The Year of Independence had been incubating for some time. ArtistShare, self-run labels, grassroots promotion-these were already old stories when 2006 cranked into gear. But at a time when the music industry at large showed clear signs of balkanization, if not a shambling disintegration, jazz artists finally seemed ahead of the curve. The internet facilitated not only a means of distribution but also a vibrant realm of discourse, a place for every enfranchised voice to weigh in. As a global community, the jazz world got a little bigger, and smaller, all at once and without contradiction.
Through it all, there were the gigs: thousands of them, happening in more places than ever, or at least in recent memory. Judging by the profusion and quality of live music in New York City, you’d be hard-pressed to make a case for jazz as suffering a drought of any kind. And the reason for the micro-renaissance? An intuitive understanding that independence means virtually nothing in isolation; that jazz, as one of the most human of arts, can only thrive in societal conditions.
I compiled the third annual installment of my Year in Gigs with no design in mind other than outstanding quality, a sense of wonder that lasted well past the final round of applause. What strikes me about my selections, after compiling them, is that they share an ideal of immersive cohesion: There are no gigs on this list involving a standout soloist over a strictly supportive rhythm section. I can’t say whether this reveals a shift in the music or merely in my tastes; chances are it’s a bit of both. So the Year of Independence was also the Year of Collectivity. What could be more appropriate, for jazz?
Paul Motian Band, Village Vanguard, Jan. 29: The final set of this engagement featured a gently shimmering curtain of guitars-three or four of them, depending on how you classify acoustic bass guitarist Jerome Harris-alongside the more fibrous lyricism of tenor saxophonists Mark Turner and Chris Cheek. Motian’s drumming was typically suggestive, in a set that had the same aftereffect of bittersweet disorientation as a reluctant-waking dream.
In the Country, Norwegian Seamen’s Church, Feb. 7: Pianist Morten Qvenild, bassist Roger Arntzen and drummer Pål Hausken performed this intimate showcase a couple nights before a splashier gig at Tonic featuring guitarist Marc Ribot. Somehow the austere obscurity of the setting felt right, and the pedal steel guitar of Bob Hoffnar was a worthy and sympathetic substitute.
Human Feel, Fat Cat, Feb. 27: The reunion of this ’90s collective, which can now safely be called an all-star band-with Chris Speed and Andrew D’Angelo on reeds, Jim Black on drums and Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar-effectively transformed a wintry cellar into a sweatbox. Body heat and poor ventilation had a lot to do with it, but so did the furnace-blast ferocity of the band.
Andrew Hill Quartet, Birdland, March 1: Timed to coincide with the release of Andrew Hill’s album Time Lines (Blue Note), this gig cast much the same enigmatic spell. To hear the music in real time, however, was a further revelation, especially as Hill, on piano, conversed obliquely with trumpeter Charles Tolliver. Later in the year there would be a concert reinvestigation of Hill’s 1969 opus Passing Ships, in some ways a more noteworthy event. This one made the deeper impression because of a more enveloping sort of ensemble cohesion, and a more immediate repertoire.
Anthony Braxton, Iridium, March 19: More so than even his composition for 100 tubas, which I described in this column in September, Braxton’s weeklong run with a group called the Twelvetet Plus One was a puzzler. He composed a different piece for each set of his run, and some were reportedly much stronger than others. This set was a marvel, with intricate cross-references in the ensemble and dozens of good improvised interjections. I’m anxious to hear how the music resonates when I hear it again, on a lavishly comprehensive box set due in April.
Sam Rivers, Angel Orensanz Center, June 14: The most enduring moment of this year’s Vision Festival was an evening dedicated to an octogenarian saxophonist who played as if he were both ageless and tireless. His Rivbea Orchestra was a sturdy and onsweeping thing; even better was his working trio, with the multi-instrumentalists Doug Mathews and Anthony Cole. They delivered virtuosity (but never in dull profusion) and showmanship (but not empty flash), engaging in a brand of open-ended exploration that graciously carries everyone along.
Herbie Hancock, Carnegie Hall, June 23: The bookends of this JVC Jazz Festival concert were serious: first, a focused trio with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette, and then a simmering quartet with Shorter, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Brian Blade. A surprise bonus was Michael Brecker, who, in his first performance since his illness-imposed hiatus, delivered a heartening tenor solo.
Ron Miles, The Stone, Aug. 29: Drawing from the latter half of his two-disc album Stone/Blossom (Sterling Circle), Miles nestled his cornet in a warm and inviting atmosphere. Pedal steel player Glenn Taylor, guitarist Roger Green, pianist Erik Deutsch and bassist Todd Sickafoose were deeply supportive, but the crux of the thing was the telepathic bond between Miles and drummer Rudy Royston.
Cuong Vu, Makor, Oct. 3: Otherworldly, indivisible and vicious: a few inadequate words that spring to mind at the thought of Vu’s working trio with bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Ted Poor. Technology was inventively utilized during their performance on the Festival of New Trumpet Music-Vu and Takeishi are both proficient with electronic effects in real time-but at root it was simply a model of intensity and cohesion.
Julius Hemphill Tribute, Miller Theater, Nov. 9: The only posthumous tribute on this list handily w ins placement by virtue of a rare treat: the reinterpretation of Hemphill’s classic and still out-of-print album Dogon A.D. Clarinetist-saxophonist Marty Ehrlich led the charge, along with Baikida Carroll, who played trumpet on the original album, as well as cellist Erik Friedlander and drummer Pheeroan akLaff. We should all hear it more often.