Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Year in Music (and in Blogging)

NOTE: I am having formatting problems, so please excuse any hiccups)

I began this blog with a post on December 28, 2011, and since then have written almost 140 posts. I didn't know if I could do it,  but I did, and I hope I was able to provide some interesting and maybe worthwhile posts for other jazz listeners like me. I don't know if I did -- in a full year I only got a dozen comments. But, since I have enjoyed what I am doing I shall plunge ahead.

Tradition says it is time to identify the Year 2012 releases that I enjoyed the most this past year. Remember, I am a listener, not a critic -- so these are what I liked best from all of the music I purchased. I get nothing free so these are strictly my independent thoughts. I have established my own categories for the recordings, based on how I hear them and visualize them. Since they range from the straight ahead sounds of Houston Person to the sounds of Nik Bartsch's Ronin, and a lot in between, I thought that these categories would give some direction to those interested in seeking out the music. And to boot, I have incorporated art that expresses my feelings about the music in each category and may crystalize the vision in your mind as you read.  

Note that categories that will not be included because they are not in my comfort zone are Free Jazz, Fusion, and Electronica. I purchased none of these. Latin Jazz has its own category but note that the Latin Jazz is really a subset of mainstream jazz. Finally, I have a category for Singers
My next Blog will be about my favorite reissues or new recordings from the vaults.

Without further ado.....

Straight Ahead, Right Down the Middle, Mainstream Jazz: Some say it is tired, cliched, and that the standards are wearying. I think that's nonsense -- beautiful melodies, rhythms, and group dynamics still make for a really fine CD. The picture on the right says it perfectly. 
  • Fred Hersch Trio, "Alive at the Vanguard" 
  • Jeremy Pelt, "Soul"
  • George Cables, "My Muse"
  • Piero Odorici with the Cedar Walton Trio, "Cedar Walton Presents"
  • Eric Alexander and Vincent Herring, "Friendly Fire"
  • Houston Person, "Naturally"
  • Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton, "'Round Midnight"
  • Joe Alterman, "Give Me the Simple Life"
  • Ehud Asherie (with Harry Allen), "Upper West Side"
  • Javon Jackson and We Four, "Celebrating John Coltrane"
  • Nikki Iles, "Hush"
  • Kenny Werner, "Me, Myself, & I" 
  • Bobby Wellins and Kate Williams, "Smoke and Mirrors 
  • Ahmad Jamal, "Blue Moon"

Modern Mainstream Jazz: What is more modern and mainstream than a Sabrett hot dog and traffic in Manhattan? Same basics as the category above -- strong melodies, rhythms and dynamics, but in this case many of the tunes may be unfamiliar. Tunes are often drawn from rock, singer songwriters, or originals, blended with some  standards. There maybe a bit more improvisation and bit more playfulness. The players are fine, the music divine, and this music is closer to the center than the outside. Mainstream listeners should like these CDs, that is my basic paradigm for these recordings.  
  • Brad Mehldau, "Where Do You Start"
  • Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez & Paul Motian, "Further Explorations"
  • Anat Cohen, "Claroscuro"
  • Avishai Cohen with Nitai Hershkovits, "Duende" 
  • Dave King, with Bill Carrothers and Billy Peterson, "I've Been Ringing You"
  • Marc Johnson and Eliane Elias, "Swept Away"  
  • Wallace Roney, "Home"
  • Lynne Arriale, "Solo"
  • Enrico Pieranunzi with Scott Colley and Antonio Sanchez, "Permutation" 
  • Mulgrew Miller and Kluver's Big Band, "Grew's Tune"   
  • Danya Stevens, "Today is Tomorrow"
  • Avishai Cohen, "Triveni II" 
  • Johnathan Blake, "The Eleventh Hour
  • Modern Lyrical Jazz:  The distinguishing feature for me is that this group uses melodies as a point of departure more than those above. Within the group I am placing CDs that emphasize theis creative use of melody using standards, pop, originals, or are fully improvising their songs. Just like the mainstream categories, this one emphasizes longer melody lines and tuneful harmonies more so than the abstract and angular sounds I classify below as Modern Abstract Jazz. Artists may be deconstructing and reconstructing like Django Bates' Beloved or Paul Bley; creating impressive improvisations from scratch like Keith Jarrett or from the extension of written music, or creating their own melodic frameworks. But to me the music always flows, the lines are rounded and the constancy of movement strong. Not quite for mainstream listeners who want those very strong melodies they can recognize and hum, but not far away either, and I think most would appreciate these discs.   Whether solos or in groups, what these musicians do with songs is very impressive. 
  • Django Bates' Beloved, "Confirmation"
  • Brad Mehldau, "Ode"
  • Zoe Rahman, "Kindred Spirit"
  • Julian Joseph, "Live at the Vortex in London" 
  • John Taylor, "Giulia's Thursdays"
  • Amina Figarova, "Twelve" 
  • John Law's Congregation, "Three Leaps of the Gazelle"
  • Nico Gori and Fred Hersch, "DaVinci"
  • John Abercrombie Quartet, "Within a Song"
  • Branford Marsalis Quartet, "Four MFs Playin' Tunes
  • Django Bates Beloved, "Confirmation"
  • Arturo O'Farrill, "The Noguchi Sessions" 
  • Maria Baptiste, "Gate 29"
  • Orrin Evans, "Flip the Script"
  • Daniel Schlappi with Marc Copland, "Essentials"
  • Kristjan Randalu and Ben Monder, "Equilibrium"
  • Yazz Ahmed, "Finding My Way Home"
  • Jessica Williams, "Songs of the Earth"

