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My Favorite Jazz & Blues Releases of 2009

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As good of a year as it was for pop and rock music, it was even better for jazz and blues. My goodness, there was a lot of material to choose from. As usual, the list that follows isn't in any particular order, though my two favorites appear at the end. Yes, two. I just couldn't decide.

Neil HaverstickStick Man: Electric Music for 19 and 34 Tone Guitars

To the neophyte, microtonal music can seem less than accessible. Yeah, tones show up that the western ear just isn't used to. On Stick Man, Haverstick takes microtonality and uses it in many contexts, not just 'jazz.' This is important because I've heard albums that focus so much on the 'theory' that the result seems a little dry and pedantic. Well, give compositions like 34 Fjord a listen. The elongated tones floating in from all directions mask the surprise to follow — a full-on rock guitar freakout.

Tyshawn SoreyKoan

Mr. Sorey accomplishes the rare frontman task, that of not pushing his instrument into the foreground. Sorey's drumkit is an equal player along with the bass and guitar. Koan is full of slowly-evolving soundscapes that don't reveal their structure for quite a while. This approach might be irritating to some but it made my ears focus intently on the direction being taken (or being intimated). Terrific stuff that's hard to categorize.

Bill FrisellDisfarmer

Bill, you seem to draw from an endless pool of Americana. From Jimmy Rogers to Ornette Coleman, it's all there and it never seems to get old. It's isn't often that music can be rooted in the old-timey tradition and yet seem so modern.

Seth WalkerLeap Of Faith

Walker's stuff is rightly thought of as blues. When I first listened to this record I was stunned into silence by Lay Down (River Of Faith). It's blues with a big load of gospel passion. It's one of the best things I've heard this year.

(Originally featured in a Friday Morning Listen)

Nicholas Urie Large EnsembleExcerpts From An Online Dating Service

On Nicholas Urie's MySpace page, we're informed that "This isn't your grandma's big band!" No kidding. With lyrics taken from actual online dating service recordings, the thematic content would make grandma raise those eyebrows. I was hooked upon hearing "Bad Girl?", which starts off with a kind of standard dating service introduction: "I am a forty-two year old/Good looking and sexy…". By the composition's end we have mentions of "good 'ol fashioned discipline" as well as "spanking fun." It's just good, clean family entertainment.

Ayelet Rose GottliebUpto Here | From Here

To call Gottlieb a jazz singer is to miss the point. The problem is that that description brings to mind names like Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald and Abbey Lincoln. Those tremendous artists have their own fine voices but Ayelett Rose Gottlieb is not here to provide a re-experience of that tradition. Instead, Gottlieb breaths new life into old lyric fragments (Some Kiss, employing the poetry of Rumi, is especially thought-provoking) as well as her own words to create the most sultry (yet oddball) listening experience of the year.

Rudresh MahanthapaOpti

An unknown (to me) saxophonist/composer who dropped out of the sky during an evening commute. I was so affected by the music that I almost had to pull the car over. I even held my nose and purchased it as a digital download.

(Originally featured in a Friday Morning Listen)

It's a tie!! Here are my two favorite jazz records of 2009.

Kait DuntonReal & Imagined
Kait Dunton's unusual approach to composition drew me in immediately. Her piano trio stays away from the usual improv-over-changes thing. What they do is quite unusual, drawing in elements of pop to create…something else. All I know is that I couldn't stop listening to this record.

(Original Blogcritics Review)

SomiIf The Rains Come First

With an all-star cast from the Obliqsound label (and a cool guest appearance from Hugh Masekela), the music music on If The Rains Come First stretches from R&B to jazz to Afro-pop. This isn't jazz in the traditional sense but Somi's beyond-gorgeous voice is what you're here for. Trust me.

(Original Blogcritics Review)

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About Mark Saleski

  • Jordan Richardson

    That Nicholas Urie one was wild. One of the more memorable, unique albums I heard this year.

  • yep. the great thing about it was that they did something completely new with the idea.

  • Josh Hathaway

    Barrett Martin’s Zenga and Nick Moss’ Live at Chan’s 2 were a couple that dominated my listening. Love them.

  • hmmm, i did listen to Zenga a whole bunch of times. really good stuff.

  • stickman

    Zenga is the best. My favourites: Alhambra and Roll the bones.