2007 was a wonderful year for jazz. Far from being dead, jazz lives and the pace of releases is quickening making it harder and harder to keep up. ECM, all by itself, could fill a Top Ten, so below are thirty-two releases that I found particularly memorable.
This year belonged, in part, to Gebhard Ullmann, who turned fifty. Besides releasing two records that made my list, there are two older ones that deserve much wider notice and higher acclaim. See his Career Retrospective for a detailed look at his total output.
New Basement Research
The earlier versions of this project had a quartet with Ellery Eskelin or Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Drew Gress and Phil Haynes. Changing the entire group to be a quintet with Julian Argüelles on soprano and baritone saxophones, Steve Swell's trombone, John Hebert and Gerald Cleaver, the record virtually explodes out of the speakers. Ullmann is on fire and everyone responds. Full review here.
Die Blaue Nixe
Between The Lines
An extremely beautiful record that suspends time, Die Blaue Nixe could not be more different than New Basement Research, but that is Ullmann, who never stops searching for the essence of musical expression. Full review here.
Tà Lam is a tour de force, and as unique and important an artistic statement as any recording in the last forty years. Ullmann creates many voices by overdubbing with extreme precision, but the record is much more than just a technical showpiece. The music is dense and hovers between tonality and atonality, with rhythms that are precise and flexible. Each track is a complete gem and creates its own world. Full review here.
Vancouver Concert - Tà Lam Zehn
After his (mostly) solo Tà Lam, Ullmann worked out his concepts further by scoring for all reeds. The first group was Tà Lam Acht on Moritat (99 Records, 1994) and the second is this live recording with the group expanded to ten. The music thunders from the stage with remarkable group precision and energy. Every soloist takes full advantage of his opportunity and creates controlled chaos that lives right on the edge. Awesome. Full review here.
Of the twenty-two ECM releases that were reviewed in 2007, fully twelve made such deep impressions as to demand being listed.
Dino Saluzzi / Anja Lechner
Ojos Negros presents music of such depth and humanity that one is easily overwhelmed. Saluzzi is beyond category and he plays music rather than just the bandaneon. Lechner's cello is practically a human voice and has enormous purity and passion. Together they make music beyond labels. Full review here
Nostalghia - Song For Tarkovsky
Tarkovsky was Francois Couturier's favorite film maker. Nostalghia is music composed to evoke the emotions that his movies produce. Paradoxically, Tarkovsky's movies have little music, and yet the music on the stunning album creates many mental images. Overwhelming. Full review here.
Although Trovesi plays multiple reed instruments, he chose to play only clarinet on Vaghissimo Ritratto. His tone is one of the purest to be found anywhere in the world, and it carries this beautiful music on its wings. Referencing older music (such as Palestrina), Trovesi and the stellar pianist Umberto Petrin make music that exists both out of time and label. Full review here.
The Third Quartet
From the opening and sizzling track "Banshee," it is obvious that this group enjoys playing with Abercrombie and together. Abercrombie leaves lots of room and leads by suggestion, and the group sounds like it can go in any direction at any time. Live was even better. Full review here.
A debut album of surprising power that sneaks up upon the listener, Starflowers synthesizes disparate music forms and styles into something new. Langeland's instrument, the kantele (Finnish table harp), and her voice merge perfectly with the other players, weaving a spellbinding tapestry. Full review here.
Continuing to hone a style that combines a mystical romanticism with a keen intellect and the highest pianism, Gustavsen and his working band display an amazing degree of control and emotion as tension and expectations are controlled and thwarted. Beauty and thought really are compatible. Full review here.
A Long Story
Overnight success is rarely the case, and Anat Fort has paid not only her dues but for the recording made three years before Manfred Eicher released it. Convinced by bassist Ed Schuller to record with Fort, Paul Motian was so intrigued by the music that he asked to see it and take it home. The melodies are plaintive while the compositional control is exquisite as it interacts with improvisation. Full review here.
The Words And The Days
Enrico Rava returns with the same quintet as on Easy Living (2004), except that Andrea Pozza has replaced Stefano Bollani. The band is tighter and sharper, with Pozza providing a sharper sound with more forward energy; the music is gorgeous nonetheless. Full review here.
Playing the accordion unlike anyone else, Frode Haltli, together with Arve Henriksen on trumpet, Garth Knox on viola and vocalist Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje has created a recording that is as disconcerting as it is beautiful. Total concentration is required and rewarded. Full review here.
By its instrumentation, Fleuve would appear to be bottom heavy, but rather it is light, airy and completely engrossing. Pierre Favre is not only a master of percussion, but also of arrangement. Full review here.
