The Best of 2009

Cosmic Jazz has never been restricted.  We don’t have a prearranged playlist and we play whatever we like.  For us, jazz is about how the music feels and sounds rather than whether it meets any restricted definition of what jazz might or might not be.[1]

That’s why our Best of 2009 features Brazilian music and hip hop as well as jazz.  Regular listeners will know that Cosmic Jazz has few boundaries.  We like to think that our listeners have similarly eclectic tastes – and, of course, you can tell us what you think of the music we play via your Comments.

So what did we select as the best of 2009?  Well, let’s start with Texan pianist Robert Glasper’s 2009 release Double Booked.  The title gives a clue – this time, Glasper has split the CD into two halves: first up is his regular acoustic piano trio (now with Chris Dave on drums) and then comes another six tracks with an expanded group featuring Casey Benjamin on saxes and vocoder and Bilal on vocals.  There are standout tracks in both halves – try No Worries or the epic All Matter.

Newly issued at the very end of the year was Daybreak, Japanese favourite Quasimode’s first CD for Blue Note – and we think it’s well up to their usual standard.  We selected a version of AfroBlue featuring the vocals of China Moses, daughter of singer DeeDee Bridgewater who has also recorded this classic.  Out of the same stable is Indigo Jam Unit’s EP length tribute to innovative rapper Common’s 2005 CD Be.  We featured the title track.  This really is jazz and hip hop working together.

Colin Towns is one of Britain’s finest arrangers and his new CD is well up to standard.  He’s worked with the innovative German HR Big Band before on Meeting of the Spirits, a celebration of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and here he creates a similarly inspiring series of arrangements for Miles Davis’s most electric music.  We think the 70s tracks work best – and Black Satin from the On the Corner sessions is a particularly good example.

One of the biggest surprises of the year was the way in which Mercury Award nominees the Portico Quartet have developed.  The new CD Isla is a giant leap forwards – see our full review elsewhere on the website for more on this excellent album.  Similarly boundary breaking is A Frozen Second, the new one from Kira Neris – aka the Strasbourg DJ and samplemaster Herve Poudoulec.  We loved the subtle shades of his first album and his sophomore release has the same qualities – fragmentary melodies stitched together into a fine mesh of addictive tracks.

Next up was a real instant new classic – so why didn’t it come up on more best of lists this year?  Buy Steve Kuhn’s Mostly Coltrane and you’ll be listening to this album for months and more.  A limpid ECM recording that enhances Kuhn’s delicate touch, this tribute to the master also features some of tenorman Joe Lovano’s best playing for years.  We played The Night has a Thousand Eyes, but we could have gone for Welcome or Crescent – two magnificent ‘trane originals that grace this exceptional recording.

We had to follow this with son Ravi’s most complete recording so far – Blending Times.  It’s no easy task playing the same instrument as your revered father, but Ravi Coltrane has finally made it from under this enveloping shadow.  Coltrane and his fine supporting band (featuring Luis Perdomo on piano on E J Strickland on drums) make this CD well worth checking out.

We’ve stressed how eclectic Cosmic Jazz is – so how about the comeback release from US rapper Mos Def and the new CD from Sao Paulo’s finest Ceu?  Both feature innovative arrangements that reshape the boundaries of their respective genres.  We played a track from each of these fine releases.

We couldn’t miss another opportunity to celebrate the first 70 years of legendary jazz imprint Blue Note Records.  The label has been pioneering jazz of many colours since its inception in 1939 and is still good to go in 2010.  We featured the title track from a newly covened roster of Blue Note artists including Ravi Coltrane and Nicholas Payton on a new arrangement of Cedar Walton/Art Blakey’s Mosaic.

Another label that has shaped the history of jazz is Impulse. While Blue Note might have been seen as straight ahead, Impulse represented the most innovative strands of jazz.  Tagging a great record label like this will always be too simplistic of course, but sometime in 2010 we’ll feature an all-Impulse evening of music so you can see what you think.  In the meantime we featured a great re-release from the distinctive orange and black spined albums – Encontros Part 3 from Gato Barbieri’s album Chapter 2: Hasta Siempre.  One of the best reissue packages of 2009 was from the always reliable Soul Jazz Records – a double CD set of music linked to Freedom Rhythm and Sound – revolutionary jazz original cover art 1965-83.  This coffee table review of album sleeves from Gilles Peterson’s personal collection of rare spiritual jazz albums from this most influential of eras.  We chose the little known drummer Errol Parker’s percussive Street Ends.

Finally, our review of the best of 2009 ended with two of the biggest hitters – a perfectly nuanced 1957 version of Bye Bye Blackbird from Miles Davis and the final ecstatic section of solo piano from Keith Jarrett’s Testament – a record of his two most recent solo concerts in Paris and London.  The biggest box set reissue of this (or any) year had to be the Miles Davis Complete Columbia Album Collection.  The 70 CD set may have been plagued with pressing problems but this is a magnificent project by any standard.

Honorable Cosmic Jazz mentions that we couldn’t fit in include Vijay Iyer’s Historicity, Dub Colossus’s fine EP Return to Addis, Dr Boondigga and the Big BW from Fat Freddy’s Drop and Dave Holland’s wonderful Monterey Quartet live in 2007.  We’d also recommend the ECM reissues under their Touchstone label – paper sleeved CD versions of great albums.  Start with the stunning Extensions from (again) Dave Holland) or Bill Frisell’s Lookout for Hope.

Enjoy your end of year jazz – and see you in 2010 for more adventures on the Cosmic Jazz journey.

[1] On this note, my 1978 edition of The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Jazz (Salamander Press) features the following final paragraph in its entry on Miles Davis:

Miles’ new conception was derived from West Coast acid rock [sic]…Miles cut what, from the jazz fan’s viewpoint, was to be his last album, In a Silent Way.  Although labels are arbitrary, Miles Davis’ subsequent output is of little interest to the jazz record collector.

Fortunately, my formative listening years were not harmed by this blinkered view of what is or isn’t jazz.

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