The Best of 2008, Part 2: Traditional & Modern Jazz

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by Pico

Yesterday was a look back at what I thought were the best mainstream music releases of 2008. Now it’s time for the installment of this year’s “Best Of” series that’s my main bread and butter: straight ahead jazz. More records of that sort were covered in this space than the other music styles, so naturally, it’s going to be a longer list.

This has been another great twelve months of new jazz offerings, and several notable reissues, like a remastered version of Bill Evans’ Sunday At The Village Vanguard. I left these reissues off the list with one notable exception. Even so, I still left out some other pretty good records; this list is limited only to those I can recommend without any hesitation.

Remember, this is only traditional and modern jazz; there will be separate articles on fusion, and, of course, whack jazz following this one. Here are the choices…

Best CD Of The Batch: John Ellis & Double-Wide – Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow

This year has been a three-man race for best traditional/modern jazz record. Leonardo E.M. Cioglia’s Contos and Torben Waldorff’s Afterburn are both flawless and inventive. In the end, I gave the nod to saxophonist John Ellis’ Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow because there’s really nothing at all like it. Dance is jubilant and syncopated fun in the traditional New Orleans sense, but carried out unconventionally. Most of that “unconvention” comes by way of combining a church organ with a sousaphone. Even beyond that, Ellis shows how much roots music he’s soaked up in New Orleans and elsewhere in the South and twists it in unpredictable but delightful ways.

John Ellis has also found himself on a lot of other great jazz recordings over the last year, including at least two from the “Best of the Rest” list below. 2008 is his year, as far as I’m concerned.

Best Song Of The Batch: Leonardo E.M. Cioglia – “Santa Maria”

This is a magnificent piece of composing. The searching melody moves from one harmonic area to another, but always landing on its feet. It possesses enough grace and yet enough surprises to merit comparisons to Ellington (and it’s easy to imagine this composition being performed by a big band). A gentle waltz given a air of elegance by Stefon Harris’ vibes, Cioglia keeps the proceedings moving precisely along with his unwavering bass, while Antonio Sanchez and Aaron Goldberg provide note-perfect shadings on drums and piano, respectively.

And the tenor sax is supplied by…who else…John Ellis.

Best of the Rest:

Leonardo E.M. CiogliaContos: Cioglia’s proper debut shows him to be astonishingly good composer (see “Best Song Of The Batch” above) and a considerable bandleader.
Torben WaldorffAfterburn: Not quite a tightly orchestrated affair, not quite a jam session. Rather, the perfect mix of both.
Enrico RavaThe Pilgrim and The Stars: This is from 1975 but released for the first time on CD in the States. One of the best of the early ECM’s.
Aaron ParksInvisible Cinema: Parks is bringing modern jazz into the 21st century with all its integrity intact.
Brad Leali & Claus Raible QuartetD.A.’s Time: These guys put that old, soulful feel back into jazz.
Christian ScottLive At Newport: Scott is one of the freshest sounding trumpet players to come along in a long while and his band killed at Newport.
Stryker-Slagle BandThe Scene: Stryker, Slagle, Jay Anderson, Victor Lewis, Joe Lovano. ‘Nuff said.
Dave Holland SextetPass It On: There are raver reviews of this record than mine, but I can’t deny that even an average Dave Holland record is still money.
The Wee TrioCapitol Diner Vol. 1: The world’s most vicious vibe-led threesome makes an auspicious debut.
The New Jazz Composers OctetThe Turning Gate: I almost mentioned this in the last Quickies, but there’s too much to say about this ensemble. Take my word on it for now, it’s a record full of well-constructed, well-arranged songs.
Willie Nelson & Wynton MarsalisTwo Men With The Blues: Last year Robert Plant and Allison Krauss was the odd pairing that way exceeded expectations; this year it’s a live meeting of two living legends. Forget any preconcept
ions, just buy this record.
Steve Allee TrioDragonfly: Beautiful compositions + steady playing = spot on this list.
Art PepperUnreleased Art, Vol III: The Croydon Concert May 14, 1981: It’s impossible to think that anyone was playing better alto saxophone than Pepper was just a year before his death.
Alexis CuadradoPuzzles: Cuadrado is all over the map, but every place he goes is a nice place.
Derrick Gardner And The Jazz ProphetsA Ride To The Other Side: This is straight up the best hard-bop release in 2008. Coolest title, too.
James CarterPresent Tense: Carter has already expertly covered most facets of jazz, only this time he’s doing it on a single record.
Marcin Wasilewski TrioJanuary: The future of Polish jazz looks very, very bright.
Avishai Cohen TrioGently Disturbed: It’s refreshing to see a virtuosic bass player lead a band that plays in service of the songs, not the other way around.
Anne Mette IversenMany Places/Best Of The West: A twofer, one is good chamber jazz; the other, great quartet jazz.
Dave Stryker QuartetStrike Up The Band: You can say this about Stryker, he’s very consistently good.
Kurt RosenwinkelThe Remedy: Live At The Village Vanguard: Rosenwinkel is just about ready to assume a place alongside Scofield, Metheny and Frisell.
Ben Allison & Man Size SafeLittle Things Run The World: Jazz that’s hard to categorize but easy to like. Another up-and-coming bass player with great composing skills.
Charles LloydRabo de Nube: 45 years later, Lloyd is still making records. Make that, damned good records.
Pat Metheny TrioTokyo Day Trip: Live EP: I haven’t reviewed this record, except for one track on, and that happens to be the only non-straight jazz cut on the record. Regardless, I favor this over the studio rendered Day Trip released earlier this year because Metheny’s bands tend to play more inspired on the road. This EP supports that notion.

Next: Rock Fusion & World Fusion Jazz…

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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