Among the breakout performers of 2013 was the young singer Cecile McLorin Salvant. Her unfussy, yet flexible delivery and penchant for material of an older vintage cut a distinct profile — especially for someone who turned 24 last year. It's no surprise that her recent album WomanChild was received with wide acclaim, named the top vocal album in NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll and collecting a Grammy nomination.
Since attending Berklee College of Music, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison has been a Jazz Messenger, a leading Young Lion, a New Orleans torchbearer, and a famed mentor for new talent. As a bandleader, he merges all that and more. Accompanied by a young rhythm section and fellow New Orleanian Detroit Brooks (guitar), the "King of Nouveau Swing" returns to his alma mater — where, incidentally he also played Toast of The Nation a decade ago. The concert, part of the First Night Boston festival, was hosted by Eric Jackson of WGBH.
Robert McFerrin, Sr., a baritone, was the first African American man to perform solo at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and an important interpreter of spirituals. He's clearly passed along some of his talent to his son, the world-renowned vocal gymnast Bobby McFerrin. And McFerrin the younger has recently taken an interest in his father's spiritual repertoire, putting his own spin on them for his 2013 recording spirityouall. At the Monterey Jazz Festival, he performs that material with his own progeny — his daughter Madison McFerrin.
The reedman Paquito D'Rivera has made a career out of crossing genres. Born in Cuba, his larder is never out of Afro-Caribbean and Latin American sounds; he's made a name for himself as a jazz virtuoso and classical performer. Chicago's Latino Music Festival took advantage this year. Artistic director Elbio Barilari, himself a composer (and host of Fiesta!
Every month, the members of the Colorado-born sextet Convergence gather from near and far at the Denver club Dazzle, often with a special guest. The band certainly has plenty of material to draw from — Convergence first converged in 1991. For Toast of the Nation 2013-14, it welcomed Hammond B-3 organist Larry Goldings from Los Angeles to ring in midnight in Mountain Time. Carlos Lando of KUVO hosts the festivities.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." That could be the annual mantra for the classical music world. It has been predicted to crumble for decades, just as optimists continue to point to positive trends. This year is no different. Despite two ugly black eyes — the death of the New York City Opera and the continuing, bitter stalemate between the Minnesota Orchestra's (locked out) musicians and management — terrific music is being made by marvelous artists. Here we offer a short list of the best and worst of 2013.
James King is a musician with a sterling bluegrass pedigree. He was born and raised in the cradle of country music, southern Virginia's Carroll County. His father and uncle were both bluegrass musicians, and had a band called The Country Cousins. King also performed alongside one of the all-time greats, Ralph Stanley.
We've saved the best (and weirdest ... and loudest) for last. It's been a couple of years since we last had NPR Music producer Lars Gotrich on the show to highlight the year in metal and what he sometimes calls "outer sound," a nebulous grouping of experimental music. It was time to bring his weird sonic world back.