Christian McBride And Nate Chinen Preview 2017 In Jazz Jazz critic Nate Chinen and Jazz Night In America's Christian McBride discuss a few of this year's hotly anticipated albums, including new work by Miguel Zenón and Kevin Eubanks.

From The Critic's Desk: A Preview Of 2017 In Jazz

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It's become sort of a January tradition for us to look ahead to some of the most anticipated jazz albums of the year, so we want to welcome back our favorite jazz guide, composer and bassist and host of NPR's Jazz Night in America, Christian McBride. Hey there, Christian.

CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE, BYLINE: How you doing, Audie? Great to speak with you.

CORNISH: And I understand you brought a special guest with you this time around. Introduce us.

MCBRIDE: Yeah. We would like to welcome to the family Mr. Nate Chinen, who's a former jazz critic at The New York Times. And now he is the newly appointed director of editorial content at WBGO here in Newark, N.J.

CORNISH: Nice. How you doing, Nate?

NATE CHINEN: Good. It's great to be here.

CORNISH: Are you just saying that because you are a former jazz critic sitting next to a musician?


CHINEN: Actually...

CORNISH: No pressure.

CHINEN: ...Christian has tied me to this chair.


CHINEN: And you know, I'm reading something he wrote for me.


CHINEN: No, it's really fun to be sitting across the table from Christian. And every time we have a conversation about the music, it's always a blast.

MCBRIDE: Yes, it is.

CORNISH: And I hear that you guys have actually brought some albums to look forward to in 2017. Nate, what went into these picks?

CHINEN: You know, the main thing for me was sheer enthusiasm. I've got a big stack of albums on my desk, and I go through them. And these were three of the albums that I was really excited about and also thought that Christian might respond that way.

MCBRIDE: Absolutely.


CORNISH: One is a multiple-Grammy nominee, Miguel Zenon. He's Puerto Rican saxophone player. Tell us about him.

CHINEN: Well, he's a - an alto saxophonist and composer who is one of those musicians who's always brimming with ideas. You know, he's done a lot of work taking this sort of folkloric music of Puerto Rico and putting it into a jazz context and sort of interrogating different aspects of the form. But on this new album, "Tipico," what it really boils down to is a vigorous, really well-tested and really agile working band that he has.


CORNISH: Christian, I'm such a sucker for, like, opening solo notes (laughter).

MCBRIDE: Yeah. In listening to this track and some other tracks from this new recording, I almost get a sense that Miguel's music - I almost feel like jazz is sort of where jazz was in the early '70s in terms of we're getting out of this sort of traditional way of thinking. We're getting into more world influences.

CHINEN: Taking all of these all of these elements from Puerto Rican culture, from, you know, Afro-Cuban culture.


CHINEN: And it - he doesn't have to sort of check the box or flip the switch. It's just all in there.


CORNISH: It's interesting hearing a music critic and a musician in the same space. We often think of these voices like people who are at odds with each other.

MCBRIDE: (Laughter).

CORNISH: Do your tastes align in some ways?

CHINEN: Well, you know, I chose these albums for us, and I really had no agenda other than enthusiasm here. They're all pretty different aesthetically, but they all sound like the work of, you know, musicians who have a real bond together. And that was one thing I thought Christian would respond to.

MCBRIDE: Yeah. And they - there was sort of end game in mind when they made these recordings. I loved everything that Nate picked. And just to backtrack a little bit, I think critics kind of hide in the walls. And then they write what they want to write, and they - you never get to speak to them about what they write. But Nate is one of the few that - he will be more than happy to speak to you about anything he's written, and he's fair. That's the main thing. He's fair.

CORNISH: Well, that's a very good start (laughter).

CHINEN: I feel like I need to get those comments printed on a T-shirt.

CORNISH: We will.


CORNISH: Well, you talked about these artists kind of having a goal. And I want to bring in another - a composer and pianist, Craig Taborn. And his new album is called "Daylight Ghost." This is another one you guys chose for us. And let's just start with the song, the title track.


CHINEN: Craig Taborn is a pianist and composer that I admire greatly - fantastic improviser. And he happens to be a musician that you, Christian, recorded with very recently.

MCBRIDE: Yes, yes.

CHINEN: An album that came out last year.

MCBRIDE: Playing John Zorn's music. Two things I'd like to say about Craig Taborn. One - I instantly loved this recording. Knowing Craig as a person and admiring him also as a musician, I think what I love about this recording is this there seems to be no pretense. I don't get the sense that Craig is vehemently trying to show us what a clever musician he is. There's something very organic, yet very thought out. His compositional skills are incredible. His musicianship skills are incredible. He can fit in many different situations. He's a musician's musician.


CORNISH: And finally, one other album you want to highlight coming up this year from guitarist Kevin Eubanks. Our listeners might know him from his days as leader of the "Tonight Show" band with Jay Leno. I did not expect this name. Is this, like, a comeback of sorts, Christian?

MCBRIDE: I'm not sure if it's a comeback. I think Kevin didn't do a lot of recording while he was on the show, but all of us in the jazz community for years have known that he's one of the titans of jazz guitar. And if you lived out in Los Angeles, and you got to sort of be on that scene, you got a chance to jam with Kevin. You got to see Kevin play a lot more then sort of the audience at large did. So I guess maybe you could call this a comeback, but not really.

CHINEN: I'm going to call it a comeback.

MCBRIDE: Really?

CHINEN: I'm going to call it a comeback.


CORNISH: So, Nate, you are calling this a comeback.

CHINEN: I would say so only because those things that Christian said about if you live in Los Angeles and got a chance to hear him in clubs. You know, I'm a New York jazz critic.


CHINEN: So, you know, Kevin Eubanks was frustratingly off the scene...

MCBRIDE: Off the scene - yeah.

CHINEN: ...During all those years that we saw him on TV. And he's released a few albums before this one, you know.


CHINEN: But this album, I feel, especially with this band, I mean...

MCBRIDE: Can't go wrong.

CHINEN: That is - that is, you know, a wrecking crew.

MCBRIDE: (Laughter).

CHINEN: And that's a band deserving of Kevin's talents.


CHINEN: He knows how to work with them and how to really sort of bring out the fire.

MCBRIDE: Yeah. I hope Kevin goes on the road with this group or any group, for that matter. But, yeah, I really hope I see Kevin on the festival circuit and reclaiming his throne.

CORNISH: Well, Christian McBride, host of NPR's Jazz Night in America, thank you so much for coming back to the show.

MCBRIDE: It's always a pleasure, Audie.

CORNISH: And Nate Chinen is director of editorial content and member station WBGO. You'll also be hearing him more on NPR. Nate, thanks for joining us.

CHINEN: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.


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