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.
Bill Frisell's Sign of Life (Savoy Jazz) is one of the most gorgeous new albums I've heard in a while. It's in the tradition of his "Americana" albums (Disfarmer; History, Mystery; Ghost Town; Gone, Just Like a Train; This Land), but here he burrows deeper into the roots. There are traces of folk, bluegrass, minimalism, western-blues, as well as certain modes and improvisational cadences of jazz. The ensemble is the 858 Quartet. . .
Bill Frisell’s new CD, Big Sur (Sony Masterworks/OKeh Records), is at once a reprise and a departure. It features the string musicians from his 858 Quartet, last heard two years ago on Sign of LifeFrisell on guitar, Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola, Hank Roberts, cellothis time augmented by the versatile young drummer Rudy Royston. The album also features 19 new Frisell compositions, lithe and lyrical, yet laced with more complex harmoniessubtler, darker, and more sinuousthan anything I’ve heard from him before. . .
Watching Bobby Bradford and David Murray on the bandstand together at the Jazz Standard Saturday night (see my last blog entry) inspired me to take another listen to the only CD that paired them together, Death of a Sideman, recorded in 1991 under Murray’s name but featuring nothing but Bradford compositions, eight tracks’ worth.
The first two pressings from Music Matters Jazz arrived the other day. This is the new audiophile company that reissues classic stereo albums from the Blue Note catalogue on two slabs of 180-gram vinyl mastered at 45 rpm, packaged in a gatefold cover with not only a facsimile of the original cover but, inside, five finely reproduced photos from the session, taken by Blue Note’s masterly inhouse photographer, Francis Wolff. This is exciting stuff for jazz-loving audiophiles.
Sometimes you hear a CD, things come up, you store it away and forget about it, until something compels you to take it out of the closet, give it a spin, and you kick yourself for your negligence, you realize, suddenly, belatedly, that this is a really special album. That's my story with Bob Brookmeyer's Standards (on the ArtistShare label), a pretty magnificent send-off from one of the most elegantly inventive big-band composers in jazz, released in 2011, shortly before he died at the age of 81.
As I was saying a few days ago, Bobby Bradford’s rare appearance at the Jazz Standard last Saturday was one of the most bracing sets I’ve seen in a long time. In the early-to-mid ‘90s, New Yorkers could go hear this sort of jazz—exuberant, free, but highly disciplined music—almost every night at the Knitting Factory. Just about everyone in Bradford’s band on Saturday was a regular at “the Knit” in its heyday—David Murray on tenor sax, Marty Ehrlich on alto, Mark Dresser on bass, Andrew Cyrille on drums: an extraordinary band.
Pure Pleasure Records is a British audiophile-label that—like the stateside Analogue Productions, Classic Records, and Cisco Recordings—reissues blue-chip jazz albums on pristine virgin vinyl. Pure Pleasure’s focus is the catalogue of Candid Records, an adventurous label that lasted only from 1960-61, with critic Nat Hentoff in charge of A&R. In the past few years, PPR has released such essential works of modern jazz as The Newport Rebels, Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, and Max Roach’s We Insist! But its latest reissue, trumpeter Booker Little’s Out Front, is a revelation. Little was 23 when he recorded this, his fourth and final album as a leader; he died of uremia just six months later—a huge loss for the music.