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Jazz Reflections of 2006
By Chuck Obuchowski,
WWUH Jazz Director

                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 soundscapes.
            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

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