Modern Impressionistic Jazz: To me this is characterized by the blending of sounds to create a peaceful atmosphere, rounded tones and lyrical passages, with often only the suggestive coloration of percussion. It is music that envelopes one in a comfortable place, with movements that are subtle and flowing. Lots of open space too, the sound if often characterized as the "ECM sound".
  • Benedickt Jahnel, "Equilibrium"
  • Bobo Stenson, "Indicum"
  • John Surman, "Saltash Bells"
  • Russ Lossing, "Drum Music" 
  • Opalinska & Whates, "Lumiere"
  • Jesse Stacken, "Bagatelles for Trio"
  • Martin Tingvall, "En Ny Dag"
  • Matthew Bourne, "The Montauk Variations"
  • John Turville Trio, "Conception"
  • Scott McLemore, "Remote Location"
  • Daniel Herskedal and Marius Neset, "Neck of the Woods" 

Modern Abstract Jazz: More dynamic shifts, more unusual placement of the elements, and the use of a myriad of instruments and sounds. The melodies are less structured, often more fierce, often more angular, but the harmonies and freedom never go off into the unstructured realm of free jazz.

    • Matthew Shipp, Elastic Aspects
    • Medeski, Martin and Wood, "Live"
    • Helge Lien, "Kattenslager"
    • The Bad Plus, "Made Possible"
    • Michael Wollney's [em], "Wasted & Wanted"
    • Michael Bisio and Matthew Shipp Duo, "Floating Ice"
    • Phronesis, "Walking Dark"
    • Vijay Iyer, "Accelerando"
    • E.S.T., "301"
    • Lars Danielsson, "Liberetto" 

    New Sounds of New Age Jazz: This is my catch-all category that covers the zen funk of Nik Bartsch, the wide ranging compositions and instrumentation of John Zorn, and anything that I would label as out there (if I had a new The Necks this year, this is where they would reside). But it does not go as far as free jazz -- underpinning it all is still an harmonic framework and sense of melody that in my mind keep this interesting, energizing, and comfortable.
    • Nik Bartsch's Ronin, "Live"
    • Crispell, Dresser and Hemingway, "Play Braxton"
    • John Zorn, "A Vision in Blakelight"
    • John Zorn, "The Gnostic Serenades"
    • John Zorn, "The Gates of Paradise"
    • Floratone, "Floratone II"
    • Portico Quartet, "Portico Quartet"

    Latin Jazz: As I said earlier, latin jazz could be simply a subset of the mainstream, at least based on my selection from the past year. Whether in trios or orchestras, these recordings stood out for their lively playing  and latin rhythms.

    • Luis Perdomo, "The 'Infancia' Project"
    • Arturo Sandoval, "Dear Diz" 
    • Brazilian Trio, "Constelacao"
    • Aruan Ortiz Quartet, "Orbiting"
    • Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet, "Samba Jazz - Jazz Samba" 
    • Yosvany Terry, "Today's Opinion"
    • Jose Luis Moton, "Solo Guitarra" (issued in Europe on ECM, in U.S. in 2013)
    • Raynald Colom, "Rise" 

    Singers: Lots to choose from every year, but here is my list from the past twelve months, all women in this case. 
    • Claire Martin,  "Too Much in Love to Care" 
    • Sara Gazarek, "Blossom & Bee"
    • Cassandra Wilson, "Another Country" 
    • LaVerne Butler, "Love Lost and Found Again"
    • Diana Krall, "Glad Rag Doll"
    • Cheryl Bentyne, Let's Misbehave"

    So that's it, my 80 or so favorite recordings of 2012 (This is out of a group of 250 to 300 purchases. The hit rate is high because I do not buy what I think I won't like, so I actually like them all, but these more than the others).

