Wednesday, December 4. 2013
Year after year I present my year-end lists as just that: long,
mind-numbing lists like I use every day to keep track of the current
2012, etc.). Other people's lists
generally have cover scans and brief write-ups, and it occurred to me
that I have all that. Why not just table it up? So that's what I've
done here, at least for the jazz half of my listening.
Normally, I would like to wait until later to get a handle on the
whole year -- like March or so -- but Francis Davis set an early
deadline for his Critics Poll, so that dictated the timing here.
The following is a rank-order list of all the jazz (in some cases
loosely defined) albums albums I graded A- (or better) this past
year, split between new music (including previously unreleased
archival items -- recording date provided) and reissued music (in
one form or another). I've also included a half-dozen records that
were released in 2012 but I didn't get to until this year -- mostly,
but not all, late 2012 releases.
[*] indicates that I reviewed this on the basis of an advance, often
a CDR copy (a good thing, I might add, for vinyl-only releases). [**]
identifies a record that I've only heard via download or through a
streaming service like Rhapsody.
||Billy Martin's Wicked Knee: Heels Over Head (Ambulet):
Drummer, best known as the middleman in Medeski, Martin &
Wood, has released a large pile of specialist albums but nothing
like this before. Here he's lined up a small brass band -- Steven
Bernstein (trumpet, slide trumpet), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone),
Marcus Rojas (tuba) -- and gone back to New Orleans, at least for
King Oliver's "Sugarfoot Stomp" although they get the same charge
jumping off a Frank London piece called "Chumba Zumba" and never
settle into anything obvious or derivative. Bernstein does most of
the arranging, and Rojas takes most of the leads. And check out
Shelley Hirsch's vocal about hobbling through an Occupy Wall Street
march as one of the "99%."
||Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Slippery Rock! (Hot Cup):
Pianoless quartet, where both horn players -- Peter Evans on trumpet and
Jon Irabagon on saxes -- have hot hands. Fourth studio album, breaking a
string of two classic album cover spoofs with what looks like teen boy
group splash, and evidently less history in the songlist (hurts that my
eyes can't hack the Leonard Featherweight liner notes, always a source
of high-minded obfuscation). That leaves me to draw my own far-fetched
analogies: this is slippery in the sense that it follows no discernible
time signature, rock in the sense that it is loud and frantic, and that
attitude prevails. All these years of waiting for jazz-rock fusion,
and what do we get? Fission!
||The Group: Live (1986, NoBusiness '12)
They came out of the New York loft scene, gigged around for a couple
years, and left nothing but this newly discovered masterpiece. The
booklet shows two quintet posters: their May 3 "world premier" with
Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet), Marion Brown (alto sax), Billy Bang (violin),
Sirone (bass), and Andrew Cyrille; and another from Sept. 12-13, with
Fred Hopkins on bass. Both bassists play on this Sept. 13 date, five
pieces with Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and Brown's "La Piacita"
running 18 minutes each, and Miriam Makeba's "Amanpondo" at 25 minutes.
Bang manages to swing in any or no time; the horns mesh intuitively,
completing one another's thoughts; the bassists have different
strong suits, and Cyrille has rarely had better days.
||Barbara Morrison: A Sunday Kind of Love (Savant):
Singer got her start opposite Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson in 1974,
toiled a couple decades in the Johnny Otis Show, has a dozen
records since 1995, but I can't imagine any holds a candle to
this one. The secret isn't a fine-but-who-are-they pianio trio --
Stuart Elster? Richard Simon? Lee Spath? -- so it must be Houston
Person, who is more than just featured here. But it's the singer
who hits one softball after another out of the park: "I'm Just a
Lucky So and So," "The Green Door," "A Sunday Kind of Love," "On
the Sunny Side of the Street," "Let's Stay Together" -- only "I
Cover the Waterfront" is out of her zone. Exquisite: the medley
of "Smile/Make Someone Happy." I dare anyone not to.
||Roswell Rudd: Trombone for Lovers (Sunnyside):
The "Joe Hill" suite at the end takes some getting used to, but
since when has organizing been easy? Everything else is just superb:
the opening "Ghost Riders in the Sky" with Steven Bernstein's slide
trumpet, Bob Dorough on "Here, There & Everywhere," Fay Victor
on "Trouble in Mind," Michael Doucet's violin on "Autumn Leaves"
and "Tennessee Waltz," familiar songs that seem perfect when they
pop up: "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "Struttin' With Some Barbecue,"
"Green Onions," "Unchained Melody," "September Song."
||Revolutionary Ensemble: Counterparts (2005, Mutable Music):
An important avant-jazz group during its original
1972-77 run, a trio of Leroy Jenkins (violin), Sirone (bass), and
Jerome Cooper (drums). They eventually regrouped and recorded the
marvelous And Now . . . (2004, Pi), but their second phase
was cut short by the deaths of Jenkins (2007) and Sirone (2009).
