Jeff Dayton-Johnson's Best of 2008
I might also have added that jazz, though still ineluctably tied to the United States and its history, has never looked more international. My personal picks for the year feature musicians from Fernández de Kirchner's own country, as well as France, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Mali, Norway, Senegal, Scotland and South India. And, for good measure, Memphis, the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago's South Side.
As always, I cannot claim these are the best records of the year, given the haphazard process by which I hear new releases. I'm not even sure they're the best records I heard this year. But these are nevertheless records I would enthusiastically share with you if you were to drop by my place. In that spirit, then, here are my picks for 2008 (in alphabetical order).
Live at Belleville
The highlight is a forty-minute suite celebrating the centenary of Norway's independence from the yolk of Swedish subjugationseriously. That the music is so consistently intelligent and passionate is a tribute to all three members of the trio, but particularly saxophonist Tommy Smith
The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton
Culled from no fewer than nine LPs recorded in the mid- to late-1970s, including two double albums and one three-record set, most never before available on compact discthis would be the cornerstone of any other artist's career. For the dizzyingly productive Braxton, even an achievement on this scale is dwarfed but the totality of his oeuvreso far. Breathtakingly varied, this music is astonishing in the consistently high degree of its imagination and innovation.
San Quentin Jazz Band
For a brief period in the early 1960s, a California prison housed alto saxophonists Art Pepper
Guillaume de Chassy
Faraway So Close
This record by the gifted de Chassy, a pianist who might loosely be affiliated with the Paul Bley
Lay It Down
Blue Note Records
Long after his 1970s heyday, the greatest soul singer of all time sounds better than ever, accompanied by a crack neo-Memphian band convened by ?uestlove of the Roots. And there are even hints of his eccentricity: "Smokestacks on your love/ Outside my window pane," he sings on one of the cuts. Enough said.
Truly marvelous large-ensemble jazz in the vein of Maria Schneider
Rudresh Mahanthappawith Kadri Gopalnath
Saxophone wunderkind Mahanthappa guilelessly fuses his intelligent post-bop jazz with the South Indian classical Karnatic tradition, in the person of Gopalnath, the "king of the Indian saxophone." The empathy and sympathy among the players in the Indo-American band ably symbolize the degree of fusion and collaboration: it's jazz, and it's Karnatic, all the time. The solosfrom the leaders, but also guitarist Rez Abassi and violinist A. Kanyakumari, are thrilling.
Epic Journey, Volumes I & II
A sprawling, ambitious two-hour set, with meticulous arrangements on the first disc and a coherent collective improvisation that lasts almost half an hourand sustains interest throughouton the second. Multi-reedsman Niewood's playing is a revelation, as is that of the warped Scriabin-meets-Bud Powell pianist Kristjan Randalu
Being Brewed By Noon
A loose live set of Noonan's Brooklyn-based Afro-Celtic fusion, a big tent that houses singing in Gaelic, Wolof and Bambara, Mat Maneri
The Mystic World of Augustus Pablo: The Rockers Story
The music of late reggae producer and performer Pablo defies easy anthologization: Jamaican dub's modus operandi is the remix, the "version," and it's constantly surprising just how many versions exist of many of Pablo's songs. This endless reconfiguration of recordings is elevated in Pablo's case to a sort of philosophical questioning of the very possibility of definitive truth. That, and the ethereal quality of Pablo's melodica playing, make this music both mystical and destabilizing.
Blue Note Records
The 25-year-old Parks deserves credit for trying, this late in the game, to rethink the piano trio in a creative but non-revolutionary way. He does so with production values and overdubs that would be at home on big-budget rock albums, electric guitar that might or might not be a solo instrument, and Eric Harland
Like Parks, though even more successfully, Sickafoose seems to be trying to hew a new path in jazz, but in a sweeter and more populist way than the jazz revolutionaries of the second half of the last century. "'Black and Tan Fantasy' as played by the Beatles," he described his approach in an AAJ interview. Sickafoose's music may be very easy to listen to, but is reassuringly not easy listening.
The Nature of the Beat
Sounds like a party, but while it has all the joy of a party performance, party bands rarely play with this much precision and consistency. Wallace plays the trombone the way trumpeter Clifford Brown