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Looking Back: 2021’s Albums I Didn’t Quite Review… Yet! (Part 1)

Mark Smotroff offers up a series of mini listening reports…

Time seems to spiral rapidly these days and before I knew it at the end of 2021 we were already whizzing into the new year. That said, there are a number of fine releases which came out last year which I haven’t had time to go very deep on so far as my “listening report” reviews go. But, I wanted to at least acknowledge them so you, Dear Readers, will at least know about their existence. And maybe just maybe I’ll be able to give you a taste of what to expect. For this first part of my mini series, here are some titles leaning toward jazz and latin soul:

Christian McBride & Inside Straight: Live At The Village Vanguard: This is a lovely album showcasing this seven-time (count ‘em, 7!) Grammy Award winning bassist and his band. Effectively a follow up to his acclaimed trio album (which won a 2015 Grammy for Best Improvised Solo), this release was recorded at the same venue with an expanded line-up. Generating a fair amount of fire on their fingertips, the quintet on this album is smoking on its all original tunes recorded just before those 2014 trio sessions. I especially liked Warren Wolf’s “Sweet Bread” which opens the album and his “Gang Gang” which takes you on a 14-minute journey, taking up all of Side C in the vinyl version of the set. There are poignant quiet moments such as Steve Wilson’s beautiful “Ms. Angelou” and McBride’s flowing “Uncle James.”  The vinyl pressing is excellent on this album issued by Mack Avenue Music Group and the sound quality is superb. If you like this artist this should be a no-brainer for you to pick it up. You can also find it streaming in 96 kHz, 24-bit fidelity on Qobuz (click here) and in CD quality on Tidal (click here).

Joey DeFrancesco’s More Music — I have to admit that I had “heard of” this fine organist but had never really listened to his music before this. My bad; mea culpa. I have enjoyed his performances here on his latest album More Music and am still digging into it. If you’re a fan of Hammond Organ driven jazz artists of the past such as Jimmy Smith and Richard “Groove” Holmes as well as modern day soul-jazz groups like The WRD and Delvon Lamarr, you’ll probably dig DeFrancesco’s playing. Consider this line about him from the wiki: “In addition to Grammy nominations in 2004, 2010, and 2020, DeFrancesco is a 9-time winner of the Down Beat Critics Poll (organ) and has won the Down Beat Readers Poll every year since 2005.” ‘Nuff said… I’ll be checking out more of Mr. DeFrancesco’s music this year ahead, for sure! The two LP set of More Music is pressed well (also from Mack Avenue Music Group) and the sound is rich. You can also find it streaming on Qobuz in 48 kHz, 24-bit fidelity (click here) and in CD quality on Tidal (click here).

It’s A Good, Good Feeling: The Latin Soul Of Fania Records. The Singles — in 2021 I reviewed the wonderful four CD boxed set featuring the music from the legendary Fania Records label.  For those of you who might have been overwhelmed at all that funky latin soul ‘n boogaloo grooves, the good folks at Craft Recordings also also put out a two-LP distillation of the collection called It’s A Good Feeling : the Latin Soul Of Fania Records, The Singles. Featuring essential hits and rarities from Joe Bataan, Ray Baretto, Bobby Valentin and — my personal favorites — Ralfi Pagan, this set is a great listen for those of you who prefer the vinyl experience. The lacquers were cut by Phil Rodriguez of Elysian Masters and the pressings are quiet and well centered. It also comes with an LP sized booklet with lots of useful information on the label and the artists plus great pix. If you missed my original review, please click here for part one and here for part two.  You can also find the whole Good Good Feeling boxed set streaming on Qobuz in CD quality (click here) and on Tidal (click here)

Stay tuned for a second round up of other albums I didn’t quite overlook in 2021. 

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