Redwood Jazz Alliance

Top Picks for 2008

This year, all seven RJA board members struggled to pick their favorite albums of 2008. Again we resisted ranking (it's so, like, hierarchical, man), but again Bob Doran persuaded us to compromise our flimsy principles for the hipness and visibility conferred by the imprimatur of the North Coast Journal. It was an even more arcane calculus than usual that decided the rank order this time around, with the interesting but not unwelcome result that our top laurels went to an album that was on everyone's list--and usually high up--but no one's #1.

We issue the usual caveats:Our picks are skewed towards the things we manage to buy and listen to in the first place. We know there are loads of great recordings that appeared this year (new releases from Wadada Leo Smith, Ari Hoenig, Greg Osby, Michael Moore, Torben Waldorff, et cetera, ad nauseum) that for one reason or another most of us just plain missed. And of course there's no accounting for taste.

You also won't find a few great discs that appear on some of the other big year-end lists (Andy Bey's "Ain't Necessarily So," Carla Bley's "The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu," Dave Douglas's "Moonshine," Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford's "Spark," Drew Gress's "The Irrational Numbers," etc.) because they actually appeared in late 2007--and we caught them last year! (On the other hand, since putting this page online, there's already been some remorse and regret: "Dang! I forgot all about Ben Allison!" "Rabo de Nube came out in 2008?" {Yes--in the U.S., anyway.])

Herewith the items that at least a plurality of us did hear and about which there’s broad agreement. You can peruse the full results, if you've got the stomach, further down:

  1. Dafnis Prieto Sextet, Taking The Soul For A Walk (Dafnison Music).  Prieto’s October RJA appearance was like Miguel Zenón’s in April:  a brilliant showcase of the fresh jazz springing from Afro-Latin & Caribbean roots.  The album sparkles even more with the addition of Yosvany Terry’s sax and Avishai Cohen’s trumpet.
  2. Miguel Zenón, Awake (Marsalis Music). One listen will tell you why Zenón recently received a MacArthur "genius" grant.  His music displays a level of rhythmic thinking that leaves mere mortals slackjawed, but never at the expense of a soulful melodicism that even Steven Colbert could not deny.
  3. Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band, Appearing Nightly (Watt/ECM).  Her gift for surprise no longer surprises us.  Her feel for the outrageous no longer shocks us.  Her consistent sense of grace in the heart of the most surprising and outrageous passages?  That always knocks us out.
  4. Dave Holland Sextet, Pass It On (Dare2/EmArcy). Holland's newest group has the sterling interplay and rhythmic virtuosity of his great Quintet. But this is the first time he’s used piano, and newcomer Mulgrew Miller's playing enriches the group's sound without costing it any of Holland's trademark contrapuntal clarity and freedom over a groove. The compositional style is dynamic but restrained, and Holland's experience with his big bands is evident in horn arrangements that suggest a much larger ensemble, and that swing hard -- but not loudly.
  5. Ben Allison, Little Things Run the World (Palmetto).  On first listen, some tunes strike you as deceptively slight: Bacharach for post-rock jazzers.  (Not that that's a bad thing.) But Allison’s composing is simultaneously folksy and urbane, artless and subtle—program music for everyday life in the year 2008.  Roll Credits.
  6. Anat Cohen, Notes From the Village (Anzic) From the propulsive polyrhythms of the album's opener--which survey the world's music through the prism of Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park--to the off-meter, up-tempo playfulness of the closer (a swinging cover of Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz"), this album cooks. Cohen is a crowd-pleaser, but she is also, as Nate Chinen put it in the Times,"the real deal." Like her pianist and longtime collaborator Jason Lindner, Cohen treats jazz as innately cosmopolitan. That's jazz's history--but in Cohen, it's also jazz's future.
  7. Jenny Scheinman, Crossing The Field (Koch Jazz). Alternately lush and sprightly string arrangements make this album feel like a dreamy romp through certain sectors of European and American film music (Fellini and Tati; Badalamenti and Thomas Newman).  It's all stamped with Scheinman's own brand of Americana and performed by an all-star band featuring pianist Jason Moran and cornetist Ron Miles.
  8. James Carter, Present Tense (EmArcy)
  9. Tie: Joe Locke, Force of Four (Origin) and Francisco Mela, Cirio (Half Note). Locke: advanced music in the hot bop-tradition. Like Woody Shaw, only on vibes.
  10. Bennie Maupin, Early Reflections (Cryptogramophone). The one-time collaborator of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock works this time with a group of Polish musicians steeped in the sounds and soul of the old world. The result is a journey at once idyllic and adventurous, making the old new and burnishing today with the flavors of days gone by. Sheer, unadulterated, pure scary beauty.

