Sunday, December 26, 2010

My "Best of 2010" Jazz

The best of the jazz I’ve heard in 2010

At year’s end most jazz reviewers and journalists are almost obliged to select some sort of top ten list, chronicling their selections for the best music of the previous year. This is so subjective as to border on the absurd. Nonetheless it does offer those, who haven’t had a chance to listen to some of the music, a little insight into what one reviewer may believe to be some of the best music he or she has heard over the past year. Naturally you can’t comment on what you haven’t listened to, and therein lies the inherent flaw in the process. Who can possibly listen to everything that is released? This is especially true with the onslaught of self produced cds by up and coming artists and delusional wanabe’s who can now afford to produce their own albums.  What is a conscientious reviewer to do?  My particular niche is listening to artists who may not be fully established, not necessarily in the mainstream of media coverage and/or established artists that transmit something particularly poignant, entertaining or inspired with their music. To this end I offer, in no particular order,  my  list of music that I have found particularly fetching this year. I hope for some of you it opens up awareness to these fine artists and that you will find their work compelling enough to support their efforts by purchasing their music. Happy Holidays to you all and enjoy.

When Lights Are LowBest vocal album of the year was for me a runaway. California based Denise Donatelli’s second collaboration with the talented pianist and arranger Geoffrey Keezer titled “When Lights are Low” was the standout. Here is the link to my review of this fine album.

Portrait of New YorkBest solo jazz pianist came from a guy based in NYC and who is amazingly flying under the radar of most critics. Pianist 
Dave Frank teaches in his New York studio. He has established an unbelievably consistent left hand walking bass line that defies convention and in the process has delved into territory that to my knowledge has not being explored by any other pianist of note since Dave McKenna or Lennie Tristano. Check out his latest offering “Portraits of New York” here.

Live In ParisTwo "live" performance albums had some terrific moments. The Walter Smith III Quartet “Live in Paris” featured some fantastic interplay between the young tenor of Smith paired with the inventive trumpeter and rising star Ambrose Akinmusire. Check out the review here.

Live: As AlwaysThe other “live” album of note was soprano saxophone master Dave Liebman’s Big Band  live “ As Always” which was played on the college circuit, in front of appreciative audiences. My review of Liebman’s big band effort can be read here.

Spirit & SpiceSaxophonists had some fine offerings this year and some of my favorites included George Brooks’ with drummer Steve Smith on  “Spirit & Spice”, which had some wonderful collaborations with Indian master musicians and created a really compelling world album sound that had fusion overtones. Check it out here.

Veteran saxophonist Charles Lloyd put together a fetching album of  music titled “Mirror” Joined by a young group of musicians that were perhaps together formed his most sympathetic group since his days with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette. They included pianist Jason Moran, the bassist Reuben Rodgers and the drummer Eric Harland.
MirrorCheck out the review here.

Due ReverenceOne the surprises of the year came from educator and saxophonist Ralph Bowen on his energetic cd “Due Reverence” which was a dedication to some of his inspirations. The dynamic group was superlative, with bassist John Pattitucci, drummer Antonio Sanchez and guitarist Adam Rodgers. Bowen’s superb articulation is par excellant and his facility is superb. A seemingly unknown talent to the general public, Bowen is teaching in New Jersey at Princeton and Riutgers, and if this album is any indication, is destined for wider acclaim. Link here to my review.

Another saxophonist that has taken to academia is the Boston based Jerry Bergonzi. His album titled 
Three for All“Three for All” was a, fiery, refreshing and inspired offering from earlier this year and my review can be seen here.

An early surprise was Brazilian drummer Adriano Santos’ fine cd “In Session” with some inspired saxophone work by the talented David Binney and some delicate piano by the talented 
Helio Alvez.In SessionClick here for my review.

Elaine's SongLos Angeles bassist Chris Colangelo had a sleeper of a fine a cd titled “Elaine’s Song”, that featured a stirring alto solo by Zane Musa and some wonderful saxophone work by studio veteran
Bob Sheppard. Most surprisingly it was Collangellos’ subtle bass work and his fine compositional acumen that made this one special. My review can be seen here.

For those who love Brazilian music the authenticity of Morello & Barth’s  “Fim De Semma Em Eldorado” was a sensuous treat. Some stirring vocals by legends Johnny Alf and Alaide Costa were the icing on this South American treat. My review of the album can viewed here.Fim De Semana Em Eldorado

Go HomeA quirky album that caught my ear for its shear originality and the distinctive, bluesy guitar playing of Charlie Hunter was Ben Goldberg’s “Go Home”. It offered a deft mix of sounds and ethnic influences that somehow worked like magic. Check it out here.

My love of the music of John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra was sated by a unique big band album that featured ex-Mahavishnu drummer extraordinaire Billy Cobham, in collaboration with a German band known as the HR Big Band on the album “Meeting of the Spirits”. The orchestrations and the vibrant musicianship demonstrated that this music has the depth and beauty that transcends the power of the original band, and proves that John McLaughlin’s compositions are timeless. You can view my review here.
 Celebration of the Mahavishnu Orchestra

Have a wonderful holiday and please support and enjoy the music.


  1. Ralph,
    A pleasant and pleasing group of recordings. The Donatelli CD almost made my list (it is a fun recording.

    Be well and keep on writing!

    Happy New Year!

  2. Ralph,
    Great that you mentioned Denise Donatelli and Charles Lloyd. Really wonderful efforts there.
    As you said these sort of selections were always pretty subjective. Still, here are some records I miss in a selection of "Best of 2010"... Hope you will get a chance to enjoy them soon:
    - Keith Jarrett & Ch.Haden 'Jasmine'
    - Charlie Haden Quartet West 'Sophisticated Ladies'
    - Cassandra Wilson 'Silver Pony'
    - Esperanza Spalding 'Chamber Music Society'
    - Chris Minh Doky 'Scenes From A Dream'

    Happy New Year
    3sbee / Jazzava cafe