A 2008 release of a 2005 session offered a taste, but it's not
just nostalgia lifting this belated release of the group's last
||Peter Evans: Zebulon (More Is More):
Trumpet player, best known as one of the terrorists in Mostly Other
People Do the Killing, but has a handful of records on his own,
mostly more avant than the band's. Trio, with the ever-dependable
John Hébert on bass and Kassa Overall on drums. Trumpet stabs, zips,
kicks it up a notch, then another.
||Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Functional Arrhythmias (Pi):
Alto saxophonist, b. 1956, has used Five Elements
as his primary group name since 1986, thirteen albums in all. Many
explore funk/fusion beats, some are muddied up with vocals, the last
couple I didn't care for at all. But this one is stripped way down:
two wavering horns (Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet), bass and drums
that fully implement the title, a little extra guitar (Miles Okazaki)
on five tracks. Perhaps simple, but rarely has the continuous shifting
of time come through so clear -- one could even say, functional.
||Roscoe Mitchell: Duets With Tyshawn Sorey and Special Guest Hugh
Ragin (Wide Hive):
Saxophonist, 72, a mainstay
of the Art Ensemble of Chicago since the late 1960s. Don't have the
credits to break this down, but it sounds like the duos give way
to trios when trumpeter Ragin jumps in. Also, figure drummer Sorey
for the piano -- actually quite impressive -- and Mitchell, in
standard AEC operating procedure, adds to the percussion. So a lot
going on, and spectacular when they crank it up. [**]
||Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey/Gerald Cleaver: Enigma (Leo):
Tenor sax, piano, two drummers --
the doubling up isn't conspicuous or necessary even to balance
out leaders who run on the loud side, but in an art where "the
drummer plays with the band" their separate takes add subtle
points -- not that you need them when the Brazilian saxophonist
is on such a roll.
||Dave Bennett: Don't Be That Way (Mack Avenue):
Clarinet player, from Michigan, an unabashed Benny Goodman fan -- his
two previous albums are Dave Bennett Salutes 100 Years of Benny
and Clarinet Is King: Songs of Great Clarinetists. Mostly stays
with the classics here: "Slipped Disc," "Begin the Beguine," "Sing,
Sing, Sing," "Woodchopper's Ball," and reaches back even further for
"St. James Infirmary" (with a vocal) and the closing "When the Saints
Go Marching In." Even the one faux pas ("Yesterday," normally a kiss
of death) is flat out gorgeous.
||Trio 3 + Jason Moran: Refraction: Breakin' Glass (Intakt):
I file the Trio's records -- eight since
1993 -- under Oliver Lake but Reggie Workman (who's actually listed
first here, but not always) and Andrew Cyrille are superstars too,
and you can key on any one of them and hear everything a musician
can do. Moran has to work to earn a spot in their company, and he
does. Two raps: Lake's title cut reminiscing about his mother, and
Cyrille's intro to "High Priest." [**]
||Barry Altschul: The 3Dom Factor (TUM):
Drummer, his discography thinned out in the 1980s but he's popped
up a few times recently: in the FAB Trio with Joe Fonda and Billy
Bang; on Sam Rivers' Reunion with Holland; as "special guest"
on Jon Irabagon's Foxy. His first headline album since 1986,
but it's basically the flip side of Foxy, a sax trio with
Irabagon and Fonda. Not as fun as Foxy or as flamboyant as
Irabagon is on Slippery Rock but superb nonetheless, with
plenty of reason to focus on the drummer.
||Rich Halley 4: Crossing the Passes (Pine Eagle):
An outdoorsman whose avant-sax relentlessly explores rough and open
spaces, Halley has recorded since the 1980s, more so since he's hit
retirement age. Quartet adds a second horn -- Michael Vlatkovich's
trombone -- to bass (Clyde Reed) and drums (son Carson Halley).
||Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom: No Morphine No Lillies
(Foxhaven/Royal Potato Family):
Previous album was a drummer-led piano trio with "guest" violinist
Jenny Scheinman challenging the ever-brilliant Myra Melford. Here
Scheinman becomes a regular, giving the group two stars to try to
keep in sync, and a new batch of guests step in, including a Rachel
Friedman vocal, Erik Friedlander on cello, and a pair of trumpets
on the deliriously over-the-top closer.
||Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio + Jeb Bishop: The Flame Alphabet
Trombonist Bishop has made a habit of attaching himself to other
performers, often doing little more than adding to the noise quotient --
indeed, that pretty much summed up his previous album with this very
talented Portuguese sax trio, but here he puts on a showcase of
avant-trombone would impress fans of Steve Swell, or even Roswell
Rudd. And Amado is sharp as ever, ably backed by Miguel Mira on
cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums.
||Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran: Hagar's Song (ECM):
Duets, the venerable saxophonist and one of the most accomplished
young pianists of the last decade -- some of those feats coming in
Lloyd's Quartet, so this isn't a stab at an odd pairing. No bass or
drums lets Lloyd take his time, especially delighting in melodies
like "Mood Indigo" and "God Only Knows." Some flute, but it fits
||Ivo Perelman: Serendipity (Leo):
Originally planned as a trio with Matthew Shipp and Gerald Cleaver
(who a week later reconvened to record The Foreign Legion),
when one was late they put out a call to William Parker to join in
and wound up with a quartet. Sometimes hard to judge exactly what
Parker adds, but Perelman is remarkably relaxed and fluid from the
start, and builds up to some of his most impressive blowing ever.
||Luis Lopes/Humanization 4tet: Live in Madison (Ayler):
Guitarist, from Portugal, has several albums with this
quartet, mixing it up with tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, backed by
Texan brothers Aaron and Stefan González. Leads off with Arthur Blythe's
"Bush Baby" where the see-saw leads are especially infectious. Rest are
originals, three from Lopes, one from Amado, and a roughhousing blues
from Aaron G.
||Marty Grosz & the Hot Winds: The James P. Johnson Songbook
Guitarist, plays banjo and
sings some, son of legendary anti-Nazi satirist Georg Grosz. Now
in his eighties, playing music originating from the great pianist,
mostly from the decade before Grosz's birth. With a terrific trad
jazz band: Jon-Erik Kelso (trumpet), Scott Robinson (saxes), Dan
Block (clarinets), James Dapogny (piano), Vince Giordano (bass,
bass sax, tuba), and Arnie Kinsella (drums) -- the '20s roar again. [**]
||Ceramic Dog: Your Turn (Northern Spy):
Marc Ribot's power trio, with Shahzad Ismaily on bass and Ches Smith
on drums; second album together, but where Party Intellectuals
featured Ribot's name and leaned jazz, this one is hard rock but finds
fancier ways to get dissonant. Six songs have lyrics, three sung by
Ezter Balint, the others one each from the trio. The songs are solid
enough to carry the singer, but the appeal is the guitar busting loose.
||William Parker/In Order to Survive: Kalaparusha on the Edge of
the Horizon (AUM Fidelity):
The last CD in the 8-CD Wood Flute Songs box (minus two outtakes),
the group is Parker's Quartet plus Cooper-Moore on piano -- the lineup
for the In Order to Survive albums from the mid-1990s -- reunited
for a Vision Festival live set. Rob Brown pushes his alto sax way into
the upper registers, and the pianist puts on one of his shows where you
start thinking he may be the most underrated one of the last few decades.
[Download only unless you buy the box.] [**]
||Ross Hammond Quartet: Cathedrals (Prescott):
Sacramento-based guitarist, has a handful of interesting albums. Last
cut here is a duet with drummer Alex Cline, a good chance to focus on
Hammond's technique. But the rest of the album is dominated by Vinny
Golia (tenor and soprano sax, flute) in a tour de force over regular
||Dave Douglas Quintet: Time Travel (Greenleaf Music):
Same lineup as last year's Be Still -- Jon Irabagon (tenor sax),
Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda Oh (bass), Rudy Royston (drums) -- minus
the singer and the solemn tone, so they flare out, even with the fancy
postbop compositional matrix. Amazing chops, with Douglas so confident
he's always game to take on the hottest young saxophonist he can find:
before Irabagon, the last three were named Strickland, McCaslin, and
||Han Bennink: Bennink & Co. (ILK '12):
Legendary Dutch percussionist, age 70, credited with drums here but
has been known to hit almost anything, here with Simon Toldam on
piano and Joachim Badenhorst on various saxes and clarinet. Free
jazz which somehow manages to swing and evoke a carnival air, an
effect that the clarinet especially brings out. [**]
||Scott Neumann Neu3 Trio: Blessed (Origin):
Drummer, second album plus a couple dozen side credits since 1996,
all over the style map -- including saxophonist Michael Blake's
post-Lounge Lizards debut in 1997. Blake is back here, along with
bassist Mark Helias, playing eight Neumann originals, one from
Helias, and one from Roswell Rudd ("Keep Your Heart Right"). All
three are terrific, with Blake in an expansive R&B honking
mode, the rhythm section pushing him on and running interference.
||Ehud Asherie with Harry Allen: Lower East Side (Posi-Tone):
Mainstream pianist playing standards with tenor sax -- in fact, Allen
is about the closest you can get these days to Coleman Hawkins. They
did this last year on Upper West Side, and these may just be
leftovers, probably from the same session -- less famous, and less
obvious, songs, although they saved "When I Grow Too Old to Dream" for
a delicious closer.
