The Covalent Bond

This site is dedicated to the sharing of ideas in the field of music, literature, and whatever else strikes my fancy. To play the music, you must have Rhapsody. I am just getting started. There will be more to come. "Imagination is more important than knowledge." -- Albert Einstein

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Best of Jazz 2006 - A Baker's Dozen

As last years list, I agonized over who would make it and who would not, hence the inclusion of 13 albums. The saxophone looms large over this year list and also the labels Sunnyside and Cryptogramophone made strong showings. As per last year, the list was limited to those recordings available on Rhapsody. The amount of phenomenal recordings available this year was truly staggering and I could not make any real attempt to list them in any particular order. Here is my Best of Jazz 2006, please enjoy.

Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa - Raw Materials Vijay Iyer is a perennial favorite in best of the year lists and this year is no exception. His pairing with long time collaborator Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto sax in a duo setting is intelligent, challenging music reflecting their heritage, with a strong modal bent. The lack of bass and drums is never felt, rather there is a musical richness evident that borders on the overindulgent for the sonic gourmet.

Misja Fitzgerald Michel - Encounter This is definitely one of the best jazz guitar records of the year, by a guitarist I was totally unaware of. Misja Fitzgerald Michel is a French master of the guitar and this album is spectacular. The album is a mixture of original compositions and original takes on compositors from the likes of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and Bill Stewart. The musicians in his band are top notch, including: Ravi Coltrane, Drew Gress, and Jochen Rueckert. Playing both electric and acoustic guitars Misja plays music in a variety of styles that never ceases to please.

Sai Ghose - New Blood I can listen to this record over and over and never lose interest. Sai Ghose is a wonderful pianist and this album grooves. I detect a touch of Vince Guaraldi in Sai's pianism, which is something I just love. Sai is given considerable assistance from guitarist Mark Jodice. This is mainstream jazz that is impeccably tremendous listening. Music does not always have to be extreme to be intelligent, thoughtful, works of art. This a collection of musicians that know what they are doing and do it to perfection.

Metta Quintet - Subway Songs A beautiful theme album inspired by the subways of New York and performed exquisitely by the Metta Quintet. In addition to being a great record, 100% of the proceeds of this album go to a good cause, the JazzReach foundation. The JazzReach foundation is a not-for-profit organization committed to fostering a greater awareness, appreciation and understanding of jazz, especially among the young. The album intertwines actual subway sounds with excellent musicianship resulting in a fascinating listen.

Charles Gayle - Time Zones This is a mindblowing album. First because Charles Gayle is known primarily as a saxophone player, yet he has released one of the best solo piano albums of the year. Second, his command of the instrument is exceptional and his incorporation of various piano styles is quite refreshing. There are musical references to the likes of Bud Powell, Art Tatum, Cecil Taylor, and Oscar Peterson all combined into one delicious collection of pianism. If you love piano, do not miss this record.

Roy Nathanson - Sotto Voce This has to be the most fun album on the list. It is the work of Roy Nathanson, a man known for his eclectic history of working with the likes of Elvis Costello to co-founding the Jazz Passengers. Here he has outdone himself with the creation of a jazz record that primarily features the spoken word, with occasional actual singing, and believe it or not the "human beatbox" Napoleon Maddox substituting for a drummer. You must check out his version of "Sunny." This album absolutely has to be heard to be believed.

Rashied Ali Quintet - Judgment Day Vol. 1 Rashied Ali is not heard from much these days, having risen to fame with Coltrane on his last albums. However, he deserves to be heard more and this album is proof. Lately, he has been functioning in an Art Blakey mode, nurturing young talent. On this record, you can hear the fruit of his labors and it just cooks. Actually, this is volume 1 of a two volume set. I haven't had the opportunity to hear volume 2, as it is not on Rhapsody, but I am sure it is a winner. The varied tone colors he coaxes from his drum set and the rapport with his band make this an outstanding adventure in post-bop musicianship.

