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Post-War Jazz: An Arbitrary Road Map

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1970

Art Ensemble of Chicago, “Theme de Yoyo”

In perhaps the worst year ever for jazz records, two of the slyest of veteran swingers, Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson, played the hotel gig that eventually produced the album that launched Chiaroscuro; and the 15 or so sessions recorded by the little-known AEC in Europe began showing up stateside. The AEC’s antic score for an obscure French film (shown here for a nanosecond as Sophie’s Ways) treats Monteverdi to a second-line beat and, more predictively, ferments free and funk on “Theme de Yoyo.” Lester Bowie pushes trumpet tonality beyond Miles’s jurisdiction, proving along with reedmen Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman that this strangely theatrical troupe could be plenty pithy, while whitefaced bassist Malachi Favors and drummer Don Moye anticipate Shaft. For added measure, Fontella Bass croons, “Your fanny’s like two sperm whales floating down the Seine.” *Les Stances a Sophie (Universal Sound)


1971

Mary Lou Williams, “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory?”

In another dour year for jazz records, Circle united Chick Corea and Dave Holland (they said they hoped to escape fusion) with Anthony Braxton; Jimmy Rushing made his last stand, mobilizing a return of mainstream heroes; and Carla Bley waxed the “Overture” to Escalator Over the Hill. No less striking was the latest comeback by Williams, who, like Earl Hines, had been playing since the 1920s and still sounded unequivocally modern. After building a following at the Cookery, she romped deliriously through the Giants concert with Dizzy Gillespie and Bobby Hackett and four months later started work on a more meditative solo LP. She begins her best-known blues (even better known as the plagiarized pop hit “Black Coffee”) with a rhythmic vamp, then plays seven comely choruses that combine slow-drag blues panache with fresh chords and a subtly metronomic beat—her penultimate chorus is a knockout. *Nite Life (Chiaroscuro)


Ornette Coleman, “The Men Who Live in the White House”

Things looked up with Dave Holland’s Confer-ence of the Birds, Sonny Stitt’s Constellation, and, in St. Louis, Julius Hemphill’s self-produced Dogon A.D. But nothing could compare with Coleman’s first and—to date—only recorded symphony. The somewhat compromised album was completed in nine hours under constraints that forbade him from using his band along with the London Symphony, which was the initial idea; it was ultimately edited for time and divided into 21 episodes. Yet its power ferments. Nearing the final leg, the orchestra introduces a six-note variation on “The Good Life,” the gloriously ribald theme formerly called “School Work” and later adapted as “Theme From a Symphony” on the electrifying Dancing in Your Head (1975). Coleman’s alto is round and warm as he lifts off for a cadenza that mines that same motif with his shamanistic cry, fading with fragile vibrato, until the spacious harmonies of “Love Life” lead him to the final, rustic urgency of “Sunday in America.” *Skies of America (Columbia/Legacy)


1973

Cecil Taylor, “Spring of Two Blue-Js”

Taylor’s two magnificent Blue Note albums of 1966 were followed by a silence of nearly seven years, except for his collaboration with the Jazz Composers Association (and European concerts that weren’t issued here until much later). Then, within a year, he released Indent, a solo recital from Antioch, where he had been teaching, and the second set of a Town Hall concert dedicated to Ben Webster. The latter has two sections: an epic if largely romantic piano solo, which offers an improvisational coherence his earlier work only hints at, and a meditative quartet variation that captures him in transition before the darker, deeper textures that followed when he launched his sextet. This was bassist Sirone’s first recording with him and drummer Andrew Cyrille’s last; both are fully committed, as is Taylor’s most frequent collaborator, Jimmy Lyons, whose alto mirrors every pianistic conceit. *Spring of Two Blue-J’s (Unit Core/OP)


1974

Modern Jazz Quartet, “Django”

This was the piece that solidified international interest in its composer, John Lewis, and the MJQ in 1954, when Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke had been working together for nearly three years. It had been introduced at Clarke’s last session; he would soon leave and be replaced by Connie Kay. Two decades later, all four called it quits (until 1981, when they reunited as if they had been enjoying a long vacation). But first they gave a series of farewell concerts. Despite its cool formalism, the MJQ was at its best in the free fall of live recording, and their triumphant evening in New York provided a definitive version of the cortege written in memory of Django Reinhardt—as definitive as possible for a piece Lewis never stopped revising. Here all the elements of his skill and the MJQ’s interpretive power are as one: the evocative Gypsy feeling in the main theme, recalling the Adagio of Mendelssohn’s octet; the stout bass motif; the mixture of delicacy and force, discipline and spontaneity, tragedy and joy. *The Complete Last Concert (Atlantic)