||Adam Lane Trio: Absolute Horizon (NoBusiness):
Bassist, justly known for his compositions but decided to wing it
here. Trio includes Darius Jones on alto sax and Vijay Anderson
on drums. Jones is an imposing player in his own right, and does
a nice job of threading the rhythm here. Seems too easy --that's
what talent does.
||Claudia Quintet: September (Cuneiform):
John Hollenbeck's soft-toned group -- Matt Moran's vibraphone is
more than ever the focal center, with accordion (Red Wienenge)
and clarinet/tenor sax (Chris Speed) for color, and bass to round
out the bottom. For me, the FDR mashup raises more questions than
it answers, but the rest are percussion jams, as inspired as ever.
||John O'Gallagher: The Anton Webern Project (Whirlwind):
Alto saxophonist, ninth album and tends to run away with his side
credits, but this time he warms up a concept: based on eight opuses
by Austrian 12-tone composer Anton Webern, refashioned for a superb
jazz group with Matt Moran (vibes), Pete McCann (guitar), Russ Lossing
(keybs), Johannes Weidenmuller (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums), and
Margaret Grebowicz (voice). This builds outward, and only occasional
vocals suggest its providence.
||Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moment & the
Trumpet player, first album after quality side credits with Steve
Lehman, Steve Coleman, Tomas Fujiwara, and Mary Halvorson. Quintet
with Miles Okazaki (guitar), David Virelles (piano), Keith Witty
(bass), and Damion Reid (drums) -- his horn front and center, while
the guitar and piano players are rising stars, sparkling soloists
with an intriguingly complex interplay.
||Harris Eisenstadt September Trio: The Destructive Element
Drummer, prolific since 2002, one of his finest his 2011 September
Trio with Ellery Eskelin (tenor sax) and Angelica Sanchez (piano).
Same group here: Eskelin is superb at stepping around the rhythms,
while the pianist burns right through them, adding more as she goes.
||Lucian Ban: Elevation/Mystery (Sunnyside):
Pianist from Romania, stretched out his folkloric/classical side
on this year's Transylvanian Concert with Mat Maneri (ECM),
but this one -- a quartet with Abraham Burton (tenor sax), John
Hébert (bass), and Eric McPherson (drums) -- recorded at Cornelia
Street Cafe in NYC sets him in an avant context, especially when
the saxophonist works up a full head of steam. Nor is a quiet spot
with just the bassist any less captivating.
||Melodic Art-Tet: Melodic Art-Tet (1974, No Business):
Quartet, formed in 1970 by saxophonist Charles Brackeen and three
members of Sun Ra's entourage: Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet), Ronnie Boykins
(bass), and Roger Blank (drums). They played in lofts, never released
an album, but cut this at WKCR in 1974 with a very young William
Parker taking over the bass slot, and Tony Waters on percussion.
Four long pieces, free with funk overtones, the reeds not as clear
as you'd like, but Abdullah a force of nature, and the second half
is so ship-shape you could sail back to Saturn.
||Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Somewhere (ECM):
He's 68 now, and his label keeps shipping out new product every year,
but the recording dates have started to creep back. Some of us have
long since hit the saturation point, but every once in a while you
have to pause and appreciate just how extraordinary this group is.
Last time for me was My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux, a
2001 tape released as a double in 2007, but this, recorded at KKL
Luzern Concert Hall in 2009, is also on that level.
||Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Red Hot (Hot Cup):
Moppa Elliott's group takes its terror act to Dixieland, expanding
from a quartet to septet along the way -- additions are at piano
(Ron Stabinsky), bass trombone (David Taylor), banjo (Brandon
Seabrook), while Jon Irabagon picks up the C melody sax, soprano
too. The harmony is reminiscent of old times, but the group knows
too many new tricks to go authentic -- free rhythm, abstract piano
solos, some electronic drone. They're just out to mess with you.
||Rudresh Mahanthappa: Gamak (ACT):
Alto sax quartet, with electric guitar (David Fiuczynski), acoustic
bass (François Moutin), and drums (Dan Weiss). This fits a trend of
groups (often bass-less trios) where the guitar, rather than expanding
the harmony, like piano has traditionally done -- both pushes the sax
into a frenzy and can take a solo spot beside it, like a second horn.
