Music ignores national and idealistic boundaries. It goes right inside of us and makes a home there -- each home a little different than the one next door. It helps us mark our time on the planet. It comes right along on our journey.With jazz, we get both evolution and revolution. Though, as my friend Paul Harding says, evolution doesn’t take quite as much courage.
There are plenty of good examples of both among my favorite recordings and concerts in 2006. Also, given that the further down the road one gets, the more tempting it is to look back instead of forward, there are plenty of great jazz reissues to mention in a year-end recap. We’ll get to them.
Pianist Jason Moran’s new release (Jason Moran and Band Wagon - Artist in Residence, Blue Note Records) continues to exemplify the healthy progression of vibrant musical form. Moran brings the jazz tradition face to face with popular culture, mixing in found-sound recordings with a savvy awareness of business world in which his music is cast. His new CD and his recent Seattle concert at the Triple Door certify his personal journey as one to watch.
Vietnamese guitarist Nguyen Le also turned in a stunning Seattle appearance this fall. Le’s recent recordings cover a wide breadth of musical possibilities, from almost-traditional Vietnamese musical duets with vocalist Huang Than to a slamming collection of Jimi Hendrix covers (Purple, ACT Records) with Terri-Lynn Carrington and Meshell N’Degeocello. Covering the rich middle ground between those musical poles are two CDs, also on the ACT label, called Tiger’s Tail and Tales from Vietnam. They’re all good.
Perhaps the most notable label-wide campaign to advance the art form of jazz, is the Blue Series Continuum on Thirsty Ear Records. Curated by New York (East-Village) pianist Matthew Shipp, the Blue Series represents jazz in the present and future tense. It brings progressive (and aggressive) artists from the fringes of pop, like Antipop Consortium, Springheel Jack, and Vernon Reid, together with producers such as DJ Logic, EL-P, and DJ Spooky, and avant-jazz greats William Parker. Craig Taborn, Mat Mareri, and others. The result is a body of contemporary work that will shine as brightly in retrospect - 20 years from now --- as it does now.
Of the notable reissues this past year (but actually released in 2005), the one that made the biggest splash (deservedly) was the recently “discovered” tape of The Thelonious Monk Quartet, live with John Coltrane in a Carnegie Hall performance from 1957, on Blue Note records. Though the world of jazz is plagued by the relentless repackaging and reissuing of classic recordings, it is rare that “new” old recording like this comes along. And, given what we now know about what we know, it is kind of fascinating to go back and hear a live date like this, from a time when giants (who didn’t yet know that they were going to be giants) roamed the earth.
Speaking of reissues: since the noted TV producer Norman Lear bought into the Concord Jazz label, a house that had already assimilated many classic recordings from the Fantasy, Prestige, Mercury, and Riverside labels, among others, Concord has issued a huge volume of classic, off-the-beaten-path jazz gems. Most notable, in my mind, of these are various small-group settings of the pianist Red Garland, especially his trios. Garland’s soulful statement of the melody, using tight, two-handed, chord statements, rather than single-note runs with his right hand over a left-hand chord bed, show him to be a remarkably understated leader in jazz, rather than a mere side-man to the greats. I believe there are three recent Best of Red Garland CD’s recently issues on Concord Records.
The enigmatic and subtly slammin’ bassist Meshell N’Degeocello released a good one earlier this year. Meshell N’Degeocello Dance of the Infidels on Shanachie records, brings the almost quiet, low-end power of Meshell’s bass with jazz legends like the drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Oliver Lake, and clarinetist Don Byron. Its mixes with understated instrumental elements, like the banjo of Brandon Ross and harmonica of Gregoire Moret, are more successful to my ears than the vocal tracks, but the general flavor of the record points an interesting direction for the music.
Also new and notable:
Branford Marsalis - Braggtown (Marsalis Music)
Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra - Boulevard de Independence (Nonesuch)
Ali Farke Toure - Savanne (Nonesuch)
Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio - Big M (Delmark)
Rudresh Mahanthappa - Codebook (PI Recordings)
I am sure there are many more. I’m so old, I’ve already forgotten more than some people have learned. Tune in to Jazz Theater some Sunday night at midnight, to pick up on some of the new releases, or catch it any time at the Streaming Archive. This ain’t your parents’ jazz music.