nico) that balanced tuneful, even romantic sensibilities with the kinds of New York street sagas frontman Lou Reed would use to define his own career in the decades to come, White Light/While Heat stepped assuredly into the darkness. It was low-fi and rudimentary in a way that seemed to forecast the punk revolution a good seven years before it happened.

The album returns to us this winter in two editions that mark the 45th anniversary of its release. The first is a two disc set that boasts a stereo mix with seven alternate takes, mixes and extras that sound far less brutish than the actual album. Highlights include two readings of the incantatory Hey Mr. Rain with the reedy desperation of Reed’s vocals weaving in and around John Cale’s spiral-like runs on viola.

The real find, though, is a bonus concert disc cut at The Gymnasium in New York the spring before White Light was made. While never what one could call a virtuoso live act, the Velvets are captured here in a state of musical teething, transitioning from an artful, Andy Warhol protégé act to the unrepentant, anarchical outfit that produced White Heat.

A second edition adds a third disc dominated by a mono mix of the album and additional outtakes. The two disc version was reviewed here.

It’s easy today to view Sister Ray as the watershed achievement of the original White Light album and its newly excavated live prequel. The song stands as an early milestone for the then-young Reed who leads a coarse, unrelenting jam around a tale of a New York drag queen. But Cale’s The Gift, a spoken story recited over a steady ensemble squall about a jilted introvert beset by jealousy who mails himself to his former beloved with disastrous consequences, winds up being equally sordid.

This reissue of White Light shouldn’t be viewed as a requiem for Reed, who died in October, nor should the record serve as an introduction to his music for anyone unfamiliar with it. But for those willing to take a walk on the seriously wild side, this powerfully spruced up White Light is your ticket. Brace yourself for a bumpy ride.

yusef lateef, 1920-2013

yusef lateef

yusef lateef.

One of the first jazz artists I experienced in performance, much less reviewed, was Yusef Lateef. I was a freshman at the University of Kentucky at the time and vividly green when it came to writing about music. But a love of jazz was already there and Lateef was a name I knew from the history books – a Detroit native, student of Stockhausen and bandmate of Mingus. He was also a journeyman who continually incorporated world music inspirations into his saxophone and flute playing to the point where he came to distance himself completely from jazz categorization. Lateef’s preferred term for what he engaged in was “autophysiopsychic music.” Not surprisingly, his only Grammy Award came in the New Age category (for 1987’s one man band album, Yusef Lateef’s Little Symphony).

But what struck me even before I saw him perform was the string of remarkable recordings Lateef cut for the Atlantic label during the ‘60s and ‘70s. But unlike labelmates Herbie Mann and David Newman, Lateef seldom strayed into overtly commercial fusion territory. His was a more organic fusion sound, typlified by the blend of strings, piano, tenor sax and blues phrasing on Like It Is, the standout track from my favorite Lateef album, 1968’s The Blue Yusef Lateef, and the mix of ethnic reeds and rhythms that dominated the 1977 performance I saw, as well as the 1975 album the show drew from, The Doctor Is In.. and Out.

Lateef continued to follow his own muse as a jazz independent and global musical citizen throughout the decades to come, culminating with what is widely considered to be the nation’s highest jazz honor, the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Fellowship Award in 2010.

Lateef died yesterday at 93. It wasn’t the kind of passing that earned headlines. But as a formative inspiration during my earliest years of writing, Lateef opened the doors to the rich contemplative beauty of jazz and the myriad inspirations that go into it. To me, he was a giant.  

keith at 70

keith richards

keith richards.

Greetings this day go out to Keith Richards, the third – and easily most improbable – of the Rolling Stones to reach 70.

It is a milestone that many once thought inconceivable. Here was Richards, once the poster child for rock ‘n’ roll’s darkest and most self-destructive extremes, now serving as one of its most distinguished elder statesmen.

Like so many rock pioneers, the mythology of Richards’ public persona has often overshadowed his artistic accomplishments. And his accomplishments have been huge. As a songwriter, he remains half of a team responsible for a British pop catalog that is second only to the Lennon-McCartney works of the Beatles, while as a musician he is perhaps the most imitated of any rock guitarist outside of Bo Diddley.

