Ten top of 2008 and many more recommendations

So much music, so little time — it’s absurd to whittle down this year’s “best” recordings to 10, an act that merely bows to convention. Why not 15? 25? 50? — if there are that many albums that reward repeated listening with enjoyment and revelation.

I make no claims for the following list being definitive — I haven’t yet had a chance to hear once many of the some 1100 promising cds that arrived for consideration of review since November 1 2007. But I guarantee that none of these recommendations are made on the basis of anything except my liking how they sound, and I didn’t work directly (write liner notes, pr material or consult) regarding any of them. As always, comments on my choices or choices of your own are invited and I urge you to try some out-of-the-ordinary sounds — sure beats “Jingle Bells,” even by the Million Dollar Quartet — right away! 

In almost random order:

Present Tense (Emarcy) — Outrageously accomplished reeds player
Carter and fellow virtuosi (D.D. Jackson, piano; Dwight Adams; brass, among
them) squeeze fresh thrills out of dramatic themes and basic arrangements, stretching
old school ways to suit themselves and wow us.

, featuring Kadri Gopalnath and the Dakshina Ensemble  Kinsmen (Pi). Indian-American alto
saxophonist-with-a-Guggenheim and the unique maverick Indian
“classical” saxophonist expand on their mutual appreciation for similarities
and differences, backed by on-it electric guitar-violin-mrdingam-bass and
traps. Newly imagined music, rather than awkwardly hybrid or superficially mixed, and often hypnotic, sometimes searing.

and the New Volcanoes — Soul Progressin’ (Hyena) Simultaneously bold, blunt and sly, with bracing horn riffing, spunky solos and, underlying all, subtle references
and fascinating subversions from Baltimore-based pianist-composer Gilchrist.

Free Form
Funky Freqs — Urban Mythlogy Volume 1 (Thirsty Ear). Post- Hendrix guitar god Vernon
meets harmolodic electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and slammin’ Philly drummer
G. Calvin Weston. Play it loud.

Loverly (Blue Note). Great song selection (starting with “Lover Come Back to Me,” including “Caravan”), smart ‘n’ spare
accompaniment and Ms. Wilson’s deceptively casual approach to lyrics front and
center makes this a welcome return to what she does best, which T-Bone Burnette quite misunderstood in Thunderbird, her previous release.

Lee Konitz
and MinsarahDeep Lee (Enja). An intuitively-bonded piano-bass-drums trio that met at
Berklee School of Music embraces the graceful, wise, sensuous and spontaneous
abstractions of Jazz Master Konitz, who finds ever more melody in the nooks and
crannies of familiar intervals and progressions.

, Road Shows, Vol. 1 (Doxy-Emarcy) Still champion Sonny
Rollins self-selects on-stage highlights from Poland 1980 to Carnegie Hall,
2007. His standard is notoriously high, and this collection meets it.

Other People Do the Killing
This is Our Moosic (Hot Cup) Postmodernism at
its most engaging, four young men who know a lot of jazz past lay it all out, evidently for
fun, and surprise — one can almost sing along. Previously reviewed.

Joe Lovano,
Ravi Coltrane, Dave Liebman
/Saxophone Summit – Seraphic Light (Telarc)  — Three dedicated hornmen, with
ace rhythm (Billy Hart, drums; Cecil McBee, bass; Phil Markowitz, piano) and
guest trumpeter Randy Brecker collaborate in honor of the late Michael Brecker
with heartening depth. Also hear Lovano’s suave Symphonica with the WDR Big
Band and Rundfunk Orchetra (Blue Note).


(Delmark) — Mitchell’s flute is a free-flowing wonderment, sustaining
constant interest in settings for her Chicago AACM-linked Ensemble, even when
they wander. Also available on DVD.

and/or Reissue:

Bird in Time 1940 – 1947 (ESP Disk) — An audio treasury, four ceds of varying
sound quality documenting the jazz revolutionary’s rise from obscurity to
immortality. For Bird devotees, but definitely for Bird devotees.

and the Danish Radio Jazz Group (Oktav) — Produced in 1965 but
previously unreleased, nine tight bluesy little-big band pieces written,
arranged and conducted by a commanding baritone sax and flute soloist. Shihab,
ab expatriate who had collaborated with Monk, Blakey and Gillespie rewards
revisiting — and here gets excellend rhythm support from bassist Niels Henning
Orsted Pederson and drummer Alex Riel. Shoulda been on Blue Note, back in the

The Complete Arista Recordings (Mosaic) Prolific, indefatigably
original and unabashedly ambitious (music for four orchestras?!), multi-reedist-composer-improviser
Braxton was as brilliant from ’74 to ’80 as he is now; the top notch
productions filling eight discs here retain their original daring and reveal
beauty not any better understood 30 years ago.