Armen Donelian and Marc Mommaas - All or Nothing at All Saxophone and piano duos seem to be all the rage this year, witness the Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa recording. Armen Donelian and Marc Mommaas, piano and saxophone respectively, have created just as satisfying an album with what I would call a New York sound, as opposed to the exotic melodies of Iyer and Mahanthappa. All or Nothing at All is a live concert from 2003 in New York City. Armen Donelian has a lyrical quality to his playing touched with a smattering of the avant garde. He was initially trained in classical music, but jazz soon became an overwhelming passion. Armen is also a Fulbright scholar. Marc Mommass plays his horn with passion, edge, and modernistic tendencies. The overall combination of the two musicians results in an introspective collection of tunes that lets the listener peer into the soul of these musicians.

Francois Carrier - Open Spaces This is an exercise in saxophone aesthetics featuring both alto and tenor saxophones from Francois Carrier and Dewey Redman respectively. There is a lot of free playing on this record and it is of the highest caliber. It never turns me off, like some free playing can. It is the interplay between Carrier and Redman that is truly fascinating. Redman, who passed away last year, was a veteran of Ornette Coleman's band and knew a thing a two about free improvisation. The supporting musicians provide the sonic undercurrents to let both Carrier and Redman shine. The first track "Going Through" is a 21 minute monster of free jams that immediately caught my attention for best of the year. If you are looking for something a little more challenging this is the disc for you.

Kenny Garrett - Beyond the Wall This has to be the superstar jazz record of the year. The talent on this record is unbelievable: Pharoah Sanders, Bobby Hutcherson, Mulgrew Miller, Brian Blades, and of course Kenny Garrett. The album was inspired by a trip that Garret had taken to China. This album has a Coltrane sound and a definite spiritual feeling, perhaps it is the use of wordless vocals on some tracks. The Coltrane sound is no accident, as Garrett dedicated the album to McCoy Tyner and Mulgrew Miller is up to the task interpreting these modal tunes. This is a record that people will be listening to decades from now.

Charles Lloyd - Sangam This is a wonderful album that combines world music and jazz into a symbiotic whole. Charles Lloyd is paired with Zakir Hussain on tabla and Eric Harland on drums for a recording that was done live in 2004. This is a masterpiece of an album. Percussion fans will be overwhelmed with delight by Zakir and Eric, yet Charles Lloyd still is the star evoking a wide range of emotions, colors, and superlative muscianship on both saxophone and flute. If you have a taste for the exotic, please sample Sangam.

Bennie Maupin Ensemble - Penumbra Penumbra is an apt name for Bennie Maupin's latest release, as he as often lived in the shadow of others such as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. Maupin's main instrument is the bass clarinet, which he plays in an earthy, lyrical style using the spaces between the notes as eloquently as the notes themselves. In addition to his clarinet, he also plays tenor and soprano saxophones, alto flute, and piano. Bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz does an outstanding job accompanying Maupin. The whole album is an atmospheric journey that just leaves me in awe. There is even a song about Eric Dolphy, that other great bass clarinetist. Of course, Bennie could not forget the saxophonists, as there is also a swinging song about Lester Young. A few critics have referred to his music as chamber music, which fits with its intimate character and soulful sound of the bass clarinet.

Nels Cline - New Monastery Here's an album that was on practically everyone's best of the year lists. Nels Cline, that fabulous guitarist who leads both a jazz and rock life, has dedicated an album to the eclectic pianist Andrew Hill. In a moment of inspiration or maybe just pragmatism, Nels Cline decides to eliminate the piano from the album entirely, resulting in a truly unique take on Hill's music without being a clone. In addition to eliminating the piano, Nels Cline added the accordion which contributes greatly to the atmospheric nature of the pieces. Many of the works are performed as suites, which evolve from one song to the next with an ease that I know took a lot of effort. This is another album that will reward the musical adventurous.


At 8:58 AM, Blogger J Shifty said...

Pardon the delayed response, but thank you so much for this list! My Rhapsody jazz explorations are entirely disorganized and I haven't followed any press to speak of.

Your sifting and annotating here should keep me busy and happy for some weeks to come. I'll try to type back if I have any strong reactions.

A very happy one to you.


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