As 2013 draws to a close, wellyouneedit celebrates its one-year anniversary. How did that happen? It’s been a bumpy road and I’m still not sure why I bother to put these thoughts out there. Oh well, for writing’s sake, I guess, which is a pretty good reason, isn’t it? Here, I want to thank my handful of faithful readers scattered around France and the globe. You know who you are.
The year-end lists are flooding the Internet. With a jazz-heavy listening and playing schedule to handle, I simply don’t have the time to check out the plethora of good “non-jazz” music released in this day and age. As a music fan, though, I like to think that this thing called jazz is not as insular and monolithic as the naysayers would have you believe. Today’s prominent improvisers tap into all kinds of music and extramusical sources to shape their path in the continuum. The result of that blending process doesn’t always work but it is integral to this art. As the aggressive debates raging on the Internet and the blogosphere show, the term jazz is very restrictive and contentious in many ways. Specifically, it doesn’t acknowledge the shape-shifting qualities at work in spontaneous collective improvisation, and it doesn’t do justice to the musicians who have continuously pushed the envelope to move the music forward. But for lack of a better and all-embracing term, we’re just going to have to stick with it for a while! If there’s anything to change about the presentation of jazz to the neophyte, it might involve defining it not so much as a music style per se as an approach to addressing and appropriating musical content – Duke Ellington or Bjork, it doesn’t matter. The purists will take issue with that view, but the purists are wrong. Get real, purists! Trying to dictate what an art is and what it is not is a pointless struggle. The following list is a random and unrated selection of albums that played on a regular basis or caught my ear, here at wellyouneedit, in 2013. Inevitably, a lot of it is jazz, but in my book good music transcends category. Enjoy.
Dave King, I’ll Be Ringing you (2012)
With fellow Minnesotans Bill Carrothers and Billy Preston, the drummer revisits the standards with haunting introspection. A well-tended fire smolders through this quiet record. Huddle up, make some tea and kill the lights. And swing by the wynit archive for the short album review.
Brad Mehldau Trio, House on Hill (2006)
I finally decided which of Brad Mehldau’s albums I would take on a desert island. Right down to the enlightening liner notes (on Bach, Brahms and Monk), this one is a stellar document of the early trio (with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy). Strong compositions and high-caliber playing for all involved.
Orrin Evans, Flip the script (2012); Blessed ones (2001)
The ability of these tight trios (bassists Eric Revis and Ben Wolfe and drummers Nasheet Waits and Donald Edwards) to bend the swing tradition and honor it at the same time keeps astounding me. The demotion job on Autumn Leaves will have you scratching your head first time around but sound magically obvious after a few listens.
Matana Roberts, Mississippi Moonchile (2013)
A powerful artistic statement from the great alto saxophonist and multidisciplinary artist. This beautiful suite is Roberts’ personal take on Black American history, specifically through her female lineage. The music is a seamless collage/conflation of the various strands of African-American music. The fascinating story continues.
The Bad Plus, Made Possible (2012)
Epic melancholia, joyful abandon, frantic energy and telepathic cohesion. The trio does make anything possible. In the words of drummer Dave King « this band contains some of the most punk energy I’ve ever seen or heard as a musician ». But make no mistake, this is unquestionably as tight and honest a modern jazz trio as it gets. Watch the EPK for their 2012 record and check out the amazing discography.
Vijay Iver Trio, Accelerando (2012)
The award-winning pianist has the critics divided. Undaunted, I listen to the staccato rhythms of bassist Stephen Crump and Marcus Gilmore and nod to the vibe.
Glenn Gould, Bach English Suites , Inventions & Sinfonias (1982)
To think that all of Bach’s keyboard music was conceived for the harpsichord is confounding, especially when played by Glenn Gould on piano. Timeless.
Mark Turner, Yam Yam (1994), Dharma Days (2001)
Whether the album cover of Yam Yam was a wise marketing decision is a matter of personal aesthetics but the music shows off Turner’s tasteful lyricism and hugely influential voice on tenor. Dharma Days is the one to get. Features Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar), Reid Anderson (bass), Nasheet Waits (drums).
Eric Revis, Parallax (2012)
The potent bassist delivers a fine inside/outside jazz offering. Serious chops and burning grooves across the board. Features Nasheet Waits (drums), Jason Moran (piano) and Ken Vandermark (tenor sax and clarinet)
J Dilla, Donuts (2006)
The legendary hip hop producer probably owned a sizable record collection. This album splices together a nice selection of soul and rap cuts from the 60s onward. I usually play the first song and find myself listening through the album.
Geri Allen, The Life of a Song (2004)
In the company of such heavyweights as Dave Holland and Jack de Johnette, Geri Allen found sympathetic support to deliver her groove-packed set of originals and rearranged standards. There isn’t a weak moment in this program. Highly recommended.
Darius Jones & Matthew Shipp, Cosmic Lieder (2010)
Smooth-flowing dialogue between two singular voices of free forms. Shipp’s dark low-end tones take on a welcome brightness against Jones’ honking enthusiasm.
Melanie De Biasio, No Deal (2013).
With the pared-down instrumentation of flute, drums and keyboard, Melanie De Biasio’s enveloping vocals push through the ether with grace and a sense of subdued drama.
Drew Gress, Black Butterflies (2005)
Lush writing, infectious grooves and free blowing make up this alluring album.For Craig Taborn’s solo on the song Bright Idea alone, this one is worth a good listen. Features Tim Berne (alto sax), Ralph Alessi (Trumpet), Craig Taborn (piano), Tom Rainey (drums).
John Coltrane The Classic Quartet – the complete Impulse studio recordings (1961-1965)
Immortal. What would jazz have sounded like if that quartet hadn’t existed? Eternally inspiring.
Do I really have to drum the point home? You have to get with Monk. Period.
Craig Taborn Light Made Lighter (2001)
Taborn’s debut album amply demonstrates his versatility in the classic piano trio format. A good place to start.
Butcher Brown – A sides B sides
On their self-released and generously free (cop it on their website) debut, Butcher Brown make instrumental groove music that sounds oddly new despite the overt references to 70s funk. An ideal moodsetter that doesn’t sacrifice musicianship for chilling’s sake. Check it out.
Elmo Hope, Complete Studio Recordings
What a tragic life his was. It’s time to restore Hope’s profound contribution to modern jazz piano music. No less than Monk’s best friend and favorite player.
Julia Holter Loud City Song (2013)
Wow. This one almost didn’t make my list. There is definitely more than ambient and pop to this music. But for now I’ll settle for uncategorizable.
And countless more to satisfy the music junkie’s appetite but that I’m too lazy to write a single word about.