The Jazz.com Blog
December 23, 2008 · 4 comments
As part of our year-end festivities, several regular contributors to jazz.com have offered their views on the jazz highlights of the year. Below Ralph Miriello serves up his selections. T.G.
During the course of 2008, young innovators as well as indefatigable veterans have once again proven that almost any song given the right thought can be magically transformed into a unique work of art. Some songs are old standards that, given the right amount of contemplation, are mystically conjured into a vehicle for a whole new experience of expression. Some compositions are originals that have the mettle to become new standards in their own right.
This year was indeed a cornucopia of wonderful and varied expressionistic offerings. Here are just a few of my choices for noteworthy performances, most by lesser known artists, which I had the opportunity to listen to and in some case review for jazz.com over the past year.
From the grand masters of the keyboard witness the wonderful “Tea for Two” by the bombastic, octogenarian pianist Martial Solal on his wonderful album Longitude. The sensationally sensitive Fred Hersch’s version of the Monk classic “Misterioso” from his offering Night & the Music. Newcomer to me, Dave Frank, took a left-handed turn at “You Stepped Out of A Dream” from his fine solo effort Turning it Loose and made it his own. Veteran stylist Steve Kuhn hit it out of the park with his killer rendition of Mal Waldron’s “Left Alone” ably assisted by Al Foster and Buster Williams on his release Play Standards. Marc Copland once again showed his thoughtful side on his eclectic collaboration with the fine guitarist John Abercrombie with the beautifully rambling “River Bend,” an Abercrombie tune from Copland’s Another Place, being a standout.
Italian pianist Roberto Magris’s Europlane release Check-In introduced me to the fine sound of this musician/composer as well as the eye opening saxophone work of Hungarian Tony Lakatos, who blew me away on Magris’s “Blues for My Sleeping Baby.” Pianist John Beasley assembled a monster supporting cast on his homage to Herbie Hancock Letter to Herbie with an especially nice treatment of “Chan’s Song.”
Saxophonists were well represented. To my mind, the purest example of the art of saxophone improvisation was offered by Donny McCaslin from his marvelous release Recommended Tools where his “The Champion” and “Eventual” were standouts. Adam Niewood’s “Where’s the Cat” from Epic Journey Vol 1 & 2 is a distinctive foray into crescendo-building atmospherics and worth a listen. Saxophonist Andy Middleton’s recorded version “Up the River” from his European Quartet Live is one of my favorite live performances of the year—the intensity of his playing comes right through the speakers.
There were a few cool Hammond organ offerings this year but my favorite of the bunch was “The Prince’s Groove” by B3 master Vince Seneri on his album of the same name, with props to Randy Brecker and Paul Bollenback.
In a successful venture into Gunther Schuller’s third stream arena, pianist Bill Mays and his Inventions Trio (also featuring trumpeter Marvin Stamm along with cellist Alisa Horn) were hauntingly successful in “Fantasy Movements” 1 through 3 on his Fantasy CD, a recording that I find myself playing repeatedly. Joel Harrison’s The Wheel was a five-movement work for strings and guitar featuring the fine trumpet work of Ralph Alessi and combining sensibilities of classical, jazz and Appalachian folk into a cohesive performance of considerable depth.
There were many offerings of what I would call composition-oriented improvisation, with my choice for album of the year in this category being Ben Allison’s Man-Sized Safe’s magical Little Things Run the World. Seeing this group perform live in Brooklyn was a true treat, with each musician putting his own imprimatur on the music without ever taking away from the group’s cohesive sound. Out of many fine songs, guitarist Steve Cardenas’s “Language of Love” is a soon-to-be classic.
Bassist David Finck’s haunting “Ballad for a Future Day” on his Future Day album, was a worthy offering and featured stirring performances by vibraphonist Joe Locke and veteran drummer Joe La Barbera, and some nice work by saxophonist Bob Sheppard and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt on the song “Four Flags.”
Brooklyn based pianist Emilio Solla’s fine Conversas Al Lado Del Agua was a treat to behold especially his engaging “Remain Alert,” which stretched the boundaries with its careful combination of classical styled orchestrations in a driven piece of music laced with the sounds of Pan-American folk music.
Saxophonist Felipe Salles released what may have been one of the finest examples of the kind of new compositions that incorporate world sounds with sophisticated orchestrations. Salles’s South American Suite is a major statement in this direction. His piece “Crayon” is a perfect example of the kind of creative jazz-hybrid music that is coming from the Southern Hemisphere.
Flautist Jamie Baum put together a brilliant piece of music with her formidable septet on her commendable offering Solace where “Solace” and “Pine Creek” were especially notable; a release not to be missed. The Stryker/Slagle Band’s The Scene was a fine outing, with journeyman Joe Lovano lending his considerable clout to the affair. Slagle’s rendition of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Fingers in the Wind” was a standout. Pablo Ziegler, Quique Sinesi and Walter Castro took tango Nuevo to a new level of jazz sophistication on Ziegler’s Buenes Aires Report.
One of my favorite discoveries of the year came from the strangely unidentifiable sound of pianist / vocalist / composer Meddy Gerville and his wonderfully infectious release Fo Kronn la Vi. This inhabitant of distant Reunion Island, in the Indian Ocean, has created a magical combination of heart grabbing beat along with musical and vocal virtuosity that is simply unforgettable. His performance in New York at Cachaça with Matt Garrison on bass and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez on drums was mesmerizing, and the album is no less engaging. One of my best new finds of the year.
On the vocal front, we had some wonderful releases from Denise Donatelli, What Lies Within, which offered her captivating version of the Chick Corea’s “Crystal Silence,” with kudos going to arranger / pianist Geoff Keezer. Australian Rachel Price showed her mettle with her engaging version of “The Trolley Song” from her notable The Good Hours release.
Drummer Ken Serio had an impressive live CD Live …In the Moment, ably assisted by bassist Mark Egan and guitarists Peter McCann and Vic Juris, with the simply smoking “Big Blue Cars” being of note. This is another example of the visceral live performance being transferred effectively to the recording.
Guitarist Pat Metheny, with super trio band-mates Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez, treated us to their special type of musical magic with the notable release Day Trip. Their “At Last You’re Here” serves as a fine starting point to an overall good offering.
As with any listing exclusions are bound to offend or surprise some. My listing is but a mere sampling of what I had an opportunity to listen to and review this past year. While not attempting to denigrate any that were not mentioned, my simple goal here is to give some recognition to those whose music in someway touched me this year and perhaps for years to come. Happy Holidays to all our readers and keep listening to the music!
This blog entry posted by Ralph A. Miriello.