L'imparfait des langues
By playing with musicians that are new to him and vice versa, and that furthermore are significantly younger than he, Louis Sclavis has created what is perhaps his most "jazzy" record yet. Very exciting and quite accessible. Full review here.
Strictly speaking, Folk Songs is not jazz, but the energy and élan of the singers carries the day. The arrangements create all sorts of effects from the mostly unaccompanied voices and the emotions meant by the words come through clearly. Full review here.
The albums below, listed in reverse chronological order, all made a deep impression. There are quite a few others that can be easily recommended, but you have to stop somewhere. Look here for the complete list of this year's reviews.
Cities and Desire
Seemingly everywhere at once on his own and other's projects, David Binney, despite the differences from release to release, has an immediately recognizable style. Ostensibly the musical refractions of physical cities and their emotional meaning to him, Cities And Desire is distinctly Binney in its approach to melody and rhythm. Full review here.
A smoking live set from Slovenia. Drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Carlo DeRosa provide a driving bottom, while reedman Achille Succi duels and challenges Salamon's very free guitar. Full review here.
Eclectic, dense, but very involving music that is distinctly modern, Velvet Gentlemen is nonetheless quite accessible. The references to Satie and quantum physics in the notes aside, Willis and his compatriots enmesh the listener in many levels of sound. Full review here.
Combining an almost unbearable beauty with ferocious intensity, Lossing, violinist Mat Maneri and drummer Mark Dresser play mostly free improvisations that really work. Full review here.
The Komeda Project
Even if you are aware of Krzysztof Komeda's work directly or through Tomasz Stanko, Crazy Girl is a welcome addition. If you do not know Komeda, then this release is a wonderful introduction to a very important, but somewhat forgotten musician. Full review here.
Guitarist Miles Okazaki's Mirror is a complex work with many levels, which, however, can be easily appreciated from the emotional perspective. Bringing together musicians such as David Binney, Miguel Zenon and especially drummer extraordinaire Dan Weiss, Okazaki creates intricate structures with much freedom. Full review here.
Tanya Kalmanovitch / Myra Melford
Violinist Tanya Kalmanovitch and pianist Myra Melford create music that is extremely taut with a very high degree of interaction. Logical and emotional, these improvisations demand your full attention. Full review here.
All Things Arise
Pianist Russ Lossing improvises in the modern, classical idiom and All Things Arises presents him in a dual program split between original compositions and "covers." As pure sound, the album is amazing, but digging deeper is rewarded many times over. Full review here.
Guillaume de Chassy
Feeling like a classical piano recital because the music avoids all mannerisms normally associated with jazz, Piano Solo achieves a delicate balance between the planned and the improvised. Projecting emotions that run deep, de Chassy opens himself up to us. Full review here.
Between The Lines
World Culture Music
Moreno composes music that manages to be self-evident and yet surprise at every turn. He has achieved a personal sound, both on his instrument and in his dramatic compositions. Pianist Aaron Parks is superb. Full review here.
Peter Van Huffel
Fresh Sound New Talent
Silvester Battlefield is a debut album to remember. Van Huffel's style is distinctly modern in its harmonic and rhythmic concepts, yet is eminently listenable. He knows from where he came and, more importantly, where he is going he can groove, play "out" and allows his bandmates much freedom, controlling it all effortlessly. Full review here.
Maria Schneider composes music that communicates directly from her soul to ours. Sky Blue is the perfect blend of beautiful sonorities and superb solos which are woven into the composition's story. Schneider's music feels like a gift. Full review here.
Häkon Kornstad / Hävard Wiik
The Bad And The Beautiful
Following up on Eight Tunes We Like, this duo again digs deeply into tunes, familiar and not, getting at their very marrow, using understatement and finesse. You will never hear "Lady Of The Island" the same way again. Full review here.
Lily Maase - theSuiteUnraveling
Maase has taken her compositional skills to a new level with Unbind. Dwelling in the crease between art or progressive rock and jazz, Masse's music can entrance with its beauty and then flatten with its power. The first three non-interlude compositions are masterpieces. Full review here.
Inner Constellation Volume 1
Eisenbeil's achievement is enormous. The title track is over forty-seven minutes long and must be listened to in toto. At this point, the band has merged with the composition and the performances flow in giant waves, using the score for sign posts. The replay button is a must. Full review here.
Returning to the quartet format of his first three, highly acclaimed releases, Stillman reiterates and reinforces all of the elements of his highly personal style. His music is quite deep but very melodic with a highly flexible pulse. Pianist Gary Versace shows once again why he is in such high demand while bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron are enormously effective. Full review here.