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.
Pianist Fred Hersch plays at the Village Vanguard this week, joined by bassist Drew Gress and drummer Paul Motian. I was at last night’s early set, and it was one of the most bracing I’ve seen in a long while.
I’m a little late with this, but if you’re still in holiday spirits, can’t stand to hear Paul McCartney’s ditty or Mel Torme’s jingle one more time, and cringe, thoroughly bummed out, at Bob Dylan’s piss-brew of raspy cheer, take a listen to Charlie Parker’s take of “White Christmas.”
The jazz book of the year is called, simply,Jazz. Written by Gary Giddins, the best living jazz critic, and Scott DeVeaux, one of the most astute jazz historians, it’s a vital reference for those well versed in the subject and an essential guide for those who get lost in its thickets and want to know how to listen to the music so that it at least makes sense.
My annual piece on the Best Jazz Albums of the Year appears in today’s edition of Slate (for which I write a regular column, though usually on foreign and military policy). This time, I also drew up two lists of the Best Jazz Albums of the Decade—one for new recordings, the other for previously unreleased historical recordings (treasure troves of which were excavated this past 10 years). Readers of this blog may recall reading about most of these albums in this space.
Maria Schneider’s early set last night at the Jazz Standard—part of her 17-piece Jazz Orchestra’s traditional Thanksgiving-week run—reaffirmed and advanced her position as the preeminent big-band composer of our era.
Smalls is, well, a small jazz club in New York City’s West Village and, while far from the most comfortable establishment in town, it’s certainly among the most authentic and dedicated. The cover is cheap, the audience is youthful (two facts that are probably related), the musicians are usually the best up-and-coming players, and established masters sit in now and then too. (Last week, Albert “Tootie” Heath played drums with the Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson.)
Nellie McKay’s Normal As Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day (Verve, CD and LP) is the unlikeliest delight of the year. Who’d have thought that the snarkmistress of Get Away from Me (her 2004 debut double-album, with its “Explicit Lyrics” label, downtown cool, and sharp-wit irony, to say nothing of the title’s savage slash at the then-raging darling, Norah Jones) could produce such gentle covers of hits once sung by the queen of wholesomeness?