Downbeat Critics Poll: 2005

Seems like the last couple of years Downbeat has come out with a Critics Poll I've taken the time to second guess them. (I'm not a voter, and I recognize only a few of the names listed.) Early on I did this as a self-check exercise, partly because I didn't recognize some of the winners (at least in the "rising star" division; there are still names lower down the lists that I don't recognize). I'm leaving out a bunch of categories that don't strike me as very useful -- groups, composers, arrangers. I'm reprinting the lists as published, though not the votes. Most categories have a second list for "rising star"; anyone on that list who is also on the main list has an asterisk in front of the name.

Hall of Fame: Steve Lacy, Jimmy Smith, Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, Hank Jones, Muhal Richard Abrams, Erroll Garner, Billy Higgins, Lee Konitz, Andrew Hill, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Blanton, Don Cherry, Jo Jones, Oliver Nelson. Every year I complain that Jackie McLean isn't even on the ballot, so note that again. Downbeat's HOF has 103 members going back to Louis Armstrong, and most are beyond question. (Not all: I wouldn't have bothered with Red Rodney or Maynard Ferguson, both of whom I would have taken long before Frank Zappa.) No quarrel at all with Steve Lacy. Of the other finishers, I'd pick (in order): Konitz, Cherry, Hill, Smith, Jones (Thad and Elvin are already in). Many others are worthy -- Mal Waldron and Don Pullen are two who come to mind.

Jazz Album: Maria Schneider Orchestra, Concert in the Garden; Branford Marsalis, Eternal; Don Byron, Ivey-Divey; Alice Coltrane, Translinear Light; Pat Metheny Group, The Way Up; Bill Frisell, Unspeakable; Keith Jarrett, The Out-of-Towners; Joe Lovano, I'm All for You; Dave Douglas, Mountain Passages; Bill Charlap Trio, Somewhere; Geri Allen, Life of a Song; Von Freeman, The Great Divide; Jason Moran, Same Mother; Tomasz Stanko, Suspended Night; Grachan Moncur III Octet, Exploration; John Scofield, En Route. Ugh! The top two records made my duds list, and three more were stuck at B (Lovano, Charlap, Moncur). Two I never heard (Frisell, Scofield). Most were B+, with Byron, Allen, Freeman and Stanko breaking A-, and only Byron in my top ten. I can't fathom Schneider's record, which leaves me constantly doubting my reticence, but I've played it a dozen times and gotten next to nothing out of it. On the other hand, I have no doubt that Branford's album just plain sucks. My own choices have been listed elsewhere, so I won't repeat them here. The best album among the finishers is Byron, which showed up in most critics lists last year. I suspect that raw votes, as opposed to their points system (10 points for 3 choices, 5 point max) which factored in intensity, or permitted ballot stuffing, as the case may be. Schneider also won for Composer and Arranger, which are tough categories to sort out.

Reissue: Miles Davis, Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-1964; Albert Ayler, Holy Ghost; Andrew Hill, Dance With Death; Woody Herman, The Complete Columbia Recordings of Woody Herman 1945-47; James Brown, Soul on Top; Dexter Gordon, The Complete Prestige Recordings; The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions; Duke Ellington, Blues in Orbit; Charles Mingus, The Great Concert of Charles Mingus; Dexter Gordon, Mosaic Select; Coleman Hawkins, The Centennial Collection; Miles Davis, Birdland 1951. Note that there are four single-CDs, one CD+DVD, one two-CD, and six boxes here: now is the time for critics to thank the publicists. I've heard seven of twelve (Davis #1, Hill, Brown, Granz, Ellington, Gordon #2, Davis #2) -- all A- or better (Ellington) except for Birdland 1951, which made my Duds list. I would have voted for Don Pullen, Mosaic Select. But I'm still pissed they didn't send me the Ayler box.

