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Jazz Journeys’ Best Recordings of 2009

"Historicity," Vijay Iyer Trio—A definition of the word "historicity"  is "the quality of being historically factual, as opposed to fictitious or legendary"; "a condition of being placed in the stream of history, also: a result of such placement." What about Iyer's "Historicity"? It simultaneously reflects jazz past, as well as pushes into the future that still lives in the now. Kinda. Iyer's music is never too complicated to "get," but this song helps serve as a gateway into his way of hearing and playing. Songs on "Historicity," include M.I.A.'s "Galang," Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother," and Iyer's original compositions. Bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore compliment perfectly and seamlessly. The record displays the limitless possibilities for the future of the jazz piano trio.

"Reflections," Kurt Rosenwinkel Standards Trio - Rosenwinkel delves into the harmonic fabric of several beautiful standards in an intimate trio setting, accompanied by bassist Eric Revis and drummer Eric Harland. The trio luxuriates in an almost-all-ballads program. From relaxed renditions of Wayne Shorters "Ana Maria" and "Fall," to elegant interpretations of Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now" and "Reflections," and gorgeous readings of standards like "More Than You'll Know," and "You Go To My Head," Rosenwinkel embraces these timeless melodies with rare nuance and soul. "Reflections" is, perhaps, Kurt Rosenwinkel's most refined and engaging project to date; it reveals a warmer side to this gifted, multi-directional musician.

"The Bright Mississippi," Allen Toussaint— Once jazz was the music of the "streets," and New Orleans the center of the musical universe. On his 2009 release, Allen Toussaint, native and longtime N'awlins pianist, songwriter, arranger and record producer, returns to the music of his hometown in stunning fashion. Producer Joe Henry said Toussaint's musical approach was "reaching back to look forward." It includes giants of the genre today, with Don Byron, Nicholas Payton and Marc Ribot. Toussaint takes the listener back into the early 20th century, with inspiring takes on the works of Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton and others. It's a soulful performance, with stunning solos all around.

"Not By Chance,"  Joe Martin — Joe Martin is one of the most sought-after bassists on the current New York City jazz scene. Known for his warm sound, ear, harmonic flexibility, and lyrical solos, he has performed with a diverse range of musicians including Vinicius Cantuaria, Bill Charlap, Anat Cohen, and many more. On his '09 release, "Not By Chance," one probably would know the sidemen here more than the leader: Pianist Brad Mehldau is one of the most prominent and popular jazz pianists playing today, and Chris Potter is one of the most active and influential saxophonists. In this recording, Mehldau, Potter, and drummer Marcus Gilmore join Joe Martin in a wonderful quartet. It's just marvelous and worth seeking out.

“Ways & Means,” James Carney Group — Carney crafts an artfully layered new album with a slight cinematic quality. But not in the film noir sense. Most of the music on the album was written with moving pictures in mind; Carney recently finished a film festival commission, and was inspired to keep exploring. He wrote six pieces for an adaptable septet, which collectively improvised three more. The results flicker like a movie across a spectrum of color and emotion, with insightful solo commentary from the trumpeter Ralph Alessi, trombonist Josh Roseman and the saxophonists Peter Epstein and Tony Malaby. It’s a chamber effort, rich in texture.

"The Way They Make Me Feel," Angela Hagenbach — I have waited 5 years for this. Angela is simply the best kept secret in jazz.  She possesses an extraordinary range, perfect phrasing, and a style that is all her own. On her first release for Resonance records, one which is a big departure from past records with full orchestration on many tracks, Angela sings swinging, straight-ahead jazz and blues to sensual, rhythmic Latin-tinged jazz with effortless agility. Her voice soars to a range of nearly three octaves, and the orchestral backing is a perfect compliment to a perfect jazz vocalist. No one gets more nuance from the lyric sheet as Ms. Hagenbach.

"Microswing," Suely Mesquita — Beautiful work from Suely Mesquita, one of the most compelling Brazilian singer/songwriters heard in years, sounding even more fully formed here than on her great debut, "Sexo Puro" from a few years back. This album possesses a sensitivity that comes through right immediately. A simultaneous complexity in the songwriting, yet a simplicity that's quite personal. This is the kind of core, basic brilliance that first lit up Brazilian music from the bossa years and beyond -- even though the album itself is no where near bossa nova. Her vocals get wonderful accompaniment from the violão of Joao Gaspar, who underscores the inflections of Mesquita beautifully -- shading things with just the right sort of coloring. Language plays a large part of the recording, yet in ways that work even if you don't understand Portuguese.

“This Brings Us To, Vol. 1,” Henry Threadgill Zooid —  Mr. Threadgill, 65, has long been one of the most elusive composers in and around jazz. A composer of unconventional timbres, bristling counterpoint and tough but slippery rhythms. His output, like that of Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell, can veer toward contemporary classical territory, though it rarely settles there. “This Brings Us To, Vol. 1,” his first widely available release in eight years, finds him in superior form, leading Zooid through a half-dozen chamberlike, disruptive themes.  The world of improvised music needs more Henry Threadgill moments.

"Stolas: The Book of Angels, Vol. 12," Masada Quintet featuring Joe Lovano — When John Zorn conceived the Masada songbook, one of the goals was to have the music be the star rather than the band. Subsequently, he committed to recording different records with different groups. This record by the Masada Quintet featuring Joe Lovano, is all Masada regulars-- trumpeter Dave Douglas, pianist Uri Caine, bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Joey Baron.  One might say the old Masada band was 'Ornette does Klezmer,' so this possibly 1950s era Miles doing Klezmer. "Stolas" is a highly satisfying listen and well worth the investment.

"The Blueprint 3" Jay-Z — The 2009 album from international Hip Hop superstar and multi-media mogul, Shaun "Jay-Z" Carter, is the follow up to the classic "Blueprint" (2001) and the critically acclaimed "Blueprint II" (2002); it's the final installment in the series. Jay-Z is one of the best who's ever been in the game, with an incredibly long career and his body of work speaks for itself. You cannot understand the hip-hop game without understanding him. He's no longer the same man who hit the streets with "Reasonable Doubt." "Blueprint III" is mature hip-hop with quality beats, a sophisticated sound, and inventive lyrics. I sincerely appreciate and applaud this document because I love the depth and growth that this man is showing.


honorable mention:

"Brewster's Rooster" John Surman

"Mostly Coltrane" Steve Kuhn with Joe Lovano

"Na Cabeça" Marcos Sacramento

"Wildlife" Joe Morris

"21st Century Chase" Fred Anderson

"For Your Own Special Sweetheart" Jawbox (reissue)

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