C. Andrew Hovan's Top Jazz Picks For 2008
Well it's that time of year again. The task of going through the stacks of music that have reached my door over the past twelve months. While the economy and the weak state of the record industry would tend to suggest that things might be on the slim side, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was able to quickly assemble a list of memorable recordings. This must attest to the verility of the music and to the dedication of today's jazz musicians. So here are some of the best of 2008, both new releases and reissues.
Coming into his own these days, Roy Hargrove proves to be a firebrand with a new quintet that responds to his every move. Justin Robinson makes the perfect foil and up-and-comer Gerald Clayton is worth watching. While the tunes are short, they are nonetheless substantial and accessible.
Pass It On
Holland changes things up for his new sextet and the record is all the better for these changes. Spelling the vibes of Steve Nelson is the piano of Mulgrew Miller. Furthermore, Eric Harland is less busy than previous Holland drummers and much more musical. It all adds up to a set that is arguably Holland's finest in previous memory.
Live at the Jazz Standard Volume Two
Of all the female jazz vocalists out there, DeRose is the most versatile. This comes from the fact that she is an accomplished pianist and musician, not just a singer. Working with bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson, DeRose turns up the inspiration for this second offering and the joy this trio shares is audibly heard on aptly titled "Laughing at Life."
The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter
Herwig's latest in his series of Latin explorations is also his best. Shorter's tunes seem even more pliable to new interpretations in this mold. Brian Lynch and Ronnie Cuber fill out the front line and special guest Eddie Palmieri heats up much of the second half.
A first call player on the New York scene, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli can be heard on countless sessions as a sideman and his catalog also boasts a few fine records of his own on Criss Cross. His debut set for Reservoir is quintessential hard bop and features a lovely mix of standards and originals. Music of this genre doesn't get much better than this.
Day In Night Out
Weiskopf has a knack for writing advanced charts with a sound that is often quite bigger than the number of players on hand. He does this with panache on this octet release of originals. Speaking in the liners of the influence of Don Sebesky, one can hear such inspiration infused in his own muse. Solo space is also provided for heavyweights like Andy Fusco, Gary Smulyan, and Kendrick Scott.
Much like Duke Ellington, Carla Bley's instrument is actually the ensemble she is writing for and she tailors her pieces to the specific personalities involved. Over the past few years, it's been her big band recordings that have provided the best forum for expression and this set is no exception. In fact, this might be her most varied and accomplished set in that genre to date.
Probably the best tenor saxophonist you might have never heard of, Ralph Bowen spends much of his time in academia, but has always stood squarely in that category termed talent deserving of wider recognition. His latest release might also possibly be his best with strong support offered by organist Sam Yahel and guitarist Peter Bernstein. Bowen updates the organ combo format with visceral blowing of the Coltrane variety.
Of all the young trumpeters who have made the scene over the past four or five years, Jeremy Pelt seems to have the strongest ability to sustain himself over the long haul. He moves beyond recreating the past to arrive at a style that is fresh and November is his strongest showing yet. Pianist Danny Grissett and drummer Gerlad Cleaver are valuable assets who help Pelt flesh out this program of all originals.
Young at Heart
More influenced by players such as Coleman Hawkins and Lucky Thompson than John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart has been around since the early '90s. His second date for Sharp Nine helps bring further exposure to a gifted artist with a husky voice and verile approach. Able support is provided by Tardo Hammer, Peter Washington, and Joe Farnsworth.
The Complete Arista Recordings
This one will probably be considered the Holy Grail to collectors of avant-garde jazz of the '70s. This eight-disc box collects some of reedman Braxton's finest work from 1974 to 1980, a period that otherwise can be considered a low point for jazz in general. Most of this music has never been issued before on CD and the transfers are clean and holographic. Kenny Wheeler fans will love the further exposure his horn gets on several of the sessions collected here.
The Pilgrim and the Stars
Making its first appearance on CD, this ECM classic features trumpeter Enrico Rava and a sympathetic trio including guitarist John Abercrombie. A mix of freer strains and lovely melodic statements, this was the first of Rava's ECM sessions and it has aged very well. Essential listening for Rava and ECM fans and just one of the many titles reissued by ECM for its Touchstone series, commemorating the label's 40th anniversary.
Composer/arranger Patrick Williams broke into the business via three dates he led for Verve Records back in the late '60s. Later he would move to LA and contibute scores to movies and television series. More heard about than actually heard, Williams' magnum opus remains 1973's Threshold, an advanced big band set that is being offered by ArtistShare in a newly remastered version for CD. Also be on the lookout for a new Williams project also being put together for ArtistShare.
Alone Again, Naturally
Mainly considered a soul and R&B singer, Esther Phillips had her biggest success while signed with producer Creed Taylor. Her second set for the Kudu imprimitur is a knock-out production arranged by Maceo Parker and it gets its first CD release thanks to the folks at Reel Music. Look for cameos by George Benson, Billy Cobham, and Hank Crawford.