By Greg Cahill
It’s been a good year for string-jazz players. Violinist Regina Carter, winner of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Grant, became the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship. Bassist, composer, and bandleader Marcus Shelby dazzled audiences at SFJazz, where at press time he also was scheduled to lead his New Orchestra through holiday performances of Duke Ellington’s adaptation of Nutcracker Suite. And Oakland, California–born bassist, vocalist, and TikTok star Aneesa Strings (aka Aneesa Al-Musawwir), a Christian McBride protege, continued to woo fans—she has 355,000 social-media followers—with sassy renditions of everything from Tupac to Tchaikovsky.
And there were highlights on the recording front. Here are five noteworthy string-jazz albums that bolstered the year.
1. Raymond Scott Reimagined, Quartet San Francisco with Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band and Take 6 (Violinjazz)
Violinist Jeremy Cohen returns to the music of Raymond Scott on a new, full-length collaboration between three-time Grammy-nominated Quartet San Francisco, composer and arranger Gordon Goodwin, and the acclaimed a cappella group Take 6. Raymond Scott Reimagined includes Goodwin’s fanciful arrangements of eight classics by Raymond Scott, whose eccentric compositions were adapted by Carl Stalling for scores of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. The album also features a previously unrecorded composition crafted from an unfinished sketch that Scott had made in 1982.
2. Iroko, Avishai Cohen and Abraham Rodriguez Jr. (Naïve)
Jazz bassist and composer Avishai Cohen teams up with New York Latin-jazz percussionist Abraham Rodriguez Jr. on this project, which was decades-in-the-making. Together, the duo explores a range of Afro-Caribbean styles drawn from jazz fusion, Afro-Latin jazz, traditional folk music, and other styles. “Abe, more than anyone else, was a shining star for me,” Cohen told Strings recently. “He is a genius, and, to me, he is more like a messenger of God. That feeling never really left me, so when the time was right, when I could finally take Abe into the studio in a duet situation, I took it.”
3. Songs and Symphoniques: The Music of Moondog, Ghost Train Orchestra & Kronos Quartet, plus special guests (Nonesuch)
Untold numbers of passersby encountered Moondog over the years and barely noticed this iconic American composer. That can be forgiven—Moondog was a blind street performer and busker who stood on the streets of New York clutching a spear and garbed in a long Viking cloak and helmet. But violinist David Harrington of Kronos Quartet found in Moondog’s works, written in braille, “a sense of wonder.” He wasn’t the only one—composers Philip Glass and Terry Riley have described Moondog as “the godfather of minimalism.” This fascinating collection of imaginative art music runs a gamut of styles, from jazz to classical to Indian ragas, on a recording that features vocalists Petra Haden (daughter of the late jazz bassist Charlie Haden), Rufus Wainwright, and Jarvis Cocker.
4. The Other One, Henry Threadgill Ensemble (Pi)
Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Henry Threadgill presents works of noted and improvised music that comprises a three-movement composition, “Of Valance,” inspired by percussionist and music theorist Milford Graves and performed by an innovative 12-piece ensemble that includes violinist Sara Caswell; violist Stephanie Griffin; and cellists Mariel Roberts and Christopher Hoffman. This is the score of a large multimedia work performed over two nights in 2022 and recorded live at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn, New York. The New York Times described the performance as possessing “a galvanic sense of swing” and “in lock-step with his every surprise rhythmic feint—producing an obliquely danceable, straightforwardly joyous Threadgillian energy.”
5. Leroy Walks! The Leroy Vinnegar Sextet (Craft/Concord)
This much-welcome all-analog audiophile reissue (remastered and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Quality Record Pressings) was first released in 1950. It finds the celebrated jazz bassist leading a stellar ensemble that features pianist Carl Perkins, vibraharpist Victor Feldman, trumpeter Gerald Wilson, tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards, and drummer Tony Bazley. The seven tracks, as the album title hints, are themed to, well, walking: “Walk On,” “Would You Like to Take a Walk,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Walkin’,” “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” “I’ll Walk Alone,” and “Walkin’ By the River.” And, yes, Vinnegar lays down some mighty tasty walkin’ bass lines.