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- Posted on Dec 9th 2010 4:30PM by Tad Hendrickson
Lex van Rossen, Getty Images
It's worth noting that this year seems to be overwhelmed by pianists, not just because Jason Moran (pictured) is No. 1 but also because of great albums from Matthew Shipp, Fred Hersch and Keith Jarrett. More than that, Moran's sideman work on Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green's 'Apex' and Craig Taborn's on Michael Formanek's 'The Rub and Spare Change' are as good as anything they've done on their own. There are two solo albums here in the shape of Shipp and Marc Ribot, as well, which I believe is a first for my year-end list. I should also point out that a majority of these artists skew under 40 and still play out in the clubs and at festivals, so go see them if you have the chance. Enjoy the list, and let me know what you think!
1. Jason Moran, 'Ten' (Blue Note)
No surprise here. The pianist and his long-running trio return with the next great chapter from one of this era's important jazz figures. I've always enjoyed my share of Monk, and Moran brings it here on 'Crepuscule with Nellie,' which has the same playfulness of the original while also smartly going back to Monk's roots in stride piano and the blues. Add to this several strong originals, a tune by his mentor Jaki Byard, as well as a few experiments using pieces by modern classical composer Conlon Nancarrow, and you've got yourself a classic.
2. Marc Ribot, 'Silent Movies' (Pi)
Ribot is one of the great guitarists of today, having worked for decades as a versatile sideman and an avant-garde-leaning leader, but he sort of blindsided me here. 'Silent Movies' follows up the very rocking 'Ceramic Dog' trio album as an introspective solo guitar gem that is utterly beguiling. Ostensibly a soundtrack for movies real and imaginary, this moves well beyond background music. The playing is mostly on acoustic with a minimum of overdubs, yet the guitarist fills all the holes with delicate textured picking and graceful melodies that bear up well with each listen.
3. Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green, 'Apex (Pi)'
This two-alto-saxophone attack features one musician who is now in full bloom (Mahanthappa) and a sage elder (Green) who brings a world of experience to the table. Complementary without being too similar, the two horns never bump into each other. They are also well supported by a great backline of pianist Jason Moran, bassist Françoise Mountin and drummers Jack DeJohnette and Damion Reid (who trade off), enabling this music that dwells on the far edge of bebop to often make fruitful raids into the music of India and North Africa.
4. Claudia Quintet, 'Royal Toast' (Cuneiform)
Drummer and bandleader John Hollenbeck might go down as one of jazz's great composers, and this small group highlights every nuance of his writing. Hollenbeck repays them by offering up a small vignette solo pieces to each of them here and room to shine on longer tunes, as well. Smart, funny, beautiful and original, 'Royal Toast' has it all.
5. Trombone Shorty, 'Backatown' (Verve)
It's been a big year for Trombone Shorty, who made his major-label debut with the Grammy-nominated 'Backatown.' He's also appeared on the HBO series 'Treme' and recently headed up an all-star Red Hot & New Orleans extravaganza in New York City. Mixing classic New Orleans second line with rock, Balkan brass, hip-hop, funk and soul, 'Backatown' is the soundtrack to a very hip party in the sixth ward.
6. Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden, 'Jasmine' (ECM)
Jarrett and Haden have made my top 10 lists before, but never together. This one off rekindled an old partnership that still sounds fresh and vibrant after a 30-year gap. The piano and bass lineup recorded in Jarrett's home studio lends itself to a more laid-back feel, making 'Jasmine' one of the warmest of recordings from either of these artists in many a moon.
7. Fred Hersch, 'Whirl' (Palmetto)
Hersch is one of those pianists who has an unsurpassed sense of lyricism and timing. So when he sits down to play, it's straight-down-the-middle bop played while swinging like mad and avoiding all the clichés. Here with bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson, Hersch puts his own spin on the classic piano trio, and it's never short of riveting.
8. Matthew Shipp, '4D' (Thirsty Ear)
Even though the solo format is the ultimate challenge for a musician, it's been the live format of choice for Shipp in recent years. Here, the pianist offers several originals, but it's the standards that offer up the clearest picture of him as an artist, particularly 'Autumn Leaves,' which gets a rough but relatively straight reading, and 'We Have a Friend in Jesus,' which shows his church roots.
9. Michael Formanek, 'The Rub and Spare Change' (ECM)
After a 12-year recording hiatus, Formanek returns on bass with great bag of tunes. Some songs are stretched out with many unexpected twists and turns, one is a 17-minute suite, and still others are simply good tunes. Saxophonist Tim Bern, drummer Gerald Cleaver and Craig Taborn (on acoustic piano throughout) help bring this material to life, as well, putting real muscle and meat on the compositional skeletons.
10. Kneebody, 'You Can Have Your Moment' (Winter and Winter)
I talked at length about this band's strong group identity earlier this year here, and that still holds up now as the year draws to a close. Great ensemble playing and concise writing make the songs on Kneebody's 'You Can Have Your Moment' pop, but this band also does technology and electric instruments better than just about anyone else in jazz.
Here's what our friends at All About Jazz have been up to:
Loren Schoenberg: From Benny Goodman to the Savory Collection
Nik Bartsch: Rhythmically Dancing Around Fugato Fires
'The Horse Jumps and the Ship Is Gone,' Vandermark 5 Special Edition
'Quest for Freedom,' Richie Beirach & Dave Liebman
'Sophisticated Ladies,' Charlie Haden Quartet West
'Mac Straight Ahead,' Mac Gollehon
'Constraints and Liberations,' Thomas Marriott
'The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel,' Mr Ho's Orchestrotica
'Conversations,' Jim Hall & Joey Baron
FREE MP3 DOWNLOADS
'Diagram,' by Thomas Marriott (from 'Constraints & Liberations')
'Follow,' by Jake Hanlon (from 'Follow')