Wrapping Up 2010 II. Jazz Carousel



As I pointed out in a previous post my enjoyment of Jazz over forty years has been keyed by my understanding its all about immersing myself in the individuated artistry of the player. I do not go to the music through the conventional grid that supposes there are luminaries of innovation and each obtains historical position in a genealogy given by the degree the music is advanced. My own iconoclastic view proposes this kind of myth-mongering does not, and cannot, encompass the actual process of artistry.

What then results is my preoccupation with checking out where the artist’s music stands as a statement of where he or she is “at.” If I want to experience where David Murray or Myra Melford or Tom Harrell is “at” I need only make the time to check out what each has to play as each renders the current state of their personal art.

(In Ben Ratliff‘s NYT podcast review of the best of 2010 his and Nate Chinen parse their choices along conventional lines. From my perspective, this seems more ad hoc than refined because the given’s of the cultural political-economy of Jazz don’t figure into it, and, in a cultural field where thousands of records are issued every year, the reduction to so-called importance comes off as arbitrary.)

My point is: every year is a good year for jazz. This follows, and has followed in my almost forty year experience, from the singular verity supposing that each artistic statement is positioned as the development of artistry rather than as a commentary on jazz history.

Once again, then, a recently past year showcases the annual self-fulfilling prophecy!


I bring some order to the wave of new music from last year by highlighting the sessions that soared up and into my listening. Although there’s no way this order can be fixed in place, I’ve selected here, and put in what I call my Jazz Carousel for 2010, about 30 prime instances. I easily could have put another fifty records into play. One thing I know is it will take a lot more time to truly deal with all the artistry.

A few highlights… Geri Allen has been a masterful pianist for decades and yet her solo recording Flying Toward the Sound strikes me as a superb recapitulation of her deeply felt commitments. There were numerous terrific piano-centric records last and none of the finest–Jason Moran, Jessica Williams, Keith Jarrett, Vijay Iyer, –should be discounted against Geri’s outing. Still, Geri travels to the top on possibly my favorite of her recordings so far.

Charles Lloyd has been on the jazz scene for fifty years. He began recording for ECM 1989 and has settled into an elder’s predictable path. He plays his heart. Mirror, a quartet record with Jason Moran at the piano, uses the classic sax and rhythm format, and provides essays on standards, two Monk pieces and some originals. It is stately in its mostly slow tempos. The record is full of searching and soulful playing and completely realized ensemble interplay.

Roswell Rudd over the last few years experimented to fine results with matching his burry trombone to zesty folkloric contexts. Not so for this record he made with the working quartet of pianist Riccardo Fassi. Rudd is a musician’s musician and this is the first time in quite a while he’s enjoined a format where his playing is the main feature. He’s a great trombone player, has been for decades, and Fassi and his group are up to the task of giving Rudd an ideal setting.

I’m going to defer to the BBC’s review of Isla, by The Portico Quartet.

Portico Quartet are one such act to have flourished. Following their Mercury-nominated 2007 debut Knee-Deep in the North Sea – a sprightly, fleet-fingered album of post-jazz ambience with a glistening, sinewy thread of minimalism that saw the four-piece nod appreciatively the way of Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Steve Reich – the four-piece have made a follow up that makes their beginnings busking on the South Bank seem like a myth propagated by publicists. Receiving a nod of approval for their pigeonhole-defying venture really has emboldened them.

The group’s folkloric inclinations are born by Nick Mulvey‘s hang drum. The group has carved out something like a tribal chamber jazz. Their antecedents are few, yet would include Oregon and Jan Garbarek. Stunning.

Finally, although no single record could possibly claim the mantle of ‘the best of 2010,’ I easily nominate Cape of Storms by trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez to be my second-to-none favorite for last year. I’ve been following Gonzalez since his debut for his own DIY label Daagnim in 1987, Catechism. Since then he’s released on average a record every year. However, he would also be counted as an unsung genius likely unknown to all but the most tenacious jazz fans.

I can circle back to my point about how the sophisticated listener might contextualize jazz year in and year out and point out that the history of jazz cant be intelligently spoken of without making room for Dennis Gonzalez. His artistry mixes a combination of freebop, African melody and rhythm, and, experimentation, in different quantities on different occasions.

He is an astonishing trumpeter in the vein of Don Cherry and Bobby Bradford, and his cascading lines can be said to dance. On Cape of Storms, he’s joined by Aaron González, double bass; Stefan González, drums, percussion; Louis Moholo-Moholo, drums, percussion; Tim Green, tenor sax. The South African percussion giant Moholo-Moholo is the ringer. This band is a family affair going on ten years. The two sons comprise a unique rhythm section; having internalized–no doubt–the rhythmic gospel of their father. The new record is tipped toward freebop, yet the underpinning is drumming.

(A brief excerpt is heard as the backing for the carousel.)

Some of the cream of 2010.

Aki Takase – A Week Went By
Charles Lloyd – Mirror
Cookers – Warriors
Dave Douglas – Spark of Being
Dave Holland – Pathway
Dave Liebman – Turnaround_(Music of Ornette Coleman)
David Binney – Aliso
Decoy & Joe McPhee – Oto
Dennis Gonzalez – Yells At Eels – Cape Of Storms
Evan Parker – Whitstable Solo
Fight the Big Bull – All Is Gladness in The Kingdom
Geri Allen – Flying Toward The Sound
Henry Threadgill Zooid – This Brings Us To Volume
Ideal Bread – Transmit
Jason Moran – Ten
Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden – Jasmine
Lee Konitz – Live at the Village
Michael Formanek – The Rub And Spare Change
Odeon Pope – Fresh Breeze
Perry Robinson – From A to Z
Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra – Presents
Portico Quartet – Isla
Riccardo Fassi – Roswell Rudd – Double Exposure
Steve Coleman – Harvesting Semblances And Affinities
Ted Nash – (LCJO) Portrait In Seven Shades
The Marsalis Family – Music Redeems
World Saxophone Quartet – Yes We Can