Wednesday, December 08, 2010

2010 jazz top ten

A list of my ten favorite jazz CDs from the nearly bygone year is now posted at the Jazz Journalists Association website. An annotated log of my choices is below. Links lead to various locales (labels, artists, CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes, etc.)—in each case, I simply chose the site with the most previewable music.

1. Dan Weiss Trio - Timshel (Sunnyside)
I reviewed this record for Time Out New York back in March, and I still don't feel like I have a handle on it, which, to me, is a great thing. You can know a lot about Weiss (that he used to moonlight in the doom-metal band Bloody Panda and that he has adapted tabla techniques to the drum set) and still not scratch the surface of what makes Timshel special. This is music—jazz, I guess, but that's beside the point—of stillness and mystery and rapturous beauty. I hope I never get to the bottom of it.

2. Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth - Deluxe (Clean Feed)
There's a picture of a schmancy old car on the cover of this record, which might lead you to believe that the music inside would be gaudy. Instead, Deluxe is all subtlety: Taut, vampy rhythms undergirding a mist of saxophones. Craig Taborn's keyboards and Gerald Cleaver's drums provide lift and color. It's a lush, pillowy sound, but full of mood and intrigue. Again, I need way more time to wrap my head around this one and I can't wait to do so.

3. Harris Eisenstadt - Woodblock Prints (NoBusiness)
Drummer Harris Eisenstadt made my favorite jazz record of 2008, the West African–inspired Guewel. I think this new one—a limited-run LP release and download—is even better. Like the Lightcap, this is an extremely lush record and a tender one. It's not even close to a "drummer" record—it's basically a chamber outing, marked by a carefully chosen instrumental palette, featuring clarinet, bassoon, French horn and tuba. Eisenstadt knows exactly what he wants out of the players and he gets it—a deep sense of stateliness and composure in the ensemble passages (and there are a lot) balanced with gutsy passion from the soloists. To me, Eisenstadt is easily one of the finest young bandleaders in jazz and Woodblock Prints testifies to that fact. (P.S. I saw this entire album performed live and it was gorgeous.)

4. Jason Moran - Ten (Blue Note)
This album is bulging with magic and mastery. Over the past few weeks, I put together a lot of iTunes playlists, culling all my 2010 top-ten candidates, jazz and otherwise, for shuffled consumption. Every time a track from Ten came up, I'd stop whatever I was doing and marvel at Moran and his Bandwagoneers—their ability to convincingly express both the core of the blues and the flurry of modernism within the same piece is breathtaking. If ever an artist has done right by his teacher, Moran is making the late, great Jaki Byard proud.

5. Mike Pride's From Bacteria to Boys - Betweenwhile (Aum Fidelity)
As I noted when contributing to this invaluable From Bacteria to Boys video roundup at (((unartig))), I'd primarily understood Mike Pride up to this point as a connoisseur of the jarring gesture. Betweenwhile offers something quieter, a place to really get lost. Airy jazz filled with smoke and funk and fire and simmer. The whole album plays like a loving showcase for the talents of Pride's sidemen: the bite of altoist Darius Jones, the sumptuousness of pianist Alexis Marcelo, the patience of bassist Peter Bitenc. There's so much sublimated deep feeling in this record that no sudden movements are necessary. It's corny to talk about artists "maturing," but you can't hold Betweenwhile up to Pride's back catalog and not feel that he really and truly has.

6. The Cookers - Warriors (Jazz Legacy Productions)
There's a lot of glitz, and even cockiness, in the work of this all-star band, a pack of hardbop lifers. Billy Hart was the draw for me, but I grew to love what they all had to say: Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, George Cables and the rest. This is about taking what went on in, say, the early- to mid-’60s and really getting inside it, luxuriating in the tried-and-true forms and the warmth of modern recording and digging into some absolutely fantastic original tunes that stick with you just like your old Blue Note favorites. This is PRO jazz, conventional jazz, but jazz driven by a pulsating heartbeat. Besides, a record that features Billy Hart is disqualified from the realm of boringness.

7. Weasel Walter Septet - Invasion (ugEXPLODE)
In a past DFSBP post, I praised the evolution of Weasel Walter's improv chops. But to make a great, replayable record, you've got to offer something extra and the Weas has done that here. Each of the five tracks has its own identity, from bouncy Mingus-gone–No Wave ("Flesh Strata") to disarmingly sensitive Company-style free play ("Cleistogamy"), and most importantly—as with the Pride record—all of the performances flaunt the gifts of Walter's supporting cast. Henry Kaiser is an absolute star here. I've never been a huge fan of his before—or, to be fair, dug too deep into his catalog—but he's spellbinding on Invasion, offering a crackly electric zone-out on "Nautilus Rising (part 1)" and eerie distended folk on "Cleistogamy," his contribution to the latter sounding more to me like Robbie Basho than Derek Bailey, Kaiser's avowed "sensei." Overall, Invasion is a great example not just of experimental music-making but of experimental RECORD-making. The compositional (yes, there is bona-fide writing/direction/structure at play here) variety, the excellent recording quality and the brilliant auxiliary musicians all add up to an album you want to hear again when it's over.

