Peter McGuinness Jazz Orchestra—Strength in Numbers (Summit). A solid, tasteful big-band album arranged by McGuinness, whose writing throughout wriggles the orchestra in and out of compelling places. The combination of flutes and bass clarinet and gorgeous trombones that sound like French horns makes for a big-band recording with a delicate, bold sound.
Abdullah Ibrahim—Mukashi (Sunnyside). The South African pianist-composer taps into his love for Japanese music, combining Asian melodic themes and jazz chords. The result is a captivating and delightfully sensitive solo piano work. Mukashi means "once upon a time" in Japanese, and there's certainly a story-telling feel to each original composition. Now add cellos and woodwinds here and there, and you have one of the finest piano albums of the year.
Rozina Pátkai—Você e Eu. This Hungarian singer delivers sensual renditions of bossa nova classics, including the title track, Desafinado, Chega de Saudade and more. Her surfy nonchalance and passionate lyricism are supported by a superb Rio-like backup group, most notably Balázs Pecze on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Mátyás Tóth on guitar. Hard stuff to sing convincingly, but Pátkai makes it sound easy, making you feel like the sun has just emerged after a summer downpour.
Stacey Kent—The Changing Lights (Warner Bros). Talk about stunning. I missed this album when the CD came out in February, but I'm so glad I finally caught up with it. Kent has a delicate, take-charge voice, and on bossa nova material she delivers the perfect ratio of girlish innocence and womanly savvy, opening some songs a cappella. There are well-known tracks here (One Note Samba and How Insensitive), but also plenty of discoveries (The Summer We Crossed Europe in the Rain and The Changing Lights). Just sample Marcos Valle's The Face I Love, which the late Sylvia Telles made famous, and you, too, will be weak in the knees. By the way, Marcos told me last week that his album with Kent, recently released in Japan, will be out in the U.S. later this year from Sony. I can't wait.
Paulinho Garcia—Beautiful Love. This Chicago-based singer-guitarist sounds a long way from home. If I put this on for you, you would swear you were listening to someone serenading an audience at a Rio coffee bar. Garcia sings Brazilian ballads and American Songbook standards supported only by his solo acoustic guitar, delivering with Chet Baker ease and abandon. What's more, his chord voicings are positively insane—dig Like Someone in Love, That Old Feeling and Bluesette. Music that makes you take a deep sigh.
Bayeté—Worlds Around the Sun (Omnivore). Back in 1972, pianist Todd Cochran (known then as Bayeté) released a fascinating jazz album that was steeped in the feel of San Francisco radicalism. Long-form bands like Sly and the Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane and Return to Forever dominated the radio and concert scene while political action groups advocated for change and hippies embraced the environment and a range of social causes. This album is the essence of all three combined and includes Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and Oscar Brashear on trumpet. There's plenty of wah-wah and soul choir work here as well. Songs like Free Angela and Njeri will make you want to slip on a pair of sandals, hop in a van and tune-out. Highly spiritual jazz that holds up well more than 40 years later. Best of all you no longer have to put up with scratchy versions, since this is the album's debut on CD.
The Essential Sade (Sony). We work, the years pass and the next thing you know artists and albums are decades old. I recently popped on this new double compilation CD and was thunderstruck by how well Sade's savory music holds up. The British singer may have been a hit in the 1980s, but she still sounds like she's singing from an unmade bed, and her songs resonate as if recorded last week. Smooth Operator, Love Is Stronger Than Pride and King of Sorrow all have a hypnotic quality that gently pulls you in and forces you to listen up. Every track on this set is worthy, which is a testament to Sade's timeless quality and the power of meloic song served warm.
Rod Stewart—Tonight's the Night, Live 1976-1998 (Warner Bros). Say what you will about Rod Stewart, he remains one of rock's finest tawny singers. His warm, sandy voice has a way of simultaneously excoriating and vamping any song. From Maggie May, Pinball Wizard and Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay to Infatuation and Do Ya Think I'm Sexy, Stewart finds a way to stand up on a tune and tip it back and forth like a canoe. This four-CD set works, largely because Stewart never rushed a song in concert, consciously holding the music in a groovy place.
Carlos Franzetti—In the Key of Tango (Sunnyside). Pianist Franzetti's Argentine classicism is rousing. This album isn't a traditional tango album (images of polished couples staring, twisting and turning) but more of a jazz interpretation of tango themes. Songs soar and dive, pause and then move forward with haste. Fortunately, the music never grinds. Instead, it has all the charm of a ballet dancer, as Franzetti moves through the music on solo piano. The drama and zest that Franzetti brings to each song is instantly captivating.