1975

The Revolutionary Ensemble, “Ponderous Planets”

Their first studio album was their last; the group disbanded in 1977, ending a six-year run—impressive considering its inability to crack the cult ceiling. TRE often replaced a staunch beat with a mere pulse, suggesting a fusion between classical and jazz practices. But the reflexive interplay between Leroy Jenkins’s spry violin, Sirone’s redwood-heavy bass (and expert arco technique), and Jerome Cooper’s fastidious, if often whimsical percussion was largely consonant and accessible, never more so than on Cooper’s by-no-means- ponderous opus. It begins with bowed strings and saw, achieves jazzy frisson with the entrance of plucked bass and cymbals, and finally, having made the case that impassioned improvisation can flourish without swing, swings like a mutha—in waltz time. A good year for Jenkins, who also introduced For Players Only, his daring Jazz Composers Orchestra spectacle. *The People’s Republic (Horizon/OP)


1976

Anthony Braxton, “Piece Three”

Not exactly typical Braxton, but then, what is? And who else would have tried something as wry and unexpected as this brazen send-up of a march—a piece, incidentally, that actually had everyone taking a position. The jubilant theme, which owes as much to the beer garden (dig that counter-theme by the reeds) as to military needs, modulates to a repeated oompah figure, as though stuck in a rut; into this berserk stasis Leo Smith comes a-burning, playing only those trumpet tones of no use in a march. A surprising interlude introduces the aggressive trombone of George Lewis, who enters with a droll tailgate slide and is soon ripping and snorting, followed by the waspish, perhaps quizzical clarinet of Braxton, who fights against another static riff. Suddenly, the march is restored like a beam of sunshine, as the ensemble waddles cheekily down the pike. *Creative Orchestra Music 1976 (Bluebird)


1977

Hank Jones, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”

Jazz records were bullish again, triggered by small labels that suited a horde of unknown talents from the West and Midwest, who also helped establish a loft alternative to nightclub venues. At the same time, there was an invasion of re-energized mainstreamers who required labels, too. Duets and trios were big: Jimmy Rowles serially encountered Al, Zoot, and Stan; McCoy Tyner and Tommy Flanagan tested diverse rhythm-makers; Konitz parleyed with Solal, Venuti with McKenna, and Hemphill with alter ego Roi Boye. Jones’s best albums were with Tony Williams and Ron Carter, but it was at a session with Milt Hinton and Bobby Rosengarden that he was talked into going one alone and produced this neglected masterpiece—his quintessential performance. After a laconic vamp, the unlikely melody suddenly spills down in broken chords, and is just as quickly dispensed with as Jones dives deep into its harmonies for a series of blues-driven variations that are infernally clever and utterly lovely. *The Trio (Chiaroscuro/OP)


1978

Sonny Rollins, “Autumn Nocturne”




Sonny Rollins
photo: Steve Maruta

Jazz’s preeminent concertizer disdains recording, where he usually keeps the lid on his id. So why not record all his concerts and cherry-pick them for albums? Maybe because the ferocity would alienate the faint of heart and leave no possibility at all for radio play. Happily, he does issue some live performances (meanwhile, his fans surreptitiously filch every note), preserving the most charismatic attack in the history of the tenor saxophone—a sound that, having already influenced the playing habits of two generations, reached extrovert heights in the mid ’70s. Indeed, not since “West End Blues” had there been a cadenza quite like this, which similarly begins on an odd note before plunging into a grove of euphoric convolutions. When Rollins finally attains the theme, after citations from “To a Wild Rose” and “Home Sweet Home,” plus two vocal yawps, the sensation of release is overwhelming. From that point, he exhales a whoosh of melody, radiant and raunchy all at once. *Silver City (Milestone)


1979

Bill Evans, “I Loves You Porgy”

