There’s not much time left, so here are three of my best memories of live music over this crazy year, and a couple handfuls of favorite recordings that promise to be listenable for quite a while forward —
Greatest moments among titans, Sept 10 — Sonny Rollins really came to play at his 80th birthday party concert at the Beacon Theater and got off to a swell start; his backup band featured guitarist Russell Malone, trumpeter Roy Hargrove added for two numbers, followed by Sonny’s long-ago partner guitarist Jim Hall (79). Drummer Roy “the Kid” Haynes (85) and bassist Christian McBride upped the anti, but the house went really wild when an unbilled “special guest” turned out to be Ornette Coleman (also 80), whose solos changed everything except Sonny’s ability to absorb them into his own and beam ever more brightly into the universe.
Best multiple climaxes, September 5 — Henry Threadgill’s Zooid (see below) is not obviously a crowd-pleaser, but at the Chicago Jazz Festival the band pressed its every advantage — sharp improv, compressed energy, instrumental multi-colors — to hold tens of thousands of listeners in Grant Park rapt by the exotic suspense and somewhat harsh urgency of its sound. Next, for something completely different: singer Kurt Elling, who acted out every separate phrase of the rangy new material he introduced, back by pianist Lawrence Hobgood’s trio and saxophonist Ernie Watts. Great night.
Not just another birthday, December 2 — Pianist and composer Muhal Richard Abrams, the determinedly self-effacing leader-by-example since 1965 of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) which has produced more innovative artists than any other grass-roots organization in American history (name me a rival), convened two unclassifiable ensembles to celebrate his 80th year at Roulette. Percussionist Adam Rudolph and electronic synth real-time improviser Tom Hamilton performed first with Muhal; singer Jay Clayton, reedsman Marty Ehrlich on bass clarinet and Brad Jones, bass, thereafter — two very different sets, only hinting at Muhal’s breadth and depths, yet the audience was satisfied (and it included the cream of NYC’s maverick music makers; Phill Niblock, Tania Leon, Ned Rothenberg, Amina Claudine Myers, Reggie Nicholson, oh too many & various to name all.
Ok — music you can still hear, in its fixed form:
Greg Lewis, Organ Monk — Many jazzers are paying due tribute to Monk’s music but Lewis’ versions for swirling Hammond B-3, in trio with tart guitarist Ron Jackson and slamming drummer Cindy Blackman, genuinely refresh the iconic tunes without undue reverence or pretense.
Henry Threadgill’s Zooid, This Brings
Us To, Vol 2 — Threadgill is a serious original, offering the canniest re-conception of composition for improvisation of at least a decade (his vivid ’76 – ’98 back-catalog was also reissued this year — dig Air, the Sextett, projects with Bill Laswell). Zooid is intensely interactive: T blows his every phrase intending to shape the course foregrounded by electric guitarist Liberty Ellman over tectonically shifting cello, tuba/trombone, electric bass, drums.
Dominic Duval & Cecil Taylor, The
Last Dance volume 1 — Bassist Duval can be bruising strong or selflessly subservient to grand master pianist Taylor, who sometimes engages and sometimes ignores him. What’s most beautiful here are extended quiet and lyrical episodes which have become more prominent in Taylor’s stream-of-conscious. A two-lp set, Ailanthus/Altissima, of Cecil with drummer Tony Oxley,was also issued this year by tiny Triple Play Press; that turntable must be salvaged from storage.
Myra Melford’s Be Bread, The Whole
Tree Gone — Myra is a longtime friend, which does not affect my critical view of her music: It is simply and not-so-simply beautiful, structured to launch and frame brilliant creativity from her collaborators (here: trumpeter Cuong Vu, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, guitarist Brandon Ross, electric bassist Stomu Takehishi and drummer Matt Wilson) as well as feature her expressive piano excursions. She draws listeners along while reaching for the highest imaginable realms.
The Thirteenth Assembly, (Un) Sentimental — A distinctively quirky yet cohesive program co-created and realized by cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, electric guitarist Mary Halvorson, violist Jessica Pavone and drummer Toma Fujiwara, all four of whom recorded exemplary works in other combinations and on their own in 2010. If these names are new, meet the musicians here.
Sam Newsome, Blue Soliloquy — Newsome comes up with a new and highly personalized take on solo soprano saxophone, deliberate, moody, narratively and texturally very different than the style Steve Lacy established for this most demanding gambit.
Jason Adasiewicz, Sun Rooms — Chicago-based vibraphone player Adasiewicz springs surprising, intriguing changes on song conventions, with fine support from bassist Nate McBride and drummer Mike Reed.
Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman,
Dual Identity — Two rapacious alto saxophonists contrast and complement each other to demonstrate where blowing can go.
Mahanthappa’s other two-alto project, Apex with veteran Bunky Green, is also quite the firestorm.
Nicole Mitchell’s Sonic Projections,
Emerald Hills Flutest extraordinaire Mitchell unreels some of the best lines of contemporary improvisation, corralling the ear like the Pied Piper,
and an ambitious composer, too. Here she strikes a balance between the score and the moment with pianist Craig Taborn, tenor saxophonist David Boynkin and drummer Chad Taylor (more Chicagoans).
Cassandra Wilson, Silver Pony Ms. Wilson’s got the deep, rich, sexy swing and bluesy, rockin’, thinkin’ band to pull off studio performances that seem like live, and vice-versa. “Lover Come Back to Me,” pianist Jonathan Batiste, “St. James Infirmary,” guitarist-music director Marvin Sewell, a new tune built on “Caravan,” Ravi Coltrane guest tenoring — a few of my favorite things.
Bobby McFerrin with Roger Treece, VOCAbuLarieS — A tour de force of choral music, both intimate and with grandeur, in a grooving global vernacular language from before that debacle of the Tower of Babel. Whether this is contemporary classical or jazz or world music, let the Grammy people decide. The production’s almost too much, and the program must be heard live to be believed, but don’t let that stop you.
There were many more memorable cds (check out the Village Voice 2010 Jazz Poll which I participate in, and concur re Jason Moran, Mary Halvorson 5, Vijay Iyer, Geri Allen, Ribot, Konitz, Nels Cline, Wadada Leo Smith & Ed Blackwell, wish I’d heard Regina Carter’s Reverse Thread and William Parker’s Curtis Mayfield project and did nobody else hear Newman Baker’s Drum Suite?) and great gigs and there are more to come —