As in 2009, our Best of 2010 features the same eclectic mix that characterizes the show each week. We don’t have a prearranged playlist and we have always played whatever we like. As we noted in the 2009 review, “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.” Each of these releases feature music we will come back to again and again in 2011.
So let’s start at the top. For me, the most outstanding jazz release of the year has to be Charles Lloyd’s career-defining Mirror. It’s an enigmatic title for an uncharacteristically straightforward trawl through old favourites like The Water is Wide, some quirky new covers like Brian Wilson’s Caroline, No and –for the first time on a Lloyd album – Tagi, a spoken word meditation on life and philosophy. What makes the album so successful is Lloyd’s current quartet, a line-up that is so symbiotically welded to Lloyd’s understanding of what he wants from the music that we hear perfection at almost every turn of this ECM disc. Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland are the perfect foils to Lloyd’s tone which just exudes warmth and gravitas in equal measure.
Second up is the third outing for Phronesis, the trio led by bassist Jasper Hoiby. Alive is indeed a live recording from the Forge Arts Centre in Camden, London. All tracks are by Hoiby and the beautifully recorded bass led tunes feature terrific interplay between the leader and stand-in drummer Mark Guiliana. Have a listen to Eight Hours for a taste of this Edition Records home-grown triumph.
A discovery for me in 2010 has been the music of pianist Marc Cary. He first came to my attention through the website Breath of Life (check it out via the Cosmic Jazz link). His range is similar to that of another CJ favourite, Robert Glasper – a mix of eclectic cover choices with groove led workouts on his trio recordings together with some Fender Rhodes touches and – with other groups – rap and spoken word elements too. This year Focus Trio Live 2009 on Motema Music showcased his own compositions alongside standards like Round Midnight and Jackie McLean’s Minor March. Well worth a listen – if you can find it.
Music from Brazil continues to enthrall us with its range and diversity – perhaps not surprisingly with a population of 193 million, who all appear to have music in their soul. Several great compilations of new music appeared in 2010 including a Oi! A Nova Musica Brasileira – a double CD collection of music representing everything from manguebeat and brega (check them out on Wikipedia) to hiphop and rap. Nothing specifically jazzy in there but we particularly liked Jam da Silva’s homage to Manu Dibango, Mania. We also played new music from Rosalia de Souza, Rosa Passos and Estatica – the latest from on-form bossa hipster Marcos Valle.
Rumours of the death of the 12in single have been much exaggerated and we have enjoyed great new music on this format over the last year, including some great takes on Herbie Hancock’s classic Chameleon from Makoto and Kez YM. You can find this on Nik Weston’s Mukatsuku Records. Staying with Japan, Jacob – our regular sometime-Tokyo based adviser on such things – has continued to delight us with surprises from this country’s diverse music scene including producer Nujabes (aka Jun Seba) who was tragically killed in 2010 and whose track The Final View heavily samples Yusef Lateef’s Love Theme from Spartacus. This track came up again this year when NY jazz star Vijay Iyer suggested we play it in our show featuring the most beautiful tunes in jazz.
We could easily have chosen just about anything from Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden’s Jasmine – this ECM album is reflective, personal and tender – just as you might expect from this pairing. Jarrett is controlled and delicate while Haden’s trademark sonorities bring depth and a quiet grandeur to what could easily be dismissed as first division dinner party music. There are some surprises though – an interesting take on Randy Crawford’s One Day I’ll Fly Away, for example – but start with their take on the standard For All We Know and you won’t go wrong.
It didn’t feature in many ‘best of…’ round ups, but we rate Christian Scott’s latest album for Concord Jazz, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow. Scott’s breathy tone on trumpet is well matched to the chordal smears of guitarist Matthew Stevens and the production from Blue Note veteran Rudy Van Gelder is spot on. Scott’s trumpet sound owes something to Scandinavians Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvaer and we reckon that immersion in this more atmospheric, ambient tonal world will continue to feature in the development of the trumpet in jazz. Quiet Inlet, the latest release from Ian Ballamy’s Food project actually featured Molvaer adding his customary glacial tones to some tracks and Last Night the Moon Came Dropping its Clothes in the Street (also on ECM) from ambient trumpeter Jon Hassell evoked a similar soundworld. The quietly insistent collages on both albums show a clear 21st century direction for jazz.