A musical dybbuk took possession of him in the last two years of his life, unleashing fresh, unexpected powers. The superb new trio with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe LaBarbara revitalized him, too, and he played with the visionary conviction of a 19th-century romantic. Yet few knew about it until after his death, when a stream of concert recordings revealed that the impetuous “My Romance” or the extended “Nardis” you may once have heard were, in fact, chronic parts of his repertoire. These rhapsodies didn’t quite dim the reverence for the old days but did put them in perspective: Paris ’79 was every bit as imposing as Vanguard ’61. His unaccompanied “I Loves You Porgy” trumps the celebrated 1968 Montreux version, from the wary opening tones and patented Evans harmonies and touch to the downright zealous digressions that follow. He’s captive to his own command. *The Paris Concert, Edition One (Blue Note)


1980

World Saxophone Quartet, “I Heard That”

Sometimes simple does the trick. At 3:23, Hamiet Bluiett’s elementary blues could have fit on a 78, and it doesn’t waste a moment. Most of the WSQ specialties were polyphonic or contrapuntal, and encouraged collective improvisation; the most intricate were by Julius Hemhill and usually featured the quartet—himself, Bluiett, Oliver Lake, and the uncontainable David Murray, who also adapted some of his own best melodies. Here, Bluiett offers a showcase for Hemphill’s roiling alto, his huge blistering sound buoyed by precision stop-time chords, as he renovates old licks and bonds them with biting asides and turnbacks. Hemphill sustains the churchy signifying and technical élan that too often took a backseat to his composing, posing, japing. This LP was in the can for two years and yet it still seemed a breakthrough when released in late 1982. *Revue (Black Saint)


1981

Art Pepper, “Arthur’s Blues”

After 16 years of silence due to incarceration and drug addiction, one of the golden boys of 1950s L.A. came back in 1976 with a pressing need to be heard not only as a madly competitive altoist making up for lost years, but as a memoirist and nightclub seer. At first he battled his way through a Coltrane influence, but a year later the old facility returned, sharpened by a new urgency: Every solo was a bloodletting, whether backed with strings handsomely arranged by Bill Holman or loving piano by George Cables. The painstakingly slow but energetic quartet blues recorded a year before his death is typical: Throughout four choruses that Pepper plays before the piano and bass solos and three that he plays after, he constructs a narrative with barks, squeals, and 32nd-note asides, combining bravura technique, sheer guts, and a concerted purpose. *The Complete Galaxy Recordings (Galaxy)


1982

Air, “Do Tell”

The most durable cooperative after the Art Ensemble, Air achieved nonpareil equity among its members, who could—playing Joplin and Morton or originals—undermine the beat without forfeiting it. Each member possessed grit and wit. Steve McCall’s drums were plush and decisive, yet spare and understated. Fred Hopkins’s bass fused audacious power with mercuric reflexes. Henry Threadgill wrote most of the material and played reeds, flute, and, briefly, a contraption made of hubcaps. Like Arthur Blythe, whose “Sister Daisy” (same year, Elaborations) is another model of loft-era swing, Threadgill’s alto is ripe, raw, and focused; they had more in common with the restored Pepper than with the ’60s avant-gardists. “Do Tell” has a mellow A-theme and double-time B-theme; each man helps to shore up the backbeat pulse until Threadgill initiates a lusty climax. Air turned out to be a starter band for him, succeeded by such compound ensembles as Very Very Circus, Make a Move, and Zooid. *80 Degrees Below ’82 (Antilles)


1983

Craig Harris, “Blackwell”

In the year of James Blood Ulmer’s Odyssey, when harmolodics ran the gamut from Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society to the acoustical Old and New Dreams, Harris’s overlooked tribute to pioneering drummer Ed Blackwell offers a more obscure link to Ornette. More pointedly, it serves as a reminder that the trombonist and composer, who made a splash a year earlier with his “Nigerian Sunset,” could conjure up insightful and inventive themes in a neoclassical mode. This one alternates tricky syncopations in eight and six, which support a growly, ripping, timbre-changing trombone solo by Harris, a taut and pointed one by tenor saxophonist George Adams, and—connecting them—an upbeat Cecil-like offering by pianist Donald Smith, all of them kept on track by Fred Hopkins and Charlie Persip, who italicize every beat. Harris is probably the only trombonist ever to double on didgeridoo. *Black Bone (Soul Note)