Soprano Saxophone: Wayne Shorter, Dave Liebman, Branford Marsalis, Jane Ira Bloom, Evan Parker, Jane Bunnett, Bob Wilber, Chris Potter, Gary Bartz, Sam Rivers, James Carter, Jan Garbarek, Steve Wilson. I'm sorry, but this is a bullshit list. (Talk about missing Steve Lacy.) Everyone but Bloom and Bunnett play tenor or alto as their first instrument, and of the rest only Parker and Garbarek are particularly notable for the soprano. (Wilber mostly plays it with Kenny Davern, who mostly plays clarinet.) I'd probably vote for Garbarek, then Parker, then maybe Davern. Rising Star: Ravi Coltrane, *Steve Wilson, *Jane Bunnett, *Chris Potter, Michael Blake, Stefano di Battista, *Jane Ira Bloom, Sam Newsome, Joel Frahm, Eric Crystal, Lol Coxhill, Marcus Strickland. Don't really know Coxhill but I gather that soprano is his main axe. Still, given that he's in his 70s already, he's not likely to rise much higher. Don't know a couple of these (Blake, Crystal). Don't have an obvious choice here.

Alto Saxophone: Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Greg Osby, Ornette Coleman, Kenny Garrett, Gary Bartz, Bobby Watson, Charles McPherson, Jackie McLean, Bud Shank, Anthony Braxton, Tim Berne, Steve Coleman. The edge that Konitz and Woods have over Ornette and Jackie is that they're working harder these days. Over the long haul the latter are more important than Woods and Shank (another estimable elder statesman), although Konitz is a tougher call. Braxton and Watson are both important players. I love Braxton's standards box, but find his compositions increasingly dry (which by now means Atacamba Desert dry). Not sure who I'd vote for. Rising Star: Miguel Zenón, Dave Binney, Stefano di Battista, *Greg Osby, Antonio Hart, Michael Moore, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Wilson, Soweto Kinch, Myron Walden, Ted Nash, Rosario Giuliani. Moore is an important figure, although I think of him more for his clarinet. Zenón and Nash are impressive. I like Osby's more primitive records, but don't like his more conceptual ones. This suggests that he has impressive chops but muddled ideas.

Tenor Saxophone: Joe Lovano, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Chris Potter, Von Freeman, Branford Marsalis, Michael Brecker, David Murray, Joshua Redman, James Carter, Eric Alexander, Fred Anderson. Ken Vandermark belongs on this list. He's older (41) than several listed (Potter, Redman, Carter, Alexander, but not Branford [45]), but he hasn't achieved the same level of recognition because he's done it his way, voluminously on tiny labels. Murray worked like that also, and is similarly underrated -- Lovano is three years older than Murray, and doesn't come close to Murray's discography, although by any other measure he's a dominating figure. Freeman and Anderson are interesting choices, with most of their recognition appearing after they turned 60. Beyond Vandermark and Murray, my third choice would be David S. Ware, Bennie Wallace, Scott Hamilton, or Tommy Smith. The latter is young enough (38) that I might sneak him into the Rising Star division. Rising Star: *Chris Potter, *Eric Alexander, Seamus Blake, Ravi Coltrane, Harry Allen, Mark Turner, Tony Malaby, Marcus Strickland, Ted Nash, Ken Vandermark, Donny McCaslin, John Ellis, David Sánchez. Aside from McCaslin, who I don't know, this is a good list, to which many more names could be added. Coltrane has two borderline A- records, which is how Joshua Redman started. Allen is a pleasant surprise, given that most of his records are only released in Japan -- Sony/BMG should take note. Everything I've heard by Malaby has impressed me. Some more names: Gilad Atzmon, Abraham Burton, Daniel Carter, Chris Cheek, Ellery Eskelin, Rick Margitza, Chris Speed, Assif Tsahar, Tim Warfield. Charles Gayle is too old to be rising, and too freakish to be a star, but deserves mention nonetheless.

