Best Jazz CDs of 2002

Everything That Rises Must Converge

12. Roscoe Mitchell,Song for My Sister (Pi). The title track is the best hard bop tune in years—the kind of piece you think you've heard before, but would never connect with Mitchell, who solos politely at the end. Yet trust him, with his double rhythm section, to push other buttons as well, and remember that if you find it chilly at one point, the weather will shift before you have time to grab a sweater.

*13. Jason Moran,Modernistic (Blue Note). Jazz is not dead. Here's proof—a young pianist's first solo recital, with overdubs, tapes, a toy keyboard, and repertory from stride to hip-hop, all undertaken with contagious invention. And the thing is: there's no self-congratulatory cleverness, not to "Body and Soul" without the bridge, Schumann lieder with improvised variations, or conversations-with-himself on "Planet Rock."

14. William Parker,Bob's Pink Cadillac (Eremite). The bassist calls this his Clarinet Trio, and it may be the best record Perry Robinson has ever made—his sound liquid, his disposition relaxed yet buoyant. And what a kick to hear the veteran drummer Walter Perkins, who backed Roland Kirk so unforgettably on I Talk With the Spirits. The first disc was made in the studio, the second live at Tonic, where from the moment Robinson enters on a continuous five-part suite, Parker alights with Mingusian exultation and might.

15. Randy Sandke,The Music of Bob Haggart (Arbors Jazz). A coup for jazz rep. In 1958, Haggart arranged a Bob Crosby album released as Porgy and Bess as Gershwin Would Have Liked It. Especially with Gil and Miles on the case, no one took Crosby seriously, and Crosby didn't take the arranger seriously enough—he was unidentified on the LP, which Haggart later declared his best work. I've never heard that album, but the playing can't have been more radiant than that of Sandke's crew. Lucid harmonies and polyphonic embellishments—Dixie-swing reborn.

16. Matthew Shipp,Songs (Splasc[h]). A highly personal hybridization of pop, jazz, and hymns treated with Calvinistic fury and heavy foot pedal. Bounding over genre lines, Shipp fractures each piece just enough to pull the cork and set free a world of arcane spirits—"Con Alma" is one startling example, but the whole album unwinds in a combination of indignant passion and plainsong beauty.

*17. Wayne Shorter,Footprints Live! (Verve). Quartet music with a textural and compositional range that makes each measure count. Shorter is always front and center—it's his music, affect, tempo, respect for space—yet the solos are less exacting than the way the four men respond to each other and the moment. At least that's what I think now—every time I play it, I hear it differently. The only constant is that Shorter makes the tenor sound like breathing.

*18. Cecil Taylor,The Willisau Concert (Intakt). A magnificent solo tour de force, and if I had to choose one, this would be album of the year. Everyone for whom I've played the opening passage is instantly seduced. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to follow a 50-minute movement. Think of it, then, as a short opera, its variations logical, broadly romantic, and often overwhelming. Perhaps his finest recital on records.

*19. David S. Ware,Freedom Suite (Aum Fidelity). Doubling the length of Sonny Rollins's 1958 trio opus, and parsing the four themes into discrete movements, Ware has reconceived the piece as Rollins's A Love Supreme—even to its length, still a mere 39 minutes. The quartet is as tight as ever, but this is the leader's showcase, and though his style is his own, he plays with a grace and well-being that rival the composer's.

20. Cassandra Wilson,Belly of the Sun (Blue Note). After not hearing it for several months, I had forgotten how much fun it is, how original and varied, funny and melancholy.

Others: Ben Allison,Peace Pipe (Palmetto); Billy Bang,Vietnam (Justin Time); Tony Bennettand (regrettably) K.D. Lang,A Wonderful World(Columbia); Tim Berne,The Sevens(New World); Willem Breuker,Misery (BVHaast); Armen Donelian,Mystic Heights (Sunnyside); Fieldwork,Your Life Flashes (Pi); Joe Lovano,Viva Caruso (Blue Note); Mario Pavone,Mythos (Playscape); Marian McPartland,Live at Shanghai Jazz (Concord Jazz); David Murray,Yonn-De (Justin Time); Larry Vuckovich,Blue Balkan Then & Now (Tetrachord); Jeff "Tain" Watts,Bar Talk(Columbia); Jessica Williams,This Side Up(Maxjazz).

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