Skronk On

A down year still yields plenty of power and exhilaration for adventurous jazzheads

2007 seemed like kind of a middling year for jazz, upon casual reflection. The big deaths—Andrew Hill, Oscar Peterson, and Max Roach—were losses keenly felt in my house. But other than mourning, there didn't seem to be as much going on with the music as there was with my other favorite genre, metal. (Chicago's Yakuza once again blended both—and threw in some other stuff, too—on their third full-length, Transmutations.) After some thought, though, I recalled 10 better-than-decent releases deserving, as jazz CDs so often do, a wider hearing.

Fred Anderson's been playing with Hamid Drake since the drummer was a teen, but their latest collaboration, From the River to the Ocean, is a high-water mark in the saxophonist's discography. The ensemble drags the leader out of his comfort zone and into sonic regions previously explored by Pharoah Sanders in the early '70s, chanting and all. Guitarist and producer David Torn, on the other hand, is definitely living in 2007, if not 2017. Prezens combines a laptop aesthetic with bluesy, skronky blowing from Tim Berne: easily one of the most exhilarating ECM releases in some time.

Whispery Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen impressed me twice, with his third solo album Strjon, and then with 8, the moody, monolithic latest from his group Supersilent. Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and husband Natsuki Tamura danced dissonantly all over When We Were There, bolstered by bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black. David S. Ware bid farewell to his long-running quartet with the magisterial Renunciation, recorded live at the 2006 Vision Festival. And Ware's pianist for over 15 years, Matthew Shipp, offered Piano Vortex, his first acoustic trio album in a long while and his first studio disc, period, with a bassist other than William Parker present (Joe Morris held things down quite ably).

Fred Anderson, thankfully dragged out of his comfort zone
photo: Jim Newberry
Fred Anderson, thankfully dragged out of his comfort zone

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Former '60s firebrand Jacques Coursil returned with his second comeback disc, Clameurs, a study for solo trumpet and synth strings, plus highly political spoken-word texts by Frantz Fanon and others. The track titles on Other Dimensions in Music's double disc, Live at the Sunset, occasionally overdosed on politics—"Blues for Baghdad," "New Millennium Chaos (The Bush Reign of Terror)"—but the breathtaking, hard-swinging interplay between trumpeter Roy Campbell, saxophonist Daniel Carter, bassist Parker, and Hamid Drake on drums was the selling point. Finally, New York's most Afrolistic jazz/funk/metal/New Music improvising ensemble, Burnt Sugar (featuring the Voice's own Greg Tate), released Live From Minnegiggle Falls, a swirling 2004 live date that displayed all the power, introspection, and limitless imaginative potential of their best work.

Of course, the reissue of the year was Miles Davis's Complete "On the Corner" Sessions, but nobody should ignore Andrew Hill's churning, furious Compulsion or Noah Howard's legendary, too-long-gone The Black Ark, both of which reappeared this year. As did Borbetomagus's Live in Allentown, a masterpiece of rip-roaring free-skree-plus-electronics that I couldn't vote for in the poll because an encomium I published in The Wire was borrowed by the band for the liner notes.

 
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