Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Best Jazz Discs of 2009

Jazz in 2009 meant the continuing dismantling and irrelevance of major-label homes for the music; the growth of vital indie jazz labels; the decision of many artists, including major jazzers, to take charge of recording, packaging and distributing their own work; and the emergence of a variety of strong new voices in jazz.

Gloomsaying to the contrary, jazz is in very good shape, at least on the recording front. Now, about places for all those artists -- and younger players, graduating in droves from still-proliferating college jazz programs -- to play ....

As promised, here are links to my list of 2009's best jazz discs, as published in the Village Voice, the Voice's complete jazz poll results, and Voice critic Francis Davis's overview of the year in jazz recordings.

My own list of the year's best jazz recordings, with one-line descriptions, as published in Las Vegas City Life (but slightly expanded here):

Allen Toussaint, The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch) - The old-school R&B hitmaker digs deep into jazz roots, applying elegant piano to New Orleans chestnuts and pieces by Monk and Ellington.

Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge, The Comet's Tail: Performing the Compositions of Michael Brecker (MAMA) - The Florida-based big band revisits and reinvents the music of late saxophone great Brecker.

David Binney, Third Occasion (Mythology) - The underappreciated alto saxophonist offers ambitious, expansive originals, with his quartet joined by brass.

Tom Harrell, Prana Dance (Highnote) - The trumpeter leads his tight-knit quintet on compositions that are brainy yet emotionally engaging.

Kurt Rosenwinkel Standards Trio, Reflections (Wommusic) - The most gifted jazz guitarist under 40 takes a break from his edgy originals for brilliant, shimmering readings of standards by the likes of Monk and Wayne Shorter.

John Patitucci Trio, Remembrance (Concord) - The bassist's heavyweight pianoless trio, with saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Brian Blade, bring piercing original compositions replete with surprising detours.

Fly, Sky and Country (ECM) - Saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard turn in fertile modern-jazz explorations.

Joel Harrison, Urban Myths (Highnote) - The guitarist again draws from fusion, funk and blues for smart, multi-textured jazz originals.

John Scofield, Piety Street (EmArcy) - Sco wields his tangy overdriven guitar for hard-grooving gospel pieces, driven by Meters bassist George Porter, Jr.

New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Slither Slice (Threadhead) - The veteran brass band returns with horns chewy enough and funk deep enough to blast the competition.

Vocals: Roberta Gambarini, So in Love (Emarcy) & Gretchen Parlato, In a Dream (Obliqsound) & Tierney Sutton, Desire (Telarc)

Debut: Gerald Clayton, Two-Shade (ArtistShare) & Michael Janisch, Purpose Built (Whirlwind)

Latin: Arturo O'Farrill, Risa Negra (Zoho) & Dafnis Prieto, Live at Jazz Standard NYC (Dafnison Music) & Omar Sosa, Across the Divide (Half Note)

Reissues: Scott LaFaro, Pieces of Jade (Resonance) & Medeski Martin & Wood, Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set (Indirecto) & Eddie Harris and Ellis Marsalis, Homecoming (ELM).

And 10 more of the year's best jazz recordings:
Vijay Iyer, Historicity (ACT)
Joe Lovano, Folk Art (Blue Note)
Joshua Redman, Compass (Nonesuch)
Gary Burton-Pat Metheny-Steve Swallow-Antonio Sanchez, Quartet Live (Concord)
Gary Peacock-Marc Copland, Insight (Pirouet)
The Bad Plus with Wendy Lewis, For All I Care (Heads Up)
Robert Glasper, Double Booked (Blue Note)
Cedar Walton, Voices Deep Within (High Note)
Christian McBride, Kind of Brown (Mack Avenue)
James Carter-John Medeski-Christian McBride-Adam Rogers, Heaven on Earth (Half Note)

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