The record industry continued its nosedive in 2006. The once unstoppable
Tower Records began liquidating its assets in early October. Later
that month the CEO of EMI Music, one of the largest record companies
in the world, proclaimed “the CD as it is right now is dead.”
Jazz, which has always struggled to maintain its tiny slice of the
total music retail pie, would seem to be doomed under these conditions,
yet this art form has always found creative ways to change with
the times. Jazz musicians were among the first to explore releasing
and distributing their own recordings. Charles Mingus and Max Roach
formed their own record label over 50 years ago, and many others
have pursued similar routes during the intervening decades.
Last year saxophonist Sonny Rollins one of the most venerable living
jazz artists created Doxy Records, and his debut release, Sonny,
Please” has met with much success. At WWUH, it became one
of the most played jazz recordings of the year. Another airplay
favorite was the Dave Holland Quintet's Critical Mass. After more
than 30 years with ECM, Holland created Dare2 Records last year.
He remains among the most active and highly regarded improvisers
on the jazz scene today.
No doubt the future has many more changes in store for us, as music
downloads take over the more traditional means of sales and distribution.
But, as WWUH jazz listeners can attest, there's been no dearth of
outstanding recordings in recent times.
A Sampling of My Favorite Recordings
Although the era of fusion is well behind us, most of my favorite
releases of the past year could be called fusion in the broadest
sense of the term. The music many of us once referred to as fusion
was, at its best, a bold melding of jazz and rock forms. These days,
the boundaries between musical genres have blurred considerably.
Canadian flutist and soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett has
been fusing modern jazz styles with Cuban roots music for years.
Her 2006 Radio Guantanamo (Blue Note Records, distributed by EMI)
is perhaps her most successful fusion yet. Blending a variety of
folk and blues forms from a region of Cuba that has recently garnered
lots of negative press due to the U.S. detention center located
there, this album celebrates the resilient spirit of the Cuban people.
It also shows the influence of Afro-Cuban music on U.S. styles,
especially the Cajun and blues music of the deep south.
Radio Guantanamo featured very special guest Dewey
Redman, who died a few months after the release of this CD. One
of the last of the Texas tenors, the saxophonist was best known
for his work with Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett. He sounds as
spirited as ever on Bunnett's fine recording.
Cuban musical styles also inform the concepts of drummer Dafnis
Prieto, whose Absolute Quintet (Zoho Music) is another exceptional
'06 release. Prieto composed all 10 pieces on the disc; he explored
the influence of African and European classical musics upon his
homeland, and the results are a delightful and diverse mixture of
sounds and moods. Jason Lidner expands the sonic territories even
further with his electronic keyboards and Hammond organ, while cellist
Dana Leong and violinist Christian Howes add lovely colors to overall
String players caught my attention often in 2006. Connecticut bassist
Mario Pavone highlighted the gritty fiddle work of Charlie Burnham
on Deez to Blues (Playscape Recordings). The album fuses Mingus-inspired
blues with Pavone’s unique compositional stylings. All the
participants are first-rate improvisers; it's a special treat to
hear veteran multi-instrumentalist Howard Johnson (tuba, baritone
sax, bass clarinet) work his magic on these tunes.
While not among my favorites of the year, “I’ll Be Seeing
You: A Sentimental Journey (Verve) by violinist Regina Carter deserves
special mention. A loving tribute to her recently-deceased mother,
this release effortlessly reinvigorated old standards in a variety
of modern contexts. Carter was also a worthy '06 recipient of a
MacArthur Foundation genius award.
Violinist Sam Bardfeld may play the same instrument as Carter, but
his approach to music is quite different. Periodic Trespasses (Fresh
Sound New Talent) is technically a 2005 release, but we didn't receive
it at WWUH until January of last year. The recording offers fresh
approaches for creative improvisation and composition. While many
jazz musicians continue to mine the same nostalgic territories of
pre-rock pop standards and the so-called Great American Songbook,
Bardfeld and a small group of daring young players are considering
different directions for the music.
Periodic Trespasses features great trumpet work from Ron Horton,
who also contributes mightily to New Haven native Ben Allison's
Cowboy Justice (Palmetto Records). This clever instrumental commentary
on the Bush administration is full of accessible and exciting original
music, plus a unique take on the theme from Midnight Cowboy. Bassist
Allison still makes it back to his home state, so catch him if you
can in 2007.
Which reminds me, although the Connecticut jazz concert scene isn't
what it used to be, there are still a number of venues and non-profit
organizations presenting jazz on a regular basis. If you love this
music, PLEASE support the artists and the venues by attending live
jazz events more often this year. Call the WWUH Jazz Line
(860) 768-5267 for weekly updates on concerts and club
dates in our region.
For an expanded version of this 2006 wrap-up,
visit the Jazz Pages on the WWUH web site.
Copyright © WWUH Program Guide 2007