25 Best Jazz Discs of the Decade?

As 2010 rapidly approaches, there’s no denying: the 00s are now in full effect. Pitchfork  recently made its list of the best pop discs coughed up by the century’s first decade. As you read this, jazz editors are scheming on a similar gathering of key titles. Why not throw some candidates into the ring to get the party started? Lots of impressive albums came along in the last 10 years, but those P-Fork crits wimped out – you can’t choose 200 of the decade’s best discs – there’s no tension in a list that large. Step up to the plate: choose 25 and let opinions about what’s been left off start to fly! Here are records which are not only favorites of mine, but also help explain some of the shifts that have taken place in jazz during the last 3,650 days.

Jason Moran, Black Stars (Blue Note)
The pianist’s strength is in casting elliptical ideas in purposeful ways, and the musical architecture on his third and best disc continuously folds in on itself. But he’s a swinger, too, dedicating a large part of his time to propulsion. So an extroverted pleasure resounds in every passage, and the decision to include veteran saxophonist Sam Rivers explains a lot about Moran’s sense of direction.

Wayne Shorter, Footprints Live! (Verve)
This document of Shorter’s 2001 tour is novel because it was there he returned to tenor sax, the horn on which he made his greatest statements. He reaffirms his signature trait of mystery by trading wonderfully elliptical melody lines with pianist Danilo Perez. Frags are torn from the larger fabric and sewed together with insight and daring. The motor of drummer Brian Blade and bassist John Pattitucci keeps it all humming.

Matthew Shipp, Nu-Bop (Thirsty Ear)
The pianist’s trio is augmented by synth programmer FLAM, and the result is a jazz/hip-hop collision that works often enough to raise a lot of interesting questions about texture, swing, and unk-fay.

Luciana Souza, Brazilian Duos (Sunnyside)
Souza’s cat and mouse game with a handful of guitarists show just how bewitching samba/bossa can be, and just how much musicianship it takes to convincingly extrapolate on it.

Guillermo Klein,  Los Gauchos III (Sunnyside)
This was the big band to beat in the 00s. The Argentine composer was architect enough to make a long string of  idiosyncrasies come off as a beguiling series of musical events, stressing individualism at every turn. 

Dave Holland Quintet, Extended Play (ECM)
It defines the notion of aggressive lyricism as far as the mainstream goes, with Chris Potter tearing shit up, Billy Kilson flaunting dynamic mastery, Robin Eubanks giving his mates hotfoot after hotfoot, and Steve Nelson decorating the place with percussive chimes. The boss? He just grins about how glad he is to have put the band together.

Ben Allison & Medicine Wheel, Buzz (Palmetto)
The NYC bassist’s graceful sextet music is like an elaborate Lego structure. It’s made from singular, almost modular, elements, yet when you step back a bit, coherence is all you see. Buzz has both ease and friction about it.

Craig Taborn Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear)
Hats off to anyone who can make electrocoustic environments seem filled with blood. The Brooklyn keybster does it through a dedication to memorable textures and a design sense that keeps his soundscapes endlessly compelling. Not since the Cluster and Eno collabos has a computo album been so enchanting.

Matt Wilson, Humidity (Palmetto)
Nuance is his stock in trade, impeccable time is his bedrock, and derring-do is his signature. His two-sax outfit is always a blast because for all its organization, it never fails to follow a rogue impulse wherever it may lead. Better yet, the melodies are just as fetching as the vamps.

Dave Douglas, Strange Liberation (Bluebird)
The arrival of Bill Frisell changes just about any scene, but Douglas’ horn, pen, and band are strong enough to keep the signature Dave moves up front. Actually,  it might be the material that dominates. The group deeply inhabits these themes, milking ‘em for every improv option around.

The Bad Plus, Give (Columbia)
As the  trio drastically deconstructs its pop standards (Pixies, Sabbath, Nirvana), they create a fetching blend of uncertainty. How much ballyhoo can a bossa nova take? How roughshod can you ride over a rumba? Their bombast is built around nuance, however. When splashmeister David King unloads his thud arsenal on “Cheney Piñata,” you truly wonder where the piece might end up. Eradicating foregone conclusions deserves all the credit in the world.

Gold Sounds (Brown Brothers)
From Radiohead to Joni to the Beatles to Rufus Wainwright,  it was a decade of jazzers going pop. Few outfits dedicated their entire book to one artist, though. James Carter and company did, and the dudes in Pavement got a tribute worthy of their eccentricities.

Motian/Lovano/Frisell,  I Have The Room Above Her (ECM)
Some music has so much poise it simply radiates. A novel symmetry gives this intricate music a blithe feel, and when matched with some of the eerie and reflective melodies, it creates a dreamy abstraction that’s unparalleled on the current jazz scene.

