The Jazz.com Blog
December 18, 2008 · 1 comment
Thierry Quénum covers the jazz scene from his home base in Paris, and is a frequent contributor to these pages. Below he offers his 30 picks for the best jazz releases of the year. Quénum’s perspective is especially useful since he hears many releases that, for whatever reason, get limited (or sometime no) distribution in the US, and thus tend to be excluded from most critics' end-of-year lists. T.G.
It can be somewhat frustrating for European jazz fans to realize that US-based magazines and websites largely ignore European “products” (artists and labels). I won’t comment on that that here but, before indulging in the ritual of the “Best CDs of the Year,” I can only express how glad I am to write for a website that doesn’t have that kind of narrow-mindedness. I’m also happy that we, Europeans, are fortunate enough not to suffer from some kind of deafness, which allows us to profit by a wide choice of music available on our side of the Atlantic, both onstage and in record stores.
Before stating my personal choices, here’s a brief review of the “Best of 08” selection made by the two main French magazines, just to give jazz.com readers an idea of European openness (I put no particular mention when the musician is French or American):
Jazzman chose: Ahmad Jamal (on a French label); Vijay Iyer (French producer based in NYC); Arild Andersen (Norwegian artist, German label); Gianluca Petrella (Italian artist); François Théberge (Canadian artist, living in Paris); Christophe Marguet; Dave Douglas & Keystone; Donny McCaslin (French producer based in NYC); Hervé Sellin; Martial Solal solo (French artist, Italian label); McCoy Tyner.
Jazz Magazine chose: Wolfgang Reisinger (Austrian artist); Gonzalo Rubalcaba (Cuban artist, living in the USA); Miguel Zenón (Puerto Rican artist living in the US); [em] (German trio); Arild Andersen; Martial Solal trio; McCoy Tyner; Daniel Humair / Joachim Kühn / Tony Malaby (Swiss / German / American artists, French label); Paul Brousseau; Octurn & Magic Malik (French/Belgian artists); Evan Parker (UK artist, German label); Enrico Pieranunzi (Italian artist); Bill Frisell; Ari Hoenig; Fieldwork; Empirical (UK artists); Laïka; Alban Darche & Le Gros Cube; Guillermo Klein (Argentinian artist, French producer based in NYC).
Now here are my choices (with some comments for those who might not be familiar with the artists), and I hope US readers will appreciate the fact that, on both sides of the Atlantic (and / or Pacific), musicians never hesitate to invite each other, regardless of national origin, or to form “mixed” bands because THEY know that good music (hence good jazz) is universal.
First, mostly from east of the Atlantic:
— Francesco Bearzatti Ode for Tina Modotti (Parco della Musica): This Tinissima Quartet is one of Italian tenor and clarinet player Francesco Bearzatti’s most interesting groups. With two horns, bass and drums, it plays with the energy of a rock band and has a broad perspective on jazz, from its New Orleans origins to present time. Stunning!
— Gianluca Petrella Kaleido (Blue Note): Bearzatti’s sax and clarinet are featured again on this release, but now alongside the virtuoso trombone of Petrella, the new Italian star on the instrument. This young instrumentalist is fantastically gifted and has a real vision and bright ideas to feed the repertoire of his Indigo Quartet. Fascinating.
— Stefano Bollani Carioca (Universal): The most famous young Italian pianist went to Brazil, where he tackled choro music (the ancestor of samba) with the local musicians instead of covering your usual bossa nova hits. Tasteful and inspired.
— Martial Solal Live at the Village Vanguard (CAMJazz): At 80, this French piano master played to full houses at the Vanguard for a week. New York critics raved about his performance, but will the US public at large get to know about this record?
— Jacques Schwarz-Bart Abyss (Universal): This French sax player and composer lives and works in NYC. When he doesn’t play with or arrange for jazz or soul musicians (Roy Hargrove, D’Angelo…), he works on a synthesis between jazz, soul and the gwoka music of the island his mother comes from: Guadeloupe. Strikingly original.
— Eric Löhrer Sélène Song (Subsequence): This former virtuoso jazz-rock guitarist had left the jazz world for pop for some 10 years. He now returns with a tightly knit quartet where his lyrical guitar approach is matched by Jean-Charles Richard’s beautiful soprano sax sound. Welcome back!
— Philippe Le Baraillec Invisible Wound (Ajmiséries): An amazing second trio recording (Italian bassist, Japanese drummer, both living in Paris), after 12 years of silence, by a lesser known though major French pianist who never cared much about fads and fashions. Deeply moving and fascinating.
— Andy Emler For Better Times (La Buissone): Emler is one of the top composers and band leaders in France, and his MegaOctet features soloists who are all bandleaders themselves. Here he has devised some strange and highly creative multitrack piano solo music. Rough, yet tender.
