2009 is fading fast…

It seems appropriate to start a jazz blog with a post about looking back. So much of the jazz media would rather remind you how great it used to be than give attention to the great music that is happening all around us. A quick browse through Downbeat’s Best CDs of the 2000s reveals a strong yearning for yesterday with nearly half of the best CDs of the last decade being re-issues or remasters of music that, while great, is just nothing new.

Rather than re-hashing why this approach is not only harmful (as has been covered in many columns and articles by much more informed writers than myself), but also lazy (something I will touch on at another time), I will focus this quick first post on my favorite records of the last ten years. All of the following were released for the first time in the last decade and represent music that is happening now, or at least was when it was released. Hope you enjoy, look forward to any input you might have.

1. Michael Brecker- Pilgrimage

As much as I try to separate this record from the circumstances under which it was made, I just can’t. And I’m not entirely sure I should. Brecker knew how sick he was, as did the other musicians on the gig, and that undoubtedly influenced the recording. The talent assembled is an amazing list of names, all jazz giants in their own right. Brecker put together a band that he knew could interpret his music better than anyone. The only record of his career to feature only his own original compositions, the intent of Pilgrimage is clear: to make the best, most complete and most personal record of his life. He succeeded with flying colors, and made the best record of the decade.

2. Wayne Shorter- Footprints Live!

Jazz is live music. On paper the songs are simple, represented by brief melodies and chord symbols that lay a groundwork of open doors and possibilities. When these open doors are explored by a group of musicians of the highest caliber the possibilities are endless and the results enthralling. Wayne Shorter’s current quartet of himself, Danillo Perez, John Patitucci  and Brian Blade is the best group playing today. Constantly pushing and pulling each other in new directions, finding exciting paths in territory that has been explored many times before. Throughout the performance you can hear the players searching, pushing for that new territory. They frequently find it. I’ve already circled this group’s performance at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. You should be able to find me front and center.

3. Medeski, Martin & Wood- The Radiolarians Series

I had set out try and pick my favorite record from this three installment series, but couldn’t do it. By improvising tunes live before recording them, MMW injected new life into their group. The first album felt the most like an MMW show, with modal jazz mixed with greasy organ funk. The second edition is the most exploratory, formless improvisations abound. Not for the uninitiated. The third installment is the most accessible, with the band exploring familiar forms and laying down some serious funk. The future of jazz and improvised music is on display across this collection, and these guys deserve a good bit more respect than they seem to get from the establishment.

4. The Bad Plus- Prog

Another tough choice, between this and their 2005 effort Suspicious Activity. I eventually came down on the side of this record on the strength of their cover of “Life On Mars”, the David Bowie classic. This was always one of those songs that would get stuck in my head for days, but when I listened to Bowie’s recording of it I am somehow left flat. Enter TBP. The reconstruction of the form of this song sets the melody free and takes full advantage of the repeating build to the liberation of the chorus. Plus, anytime you let the bass introduce the melody you’re going to earn points from me. A great re-imagining of a classic song.

5. Jarrett/Peacock/Dejohnette- The Out of Towners

The creativity of this group just seems bottomless. Some people prefer 2001’s Inside Out or 2009’s Yesterdays, but for my money this disc represents the best example of the band as a whole. You can’t go wrong with either of those two records, but this is the best documentation of a great group operating at their extended peak.

That’s all for now. I could easily keep going, but the idea here isn’t to name every record I love from the past 10 years, but to name the best of the best. Happy listening and here’s to a happy and healthy 2010.


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