Every Jazz List I have ever come across includes albums a decade before or a decade after 1959, and with good reason. ’59 marked a pivotal year for jazz culture. It included 2 groundbreaking Miles Davis Albums, Brubeck’s Time Out, Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Ornette’s Shape of Jazz to Come, Mingus entering a phase of un-abashed third stream genius, and countless musicians who played on these various cuts, all which would move onto bigger and better things.
And today, jazz is dead, but dead like punk...its still breathing. Time and time again we've seen it altered, added too, enhanced, bastardized, stripped down, and built up. Jazz, after 50 years of rock and roll, has begun to hybrid itself with countless musical movements. Some have worked, (punk-jazz, electronic improv), and others haven't (adult contemporary, smooth, Bolton Swings Sinatra). Upon entering the 2000s, many of these styles have been either accepted and crystallized, or shunned by jazz enthusiast and left to consumerist masses during holidays. I was originally planning on limiting my list to 2009, but here at the turn of the decade we are still finding a shortage of jazz lists, I could probably try to make a list in 7 months from now and it could be entirely different. Someone sitting next to me could find half the albums on this list unbearable. I tried...and the top ten are in alphabetical order, not numbered. Best of the decade:
50. Lars Danielsson - Tarantella, Act Music + Vision 2009
49. Charles Lloyd - Jumping the Creek, ECM 2005
48. Old Dog - By Any Other Name, Porter 2009
47. Bebo & Cigala - Legrimas Negras, RCA 2004
46. Vandermark 5 - Alchemia, Not Two 2005
45. Anashai Cohen - Continuo, Sunny Side 2006
44. Esbjorn Svensson Trio - Seven Days of Falling, Act 2003
43. Susie Ibarra - Folklorio, Tzadik 2004
42. Full Blast - Full Blast, Jazzwerkstatt 2005
41. Mark Feldman - Secrets, Tzadik 2009
40. Kieth Jarrett - Up For It, ECM 2003
39. Scorch Trio - Luggmut, Rune Grammofon 2004
38. Derek Bailey - Mirakle, Tzadik 2007
37. Milford Graves & John Zorn - 50th Birthday Celebration Vol. 2, Tzadik 2004
36. Greg Osby - Channel 3, Blue Note 2005
35. Dave Douglas - Strange Liberation, RCA 2004
34. Ellery Eskellin - Aracanum Moderne, HATology 2003
33. Nels Cline - Monastery, Cryptogramophone 2006
32. Braxton, Graves, Parker - Beyond Quantum, Tzadik 2008
31. Led Bib - Sensible Shoes, Cuneiform 2009
30. David S. Ware - Corridors and Parallels, AUM Fidelity 2001
29. Bobby Bradford Extet - Midnight Pacific Airwaves, Entropy 2008
28. Brad Mehldau - Day is Done, Nonesuch 2005
27. Tord Gustarvsen Trio - Being There, ECM 2007
26. Alexander von Slichppenbach Trio - Swinging at the BIM, Phantom 2008
25. Anouar Brahem - Astrakan Cafe, ECM 2001
24. Evan Parker - After Appleby, Leo 2000
23. Wadada Leo Smith - Lake Biwa, Tzadik 2004
22. Art Ensemble of Chicago - The Meeting, Pi 2003
21. Andrew Hill - Time Lines, Blue Note 2006
20. Matt Wilson - Humidity, Palmetto 2003
19. William Parker - Sound Unity, AUM Fidelity 2005
18. Fred Hersch - Trio + 2, Palmett0 2004
17. Bobby Previte - 23 Constellations of the Joan Miro, Tzadik 2003
16. Paul Bley, Jimmy Giuffre, & Steve Swallow - Emphasis & Flight 1961, HATology 2003
15. Mathew Shipp - Nu Bopp, Thirsty Ear 2002
14. Electric Masada - 50th Birthday Celebration Vol. 4, Tzadik 2004
13. Ben Allison - Riding the Nuclear Tiger, Palmetto 2001
12. Tim Berne - Open, Coma/The Shell Game, Screwgun 2001
11. The Masada - Sevilla 2000/Tonic 2001, Tzadik 2000/2001
#. Bar Kokhba Sextet - 50th Birthday Celebration Vol. 11, Tzadik 2004 - Of all the Zorn on this list, I feel bar Kokhba is his masterpiece. Both this and the Electric Masada recording (#14) are featured debuts by him from this decade and each presents Zorn as a seasoned avant-garde veteran. The Masada comes in right above the ten here and he and drummer Milford Graves are up higher at #37. Needless to say, this 3 night live feature is from the most important month of jazz this decade, September 2004. In mixing klezmer with new classical, frantic free jazz, and dark somber tones, Zorn assembled a team of Tzadik wunderkinds to play some of the most beautiful, powerful renditions of the Masada songbook.