1984

Jack DeJohnette, “Third World Anthem”

The drummer’s Special Edition was big on saxophonists, and the tidy alliance of a reed trio (suggesting the influence of World Saxophone Quartet), machine-gun stickwork, and Rufus Reid’s limber bass has a sharp state-of-the-art clarity. DeJohnette’s music usually employs multiple themes and time signatures. This one begins with a staccato rhythm and moves through a sequence of tantalizing melodies and backup figures, welling and waning like a train now approaching, now receding. The alto, tenor, and tuba solos are vividly self-assured. John Purcell, whose alto captures some of the radius of Arthur Blythe’s sound, welds short, acerbic phrases into a bold design; Howard Johnson, who doubles on baritone sax, lets loose a welter of double-time passages; and David Murray, whose woolly coilings on tenor personified the era, is enthused, funny, and succinct. *Album Album (ECM)


1985

Benny Carter, “Lover Man”

The most quietly productive career in jazz began in the ’20s, when Carter helped formulate big band music and established a standard—rivaled only by Johnny Hodges—on alto saxophone; he later introduced his own suave orchestra, an introspective trumpet style, and major compositions, peaking in his seventh and eighth decades. His masterly “Lover Man” solo is a single chorus—32 bars; two minutes, 20 seconds—that, with glancing phrases and melodious arcs, stands as a defining, sui generis statement. After a poised theme recitation by trumpeter Joe Wilder and guitarist Ed Bickert, Carter enters as the embodiment of lucid invention, doubling up the slow tempo, pushing the beat, mixing mincing steps and flowing strides, disguising the melody with blues innuendos, taut riffs, and half-moon melodies. Too bad a subtler pianist than Gene Harris wasn’t on hand, but his glib soul-notes underscore Carter’s ingenuity. *A Gentleman and His Music (Concord Jazz)


1986

Wynton Marsalis, “Autumn Leaves”

Looking to Marsalis for deep feelings is as pointless as looking to Miles Davis for easy laughs. The nature of his virtuosity is to stand slightly above the chords and rhythmic change-ups, alighting in an expression of kinetic display. In a transitional juncture between the orthodox quintet that (along with classical side-trips) made his name and the self-conscious septet that fixed his direction, he appeared with just piano, bass, and drums, and revealed a lean, aspirate timbre that recalled Kenny Dorham rather than Miles, with whom he was widely compared. Even with a tune and speedy gait closely associated with Davis, he reveals a resolute inventiveness and stylish approach to time: The rhythm section gives the illusion of retarding the pulse, but Marsalis never flags during his seven hurtling turns, replete with raring turnbacks and rugged riffs, notably a 10-bar incursion in the fourth go-round. *Live at Blues Alley (Columbia)


1987

John Carter, “On a Country Road”

The last movement of the fourth of five suites in Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music shows how much ground Carter—who taught public school for more than 30 years before committing himself to a career in music—could seed with relatively chaste material. At heart it’s a deceptively simple clarinet riff that burbles like a swallow yet requires consummate breath control, two-note chords, and register hopping. In a winning take on musique concrète, Carter employs a tape of his Uncle John telling a story; the cadences of John’s voice and his nephew’s appreciative laughter—not the tale—are what count. Fred Hopkins picks up on the clarinet riff and Andrew Cyrille (outstanding throughout the album) brings the rhythm home as the piece turns into a big-city blues, featuring growling choruses by trumpeter Bobby Bradford, who is then superseded by a harmonica solo, which, ipso facto, returns us to the country. *Fields (Gramavision)


1988

Don Pullen, “At the Cafe Centrale”

The year belonged to the 11-volume Cecil Taylor in Berlin ’88, despite its limited number and distribution—still the most extravagant single-artist achievement of the CD era. But another remarkable pianist associated with the outer fringe suggested a powerful rapprochement with the center, when he teamed with Gary Peacock and Tony Williams. Pullen had journeyed from ESP-Disk to backing pop singers to working for Charles Mingus to co-leading a successful quintet with saxophonist George Adams. He innovated a keyboard technique that obliged him to turn his palms up and rake the keys with his knuckles, while hewing to chordal boundaries and uncovering ecstatic melodies. His opening three choruses on “At the Cafe Centrale,” a symmetrical 48-bar flamenco stomp, are parsed in eight-bar segments, shadowed every step by Williams. The harmonic range is narrow, yet Pullen’s percussive attack abounds with colors. *New Beginnings (Blue Note)


