Well, see what happens when you go out for the evening – your jazz jam goes to the dog(s)!  Unless there’s a groundswell of demand, Sam won’t be back for a while – although feel free to talk about rock if you feel so moved!  😉

Lots to mull over this week, for with the end of the year upon us, it’s time for a “Best Jazz of 2005” diary!

Fred Kaplan at Slate has his picks for the year, and not surprisingly, he – like just about everyone else – has as his top picks three CDs from 40 to 60 years ago that were unearthed this past year.  These are sessions that are in the running for all-time best lists, so it’s not fair to include them in the “top of 2005” listings.  Here’s what Kaplan has to say about them, in case you missed the media coverage as they were released.  (A link to longer reviews by Kaplan is here).

It’s a mere, if wondrous, coincidence that those three recordings of yore were all discovered this year. And they are discoveries; nobody had even known they existed. Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker, New York, Town Hall, June 22, 1945 (Uptown Jazz), recorded shortly after the two fathers of be-bop formed their quintet with Max Roach on drums, is as electrifying as anything they would set down ever again. Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note), made in November 1957 shortly before that group broke up, finds Monk playing his most archly elegant piano and Coltrane his most relaxed yet searching tenor sax. John Coltrane’s One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note (Impulse!), recorded in the spring of 1965, in a Manhattan club that Trane used as a sort of workshop, captures his great quartet streaking on the knife-edge between structure and freedom.

Santa didn’t bring me any of these – Mrs. K.P. doesn’t read my columns  🙁

But the Monk / Coltrane is on the way via mail order anyway…  Bwahahahaha!

Anyway, here are the albums various reviewers – that make a living listening to jazz and get free CDs from the labels, LOL – have picked, so you’ll have some idea of things to look for next time you’re in the mega book/CD/DVD/latte shop, or at eBay, or wherever…

I’ll just give album titles / artists and a very brief teaser of a review; that’s all space permits.

Continuing with Kaplan, his picks are (in alphabetical, not preferential, order):

*    Bar Kokhba Sextet, 50th Birthday Celebration, Vol. 11 (Tzadik) – In September 2003, to mark his 50th birthday, John Zorn (composer, saxophonist) staged a month’s worth of concerts at the music club Tonic, and he’s gradually been releasing the tapes on his own Tzadik label. The sextet (violin, cello, bass, electric guitar, drums, and percussion) played three sets, and this three-disc album contains every note.

*    Dave Douglas, Keystone (Greenleaf Music) – Douglas is the most versatile trumpeter in jazz. Every album brings a new group, every group a new sound or theme. The one constant is his own horn: the plangent tone, the penchant for minor keys and dark, rich harmonies. Keystone was composed as a soundtrack to a pair of Fatty Arbuckle silent comedies (a bonus DVD contains the movies!), and the music is eerily droll and otherworldly.

*    Marty Ehrlich, News on the Rail (Palmetto) – Ehrlich is an accomplished reedman and a sophisticated composer… News on the Rail is his best album to date. The tunes are boisterous, bluesy, knotty, and breezy, sometimes all at once. The band–a sextet including James Zollar on trumpet, Howard Johnson on tuba, and Greg Cohen on bass–is loose and tight, hot and cool.

*    Vijay Iyer, Reimagining (Savoy Jazz) – Iyer is a daunting young pianist… Reimagining, featuring his quartet, is a quiet scorcher; it simmers rather than boils… Iyer ends the album with a hauntingly dreamlike solo take on John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

*    Keith Jarrett, Radiance (ECM) – …this two-disc solo concert, recorded live in Tokyo, is a gem… The music is entirely improvised, and Jarrett occasionally shoots off one of those rhapsodic flares, familiar from his many solo sessions of the ’70s–but he reins them in, never losing sight of the form he’s laid down. Some of his tracks seem more like Ravel than jazz, but jazz harmonies after all have Ravelian roots, and Jarrett’s touch is unerring.

*    Wynton Marsalis, Live at the House of Tribes (Blue Note) – …his best in nearly 15 years. Maybe it’s because he’s playing standards; maybe it’s because he’s playing before an enthusiastic live audience; maybe it’s because the concert was a loose hoot that nobody intended to release as a CD. Whatever’s going on, Wynton Marsalis has rarely sounded in such fine tone and spirit.