So not pathbreaking, but, of course, he does it better than almost
||Jonathan Moritz Trio: Secret Tempo (Hot Cup):
Tenor saxophonist, born in Iran, moved to California, then Belgium
to study and back to CA. First album under own name but he has eight
more under group names. This one has Shayna Dulberger on bass and
Mike Pride on drums. First impression was that this is the sort of
sax record I fall easiest for. After several replays the soprano
had me wavering, but the bassist sold the deal.
||Matt Parker: Worlds Put Together (Bynk):
Tenor saxophonist, originally from Fort Lauderdale, came up through
the Maynard Ferguson band. Basic band includes piano, guitar, bass,
drums, and Julio Monterrey on alto sax, although he strips down on
a couple not-quite-solo cuts and adds a party-load of vocals on
another. All interesting, whether he's cooing a ballad or smashing
up the joint.
||Joe Lovano Us Five: Cross Culture (Blue Note):
Traditional sax-piano-bass-drums quartet upgraded for
the modern era by doubling up the drummers -- Otis Brown III and
Francisco Mela -- but what distinguishes the third group album is
how much weight the leader carries: one of the great tenor saxmen
of the last thirty years, in fine form here.
||Living by Lanterns: New Myth/Old Science (Cuneiform '12):
Compositions and arrangements by Jason Adasiewicz (vibes) and Mike
Reed (drums), "based on unpublished compositions and improvisations
by Sun Ra," and performed by a star-laden band that is capable of
projecting intergalactic imagination: Greg Ward (alto sax), Taylor Ho
Bynum (cornet), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax), Tomeka Reid (cello), Mary
Halvorson (guitar), Joshua Abrams (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums),
with Nick Butcher adding electronics on two tracks.
||Kaze: Tornado (Libra):
two trumpets (Natsuki Tamura and Christian Pruvost), piano (Satoko
Fujii), and drums (Peter Orins). The trumpets burst out of the gate,
and the pianist almost makes the drummer an afterthought. And when
the fury breaks, they keep it interesting in subtler ways.
||Samo Salamon Quartets: Stretching Out (Sazas, 2CD):
Slovenian guitarist, prolific since 2003, this one a double: one
disc each with an American quartet in 2008 and a European one in
2012. The latter, with Dominique Pifarely on violin is dense,
scratchy, and ultimately rewarding although it took me a lot of
time to pan out. The former, with Donny McCaslin on tenor sax,
John Hébert on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums, caused no
trouble at all: the guitarist recalls his John Scofield roots,
and McCaslin follows seamlessly.
||François Carrier/Michel Lambert/John Edwards/Steve Beresford:
Overground to the Vortex (Not Two):
Alto sax, drums, bass, piano; Carrier and Lambert, from Montreal, have
played together since the 1990s; the others joined in England, where
this was recorded. Four long pieces, group improv, the piano evident
only on the last two. Carrier is superb, as usual: always searching,
||Billy Bang: Da Bang! (TUM):
Probably the late, great violinist's last recording -- in Helsinki,
about two months before he died. Quintet, with trombone (Dick Griffin),
piano (Andrew Bemkey), bass, and drums. Six cuts -- one original, the
title cut by Barry Altschul, other pieces from Don Cherry, Ornette
Coleman, Miles Davis, and Sonny Rollins. Far from his greatest work,
but his solos are unmistakable, and trombone is a nice contrast. Plus
you can't go out on a more ecstatic note than "St. Thomas."
||Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Balazs Pandi: One (Rare Noise):
Tenor sax trio, with Morris playing electric bass for
the first time on record -- he established himself on guitar, but
has also played acoustic bass more frequently of late -- and Pandi
on drums. Perelman's been knocking out a half-dozen records per year
recently, and this, with its choppy intro and an inspired torrent
near the end, is another.
||Nick Fraser: Towns and Villages (Barnyard):
Drummer, based in Toronto, has at least one previous album under his own
name, several as Drumheller, a dozen or so side credits. Quartet, modeled
loosely on Ornette Coleman's recent two-bass quartet, this one with Rob
Clutton on double bass and Andrew Downing on cello. They provide an ever
shifting substrate for the horn: Tony Malaby on tenor (and soprano) sax
gives a bravura performance, one of his finest ever.
||The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Phalanx (Aerophonic, 2CD):
Dave Rempis first appeared in the Vandermark 5 on alto sax but is
equally adept at tenor and soprano. His main vehicle over the past
five years has been this quartet, with two drummers (Frank Rosaly
and Tim Daisy) and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. Two live sets
may seem excessive, but repeated play pushed it over the line,
smoothing the rough spots, easing me down during the lulls, certain
that something exciting is just around the corner.
||Chris Morrissey: North Hero (Sunnyside):
Electric bassist, second album, quartet: Mike Lewis (sax), Aaron Parks
(piano), Mark Guiliana (drums). Lewis plays in a Minneapolis band
called Happy Apple with Dave King, who produces here. Guiliana is
a fair soundalike for King, Parks is a striking pianist in his
own right, and Lewis is a double threat: a honker on the faster
ones and a swooner on the ballads. Morrissey wrote both.
||Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of the Duet, Volume One
Pianist Shipp has been the Brazilian avant-saxophonist's most frequent
bandmate in his recent six-records-a-year schedule, so a duet seems all
but inevitable -- indeed, they've done this before, on Bendito of
Santa Cruz in 1996. You'd think exhaustion might set in, but these
duets here are clear and sparkling, both sides coherent and connected.
