Best of 2003

Doug Collette By

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The diversity of the following list illustrates how all encompassing the jazz genre has grown to be... which is another way of saying "Why limit your 'Best of' to just Ten?".

One Quiet Night
Pat Metheny
(Warner Bros.)

Pat Metheny’s prodigious guitar technique is such that, even when playing an acoustic guitar unaccompanied as he does throughout this disc, he is able to reveal all the nuances in the melodies, making them resplendent to your ears over and over.

Right Now Move
Charlie Hunter Quintet
Garage a Trois
(Tone Cool/Artemis)

The former, by far the best Charlie Hunter release since he fronted the Pound for Pound band, mirrors his idiosyncratic nature,the quintet itself managing to sound as much like a big band as a small tightly-knit combo. The Garage band’s first full-length recording, sounds like nothing so much as the Charlie Hunter album the 8-string guitar whiz never recorded with the band he worked with two years ago, a mix of percolating percussion and gentle melodicism radiating an undeniable sense of joy

Extended Play—Live at Birdland
The Dave Holland Quintet

As the quintet rediscovers its material and its own strengths as a unit, they engage in the crisp interchanges and virtually indiscernible segues that border on telepathic communication. Appropriately recorded at one of this music’s most storied venues, this 2-cd package suggest Holland & Co. have become one of the greatest jazz bands of our time.

Think Tank
Pat Martino
(Blue Note)

Further argument that Martino is the preeminent jazz guitarist of our times, this disc combines the fleet intricacy of his playing with an ingenious approach to composition that together make for an almost awe inspring listening experience.

Bela Fleck
Little Worlds

A gorgeous package of three compact discs seamlessly interweaves pure inspiration, creative spontaneity and judicious production. It doesn’t matter that you can’t categorize the music---all the more reason to enjoy it spontaneously(which is how it was originally created!)

Soul Serenade
The Derek Trucks Band

If you found the previous studio album by DTB a bit too diverse for its own good, Soul Serenade, actually recorded prior to last year’s studio release, will satisfy even more because the precocious guitarist is upfront on these mostly instrumental tracks. Comprised of an eclectic choice of material this mini-album demonstrates the range of Derek Trucks’ musical influences and, in turn, the dynamic range of his playing(not to mention the personality of his band.).

Vertical Vision
Christian McBride
(Warner Bros.)

The debut of the wunderkind bassist’s powerhouse band is a powerhouse album. Mixed to rock, It hearkens back to the halcyon days of jazz fusion music yet remains the more traditional generosity of jazz combos by allowing the personality of each individual member to come through the collective effort. Not coincidentally, the cd concludes with a blistering version of Weather Report’s “Boogie Woogie Waltz”

The Grand Unification Theory
Stefon Harris
(Blue Note)

The young vibraphonist’s third solo album shows some marked progression over its predecessors. Though the album is a single piece specifically commissioned for Harris to compose, there’s actually more room for improvisational space on it. The production is especially laudable as well, since, even with arrangements as dense as they are to accommodate Harris’ core quartet as well as strings and horns, the mix is clearer and sharper than on previous cd’s.

Jungle Tango
Jazz Mandolin Project

On their new independently distributed cd, JMP pick right up right where their Blue Note one-off left off. Which is to say the band displays all the vigor of the best fusion music without sounding literally anything like an amalgam of jazz and rock. Rather, the trio, expanded with the sympathetic contributuions of keyboardist Gil Goldstein and percussionist Chris Lovejoy, manages to sound simultaneously acoustic and electric and marvelously so at that. There is little if any music on the current jazz scene more distinctive than Jazz Mandolin Project.

Land of the Giants
McCoy Tyner-Bobby Hutcherson-Charnett Mofett-Eric Harland

This is truly a supersession even if, by strict definition, only Tyner and Hutcheson are bonafide jazz stars. Because the young rhythm section rises to the level of play of their elder statesmen—playing with an intensity and imagination that boosts the performance of everyone involved—they deserve equal credit(hence the equal billing) for the stellar performances included here.

Up All Night
The John Scofield Band

The venerable guitarist hasn’t repeated himself since he became immersed in the jam band scene by working with MMW and his new album presents more diversity within the groove-laden bottom he and his band prefer. The presence of a horn section lends just enough traditional atmosphere to the mix, in direct proportion to the sampling by Scofield and second guitarist Avi Bortnick, that lend the cd its ultra contemporary feel. And although he doesn’t hog the spotlight by any means—John is remarkably humble as a musician in that sense---his distinctive guitar work, a seamless marriage of blues touch and jazz tone, grabs your attention whenever he plays (and the quieter moments such as “I’m Listening” stand out in greater relief)

Terence Blanchard
(Blue Note)

Rare it is to hear guitar arranged as part of what’s essentially a traditional acoustic jazz format, but leave it to freethinking Blanchard to take this route less traveled. The title of this label debut couldn’t be more appropriate since, through a soft but nevertheless insistent swirl of instruments, there’s a buoyant lift to all the playing.

David Sanborn

A fixture on the contemporary jazz scene for upwards of twenty years now, Sanborn relishes an old school approach on his new album, mixing a handful of originals with some familiar but diverse tunes from Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell as well as the warhorse “Tequila.”. The rhythm section, including Steve Gadd and Christian McBride, purrs like a well-tuned sportscar throughout the album, especially during the warm exchanges between vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and guitarist extraordinaire Russell Malone. For his part, the leader/saxophonist seems content to simply set the table til near the cd’s end when some extended workouts remind you he can do more than just r&b comping.

Sonic Trance
Nicholas Payton
(Warner Bros.)

This cd is mood music deluxe, ranging in its 18(!) tracks from snippets of conversation, to ambient sounds to the fluid motion of the trumpeter in full flight with his band. Much as Christian McBride reconstituted himself as a modern fusioneer, so does Payton in a wholly different realm of traditional jazz shot through with experimental concepts? This cd begs for repeated close listening because there is literally so much to hear.

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