Baritone Saxophone: James Carter, Hamiet Bluiett, Ronnie Cuber, Gary Smulyan, Joe Temperley, John Surman, Vinny Golia, Mats Gustafsson, Scott Robinson, Cecil Payne, Claire Daly, Charles Davis. Not as bad as the soprano list, but close. Most of those listed at least mostly play baritone, but for Carter it's just a sideshow, even if it is something he ought to develop further. Bluiett and Surman are the only major players on the list. Rising Star: *Claire Daly, *Scott Robinson, *Gary Smulyan, Alex Harding, *James Carter, *Joe Temperley, *Vinny Golia, *John Surman, Carlo Actis Dato, *Mats Gustafsson, Roger Rosenberg, Mwata Bowden. Same list, except for Bluiett and Cuber dropping out. Obviously, that's a problem.

Clarinet: Don Byron, Buddy DeFranco, Marty Ehrlich, Paquito D'Rivera, Ken Peplowski, Eddie Daniels, Kenny Davern, Louis Sclavis, Michael Moore, Ben Goldberg, Gianluigi Trovesi, Victor Goines. Byron's lead is huge and deserved, especially coming off the superb Ivey-Divey, not least because he specializes. Most of the rest of the list play other reeds, but Ehrlich, Sclavis and Moore are fairly slotted here. They're part of a tremendous growth in the use of clarinet, especially in the avant-garde. The patron and missing senior citizen here is Jimmy Giuffre, now in his 80s, and not recently productive. I've gotten to like Peter Brötzmann's clarinet and tarogato -- the softer sound makes the harsh music go down easier. Rising Star: Chris Speed, *Louis Sclavis, *Michael Moore, *Marty Ehrlich, *Ken Peplowski, *Gianluigi Trovesi, François Houle, David Krakauer, Anat Cohen, *Paquito D'Rivera, Gebhard Ullmann, *Kenny Davern. Some confusion here, with a lot of guys pushing or past 50 and Davern turning 70. Speed started off on tenor sax but has done some interesting work on clarinet, especially with John Hollenbeck. I think that the trend toward clarinet (and for that matter bass clarinet) will continue.

Flute: Frank Wess, James Newton, James Moody, Lew Tabackin, Jane Bunnett, Sam Rivers, Dave Valentin, Henry Threadgill, Jamie Baum, Robert Dick, Charles Lloyd, Holly Hoffman, Hubert Laws. A lot of dabblers, plus a few specialists. I don't much care for the high sound, and don't think much of the legacy thus far -- Sam Most, Herbie Mann, etc. On the other hand, I think there are two potential areas for development here: the trend toward heavier flutes is positive, even though alto flute isn't heavy enough; also the trend toward exotic flutes. I haven't heard anything lately from Dick, but I love his use of bass flutes. Yusuf Lateef and Roland Kirk pointed the way toward exotica, which continues in the erratic work of Bill Cole and Kali Fasteau. Among the diversifying saxophonists, Wess is one of the few (or maybe the only) who consistently sounds good on flute. Many of the others on the list I don't even associate with the instrument, perhaps because I'm trying to forget. Rising Star: Nicole Mitchell, Anne Drummond, *Jamie Baum, Ali Ryerson, *Jane Bunnett, *Holly Hoffman, *Dave Valentin, *Robert Dick, Karolina Strassmayer, Matthias Ziegler, *Sam Rivers. Several people I don't know here, including Mitchell.

Trumpet: Dave Douglas, Wynton Marsalis, Clark Terry, Nicholas Payton, Wadada Leo Smith, Tomasz Stanko, Roy Hargrove, Tom Harrell, Kenny Wheeler, Enrico Rava, Jon Faddis, Wallace Roney. Douglas over Marsalis is a gimme these days. I'm actually surprised that Wynton hasn't slipped further, but he still has a major label and narrow-minded apologists. Also surprised that Terence Blanchard hasn't made the list, given that he has the same label and caters to the same crowd, and is in any case at least as impressive. But more surprising is the rise of players far from the beaten path: Smith, Stanko, Wheeler and Rava. They've all been important for a long time, but relatively unknown. I might have voted for Douglas, Roy Campbell, and Dennis Gonzalez, but Stanko and Smith are worthy, Rava and Wheeler a shade behind, and there are others past 50 who were overlooked: Jerry Gonzalez, Raphe Malik, Hugh Ragin, Randy Sandke, Paul Smoker, Jack Walrath, and cornetist Warren Vaché. Rising Star: Jeremy Pelt, Ingrid Jensen, Cuong Vu, Steven Bernstein, Terrell Stafford, Brian Lynch, Maurice Brown, Ron Miles, Sean Jones, Irvin Mayfield, Alex Sipiagin, *Tomasz Stanko. I barely know Pelt -- he definitely has chops, but I wouldn't vote for him. Bernstein, Lynch and Miles are impressive. Another young guy I like is Russ Johnson; also cornetist Rob Mazurek.