||Randy Brecker: Night in Calisia (Summit):
Second time the trumpeter has collaborated with Polish composer-pianist
Wlodek Pawlik, following 2009's Nostalgic Journey: Tykocin Jazz
Suite, and I'm pretty sure they're the two best records of his
career. Trumpet on top of Pawlik's piano trio backed by Kalisz
Philharmonic, as swishy as they get, although the score stretches
them, and someone (drummer Cezary Konrad?) minds the rhythm.
||Jimmy Amadie Trio: Live! At the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Touted as "a hot jazz pianist in the 1950s" and claiming to have
palyed with Charley Ventura, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, and
Mel Tormé, his discography doesn't start until 1997, mostly piano
trio kicking around old standards. These you've heard a million
times -- "Summertime," "My Funny Valentine," "Just in Time," "All
the Things You Are" -- and he really makes them sparkle.
||Linda Oh: Sun Pictures (Greenleaf Music):
Bassist, third album, quartet with Ben Wendel (tenor sax), James
Muller (guitar), and Ted Poor (drums). Pieces have an inside-out
feel to them, nothing showy, fast or loud -- the guitar and sax
just build up on the bass waves and carry you along.
||The Ex & Brass Unbound: Enormous Door (Ex):
Dutch group, around since 1980, originally figured for punk but
guitarists Terrie Ex and Andy Moor dabble in jazz and have various
African connections. Arnold de Boer and drummer Katherina Bornefeld
sing, and they've hooked up with the most avant horn section ever
to grace an Afro-punk band: Roy Paci, Wolter Wierbos, Ken Vandermark,
and Mats Gustafsson. Ends with a "Theme From Konono No. 2" that could
use more garbage cans but makes do with the horns. [**]
||Correction With Mats Gustafsson: Shift (No Business):
Sebastian Bergström's piano trio, with Joacim Nyberg on bass and
Emil Åstrand-Melin on drums. Gustafsson plays bari sax here, and
for once brought his inside game, playing around the shifts rather
than bulling through them. Gives the pianist a chance to shine,
and he does. [*]
||Carlos Alves "Zingaro"/Jean Luc Cappozzo/Jerome Bourdellon/Nicolas
Lelievre: Live at Total Meeting (NoBusiness '12)
Violin, trumpet/bugle, flutes/bass clarinet, percussion, respectively,
a prickly combination. Zingaro, from in Portugal, came out of the
postclassical avant-garde with a long discography. Cappozzo has a few
albums. Don't know the others, but the drummer is terrific, someone
to watch out for. Three long improv pieces, difficult but dazzling,
kept a smile on my face all the way through.
||Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Vol. VIII: Live at the Winery September
6, 1976 (1976, Widow's Taste):
Most Unreleased Art volumes focus on his last years, 1980-82,
working with regular touring bands. This catches him a few years earlier,
with a no-name Bay Area pickup band. Pianist Smith Dobson acquits himself
well, but Pepper blows everyone away, from a fast "Caravan" up through
the "Straight Life" encore. Mostly staples from his now-numerous live
albums, but he's rarely raced through them with so much vigor.
||Satoko Fujii: Gen Himmel (Libra):
Solo piano, not sure how many of those she's recorded in a very
prolific career -- AMG lists 44 records since 1995 -- but it's
not zero and not many. This has none of the thrash I'm so fond
of, so I'm all the more surprised that it succeeds on its own
complex melodic terms.
||Old Time Musketry: Different Times (Steeplechase '12)
Group is a quartet, based in New York: Adam Schneit (sax, clarinet),
JP Schlegelmilch (piano, accordion, synth, glockenspiel), Phil Rowan
(bass), Max Goldman (drums, melodica). Schneit and Schlegelmilch
split the writing. They go for soft edges, letting the music just
pick you up and sweep you away.
||Rent Romus' Life's Blood: Truth Teller (Edgetone):
Avant-saxophonist (alto/soprano) from San Francisco, drifted
through various Bay Area groups (e.g., the Lords of Outland).
Mostly trio, with bass (Kim Cass and/or Markus Hunt) and drums
(Timothy Orr), plus Rhodes on one cut. The rough stuff is sharp,
engaging, and the softer spots draw you in.
||William Parker/Raining on the Moon: Friday Afternoon (AUM
Group named for one of Parker's finest
albums (2002), with pianist Eri Yamamoto supplementing the Lewis
Barnes-Rob Brown two-horn quartet, and Leena Conquest singing her
way through the difficult terrain. She's remarkable in ways that
remind one of Betty Carter and she makes it look easier. Also time
to note what a fantastic drummer Hamid Drake is. [**]
||David Greenberger/Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound: They Like Me Around
Here (Pel Pel):
Spoken word, collected from interviews in nursing homes -- at some
point in all of Greenberger's albums I belatedly realize that his
homogenized voice is channeling a much more varied group of people,
usually when one of those people has to be female. Paul Cebar's
score is varied, inventive, sometimes exotic -- tasteful horn
charts, bits of field recordings, lots of percussion,
||Colin Stetson: New History Warfare, Vol. 3: To See More Light
Saxophonist, plays everything
from alto down but favors the big bass sax, and makes extensive
use of circular breathing, which gives his tones resonance and a
warbly rhythm, even when playing solo with no overdubs or loops.
