Vijay Iyer Tops the Fourth Annual Village Voice Jazz Poll

Historicity and records from other fresh faces take our 2009 jazz poll

It's open to conjecture how much this emphasis on youth merely reflects the lower average age of the electorate this year (all those younger writers I mentioned earlier, whom I've been more successful in locating than women or African-Americans). And no doubt new releases by, say, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, and Wayne Shorter would have tipped the balance the other way. But I think this year's results point to something else. Actually, only half of the Velvet Underground's original fans formed their own bands—the rest all became rock critics. Something similar may be happening now, within the shrinking audience for jazz. But finally, maybe the best way to interpret this poll is to say it reflects the will of 99 beleaguered critics determined to go on doing their job, perhaps the most important aspect of which is calling attention to young talent on the rise.

My own ballot, with brief observations:

1. Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity (ACT). The pianist approaches tunes by composers ranging from Bernstein, Andrew Hill, and Julius Hemphill to Stevie Wonder and M.I.A. as a composer himself, turning them this way and that to decipher how they work. It's deconstruction as a tip of the cap.

2. Henry Threadgill Zooid, This Brings Us To, Volume 1 (Pi). "Zooid," a term from biology referring to cellular locomotion, is an apt moniker for the way Threadgill keeps tuba, guitar, drums, electric bass, and his own alto or flute moving in harmonious opposition.

3. Joe Lovano Us Five, Folk Art (Blue Note). Though making its debut here, Mr. Consistent's latest outfit (a quintet with dual drummers) sounds like they've been playing together for years. For Lovano, it's an opportunity to show off his command of his horn's high harmonics, while moving in and out of tempo at will.

4.Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam). "Steampunk," the snazzy neologism being tossed about, refers to Argue's passion for a subgenre of science fiction, not necessarily his writing, even if he occasionally does use alt-rock studio techniques. As with 2007 winner Maria Schneider (yet another Brookmeyerite—anybody spot a trend?), the attraction is in the creation of orchestral narrative through an accumulation of harmonic and rhythmic detail.

5. Bill Frisell, Disfarmer (Nonesuch). The guitarist's Americana is a sonic analogue to both Walker Evans and Grant Wood, with Edward Hopper's nighthawks in the shadows, staring into their coffee.

6. Carla Bley, Carla's Christmas Carols (Watt/ECM). Bley's deft arrangements for brass quintet seem based on the belief that you can't love Christmas without loving Bach—think counterpoint and plenty of it. More deserving of being called Christmas in the Heart than that uneaten fruitcake from Uncle Bob.

7. Mulatu Astatke & the Heliocentrics,Inspiration Information, Vol. 3 (Strut). If I didn't know better, I might mistake this heady collaboration between Ethiopia's seminal modern jazzman and a crew of British technocrats for long-lost '70s Sun Ra.

8. Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy, Spirit Moves (Greenleaf). Lower-pitched than Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy (its obvious model), and more dour in its humor, but with every bit as much flair.

9. Bill Dixon, Tapestries for Small Orchestra (Firehouse 12). Four new releases by him in two years, all with sidemen decades younger, suggests the present is finally catching on to this unreconciled '60s avant-gardist, a trumpeter and composer whose music remains lyrical even at its most eruptive.

10. Allen Toussaint, The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch). Courtesy of producer Joe Henry, the great trad album you always guessed the New Orleans auteur had in him—though closer in spirit to Tipitina's than Preservation Hall, even with Nicholas Payton asserting his inner King Oliver.

High among my honorable mentions are two more debuts: Linda Oh's Entry (Linda Oh Music) and Chicago trumpeter Josh Berman's Old Idea (Delmark). Others: Ran Blake's Driftwoods (Tompkins Square), Ravi Coltrane's Blending Times (Savoy), Marty Ehrlich's Things Have Got to Change (Clean Feed), Steve Lehman's Travail, Transformation, and Flow (Pi), Nice Guy Trio's Here Comes the Nice Guy Trio (Porto Franco), Chris Potter's Ultrahang (ArtistShare), Radio I-Ching's No Wave Au Go-Go (Resonant), Roswell Rudd's Trombone Tribe (Sunnyside), and Matthew Shipp's Harmonic Disorder (Thirsty Ear). Rara Avis: Lucky Thompson's New York City, 1964–65 (Uptown). Vocal: McKay. Debut: Argue. Latin: Paquito Hechavarria's Frankly. Reissues: Ella Fitzgerald's Twelve Nights in Hollywood (Hip-O Select/Verve), Charles Tyler's Saga of the Outlaws (Nessa), and Eddie Harris and Ellis Marsalis's Homecoming (Elm).

My choice for top reissue requires explanation. For the purposes of this poll, a new release is defined as consisting entirely of never-before-issued performances, regardless of vintage. To prevent votes for any particular CD or boxed set from being split across two categories (new release and reissue), this distinction is usually strictly enforced. But it seemed worth making an exception for Twelve Nights in Hollywood, which, although entirely made up of never-before-released performances, draws from the same nightclub engagement that yielded the cherished 1961 LP Ella in Hollywood. Votes were allowed for it in either category, with up to three points from each ballot on which it was listed as a new release transferred to reissues at the end of the process—an easy call to make, since it didn't affect the final standings whatsoever.

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