Coming this week: What everyone loves this time of the year—lists! Best jazz albums of the year! And not just that: Best jazz albums of the decade (so far)! Best newly discovered jazz treasures! Best living jazz musicians in various categories! Etc.!
Chick Corea's Further Explorations (Concord), with Eddie Gomez on bass and Paul Motian on drums, is my favorite jazz album of the year so far. I've played it maybe 20 times since I got an advance copy a few months ago.
It's a two-disc set, taken from two weeks of sessions at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village (one of which I raved over in this space at the time, back in May 2010). The gig was hawked as a Bill Evans tribute (the title is a spin on Evans' 1959 album Explorations), but that told only the half of it. . .
Darcy James Argue has one of the most original big-band sounds in recent years. His 2009 CD, Infernal Machines, may be the most promising jazz debut of the decade. But his world premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this weekan hour-long suite, accompanying a mix of animation and live painting by graphic-novel artist Danijel Zezelj, called Brooklyn Babylonputs the composer and his 18-piece big band, Secret Society, on the verge of a quantum leap. . .
Toward the end of 2009, I read a lot about Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, an 18-piece big band, and its debut CD, Infernal Machines, which was showing up on several best-of-the-year lists. But I never received a copy of the album and couldn’t figure out how to contact the label, New Amsterdam. Finally, I bought a copy from Downtown Music, a terrific alt-jazz record store in Manhattan, and, it turns out, the excitement is justified.
Dave Brubeck died today, just short of 92 years old. He was a plodding pianist and a less inventive composer than many obits are suggesting. (It was his alto saxophonist Paul Desmond who wrote the biggest hit "Take Five" in 5/4 time, and while Brubeck wrote many pieces in more exotic times still, they didn't swing or flow like Desmond's.) Still, Brubeck was a colossal figure of modern jazz in many ways.
Those who follow this space know of my enthusiasm for the music of trumpeter Dave Douglas: his plangent tone, his spine-tingling way with minor-chord intervals, his knack for evoking joy, melancholy, romance, and a host of other emotions—sometimes all at once—without dipping so much as a toe into sentimentalism.
Trumpeter Dave Douglas’ new album, Spirit Moves, featuring his Brass Ecstasy quintet, is a rouser: hot, cool, raucous, pensive, sometimes all at once, and always a lot of fun. The band’s name is a play on the late Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, and they share a similar hard-blowing vibe—as well as two of the players (Luis Bonilla on trombone and Vincent Chancey on French horn)—but where Bowie used the band to riff on the pop tunes of the day (long before The Bad Plus), Douglas’ sources are mainly original tunes with a zesty swing and a dash of his trademark Mediterranean melancholy.
Dave Douglas' Be Still (on the trumpeter's own Greenleaf Music label) is his most sheer-gorgeous album since the 1998 Charms of the Night Sky and one of the best-sounding new recordings that I've heard by anybody in quite a while. And it's available on LP as well as CD (more about which, later).
Trumpeter-composer Dave Douglas turned 50 last month and remains one of the most exciting and versatile musicians in jazz. Time Travel (on his own Greenleaf Music label) is his 40th album in 20 years as a leader. And, as has often been the case, it's a brash departure from his previous record, even though the bandmates are (with one exception) the same.
David Murray doesn’t play with a big band much these days, but he’s got one at Birdland in midtown Manhattan through Saturday, so if you’re in the area, check it out.
In the mid-1990s, Murray fronted a big band every Monday night at the Knitting Factory in TriBeCa (in addition to the various quartets and octet he played with all over the city). Then he moved to Paris and experimented with African and Caribbean music, but when he comes back to New York, he usually returns to his distinctive style of jazz.
He started Wednesday night’s early set with an original, “Hong Kong Nights,” and the band unleashed that special Murray sound from the first downbeat: the reeds blowing a lush harmony, the horns a clipped counterpoint, while Murray tapped into some hidden rhythm of the universe with a Ben Webster tone, a Sonny Rollins cadence, capped occasionally by an Albert Ayler outer-orbit flurrylyrical and frenzied all at once.
The magic unfolded again, later in the set, with his arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge,” proving once again that Murray is one of the era’s great modern balladeers.
David Murray has a new jazz album out. A decade or two ago, this wouldn’t be worth a shrug (though it would be worth a trip to Tower); he came out with two or three jazz albums every month. Those of us lucky to live in New York could also go see him lead his big band at the Knitting Factory every Monday night and see him play in a half-dozen other bands, as leader or sideman, at clubs all over the city. Then, in the mid-‘90s, he fell in love with a French woman, moved to Paris, broadened his musical palette (playing with Guadaloupean drummers, for instance)—all to nourishing effect, but the few times each year when he returned to New York and hooked up with a jazz quartet or octet again, it was a nearly always a spine-tingling experience (yes, a clich, but it really was).
Trumpeter-composer David Weiss calls his quintet Point of Departure, an intriguing but risky move from the get-go. That's the title, after all, of Andrew Hill's 1964 Blue Note masterpiece, one of the most appealingly adventurous sessions in post-bop jazz. In short, Weiss has set the bar high. The startling thing is, he clears it.
The band's new CD, Snuck Out (on the Sunnyside label), is a terrific album, one of my very favorites so far this year. Its melodic lines swirl in catchy cascades without quite settling into melodies. Its free-style rhythms are tethered to a structure of harmony while floating clear of strict chords. The music's tight, loose, catchy, elusive, knotty and limber, all at once. The musicians (in addition to Weiss, J.D. Allen on tenor sax, Nir Felder on guitar, Matt Clohesy on bass, Jamire Williams on drums) are first-rate. The sound, engineered by Paul Cox, is crisp and airy.
I’m making my way, too slowly, through the latest set of Naxos’ “Jazz Icons” DVDs, taken from TV broadcasts of great American jazz musicians on European tours in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Some time ago, I wrote about Charles Mingus: Live in ’64 (a terrific companion piece to his CD, Cornell 1964, recorded just before and released just last year). Tonight I watched Dexter Gordon: Live in ’63 & ’64, and recommend it highly, too.
Last Friday at the Jazz Standard, I saw clarinetist Don Byron play compositions from his 1996 Bug Music, maybe his greatest album, certainly one of the most exciting jazz albums of that decade. It features music from the ‘30s by John Kirby, Raymond Scott, and Duke Ellington—an era largely neglected by jazz musicians and historians.