Saturday, December 4, 2010

Best of 2010

It’s that time again for being pestered about Top Jazz Albums of 2010 lists. I say “pestered” because it seems like a chore that doesn’t accomplish much other than give a tip of the hat to SOME of the outstanding music of the past year. So much music comes out these days that it’s impossible to give a good judgment to it all. It’s impossible to hear it all. And fine efforts by a lot of people go unnoticed. So many deserving folks and so many get short-changed.

(Ahhhhh. Lured you in with phots of lovely ladies. Hey--magazines do it all the time. Sue me).

[PHOTOS: top, Hilary Kole. bottom, Dana Lauren. Photos courtesy of the artists]

For myself, the challenges of memory contribute to some people not making my highlight reel. Better organization through the year might solve that little issue. Yeah, right. Like I’ll keep my glasses in the same spot all the time so I know where they are. Ummmmmm hmm.

So onward to the list -- something I don’t usually do, but it seems there is pulling from more sides this year than ever. So: Tossing my proverbial hat in the ring. These are not in any order.

Wallace Roney: If Only for One Night (High Note). Wallace is always first-rate and almost always passed over by the critics. He’s not the most media friendly guy. He’s a serious artist and his recordings are always excellent. This one is live and it’s hot shit.

Will Vinson: Stockholm Syndrome (Criss Cross). This one is recently out, so probably no one considered it. But it’s fine stuff from an alto sax player of fire and conviction. Good writer too. The band has Aaron Parks on piano and the ever-tasteful, ever creative Kendrick Scott on drums. (Kendrick is working on a record with his own band that should come out in 2011. Count me as putting it on my “best” list already….In case I …er…forget).

Dave Holland: Pathways (Dare 2). Like Roney, everything Holland does is excellent. The band is crazy good, reflected accurately on the disk.

Christian Scott: Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (High Note). Hasn’t taken a bad step yet in his young career. His music springs from jazz, but with modern sensibilities reflective of his own experiences. He will grow into a musician for the ages.

Paul Motian: Lost in a Dream (ECM): Cool improvisational trip with the unique drummer heading his trio. Jason Moran on piano is one of the fine improvisational minds of his peers and every chance to hear Chris Potter on sax is a good thing. Potter has unending spirit and seemingly endless chops.

Brad Mehldau: Highway Rider (Nonesuch). Another great disk from this extraordinary pianist. Great players, including the superior sax voice of Joshua Redman. Mehldau writes great music here and its execution is superb.

Roberto Magris: Mating Call (Jmood). This is another very good record from this pianist. He always send me his stuff from his home in Italy and it is consistently stellar. Each recording, he gets it right. This one is a small group with his fine piano, cool sax from Paul Carr (the D.C.-based sax man whose own CD, “Straight Ahead Soul” this year was pretty cool!) and the steady drumming of the underrated Idris Muhammad. Roberta writes good stuff.

Rudresh Mahanthappa/Bunk Green: Apex (pi): Two fine alto saxmen going at it, Rudresh one of the great young fresh voices,; Bunky one of the fine veterans.

Jeremy Pelt, Men of Honor, (High Note). Another fine disk from this fantastic trumpet player who always has great concepts when he plays. He's sourrounded by some of the outstanding younger guys on the scene, like J.D. Allen.

Holly Hoffman/Bill Cunliffe: Three’s Company (Capri): This intimate teaming could have put this under the radar. It’s not cutting edge, in your face. It’s a classy meeting of minds. Hoffman is one of my favorite flute players. “Too Late Now” is a great example.

Rachel Z, Omar Hakim/Maeve Royce: Trio of Oz. recently kind of shoved under the rug in recent high-profile jazz mag reviews, I think this music is fuckin’ sweet. Saw the group live this summer and they kicked ass. The record is true to that form. Hakim is a motherfucker pushing the music with polyrhythms that seem effortless. Rachael’s piano is also electric and Royce is strong. Just dig song 1, “Angry Chair,” and try not to be moved. A fine piano trio recording.

VOCALS: A few of the best this year were:

Hilary Kole: You Are There (Justin Time). This growing talent is matched up here with some of the finest jazz pianists--Kenny Barron and Hank Jones among them--for a series of duets on classic songs. Sweet! A record with much nuance and beautiful at each listen.

Dana Lauren: It’s You or No One (Dana Lauren Music). This newcomer shows great promise, negotiating these standards with style and some freshness as well. Strong instrument and great feel for the music. There’s more to come from Dana, who’s finishing up at Berklee School of Music. Good band too!

Julia Dollison, Kerry Marsh: Vertical Voices: The Music of Maria Schneider. (ArtistShare). This was a tremendous undertaking: Taking the complex, thrilling, majestic work of the brilliant Maria Schneider and her orchestra and using their voices as the lead instrument over just a rhythm section (albeit Maria’s rhythm section). Could have fallen from the mere daunting nature. They pulled it off, and very, very well.


Two outings with foreign bands stand out.
Tim Hagans: The Avatar Sessions (Fuzzy Music). Tim’s great trumpet over the great Norrbotten Big Band of which he is artistic director. The music is all his too. Great stuff.

John Scofield: 54 (Universal Music Group). A bit unusual to have a guitarist as the solo voice over a huge big band, but Scofield is a wizard, putting his signature sound over the fine Metropole Orkest, with arrangements by the wonderful Vince Mendozza. Scofield can play anything. Rock, funk, blues, bebop … It all sounds great here.

HISTORICAL: This category used to be “reissues.” But a lot of the old stuff that comes out in new packages wasn’t released before. Anyway:'

Miles Davis: Bitches Brew 40th Anniversary Collection (Sony Legacy). The package that has all things Bitches Brew, everything you wanted to have about that seminal 1970 rock album but were afraid to ask for. The improvisational rock music is still unique and lasting. And there’s a brewery that made a special beer just for the anniversary. You fuckin’ kiddin me? If they named a beer after me I would never stop talking about it. [photo: the author with the Miles elixcir]

Stan Getz, Kenny Barron: People Time, The Complete Recordings. The original two-disk release of duets from these two masters was such a great pleasure. Is this anything but more? Suppose not. But it brings this music back in front of people. And more from these two would always be welcome. Beauty and class rolled into one. Just when you thought it had gone out of style.

Ray Charles. Genius = Soul = Jazz (Concord). The great one’s jazz inclinations rolled into a package. Ray could swing like hell and sing place his unique vocals in there to give them vibrancy and vitality. He admired jazz. Vice versa.

Wow. That wasn’t so painful. Maybe I’ll do it again next year. Then again, maybe I wake up tomorrow and think 12 different albums should be here ... If I can remember.