I veer away from ruminating on war and peace in my Slate column today, to run down my list of Best 10 Jazz Albums for 2011. My piece over there includes hyperlinks to 30-second sound clips (the maximum that copyright law allows), but here's the list (the more devoted of you readers will notice that I've written in this space about all of them over the past year).
Geri Allen’s new album, Flying Toward the Sound (Motema Music), is a stunner. She calls it “a solo piano excursion inspired by Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock.” In jazz pianists’ lingo, this is like Babe Ruth pointing to a spot in right-center field. And she slugs the ball out of the park.
Acoustic Sounds, Chad Kassem’s Oz of analog wonders, has expanded its line of 45rpm jazz reissues to the Impulse! catalogue. Like the Blue Notes, which Kassem and Mike Hobson’s Classic Records have already covered (at 45, 33-1/3, 180g, 200g, black vinyl, clear vinyl, just about any format you might imagine), the great Impulse! albums were engineered by Rudy Van Gelder and featured the masters of their day—Coltrane, Mingus, Rollins, and, one of the most innovative big-band arrangers in modern jazz, Gil Evans.
The pianist Hank Jones died on Sunday at age 91, ending one of the great jazz dynasties (his brothers were the drummer Elvin and the trumpeter-composer Thad) and taking out one more survivor of the generation that founded post-war jazz.
On August 17, 1959—50 years ago exactly—Columbia Records released Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which became not only the best-selling jazz album of all time but also one of the best jazz albums, period, the spearhead of the “modal” revolution.
Just back from seeing the Bobby Bradford Quintet, featuring David Murray, one highlight among many of the Dave Douglas-curated New Trumpet Music Festival at the Jazz Standard in New York City. One of the most invigorating sets of jazz I've seen in a long time, the sort of exuberant, "free" but highly disciplined music that the city heard plenty of in the 1980s through mid-'90s but rarely anymore. More about that later. Meanwhile, the quintet expands to an octet tomorrow (Sunday, Oct 4). I can't make it, but if you can, get tickets now!
Henry Threadgill should be better known than he is. A topnotch musician on alto sax and flute, one of the more innovative composers in jazz, a veteran of the Chicago avant-garde and a revivalist of ragtime improvisational styles (the two are not so contradictory, as he was the first to demonstrate), Threadgill started out on small labels, briefly landed contracts at RCA Novus and Columbia during their brief flirtations with experimentalists (in the late ‘80s and mid ‘90s, respectively), then went back to the indies—all the while retaining, even advancing, his spirit of adventure and his restless but disciplined innovation.
Herbie Hancock's 1965 quintet album Maiden Voyage holds a firm place as one of the great jazz records of that transformative decade, and a new vinyl edition on Music Matters Jazzthe LA-based house renowned for its audiophile LP reissues of Blue Note titles, and only Blue Note titlessounds finer than it has on any pressing in 50 years.