Thursday, January 11, 2007

Favorite Jazz Albums of 2006

I had initially planned this to be posted on the Norwegian blog as a response to the increasingly narrow scope of Norwegian Jazz critics - this year exemplified by Dagsavisens Roald Helgheim choosing to flag an all Norwegian top 10 (enough of the self-congratulations already). I guess the lack of space afforded to Jazz in the dailies, plus the few records that companies do send, limit what the critics can write about. But I would hope that love and appetite for music would make them search for new music as well, and not just sit back and take whatever is handed to them. Maybe they do search, but if so that doesn't show in their columns, reviews, or top ten lists. They are usually filled with familiar faces, not to speak of the same record labels (most notably ECM). There is nothing new about this situation, though. I had qualms last year too. Anyway, Zoilus's call for more Jazz top lists prompted me to post mine on the regular page, so here goes:

1. Ornette Coleman - Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)

Ornette's tone and sense of melody is as strong and beautiful as ever. Coleman's themes, which sound fresh and new yet oddly familiar at the same time, are given added color by the use of two basses; Tony Falanga playing melodies with his bow, Greg Cohen providing as steady a pulse as Charlie Haden once did. Ornette's kid Denardo bangs the drums. Not only my fave jazz record, but my overall favorite of 2006.

2. Adam Lane Trio - Zero Degree Music (CIMP)
Punkish Jazz. Bassist and band leader Adam Lane has many projects going, but this trio recording is my favorite. Lane's bass lines are assertive and prodding, and he is augmented by the excellent saxophone of Vinny Golia, who goes from a whisper to a scream at the drop of a hat. Vijay Anderson is just as solid behind the drum kit (originally released in 2005).

3. Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra - New Magical Kingdom (Clean Feed)
Swings like a motherfucker. It is easy to hear Lane's debt to Charles Mingus, but where Mingus used politics to fuel the energy of his music, Lane uses his love for avant rock, hence the guitars. Powerful stuff.

4. The World Saxophone Quartet - Political Blues (Justin Time)
The Quartet is augmented by James Blood Ulmer and a backing band to help them bring the outrage, blues style-e, as they pick a fight with the current administration . But they also bring the funk, much thanks to Jamaladeen Tacuma's bass. Inspirational verse: "I've got the political blues, now we're stuck with Bush, Cheney and Rice / I've got the political blues, the Republican Party is not very nice"

5. Ben Allison - Cowboy Justice (Palmetto)
Another young bassist and leader, and yet another small big-band with guitar for added chops - and it works. Allison is Haden to Lane's Mingus, which helps explain his somewhat mellower approach both as a bassist and as a songwriter. This doesn't mean they don't "rock out" when it's called for, and Allison's not too fond of "Tricky Dick" Cheney either.

6. Odyssey the Band - Back in Time (Pi Recordings)

7. Kidd Jordan, Hamid Drake, William Parker - Palm of Soul (AUM Fidelity)

8. Bobby Previte - Coalition of the Willing (Ropeadope Music Entertainment)

9. Mario Pavone - Deez to Blues (Playscape)

10. Atomic - Happy New Ears (Jazzland)
Honorable mention:
  • Adam Lane Trio - Music Degree Zero (CIMP)
  • Nels Cline - New Monestary: A Journey Into the Music of Andrew Hill (Cryptogramophon)
  • Jon Faddis - Terranga (Koch)
  • Erik Friedlander - Prowl (Cryptogramophon)
  • Sonny Rollins: Sonny Please
  • Trio 3 (Lake, Workman, Cyrille) - Time Being (Intakt)
  • David S. Ware: Balladware (AUM Fidelity)
For all my gripes about the Norwegian press, you'll probably be able to find patterns in my choices, too: Four of the records were led by bassist; three records were explicitly political in titles and imagery or even words; James Blood Ulmer was involved in two of the records in the top 10; nine - 9! - of the records were by American artists. Well, there you go.
For other lists of Jazz records from the year that went by, head over to Jazzhouse's list section here.

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