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2013: The Year in Gigs

JT columnist Nate Chinen reflects on the best shows of the past year

Cécile McLorin Salvant
Mark Turner, Jazzhouse, Copenhagen Jazz Festival, 7-13

Marc Ribot looked like something that had blown in off the street, a rumpled wraith slumped over a guitar, during an early set at the Village Vanguard this fall, with drummer Chad Taylor and bassist Henry Grimes. Tumbling from a bright-swinging standard into an Albert Ayler street march, the trio gave an impression of sober integrity, along with a stern indifference to the niceties of entertainment. Needless to say, I was hooked. And yet I managed to tear myself away before the hourglass near Ribot’s feet had emptied, scurrying down Seventh Avenue South toward Smalls, where I had an appointment to review another, younger trio, made up of the pianist Glenn Zaleski, the bassist Rick Rosato and the drummer Colin Stranahan-who all, for the record, sounded great too.

Neither of those engagements, on a blustery night in November, quite made the cut for this ninth annual edition of the Year in Gigs, my Top 10 roundup of standout shows. But something about their on-the-fly juxtaposition felt emblematic, in retrospect, of my experience on the ground over the last 12 months. One set stood for intergenerational wisdom-Grimes cuts a nearly Biblical figure at 78, alongside Ribot, who’s a distinguished 59, and Taylor, 40-while the other set conveyed the advantages of peer-group cohesion and the sleek energies of youth. Both sets proved respectful of jazz traditions but free of deference, with a sense of adventure as the binding constant. I left each energized and also challenged, in the most appealing sense of that word.

Such is the layered feeling of gratification behind most gigs that stick. Which might be why this rundown always presents a simpler, more gut-level task than my annual Top 10 Albums list, which tends to involve a lot more handwringing. The only qualms routinely sparked by the Year in Gigs involve the sins of omission: shows that I couldn’t make, at least not in person.

Eddie Palmieri, Rose Theater, Dec. 15 , ’12: One month before accepting his due as a Jazz Master from the National Endowment for the Arts, the great Latin pianist and bandleader ran his own Jazz at Lincoln Center retrospective. Marshaling both a big band and his Afro-Caribbean Jazz Octet, he was the picture of dynamic authority, ablaze with purpose.

Cécile McLorin Salvant, Allen Room, Feb. 2: Yeah, she’s as good as you’ve heard-maybe better, if this concert, part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series, is our bellwether. Judicious, audacious and scarily poised, Salvant proved herself a singer of immeasurable skill, from the richness of her instrument to the arc of her set list.

Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau, Bowery Ballroom, April 9: Included with an asterisk, I suppose, since most of the songs were plucked from the quiver of folk-inflected pop. But there was no gainsaying the high-wire nature of the interplay between Mehldau’s piano and Thile’s mandolin-or their hyper-articulate dash through “Dexterity,” the aptly named Charlie Parker tune.

Vijay Iyer, Zankel Hall, April 27: During what can only be described as a banner year, Vijay Iyer never lost an ounce of composure, and the same could be said of this concert. Its triptych of instrumental formats-solo piano; a trio with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Tyshawn Sorey; and a sextet that added cornetist Graham Haynes and saxophonists Steve Lehman and Mark Shim-underscored Iyer’s command of pacing, along with his well-acknowledged wealth of ideas.

Wadada Leo Smith, Roulette, May 3: Speaking of ideas, the one behind Ten Freedom Summers, an opus inspired by the civil rights movement, could hardly be more powerful. And Smith, playing stern trumpet with his Golden Quartet, even as he conducted a string ensemble, made it feel tactile and bracing.

Gil Evans Project, Jazz Standard, May 13: There’s a singular focus to Ryan Truesdell’s repertory efforts, but also a depth of field. During a booking that shifted time periods nightly, what I caught was a program of Evans’ gorgeously transparent charts for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, including a brisk obscurity called “Gypsy Jump.”

Joshua Redman, the Town Hall, June 4: More than a conscientious translation of his lushly appointed album Walking Shadows (Nonesuch), Redman made this concert a lustrous stunner, playing some of the most suavely assured saxophone of his life and engaging deeply with both a well-balanced chamber orchestra and his own collegial dream team: pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade.

Mark Turner Quartet, Village Vanguard, June 19: I loved the loose-limbed swagger of this postbop quartet-Turner on tenor saxophone, Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums-as well as its air of dry mystery. Expect great things from its ECM debut, recorded the week before this gig.

Tarbaby With Oliver Lake, Jazz Standard, Sept. 3: Remember what I said about intergenerational wisdom? Here it was in radiant form, during a knockout set that paired the rugged epiphanies of Tarbaby (pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis, drummer Nasheet Waits) with the soulful fire of alto saxophonist Oliver Lake.

Miles Okazaki Quartet, Seeds, Sept. 11: It’s easy to get lost in the intricacies of Okazaki’s tunes, which can feel like puzzles of logic. But here, in a small and overheated space, with a band propelled by drummer Dan Weiss, he made his music feel risky and bruising-even as his fingers raced along the fretboard, unflappably.

Originally Published