OK, I’ll bite. NPR’s A Blog Supreme is doing a series on jazz recordings of the past ten years (or so), and I’m jumping in the fray with my five. Actually, I feel like this could have gone in a hundred different directions due to the sheer quantity of decent records released in the last ten years. Fun exercise, though. Someday I’ll do a list of what was left off.
Peter Kowald Off the Road (RogueArt)
In many ways, Peter Kowald represents the kind of musician that has become de rigueur in jazz in 2009: relentlessly artistic, community-focused, technically gifted and musically omnivorous. This stellar document of Kowald’s 2000 tour of the U.S. showcases his muscular and cavernous sound tangling with some of the best players alive, and serves as a notable tribute to a restlessly creative, unbounded and inclusive spirit.
Other Dimensions in Music Time Is of the Essence Is Beyond Time (AUM Fidelity)
This record tore me apart when I first heard it, a total punk rock version of free jazz: all DIY, dirty fingers and play-or-die conviction. This entry could easily have gone to the related bands TEST or Tenor Rising, Drums Expanding, as all assume a Ph.D.-level version of group interplay, a notch in the evolutionary pathway begun in 1920s collective improvisation.
Joe Morris Wildlife (AUM Fidelity)
Speaking of group improvisation, this apparently totally improvised 2009 release has been churning its way through my iTunes playlists on the regular. I say “apparently” because the instant composition is so organized, engaging and logical that it represents musical thinking of another plane. Joe Morris, better known (for now), as a guitarist, throws down a harmonic foundation and rhythmic force that sparks the rest of the band into purity of action. Check the album’s centerpiece, “Thicket,” which channels Ornette Coleman’s Blue Notes and that negus of Ethiopian sax, Getatchew Mekurya. I just wish this was released on vinyl.
Mary Halvorson Dragon’s Head (Firehouse 12)
I’ve written of my adoration of Dragon’s Head elsewhere and, for the sake of this list, was tempted to replace her with one of her able contemporaries: Peter Evans, Tyshawn Sorey or Taylor Ho Bynum. Couldn’t do it. The Shrinky Dink curling-up of her post-everything compositions, coupled with the most idiosyncratic guitar sound/style I’ve heard in a decade make Halvorson’s debut statement a bullhorn of future possibility. The live version of this band has been recently expanded to a quintet so get excited.
Dave Douglas Constellations (Hat Art)
I could have naturally picked a dozen Douglas albums for this list (and, ahem, one closer to ten years old!), but I chose Constellations for Dave’s genius interpretation of one song only, the Herbie Nichols tune “The Gig.” The thing about good jazz music of any era is that it can send the enthusiast into a spiral of discovery, into a vast ocean of inspiration. This particular version of “The Gig” led me from the complete Herbie Nichols catalog to a reexamination of Thelonious Monk, to Steve Lacy’s Monk reinterpretations, to solo horns of all stripes, and on and on.
The Necks Townsville (Fish of Milk) – The best piano trio on the planet. Seriously.
Tyshawn Sorey That/Not (Firehouse 12) – Downtown jazz drummer does Morton Feldman to noble results. His latest, Koan, is equally glacial and openhearted.
Chris Dadge & Aaron Leaney S/T (Bug Incision) – Scrappy loose and engaging free improv from Calgary.
Acid Birds S/T (Qbico) – Out-of-nowhere brilliance from two-thirds of Gold Sparkle Band and one-half The Peeesseye ripping holes in the universe.
Anthony Braxton Quartet (Moscow) 2008 (Leo) – AB continues to obliterate all in his path with this recent quartet album that not coincidentally features new jack killers Mary Halvorson, Taylor Ho Bynum and Katherine Young.