What’s on Your Playlist: Tom Marko

November 30, 2017

The current director of Jazz Studies at Illinois State University, Tom Marko is also an accomplished drummer, composer, and recording artist. Maintaining a busy schedule in central Illinois and the Midwest as a performer and adjudicator, Marko can often be heard with popular groups and artists such as Kevin Hart and the Vibe Tribe, The Brazilionaires, The Todd Kelly Quintet, David Hoffman, The Travis Wesley Trio, and his own project: Tom Marko and the Inner Light.

His impressive first album as a leader – Inner Light (Summit Records) – featuring special guest Scott Wendholt on trumpet, was released in the fall of 2016 to enthusiastic critical praise and a receptive radio audience.

1. Pat MethenyUnity Band

This recording featuring Chris Potter, Ben Williams, and Antonio Sanchez has a stunning sound and mix. I love every track, but if I had to pick my favorites, I would have to put “New Year” and “Roofdogs” at the top of my list. The compositions seem to bring out the best in an already incredible group of players. They all sound superb, both individually and especially as an interactive unit. I suppose “Unity Band” really is the most appropriate title for the project.

2. John Cowherd Mercy

John Patitucci, Brian Blade, and Bill Frisell join forces here on a collection of John’s beautiful compositions. Much of it is introspective, mood-wise, with plenty of space, dynamics, and of course emotion. My favorite tracks are “Mercy Suite: Part 1” and “Postlude.” This album has impeccable sound. Listen through nice headphones or a high-end system to enjoy the full depth!

3. Burlap to CashmereBurlap to Cashmere

A great set of compelling songs in a pop/rock/folk genre. I love the lyrics, live feel, grooves, and time signatures inspired by Greek music. I don’t know how those guys sing and play at the same time!

4. Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache BandCrossroads

I love this record: great original compositions, arrangements, Afro-Cuban grooves, and solos all delivered with passion and clarity. The whole package continues to appeal to me since one of my teachers, David Hardman, played it for me more than twenty years ago.

5. John ColtraneColtrane’s Sound

When I hear the band launch into “The Night has a Thousand Eyes,” I get chills. McCoy Tyner, Steve Davis, and Elvin Jones are at their best here.  I may never tire of this album.

6. Michael BreckerTales from the Hudson

This is another all-time favorite of mine. The tunes are melodic and intricate, the recording quality is beautiful, and the band supports each other in the most musical ways. I can’t pick a favorite on this album, I love the whole thing.

7. John Abercrombie, Peter Erskine, Bob Mintzer, John Patitucci
The Hudson Project

I read a review of this album that used the word “unspectacular.” I must say, I think it’s completely the opposite. I first found this live set of originals on video. I can watch and listen to these tunes over and over. The guys do a masterful job breathing life into some great modern and varied compositions while always maintaining great sympathy for each other. The DVD also includes an informative Q&A session in which each of the members of the group offers some meaningful insights on several topics.

8. Jeff Lorber FusionGalaxy

If you like grooves and fusion influenced by funk, techno, R & B, and Brazilian styles, you should check this out. Perfectly mixed and mastered, this album is full of great arrangements, solos, drumming, and programming. and more. My favorite tracks are “Live Wire,” “Galaxy,” and “The Underground.”

9. Brian Blade FellowshipPerceptual

This is one of my favorite groups. Brian, Jon, and the guys have a great thing going and it’s always a pleasure to hear what they’re doing. Jon Cowherd’s composition, “Crooked Creek” still grabs me every time I hear it. I play it for my students all the time as an example of how expressive, melodic, dynamic and generally expressive jazz can be – all things I aspire to.

10. Kenny GarrettPursuance: The Music of John Coltrane

This is my favorite tribute to one of my favorite artists. Kenny Garrett, Pat Metheny, Rodney Whitaker, and Brian Blade really do justice to a list of Coltrane tunes. “Lonnie’s Lament” and “Liberia” stand out most to me, but the whole album is full of passion and technical mastery combined. I’ll be enjoying this one for another twenty years.

Tom Marko and the Inner Light’s debut release, Inner Light, dropped on October 7, 2016. www.summitrecords.com

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