— Laïka Misery (Blujazz): She’s half French, half Moroccan. She sings jazz but has nothing to do with the present vocal jazz fad. For her second record she chose to tackle Billie Holiday’s repertoire with a French/American band (Robert Glasper, Gregory Hutchinson…). The results, starting with an ominous “Strange Fruit,” is incredibly personal, deep, and honest to Lady Day’s legacy.
— Richard Galliano Love Day (Milan): Galliano is arguably the main voice on jazz accordion worldwide. He penned this music and recorded it with an international quartet (Rubalcaba, Haden, Cinelu) at L.A.’s Capitol studios. A memorable summit meeting.
— Lansiné Kouyate / David Neerman Kangaba (No Format !): A master balafon player from Mali and a British vibist joined their mallets with bass and drums to create a mix of jazz and world music with tinges of trance. Rooted and hypnotic.
— Norma Winstone Distances (ECM): UK’s premier vocalist has found a perfect setting by blending her haunting voice with that of Italian pianist Glauco Venier and German reeds player Klaus Gesing. This magic triangle is sure to put any music lover under its spell.
— Maria Kannegaard Camel Walk (Jazzland): This pianist is one of Norway’s best kept secrets. She has only made three trio records in ten years, and almost never performs outside of her home country. Still she’s building a worldwide virtual fan club with a highly rhythmic, minimalist music that owes some of its originality to one of her idols: Herbie Nichols.
— Arild Andersen Live at Belleville (ECM): Veteran Norwegian bass player Arild Andersen in a very European setting with a Scottish tenorist and an Italian drummer. The three of them reach peaks of musicianship and top level improv in a live context. Riveting.
— Daniel Humair / Joachim Kühn / Tony Malaby Full Contact (Bee Jazz): Two European veterans (Humair is Swiss, Kühn is German) who’ve played a lot together and with US soloists too (Dave Liebman, Michael Brecker, Marvin Stamm, Jerry Bergonzi…) welcome a top US tenorist and improvise a unique pas de trois. European hospitality at its best.
— [em] 3 (ACT) : This is the third record by Michael Wollny, Eva Kruse and Eric Schaeffer, and it’s a great pleasure to follow this young German piano trio’s evolution. They all compose, and their interaction is unique. How far will they lead us?
— Nils Wogram Root 70 on 52nd 1/4 Street (Intuition): Wogram is one of Europe’s leading trombones. Here, with an international quartet (Germany: himself & Jochen Rueckert; USA: Hayden Chisholm; New Zealand: Matt Penman) he explores the quarter tones with a twist of humor and a lot of musicianship.
— Julia Hülsmann End of a Summer (ECM): She’s the new piano recruit on ECM, but she’s already built her reputation in Germany. The music of her trio is lyrical and poised. Their rendering of a song by Seal is a lesson on how to jazzify a pop tune.
— Wolfgang Puschnig Hommage to O.C. (Universal): To celebrate Ornette Coleman with Jamaaladeen Tacuma’s electric bass and an Austrian brass band proves to be totally relevant. Puschnig’s alto knows no borders. And isn’t Ornette’s music somehow the ultimate universal folklore, anyway?
— Fay Claassen Red, Hot & Blue (Challenge): With the help of pianist / arranger Michael Abene, Dutch singer Fay Claassen gives new colors and hues to the Cole Porter songbook. Original, heartfelt and full of highly musical craftsmanship.
Now from mostly west of the Atlantic:
— Tom Harrell / Dado Moroni Humanity (Abeat—Italian label): They’ve known each other for years (when Italian pianist Moroni was living in the USA) and they know better than anyone how to give a new life to timeless standards. American jazz vs European jazz? They don’t even understand the question. Just beautiful.
— Lee Konitz & Mintzara Deep Lee (Enja—German label): The members of the young German / American / Israeli trio that plays along Lee Konitz could actually be the sax player’s grandsons. They never sounded as mature—and he as young—as here!
— Ronnie Lynn Patterson Freedom Fighters (Zig Zag—French label): The US audience has had few chances to know this reclusive American pianist who’s been living in Paris for the last 20 years or so. Somewhere between Serguei Rachmaninov, Morton Feldman and Keith Jarrett, he has built his own world, digging deep into the emotional potential of his piano along with empathetic French sidemen.
And a few more deserving releases, whose names I pass on without commentary:
—Todd Sickafoose Tiny Resistors (Cryptogrammophone)
— Gonzalo Rubalcaba Avatar (Blue Note)
— Dave Douglas & Keystone Moonshine (Koch)
— Ari Hoenig Bert’s Playground (Dreyfus Jazz — French label)
— David Sanchez Cultural Survival (Universal)
— Marc Copland Night Whispers (Pirouet — German label)
— Joe Lovano & Hank Jones Kids (Blue Note)
This blog entry posted by Thierry Quénum.