Trombone: Steve Turre, Robin Eubanks, Wycliffe Gordon, Roswell Rudd, Conrad Herwig, Ray Anderson, Bob Brookmeyer, George Lewis, Curtis Fuller, Slide Hampton, Grachan Moncur III, Frank Lacy. Anderson is my guy, but Rudd used to be. I thought Turre got distracted with the conch shells, but he seems to be playing more 'bone these days, and that's a good thing. Rising Star: Josh Roseman, Steve Davis, *Wycliffe Gordon, *Conrad Herwig, Jeb Bishop, Gianluca Petrella, Curtis Fowlkes, Wolter Wierbos, Nils Landgren, Wayne Wallace, *Robin Eubanks, Marty Wehner. I don't know Eubanks at all well -- I presume he's coasting on Dave Holland's coattails, but could be wrong. Bishop is leaving the Vandermark 5, so presumably we'll start hearing more from him as a leader; I think he's terrific. I haven't heard enough by Steve Swell, but he certainly deserves to make this list.

Acoustic Piano: Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner, Hank Jones, Brad Mehldau, Kenny Barron, Cecil Taylor, Herbie Hancock, Jason Moran, Bill Charlap, Randy Weston, Fred Hersch, Geri Allen, Mulgrew Miller. Nothing wrong with Jarrett, who works steady and always turns out quality product, but I'm not devoted enough to the piano trio or solo to get excited anymore. There are more significant pianists working today than musicians on any other instrument, even if you folded all the saxes together. So it's tough to rack this list, and many fine pianists are missing. I would have voted for Matthew Shipp, Marilyn Crispell and maybe Andrew Hill or Dave Burrell or Misha Mengelberg or Abdullah Ibrahim or Myra Melford. Rising Star: *Jason Moran, *Bill Charlap, Vijay Iyer, Marcin Wasilewski, Frank Kimbrough, Eldar Djangirov, D.D. Jackson, Matthew Shipp, Jean-Michel Pilc, Uri Caine, Tord Gustavsen, Ethan Iverson, Esbjörn Svensson. Shipp (45) and Caine (49) strike me as established, and both are major enough they belong on the main list with Moran and Charlap. Iyer and Pilc are both very impressive, although I don't know either well enough to rank them. Wasilewski and Gustavsen are credits to ECM marketing; they're both good but there are lots of comparable players. Djangirov is pure hype. I don't know who I'd vote for, but Russ Lossing is one I would consider.

Electric Keyboard/Synthesizer: Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, John Medeski, Uri Caine, Lyle Mays, Matthew Shipp, Craig Taborn, Wayne Horvitz, Jim Baker, Marc Cary, Gil Goldstein. With three fusion dinosaurs at the top, this is a list in need of a revolution. I think Caine and Shipp are too committed to acoustic to be major factors here, but they point the way. Taborn could be the guy, but I'm not all that impressed yet. Haven't heard Baker on electric -- at least not that I recall. Rising Star: *Uri Caine, *Craig Taborn, *Wayne Horvitz, Django Bates, *Matthew Shipp, Jamie Saft, *Jim Baker, Andrea Parkins, *Gil Goldstein, Jim Beard, *John Medeski, Bugge Wesseltoft, Sam Yahel. Don't know most of the non-asterisk players.