They did dub in some vocals later, credited to Justin Vernon (aka
Bon Iver), and they add to the eeriness of it all. Nothing else
quite like it.
||The Whammies: Play the Music of Steve Lacy Vol. 2 (Driff):
Sextet, a Dutch-Chicago-Boston hybrid: Jorrit Dijkstra (alto sax, lyricon),
Pandelis Karayorgis (piano), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Mary Oliver (violin,
viola), Nate McBride (bass), Han Bennink (drums). Eleven songs by Steve
Lacy, plus one by Monk. First volume was terrific, and the new one, a
new session, carries on.
||Anthony Branker & Word Play: Uppity (Origin):
Composer, directs the jazz program at Princeton. Sixth album, second
with this group: Ralph Bowen (tenor sax) and Jim Ridl (piano) are the
names you've likely heard of. First two cuts are upbeat, just bubbling
over. Less impressive when he gets solemn, with uncredited strings
and Charmaine Lee's vocal fills on a Nigeria-themed number, but it
builds to an impressive swell, whereas his similar "Ballad for Trayvon
Martin" goes for elegiac simplicity.
||Idan Santhaus: There You Are (Posi-Tone):
Big band arranger, first album under his own name, but has a couple of
arranger credits, including A Different Porgy & Another Bess
for Brussels Jazz Orchestra. His instrument is flute, but he only plays
on one cut here. Recorded in two sets with a minority of overlapping
musicians. The solos feel composed through, but he has a remarkable
knack for drawing them out.
||Mulatu Astatke: Sketches of Ethiopia (Jazz Village):
Ethiopian composer and keyboardist, studied in London and Boston, and
worked for a spell in New York with Duke Ellington. He developed his
Ethio-Jazz synthesis in the 1970s, and has a handful of albums, but
this is the first time he's been able to employ a big band under his
own direction. [**]
||The Road to Jajouka: A Benefit Album (Howe):
The Master Musicians of Jajouka, the Moroccan institution first came
to worldwide attention when Brian Jones (Rolling Stones, you know)
released a their 1968. Current leader, Bachir Attar, would have been
four at the time. This is another fortuitous foreign intervention,
primarily by Billy Martin (of Medeski & Wood fame), whose illybeats
lay the techno-fusion foundation for a parade of guests, including Marc
Ribot, DJ Logic, Lee Ranaldo, John Zorn, Bill Laswell, and Ornette
||John Tchicai/Charlie Kohlhase/Garrison Fewell/Cecil McBee/Billy Hart:
Tribal Ghost (2007, NoBusiness):
The late Danish tenor saxophonist -- Roswell Rudd's partner in the New
York Art Quartet -- sparring with a second sax (Kohlhase) and guitar
(Fewell), their odd trio rounded out with guest stars on bass and drums.
Four cuts, three by Fewell, his guitar tying them into neat little
grooves, the saxes not clashing but embroidering.
||Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Mat Maneri: A Violent Dose of Anything
The Brazilian avant-saxophonist often has trouble with strings, but
Maneri and Shipp go back at least to a 1998 duo, and the viola is
prickly here, often engaging like a second horn, sketching out a
more treacherous terrain which Perelman is eager to explore -- the
first few minutes offer some of his most flightful work ever.
||Mort Weiss: A Giant Step Out and Back (SMS Jazz):
Seventy-eight-year-old clarinet player, started late, says this will be
his swansong, evidently blaming the economy more infirmitude. Solo
with what I assume are some overdubs, a few originals and a bunch of
standards he uses to launch free improvs -- a surprise in that he's
always been a swing-to-bop man -- but his command of the clarinet
doesn't leave you feeling the need for anything else.
||Ellery Eskelin: Trio New York II (Prime Source):
Sax-organ trio, with Gary Versace on the B3 and Gerald Cleaver on drums;
second album together, the first dedicated to the tenor saxophonist's
organ-playing mother. All standards, with a Monk piece, others like
"Just One of Those Things," "After You've Gone," and "Flamingo." Versace
stays clear of the usual soul jazz moves, giving this an odd delicacy,
undercutting the spark but bringing out some of Eskelin's most poignant
||Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton: Live at Maya Recordings
Festival (No Business):
An august group: their association goes back to LJCO's Ode
in 1972, their frequent trios to 1986 (at the latest). I'm not sure
how this ranks, but the basics are very solid. Parker's soprano sax
is unique, especially with the circular breathing, while his tenor
is rougher and more personable.
||Thomas Borgmann/Wilber Morris/Reggie Nicholson: Nasty &
Sweet (1998-99, NoBusiness, 2CD): German tenor saxophonist, not
much discography but he does have a 1999 CIMP album with this same
trio and a 2003 bash with Peter Brötzmann. The first disc lives up
to the title, and the second starts with a piece from the same date.
