The Best Jazz of 2010

John Garratt and Will Layman

Jazz is working all the angles these days. Is there any other genre that has as much range -- from solo instruments to big bands, from instrumental to vocal, from European musicians to both North and South Americans, from truly pretty music to raucously avant-garde "noise"?

Jazz is working all the angles these days. We'd be surprised if there was any genre-specific best-of-the-year list on PopMatters to have such range -- from solo instruments to big bands, from instrumental to vocal, from European musicians to both North and South Americans, from truly pretty music to raucously avant-garde "noise". This range is remarkable because "jazz" still has a center that holds: every record on this list features intelligent, artful improvisation, compositions steeped in a tradition reaching back to Armstrong and Ellington, and remarkably cohesive fusion of elements beyond the tradition.

Increasingly, jazz does all this without the support of radio airplay, major label support, or a significant "popular" following. Which is not to say that the music is petering out in any way. It lives in a million places at once, not only in jazz clubs in Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan, but also at the Kennedy Center in DC or Tipitina's in New Orleans or countless concert halls, clubs, bars, and even living rooms from Oslo to Buenos Aires.

Our list, to an even greater degree than in previous years, features music produced for small, independent labels -- some that are starting to look like old reliables such as Pi or Cryptogramaphone and a whole bunch that merely promise a non-commercial commitment to integrity with each release. Only Blue Note is a true major label (with a single entry), and ECM, though independent, qualifies as the granddaddy of jazz outlets in 2010. We're thrilled that both still make the annual list.

The last thing we should note is that the communities of musicians making great jazz today are sufficiently rich and interconnected that other discs featuring the musicians on this list might easily have made the elite grouping. To choose just one example, Natural Selection by the Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet could easily be included. Is it mere coincidence that the vibes player on that recording is Bill Ware, who is a primary player and composer for the Jazz Passengers, represented here by Reunited? Or that Abbasi's frequent bandmate is Vijay Iyer, whose solo disc sits near the top of our list? Surely not.

Which is to say: there is a great web of jazz from 2010 to explore. Let this list be a beginning and not an end.


Solo Outings of Note

Artist: Vijay Iyer

Album: Solo

Label: ACT Music & Vision


Display Width: 200

US Release Date: 2010-08-31

UK Release Date: 2010-08-31


Display as: List

Vijay Iyer

The first solo piano outing by Vijay Iyer is an unqualified triumph, idiosyncratic and highly personalized, accessible but also fresh. On the one hand, Iyer reimagines some standards and pop songs so that his ideas about rhythm and his methodologies as a composer make sense. Particularly, we can hear the way Iyer uses patterns and repetitions to create unique harmonic and melodic structures on tunes as varied as Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" and Monk's "Epistrophy". On the other hand, Iyer presents a series of original tunes that exhibit his concepts compositionally. The essence of Iyer's excellence as a jazz pianist, however, is in the degree to which these performances are emotional, dramatic, and compelling. Whatever systematic method he brings to his playing, it serves the music itself: an art form that tugs at your ears and heart.


Artist: Marc Ribot

Album: Silent Movies

Label: Pi


Display Width: 200

US Release Date: 2010-09-28

UK Release Date: 2010-09-20


Display as: List

Marc Ribot
Silent Movies

Marc Ribot is like a young Derek Bailey; he can sit down with just his guitar and simultaneously confound you with technique, beauty, and surprise. Often within the same two bars of music. Various pieces of Silent Movies were born out of real soundtrack assignments, while the origins of others remained imaginary to Ribot. The result is solo guitar at its finest.


Artist: Matthew Shipp

Album: 4D

Label: Thirsty Ear


Display Width: 200

US Release Date: 2010-01-26

UK Release Date: 2010-01-26


Display as: List

Matthew Shipp

Matthew Shipp has been pushing the boundaries of jazz for decades, and this solo piano recording is a perfect summary of the man's impulses, techniques, and strengths. He plays with deep lyricism, but also maximum freedom here, staying close to the conventional on a few tunes (Duke's "Prelude to a Kiss") but more often veering off from stride into jagged zip. Shipp is impressionistic, driving, explosive, bombastic, playful, and psychedelic all in one solo recital.


Artist: Nels Cline

Album: Dirty Baby

Label: Cryptogramophone


Display Width: 200

US Release Date: 2010-10-12

UK Release Date: 2010-11-22


Display as: List

Nels Cline
Dirty Baby

Mad guitarist Nels Cline already released an exceptional double album earlier this year titled Initiate. Dirty Baby ups the ante big time. Producer David Breskin commissioned Cline to compose music to accompany the visual images of Los Angeles artist Ed Ruscha, and what came out of the deal runs everywhere from fragile and elegiac to outright nuts. Boasting some fine help from fellow west coast musicians, this is challenging music for challenging paintings.


Next Page

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.