1989

Muhal Richard Abrams, “Finditnow”

Guru to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Abrams relocated to New York in the ’70s and sent the pigeonholers racing for cover. With every recording and concert a discrete project, he produced an immensely varied tableau of works that range from basic blues (not least his homage to Muddy Waters) to cultured orchestration and new-music fusions, often with humor. Along the way, he emerged as a major force in the preservation of big band jazz—in this instance as played by 18 pieces that trace the instrumental food chain from glockenspiel to synthesizer. Muhal brings out the best in everyone as “Finditnow” blends unadorned swing (the indispensable Fred Hopkins and Andrew Cyrille), four- and eight-bar exchanges (best are Abrams’s piano and Warren Smith’s vibes), a tidy flute and soprano sax passage, a Bach-inspired cello interlude (Diedre Murray), and rare voicings for xylophone and trombones. *The Hearinga Suite (Black Saint)


1990

Abbey Lincoln, “The World Is Falling Down”




Abbey Lincoln
photo: John Sann

It had been almost three decades since her last major record when a French-produced album (with perhaps the only unflattering photographs of her ever published) affirmed her return as a matchless singer and songwriter working a terrain bounded by Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan. The title track throbs with backbeat fidelity, a gospelly stoicism that all but disguises the originality of her four-plus-eight-bar verses and a lyric worth hearing. With empathic support from Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, she articulates every word, jolting the phrase, “We’ll follow the breeze.” Yet Lincoln accounts for less than half of the Ron Carter-arranged performance. Clark Terry and Jackie McLean abstain from their trademark licks as they exchange 20-bar trumpet and alto solos, plus a chorus of fours and twos (Terry’s Schubertian insert is deft and telling), before she returns with the refrain: “The world is falling down, hold my hand.” *The World Is Falling Down (Verve).


1991

Joe Lovano, “Portrait of Jenny”

The only bona fide jazz star in years who enjoyed a serious big band apprenticeship, Lovano worked with Woody Herman and Mel Lewis, then shared center stage with guitarist Bill Frisell in Paul Motian’s alluring combos. His consistency as a saxophonist is matched by an evidently limitless fund of conceptual ideas—every album is something new. An impetuous modernist with a mile-long romantic streak, he’s an exceptional ballad player, aged and sagacious. His theme chorus on “Portrait of Jenny” recalls Coltrane, but for a warm, breathy vibrato that brings to mind Joe Henderson—who also had a breakthrough in 1991, playing Billy Strayhorn. Backed by pianist Michel Petrucciani, Dave Holland, and Ed Blackwell, Lovano totally stamps the song: the unwavering sustained note in the third bar; the trilling multiphonics as he comes out of his second bridge, propelled by Blackwell’s cymbals; the cadenza, gently underscored by Blackwell’s mallets. *From the Soul (Blue Note).


1992

David Murray, “Flowers for Albert”

He introduced this homage to Albert Ayler at his first performance in New York, in 1975. The 20-year-old then returned to Oakland long enough to drop out of college, and was back in a flash—a poster boy for what became known as the loft era, playing in every context, from unaccompanied tenor sax and bass clarinet to the greatly admired octet, followed by the big band, funk, rap, African percussion, etc. Murray may earn an entry in Guinness for the number of albums he’s made. A writer of engaging tunes and initiator of challenging projects (like an orchestral transcription of Paul Gonsalves’s 27-chorus solo on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue”), he developed an immense network of collaborators. For his fourth big band album, he reconceived his mascot tune as a mirthful dance, conducted by longtime associate Butch Morris, with elatedly cranky solos by Murray, Craig Harris, and (in an especially diverting turn) trumpeter Hugh Ragin. Just when you think it’s winding down, Murray reappears for a two-minute cadenza that would’ve warmed Albert’s cockles—Gonsalves’s, too. *South of the Border (DIW).


