Well, of course I don’t think jazz is stupid. I love jazz. But that didn’t stop me from laughing out loud when this scene showed up out of nowhere in a recent episode of The Office. And things showing up out of nowhere — that element of surprise — is what makes jazz and other forms of improvised music so much fun.
OK then, time for some fun! Just as with my Rock and Pop list, we have the album of the year followed by everything else in more or less random order.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Mary Halvorson Quintet – Bending Bridges
It’s an odd year when Pat Metheny appears on my list but isn’t at the top. That should give you an idea of how much I’ve been overcome by the guitar of Mary Halvorson. In fact, she appears on several list entries. It was great to hear her stretch out for this project, composing for a larger ensemble. There are so many avenues for exploration here that each listen feels fresh. I may never get tired of this one.
Mary Halvorson, Weasel Walter, Peter Evans – Mechanical Malfunction
The interplay on this record is just killer. Guitar, trumpet, and drums making all sorts of crazed trouble.
Joy Mega – Forever Is Something Inside You
Imagine that Jandek had just discovered Arto Lindsay. And somehow, Mary Halvorson was involved…
Marco Cappelli’s Italian Surf Academy – The American Dream
Spaghetti western music done up with extra twang, foreboding, and naked surf girls. What’s not to love?
Katherine Young – Pretty Monsters
Bassoon like you’ve never heard it before.
The Heavens – The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album
Faith vs. reason, with horns. That smartass synopsis is really kind of unfair as Jacob Garchik’s concept goes much deeper. Still, this is a load of fun.
Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up – The Air is Different
Did I miss any releases with Mary Halvorson on guitar? Gee, I hope not.
Monday Michiru – Soulception
There are a ton of jazz vocal albums out there that are content to be polite, giving a “new” take of a handful of favorites from the canon. This is not that record. Michiru’s gorgeous voices winds its way though a program that’s as comfortable with spiky modernism as it is with a soulful Latin groove.
Jessica Lurie Ensemble – Megaphone Heart
It’s a pop album with jazz leanings. It’s a jazz album with pop sensibility. Yes, and sometimes it stomps around with such authority that I half expect Tom Waits to pop out of the speakers.
Luce Trio – Pieces, Vol. 1
An incredibly beautiful and interesting take on early music: alto sax, Sruti box, electric guitar, and bass. It’s serene, reflective, and full of space.
Pat Metheny – Unity Band
After all these years (since the release of 80/81), we get to hear Pat sharing the compositional space with a saxophone. We are not disappointed.
Mort Weiss – I’ll Be Seeing You
There aren’t a lot of trouble-makers left in the jazz world, so you should acquaint yourself with Mr. Weiss. Don’t let the warm sound of his clarinet fool you because he can explode into one king-hell solo at a moment’s notice.
Jeb Bishop, Jorrit Dijkstra – 1000 Words
Just trombone and alto sax. Sometimes pensive and circling, other times…skronk-a-licious! I suppose it’s a kind of chamber jazz, those not nearly so well-behaved as that moniker implies.