Jason Moran Tops Himself

The adventurous Ten headlines the Voice's Fifth Annual Jazz Critics' Poll

6. Keith Jarrett & Charlie HadenJasmine (ECM) Dueting the great bassist holds Jarrett’s mannerisms in check, but thankfully, not his ardor.

7. Steve Coleman & Five ElementsHarvesting Semblances and Affinities (Pi) As governed by theories regarding this, that, and the other thing as Coleman’s work from his M-Base enfant terrible days, but rhythmically streamlined (no forced beats now) and harmonically spacious in its voicings for two brass, Jeri Shyu’s colortura, and Coleman’s own surging alto.

8. Vijay Iyer Solo (ACT) Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” is a little frilly, and Monk’s “Epistrophy” a little dense. But together with Iyer’s own angled originals, insightful interpretations of Ellington’s seminal “Black and Tan Fantasy” and proto-minimalist “Fleurette Africaine” make this a successful follow-up to Historicity.

Pianist Moran: The hands-down champ
Clay Patrick McBride
Pianist Moran: The hands-down champ

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9. Geri Allen Flying Toward the Sound (Motema) I don’t think I’ve ever heard another pianist so closely evoke Cecil Taylor without surrendering to his influence completely.

10. Paul Motian Lost in a Dream (ECM) Melody-based chamber improvisation ne plus ultra.

Though I like all of these just fine, my own list is very different:

1. ICP OrchestraICP 049(ICP)/br> Conspicuously missing from the poll’s upper echelons, in what may be a sign of belt-tightening, are large ensembles. But the latest, typically superb effort from this 10-member Dutch outfit, guided by pianist Misha Mengelberg and drummer Han Bennink (and dotted with American expatriates like violinist Mary Oliver and saxophonist Michael Moore), fills the gap and then some. As swank and precise as it is rollicking, and knowingly evocative of both Ellington and the wildest and woolliest free jazz—sequentially and then simultaneously on Moore’s arrangement of Mengelberg’s “The Lepaerd.”

2. Dominic Duval & Cecil TaylorThe Last Dance(Cadence Jazz) /br> CT at his most churning, rooted deep in his keyboard’s lower half, as if threatening his duet partner with redundancy if he can’t keep up. But no worries there.

3. Mark RibotSilent Movies (Pi)/br> High, wide, and lonesome solo guitar starring in a revisionist Western set somewhere between Avenue B and Boot Hill.

4. Mary Halvorson Quintet Sings (Firehouse 12)

5. Myra Melford’s Be BreadThe Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12)/br> Astor Piazzolla’s ghost smiles benignly on intricate and quietly adventurous small-group pieces that stab with their sense of unfulfilled longing.

6. Paul MotianLost in a Dream (ECM)

7. Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman Dual Identity (Clean Feed)/br> My preference for this stand-off with a fellow altoist near Mahanthappa’s own age comes down to their shared belief in the value of stridency (the legacy of Jackie McLean) and the sharper edge that Liberty Ellman’s guitar lends the rhythm section.

8. Michael Formanek The Rub and Spare Change(ECM)/br> Who knew the veteran bassist was such an impressive composer? Though the most impressive aspect of all might be the ample room his gambits leave for interplay with stellar sidemen Tim Berne, Craig Taborn, and Gerald Cleaver.

9. Billy BangPrayer for Peace (TUM)/br> “Only Time Will Tell,” the latest of Bang’s tips of the cap to violin forebear Stuff Smith, is as swinging and vivacious as anything you’re ever likely to hear delivered by a putative avant-gardist, and sets the tone for everything that follows.

10. Benjamin HermanHypochristmastreefuzz: More Mengelberg (Special Edition) (Roach)/br> I say you can never get enough Mengelberg, the greatest living jazz musician never to take up residence in the U.S. But this also makes my list because Herman, a young Dutch altoist, is quite a find. And, to be honest, because his two versions of a Mengelberg homage to Peter Brøtzmann, one studio and the other live, sound like they could be the theme to a ’60s British exploitation flick about rumbling teds and rockers that might show up on public access in the dead of the night.

Honorable Mention: Lucian Ban & John Hébert, Enesco Re-Imagined (Sunnyside); Evan Christopher, Remembering Song (Arbors); Empirical, Out ’n’ In (Naim); Amir ElSaffar & Hafez Modirzadeh, Radif Suite (Pi); John Escreet, Don’t Fight the Inevitable (Mythology); Bill Frisell, Beautiful Dreamers (Savoy Jazz); Tomas Fujiwara & Taylor Ho Bynum, Stepwise(NotTwo); Microscopic Septet, Friday the 13th: The Micros Play Monk(Cuneiform); Joe Morris, Camera(ESP-Disk); Jeremy Pelt, Men of Honor (HighNote). And Sarah Wilson’s Trapese Project(Brass Tonic), for her vocal on Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” the year’s most inspired cover.

Reissues:Stan Getz & Kenny Barron, People Time: The Complete Sessions(Sunnyside); The Complete Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill and Air(Mosaic); The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions, 1956–1962(Mosaic). Vocal: Catherine Russell, Inside This Heart of Mine (World Village). Debut: Chris Drye, Bizingas (NCM East). Latin: Guillermo Klein, Domador de Huellas: The Music of Gustavo “Cuchi” Leguizamon (Sunnyside).

Mosaic’s Threadgill box was voted Best Reissue, while Chucho Valdes and Cassandra Wilson took the Latin and Vocal categories, respectively. This was the second victory for Wilson, who’s become as automatic in polls of this sort as Ella Fitzgerald was in the late ’50s and early ’60s. The surprise was just behind her, where a never-before-issued live performance by Irene Kral, a singer’s singer who died in 1978 without ever gaining a large public following, tied White House/Vogue/New Yorker flavor du jour Esperanza Spalding for second place.

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