1993

Lee Konitz, “Exposition”

If anyone rivals Murray in output and diversity, it’s the venerable Konitz, whose widely noted solos with the Claude Thornhill band in 1947 (when he was 20) established him as the altoist who didn’t sound like Bird. He was obviously the cool choice for Miles’s nonet, and subsequent projects with his former teacher, Lennie Tristano. A committed improviser who shuns clichés and was playing long and free before long-and-free was a movement, Konitz was inevitably tagged a musician’s musician, though his lilting if acidic timbre and casual swing, not to mention proto-repertory liberality, make him quite listener-friendly. Working with routine chord changes and like-minded fellows—clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, pianist Paul Bley, bassist Gary Peacock—he makes “Exposition” a 19-minute meditation on instantaneous invention, conversational intrigue, and rhythmic equilibrium. *Rhapsody (Evidence).


1994

James Carter, “Take the A Train”

A reeds virtuoso who can play anything except subtle, Carter opened the year with a roar and closed it with a sigh—the former on behalf of eager little DIW (he looks like a jazz musician on the cover) and the latter for corporate stepchild Atlantic (he looks like a movie star). Both discs were mighty impressive, auguring his ability to make thematic albums. His raptor-like chomping of the Ellington band’s theme is a splendidly driven prank. Soloing for nearly eight minutes, he uses every avant-garde technique Coltrane, Dolphy, and the other anti-jazz felons had employed to wreak havoc on the shaken ’60s, only he swings like a madman and he never misses a chord. When he comes to ground, popping notes and closing with a screech, it’s OK to guffaw. Craig Taborn continues in the same riotous vein on piano; perhaps the only prototype for this pair is Byard and Kirk. *Jurassic Classics (DIW).


1995

Randy Weston, “Tangier Bay”

In a solid year for records, connections with the Dark Continent were asserted in Hannibal Lokumbe’s African Portraits, a stately oratorio that begins before the middle passage and ends after 52nd Street (and Hannibal’s trumpet pyrotechnics), and circumnavigated in the unexpected techno-funk duets of Kenny Barron and Mino Cinelu’s Swamp Sally. Weston, a pioneer in African American (or Moroccan-Brooklyn) rapprochement, inducted the best working band of his life, called it African Rhythms, and resuscitated his treasured older pieces, some of which had been around since the ’50s. His seductive highflier “Tangier Bay”—A (16) A (16) B (16) C (a kind of eight-bar semicolon with first-beat drone chords)—opens with a suspenseful piano tableau by the composer, until a vamp fires the melody, stated by altoist Talib Kibwe with bebopping insouciance and plummy tone. Weston’s two choruses can afford to flaunt his love of Monk, because his reflections soon turn to signature phrases that are pure Weston. *Saga (Verve).


1996

Uri Caine, “Symphony No. 1, Third Movement”

Other places and tribal rites also came into view: John Zorn at Masada, Tiny Bell in the Balkans, Roy Hargrove in Cuba, Don Byron on the Lower East Side, Steve Turre on the beach. Caine labored over the persistently fashionable Gustav Mahler and reinvented him as a suppressed Jewish klezmer. Mahler’s soulful minor-key melodies, wrested from aggressive major-key opuses engender a provoking midrash from the downtown elite, including Byron, clarinet; Dave Douglas, trumpet; Joey Baron, drums; a hand-drumming cantor; and many more. The third-movement themes from the Titan are ideal for Caine, demanding to be played “mit parodie” and offering a wistful canon, a dance tune that might have served The Godfather, and crashing cymbals (Barron may be the most strenuous drummer since Shannon Jackson). Caine adds a funeral march, bombshell eruptions, oy vey moaning, shrieking textures, a touch of “Autumn Leaves,” and superlative solos by Byron and Douglas. *Primal Light (Winter & Winter)


1997

David S. Ware, “Logistic”

There are two themes. A short, repeated saxophone phrase sets off William Parker’s teeming arco bass and Susie Ibarra’s precise clickety-clack drumming; then an ascending hiccup figure leads to a galumphing melody, for which Matthew Shipp provides contrary piano chords, reminding us of the irony that strangely underscores the quartet’s “godspellized” bliss. Ware’s tenor had made an unforgettable impression in the ’70s and ’80s bands of Cecil Taylor and Andrew Cyrille, with its squalling timbre, its serrated edge—a sound that could rip phone books in half. If he often seems like a product of the Coltrane-Pharoah Sanders nexus, he is a phrasemaker of undeniable individuality, an avant-shocker whose control is never in doubt. Nor is the reach of his impulsively interactive quartet, or the freedom with which his bandmates head out for orbits of their own—alternative jazz of the past 20 years is unimaginable without Parker and Shipp. *Go See the World (Columbia)


