January/February 2011

Critics’ Picks: Top 50 CDs

A compilation of JT contributors’ year-end lists of top recordings of the year

We compiled our top 40 new releases and top 10 historical/reissue recordings of 2010 from year-end lists by our writers. (They were asked to choose the 10 best new releases and five best reissues or box sets.) All the individual ballots are posted here at JazzTimes.com. Only CDs and box sets released between Nov. 1, 2009, and Oct. 31, 2010 were eligible. Some releases may have slipped through the cracks, however, as official release dates shifted or weren’t available.

[NOTE: ORIGINAL BLURBS AND EDITORIAL EXCERPTS BELOW BY SHAUN BRADY, NATE CHINEN, THOMAS CONRAD, EVAN HAGA, JEFF TAMARKIN, GEORGE VARGA, CARLO WOLFF, JOSEF WOODARD AND RON WYNN.]

TOP 40 NEW RELEASES

1. JASON MORAN
Ten (Blue Note)

In the same year that the MacArthur Foundation endorsed Moran to the tune of $500,000, he and the Bandwagon released a milestone that only reiterated what we jazz people have known all along: that the 35-year-old pianist is one of our most gifted conceptualists. How else do you explain “Feedback Pt. 2,” which stealthily works Hendrix’s sonic maelstrom in and around piano-trio drift, or “Old Babies,” which finds musical stock in the babbling of toddlers?

But the most impressive thing about Ten, named to recognize this distinctly modern threesome’s first decade together, is the album’s composure. This offering is largely the fruit of commissions, yet it includes tracks like a merrily grooving “Gansterism” update that stave off pretension. We can only imagine what Twenty will sound like. E.H.

2. CHARLES LLOYD QUARTET
Mirror (ECM)

Contemplative and melodic, Mirror finds Lloyd equally authoritative and open. Whether it’s his tenor on “La Llorona” or his alto on a sweetly ruminative interpretation of “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” he takes elegant, expert time. Lloyd’s bandmates, far younger than the saxophonist, match him in musical wisdom. C.W.

3. RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA & BUNKY GREEN
Apex (PI)

It would seem condescending to say that 75-year-old Green holds his own with Mahanthappa, his 39-year-old counterpart. Entered into without preconceptions, the particulars of ages and discographies vanish, leaving behind two fiercely inventive musicians whose individually muscular playing is only enhanced by the inspiration of the other. S.B.

4. KEITH JARRETT/CHARLIE HADEN
Jasmine (ECM)

Haden, of course, was the bedrock in Jarrett’s famed “American” quartet of the 1970s, and the easy access to empathy between this long-separated pair is almost alarming: It’s as if they never left, and, moreover, have gained some kind of new conversational depth in the absence. J.W.

5. DAVE HOLLAND OCTET
Pathways (DARE2)

As Holland has done in virtually every one of his previous groups, he provides a platform for this little-big band to realize an individual and collective sense of purpose and cooperation. The resulting spirit of selfless generosity pays off from start to finish on the seven-composition album (five penned by Holland), which clocks in at over 75 minutes but doesn’t contain a single extraneous gesture. Miles and Mingus would be proud. G.V.

6. VIJAY IYER
Solo (ACT)

Those who find Vijay Iyer difficult will find solo Iyer even harder to comprehend. By himself, the pianist is more hermetic and more exclusionary in his creative logic. But those who have found revelations and epiphanies in Iyer’s group recordings will continue to find them in Solo. Alone, he goes down deeper into the unique piano language he invented, and his version of beauty becomes purer and harder and more complete. T.C.

7. CHRISTIAN SCOTT
Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (CONCORD JAZZ)

Yesterday nudges Scott perceptibly closer to his goal of unmistakable individuality. A proud blast of social critique, it’s the album that best captures his simultaneous pursuit of state-of-the-art jazz improvisation, moody indie-rock ambience, cinematic emotional sweep and a hip-hop rhythmic slant. Not coincidentally, it features a road-tested working band. N.C.

8. REGINA CARTER
Reverse Thread (E1)

Funded by her MacArthur fellowship, Reverse Thread is Carter’s joyful excursion into music of the African Diaspora. From the buoyant opener “Hiwumbe Awumba,” to the closing “Mwana Talitambula,” based on an ethnographic field recording, this extraordinary outing is full of vitality and bold improvisations from the violinist and kora master Yacouba Sissoko. R.W.

9. STEVE COLEMAN AND FIVE ELEMENTS
Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (PI)

Funky, heady, spiritual and cosmic, with references to astrology, Yoruban religion and more purely musical touchstones, Coleman’s Pi debut reasserts the M-Base architect’s hefty importance. In so many words, the saxophonist makes music at once cerebral and visceral, working on the fringe to appeal to some universal ideal. J.W.

10. HENRY THREADGILL ZOOID
This Brings Us To, Volume II (PI)

Fans of Henry Threadgill, which pretty much means anyone who’s minded the jazz avant-garde since the mid-’70s, rejoiced through most of 2010: not one but two excellent retrospective box sets, and this much-anticipated Pi label release. These five tracks, culled from the same 2008 sessions that yielded Volume 1, are, in typical Zooid fashion, a series of hypnotic paradoxes. Another conceptually heady yet sonically mellow set, the intervallic improvisation cuts unsettling shapes while vaguely funky syncopations pull you in. E.H.