Organ: Joey DeFrancesco, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Larry Goldings, Jimmy Smith, John Medeski, Sam Yahel, Alice Coltrane, Jimmy McGriff, Amina Claudine Myers, Dan Wall. At some point it may make sense to merge this with the electric keyboards, since the new Hammond and the Fender Rhodes seem to be merging, at least being played by the same people. Meanwhile, I'd probably pick Goldings, but I also like what Yahel's been doing with Joshua Redman. The late Jimmy Smith owned this list for decades, but now he's gone. Rising Star: *Sam Yahel, Barbara Dennerlein, Chris Foreman, Tony Monaco, *Larry Goldings, Mike LeDonne, Gary Versace, Wayne Horvitz, *John Medeski, *Dan Wall, Neal Evans, Rhonda Scott. Seems to be fading as a category, but not likely to disappear. Jeppe Tuxen, of Ibrahim Electric, is the most exciting organist I've heard in quite a while. Haven't heard anything from Dennerlein recently, so I'd say her star has faded.

Guitar: Bill Frisell, Jim Hall, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Russell Malone, Pat Martino, John McLaughlin, Kenny Burrell, John Abercrombie, Howard Alden, Charlie Hunter, Marc Ribot. Seems to be you could reverse this list and do as well. Frisell is major important but his records are very inconsistent. Scofield is a major underachiever. Metheny is limited by Kyle Mays and confused without him. Hall is obscure. McLaughlin has seen better decades. I don't like Malone at all, and spent most of 2004 cursing Wes Montgomery for every guitar record I suffered through. Abercrombie, on the other hand, is playing better than ever; Alden is the best of the old Concord crowd; Hunter and Ribot have been thinking hard and taking chances. Rising Star: Kurt Rosenwinkel, *Russell Malone, Peter Bernstein, Nels Cline, Jeff Parker, *Marc Ribot, Mimi Fox, Nguyên Le, Anthony Wilson, Adam Rogers, Dom Minasi, Ben Monder. Cline and Parker are definitely rising. Monder I know mostly from sideman roles, where he invariably adds something. James "Blood" Ullmer seems determined to move into blues, but still plays good guitar. Haven't heard anything lately from Wolfgang Muthspiel, but his early-'90s albums impressed me. Two young players I like are Raoul Björkenheim and Kevin O'Neill.

Drums: Roy Haynes, Jack DeJohnette, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Brian Blade, Paul Motian, Matt Wilson, Lewis Nash, Hamid Drake, Andrew Cyrille, Bill Stewart, Kenny Washington, Herlin Riley. At this point Drake would be my first choice. DeJohnette and Cyrille have long been masters. Wilson and Stewart are younger players who have a lot of smarts. Nash and Washington are superb mainstreamers. Motian is an interesting figure but a rather strange drummer. Haynes has aged well, and survived all his contemporaries. It seems to be tough for avant drummers to make this list: Joey Baron, Han Bennink, Gerry Hemingway, Susie Ibarra, Sunny Murray, Tony Oxley. Rising Star: *Matt Wilson, *Brian Blade, Billy Kilson, Dafnis Prieto, *Hamid Drake, Eric Harland, *Bill Stewart, Jim Black, Terri Lyne Carrington, Dave King, Allison Miller, *Kenny Washington. The least one can say about King is that nobody hits harder; he has been buried in two good groups (Happy Apple, Bad Plus), and he is key to both. Black has done some interesting work. I didn't like Prieto's album, although most critics loved it. Some young drummers I like: John Hollenbeck, Lukas Ligeti, Paal Nilssen-Love, Stefan Pasborg, Roberto Juan Rodriguez, Dylan van der Schyff.

Percussion: Ray Barretto, Poncho Sanchez, Cyro Baptista, Kahil El'Zabar, Trilok Gurtu, Airto Moreira, Don Alias, Giovanni Hidalgo, Han Bennink, Zakir Hussain, Hamid Drake, Bill Summers. A mixed bag, given that these people mostly do different things. Rising Star: *Hamid Drake, Susie Ibarra, *Cyro Baptista, Leon Parker, *Giovanni Hidalgo, John Santos, *Han Bennink, Babatunde Lea, *Kahil El'Zabar, *Zakir Hussain, Satoshi Takeishi, Steve Kroon. This used to be a bongo-conga category, but as jazz sucks up more world music the range of percussion is expanding, which leads to confusion here -- comparing apples to apples is the exception, not the rule.

