Harmolodic Convergence

Ornette Coleman's triumphant return dominates the humble debut of the 'Voice' jazz critics' poll

Back to the poll results. Rewarding genuine rarity over lavish repackaging, the Circle voted Charles Mingus's unruly but worth-it Live at UCLA (CME/Sunnyside) the year's best reissue. It was my choice as well, followed by Seven Men With Neckties and Surrealistic Swing, Cuneiform's two-double-disc Microscopic Septet retrospective (the Circle ranked it 10), and the overall unranked Jimmy Raney With Bob Brookmeyer (Verve), '50s postbop lyricism personified.

One model for the poll was the one conducted by Jazz from 1964 to 1971, by which point the magazine had morphed into Jazz & Pop and the poll into the prototype for Pazz & Jop. J&P used to name winners for best piano album (meaning solo or trio sans horns) and best big-big or large-ensemble recording (meaning, oh, let's say eight or more instruments) extrapolated from the general results. Following that tradition, this year's respective winners are Keith Jarrett's The Carnegie Hall Concert (ECM, 7 overall) and Joe Lovano's Streams of Expression (Blue Note, 10).

Given the indifference, if not contempt, many critics feel toward singers, they needed their own category. ("Hate jazz vocals—always have," one critic explained, leaving the line blank.) Unheralded veteran Nancy King's Live at Jazz Standard (Maxjazz) won0 the nod 4-3-3 over perennial critics' favorite Cassandra Wilson's Thunderbird (Blue Note) and newcomer Roberta Gambarini's Easy to Live (Groovin' High), with a few critics taking advantage of the option I gave them to substitute a CD featuring spoken word.

Ornette savors his resounding victory
Thirsty Ear Recordings
Ornette savors his resounding victory


Audio: A Jazz Poll Sampler
(Playlist here)

The Complete Jazz Critics' Poll:

Further Listening
High Bias: The James Brown special

Voicebox: Tracks from the music section

Looking at the ages of the musicians in the poll's Top 10—five of them over 70, with Cline the youngest at 50—you can see why I initiated a debut category designed to favor performers in their twenties and thirties. The lukewarm response to this category raises the question of whether the fetish for tradition (as opposed to innovation) that took hold in the '80s has had the long-term effect of chasing younger players, as well as younger audiences, away from jazz, despite that decade's parade of young faces following Wynton Marsalis. The good news is that drummer Francisco Mela's Melao (Viya) garnered six votes, an impressive total when compared with the two votes apiece for four other CDs, including trombonist Curtis Hasselbring's The New Mellow Edwards (Skirl), my pick for its inspired mix of rambunctiousness and whimsy. The victory by a Cuban-born musician suggests a deep new talent pool as well as an enduring musician. Which perhaps this poll will become.

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