Annette Brown, Lifetime The story of June Carter Cash comes to life in the…
- Posted on Dec 31st 2009 5:00PM by Tad Hendrickson
1. 'Today on Earth,' Joe Morris' (Aum Fidelity)
Profiled in this column back in October, Joe Morris is in my mind one of the great jazz guitarists of today, even if he doesn't have the following of guys like John McLaughlin, Mike Stern, Pat Metheny or Pat Martino. Here with his old quartet of saxophonist Jim Hobbs, bassist Timo Shanko and drummer Luther Gray, Morris is at his most eloquent. He writes for these guys as gracefully as he does for himself, conjuring heartfelt melodies. The group responds with revelatory musical voyages and strong interplay.
2. 'The Bright Mississippi,' Allen Toussaint' (Nonesuch)
Allen Toussaint plays out in New York on a fairly regular basis, and I just take it for granted. Even when I get the album and listen to it, I again take it for granted. But then the beauty of the music begins to sink in and I recognize Allen Toussaint's brilliance anew. As beautiful and soulful as the Crescent City itself, this is New Orleans-style jazz that is timeless, regardless of whether the band is playing standards or one of Toussaint's own. Great support cast on board, too.
3. 'Dedicated to You,' Kurt Elling (Concord)
A gifted live performer, singer Kurt Elling can take any song and make it his own. He may do this by adding new lyrics to a jazz classic or simply by interpreting the words already written, and he works with new material, as well. This time around, he and his band pay tribute to the 'John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman' landmark album from 1963 as well as the Coltrane album 'Ballads.' This one was recorded live so you get the typical Elling experience where he provides context to the song, as well.
4. 'Esta Plena,' Miguel Zenon (Marsalis)
OK, this is jazz with Latin roots, but I wouldn't really call it conventional Latin jazz. Linking traditional plena to modern bop, the alto saxophonist traces both styles back to their African origins, giving the music a warm, earthy feel -- as opposed to the bright, brassy sound of most Latin jazz -- and the songs benefit from the extra percussion padding the traditional jazz quartet format. A deep and richly rewarding album.
5. 'Folk Art,' Joe Lovano (Blue Note)
Saxophonist Joe Lovano has recorded about zillion albums at this point for the Blue Note label. Many of them are excellent and none of them is bad. Here with his Us Five quintet, which includes two drummers, Lovano dives into some tricky rhythmic waters using the extra percussion punch to propel his playing. While there are some high-intensity moments here, the two drummers don't overpower the group's overall sound, and some of the most interesting listening is when the band is working in slow and medium tempos.
6. 'Infernal Machines,' Darcy James Argue's Secret Society (New Amsterdam)
Here's one that I completely missed when it was released. But word of mouth on it is such that it forced me to track it down. Oftentimes, I don't really dig the mix of indie rock and jazz, but the big-band compositions here are stunning, right up there with Maria Schneider. The guy is making his debut here with a seriously hot record.
7. 'Think Free,' Ben Allison (Palmetto)
I've been on the Ben Allison bandwagon for many years now, but the bassist/composer continues to grab my attention. Probably his most straightforward and rock album to date, 'Think Free' finds Allison's compositions more front-and-center than ever before as he relies less and less on the convention of jazz's expository nature -- solos are fairly brief and the players (including the great Jenny Scheinman on violin) stay closer to the melodies while endlessly toying with them.
8. 'So in Love,' Roberta Gambarini (Emarcy)
Featured in this column in October, singer Roberta Gambarini took the wind out of my sails from Day One. She's often compared to a young Ella Fitzgerald for good reason: Her technical facility is top-notch and her timbre is in the same general area. This latest collection of standards finds her using a mix of young and seasoned players in small group settings, but it's her voice that is upfront. Points for the drum and vocal duets included here, as well.
9. 'Bien Bien,' Wayne Wallace (Patois)
Though he is a big name on the Bay Area jazz scene, I didn't know much about Wayne Wallace before hearing this album. Then when I profiled him in this column, I found him to be a friendly guy and sharp thinker, on top of everything else. No wonder so many people like to work with him. Wonderful Latin-based bop that avoids cliché.
10. 'Detroit,' Gerald Wilson (Mack Avenue)
Yet another artist featured in this space, Gerald Wilson is a living legend, and deservedly so -- he's over 90 and still making great music. With this ode to a town that could use a few more odes to it is, Wilson looking back to his youth for inspiration -- he spent his high school years there. The suite of songs are resplendent with rich harmonies and counterharmonies that put a shine on the Motor City as only he could.
Check out what our friends at All About Jazz are up to:
John Medeski: Strong as Ever with MMW
Tamir Hendelman: Living a Dream
Todd Barkan: Continuation and Augmentation
Bassist Jeff Berlin Pays Tribute to Charlie Banacos
SFJAZZ Collective, 'Live 2009'
Seamus Blake, 'Bellwether'
Tony Malaby's Apparitions, 'Voladores'
Bill Dixon, 'Tapestries for Small Orchestra'
Medeski, Martin & Wood, 'Medeski, Martin & Wood: Radiolarians -- The Evolutionary Set'