Acoustic Bass: Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, Christian McBride, William Parker, George Mraz, Ron Carter, John Patitucci, Gary Peacock, Mark Dresser, Percy Heath, Greg Cohen, Barry Guy. Holland's pre-eminance is a curious thing -- he also won Jazz Artist, beating Joe Lovano, Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis and Dave Douglas -- but probably derives as much from his group leadership as his bass, not that anyone doubts him as an all-time great. My first choice would be Parker. Some others worth considering: Mark Helias, John Lindberg, Mario Pavone, Reggie Workman. Rising Star: Ben Allison, Avishai Cohen, Scott Colley, Peter Washington, *Christian McBride, Drew Gress, Darek Oles, Reid Anderson, *John Patitucci, Wilbert de Joode, Henry Grimes, Joelle Leandre. The top guys here are first-rate, with Washington perhaps the best mainstream bassist working.

Electric Bass: Steve Swallow, Christian McBride, Richard Bona, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten, John Patitucci, Matthew Garrison, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Bob Cranshaw, Stanley Clarke, Tarus Mateen, Victor Bailey, Eberhard Weber. Swallow owns this category, for lack of an obvious alternative. I'm not very familiar with any of the rest, excepting Cranshaw (a frequent sideman with Sonny Rollins, but only a sideman) and Tacuma. Rising Star: *Matthew Garrison, James Genus, *Richard Bona, *Christian McBride, Charnett Moffett, Steuart Liebig, *Victor Wooten, Andy Gonzalez, Skuli Sverrisson, Brian Bromberg, *John Patitucci, Stomu Takeishi. Matthew Garrison has been around a while, but doesn't have any records under his own name; he's the son of Jimmy Garrison, which seems to count for something. In general, this is a rather confused list, with a mix of smooth/funk groovers and guys who play both acoustic and electric. I know that Gonzalez is an important Cuban bassist, but I never knew he played electric. I liked Takeharu Hayakawa's performance on Satoko Fujii's Zephyros, but don't know anything else about him. I'm running across Stomu Takeishi quite a bit lately, but haven't really singled him out.

Violin: Regina Carter, Billy Bang, Mark Feldman, Leroy Jenkins, Johnny Frigo, Jenny Scheinman, Jean-Luc Ponty, Didier Lockwood, Mark O'Connor, Mat Maneri. Really, it's Billy Bang, and nobody else comes close. Carter had a good turn on her cousin's Django record, and did some good work as Bang's successor in String Trio of New York, but her own albums are inconsistent-to-awful. Feldman has destroyed more than a few Dave Douglas albums, but manages to toe the line in Masada. Jenkins is a very important avant-gardist, but records rarely. Frigo is a delight in a trad vein. Scheinman is a rising star -- a sixth place finish after three records shows you both how short the established list is and how fast she's rising. (Her fourth album, by the way, is another real good one.) Rising Star: *Jenny Scheinman, Mat Maneri, Christian Howes, Miri Ben-Ari, *Mark Feldman, Carla Kihlstedt, Jeff Gauthier, Diane Delin, *Mark O'Connor, Zach Brock, Savoir Faire, *Didier Lockwood, Mary Oliver. Scheinman is the clearcut choice. Maneri is a difficult player, but not as difficult as his father. He's 36, but he's accumulated a lot of work by now, so I'd probably rank him behind Bang and Jenkins on the overall list. Another violinist I like is Jason Kao Hwang -- he specializes in Chinese classical music, so hasn't been exposed much. I think we're going to be hearing more jazz violin in the future.