We played much from Gilles Peterson’s latest compilation of his favourite tracks from the Italian Horo label including the intriguing Nuraghi from Santucci Scoppa and Enrico Pieranunzi’s modal Polychrome among the more familiar sounds of Roy Haynes and Steve Grossman. It would have been good to have devoted as much time to another labour of love on BGP Records from fellow DJ Dean Rudland but the three copies of this album we bought (yes – we buy all our music!) suffered from pressing faults. This anthology of the best of the Mainstream label had many treasures, including Frank Foster’s title track The Loud Minority and Blue Mitchell’s Mr Hermano. Both albums come highly recommended.
Much was expected at Cosmic Jazz Towers of Brad Mehldau’s epic Highway Rider but our view is that it delivers few surprises. Saxophonist Joshua Redman plays safe throughout and, whilst the orchestral arrangements are ambitious, the whole project doesn’t seem to deliver the promised grandeur. Similarly, our thoughts on Esperanza Spalding’s much-touted Chamber Music Society were also mixed – but maybe we need to give it another listen.
For something really adventurous, have a listen to William Parker’s I Plan to Stay a Believer which features the songs of Curtis Mayfield. Parker says that “every song written or improvised has an inside song which lives in the shadows, in between the sounds and silences and behind the words, pulsating, waiting to be reborn as a new song” and some of these versions are just that. This 2CD release is undoubtedly indulgent and overblown, with many of these ‘inside songs’ checking in at 15 minutes and more, but there are some terrific moments – including the title track and a spellbinding version of Freddie’s Dead. Much of this is due to vocalist Leena Conquest whose gospelly tones add real depth to Mayfield’s impassioned lyrics.
Reissue of the year had to be the deluxe edition of Bitches Brew, the seminal Miles Davis album that we featured in several shows as we celebrated the 40th anniversary of its release. Including the original vinyl on 180g discs, a sumptuous book of photographs, a CD of the 1970 concert at Tanglewood alongside a DVD of a previously unissued Copenhagen show from 1969, this heayweight package was the perfect way to enjoy again this justified classic. If you’re on a tight budget, go for the 3CD pack – it’s still a bargain.
A far less ambitious project was the one CD collection of complete quartet recordings from another trumpeter, the always thoughtful Booker Little. Dead from kidney failure at just 23, Little was a trumpet innovator who endlessly practiced his craft, honing his sound and challenging his technical ability with every performance. Check out The Complete Quartet Recordings on Jazz Plot for a taste of what might have been.
We also spent more time with some of ECM’s austere white boxed sets – the set of three early Arild Andersen albums collectively called Green in Blue revealed their delights slowly but listening to the evolution of the quartet across the 1970s is fascinating. Honourable mentions must go to another ECM white box, the 3CD set of Eberhard Weber albums collectively titled Colours (but confusingly not including the ground-breaking Colours of Chloe), a live rarity from influential 80s collective Loose Tubes – Dancing on Frith Street – and Windmill Tilter, Kenny Wheeler/John Dankworth’s ode to Don Quixote.
Other music we’ve enjoyed over the year included Django Bates’ wacky tribute to Charlie Parker, Beloved Bird, another fine collaboration on Strut Records from veteran Lloyd Miller and the Heliocentrics, Erik Truffaz’s patchy but ambitious 3CD set Rendezvous, Nat Birchall’s Coltrane-like Guiding Spirit and The New Emancipation, a typically ambitious fusing of jazz, rap and nu-soul from Soweto Kinch. We played tracks from all these albums over the year.
I missed the recent buzz on what is my hottest tip for the big time in 2011 – and that’s Darcy James Argue’s revolutionary take on the big band called The Secret Society. Infernal Machines, their album of 2009, is – well, something else. I’ll be playing music from this truly amazing release over coming weeks.
Enjoy your end of year jazz – and see you in 2011 for more adventures on the Cosmic Jazz journey.