#. Bohren & der Club of Gore - Black Earth, Ipecac 2004 - This album is without definition so whatever the Gore Club consider themselves is fine with us. They used to be a hardcore metal band, but now exhibit an extremity of self-control. Black Earth is strewn with swings, flows, and terrifies. Death metal lounge music would be spot on but the Club is something more visceral and deep. The quartet conjures up images and lets you decide what any of their 9 ballads of mystery and madness mean.
#. Bill Frisell - Richter 858, Soundlines 2005 - Jazz musicians become legends because they have a sound. Frisell broke into the usually tepid world of jazz guitar with just that. His long run with Nonesuch has produced some of the most interesting works on guitar in the last two decades. Songlines release Richter 858 presents a look at the seasoned Frisell where each piece is a sublimation of art by German artist Gerhard Richter. The albums tracks are repetitive violin/cello/viola lines on top of which Frisell smears on the effects, the beauty, and the anti-rhythm.
#. Charles Mingus - Cornell 1964 w/ Eric Dolphy, Blue Note 2007 - Certainly the best discovery of the year goes to Sue Mingus. This album is as stacked as they come: Dannie Richmond, Eric Dolphy, Jaki Byard, Johnny Coles, and Clifford Jordan. The hand of Mingus guides this group through the likes of When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, Fats Waller's Jitterbug Waltz, a 29 minute Fables of Fabus, and Mingus' solo bass homage to Ellington in Sophisticated Lady. Within these comes the endless styling of such a diverse group in solo sections, complementing, and Mingus' spur-of-the-moment stage direction. A must-own.
#. The Bad Plus - These Are the Vistas, Sony 2003 - The most interesting part about the Bad Plus is their drummer David King. King, who has drummed primarily with rock groups including 12 Rods, Meat Beat Manifesto, among others. But this unlikely trio doesn't end there, pianist Ethan Iverson seems a cooler version of Mehldau, preferring classical and free jazz influences to more traditional like Bill Evans, and Reid Anderson is a NYC new classical composer with a stint of garage rock running through him. These Are the Vistas is their second rock/pop influenced post-bop record. Apart from covering Smells Like Teen Spirit, they explore the boundaries of what a jazz trio can do, writing arrangement after arrangement of mini-pop symphony.
#. Dave Holland - Extended Play: Live at Birdland, ECM 2003 – If '59 was a pivotal year, then '69 could be said to follow it in importance. Again, at the helm is Miles Davis with In a Silent Way infusing us forever with rock and electronic music. Out of this mist came Dave Holland, the bass player who adapted his playing to fit the electronic charge in the air. Soon thereafter, he began a successful solo career. Fast forward 30 years, he plays live with his quintet consisting of saxophonist Chris Potter, trombone/cowbell Tom Eubanks, vibe/marimba Steve Nelson and drummer Billy Kilson. Every track but one clocks in over 10 minutes, some as long as 20. Holland and his guys just love to play and do so in a fashion which shatters normal conventions while staying within jazz's classic sound.
#. Thomasz Stanko - Suspended Night, ECM 2004 – The European free jazz bullpen is deep, all too often with people North America never hears of. Thank god for ECM, which turns up allover this list. Throughout the 90s Stanko began recording eerie ballads drenched in his far-off, minimal trumpet. Since the 60s he had been helping Krzysztof Komeda on such albums as Astigmatic. At the turn of the century, he had perfected this and has released a slew of great albums, any of which could have made this list. Suspended Night contains some of the most standard recordings of them all, making a very accessible recording.
#. John Coltrane - The Olatunji Concert: Last Live Recording, UMVD 2001 - As far as rediscoveries go, live stuff is always the most exciting. Coltrane’s last live set from 1967 has an incredible lineup, including his wife Alice Coltrane, drummer Rashied Ali, complementing saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and several more African percussion players. The two tracks, Ogunde and My Favorite Things are among his best ever recorded on record. The venue, Olatunji Center of African Culture, is a perfect atmosphere for Trane’s last amazing licks.
#. Ornette Coleman - Sound Grammar, Sound Grammar 2006 - In 2007 Coleman won a Pulitzer Prize for this, and it was his first album in over a decade. Chock full of the usual free, upward swells of jubilee, Coleman is also one of the great listeners of music and makes extensive use of musical quotation. Greg Cohen and Tony Falanga both play bass...giving the album double, double bass. The album seems as if it could be transplanted from his seminal album Live at the Golden Circle in Stokholm, and now, at 76 years old, he is still utilizing trumpet, violin, and sax to bring classic free jazz and show he is still the ruler of his kingdom.
#. Supersilent - 5/6, Rune Grammofon 2006/2005 - When Rune Grammofon records began in ’98, the Norwegian label began drawing from techno influences heavily. Supersilent became their international success. Having released 5 of their 9 albums this decade, 5 and 6 present some of their most compelling work. Each album is the result of a live improvisational performance combining a quartet of trumpet, drums, electronics/electric guitar, and synthesizer.
Photos: 2016 Lowell Folk Festival
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