The Year of the Woman

With all the ballots counted, our decidedly un-macho Jazz Poll finally finds its headline

But not to the very top, thankfully: Schneider is a deserving winner, a true original whose name would look as good on a Pulitzer as Coleman's did earlier this year, following his victory in what I hope becomes the Iowa caucus of music polls. And what ought to become apparent in skimming down the list is a momentous change taking place in the jazz talent pool as the music drifts further away from mainstream consciousness and ceases to be the macho proving ground that rock and hip-hop still are. Two female singers finished in the Top 10, and so might have Anat Cohen if her votes hadn't been split between Poetica (12) and Noir (18). Myra Melford and Carla Bley were 13 and 14, respectively. That's six women among the first 14—eight, if you count Mingus's widow, Sue (who brought Cornell 1964 to light), and Joni Mitchell, whose songs Hancock interprets on River. By past jazz standards, that makes 2007 the Year of the Woman. And gives me the headline I didn't know I was looking for until it smacked me in the face.

Here are my own picks. The numbers in parentheses indicate their standing in the poll.

1. Abbey Lincoln, Abbey Sings Abbey (Verve). Spare settings dominated by pedal steel and accordion—evocative of both country rock and cabaret—put nothing in the veteran singer's way, so that the honesty and directness of her voice and lyrics go straight to the heart. (1 vocal, 10 overall)

Abbey Lincoln goes straight for the heart.
photo: Jean-Marc Lubrano
Abbey Lincoln goes straight for the heart.

2. Tyshawn Sorey, That/Not (Firehouse 12). A nearly 45-minute piano piece built around the repetition of a single phrase would be provocation enough. But the performances featuring the young drummer with a quartet including trombonist Ben Gerstein manage the neat trick of expansion without sprawl, a surefire recipe for great free jazz. (1 debut, 32 overall)

3. Jewels and Binoculars, Ships With Tattooed Sails (Upshot). Dylan as if reconceived by an Ornette Coleman trio—rangy and rife with sprung rhythms, but emphasizing those surprisingly shapely melodies above all. (24)

4. Maria Schneider, Sky Blue (ArtistShare). Orchestra is this non-player's only instrument, and no one alive today plays it with greater feeling or finesse. The guiding principle this time around is the metaphor of flight, and both the writing and the solos take wing. (1)

5. Matthew Shipp, Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear). Falling into a blues groove at precisely those moments bass and drums refuse to makes this at once the pianist's freest trio effort and his most bracingly straight-ahead. (30)

6. Joshua Redman, Back East (Nonesuch). The year's best Sonny Rollins in absentia, in the same way my #3 is the best Ornette or Dylan, with Redman trying pianoless trio on for size and finding it a perfect fit. (8)

7. Charles Tolliver, With Love (Blue Note). New York's other premier big band, Basie to Schneider's Ellington, but incorporating Coltrane's modes and Blakey's hard bop. (27)

8. Uri Caine, Plays Mozart (Winter & Winter). We've come a long way from facile efforts at swinging the classics. Even more so than previous entries in the series, this proves there's nothing too dated about those allegros and andantes that can't be fixed by a little postmodern mischief. (60)

9. Anat Fort, A Long Story (ECM). Lyricism with an air of mystery by a young, transplanted Israeli pianist, with piping help from outcat clarinetist Perry Robinson. (65)

10. Harry Allen & Joe Cohn, Music From "Guys and Dolls" (Arbors). The kind of Broadway-meets-jazz album they don't make anymore—though few sparkled like this even when they did. The tenor saxophonist and guitarist exploit every opportunity for counterpoint implicit in Frank Loesser's great score, though the vocals by Eddie Erickson and Rebecca Kilgore are the real treat. (37)

Honorable Mention: Carla Bley, The Lost Chords (ECM/Watt); Anthony Braxton, 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 (Firehouse 12); Anat Cohen, Noir (Anzic); Champian Fulton with David Berger & the Sultans of Swing, Champian (Such Sweet Thunder); Indigo Trio, Live in Montreal (Greenleaf); Steve Lehman, On Meaning (Pi); Rafi Malkiel, My Island (Raftone); Bill Mays, The Inventions Trio (Palmetto); Trio M, Big Picture (Cryptogramophone); Sam Yahel, Truth and Beauty (Origin).

Rara Avis: Steve Lacy & Roswell Rudd, Early and Late (Cuneiform); Frank Foster, Well Water (Piadrum). Vocal: Lincoln. Debut: Sorey. Latin: Roswell Rudd & Yomo Toro, El Espiritu Jibaro (Sunnyside). Reissues: Lionel Hampton, The Complete Victor Sessions, 1937-1941 (Mosaic); Chu Berry, Classic Columbia and Victor Sessions (Mosaic); Sun Ra, Disco 3000 (Art Yard).

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