Best Jazz Concert: Kurt Elling
1. Kurt Elling (May 13, Manchester Craftsmen's Guild): This tour marked the 50th anniversary of benefit concerts that Frank Sinatra sponsored, and Mr. Elling and his quartet were in fine form throughout in paying him tribute. He had the rep as one of today's great jazz singers, and that night I learned why.
2. Esperanza Spalding (Oct. 5, Byham Theater): A very, very close second. There was excellent playing all around from her 11-piece band, which ranged from early 1970s fusion and funk underneath her vocals and, of course, impeccable bass technique. She closed the show by scatting to a walking upright bass line. Think about that.
3. A Peter White Christmas w/ Rick Braun & Mindi Abair (Dec. 7, MCG): What may have been missing in jazz "artistry" with this show more than made up with it in entertainment value, with Mr. Braun on trumpet and Ms. Abair on alto saxophone sauntering up the aisle at one point and Mr. White, known for his acoustic guitar stylings, at points strapping on a Stratocaster. It was only the second time I had ever seen a crowd give a standing ovation at a Guild show, the other time being Fourplay last year.
4. The Stanley Clarke Trio (Sept. 29, MCG): Mr. Clarke offered some of his tunes and some standards with not only his trademark virtuosity on (this time) upright bass but also two young up-and-coming stars: pianist Beka Gochiashvili and drummer Ronald Bruner Jr.
5. Bela Fleck/The Marcus Roberts Trio, (Oct. 20, MCG): Banjo meets New Orleans -- a combination that worked better than might be expected. They largely did material from their recent release "Across the Imaginary Divide."
6. Eliane Elias (Nov. 2, MCG): I had not seen the Sao Paulo-born pianist but was impressed with her fluidity and verve during a largely Brazilian-oriented program. At one point she invited her daughter, Amanda Brecker, who was in the audience, to sing one song. (Ms. Brecker's father, Randy, was also in town that weekend for the University of Pittsburgh Jazz Seminar.)
7. Najee (July 13, Sherwood Event Center): The New York native who scored on tenor and soprano saxophones and flute has so many radio hits that he couldn't possibly deliver them all; however, he did one, "Noah's Ark," that I'd forgotten about. A benefit for the Wilkinsburg-based Hosanna House.
8. Victor Wooten, May 30 (Mr. Smalls Theatre): If you're a fan of the electric bass, this was the place to be as Mr. Wooten and a six-piece backup band -- including three other bass players -- nailed every part. He was touring behind the then-upcoming CDs "Sword and Stone" and "Words and Tones," to have been released in September.
9. Pitt Jazz Seminar Concert (Nov. 3, Carnegie Music Hall): The highlight of this show, which this year wasn't sold out for some reason per usual, was the cadenza by every horn player at the end of the closing "A Night in Tunisia." Pianist George Cables pretty much stole the show but only because bassist Abraham Laboriel's performance was, for him, restrained.
10. Spyro Gyra (Aug. 5, Hartwood Acres): I gave this show a higher rating than I might have because drummer Lee Pearson's plane touched down in Pittsburgh just 20 minutes before show time. You pretty much know what you'll hear when it plays, but the band was so locked in that you wouldn't have known that fact if you got there late.
Honorable Mention: Gilberto Gil (Nov. 15, Byham Theater): This of course wasn't a jazz show, but it deserves mention because of the energy and tightness of Mr. Gil's performance. It became clear why he has become an icon in Brazil for being able to do this for so many decades.
First Published December 20, 2012 12:00 am