Monday, December 14, 2009

Favorites of 2009 (Part 1: Individuals & Small Groups)

I am of the opinion that 2009 has been an excellent year for creative music, jazz, folk and more (and I'm not alone.)  To try and narrow down a "Top 10" has been fun and, in the end, an impossibility.  Therefore, I've split up the list (the larger groups follow later this week.)  The following is in no set order of preference.

Marcus Strickland released 2 CDs in the space of a month this spring and both are excellent. "Idiosyncracies" (StrictMuzik) is a trio recording with brother E.J. (drums) and Ben Williams (bass), the approach descended from the legendary Sonny Rollins Trio recordings of the 1950s.  The band is tight, the material intelligent (originals mixed with works by Stevie Wonder, Bjork, Oumou Sangare, Andre 3000 and Jaco Pastorious) and the results a delight. "Of Song" (Criss Cross) adds pianist David Byrant to the mix and is a "ballads" programs.  Recorded 18 days after the Trio CD, the repertoire is all "cover" tunes save one and the band just as focussed. Taken together, this is 2 hours of great listening.

Bassist-composer Linda Oh entered the scene with "Entry", a self-released Trio disk that is quite mature and musical.  With trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and drummer Obed Calvaire, the music moves in many and varied directions.  Oh plays with spirit and fire, her lines both supportive and interactive.

Another trio CD that has caught just about everyone's ears is Vijay Iyer's "Historicity" (ACT.)  Pianist Iyer, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore create a swirling mass of melodies and rhythms that is challenging and seductive, mesmerizing and thoughtful. 

Clean Feed, a label based in Portugal, released a number of fine CDs this year.  Three that made my list include the highly satisfying "Things Have Got To Change" featuring the Marty Ehrlich Rites Quartet. Saxophonist Ehrlich, who has worked tirelessly to keep the music of his mentor Julius Hemphill (1938-1995) alive, works with a fine group including James Zollar (trumpet), Erik Friedlander (cello) and Pheroan ak Laff (drums.) 3 of the 8 tracks are by Hemphill, including 2 that have never been recorded until this CD and a smoking take of "Dogon A.D.
Also on Clean Feed is the quiet and exploratory "Pieces of Old Sky" by trombonist Samuel Blaser's Quartet and the cool yet sparkling music of "Canada Day" created by drummer/composer Harris Eisenstadt and a empathetic quartet.

Firehouse 12, the splendid recording studio and performance space in New Haven released several strong CDs in 2009 but none more impressive than "Byzantine Monkey" from bassist John Hebert.  3 reed players (Michael Attias, Tony Malaby and Adam Kolker) work alongside drummer Nasheet Waits and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi to bring Hebert's fascinating works to life.  There's great rhythmic fire and interplay with melodies that draw on the bassist's familial home (Louisiana) and the influence of pianist Andrew Hill. But the music does not sound Cajun nor do the majority of the pieces sound like Hill - in fact, it's hard to pin down influences. So, don't.  Let the music play and bask in the creativity.

Among the other releases that caught my ears is the exciting and raucous "That's Gonna Leave a Mark" from the Matt Wilson Quartet (Palmetto), "Paris/London: Testament", a riveting solo piano release from Keith Jarrett (ECM) that is his most musical and emotional work in a long time, and "Spirit Moves", a modern brass band quintet known as Brass Ecstasy led by trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas (Greenleaf.)  The joy emanating from this group's music is palpable and very seductive.

I'm already at 11 and there are even more so here's the rest of the list:
"It's a Gadget World" - Ron Horton (ABEAT Records)
"Luna Menguante" - Lucia Pulido (Adventure Music)
"Obsession" - Tessa Souter (Motema), featuring a smashing take on "Eleanor Rigby."
"Similar in the Opposite Way" - Jeff Albert Quartet (Forasound)
"Small Spaces" - Mike Baggetta Quartet (Fresh Sounds New Talent)
"Mosaic" - Kendra Shank Quartet (Challenge)
"The American Dream - Frank Carlberg (Red Piano Records), featuring Chris Cheek (saxes), John Hebert (bass) and the expressive vocals of Christine Correa.
"Esta Plena" - Miguel Zenon (Marsalis Music), a truly exciting blend of Puerto Rican roots music and jazz.
"Perennial - Rob Garcia 4 (BJU Records), great work from pianist Dan Tepfer and saxophonist Noah Preminger (whose playing is subtle and experimental yet aways musical.)
"Today on Earth" - Joe Morris Quartet (AUM Fidelity)


  1. Hi Richard: Congrats on the new blog (despite the circumstances). We need your voice here on the jazz Interwebs!

    Jason Crane
    The Jazz Session

  2. Jazz blogs rule! What new circumstances? I hope nothing bad! Meanwhile, thank you for mentioning Obsession!