Most listenable
message album: Dr John and the lower 911 — City That Care Forgot (Blue Note).
Few New Orleansians have such a rich drawl, punchy piano style and the
righteous anger to ask “Say Whut?” and make it infectious. With ringers
Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Terence Blanchard, Ani DiFranco, Trombone Shorty
and Terrance Simien all compelling attention.

Latin jazz: Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra Song for Chico
(Zoho). Besides the estimable leader, an elite cast — Dafnis Prieto, Bobby Porcelli, Papo Vazquez, the late Mario Rivera and Tito Puente, Jim Seeley — contribute to the sophisticatdd swirl.

idiom-blues: Elvin BishopThe Blues Rolls On (Alligator). See my previous brief.

Best Book on a Musical Movement: George E. Lewis A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music  (University of Chicago Press). Previously reviewed here. (Of course I’m not going to plug my own Miles Ornette Cecil — Jazz Beyond Jazz at this juncture. . . )


Further recommendations of jazz-beyond-jazz: Wadada Leo Smith Golden QuartetTabligh (Cuneiform); Baker-Hunt-Sandstrom-Williams
Extraordinary Popular Delusions (Okka); Mike Reed’s Loose Assembly, The
Speed of Change
and Mike Reed’s People, Places and Things, Proliferation (both
on 482 Music); Gonzalo RubalcabaAvatar (Blue Note); Miles From India (Four
Quarters); Louis Moholo with Marilyn CrispellSibanya (We Are One)
(Intakt); Harris Eisenstadt, Guewel (Clean Feed); Tony Malaby Cello Trio,
Warblepeck (Songlines); Steve Lehman Quintet, On Meaning (Pi); Taylor Ho Bynum,
Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths (Hatology); William Parker at Vision Festival
xii, Double Sunrise Over Neptune (Aum); Mary Halvorson, Dragon’s Head
(Firehouse 12); Chico Pinherio & Anthony Wilson, Nova (Goat Hill
Recordings); Jamie Baum Septet, Solace (Sunnyside); Raphael Imbert Project, Bach/Coltrane (Harmonia Mundi), Toumani Diabate, The Mande Variations (Nonesuch).

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  1. Michael J. West says

    Wow. Not a single overlap between your list and mine, good sir. Although in fairness, I didn’t get to hear the Lee Konitz and Misarah disc until after I’d spent considerable time and effort on my top 10…might have made the list if I hadn’t already sent out the list to publications far and wee.
    Just for fun, my top 5:
    1. Bennie Maupin, Early Reflections Cryptogramophone)
    2. Courtney Pine’s Jazz Warriors, Afropeans (Destin-E)
    3. Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, Harriet Tubman (ROIR)
    4. Guillermo Klein, Filtros (Sunnyside)
    5. Greg Osby, 9 Levels (Inner Circle Music)
    HM: Sure, these are worthy recordings (though I didn’t hear Maupin’s, I heard his first for Cyrptogramophone a couple years ago, and it was fine).

  2. says

    Rudresh Mahanthappa is fantastic. He puts in some great work on Amir ElSaffar and Vijay Iyer’s records. I’ll have to check out the disc you recommend.

  3. says

    Rudresh released a fine album with Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway (under the group name Mauger) called THE BEAUTIFUL ENABLER on the Clean Feed label that made my Top Ten list this year. I will definitely search out KINSMEN! Thanks for the endorsement, sir.
    HM: Rudresh is only making good albums — I stopped into guitarist Rez Abbasi’s recording session last week, where Rudresh, pianist Vijay Iyer and drummer Dan Weiss, who is also on Kinsmen, were making more new music. Very exciting — check out Rez’s “Bazaar” while you’re at it (I wrote the liner notes).
    And listen for my radio piece on Rudresh, Kinsmen, et al on All Things Considered (NPR) next week, please (it will be archived at NPR.org)