The 1998 session slows toward the end, for a long bass solo and a
little sax dirge. [*]
Ballot calls for top three. I get virtually no reissues from
publicists -- in particular, I don't get the pricey boxes from Mosaic
that always win in this category, nor the voluminous "complete LPs"
from Legacy, not even the well-worn classics Concord bothers to
reissue. Nor anything from Europe, where most of the interesting
reissues come out.
||New York Art Quartet: Call It Art (1964-65, Triple Point,
5LP): Extravagant packaging, the 5 LPs each in its own jacket, packed
alongside a 156-page clothbound book, both enclosed in a very handsome
plywood box: list price $340, which strikes me as insane, but it is a
beauty, and presumably the market knows best. The group, with Roswell
Rudd on trombone and John Tchicai on alto sax, was more at home in
Copenhagen than in New York. They cut two albums, but "old stuff"
has been leaking out, and this "previously uncirculated" material
is more of the same: consistently interesting, especially for fans.
||Matthew Shipp: Greatest Hits (2000-12, Thirsty Ear):
This "postrock" label hired the avant-pianist to curate "The Blue
Series" -- a meeting ground for avant-jazz and DJ culture, which
generated the most striking "jazztronica" of the decade. Shipp's
own contributions were only part of the story, and later on he
turned off the electronics and tried to reassert himself as an
acoustic performer -- he is, after all, one of the major jazz
pianists of our times. This covers both phases, and to a large
extent makes them one.
||Ornette Coleman: Friends and Neighbors: Ornette Live at Prince
Street (1970, BGP):
Not many live recordings from when
Coleman filled the hole Don Cherry left in his quartet with tenor
saxophonist Dewey Redman. The title cut gets an amusing singalong
treatment, but then it's down to business, the two saxes slipping
deftly by one another, even when they reach for the heights --
of course, Coleman's alto has the advantage up there.
||Miles Davis: Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2
(1969, Columbia/Legacy, 3CD):
No one in jazz reinvented himself more times than Davis. These
live sets represent the first step after his second great quintet,
with Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette replacing the
Hancock-Clarke-Williams rhythm section, but despite Corea's electric
piano the initial look is avant, not fusion. This was a time when
Corea and Holland were developing Circle with Anthony Braxton, a
year before Holland's Conference of the Birds. Interestingly
enough, the musician farthest out here is Wayne Shorter, who never
seemed more intent on channeling Ayler and Coltrane, although Davis
takes a few fliers too. It doesn't especially work, and Davis soon
went elsewhere, but it's not just interesting either: some major
talent in this group.
My Jazz Critics Poll ballot picks off the top 10 new releases, the
top 3 reissues, and cites one record each for the following categories:
- Vocal: Barbara Morrison: A Sunday Kind of Love (Savant)
- Debut: Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moment &
the Message (Pi)
- Latin: Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey/Gerald Cleaver:
Perelman isn't normally thought of as a Latin Jazz man, but he
hails from Brazil, and I didn't have much else competing for the
honor: some good records in the high B+ set, but even there I keep
coming up with the likes of Roger Davidson (a really fine pianist
who's obsessive about Brazilian music) or Kenny Barron (another
piano giant who rounded up a bunch of Brazilian musicians for this
year's outing). (Actually, there are another half-dozen records
on that list by legit Latinos ranging from Diego Barber to Miguel
It's worth noting that the list above was selected from a total
of 610 records released in 2013 that I have reviewed and rated, so
it represents less than 12% of that total. The number of records I
have reviewed has been dropping since the Village Voice stopped
running my Jazz Consumer Guide columns: we're down about 100 records
since two years ago. I'm slightly up this year only because I've
been compensating for the loss by more aggressively seeking out
things on Rhapsody, and by reducing my unrated queue by more than
half compared to this time last year. But that only goes so far,
and the lack of institutional support makes it increasingly hard
to review records the way I do.
It will be interesting to compare this list with the year-end
lists that feed into the Jazz Critics Poll, with the more mainstream
Jazz Times poll (which I don't vote in), and with some of the
more avant-oriented polls in Europe (one of which I do vote in).
But that's for later. This is what I think now. And if history is
anything to go by, in a couple days I'll come up with a record I
missed that should have been added to this list.
For further lists covering lower-graded albums, go