They were back again this past
year--those doomsayers who step forth every so often to proclaim the imminent death of
jazz. And what "proof" did they present us with this time around? Sales of jazz
releases supposedly dropped to a mere 2.9 percent of all recordings sold in the US. What
this assertion really amounts to is a lot of bellyaching by major corporations who have a
hard time acknowledging that their market share has been drastically cut by independents,
foreign companies and self-released projects. Fact is, the number of jazz recordings
released each year continues to grow, jazz is being taught in more schools than ever
before, and the popularity of jazz festivals worldwide is unprecedented. And, with the
current proliferation of neo-swing and ska-jazz--plus the recent influence of jazz upon
worldbeat and hip-hop musics --we can anticipate even greater worldwide appreciation
for this American-born artform.
The following is a list of the jazz recordings which most impressed me
during the last 12 months. They are arranged in alphabetical order, not according to their
MOSE ALLISON: GIMCRACKS AND GEWGAWS Blue Note Records
Allisons wry observations on American life are
as poignant as ever on his latest album. Now 71, the Mississippi-born pianist/vocalist
serves up a dozen new blues-drenched originals, plus an old favorite, and a distinctive
treatment of "St. Louis Blues." Hes accompanied by an outstanding quartet,
three of whom issued strong albums of their own this year: young saxman Mark Shim, drummer
Paul Motian and guitarist Russell Malone.
PATRICIA BARBER: MODERNCOOL Premonition Records
Singer and pianist Barber has been Chicagos
best-kept jazz secret for too long now...nice to see her finally receiving the kind of
recognition shes deserved since she began her recording career a decade ago.
For Moderncool, she has augmented her trio with Dave Douglas,
one of the most original--and most recorded--trumpeters in jazz. Whether dramatically
reconfiguring a rock classic like "Light My Fire" as a torch song (no pun
intended!), or conceiving mesmerizing instrumental tapestries like
"Constantinople", this woman continues to pave new musical paths for her
listeners. Her artistic vision is broad enough to encompass e.e. cummings, hip hop beats
and acapella gospel choruses. Sounds preposterous on paper, but hearing is believing!
THOMAS CHAPIN TRIO: SKYPIECE Knitting Factory Records
It is impossible for me to listen objectively to
this CD in the wake of Chapins passing, especially since I had known him since we
were kids growing up in Manchester, CT. Still, its safe to say that if he had
written nothing else during his life, the sublime beauty of the title selection--and the
way it is executed by his trio--would be enough to earn him a place of honor in jazz
history. Fact is, that tune represents only one facet of this mans prodigious
talents. Many others are on display here--from the unbridled passion of an alto feature
like "Change 2 Tyres" to "Just Now", an ethereal wood flute
improvisation. The CD also contains three lovely photographs taken by Chapin, revealing
yet another dimension of his artistry.
Thomas Chapin also guested on two fine 1998 releases by Japanese
pianist Masako Kano, Breakthrew (Jazz Focus) and Watch Out (Knitting
AVISHAI COHEN: ADAMA Stretch Records
The Israeli-born bassist offers a scintillating mix
of Middle Eastern-influenced originals and fresh approaches to the jazz mainstream.
Cohens band features some of his colleagues from Chick Coreas Origin,
including Hartford-based trombonist Steve Davis, whose playing shines throughout. Three
cuts are enhanced by the exotic sound of the oud, a North African stringed instrument.
Young piano phenoms Brad Mehldau (a West Hartford native) and Danilo Perez also turn in
strong guest appearances.
