Top Picks for 2010
Okay: no hand-wringing this year. Contrived, arbitrary, unfair—we know. (See our previous years' prefatory apologies.) We're doing it anyway. And this now becomes our annual boilerplate:
There are seven of us on the RJA board, and we all have fairly eclectic, but not identical, tastes. What follows is a sort of collective stock-taking of the things we managed to listen to this year. We put all of the contenders into a spreadsheet and each of us rated those we’d heard, on a five-point scale. Then we took each disc’s average rating and weighted it for total number of votes (i.e., the score for a disc with a greater number of ratings was weighted more heavily than one with a lesser number). And that gave us our rankings. We think all ten—well, eleven—are equally worthy of repeated listening. And so are the other fifty or so that didn’t make the final cut. Oh, and the who-knows-how-many great discs that none of us managed to get to. Anyway, here’s how it all shook out.
1. Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth, Deluxe (Clean Feed). Bassist Lightcap and his band (Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby, tenor saxes; Andrew D'Angelo, alto sax; Craig Taborn, keys; Gerald Cleaver, drums) make rippling, surging, ebullient music that borrows from pop, indie, Latin, funk, gospel and African music and sounds like none of them. It just sounds great. This is the breakout jazz album of the year.
|2. GeggieTrio + Donny McCaslin, Across the Sky (Plunge). Jazz thrives in the most unlikely places—like Ottawa, Ontario, where John Geggie moves and shakes and programs jazz for the National Arts Centre. And plays a mean bass. On this session of smart, swinging, mainly straight-ahead tunes, his Canadian trio is joined by one of his many Stateside admirers, tenor giant (and friend of the RJA) Donny McCaslin, for some adventurous cross-border conversation.
|3. Allison Miller, Boom Tic Boom (Foxhaven). The versatile drummer (she's been keeping time for Ani DiFranco these past few years) says her second outing as a leader is "composed for and inspired by important women" in her life. One of them: pianist Myra Melford, who teams with bassist Todd Sickafoose and, on one track, Humboldt homegirl Jenny Scheinman for a compelling collection that booms and tics between post-bop, country, funk and avant-garde.
4. Jason Moran, Ten (Blue Note). They don't give MacArthur "genius" grants to just anybody. Pianist of the moment Moran celebrates the tenth anniversary of The Bandwagon, his powerhouse trio with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. Gorgeously perfect swing meets subtle electronic bricolage in this strikingly successful attempt to sound out the entire tradition of jazz piano, all at once, all the time.
|5. Dave Holland Octet, Pathways (Dare2). In a live recording that's more than just a showcase for the exhilarating solo talents of its memberss, Holland once again brings a contemporary sensibility to the large ensemble, with arrangements that are both lushly textured and intimately restrained. In several new pieces and a selection of older material newly arranged, this album grooves hard while it charms you.
|6. Myra Melford's Be Bread, The Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12). Melford assembles a new incarnation of her ensemble to tackle some alternately dazzling and meditative new compositions, with Ben Goldberg shining brightly on reeds and Cuong Vu on trumpet, the guitar musings of Brandon Ross, and a rhythm section powered by Matt Wilson and Stomu Takeishi. It's all woven together by Myra’s luminous keyboards.
FIREHOUSE 12 RECORDS
|7. Tom Harrell, Roman Nights (High Note). The champion of the post-bop trumpet spins a third round of straight-ahead goodness with the quintet that raised the Recital Hall roof (Fulkerson, that is) back in October: Danny Grissett (piano), Wayne Escoffery (tenor sax), Ugonna Okegwo (bass), Johnathan Blake (drums).
|8. Vijay Iyer, Solo (ACT). On the heels of last year's list-topping trio album, another brilliant record from the outstanding young pianist. This time it's a solo outing in which Iyer's incredible rhythmic drive underlies an exploration of everything from '20s Ellington to '60s Ellington to Monk, Steve Coleman, and Michael Jackson (as well as Iyer's always intriguing originals).
|9. Randy Weston's African Rhythms Sextet, The Storyteller (Motéma Music). Recorded at a live performance, this CD beautifully captures the fire of Weston's lifelong love affair with the music of Africa and the African Diaspora. It’s also the last recording of trombonist Benny Powell, who passed away in June—a sad but fitting farewell to a man who loved the blues.
|10 (tie). Geri Allen & Timeline, Live (Motéma Music). Allen's mercurial speed and fiercely original rhythmic and lyric sensibility govern this powerfully energetic live recording. Working with her to revive tap dancing as percussion in 21st-century fashion are Maurice Chesnut on taps, Kenny Davis on bass, and Kassa Overall on drums.
|10 (tie). Scott Colley, Empire (CamJazz). The all-star quintet assembled by the in-demand bassist (Ralph Alessi, Bill Frisell, Craig Taborn, Brian Blade) craft an ecstatic meditation that spans a range of feeling from the contemplative to the incendiary—the latter most notably in trumpeter Alessi's slow-burning solos. Occasionally challenging and often lyrical, Empire is intelligent, multi-layered, and focused, its players displaying remarkable sensitivity and cohesion.
And here's another dizaine of honorable mentions:
|Antonio Sanchez||Live in New York|
|Dave Douglas & Keystone||Spark of Being: Expand|
|Guillermo Klein||Domador de Huellas|
|Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green||Apex|
|Fred Hersch Trio||Whirl|
|Bill Carothers||Joy Spring|
|Charles Lloyd Quartet||Mirror|
|Claudia Quintet with Gary Versace||Royal Toast|