*    Brad Mehldau, Day Is Done (Nonesuch) – Mehldau, 35 and the most assured young pianist on the block, does what jazz musicians pre-1964 used to do routinely: He assimilates the pop and show tunes of the day into jazz idiom. It’s a different approach from, say, the jazz-rock fusion of Miles Davis or the po-mo irony of the Bad Plus. What the classic jazz musicians did with Gershwin, Berlin, and Cole Porter, Mehldau does with Radiohead, the Beatles, and Nick Drake… This may be Mehldau’s best album.

*    Jason Moran & Bandwagon, Same Mother (Blue Note) – …[pianist] Moran’s most satisfying group album. The title refers to the common roots of jazz and the blues, and the quartet he’s assembled fuses the two strands with grace and zest.

*    Sonny Rollins, Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert (Milestone) – This concert, in Boston a few days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, is middlin’ by the standards of live Rollins, but that still ranks high by the standards of most jazz.

*    Jenny Scheinman, 12 Songs (Cryptogramophone) – This is a warm, quirky, disarmingly delightful album.

Of all of these, I’ve only heard the Jarrett CDs, but broken up due to other commitments; I had planned to talk about it (them?) after listening straight all the way through.  But since I have the opportunity now I’ll say this – this is rather rarified music to be called jazz; “free-form almost neoclassical piano solo in a concert hall” is more like it.  But then, jazz is about breaking down barriers so call it jazz if you want.  The folks that categorize CDs at Borders seem to think it’s jazz.

Of the other folks, I’ve heard previous CDs by Douglas, Iyer, Marsalis, Mehldau, and Rollins, and I am confident any of those would at least be worth a listen.  The other folks are new to me, so I can’t say anything about them.  The Chicago Tribune review of the Rollins CD (see below) makes that album one I’ll be looking for soon…

Here are albums of the year as selected by some reviewers at AllAboutJazz.Com but just titles and artists, without any comments.  I’ve also included the list of Debut Albums of the year, to balance out the better known artists:

David R. Adler:

AGRAZING MAZE – At the End of the Day (Foxhaven)
ROGER KELLAWAY – Remembering Bobby Darin (IPO)
STEVE LEHMAN – Demian as Posthuman (Pi)
CHARLES LLOYD – Jumping the Creek (ECM)
MAT MANERI – Pentagon (Thirsty Ear)
BEN MONDER – Oceana (Sunnyside)
DYLAN VAN DER SCHYFF – The Definition of a Toy (Songlines)
CUONG VU – It’s Mostly Residual (ArtistShare)
MYRON WALDEN – This Way (Fresh Sound-New Talent)

Lawrence Donohue-Greene:

DAVE DOUGLAS – Mountain Passages (Green Leaf)
EITHER/ORCHESTRA – Ethiopiques 20: Live in Addis (Buda Musique)
JAMES FINN – Plaza de Toros (Clean Feed)
JIM HALL – Magic Meeting (ArtistShare)
VIJAY IYER – Reimagining (Savoy)
JOE LOVANO – Joyous Encounter (Blue Note)
RANDY SANDKE – The Mystic Trumpeter (Evening Star)
WAYNE SHORTER – Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve)
JESSICA WILLIAMS – Live at Yoshi’s Volume Two (MAXJAZZ)
Bruce Gallanter:
ANTHONY BRAXTON – Ninetet (Yoshi’s) 1997. Vol. 3 (Leo)
SATOKO FUJII – Live in Japan 2004 (Natsat)
SUNNY MURRAY – Perles Noires Vol. 2 (Eremite)
MARC RIBOT – Spiritual Unity (Pi)
ROVA ORCHESTROVA – Electric Ascension 2003 (Atavistic)
KEN VANDERMARK – Alchemia (Not Two)
ALEX VON SCHLIPPENBACH – Monk’s Casino (Intakt)
DAVID S. WARE – Live in the World (Thirsty Ear)
JOHN ZORN’S MASADA – Sanhredrin (Tzadik)

Andrey Henkin:

MICHAEL ATTIAS – Renku (Playscape)
PETER BROTZMANN-HAN BENNINK Still Quite Popular After All These Years (Eremite)
EDMUND WELLES – Agrippa’s 3 Books (Self-released)
THE FRINGE – Live at Zeitgeist (Resolution)
MATS GUSTAFSSON – Catapult (Doubt)
BARRY GUY – Oort-Entropy (Intakt)
JOHN HOLLENBECK – Semi-Formal (Cuneiform)
WAYNE SHORTER – Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve)


