By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
4. DAVID S. WARE Corridors & Parallels (Aum Fidelity)
I disliked Lord of the Rings (never read the book), but since seeing it, I find that Matt Shipp's electronic interludes remind me of the dark caves, and when Ware's tenor arrives, finally, and rises to its full height, it's like Gandalf knocking Christopher Lee on his ass. In other words, after five months, this album seems even grander than it did first time around.
5. MATTHEW SHIPP Expansion Power Release (hatOLOGY)
A series of appealing, mesmerizing ostinatos lifts this final string trio project into the rarefied world of ominous lyricism conjured by Bernard Herrmannthere's plenty of rock and rumble and blues, but it's the melodic gambits that do the come-hither thing.
6. TED NASH Sidewalk Meeting (Arabesque)
Placing his reeds in the unlikely setting of violin, accordion, and tuba produced a ripping new sound that avoids pastiche even when reexamining Ellington and Debussyin fact, those are the high points, and more fun than you think possible, with Wycliffe Gordon doing the vocalized plunger work. Also, the year's best album cover.
7. BALLIN' THE JACK The Big Head (Knitting Factory)
In mostly short takes of 16 pieces by Ellington, Django, Hawkins, Ammons, and Leadbelly via Clifford Jordan, Matt Darriau, who wrote most of the charts and co-produced with George Schuller, zeroes in on the melodic hooks and riffs. This is the second go for a band that derives from Schuller's Orange Then Blue, but with the irony turned up a notch and everyone pledged to les tout ensemble.
8. TRIO 3 Encounter (Passin' Thru)
Oliver Lake, Andrew Cyrille, and Reggie Workman unite with a kind of loft-era thrift, and everything worksthe energy level high, the affect sparkling yet controlled, and never a tossed-off moment. Lake's sound is a saw with inch-long teeth and thoroughly fetching; I'd love to hear him commune with Lee Konitz.
9. LEE KONITZ Parallels (Chesky)
Speak of the devil. The ageless improviser, splendidly recorded at Saint Patrick's, cuts deep swaths through two ballads and two originals, then explores the Tristano-era book with Mark Turner in the Warne Marsh role. In spontaneous "Star Eyes" variations and a smooth-as-satin "Subconscious Lee," they achieve peace on earth.
10. HENRY THREADGILL Up Popped the Two Lips (Pi)
He simultaneously put out the modestly electric Make a Move's Everybody's Mouth's a Book on the same label (the titles are phrases from a Threadgill poem), but I slightly prefer the debut of the acoustic Zooid, with galumphing tuba and oud, sinuous cello, and spacy Liberty Ellman guitarby all means, "Do the Needful."
11. FRED ANDERSON On the Run (Delmark)
Live at his own club, Anderson sustains interest with fragmented melodic figures that wax and wax, spurred by bass ostinatos and electrifying percussionist Hamid Drake for what may be the best album ever by the smoothest and most elusive of the AACM saxophonists.
12. BOB BELDEN Black Dahlia (Blue Note)
Sentimentalizing a 22-year-old casting-couch hooker and murder victim would seem to be a lost cause, but the result is so era-specific you can forget the backstory and make up your own; Belden, with a cast of 65winds, strings, rhythm, Joe Lovano, Kevin Hays, a powerfully expressive Tim Hagans, and himself in the final elegymelds Miles and Jerry Goldsmith to make his own enveloping noir soundtrack.
13. RONI BEN-HUR Anna's Dance (Reservoir)
As eloquent as a cool breeze, this understated exercise in bebop equilibrium goes down so easy you might underestimate the magicsomething only Barry Harris can effect. Ben-Hur, a guitarist with a low flame burning in every note, and Charles Davis, trading in his Sun Ra baritone for suave tenor, speak Harris's lingo like natives.
14. AHMAD JAMAL Olympia 2000 (Dreyfus Jazz)
George Coleman and Jamal's trio were psyched at this concert, within the borders of the leader's punctilious arrangementswhich seem all the more impressive for having to support a guest. After four fast-moving but expansive quartet ballads, the trio returns for two lessons in Jamalian dyNAMics.
15. DAVID MURRAY Like a Kiss That Never Ends (Justin Time)
A bringin'-it-all-back-home quartet set (Hicks, Drummond, Cyrille) that opens with a jaunty bebopping "Blues for Felix," one of Murray's best new pieces in years; the title tango, his only extravagant blowout; a gospel number; and a debonair bass clarinet version of Monk's "Let's Cool One," complete with witty tongue-popping intro and asidesall cheer, no regrets.
16. KENNY BARRON & REGINA CARTER Freefall (Verve)
More pure joy with Barron at his empathic best as Carter matures into a soloist of great panache. The material, from Romberg to Hodges to Sting plus originals, is cannily chosen, but the free-form stuff closes the salethe title cut and a rumination that serendipitously turns into Shorter's "Footsteps."
17. MATT WILSON Arts and Crafts (Palmetto)
The exceptional young trumpet player Terrell Stafford continues to score mostly as a sidemanhe lets you know instantly that Wilson's trenchant "Lester" is not about Young, and then rises to the challenge of Bud Powell's "Webb City." Larry Goldings plays piano, happily (he's the only one who thinks he does better on organ), while the fastidious leader and Dennis Irwin sustain a we're-swinging-and-it-ain't-no-big-deal merriment from top to finish. Extra points for reviving Ornette's "Old Gospel."