The latter isn’t due to any thrillseeking abilities as a soloist, even though he possesses plenty of them (seek out his white hot burst in the middle of Sad, Sad, Sad from the 1989 Stones album Steel Wheels as one especially neglected example). Richards’ legacy primarily stems from his gifts as a rhythm player. He has created an entire vocabulary out of the simple but intoxicating riffs that ignited Satisfaction, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Brown Sugar, Start Me Up and any number of Stones classics.

Of course, the myth is also worn like a badge of honor, especially onstage. There, Richards continues to pilot an ageless battalion of hits. I remember thinking after the Stones last played Rupp Arena (32 years ago this month) that I was witnessing the last go-round for Richards, who resembled a wiry zombie at the time.

Today, looking more like a weathered pirate, he may wear every bit of his 70 years within the tufts of grey hair and crisscrossing lines that detail his face. Lucky for us, though, this devilish rock ‘n’ roll survivor still taps into some limitless wellspring of youth whenever he plays/

“The grind is never the stage performance,” Richard wrote in his 2010 autobiography, Life.. “I can play the same song again and again, year after year… The real release is getting on stage. Once we’re up there doing it, it’s sheer fun and joy.”

critic’s pick 309: john fahey, ‘christmas soli’

john-fahey-christmas-soli-300x300To this day, I find no holiday album more inspiring and refreshing than the landmark 1968 solo guitar recording by John Fahey, The New Possibility. It took 16 familiar carols and transformed them into mediations draped in folk and blues tradition, accentuating the spiritual context within each in the same way Fahey he did on his astounding Blind Joe Death recordings. What resulted were songs we all knew by heart, but offered in stark, wiry and often eerily restless solo settings that made the music sound ancient but somehow uniquely rooted in Americana.

Fahey, who died in 2001, went on to record several other holiday albums in the same style and (for the most part) solo guitar setting. Each of them provides fascinating listening, but all pale next to The New Possibility. The new no frills compendium Christmas Soli samples four of those records.

The first five tunes come from The New Possibility and possess a fascinatingly antique sound. Usually this kind of music reflects very specific geographic (usually rural) accents. Not here. The guitarist tosses in blues references and enough folkish reverence to make Joy to the World and We Three Kings of Orient Are sound like products of the Old West. The performances are otherwise as unspoiled in their presentation as their influences are indefinable. Fahey never imitated anyone. It was always the other way around.

Beginning with three subsequent tunes of 1975’s overlooked Christmas with John Fahey, Vol. 11, the creases in Fahey’s playing and arrangements began to smooth out. Though a duet version of Carol of the Bells with Richard Ruskin sounds streamlined compared to The New Possibility, you still hear wonderful, wiry twinges and sudden twists of melody and tempo that provide such familiar carols with generous folkish invention.

Another three songs take us to 1982’s Christmas Guitar, Volume One, which offered re-recordings of much of the material from The New Possibility. The makeovers provide a smoother and more patiently paced ride, but the rustic, ageless quality of the original album is lost. Ditto Christmas Soli’s final three entires, which are actually duets with guitarist Terry Robb (from 1983’s Popular Songs of Christmas and New Year’s), a lighter, simplified but still playfully inventive session.

Collectively, it all makes for a quiet but powerfully moving take on holiday music devoid of pop intrusion and commercially generated sentimentalism. There is simply no finer listening as the pre-holiday hoopla fades and the brilliance of Christmas itself takes hold.

in performance: lexington brass band with wycliffe gordon, zach brock and the raleigh dailey trio

wycliffe gordon 2

wycliffe gordon.

At this point in the holiday season, a song like Winter Wonderland offers little by way of invention or spontaneity. Yet on a cold, iron gray Sunday afternoon, the Lexington Brass Band, under the direction of Ronald Holz, found all kinds of ways to revitalize the tune. With the ensemble operating with the fluid efficiency and unity of a jazz orchestra and guests Wycliffe Gordon, Zach Brock and the Raleigh Dailey Trio keeping the groove, the song was given a fresh makeover. The resulting music, the only instance in this holiday concert where the entire company of musicians played together, made for a distinctive and high appealing serving of cool Yule.