ROBERT DICK: JAZZ STANDARDS ON MARS Enja
No, this is not a tribute to the Pathfinder
spacecraft; rather, flutist Dick presents amazing reinventions of
"standards" from the pens of Coltrane, Shorter, Dolphy, Ornette, even Jimi
Robert Dick is known primarily in contemporary classical circles, but a
Hendrix tribute he recorded for New World Records awhile back brought him to the attention
of jazz fans. Here he proves himself a skilled improviser and bandleader. Also deserving
of credit is arranger Dave Soldier, whose own group has reveled in genre-hopping for at
least a decade. The Soldier String Quartet, particularly violinist Regina Carter, add a
great deal to the proceedings. Dont expect polite tea-room music: one listen to
"Machine Gun" and youll understand that these folks are into busting
through convention. If this really is what jazz standards on Mars sound like, Ill be
hitching a ride on the next space probe to the red planet!
MARTY EHRLICH & BEN GOLDBERG: LIGHT AT THE CROSSROADS Songlines
Technically, this is a 97 release, but,
given the distribution problems which plague so many independent labels, Light did
not reach most radio stations and retail outlets until this year. And its far too
wonderful a date to allow to slip between the cracks.
Not only are these two clarinetists in the upper echelon of
contemporary improvisers, they are both outstanding composers as well. Hence, these
quartet sides never sound like a mere blowing session; even at their loosest, a sense of
structure pervades, giving depth to each of the nine performances.
DAVID LIEBMAN ENSEMBLE: COLTRANES MEDITATIONS Arkadia
"There are always new sounds to imagine,
new feelings to get at...but to do that at each stage, we have to keep cleaning the
mirror." --- John Coltrane, as told to Nat Hentoff, following sessions for Meditations,
The brilliance of this 30th anniversary concert interpretation of
Coltranes oft-maligned suite is that it takes the above quotation to heart, allowing
each of the nine participants to engage in personal soul-searching. Liebmans wife,
oboe player Caris Visentin, is responsible for the arrangements; his working quintet is
bolstered by the addition of very special guests: Billy Hart, Cecil McBee and Tiger
Saxophonist Liebman, early on in his career, was accused of being a
Coltrane imitator. Now, a seasoned artist who long ago found his own sound, he reconfirms
his mentors genius, while simultaneously creating new dimensions and directions from
the source material...a challenging but rewarding listening experience.
MARIE McAULIFFES ARKSEXTET Koch Jazz
No question about it--this is the sleeper of the
year. And while I may have resorted to cliché terminology with that phrase, rest assured
that McAuliffe never does!
These compositions, all penned by the piano-playing leader, reveal a
singular approach to jazz writing, but one that never sounds stilted or academic. Some
credit must go to McAuliffes bandmates, who really bring these pieces to life, both
in group passages and solos.
Theres a hint of Monk here, and certainly some debt to European
improvising ensembles, but ultimately Arksextet stands as a unique, eloquent
DAVID MURRAY: CREOLE JustinTime Records
The captivating rhythms of Guadelope provide primary
inspiration for Murrays latest outing. Backed by American drum master Billy Hart and
several Caribbean percussionists, the reedman sounds more inspired than he has for years.
His group also includes flutist James Newton and Don Pullens piano protégé D.D.
Jackson, as well as Guadelope native guitarist Gerard Lockel, who appears on two
envelope-pushing duets with the leader. And, surprising though it may be for a David
Murray session, three engaging vocal tracks are featured, further imbuing the proceedings
with Island spices.
MATT WILSON: GOING ONCE, GOING TWICE Palmetto Records
Right from the
start--"Searchlight"--you know youre in for a treat. Take equal parts of
Ravels "Bolero" and a Moroccan street band, throw in a dash of good
old-fashioned R&B, and serve with some red-hot saxophone improvisations...Voila...a
delightful sound soufflé, courtesy of drummer Matt & company!
Wilsons second CD as a leader is significant because he has
assembled sympathetic progressively-inclined players to form that rarest of jazz
commodities: "the working band". Reedmen Andrew DAngelo and Joel Frahm
(the latter another member of the West Hartford jazz mafia) and bassist Yosuke Inoue mesh
perfectly. And you wont soon forget the title selection, which links an
auctioneers rhythmic calling to the scat vocal tradition.
Copyright©WWUH: January/February Program Guide, 1999