Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ushering Out 2011

What a brutal few weeks for the shrinking cadre of elderly masters of improvised music: first Paul Motian, then Bob Brookmeyer, and this week Sam Rivers. While each man had lived a good, full life, it is no less painful to see them go. Apart from their own musical legacies—rich, deep and varied—they stood apart for the number of younger musicians they influenced. Time to look around and drink in the beauty that is Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Roy Haynes, Chico Hamilton and other living masters of this art form while they are still with us and making music.

In the coming days, watch for Francis Davis' compendium of best-of-2011 lists, featuring the top picks of me and many other music critics. It will be published early in 2012 at, and will be available for viewing without subscription.

Here are a few things that didn't make my list, but were in close contention:

Ambrose Akinmusire – When The Heart Emerges Glistening. This seems to be the consensus favourite of a number of my fellow critics, judging from the lists posted on the Jazz Journalists Association site

Matthew Shipp – Art Of The Improviser. Again, the pick of many critics. Like the Akinmusire CD, it was on my list for most of the year, but got edged out.

Ben Allison – Action-Refraction.

Roswell Rudd – The Incredible Honk.

Steve Coleman & Five Elements – The Mancy Of Sound.

Craig Taborn – Avenging Angel. Along with Vijay Iyer's solo CD, one of my favourite solo piano outings of the past few years. I went with another terrific piano recording by Denny Zeitlin instead.

Keith Jarrett – Rio. Speaking of great solo pianists. This one landed on a few lists, but it hasn't grabbed me to the same extent as some of his other recent recordings have.

Overall, it was a year of releases that seemed better than average, and certainly the rise of young artists like Akinmusire, Marcus Strickland and Carol Morgan (both of whom did make my top 10) bodes well. Also boding well for 2012 are tremendous new releases by Vijay Iyer's trio, singer Theo Bleckmann and another new Shipp, which all landed on my desk in the past couple of weeks.

See you in the new year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pre-Christmas Peaking

My full top 10-plus will appear this year as usual at New Year's as part of the annual compendium of critics' lists that Francis Davis organizes, but here's a peak at which recordings made the top three spots:

  1. Marcus Strickland – Triumph Of The Heavy, Volumes 1 & 2. My full review of it appeared in the November issue of DownBeat, where I lauded the leader as "a major talent as both an instrumentalist and a composer." If you wanted to buy just one album—it's a two-CD set—to show you where jazz is today, and fuel your faith that the future is in good hands, this is it
  2. Carol Morgan Quartet – Blue Glass Music. I obviously haven't been paying attention, because trumpeter Morgan snuck up on me and took me by storm. If for nothing else than her stunning reworking of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" and the contribution of drummer Matt Wilson, this recording is essential.
  3. Denny Zeitlin – Labyrinth. Recorded at a couple of house parties, including one with a troublesome piano, this is a wonderfully understated solo recording that reminds you of the beauty and power of music. Given his base in the Bay Area and his day job as a psychiatrist, Zeitlin hasn't achieved the kind of notoriety enjoyed by pianists like Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau or Matthew Shipp, but he is their equal at deconstructing and re-voicing compositions.

Stay tuned for my full list, which I'll repost here in early January, and happy holidays.