The remainder of the 80 minute performance at the Calvary Baptist Church, aptly titled ‘Tis the Season, broke the players into subgroups.

A Stephen Bulla arrangement of Angels We Have Heard on High (retitled in the program as simply Angels on High) let the LBB’s subtle orchestration serve as support for New York-turned-Lexington trombonist Gordon, who blended processional-like elegance and precision with a bit of boppish fancy. Later, Gordon played alongside the LBB’s five-member trombone section and a pair of percussionists for a version of Jingle Bells rich in playful growls and assorted sass that emphasized the more animated sides of the soloist’s performance profile.

Violinist Brock, a Lexington native now working out of Brooklyn, teamed with the LBB to play O Holy Night with scholarly clarity and agility. But it was on Harold Burgmayer’s arrangement of John Jacob Niles’ I Wonder As I Wander that the more dramatic colors of his playing and the LBB’s stately orchestration best complemented each other.

The LBB sat out two abbreviated sections where Gordon, Brock and the Dailey trio played on their own as a quintet. Again, the range and dynamics that emerged were considerable. The extremes ran from the performance’s only non-holiday entry – a quiet but powerfully emotive version of Billy Strayhorn’s Lotus Blossom that highlighted the buoyant tone of each soloist, especially Brock – and an untitled blues jam where Gordon loosened up on makeshift vocals and cartoon-like solo bursts full of equally fun, vocal-esque expression.

in performance: arturo sandoval and the university of kentucky wind symphony

arturo sandoval 1

arturo sandoval.

If jazz, in its purest form, is an act of spontaneous creation, then last night’s performance by multiple Grammy winning trumpeter Arturo Sandoval at the Singletary Center for the Arts was a master class in the art form.

By all advance indications, the concert – a collaboration with the University of Kentucky Wind Symphony – was to feature a largely classical leaning repertoire. For the brief 20 minutes that made up the concert’s first half, that was essentially the case.

The symphony, under the direction of John Cody Birdwell, flexed its considerable musical muscle, sans strings (save for double bass) on Kenneth Hesketh’s Masque. From the onset, this was a powerful unit that effectively highlighted the piece’s Stravinsky-like color and drama, especially in the gale force intensity and precision summoned from the symphony’s trombone line.

The Cuban born Sandoval was then enlisted for the Concerto for Trumpet by Aremenian composer Alexander Arutiunian. The piece is a longtime favorite of Sandoval. He recorded it two decades ago and continued last night to deftly navigate the spry themes that began and ended the piece. He has lost just a touch of the precision that in years past punctuated the themes, but that is a minor quibble. Sandoval’s tone was continually rich and expressive, especially in quieter, impressionistic passages.

But when he returned for a brief reprise of the concerto’s cadenza, the attitude of the evening loosened considerably with an animated show of trumpet range than ran from chiming highs to flatulent lows.

The performance’s second half can best be termed a playful hijacking. After the symphony again went it alone on Frank Ticheli’s Blue Shades, Sandoval returned but quickly interrupted the program to insert an elegant solo piano reading of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. That led into a teaming with doctorate student conductor Kenneth Javier Iyescas for a robust La Virgin de la Macarena, a piece familiar as an unofficial global theme for bullfighting. Here is where the program was joyously upended. With Sandoval’s performance spirit soaring alongside his octave busting runs on trumpet, Birdwell sat out in the hall to witness the symphony’s hammering retorts to Sandoval’s gusto as an audience member.

A somewhat clumsy reading of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story ballad Maria followed with UK faculty trombonist and soloist Bradley Kerns oddly out of sync with the symphony. Sandoval returned again for three stylistically varied finale tunes that gradually brought the entire performance under his direction.

The first was an original ballad, Every Day I Think of You, that Sandoval penned and sang in honor of mentor and jazz icon Dizzy Gillespie. It was hardly a performance of vocal grandeur, but Sandoval’s conversational singing was obviously heartfelt.

A surprise showing by New York-turned-Lexington trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, along with the rhythmic support of the Osland-Dailey Jazztet, ignited a mambo flavored take on the Duke Ellington standard Caravan (one of three pieces arranged by UK doctorate student Jim Daughters, who also guest conducted Maria). Along with a set-closing ode to his grandparents, A Mis Abuelos, Sandoval was essentially directing traffic by assigning solos on the fly and matching the music’s jubilation in his own playing.

