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C. Michael Bailey's Best of 2005


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One of the difficult things about being a writer of any kind is that the writing is often an avocation rather than a vocation. In short, my day job recently overtook my night job in a major way, limiting my music writing. While I listened to much music, for the first time in ten years writing for All About Jazz I was unable to write about the majority of it. I had to be more particular about what I wrote about. Perhaps I have been spoiled that I could opine about so much music. Then, on the other hand, my choices for the best releases of the year represent a cream-of-the-crop of sorts because I chose to write about these particular discs rather than the many others available to me and listened to. This list is well populated with re-issued releases and old music newly discovered and released. These recordings represent the history of the music. It is much easier to understand Tomas Stanko and Enrico Rava when one has heard Miles Davis.

This year I am going to exercise my critical license and include recordings I feel worthy of this list, but reviewed by other "AAJ writers. I have a dual reason for doing this. One, our staff sports many fine writers whose resources outstrip my own and who's keen critical eloquence could not be improved upon. Two, I hope to provide alternate perspective to a couple of them.

Jazz is an enduring art and on the whole very little poor Jazz is produced year in and year out. That fact provides the true challenge for music writer: how to convey what recordings are worth the listener's increasingly precious entertainment dollar.

Pablo Ziegler and Quique Sinesi
Baja Cero with Walter Castro
(Zoho Records)

Rescued from the ashes of Khaeon Records, Bajo Cero should be welcomed with open arms. I warmly received this recording when it was first released and am fortunate to have the opportunity to reconsider it here. Continue

Connie Evingson
My Gypsy Soul
(Minnehaha Records)

2005 should be declared the Year of the Female Jazz Vocalist. In this first quarter we have seen new releases from Cheryl Bentyne, Kate McGarry, Patti Wicks, and Dena DeRose. All are notable artists whose new recordings are equally notable. Add to this Connie Evingson's beautifully provocative Gypsy in My Soul, and one can only be encouraged about the state of art in jazz vocals... Continue

Cheryl Bentyne
Let Me Off Uptown
(Telarc Jazz Records)

Some listeners will be completely satisfied with transparent pop vocalists like Mariah Carey. Others can only be satisfied with densely difficult jazz vocalists, like Lisa Sokolov or Betty Carter. But, as in politics, there also exists an enormous moderate middle ground, a population which craves musical excellence but may not crave the experimental edge. Cheryl Bentyne's new recording is perfect for the latter group... Continue

Phil Woods
Phil Wood - Groovin' to Marty Paich
(Jazzed Media)

In its quiet and amiable way, Phil Woods- Groovin' to Marty Paich is one of the most significant recordings of this year. Recorded at the Los Angeles International Airport Sheraton Hotel on May 30, 2004, the music on Groovin' to Marty Paich is almost too humble about its auspicious beginnings. The story of this music begins almost 50 years ago in the mind and talent of a West Coast 34-year-old pianist/arranger named Martin Paich... Continue

James Blood Ulmer
(Hyena Records)

James Blood Ulmer continues the all-out assault on the blues that he began with 2001's Memphis Blood and continued with No Escape From the Blues, released in 2003. After thirty years riding the edge of the avant-garde with the harmolodic Ornette Coleman and others, Ulmer emerges as a rural blues Sun Ra, a 21st century musical prophet with an irreverent smattering of Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Cecil Taylor... Continue

Tierney Sutton
I'm With The Band
(Telarc Jazz)

Jazz siren Tierney Sutton has produced her masterpiece. Following five well-received recordings, Sutton has done two things that ensure the superb quality of her new recording: one, she and her band perform live; and two, she fully integrates herself into the band, where all members exist as equals... Continue

Diana Krall and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
Christmas Songs
(Verve Records)

Diana Krall provides the best jazz vocal disc of Christmas music that you can find. Superbly backed by the Clayton/Hamilton Big Band, and sporting copious amounts of the singer's muscular piano playing, there is nothing to discourage recommending this disc... Continue

Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker
Town Hall, New York, June 22, 1945
(Uptown Records)

In the day, the music contained on Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945 was not only fresh, it was revolutionary and definitive of change. In spite of this, it is difficult, nay impossible, for contemporary ears to listen to these sides and not say, "one more poorly archived performance of "Night in Tunisia." That is why a shot of context is in order... Continue

Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall
(Blue Note Records)