Keith Jarrett, The Carnegie Hall Concert (ECM)
Fantasias, blues, discordant reveries — Jarrett’s skill at concocting discrete and diverse works is in the foreground during this solo show on 57th Street. His overly romantic side is nudged out of the way for the evening; here he’s often determining ways to get counterpoint and rumination to do his bidding.

Andrew Hill, Time Lines (Blue Note)
The veteran pianist’s music sounds sketchy as it makes definitive moves. As usual, the odd chemistry behind ballad dreamscapes like “Malachi” and “Whitsuntide” is terrifically engaging.

Trio Beyond, Saudades (ECM)
Jack DeJohnette wanted to celebrate his pal Tony Williams. So he grabbed John Scofield and Larry Goldings, and blasted through tunes from the drummer’s Lifetime book. Jazz is all about connecting, and on this live date these three work as one while hitting individual highs regarding imagination and ardor.

Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
The maestro does what he’s always done: rephrases his lexicon of tart, elliptical phrases into novel patterns that playfully taunt the actions of his cohorts. His first new disc in years was a joy because his music sounds so natural at this late date.

Joe Lovano & Hank Jones, Kids: Live At Dizzy’s (Blue Note)
A pair of sublime improvisers trounce the notion that there’s a generation gap in jazz. Prioritizing grace and wit, they make their cozy sax and piano duets gleam with invention.

Maria Schneider, Sky Blue (Artist Share)
The composer-arranger’s work got increasingly eloquent with each year, and in this salute to flight, nature, and the heavens, she has her large ensemble reveal how waxing expansive is an engaging way of explaining specifics.

Abbey Lincoln, Abbey Sings Abbey (Verve)
She shelved the piano trio and took up with Larry Campbell’s nuance-smitten twang ensemble, proving one person’s heresy is another’s revitalization. The philosophical tunes that Lincoln has long been known for resounded anew.

David Torn, Prezens (ECM)
Like Teo Macero doctoring Miles’s studio performances in the early ’70s, the prog guitarist edited the files born of free-improv session with Tim Berne’s band. Elongating riffs, shredding passages, and amending tones and textures, he created free-floating space symphonies and jumbled shriek-a-thons — unholy blends that examine the poetic side of cognitive dissonance.

Charles Lloyd/Billy Higgins, Which Way is East? (ECM)
These pithy sketches find the graying masters indulging themselves in all sorts of whims, from pastoral African poems to swagger blues bop. Above all is their level of connection. Jazz is an art of sharing, and these two old friends prove themselves expert at give ‘n’ take.

Francisco Mela, Cirio (Half Note)
A telling portrait of an exquisite night on an NYC bandstand. The Cuban drummer and his pals (Jason Moran, Mark Turner) deliver a series of inspired kinetics.

Lionel Loueke, Karibu (Blue Note)
The virtuoso guitarist brought rhythms from his native Benin to tunes that teased counterpoint into feeling like funk.

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam)
The most go-anywhere, do anything big band record to come along in 2009 is rich with orchestral colors and rock attitude that become more fascinating the more you listen to them.

DON’T FORGET THE 25 JAZZ CDs THAT MIGHT MAKE THE 2009 TOP 10  LISTS. What’s your favorite this year?

7 responses to “25 Best Jazz Discs of the Decade?

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  2. Nice list. It’s definitely Brian Blade playing drums on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints Live!”, not Jeff Ballard.

  3. You already got my #1: Dave Holland’s Extended Play. Then there’s…

    – Jason Lindner Big Band, Live at the Jazz Gallery (Anzic). It came out in the same year as Sky Blue, so it was (justly) overshadowed…but I heard it when I was lying in bed with a badly sprained ankle and painkillers up to my nose, yet gasped aloud and sat bolt upright when they hit a crescendo. The ensemble is slightly rough-hewn, but the soloists are top notch and the harmonies sublime.

    – Maria Schneider – Sky Blue (ArtistShare)

    – Bennie Maupin – Early Reflections (Cryptogramophone)

    – Andrew Hill – Time Lines (Blue Note)

    – Sonny Rollins – Without A Song: The 9/11 Concert (Milestone)

    – Bad Plus – These Are the Vistas (Sony/Columbia)

    – Darcy James Argue – Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam)

    – Nicole Mitchell – Black Unstoppable (Delmark)

    Nicholas Payton – Sonic Trance (Warner Bros.)

    Can I just stop at 10?

  4. Jim: I would add Motian’s Garden of Eden – not only beautiful, but he gets an extremely crowded lineup to work spaciously.

  5. No Ken Vandermark?

  6. Pingback: 10 BEST JAZZ CDs OF 2009 « Lament For A Straight Line

  7. Pingback: 10 Years, 10 Albums: Ornette’s Nu Black Junk Medicine Plus « Lament For A Straight Line

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