NEAL CAINE – Backstabber’s Ball (Smalls)
ANAT COHEN – Place & Time (Anzic)
HAMID DRAKE – Bindu (Rogue Art)
RUSS JOHNSON – Save Big (OmniTone)
JALEEL SHAW – Perspective (Fresh Sound-New Talent)

Steve Greenlee, at the Boston Globe, goes with the newly-discovered old classics, and even big-name current artists barely get a mention in passing:

…this year, for all the great stuff the Dave Douglases and Brad Mehldaus are doing, it’s difficult to compete with the legends. [snip]  In 1975, Miles famously said that jazz is dead. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now, 30 years later. Jazz isn’t dead. It’s just that the best of it is coming from artists who are.

OUCH!  I think that loud popping sound was Arthur Gilroy’s head exploding… We must reassemble him; he’s got a gig tomorrow night at Birdland (seriously)!

At least Howard Reich at the Chicago Tribune chooses the living for his top 10:

1. Maraca: “Soy Yo” (Ahi-Nama Music)

Cynics might dismiss the newest release from the brilliant Cuban flutist Orlando “Maraca” Valle as mere dance music. Cynics would be wrong. [snip] Every note of this recording conveys joy and celebration, as well as exalted levels of musicianship.

2. Anderson/Drake/Parker: “Blue Winter” (Eremite)

Chicago tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson has recorded with some regularity in recent years, but the two-CD “Blue Winter” represents a pinnacle in his work, and in its documentation. [snip] In every regard, then, a tour de force.

3. John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble: “A Blessing” (OmniTone)

With this often serene, sometimes translucent, always austerely beautiful recording, percussionist Hollenbeck may have opened a new chapter in the evolution of large-ensemble jazz. [snip] this one-of-a-kind band push fearlessly into unpredictable phrasings, unabashedly sharp dissonances and orchestral colors of unprecedented grace and sheen.

4. Vijay Iyer: “Reimagining” (Savoy Jazz)

With each recording, pianist Iyer looms as a larger figure in jazz, his sound immense, his concept bold, his ideas bracingly unorthodox. [snip] Iyer one of the most promising voices in jazz today.

5. Dave Douglas: “Keystone” (Greenleaf Music)

At this point, listeners practically expect an entirely new aesthetic vision from trumpeter Douglas with each recording, and, remarkably, he obliges.

6. Sonny Rollins: “The 9/11 Concert” (Milestone)

Four days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Rollins had plenty of reason to pour just about everything into his horn, having seen firsthand the devastation from the window of his Manhattan apartment. This concert in Boston apparently was cathartic for both Rollins and his audience: The musician issues colossal volleys of sound, the crowd roars its approval. To hear Rollins piling one heroic motif onto the next, one Herculean statement after another, is to behold the archetypal tenorist of our time at, or near, the peak of his improvisational gifts.

7. Miguel Zenon: “Jibaro” (Marsalis Music/Rounder)

Zenon not only affirms his mastery as altoist but elegantly merges the latest currents in mainstream jazz improvisation with elements of Puerto Rican song form. The result is a music that bristles with rhythmic tension and volatility, while Zenon’s piercing alto lines course through unconventional, exotic harmonies.

8. The Vandermark 5: “The Color of Memory” (Atavistic Records)

No, this isn’t music to sip a martini by — nothing by saxophonist-bandleader Ken Vandermark ever is. [snip] Throughout “The Color of Memory”… it’s the control of ensemble color — the delicate balancing of one instrument against another — that commands attention.

9. Gerald Wilson Orchestra: “In My Time” (Mack Avenue)

The mainstream big-band tradition keeps on swinging, and no one addresses it with more buoyancy and optimism than octogenarian bandleader-composer Wilson. The verve of these performances, as well as the muscularity and originality of Wilson’s compositions, reaffirm the man’s place at the top of large-ensemble world.

10. Guillermo Klein: “Una Nave” (Sunnyside Records)

There’s more to Argentinian jazz than sweet melodies and beguiling tango rhythms, as genre-bending pianist Klein asserts in every riff of his latest release.

Nate Chinen in the Village Voice goes with two of the oldies, and eight new works:

1. THELONIOUS MONK QUARTET: Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note) Monk on top of the world, Coltrane in the throes of discovery, and each inspiring the other’s best efforts.