Vibes: Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Burton, Stefon Harris, Steve Nelson, Joe Locke, Terry Gibbs, Dave Samuels, Khan Jamal, Mike Mainieri, Kevin Norton. Hutcherson is the career value leader, by a large margin, but hasn't done much lately. Burton is only rarely on the mark. I'm unimpressed by Harris. Nelson is a fine sideman. So Locke would be my first choice, followed by Jamal. Rising Star: *Joe Locke, *Stefon Harris, *Steve Nelson, Matthias Lupri, Bill Ware, Bryan Carrott, Gregg Bendian, *Khan Jamal, Matt Moran, Joe Davel, Charlie Shoemake, Gunter Hampel. Locke is 46, with 15 years of good records, so I think he's graduated. Harris is 32; I just don't care for him. Nelson is 50, but has very little under his own name; an excellent, long-established sideman. Don't know Lupri, and don't know the rest well (excepting Bendian, a drummer, and Jamal, 59), but I like what I've heard by Moran.

Miscellaneous Instrument: Toots Thielemans (harmonica), Béla Fleck (banjo), Erik Friedlander (cello), Richard Galliano (accordion), David Murray (bass clarinet), Steve Turre (conch shells), Howard Johnson (tuba), Tom Varner (french horn), Scott Robinson (bass sax), Guy Klucevsek (accordion), Rabih Abou-Khalil (oud), Dino Saluzzi (bandoneon). Some good, some not so good. Some just variations on better known instruments, some off the beaten path. Hard to compare. Rising Star: Grégoire Maret (harmonica), Peggy Lee (cello), *Scott Robinson (bass sax), Michael Rabinowitz (bassoon), *Richard Galliano (accordion), *Erik Friedlander (cello), *Tom Varner (french horn), *Dino Saluzzi (bandoneon), Rob Burger (accordion), Paul Hanson (bassoon), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Howard Levy (harmonica). Quite a few people play bass clarinet these days, mostly multi-reedists, although few devote as much time to it as Murray does. It seems like the era of single instrumentalists has passed. Paul McCandless plays oboe and english horn as well as most single-reed instruments. Bill Cole plays didgeridoo, shenai, sona, piri, and various oddball flutes. William Parker is likely to play anything when he hooks up with Cole or Hamid Drake. Many of these cases are just exotica, but for someone like Abou-Khalil or Saluzzi that's bread and butter.

Male Vocalist: Kurt Elling, Andy Bey, Mark Murphy, Tony Bennett, Kevin Mahogany, Jimmy Scott, Bob Dorough, Bobby McFerrin, Freddy Cole, Jon Hendricks, Mose Allison, Ernie Andrews. Pretty dispiriting list. I'm tempted to say I can't stand any of them, but actually it's just Elling I can't stand. The rest (excepting Mahogany, Dorough, and Allison) I merely dislike. Rising Star: Jamie Cullum, Peter Cincotti, Giacomo Gates, Curtis Stigers, Phil Minton, Ian Shaw, John Pizzarelli, Miles Griffith, Michael Bublé, *Andy Bey, *Kevin Mahogany, Kenny Washington. At least here we're getting down to some guys I don't know. I've listened to Pizzarelli quite a bit, and I'm lukewarm on him. I've liked recent albums by Eric Comstock, Tony DeSare, and Eric Felten, all at B+ level. Only male jazz singer I can think of that I like a lot is the great trombonist, Ray Anderson.