A hastily arranged encore jam was the real eye opener with Birdwell again taking a seat (this time onstage) so Sandoval could shout keys and chords to a scaled down version of the symphony under the soloists. It was scrappy. It was soulful. Best of all, it was an extraordinary exhibition of the improvised spirit that regularly exists within small jazz groups exploding on an orchestral scale. Whatever a remarkable workout and experience it must have been for the student players. What an exhilarating exhibition of music being made thoroughly in the moment it was for the audience.

Sandoval also proved to be, like the great Gillespie (who played on the same Singletary stage in 1982), a masterful raconteur. In referencing last night’s televised basketball game between UK and North Carolina and its effect on the concert’s modest attendance turnout, the jovial Sandoval seemed nonplussed.

“We can live in a world without basketball,” he said. “We cannot live a world without music.”

wycliffe gordon’s new home

wycliffe gordon 1

wycliffe gordon.

Usually, Wycliffe Gordon doesn’t like to make a fuss when he takes a break in his adopted hometown of Lexington. This weekend, however, he plans to make an exception.

On Sunday, the celebrated jazz trombonist will team with the Lexington Brass Band for its annual ‘Tis the Season holiday concert.

“I’ve actually been living in Kentucky for about a year,” said the veteran instrumentalist, composer, arranger, bandleader and educator. “I’ve just been under the radar. When I get off the road, I just want to be home.”

Granted, Gordon – who played in Wynton Marsalis’ acclaimed septet and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (now the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) throughout the ‘90s – has yet to become a full time Lexingtonian. He still teaches at the Manhattan School of Music and keeps his offices and “the functional part of my operation” in New York when not performing. But he said all personal and professional affairs may move to Kentucky in 2014.

The region isn’t exactly new to the trombonist. He shared a bill with the Lexington Brass Band last summer at the Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville. But this weekend’s holiday concert reestablishes his connection with another Kentucky born jazz great, violinist Zach Brock who currently resides in Brooklyn.

Gordon enlisted Brock in October 2012 to record The Intimate Ellington: Ballads and Blues. As the title implies, the album offers small ensemble arrangements of Ellington material. The idea – at least, initially – was to use Brock sparingly.

“I didn’t really know what to expect at first,” Gordon said. “I just heard him on a recording. How he would be in live performance, I wasn’t sure. So he came up to our studio in New York. I had the intention of having him play on two, maybe three numbers. I already had a reed player (Adrian Cunningham), so I didn’t really know how it was all going to meld because it was my first writing for that instrumentation.

“Duke Ellington would do this kind of thing all the time. But Zach blended in very well and wound up playing on half the record. It was a different kind of thing having a front line of brass, winds and strings. But Zach took care of business.”

Gordon said that while Sunday’s performance will focus largely on holiday music, he is considering adding his arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s Lotus Blossom, one of the standout interpretations from The Intimate Ellington, to the repertoire.

Still, the Marsalis connection remains the primary point of reference many jazz audiences have with Gordon’s music, even though the trombonist has been establishing his own career for the past 13 years.

“It’s been great, obviously, to play with a musician of Wynton’s renown. It’s been wonderful in many respects. I was with Wynton from 1989 to when he disbanded the septet at the end of 1995. I was in the orchestra until 2000. When I left the orchestra to start my first teaching job, I was still trying to secure gigs. I had been with Wynton so long that it got to where people would tell my manager, ‘We love Wycliffe. But we’ll wait and see him when he comes here with Wynton.’

“It took a good 2 ½ years for people to realize I had my own group and my own CDs. In terms of establishing my voice, whether that was through writing, performing, teaching, all of the above… it was difficult at first. But I still look at that whole period as a plus.”

‘Tis the Season featuring the Lexington Brass Band, Wycliffe Gordon and the Raleigh Dailey Trio will be performed on 4 p.m. Dec. 15 the Calvary Baptist Church, 150 E. High. Tickets at the door are $5. Call (859) 858-3877, (859) 858-3511, ext. 2246 or go to

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