In light of a recent book by the British critic Stuart Nicholson that asks whether jazz is dead (and answers yes and no), I almost decided against naming a chance discovery from 1957 as the year’s best—and another from the dawn of bebop as runner-up—for fear of appearing to join the funeral procession. But Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note) and Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker: Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945 (Uptown) are first issues, and along with plugging holes in the canon, they somehow feel more immediate than anything literally new. The dozen choices following them on my honor roll bespeak a diversity I keep trying to convince myself is evidence of life.
3. CHARLIE HADEN LIBERATION MUSIC ORCHESTRA: Not in Our Name (Verve) Deposing Bush and bringing the troops home is too much to ask of it. Be grateful for Carla Bley’s probing arrangements, heroic solos by Tony Malaby and Miguel Zenón (among others), and inspirational Americana ranging from “Amazing Grace” and “Lift Ev’ry Voice” to Ornette Coleman and Bill Frisell.
4. RANDY SANDKE & THE INSIDE OUT BAND: Outside In (Evening Star) Take your pick of three simultaneous Sandke releases on the same label, all billed as “metatonal”—chordal prestidigitation that proves no more daunting than George Russell’s Lydian concept or Miles’s modes. The Mystic Trumpeter is dark and intense, Trumpet After Dark shining and relaxed. But this nonet date gets the nod for its variety and an unearthed masterpiece by Jelly Roll Morton.
5. VIJAY IYER: Reimagining (Savoy) Cyclical Indian rhythms new to jazz are only part of the story. The rest of it is in the young pianist’s whiplash compositions and lightning rapport with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.
6. SONNY ROLLINS: Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert (Milestone) Not Saxophone Colossus
or The Freedom Suite, but totemic by any other standard.
7. BILLY BANG: Vietnam: Reflections (Justin Time) The outcat violinist and ex-G.I.’s most straight-ahead effort is also his most far-reaching, modal vamps and boppish solos meshing nicely with the Vietnamese female singer and the 16-string dan tranh.
8. DAVE DOUGLAS: Mountain Passages (Greenleaf/Koch) Alternately brooding and airy, and very loosely based on the trumpeter’s impressions of ladino, the folk music of Sephardic Jews in the Italian Alps.
9. GERALD WILSON: In My Time (Mack Avenue) Ebullient even at its most subdued, the 87-year-old West Coast bandleader’s second album with East Coast personnel represents his finest hour in a career that stretches all the way back to Jimmie Lunceford in the early 1940s.
10. CRAIG HARRIS: Souls Within the Veil (Aquastra) Inspired by DuBois’s
The Souls of Black Folk, the trombonist’s first release in over a decade strikes a balance between ambitious writing and footloose solos—the reed section boasts Don Byron, Oliver Lake, Steve Coleman, and Hamiet Bluiett.
11. MINGUS BIG BAND ORCHESTRA & DYNASTY: I Am Three (Sue Mingus/Sunnyside) Mingus was protean, and going at him with three bands of different sizes turns out to be just the trick.
12. THE BAD PLUS: Suspicious Activity? (Columbia) No wonder Ornette is crazy for them. Their rubato ballads surge like his, and there’s only one overly clever cover to confuse matters this time around.
13. ROSWELL RUDD: Blue Mongol (Sunnyside) Charming—especially when the trombonist and Buryats meet halfway on a boogie.
14. DAVID MURRAY: Waltz Again (Justin Time) The strings churn like a second rhythm section, and the tenor saxophonist is at his most impassioned and persuasive.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ahmed Abdullah: Traveling the Spaceways
(Planet Arts); Neal Caine: Backstabber’s Ball (Smalls); Ravi Coltrane: In Flux (Savoy Jazz); Fast ‘n’ Bulbous: Pork Chop Blue Around the Rind (Cuneiform); Jim Hall: Magic Meeting (Artist Share); Grachan Moncur III: Exploration (Capri); Jason Moran: Same Mother (Blue Note); Paul Motian: I Have the Room Above Her (ECM); Ted Nash: La Espada de la Noche (Palmetto); Enrico Rava: Tati (ECM); Marc Ribot: Spiritual Unity (Pi); Triptych Myth: The Beautiful (AUM Fidelity); David S. Ware: Live in the World (Thirsty Ear).
VOCALS: Dianne Reeves deserves an Oscar for her spry performances on the soundtrack to Good Night, and Good Luck (Concord Jazz). She’ll have to settle for the Francis she shares with Sandy Stewart, Jimmy Clanton’s co-star in the 1959 rocksploitation flick Go, Johnny, Go! Stewart’s duets with her pianist son Bill Charlap on Love Is Here to Stay (Blue Note) are as affecting—and as classic—as Tony Bennett’s with Bill Evans.
R.I.P.: Georges Arvanitas, Benny Bailey, Eddie Barclay, Billy Bauer, Keter Betts, Francy Boland, Roy Brooks, Gatemouth Brown, Oscar Brown Jr., Larry Bunker, Tutti Camarata, Al Casey, Robert Creeley, Bob Enevoldsen, Robert Farnon, Mort Fega, Ibrahim Ferrer, Hank Garland, Leslie Gourse, Milt Grayson, Jim Haskins, Percy Heath, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Skitch Henderson, Shirley Horn, Raymond Horricks, Frank Isola, Ed Kelly, Basil Kirchen, Joe Klee, Frances Langford, Arnie Lawrence, Jack Lesberg, Stan Levey, Leon Levitt, Little Milton, Oleg Lundstrem, Albert Mangelsdorff, Steve Marcus, Al McKibbon, Pierre Michelot, Paul Moen, Spud Murphy, Paul
Nash, Jimmy Oliver, Niels-Henning Pedersen, Brock Peters, Bill Potts, Dom Um Romao, Walter Schaap, Artie Shaw, Bobby Short, Jimmy Smith, John Stubblefield, Tom Talbert, Lucky Thompson, Warren Vaché Sr., Per Henrik Wallin, Joyce Wein, Jimmy Woode, Monica Zetterlund, Earl Zinders.