Signposts of Posthistory

The Best New Jazz CDs of the Year of Louis and Miles

And I am. Because the posthistorical era, the existence of which I have been resisting and denying for a decade, is new and requires new guidelines for listening and evaluating. Originality is nice if you should find it, but it is no longer the grail. Interpretation has trumped it. "Can you play?" has supplanted "Can you play something I've never heard before?"—something that comes only from you, and not from your favorite records. We will see more homages, derivations, counterfeits, and re-creations before we see fewer. We have been so spoiled by the overflow of genius that we simply expect it as our due: to every generation its Armstrong, Ellington, Parker, Monk, Davis, Coltrane. Give it up! I know I have. That way I'll be surprised when he or she comes along. That way I can guiltlessly enjoy living in the only period in jazz history when the most resourceful, energetic, and irreverent musicians are over 65, and the bestselling jazz album of the year was recorded 41 years ago. That way I can treasure well-made records, infrequent though they are, without worrying about consensus. That said, here are some CDs I like, a baker's dozen in no particular order except No. 1.

1. Sonny Rollins, This Is What I Do (Milestone):
Nothing else this year fills my speakers with as much ebullience, wit, and humanity. A major plus is the LP-ballpark length. You can actually take it in in one sitting. How many 75-minute epics, excellent in sections, become wallpaper by the eighth nine-minute track? Small wonder people exercise to them. This one is a succession of ocean waves, never letting up, never letting you down.

Miles Davis in 1959, when he recorded the bestselling jazz album of the year 2000
photo: Don Hunstein
Miles Davis in 1959, when he recorded the bestselling jazz album of the year 2000

2. The Roy Haynes Trio (Verve):
Beautifully recorded high-octane music and a template for drummers. Haynes is doing something ear-catching all the time, yet is never intrusive or overbearing. John Patitucci's melodic basslines pick up where Scott LaFaro left off. Danilo Perez has never recorded a better set; he is far more commanding here than on his own overwritten album—vitally engaging Monk and Powell (the tune selection is unbeatable) on his own terms.

3. James Carter, Chasin' the Gypsy (Atlantic):
Have reeds, will travel. Carter is the Paladin of his day: faster, warier, and guaranteed to come out on top. But sometimes he needs restraint, and Django has channeled his powers into a luminous, provocative tribute that explores and embraces the music, accepting its challenges rather than laying dead before it—as most homages do. Distant runner-up: key contributor Regina Carter, whose best album to date, Motor City Moments (Verve), was just a tad too unfocused to make this list.

4. Dee Dee Bridgewater, Live at Yoshi's (Verve):
Throw a banana peel out the window and you are sure to slip up a jazz singer in her/his twenties or thirties. But the huge boomer generation that is about to bankrupt social security has contributed only one ready for the pantheon, and this is her best album. For one thing, it's live, so you get the shtick, which is worth getting; for another, she takes her time on the ballads, rather than winking them into more shtick. You know she's gonna whack "Cherokee" out of the park, but you don't expect her to take over "Love for Sale." Runner-up: Abbey Lincoln, Over the Years (Verve), another splendid addition to her series, with Joe Lovano and a neat guitar prelude by Kendra Shank. Am I missing somebody, or is Lincoln the first great singer-songwriter in jazz since Fats Waller? Second runner-up: Bob Dorough, Too Much Coffee Man, a funny, offbeat hipster hoedown with Phil Woods, by the man who just might be the somebody I was missing.

5. Matthew Shipp's New Orbit (Thirsty Ear):
This is his second trumpet quartet record of the year, after the more conventional but worthy Pastoral Composure (Thirsty Ear), which tackled hard bop ("Visions"—good blindfold test material) and Ellington. It represents a major breakthrough for him as a composer, and is a knockout forum for Wadada Leo Smith, whose trumpet never sounded more compelling. William Parker is, as ever, an orchestra unto himself, and with drummer Gerald Cleaver, the foursome move as one. It's not a toe-tapper, but the music is filled with hooks and counterpoints and witty asides, not to mention the joy of something fresh—something you haven't heard before. Is it jazz? Goddam right. Runner-up: William Parker, Painter's Spring (Thirsty Ear), which has the best opening minute of the year; saxophonist Daniel Carter sustains interest, as some of Parker's trio mates have not, and Parker is the most teeming bassist since Mingus. Second runner-up: David S. Ware, Surrendered (Columbia), a prophetic title considering it may be the last Columbia gem for a while. Not as good as last year's Go See the World, though easier to get a handle on: hard to believe Shipp is the minimalist bopper on "Sweet Georgia Bright," or that "African Drums" begins with a vamp out of Brubeck. I'd suggest the Motor Vehicles Bureau use the booklet to test eyesight, except I'd lose my license.

6. Joe Lovano, 52nd Street Themes (Blue Note):
Gunther Schuller and Manny Albam were logical choices for orchestral albums, but Willie "Face" Smith? A jazz veteran from Cleveland, Lovano's hometown, Smith was around for the birth of bop, and his nonet arrangements of Tadd Dameron have a quietly sublime authenticity. The band is improbably tight, with everyone taking solo spots as though they were making 78s and wanted each bar to count. Runner-up: Grand Slam (Telarc), with Lovano, Lewis Nash, George Mraz, and Jim Hall, who unaccountably steals it with elliptical solos and gentle strumming you can't turn away from.

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