Thursday, December 22, 2005

Top 10 Jazz CDs of 2005 (and some more)...

Of course, this is a very difficult list to put together. Picking ten cds out of over 400 new albums leaves open the possibility that I am leaving out some very good records that are deserving of recognition. However, here are my picks, in no particular order, of the best new jazz cds of 2005.

Joe Lovano - Joyous Encounter
A beautiful paring of Joe Lovano's tenor with the Rolls Royce rhythm section of Hank Jones, George Mraz and Paul Motian. It's the follow up to their last cd "All For You" and it sounds much more comfortable than that previous studio session, as it should, for this one was recorded after the band spent some time touring. Great stuff.

Bebo Valdes - Bebo de Cuba
There is no greater living musician in latin jazz than Bebo Valdes, and this may be his best project yet. Disc 1 is big band charts, Disc 2 small group sessions, and it also has a bonus dvd. The legendary pianist is surrounded by "A List" talent like Paquito D'Rivera, Michael Philip Mossman, Ray Vega and many more. And the recording quality is wonderful. A true legend of latin jazz is finally getting his due.

Enrico Pieranunzi - Fellini Jazz
Enrico Pieranunzi is the most underrated pianist in jazz (among US audiences). This cd, with Chris Potter, Kenny Wheeler, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, should do something to rectify that. The theme from Fellini's films are wonderfully cast in a jazz setting and the playing simply could not be more sublime.

Moacir Santos - Choros and Alegria
Much like Bebo Valdes, here is another example of a great musician finally getting the attention he deserves in the US. In this case, the artist is from Brazil, not Cuba, and the focus is on Santos' orchestral writing, and his melodies and textures and enchanting; each composition is like a little jewel.

Thelonious Monk & John Coltrane - At Carnegie Hall
Two jazz legends caught at their peak, in pristine sound quality, it's the jazz equivalent of finding a new play by Shakespeare. It belongs in every jazz collection.

Dena DeRose - A Walk In the Park
Perhaps my favorite vocal cd of the year, Dena is a great piano player as well, and this cd just hits on all cylinders (to use a tired cliche). The band is exceptionally tight (Matt Wilson and Martin Wind play drums and bass respectively) and Dena's versions of Meditation and All the Way are quite memorable AND fresh.

Darek Oles - Like A Dream
Bassist Darek Oles is known in LA, where he's based, but not so much out of California. This dreamy new cd on Cryptogramophone Records, featuring old pal Brad Mehldau has some of Brad's best work, and will hopefully raise Darek's profile a little as well. This is what jazz is all about, (in my book) and it is simply sublime.

Bill Charlap - Plays George Gershwin
Charlap may be my favorite pianist these days, aside from legend Hank Jones. His new album is a perfect example of everything that makes his great: incredible fleet footed trio work, lush ballads (demonstrating Charlap's almost unparalleled knowledge of the songs inside and out), fine ensemble work, and lyrical improvisations that are distinctively his. This guy is almost too good!

Pat Metheny Group - Speaking of Now
Metheny's magnum opus may not be something you're going to listen to all the time, but it's an important and fascinating piece of music. True, it may be a bit pretentious at times, and uses some very familiar PMG cliches here and there, but I think it holds up rather well, and is something that people will be listening and studying years from now.

Sonny Rollins - Without A Song - The 9/11 Concert
Sonny is beyond a "living legend" he is true jazz royalty. Sometimes his studio albums don't capture his brilliance. This live recording is not without it's faults and flaws, but that's what makes it so good. It's not perfect, it's got an almost documentary feel too it, and you can see Sonny's improvisational genius shine (at times) as brightly as ever.

Honorable Mention:
Alan Pasqua - My New Old Friend
This one is perhaps the most beautiful cd of the year and really caught me by surprise. Alan is one heck of a piano player, with a fine trio on this album.

Wynton Marsalis - Live at the House of Tribes
A late night jam session captures Wynton at his best, but perhaps the band (Wes Anderson, Joe Farnsworth and Eric Lewis) steal the show at times. I dig the laid back after hours vibe. We don't get enough of that in jazz today.

Hank Jones - For My Father
What can I say about Hank that hasn't already been said. He is the best, and even at his "advanced" age, he plays with a sense of imagination and musical awareness that people half his age can't muster. He never sounds anything but impeccable.

Bireli Lagrene Gipsy Project - Move
Lagrene makes a wise choice here not to simply duplicate Django's Hot Club arrangements. Instead he keeps them fresh, adds some new voices and produces one of the most fun (and often requested) jazz cds of the year.

The City Rhythm Orchestra w/ Joey DeFrancesco - Vibrant Tones
I knew nothing about this Philly based big band before they sent us the cd this year. It's nothing revolutionary, just solid Basie-esque big band writing with Joey D on the B3 tearing things up. I love the version of Senor Blues, and Joey's tip of his cap to Jimmy Smith on Walk on the Wild Side.

Ahmad Jamal - After Fajr
The stuff with the vocals doesn't do it for me, but the bulk of this album features some of the best trio work I've heard from Ahmad Jamal in decades. People, even hardcore jazz fans don't really appreciate how brilliant and daring Ahmad Jamal's playing is. No one, and I mean NO ONE uses dynamics like he does, and his sense of taking musical risks puts many "avant garde" musicians to shame. Impressive.

Alan Broadbent - Round Midnight
Yet another piano trio record (2005 was a very good year for piano, bass & drums!) that showcases a true master of the piano and lyrical jazz improvisation. Brian Bromberg can be a little too much for me at times on bass (think Eddie Gomez on steroids) but I've been playing this disc an awful lot, and like it more and more each time.


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