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Bob Craig's Hot Five of 2023

2022_10_23 WRTI
Joseph V. Labolito/Joseph V. Labolito
2022_10_23 WRTI

Without question, 2023 gave us some great music. From new releases and debuts to limited reissues and archival finds, there was something special for almost anyone.

We asked our jazz hosts to give us their five favorite tracks of 2023, so have a listen and read what they have to say. With pleasure, we present WRTI's Hot Fives.

Larry McKenna, “Emily”

Philly's long-admired tenor titan, who sadly left us on Nov. 19, got to release his dream project of an album that features a glorified chamber ensemble: oboe, English horn and strings. Temple alum Jack Saint Clair's sensitive arrangements supply the perfect cushion for Larry's elegant interpretations of Great American Songbook and jazz standards — like “Emily,” a gorgeous Johnny Mandel movie song. This recording will not fail to transport loving thoughts to wherever you want to go.

Cory Weeds, “Home Cookin'"

The phrase "less is more" perfectly describes this little big band. Saxman Cory Weeds assembled 11 top Canadian musicians for originals and inspiring do-overs on standards and a couple of Horace Silver numbers — like “Home Cookin’.” With savory arrangements by Jill Townsend and Bill Coon, the band has the soulful ingredients needed to keep the groove swingin’.

Danny Jonokuchi, “Born To Be Blue”

Another Temple alum, Danny Jonokuchi, put a big band together that spotlights a group of enthusiastic singers — among them, Briana Thomas, Philly-brewed Alita Moses, and Lucy Yeghiazaryan, who gets to dig into Mel Tormé’s saga of luck and losing with a dash of drama. Although the cheerful colors yellow and green are mentioned, blue and the blues are the major players here. The more I hear, the more I love Lucy.

Buselli/Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, “King Porter Stomp”

The Gennett Recording Studio in Richmond, Indiana was the cradle of recorded American jazz in the 1920's (Hoagy Carmichael, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton). The Mark Buselli/Brent Wallarab jazz orchestra, based in Bloomington, has reimagined classic compositions recorded at Gennett about a century ago. The King Porter in Jelly Roll Morton’s “King Porter Stomp” was actually Porter King, a Florida pianist. Perhaps this could reignite interest in other gems that paved the road to swing in the 1930s and beyond.

Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio, “Birk's Works”

There was never any limit to the spontaneity of Wes Montgomery’s guitar playing. If you think you've heard everything that could be done with this Dizzy Gillespie tune, think again. “The Thumb,” as he was known, puts it through a workout that grooves and moves, slithers and slides. It’s one highlight of a long-awaited sequel to the popular Smokin’ at The Half Note album, recorded at the same club in New York City in 1965.

Bob joined WRTI's on-air staff in 2005. His well-rounded radio career began in 1963 as a studio engineer at WBZ in Boston. Throughout the '70s, he was an announcer and programmer at Hartford's WDRC and Boston's WHDH.