  1. JOHN COLTRANE: One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note (Impulse) The Coltrane Quartet at its most ferocious, especially on the blistering title track.
  2. PAUL MOTIAN-JOE LOVANO-BILL FRISELL: I Have the Room Above Her (ECM) Motian’s apparently simple compositions are fodder for exquisite chamber interplay, and his drumming suggests the crawl of lengthening shadows.
  3. VIJAY IYER: Reimagining (Savoy) Pianism is one reason to pay heed to this quartet outing, Iyer’s strongest yet. Another is his rhythm concept– beguiling, befuddling, and legitimately new.
  4. ROSCOE MITCHELL QUINTET: Turn (RogueArt) Gripping inside-out miniatures from an AACM elder, with a heavy next-generation crew.
  5. CUONG VU: It’s Mostly Residual (Artist Share) As trumpeter and composer, Vu favors darkness and warmth–which explains why this album provides such a hospitable setting for Bill Frisell.
  6. PAT METHENY GROUP: The Way Up (Nonesuch) Metheny’s billowing suite overcomes pretense with high musicianship and thematic coherence.
  7. BEBO VALDÉS: Bebo de Cuba (Calle 54) The octogenarian Cuban expat continues a hot streak, abetted this time by New York’s Latin-jazz elite.
  8. BRAD MEHLDAU: Day Is Done (Nonesuch) Kicked into high gear by new drummer Jeff Ballard, the Mehldau trio renews its immediacy and focus.
  9. ROBERT GLASPER: Canvas (Blue Note) Bright and buoyant reveries from this year’s big arrival, whose trio shows serious promise.

Meanwhile, away from the New York scene, Mary Ann Albright in the Corvallis, OR Gazette-Times has her own opinions:

It’s a tie between “Christmas Songs” by Diana Krall, featuring the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine.”

“Christmas Songs” infuses all the best holiday favorites with Krall’s sultry vocals and swinging piano accompaniment. It’s my new favorite Christmas CD.

“Extraordinary Machine” is Apple’s best album to date, more upbeat and diverse than her two previous releases. With interesting orchestration, poignant lyrics and Apple’s rich alto, “Extraordinary Machine” is a CD I can listen to again and again.  

Like “Best Of” Polls?

Do you like “best of” polls?  Here’s a collaborative project you might be interested in:  There’s a site out of Australia that wants you to take their polls on the best of jazz.  The site is Jazz 100, and here’s their promo bit:

Welcome to Jazz 100, a non-commercial site bringing you the very best jazz ever released on CD. Here you will find jazz lists based on comprehensive statistical surveys of critics, record stores and popular polls. Our primary aim is to build lists that will appeal to popular sensibilities and, as such, casual listeners should find it a useful place to start when setting out to build the ultimate jazz collection (albums, collections & compilations). More seasoned jazz aficionados should also find plenty of interest.

They have two polls you can take, one for “classic jazz” and the other for current artists.  There also currently is a separate poll for the most underrated Miles Davis album (Hint: The right answer is “In a Silent Way”, LOL).  Here are the blurbs on the two lists of albums; go and have fun.

The Top 200 Jazz CDs

Originally starting out as a straight Top 100, over time the main list has evolved into a Top 200 in order to include a wider range of worthy artists. Miles Davis’ classic Kind of Blue has held the top spot since the beginning, although in recent times John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme has been fast gaining ground. Both Herbie Hancock and Dave Brubeck are currently enjoying a surge of popularity, while newer artists continue to struggle for attention against the level of interest in older jazz music. (Updated 10 December 2005)

The New Breed Top 100

A big problem with any sort of “all-time best” list based on a statistical survey is that newer stuff tends to have little or no chance of making the cut. For this reason we also maintain a Top 100 strictly devoted to records that have been recorded and released over the last ten years. At the beginning of each year we scour the net for any critics poll or notable list devoted to the last year’s releases. These are then tallied, with the strongest performers then added to the online poll. (Updated 22 December 2005)

Topics Du Jour

What are your favorite albums (of 2005 or ever; jazz or not; your call!)?
What did Santa bring you for the holidays, musically?
What did Santa NOT bring you that you’re headed out to get for yourself, LOL?

Midterm Exam Bonus Question for Advanced Students:

Is the hoopla over archaeological discoveries in jazz stealing the air from living musicians?  On the other hand, how can you not include such finds in a “best of the year” list?  Discuss.

(In lieu of a blue book, use the space below to post a comment.)

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