    Except one thing, which is to try to get down to a 10 favorites list, so I can follow the "rules of the game." So here is......

    DAVID'S TOP 10 CDs of 2012....
    Scratch that, it's......

    DAVID'S BAKER'S DOZEN for 2012

    Product Details1. John Surman, "Saltash Bells": Without a doubt, my favorite of the year. Fascinating music, multi-layered textures, lovely melodies that capture the spirit of imagination.
    2. Jeremy Pelt, "Soul": Each January for the past few years January rolls around with a new CD by Pelt, and each has been better than the last, culminating with the wonderful "Soul." When the end of the year rolls around it is important not to forget how great the music is.
    3. John Taylor: "Giulia's Thursdays": A moving set of music in dedication to film composer Carlo Rustichelli. An elegant, rich, and rewarding piano trio hits it out of the park. Amazing to think it took six years to release it from its inception.
    4. Avishai Cohen, "Triveni II" Cohen is breaking big on the jazz scene with his crystal clear, fluid trumpet sound captured here in a very simple trio setting with Omer Avital and Nasheet Waits. The group dynamic is fabulous.
    5. Matthew Shipp, "Elastic Aspects": Outside the box trio playing of the highest magnitude. He and Vijay Iyer produced some great piano music in this vein this year, but Shipp stood out to me.
    6. Zoe Rahman, "Kindred Spirit": Absolutely riveting modern creative jazz flows easily from her hands. The arrangements are stellar and support from her brother on clarinet and bass clarinet ratchets up the expressive music to incredible heights.
    7. Nik Bartsch's Ronin, "Live": I've blogged twice about the zen funk master of jazz and his group. The spirit is raised even higher in live performance. A mellow listen that captivates the soul.
    8. Medeski, Martin and Wood, "Live": I blogged recently about this CD. Never thought I'd listen to them, but in concert and in an acoustic performance they are dynamite. And Medeski really steps out and shows his incredible piano skills on some really fine blues numbers.
    9. Johnathan Blake, "The Eleventh Hour": A debut CD of great music by a band that includes not only Blake on drums but also Jaleel Shaw, Mark Turner, Kevin Hays, and Ben Street, with guests Tom Harrell and Robert Glasper to boot. Modern mainstream jazz that includes seven sterling originals by Blake.
    10. Brad Mehldau, "Ode": Flip a coin, originals on this CD or covers on the other he did this year, "Where do You Start". Tough to choose but I went with the originals -- the creativity of Mehldau is heightened to me when he is playing his own music. Not that the other is a bad choice of course.
    11. Julian Joseph, "Live at the Vortex in London": Joseph does classical and jazz and all things in between, leads orchestras and big bands and small groups, and is a well-known figure in the U.K. Here I doubt many folks have heard of him, but my oh my. When he sat down to this live solo outing I wonder if the audience sensed the magnitude of the music they were about to hear. Vibrant, moving, expressive. Thunderous, creative.... his fertile imagination seemingly knows no bonds as he put forth one of the magnificent solo recitals I have ever heard.
    12. Claire Martin, "Too Much in Love to Care": I discovered the rich voice of Claire Martin this past year, and am glad I did. Went back and picked up he other work on ECM and Linn Records. This one this past year is a sophisticated romp through some great standards, and the accompaniment of Kenny Barron just charmed the heck out of me.
    13. Kenny Werner, "Me, Myself, & I": Werner plays solo on these seven tracks in a relaxed jazz club setting, and the results speak for themselves. Beautiful expression and creative arrangements and improvisations of songs like "Giant Steps", "Blue is Green", and "All the Things You Are" make for a record to cozy up to with a glass of wine and candlelight. He never disapppoints.

    So many I had to leave off that I wanted to include, especially Lynne Arriale, Fred Hersh, Houston Person, Nikki Iles, Anat Cohen, Portico Quartet, Matthew Borne, Vijay Iyer, The Bad Plus, Raymond Colom,  Michael Wollny's [em],  Phronesis, Russ Lossing -- call this the second baker's dozen.
    Settle down with some friends and discuss this list or any other you find. Try some of the music people are recommending, sample it, and maybe find something new that tickles your fancy. And go out and hear it live.


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. David,

      I can't thank you enough for the amazing blog posts you have written this past year. You are without a doubt one of the most prolific Jazz bloggers and the first one I check every day.

      You have really helped to expand my Jazz horizon and I can't thank you enough for the amazing work and education you are providing all of us.

      Please Don't Stop!

      Thanks, Phil G.