Last Year's CD Shelf

The past year was strong enough on the CD front to make me want to revisit favorite discs and comment on some of those I feel reasonably certain will remain in my lifetime CD rotation. Unlike my colleagues, who have a superior sense of deadline responsibility, I held out to nearly the bitter end of the year-hence this late bulletin. I'm pleased to see that most of my choices echo those in JazzTimes' poll. Consensus is still possible. My selection is diverse, but the ruling imperative is honesty: these are honest performances by dedicated musicians who implicitly honor John Lewis' dictum that the reward for playing jazz is playing jazz. Despite the closing of economic windows, jazz abides with quality CDs that appear more frequently than are dreamed of by merging majors who long ago traded music for dividends.

Debut of the year: Percy Heath, A Love Song (Daddy). It was touch and go, but the great bassist copped his first session as a leader before turning 80, and it's a nonstop pleasure from the attractive title piece through the drolleries of "Watergate Blues" and "Century Rag" to the vibrant "Django" and fastidiously romantic "Hanna's Mood"-the album is an essential outing for pianist Jeb Patton.

So much repertory, so little time: Don Byron's Ivey-Divey (Blue Note) kicks off with a space ride and then finds its balance in various gradations of swing, the clarinetist inspired by a Lester Young trio session and spectacularly engaged by Jason Moran and Jack DeJohnette, who does Gene Krupa one better on "I've Found a New Baby." Clark Terry's Porgy and Bess (Americana) revisits Gil Evans' brilliant trumpet concerto, transcribed by conductor Jeff Lindberg (who added a song in the Evans manner); Terry's interpretation is luscious and the orchestra is primed (you may miss Jimmy Cobb and Philly Joe Jones, though)-the only sour note is the absence of Evans' name from the cover. Roland Kirk's name is similarly missing from the cover of Steve Turre's bracing The Spirits Up Above (HighNote), a Kirk tribute for which James Carter adds the right level of bluster on flute and tenor.

Long time no see: Alice Coltrane's Translinear Light (Impulse), produced by her son Ravi Coltrane, who plays with unmistakably enhanced authority, makes you want to reexamine her work of 30 years back. The Revolutionary Ensemble's gripping And Now... (Pi) is their first session since The People's Republic (1975) and a worthy heir.

Three by twos: The clarity of Marc Copland's lyrical piano brings out the melodious side of Greg Osby in Night Call (Nagel Heyer)-on "Skippin' Around," they blend as neatly as Monk and Rouse. Great drummers, the lamented Billy Higgins and the driving Hamid Drake, elicit the playfulness in Charles Lloyd and the swagger in Fred Anderson on Which Way Is East (ECM) and Back Together Again (Thrill Jockey), respectively, each a double-disc set plush with surprise-especially the former, the best and most freely imagined of the Lloyd-Higgins collaborations.

Boudoir break: Houston Person's To Etta With Love (HighNote)-10 seductive ballads. Morning eye-opener: Ace (Midatlantic)-Arthur Blythe radiating energy in the heady context of David Eyges' electric cello and Abe Speller's tuned drums.

Big band: Cecil Taylor's The Owner of the River Bank (Enja/Justin Time), with the Italian Instabile Orchestra, is like a pool of water that reflects everything with beguiling accuracy despite ripples. Middle-size band: Andrew Hill's The Day the World Stood Still (Stunt) exemplifies the art of the composer-arranger, who makes each of eight players essential.

Go figure: Madeleine Peyroux's Careless Love (Rounder) validates a singer who sounds like the love child of Billie Holiday and Abbey Lincoln (indeed, she nails the connection), yet means it-for real and on her own terms. She's even tamed several unlikely songs for future jazz exploration. Andy Bey's American Song (Savoy) is slow and thick and sweet as molasses, with Geri Allen's sly arrangements brightening the mood.

Foursomes: If Joe Lovano achieves an emotive pinnacle on I'm All for You (Blue Note), much credit must go to the inventive voicings and poise of Hank Jones, leading a gilded rhythm section (George Mraz, Paul Motian) with a panache no one else can match. Kenny Davern's At the Mill Hill Playhouse (Arbors) has the courage of its derriere-guard convictions, which are deeply wistful yet ready to party.

Piano trios: If you doubt the possibility of perfection, seek out the Great Jazz Trio's Someday My Prince Will Come (Eighty-Eight's/Columbia), in which ageless Hank Jones rouses and is roused by Richard Davis and the irreplaceable Elvin Jones. Yet Jessica Williams and Mulgrew Miller never played with more finesse, muscle and humor than on their latest albums, each called Live at Yoshi's, Volume One (MaxJazz) and each a lesson in revivifying standard repertory. And for collective incisiveness, one can hardly fault The Out-of-Towners (ECM), the new Jarrett-Peacock-DeJohnette triumph; Dave Burrell's Expansion (High Two), on which William Parker and Andrew Cyrille help him square whimsical stride with calculated repetition-though a whole album like the solo "They Say It's Wonderful" would be lovely; and Geri Allen's The Life of a Song (Telarc), with Dave Holland and DeJohnette (probably 2004's MVP) pursuing her own knotty repetitions while reconstructing Strayhorn, Powell and Waldron, the last with a properly eulogistic "Soul Eyes."

Originally published in March 2005

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