There are no less than six reviews of Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall at this website. These reviews are penned by the right honorable Samuel Chell, Chris May, John Kelman, Jim Santella, David Rickert, and Norman Weinstein. These writers all are the cream of the crop at the website. I have little to add to what these fine writers have expressed except that the music on this disc is so well performed, so well recorded, and so essential that its discovery and release of tantamount to the 2005 discovery a draft score for Beethoven's Grosse Fugue for Piano-Four Hands, at the Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia... Continue

John Coltrane Quartet
One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note
(Impulse! Records)

From Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane At Carnegie Hall break ahead 8 years to 1965 on One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note and the listener will be treated to a much different, but not totally surprising John Coltrane. March 26th and May 7th, 1965 lies toward the end of the watershed period for John Coltrane and his "classic" quartet. Coltrane closed 1964 recording his seminal A Love Supreme and began 1965 starting The John Coltrane Quartet Plays, which the quartet completed just after the Half Note performances. This is late in Coltrane's lengthy transition from his Be Bop and Hard Bop roots to the practice and perfection of Free Jazz that would occupy the saxophonist until his death in 1967... Continue

Bill Evans
The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961
(Riverside Records)

"All that remains is the hope that one day Fantasy, Inc. will find the lost sides of that early summer afternoon 40 years ago and release a complete recording [The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961] as they have done for so many other artists, including Evans. We should honor the quiet genius in these songs." That day has come.... Continue

Tommaso-Rava Quartet
La Dolce Vita
(CAM Jazz Records)

It was bassist Giovanni Tommaso who was initially approached with a proposed two disc survey of Italian film music as seen through the jazz prism. La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life is the first of these recordings to be released, Secondo Tempo is the follow up)... Continue

Enrico Rava
Full of Life
(CAM Jazz Records)

Full of Life reveals a different musical side of Enrico Rava, one devoid of the round, mid-register sepia tone of La Dolce Vita. Rava presents a bright and playful tone, one not afraid of taking chances, albeit those chances do not stray far from the mainstream... Continue

Alyssa Graham
What Love Is
(Self Produced)

Great things often come humbly disguised. While not the perfect metaphor, it comes pretty close to describing vocalist Alyssa Graham's new recording What Love Is... Continue

That is the end of my personal list. Here are some of the recordings that I would have liked to have given written consideration. I bow to my colleagues who did.

Royal Albert Hall: London May 2-3-5-6, 2005
(Reprise Records)
Review by Doug Collette

Writer's Note: Doug Collette and I have an almost hermetic sympatico for the same music styles and artists. I have written in response to his fine evaluations and intend to do so for this recording (adding little insight more than likely). We are two old hippies holding up the '70s Rock end of things at AAJ.

The reunion of Cream that took place this past may in London is a mixture of arrogance, curiosity and courage. Arrogance because that's at the root of their chosen name, intimating the trio is 'the cream of the crop' of musicianship. Curiosity because both fans and music lovers in general had to wonder what Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce might sound like after not playing together for over 35 years... Continue

Miles Davis
The Cellar Door Sessions 1970
(Sony BMG Legacy)
Review by Greg Masters

For devotees of Miles Davis's so-called "electric period," the full release of the music recorded live in December 1970 at the Washington, DC club The Cellar Door has long been something of a holy grail... Continue

Art Pepper
Mosaic Select 15
(Mosaic Records)
Review by Jim Santella

Featuring Art Pepper's 1956 and 1957 Aladdin sessions, which have been issued on The Return of Art Pepper (Jazz West), Collections (Intro), Modern Art (Blue Note), Just Friends (Pacific Jazz), Solo Flight (Pacific Jazz), The Art of Pepper (Omega) and The Art of the Art (Nadja), Mosaic's 3-CD boxed set portrays the alto saxophonist in familiar company, full of life and at his best. The collection includes several bonus tracks, alternate takes, and material that was previously available only on reel-to-reel tape... Continue

(ECM Records)
Review by Glen Astarita

This Polish piano trio has been backing the country's best-known jazz trumpeter, ECM Records solo artist Tomasz Stanko. With this release, the musicians get their day in the sun, so to speak. Falling in suit with the label's somewhat ethereal aesthetic—particularly when considering similar European piano trios—this band fuses melodic charm with probing structures and colorific insinuations... Continue

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