Female Vocalist: Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Patricia Barber, Diana Krall, Luciana Souza, Sheila Jordan, Shirley Horn, Abbey Lincoln, Karrin Allyson, Nancy Wilson, Carol Sloane. The sexual differentiation of jazz singers is pretty extreme: many more female singers, much better. I've heard all these except Sloane, but Souza just barely, and Wilson nowhere near as extensively as her position demands. Jordan has long been a favorite, and her last album (a couple of years back now) was one of her best. Barber is quite appealing and interesting. Horn and Reeves can be very effective. I don't care much for Lincoln or Nancy Wilson, and find Allyson less than impressive. One not listed who probably deserves to be is René Marie. Helen Merrill is the most famous singer still working and not listed. Rising Star: *Luciana Souza, Tierney Sutton, Madeleine Peyroux, *Patricia Barber, René Marie, Stacey Kent, *Karrin Allyson, Claudia Acuña, Rebecca Martin, Roberta Gambarini, Lizz Wright, Lisa Sokolov. Not familiar with Gambarini, whom AMG credits with one 1991 album; must be something more there. Nor Stacey Kent, who has six albums and a solid reputation. Souza strikes me as much much better than Acuña. Peyroux has a Billie Holiday inflection that I find rather distracting. Martin is a singer-songwriter with minimal chops. Wright's a misplaced soul singer. Sokolov is in her own universe, an astonishing singer; no one else like her. I get a lot of new records by unknowns in this category. Most are forgettable. Part of the problem is that we're mixing several distinct styles and attitudes here. Jordan and Sokolov are vocal improvisers, going far beyond the broader category of interpretive singers. Cabaret singers are a subset of interpretive singers. There are also a few singer-songwriters mixed in mostly by label association. Also soul and blues singers and others that could be reclassified.

Record Label: Blue Note, ECM, Palmetto, Mosaic, Verve, Sunnyside, ArtistShare, Nonesuch, Delmark, Concord, Telarc/Heads Up, Fantasy. One thing all these labels have in common is good (i.e., generous) publicists -- although I'm a little confused about Nonesuch, and only recently started getting jazz from their publicist. Mosaic sells expensive boxes of reissues in limited editions, so their contribution to new jazz is nil. ArtistShare got a lot of press out of just two 2004 releases -- mostly touting their business model, without pointing out how much promotion they have to do to make it work. I have lots of opinions about labels, but before I spout some of them I thought I'd run through my 2004 record list and count up how many jazz records I got from each label (most, but not all, free to me). I just did new records (including some vault items, and in a couple of cases items of dubious jazz credentials but on jazz labels). I didn't do reissues or comps, so this underestimates the majors, Fantasy, and Mosaic, as well as some more obscure reissue sources. I also assigned weights to the records: 9 for A, 7 for A-, 5 for B+, 4 for B, 3 for B-, 2 for C+, 1 for anything below that, and summed them up in parentheses. So the top labels for me, in 2004, were: Fresh Sound, 29 (139); ECM, 16 (81); Arbors, 14 (68); Telarc/Heads Up/MCG Jazz, 17 (58); Blue Note, 11 (50); Palmetto, 11 (44); Verve/Impulse/GRP, 11 (44); Sunnyside, 8 (47); Thirsty Ear, 8 (47); Tzadik, 8 (42); Nagel Heyer, 8 (37); Concord, 8 (35); MaxJazz, 8 (35); Justin Time, 7 (43); Okka Disk, 7 (39); Smalls, 7 (39); Adventure Music, 7 (30); Narada Jazz/Higher Octave, 7 (23); Delmark, 6 (30); Cadence/CIMP, 6 (28); Columbia, 6 (28); Zoho, 6 (27); HighNote, 5 (28); Ayler, 5 (25); Winter & Winter, 5 (24); Shanachie, 5 (15); Atavistic, 4 (32); Boxholder, 4 (23); Clean Feed, 4 (22); Cuneiform, 4 (21); NatSat, 4 (21); Sharp Nine, 4 (20). If I went back to the Jazz CGs, especially the A-lists, this would settle down quite a bit, with Thirsty Ear, Sunnyside, Tzadik, Justin Time, and ECM doing best, plus a lot of Vandermark et al. on Atavistic and Okka Disk. Fresh Sound mostly fell through the cracks -- a lot of good but not great albums. Palmetto had a similar track record, but was a bit more variable. Telarc had a couple of good records and quite a few bad ones.

I don't know enough about blues these days to go into their blues categories. I've only heard one of their twelve top blues albums: Ray Charles, Genius Loves Company. Q.E.D. On the other hand, I know more about their "beyond" category than they do, even if I've only heard five of eleven records -- it's not like they get very far beyond.

Posted: 2005-08-02