Music

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"?

Veteran Bands

Artist: Steve Coleman and the Five Elements

Album: Harvesting Semblances and Affinities

Label: Pi

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US Release Date: 2010-06-08

UK Release Date: 2010-26-28

Review: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/128502-steve-coleman-and-five-elements-harvesting-semblances-and-affinities/

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Steve Coleman and the Five Elements
Harvesting Semblances and Affinities

After staying away from the American market for so long, the re-entry of sax legend Steve Coleman and his band the Five Elements isn't so much a breath of fresh air as it is a sharp shot in the arm for jazz. Never content to take the easy way out from a compositional point of view, Coleman shifts the sounds of his band in and around the ordinary blocks. It's hard to tell what makes Harvesting Semblances and Affinities work so well, but it sure sounds right.

 

Artist: Jason Moran

Album: Ten

Label: Blue Note

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US Release Date: 2010-06-21

UK Release Date: 2010-06-21

Review: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/130932-jason-moran-ten/

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Jason Moran
Ten

Moran and his band Bandwagon have been around for a decade, making music that has quietly become the standard for modern jazz trios. On its ninth (!) Blue Note recording, the trio brilliantly summarizes its great work: lyrical music, jazz that incorporates funk and hip hop, imaginatively fragmented jazz standards (a truly exceptional "Crepuscule with Nellie"), and even intriguing avant-garde compositions such as "Feedback Pt. 2" that incorporates pulsing guitar feedback in such a way that is Glassian, revelatory, wonderful. Another ten years, please.

 

Artist: Henry Threadgill Zooid

Album: This Brings Us To, Volume II

Label: Pi

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US Release Date: 2010-10-26

UK Release Date: 2010-11-08

Review: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/133499-henry-threadgill-zooid-this-brings-us-to-volume-ii/

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Henry Threadgill Zooid
This Brings Us To, Volume II

Henry Threadgill has spent so long chipping away at jazz traditions that you'd think he would run out of ways of thinking outside the box by now. Happily, he hasn't. This Brings Us To, Volume II is the companion piece to last year's volume one, obviously, and their DNA is pretty similar. But the method behind Zooid's madness -- aka Threadgill's compositional approach and the band's improvisational approach -- is something to behold all by itself. There may never again be another original like Threadgill, so we better embrace him while he's still around.

 

Artist: The Jazz Passengers

Album: Reunited

Label: Justin Time

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US Release Date: 2010-10-16

UK Release Date: 2010-10-12

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The Jazz Passengers
Reunited

The Jazz Passengers combine vaudeville and jazz into a strange and all-too-rare package. In the band's first recording in a decade, Roy Nathanson, Curtis Fowlkes, Bill Ware, and company seem like they never left us -- yet we've been strangely impoverished without them. Here is Elvis Costello crooning a beautiful ballad ("Wind Walked By") with Marc Ribot's guitar and Sam Bardfeld's violin haunting the background, a smashing cover of Radiohead's "The National Anthem", a crazily swung "Spanish Harlem", Deborah Harry killing it on lead vocals of an original and her own "One Way or Another". That's not to mention the title track, a Peaches and Herb rerun that is as affecting as it is weird and funny. The Passengers are a tonic for what, so often, ails a serious art form like jazz.

 

Artist: Either/Orchestra

Album: Mood Music for Time Travellers

Label: Accurate

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US Release Date: 2010-08-10

UK Release Date: 2010-08-10

Review: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/129466-eitherorchestra-mood-music-for-time-travellers/

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Either/Orchestra
Mood Music for Time Travellers

That’s not a typo, the Either/Orchestra really did name their new album with one too many "L"s. We may never know why they did that, but it could be indicative of the extra perks you get with a new album by Russ Gershon's legendary big band. Extra members, more texture, lengthier songs, abundant trumpet and sax solos, the sound of a band hitting its stride for the umpteenth time in their career -- it's all on display in Mood Music for Time Travellers. This is modern big band at its most jubilant.

 

Artist: Myra Melford and Be Bread

Album: The Whole Tree Gone

Label: Firehouse 12 Records

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US Release Date: 2010-01-19

UK Release Date: 2010-01-19

Review: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/119762-myra-melford-and-be-bread-the-whole-tree-gone/

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Myra Melford and Be Bread
The Whole Tree Gone

Be Bread is simultaneously brash and gentle, sunny and daring. This is the jazz avant-garde with a smile and a skip. Myra Melford is underestimated as a pianist, moving from Monk-ish bop to knuckle-swirling and percussive freedom in a single solo, but always serving the tune. The key to the disc may be Brandon Ross' acoustic guitar, which moves from pretty to tart to bluesy and holds the center of so many arrangements. Ben Goldberg's clarinet and Cuong Vu's trumpet are compelling in the front line, equally capable of creating stately chamber jazz and steely Blue Note spirit. Overall, the tone of Whole Tree is lyrical but fully free of constraint, continuing the legacy of brilliant records such as Dave Holland's Conference of the Birds.

 

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