11. FRED HERSCH TRIO
Whirl (PALMETTO)

12. BILL CHARLAP/RENEE ROSNES
Double Portrait (BLUE NOTE)

13. PAUL MOTIAN/CHRIS POTTER/JASON MORAN
Lost in a Dream (ECM)

14. THE NELS CLINE SINGERS
INITIATE (Cryptogramophone)

15. PAT METHENY
ORCHESTRION (Nonesuch)

16. MARY HALVORSON QUINTET
SATURN SINGS (Firehouse 12)

17. MYRA MELFORD’S BE BREAD
THE WHOLE TREE GONE (Firehouse 12)

18. BILL FRISELL
BEAUTIFUL DREAMERS (Savoy Jazz)

19. GERI ALLEN
FLYING TOWARD THE SOUND (Motéma)

20. TOMASZ STANKO QUINTET
DARK EYES (ECM)

21. BRAD MEHLDAU
HIGHWAY RIDER (Nonesuch)

22. DANILO PÉREZ
PROVIDENCIA (Mack Avenue)

23. BILLY CHILDS ENSEMBLE
AUTUMN: IN MOVING PICTURES (ArtistShare)

24. MIKE MAINIERI
CRESCENT (NYC)

25. MOSTLY OTHER PEOPLE DO THE KILLING
FORTY FORT (Hot Cup)

26. CHRIS LIGHTCAP’S BIGMOUTH
DELUXE (Clean Feed)

27. WILLIAM PARKER ORGAN QUARTET
UNCLE JOE’S SPIRIT HOUSE (AUM Fidelity)

28. CHUCHO VALDÉS & THE AFRO-CUBAN MESSENGERS
CHUCHO’S STEPS (4Q)

29. JOSÉ JAMES
BLACKMAGIC (Brownswood)

30. SFJAZZ COLLECTIVE
LIVE 2010: 7TH ANNUAL CONCERT TOUR (SFJAZZ)

31. THE BAD PLUS
NEVER STOP (E1)

32. DAVE DOUGLAS & KEYSTONE
SPARK OF BEING (Greenleaf)

33. HIROMI
PLACE TO BE (Telarc)

34. ESPERANZA SPALDING
CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY (Heads Up)

35. CONRAD HERWIG
THE LATIN SIDE OF HERBIE HANCOCK (Half Note)

36. THE CLAUDIA QUINTET
ROYAL TOAST (Cuneiform)

37. REZ ABBASI ACOUSTIC QUARTET
Natural Selection (SUNNYSIDE)

38. JOHN HÉBERT TRIO
SPIRITUAL LOVER (Clean Feed)

39. LIONEL LOUEKE
MWALIKO (Blue Note)

40. RANDY WESTON & HIS AFRICAN RHYTHMS SEXTET
THE STORYTELLER (Motéma)

Top 10 Historical/Reissues

1. MILES DAVIS
Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (SONY LEGACY)

Do we need yet another fanfare-laden reissue of Miles’ jazz-rock classic? Yes, it turns out, especially if that reissue includes a positively smoking live set and a Holy Grail DVD program. Sony Legacy, whose willingness to lavishly box up the trumpeter’s catalog knows no bounds, cleverly offered this set in two tiers: a $125 extravaganza with four discs, audiophile LPs, a book, poster and more; and a three-disc collection of essentials for a Benjamin less. “Spanish Key” never sounded so good. E.H.

2. STAN GETZ/KENNY BARRON
People Time: The Complete Recordings (SUNNYSIDE)

Our Geoffrey Himes got it right in his lead review: There’s an astonishing distillation in Getz’s playing, an uncanny editorial tact that can only partly be attributed to the mounting ailments that would cause the saxophonist’s death just months after these 1991 performances. And Barron, on 24 well-chosen jazz and pop chestnuts, is a pitch-perfect ally—nimble and compassionate but never patronizing. E.H.

3. ART PEPPER
Unreleased Art, Vol. V (WIDOW’S TASTE)

Laurie Pepper, whose Unreleased Art series is perhaps the best vault-digging program in jazz’s recent memory, delivers the goods (and the pathos) once again. Documenting a German concert from 1981 via remastered audience recordings, this two-CD set finds the alto master blowing through the pain: Pepper bops, grooves and balladeers with the best of them, despite having his mid-section confined by a corset due to a ventral hernia. E.H.
4. RAY CHARLES
Genius + Soul = Jazz (2-CD Expanded Edition) (CONCORD)

Both 1961’s historic Genius + Soul = Jazz and 1970’s My Kind of Jazz were reissued previously on a single disc by Rhino Records. But Concord’s decision to double the collection with the inclusion of 1972’s Jazz Number II and 1975’s My Kind of Jazz Part 3 is savvy; it becomes the most comprehensive Ray Charles jazz anthology by default. And while none of the three ’70s LPs can be considered as essential to the Charles canon as Genius, as a piece the four albums make an unimpeachable case for Ray Charles as jazzman. J.T.

5. PHILLY JOE JONES’ DAMERONIA FEATURING JOHNNY GRIFFIN
Look, Stop and Listen (UPTOWN)

This 1983 session, remastered by Rudy Van Gelder with bonus tracks, presents a tribute-band ideal: essential yet underused repertory by Tadd Dameron, savvy arranging by trumpeter Don Sickler, and unbreakable swing from Philly Joe Jones—which, in the midst of rising young-lions, must have seemed like the roaring ocean alongside a hotel swimming pool. Guest Johnny Griffin, Frank Wess, Cecil Payne, Benny Powell and other killers fill out this gem from one of jazz history’s unexplored corners. E.H.

6. HENRY THREADGILL
The Complete Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air (MOSAIC)

7. CTI ALL-STARS
California Concert: The Hollywood Palladium (CTI Records 40th Anniversary Edition) (SONY MASTERWORKS JAZZ)

8. NAT KING COLE & FRIENDS
Riffin’: The Decca, JATP, Keynote & Mercury Recordings (VERVE SELECT)

9. FRANK SINATRA/ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM
Francis Albert Sinatra/Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Complete Reprise Recordings (CONCORD)

10. BING CROSBY
The Bing Crosby CBS Radio Recordings 1954-56 (MOSAIC)

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