The Full Monty:

Dan Aldag:

  1. Carla Bley And Her Remarkable Big Band, Appearing Nightly (Watt/ECM)
  2. Dafnis Prieto Sextet, Taking The Soul For A Walk (Dafnison Music)
  3. Jenny Scheinman, Crossing The Field (Koch Jazz)
  4. Bill Frisell, History, Mystery (Nonesuch)
  5. James Carter, Present Tense (EmArcy)
  6. Dave Holland Sextet, Pass It On (Dare2/EmArcy)
  7. Anat Cohen, Notes From The Village (Anzic)
  8. Cassandra Wilson, Loverly (Blue Note)
  9. Miguel Zenón, Awake (Marsalis Music)
  10. Charles Lloyd, Rabo de Nube (ECM)

Michael Eldridge:

  1. Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos, Filtros (Sunnyside)
  2. Ben Allison, Little Things Run the World (Palmetto)
  3. SF Jazz Collective, Live 2008: 5th Annual Concert Tour (SFJazz)
  4. Uri Caine, The Othello Syndrome (Winter & Winter)
  5. Carla Bley And Her Remarkable Big Band, Appearing Nightly (Watt/ECM)
  6. Dave Holland Sextet, Pass It On (Dare2/EmArcy)
  7. Michael Moore/Fred Hersch, This We Know (Palmetto)
  8. Jenny Scheinman, Crossing The Field (Koch Jazz)
  9. Anat Cohen, Notes From The Village (Anzic)
  10. Kurt Rosenwinkel, Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard (ArtistShare)
And almost as many honorable mentions:
Bill Frisell, History, Mystery (Nonesuch)
Dafnis Prieto Sextet, Taking The Soul For A Walk (Dafnison Music)
Miguel Zenón, Awake (Marsalis Music)
Donny McCaslin, Recommended Tools (Greenleaf Music)
Harry Beckett, Warm Smiles/Themes for Fega (Vocalion/RCA [reissue])
Bennie Maupin, Early Reflections (Cryptogramophone)
William Parker, Petit Oiseau (AUM Fidelity)
Francisco Mela, Cirio (Half Note)

Thomas Fossier:

  1. Dave Holland Sextet, Pass It On (Dare2/EmArcy)
  2. Anat Cohen, Notes From The Village (Anzic)
  3. Michael Moore/Fred Hersch, This We Know (Palmetto)
  4. Dafnis Prieto Sextet, Taking the Soul for a Walk (Dafnison Music) 
  5. Francisco Mela, Cirio (Half Note) 
  6. SF Jazz Collective, Live 2008: 5th Annual Concert Tour (SFJazz)
  7. David Sanchez, Cultural Survival (Concord)
  8. Miguel Zenón, Awake (Marsalis Music)
  9. Carla Bley And Her Remarkable Big Band, Appearing Nightly (Watt/ECM)
  10. Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos, Filtros (Sunnyside)

Eric Neel:

  1. Carla Bley And Her Remarkable Big Band, Appearing Nightly (Watt/ECM)
  2. Ben Allison, Little Things Run the World (Palmetto)
  3. Miguel Zenón, Awake (Marsalis Music)
  4. Dave Holland Sextet, Pass It On (Dare2/EmArcy)
  5. Jenny Scheinman, Crossing The Field (Koch Jazz)
  6. Donny McCaslin, Recommended Tools (Greenleaf Music)
  7. Francisco Mela, Cirio (Half Note)
  8. James Carter, Present Tense (EmArcy)
  9. Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 1 (Doxy)
  10. David Murray & Mal Waldron, Silence (Justin Time)

Michael Quam:

  1. Enrico Pieranunzi, et al., As Never Before (CamJazz)
  2. Wadada Leo Smith, Tabligh (Cuneiform)
  3. Dafnis Prieto Sextet, Taking the Soul Out for a Walk (Dafnison Music)
  4. James Carter, Present Tense (EmArcy)
  5. Miguel Zenón, Awake (Marsalis Music)
  6. Bill Carothers, Home Row (Pirouet)
  7. Francisco Mela, Cirio  (Half Note)
  8. Joe Locke, Force of Four (Origin)
  9. David Sanchez, Cultural Survival (Concord)
  10. Carla Bley And Her Remarkable Big Band, Appearing Nightly (Watt/ECM)

Loralei Saylor:

  1. Bennie Maupin, Early Reflections (Cryptogramophone)
  2. Dafnis Prieto Sextet, Taking the Soul for a Walk (Dafnison Music)
  3. Miguel Zenón, Awake (Marsalis Music)
  4. Anat Cohen, Notes From The Village (Anzic)
  5. Charles Lloyd, Rabo de Nube (ECM)
  6. Vijay Iyer, Tragicomic (Sunnyside)
  7. David Sanchez, Cultural Survival (Concord)
  8. Ben Allison, Little Things Run the World (Palmetto)
  9. Kenny Barron, The Traveler (Sunnyside)
  10. Joe Locke, Force of Four (Origin)

David Stacey:

  1. Joe Locke, Force of Four (Origin)  
  2. Dafnis Prieto Sextet, Taking the Soul for a Walk (Dafnison Music) 
  3. Donny McCaslin, Recommended Tools (Greenleaf Music)
  4. Bill Dixon, with Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey)
  5. Paolo Fresu, Mare Nostrum (ACT)
  6. Bennie Maupin, Early Reflections (Cryptogramophone)
  7. Miguel Zenón, Awake (Marsalis Music)
  8. Ben Allison, Little Things Run the World (Palmetto)
  9. Adam Kolker, Flag Day (Sunnyside)
  10. Nicholas Payton, Into the Blue (Nonesuch)

Extremely honorable mention:
Mary Halvorson,  Dragon's Head (Firehouse 12)
James Carter, Present Tense (EmArcy)
John Ellis, Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow (HYENA)
David Sanchez, Cultural Survival (Concord)
Harris Eisenstadt, Guewel (Clean Feed)
Conrad Herwig, Latin Side of John Coltrane (Astor Place [reissue])
McCoy Tyner, Guitars (Half Note)
Don Cherry, Live at Cafe Montmartre 1966, Vol. 2http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=jazzhouseorg-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B0015HZMHS (ESP [reissue])

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