1998

Tommy Flanagan, “Let’s”

Suddenly, it was about the old Turks: Dewey Redman, Cecil Taylor, and Elvin Jones recorded the mesmerizing Momentum Space, and John Lewis began preparing a stunning envoiÑEvolution, two volumes. Flanagan had been one of many gifted Bud Powell-influenced pianists in the ’50s. But not until the ’70s, after a decade as Ella Fitzgerald’s accompanist, did he create the trio that set him apart. He was now forging standards for group dynamics and discerning repertoire. Who else would have revived Thad Jones’s balmy caper? Based on standard AABA changes in a configuration that may have stimulated Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.,” “Let’s” veers into an old-dark-house digression with blunt chords and hesitations. In this definitive version, Flanagan bodes the antic hay with a descending phrase that recalls a song from The Court Jester. Then he goes to the races for half a dozen express laps. Bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash cover him like white on rice. *Sunset and the Mocking Bird (Blue Note)


1999

Keith Jarrett, “What Is This Thing Called Love?”

Piano trios were bearish: Barry Harris assumed ever greater subtleties, Roy Haynes created a thrilling context for Danilo Perez, Cyrus Chestnut solidified his following, and relative newcomersÑBill Charlap, Jason Moran, Jacky Terrasson, Brad MehldauÑearned their own. After years of somber and extensive keyboard meditations (standing firm against the Fender plague), Jarrett turned to standards and convened a trio of extrasensory instincts. Sometimes he failed to sustain his shiniest conceits, and one wished he had ducked out of a piece sooner. Yet in Paris, “What Is This Thing Called Love?” was by far the longest improvisation, and he never falters. He begins alone, a firm left hand girding lively embellishments played with an oscillating rhythm between baroque and bop. Gary Peacock’s bass knocks twice, followed by a shimmer of Jack DeJohnette’s cymbal, and very soon the trio levitates. *Whisper Not (ECM)


2000

Ted Nash, “Première Rhapsodie”

The achievement of a Flanagan or Jarrett derives in large part from logging numberless miles on the road, inducing among the players a synergy that borders on clairvoyance. Yet some projects may be better off as one-shots, conceived for the studio. Nash, the soul of sideman dependability, presented this memorable quintet at at least one New York concert, but it survives as a recorded feat of genre-defying eclecticismÑa bright idea, brightly done. Debussy’s clarinet exercise is augmented by Nash’s resourceful voicings and an instrumentation that cannot help evoking tangents. Wyclife Gordon’s plunger trombone calls to mind Tyree Glenn’s fruitful stay with Ellington and proves that bygone techniques can be revitalized without pomo condescension, while Nash’s clarinet implies a rapprochement between France and Weimar and his tenor pushes at the parameters of free jazzÑto say nothing of evocations summoned by accordion, violin, and drums. *Sidewalk Meeting (Arabesque)


2001

Jason Moran, “The Sun at Midnight”

A student of Byard and protégé of altoist Greg Osby, who has mustered several important talents, Moran incarnates the state of a music that often seems weighed down by its own history. He has assimilated piano techniques of eight decades, from stride to free, devising a personal music that refuses to acknowledge stylistic prejudices. The past cannot suffocate him and musicians as varied as Stefon Harris, Mark Turner, Vijay Iyer, or the insatiably productive Matthew Shipp, among many others, because they’ve been there. Moran brought off a small miracle in specifically making common cause with the unwavering maverick Sam Rivers. His “The Sun at Midnight,” pretty in a stark and unsentimental way, is ideal for Rivers’s flute, which amplifies the melody, forging ahead like a scout, spotted every step by drummer Nasheet Waits, bassist Tarus Mateen, and Moran, whose spiky, luminous elaboration continues the mood right through to a pedaled crescendo that brings Rivers home for the reprise. You might think that an individual keyboard attack is no longer possible, but you would be wrong. *Black Stars (Blue Note)


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