The Best of 2009, Part 4: Mainstream And Modern Jazz

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by S. Victor Aaron

I’m not one of those critics who creates a “best of” list by merely dumping a bunch of names and titles. But I felt a need to explain that because this list of mainstream and modern jazz from the past year has 41 entrants on it. And yet, I left out some albums I would still recommend without hesitation, like the three CD’s by guitarists from the upstart LateSet label. But in a bumper crop of great records, even “quite good” is not good enough to be called one of the best.

A large selection of terrific albums to choose from isn’t the only thing in common with the fusion list, however. Most of these choices come from unsigned artists or tiny-label artists, and so they fall outside of wide public awareness. It’s from these obscured nooks and crannies of jazz where much of the treasure lies, from men and women who are hungry and bring fresh perspectives to a music form too often hastily dismissed as having nothing left to offer.

There’s one more striking similarity to the fusion jazz tabulation: it’s topped by someone I didn’t know existed a year ago. How quickly we can reorder our notions of which artists and records are the best…

Best CD Of The Batch: Kait Dunton – Real And Imagined

You expect to get knocked off your feet by instrumental jazz records by guys who come with a track record of doing that; you least expect to get blown away by such records coming from a guy, or gal, who has had no previously released work to compare against. Kait Dunton, fresh from completing a graduate music degree (and currently pursuing yet another one), took some time off from studies to craft a perfect piano trio record full of imaginative and delicately interwoven compositions, crisp playing and tightly bound group interplay. Thus, in her spare time, she outdid other straight jazz offerings last year by the likes of Keith Jarrett, Joe Lovano and Chick Corea. Featured on’s The Young Lionesses: Ten Future Female Jazz Stars, I opined there that:

It’s one thing to do all these things, it’s quite another to do it all so impeccably as she did here, the first time out. While her meter and mood shifting compositions reveals an amazing amount of breadth and depth coming right out the gate, she also demonstrates restraint in all the right places. What’s more, she always leaves room in her carefully constructed pieces for human emotion, allowing them to groove, prance and meditate.

Like most people I’m sure Kait Dunton can’t wait to graduate, again. Neither can I, so that there can be more Dunton records to listen to.

Best Song Of The Batch: Will Sellenraad – “Prayer”:

They say that beauty lies in simplicity, and that’s most definitely the case here. The theme lazily alternates between two chords, but the method by which these two chords are rendered is so evocative, soulful and a little melancholy. As a tribute by the guitarist Sellenraad to the late, great drummer Elvin Jones, he allows his own drummer Victor Lewis to make the point that Jones possessed scads of taste and subtleties as much as he did power. For his part, Sellenraad leaves impressionistic strokes when he his not stating the simple theme, and Abraham Burton’s soprano sax fills the upper register with dulcet notes.

As the standout track from Sellenraad’s Balance CD, “Prayer” is a most gracious nod to a drumming legend.

Best Of The Rest:

Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnetteYesterdays: All these guys have to do is show up and sublime traditional jazz happens.
Enrico RavaNew York Days: The master Italian trumpeter heads a memorable session that’s both majestic and loose.
Mike ClarkBlueprints Of Jazz, Vol. 1: Clark successfully adapts his signature funky drumming style to an acoustic setting.
Chick Corea & HiromiDuet: Astounding virtuosity and telepathy from two ace pianists.
Jeff ‘Tain’ WattsWatts: Tain’s fury and humor is on full display in this delightfully unpredicatable record.
John StetchTV Trio: Stetch mines gold in old television theme music.
Claudio RoditiBrazilliance x4: Roditi brings out the beauty inherent in both American and Brazilian jazz in a perfect balance of the two styles.
Linda PresgraveInspiration: Presgrave fetes women composers, but this is top shelf stuff regardless of gender.
Dr. Lonnie Sm
Rise Up!
: The Good Doctor continues his late-career roll. The organ jazz record of the year.
Will SellenraadBalance: Sellenraad scores big on both melody and performance.
Various ArtistsThe Very Best Of Prestige Records (compilation): A tastefully assembled collection of standout tracks from one of the great jazz labels from the 50’s and 60’s.
Jimmy GreeneMission Statement: Greene forcefully nudges his way up the tenorman hierarchy.
Derrick Gardner & The Jazz Prophets + 2Echoes Of Ethnicity: Gardner keeps the flame of the Jazz Messengers alive by adding two more logs to the fire.
Dave SiebelsDave Siebels with Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band: All the richness of a big band with the agility of a funky little organ combo.
Scotty BarnhartSay It Plain: bring a new freshness to “old school” jazz.
E.J. StricklandIn This Day: Drummer E.J. Strickland makes an auspicious debut as a capable leader and composer.
Marcus StricklandIdiosyncracies: Saxophonist Marcus Strickland is already a proven leader and composer, but he strengthens his legacy in this trio setting.
Guilherme MonteiroAir: Understated Brazilian elegence from a tasteful young guitarist.
Rick Germanson Off The Cuff: Brisk and fluid, Germanson and his crack trio make it sound vital and interesting.
Steve Kuhn Trio with Joe LovanoMostly Coltrane: Despite a misstep or two, there’s no denying that Kuhn has captured the spirituality of his old boss rather well.
Hailey Niswanger Confeddie: Hot bop from an amazing young talent. Now this is my idea of a teenaged phenom.
David Berkman QuartetAlong Came Betty: Berkan and his foursome capture the cozy nightclub ambience perfectly.
John PatitucciRemembrance: Loose performances by three virtuosos alone make this record worth the purchase.
Dan MorettiTres Muse: Muscular, lean sax jazz that takes no prisoners.
Joe MartinNot By Chance: Martin with Chris Potter, Brad Mehldau and Marcus Gilmore. You can’t go wrong, there.
Benny ReidEscaping Shadows: Methenyesque in all the right places.
Linda OhEntry: A rare debut where the artist wastes no time firmly establishing her own sound.
Wayne Wallace¡Bien Bien!: Wallace makes a seriously fun Latin jazz record centered around his trombone.
Ben AllisonThink Free: Allison makes his jazz rock, but not too hard.
Stefano BollaniStone In The Water: A quietly powerful record of piano/bass/drums worthy of the ECM standard.
Anson Wright and Tim GilsonUkiah’s Lullaby: A great rapport between guitarist and bassist, and good-to-great songs make this one a keeper.
Randy IngramThe Road Ahead: Snazzy arrangements, sharp performances and tight compositions add up to a highly recommended album.
Joey DeFrancescoSnapshot: Next to Dr. Lonnie Smith’s Rise Up!, this live date is about as good as organ jazz got in 2009.
Ramsey LewisSongs From The Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey: We know that he can play, but who knew that Ramsey was such a great composer?
Jeff PresslaffRed Goddess: Just a tad unconventional but plenty approachable.
Alex Terrier New York QuartetRoundtrip: An intelligent but very lyrical record.
Mario Adnet/Philippe Baden PowellAfrosambajazz: A superb recasting of the music of one of Brazil’s great 20th century composers.
Jon IrabagonThe Observer: This award-winning sax player shines with a stellar band and stellar engineering.
Eric AlexanderRevival Of The
: Alexander has gotten really good at evoking the tenor sax legends without impersonating them.
Vijay Iyer TrioHistoricity: Wasn’t covered on this site, and that’s a big whiff. Iyer’s very modern approach carries on the spirit of the Esbjörn Svensson Trio.

NEXT: Whack Jazz…

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