It's New Year's Eve, my time and excuses have run out, and thus it's finally, finally time to bust out the year-end edition of Jazz Workshop for 2007.
This was a big year, folks, this 2007. Ornette Coleman won a Pulitzer Prize; the all-important Monterey Jazz Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary, and Sonny Rollins also celebrated the 50th anniversary of his first Carnegie Hall concert; Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton performed together for the first time; and Keith Jarrett, NOT for the first time, made an ass of himself onstage in Umbria.
It was the year I dedicated myself to jazz, the year I heard records by Freddie Keppard and Satoko Fujii and Bobby Few for the first time. It was the year when what seems to be the dominant trend of the decade, the first truly seamless integration of jazz and electronica, really reached its zenith. It was the year that belonged to big bands; funnily enough, it was also the year that belonged to the solo performer.
It's also the year in which Blogcritics allowed me to premiere this column – which means it's the first time the Jazz Workshop has done the "Best of" for the year. Thus, having done this for the first time ever, I discovered every caveat I've ever heard was true: as soon as you compile your list, you'll change your mind, or find something new under the couch that you hadn't listened to. So take this list with at least one grain of salt.
The Dirty Dozen:
- Live at the Jazz Gallery, Jason Lindner Big Band (Anzic)- I've already covered this album four freaking times, and have little to add to what I wrote for BC's Best of '07 feature. I'll say this: I picked it not for being groundbreaking, or for stretching my perception of jazz or music in general – I just picked it because it was so fucking good.
- Live, Vol. 1, Robin Eubanks & EB3 (Kindred Rhythm)- Now this is the one that takes the cake for innovation. Eubanks, operating his trio under the guideline of "1+1+1=4 and more," figured out how to make sampling, looping, remixing, and electronic processing into resources as spontaneous as thematic improvisation. It comes with a DVD, which is the best possible help, since you won't believe it until you see it.
- A Tale of God's Will (Requiem for Katrina), Terence Blanchard (Blue Note) – The New Orleans trumpeter revisits the tragedy of his hometown in a masterpiece not unlike one by Picasso – not because it's abstract, but because it examines every aspect of the fallout from Hurricane Katrina (anger, grief, sadness, despair, hope, frustration) at one time.
- Sky Blue, Maria Schneider (ArtistShare) – The most praised disc of 2007 was evidence beyond the shadow of a doubt that Schneider is the single best arranger and large bandleader, and one of the two or three best composers, of our time. Indeed, her work in orchestrating classic sounds, new-fangled techniques and instruments, and even a little bit of smooth jazz and electronica may, as Francis Davis suggested, have cemented her place in the all-time jazz pantheon.
- The Angola Project, Howard Wiley (self-released) – 2007 was also a year in which jazz engaged with various folk musics, but none more evocative than Wiley's re-envisioning of the <i>Angola Prison Spirituals</i> and <i>Work Songs</i> field recordings of the '50s and '60s. It was full of the fervor of gospel, blues, field hollers and work songs, and the overall misery of life in America's last plantation.
- Block Ice and Propane, Erik Friedlander (SkipStone) – Likely you heard a bit of this one in the Apple commercials in the last few months of 2007. Friedlander plays the cello pizzicato style, so that it sounds like a thick-stringed guitar, as he recalls his childhood summers crisscrossing the country in a camper. Another piece of Americana like The Angola Project, but this one with a lonesome nostalgia that inspired less heartbreak and more wistful smiles.
- Above and Beyond: An Evening in Grand Rapids, Billy Bang Quintet with Frank Lowe (Justin Time) – Lowe's (who died a few months after this album of lung cancer) last recording with the avant-garde violinist was a 2003 concert that seemed to sum up the duo's 25 years of work together – indeed, its release was Lowe's last request. He's down to one lung and blowing like hell anyway, and Bang is running the marathon with him and pulling out all the tricks. Their version here of "Nothing But Love" is one of the great tracks of the year.
- Jazz Cycles, Manhattan New Music Project (MNMP) – Paul Nash flew under my radar for God knows how long. He died in 2005, but his final set of compositions, Jazz Cycle, carries him on well. The careful, deliberate melodic invention sticks with you even when you think it's buried in an avalanche of new music.
- Harbor, Joel Harrison (High Note) – I now understand that Harrison isn't quite the rock-fusion acolyte I once made him out to be. But that doesn't change how much he has in common with the Zappa/Frith continuum…and it doesn't change what a great disc he made with the serpentine, utterly fascinating and delectable composition Harbor.
- Third Quartet, John Abercrombie (ECM) – Abercrombie surprised the hell out of me with this ambient, vaguely dark and mystical collection done with violinist Mark Feldman, bassist Marc Johnson, and drummer Joey Baron. Surprise or not, though, it sure was gorgeous.
- Mirror, Jacky Terrasson (Blue Note) – There's no shortage of deeply intimate solo piano recitals, but this is among the warmest imaginable. From the dazzlingly tricky "Cherokee" to the autumnal take on Carole King's "You've Got A Friend," to his Schumann-esque original "Juvenile," Terrasson may have done his best work here, and his most decisive break from mainstream safety.
- Mistico, Charlie Hunter (Fantasy) – Jazz finds its way into back-country roadhouses, fusing with southern rock and seeming, to the casual listener, to leave bop-based matrices behind. Impressive.
ROUNDING OUT THE TOP 20:
13. In My Element, Robert Glasper (Blue Note)
14. Prezens, David Torn (ECM)
15. Dreams and False Alarms, Andy Milne (Songlines)
16. Kids: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Joe Lovano and Hank Jones (Blue Note)
17. "Joint Happening," Mushroom with Eddie Gale (Hyena)
18. Metheny-Mehldau Quartet (Nonesuch)
19. From the Plantation to the Penitentiary, Wynton Marsalis (Blue Note)
20. Cinco de Mowo!, Mocean Worker (Mowo)
Is there really another choice, besides Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy at Cornell, 1964? It's a magical piece from the Wayback Machine, one that shows the sick rapport the band had onstage and Mingus' respect for his players. My personal favorite among these is trumpeter Johnny Coles, who might have had his finest showpiece had this been released roughly around the time of its performance.
And Max Roach – the most gigantic figure of them all.