8. The Bad Plus - Never Stop (E1)
One thing I love about the Bad Plus, and about this album in particular (definitely the TBP record I've enjoyed most) is how little the band's output squares with Ethan Iverson's unfailingly perceptive and eloquent jazz criticism. After reading Iverson, you might think his band might fixate so much on its jazz-history obsession that it would have a hard time forging ahead and developing its own vibe. That is so not the case, though, and you really hear that on Never Stop. It's just a record of MUSIC, so disarmingly alive and emotive and hard-grooving and fun to listen to. The band's image has a certain archness to it that again can be misleading. You might even take a track like "Never Stop," with its pounding disco groove and twinkly melody, as a slice of ironic nostalgia. But you listen harder, to that track and to the full record, and you realize you're entirely mistaken. The Bad Plus goes straight for simplicity and directness and feeling, and if it often ends up sounding more like pop or indie rock than jazz at a given time, then so be it. For all of Iverson and his bandmates' obsession with jazz, they're thrillingly game for jettisoning its baggage (traditional swing, say, as Iverson pointed out in an interview I read or listened to but can't re-locate now) whenever it suits their compositions. A piece like "Beryl Loves to Dance" here could move anybody—it truly doesn't matter what you call it, and that's rare. It's that wide-open quality that made Never Stop one of the year's most refreshing listens.

9. Jon Irabagon - Foxy (Hot Cup)
I've spilled an insane amount of ink on this record, and Jon Irabagon in general, in 2010. A Time Out profile is here, and a much more in-depth piece is on the way via Burning Ambulance. The salient fact is that Jon Irabagon shocked me in 2009 with I Don't Hear Nothing but the Blues, and then he turned around and shocked me in a whole different way with Foxy. Instead of expressing his perverse, almost maniacal improvisational idiosyncrasies on their own weird terms, as he did on Blues, he decided to apply them to straight-ahead jazz here, and the results are, in their own way, ten times weirder. Sure, Foxy something of a gimmick, something of an endurance test, but it's also an absolute joyride. Just ask Barry Altschul.

10. Chicago Underground Duo - Boca Negra (Thrill Jockey)
Like the Moran, another album that grabbed my attention every time the iTunes roulette wheel landed on it. Like the Bad Plus, another album that orbits jazz without using it as a crutch. Like the Walter, another extremely weird release—the handiwork of an ensemble that's as resolutely unconventional as the Cookers are by-the-book—that nonetheless invites repeated listens. Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor are going for mood, for soundscape, and they've got that part down, down, down. There's a late-night murk to this album—surely inspired by Bill Dixon, Mazurek's frequent collaborator in the years prior to his recent sad passing—that you just want to live in. But there's also that now-classic Chicago post-rock vibe, executed as appealingly as I've heard it done in quite a while. Boca Negra is a surprising blend of the stylish and the substantive.


My list also included ten honorable-mention releases, many of which nearly made the top ten:

Newman Taylor Baker
- Drum Suite Life (Innova)
Solo drums: unadorned and extremely tasty. Time Out preview.

Amir ElSaffar and Hafez Modirzadeh - Radif Suite (Pi)
Loosey-goosey, Ornette-ish freebop, some of the best I've heard that doesn't involve Ornette or his right-hand men. Time Out blog post.

John Escreet - Don't Fight the Inevitable (Mythology)
State-of-the-art inside/outside jazz with a good-kind-of-ridiculous supporting cast.

Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook-Up - Actionspeak (482)
A shrewdly uncategorizable statement: too elegant and meticulous for "outside"; too thorny and restless for "inside." Instead, just really good.

Fred Hersch Trio - Whirl (Palmetto)
Impossibly delicate and songful piano jazz.

Sam Newsome
- Blue Soliloquy (self-released)
Ear-bending sound experiments, but with tons of feeling.

Mario Pavone: Orange Double Tenor
- Arc Suite t/pi t/po (Playscape)
Another inside-outside winner, brimming with vigor and constructive quirk.

Kurt Rosenwinkel and OJM - Our Secret World (Word of Mouth)
Postfusion concertos, sleek and radiant.

Rova Sax Quartet and the Nels Cline Singers
- The Celestial Septet (New World)
Draped in Rova's edgy finery, the Singers sound handsomer than I've ever heard them.

Greg Ward's Fitted Shards
- South Side Story (Nineteen Eight)
Happy, hyperambitious prog-fusion-funk-jazz, spiced with charmingly ’80s-ish synths.

1 comment:

Cayetano López said...

Good stuff, many winners this year. My three favorites not in your list: Halvorson saturn sings, Lane ashcan rantings, Adasiewicz sun rooms.