2009: The year in jazz

In and out
By JON GARELICK  |  December 21, 2009

0912_redman_ain
NO STUNT: Joshua Redman’s “double trio” proved to be the real deal.

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite things from among the people, CDs, and concerts I wrote about this year.

• Ran Blake
The 74-year-old composer, pianist, film noir enthusiast, MacArthur "genius," and New England Conservatory improv-department charter faculty member released one of his peerless solo-piano albums, Driftwoods (Tompkins Square), a tribute to some of the vocal performances that have inspired him. In November, he gathered his forces at NEC for a spellbinding Blake-noir multimedia journey through Sidney Lumet's 1964 film The Pawnbroker.

• Jeremy Udden
Composer/saxophonist Udden says that "not a single tune" on his sophomore release, Plainville (Fresh Sound New Talent), began with a jazz influence. And yet it's hard to imagine anyone but jazz musicians creating it. The buoyant harmonies, lyrical melodies, and loose rhythmic feel may lack a certain jazz busy-ness (Udden likes RJ Miller because he's one monster drummer on the New York scene who's content to "play the same thing" for an entire song), but this "jazz for Wilco fans" (as one wag put it) was a sui generis keeper. The band — pump organ and banjo in tow — played a killer set at the House of Blues Foundation Room in November.

• Kurt Rosenwinkel
After a decade of making albums that have helped show the way for the next generation of jazz kids trying to figure out how to absorb the pop they grew up with into the original jazz they want to make, guitarist/composer Rosenwinkel himself went back to school. On Reflections (Word of Mouth), he and his "Standards Trio" (bassist Eric Revis and drummer Eric Harland) recorded a couple each by Monk and Wayne Shorter, as well as blue-chip American Songbook material and his own standard-type tune. The beauty and detail of the playing is stunning, but the overall delivery is subdued ("reflections" — get it?). He was not subdued, however, when he tore up the Regattabar with Revis and drummer Rodney Green in October — it was a thrilling display, whether you were a guitar geek or just a music fan.

• Julian Lage
Lage, a prodigy who played on the Grammys at 12 and was touring with Gary Burton at 17, delivered anything but the typical jazz-guitar record last spring. Sounding Point (EmArcy) combined the leader's guitar and writing with alto saxophone (Ben Roseth), cello (Aristides Rivas), bass (Jorge Roeder), and drums (Tupac Mantilla) for a unique ensemble sound that draws on the broad backgrounds of all its players — jazz, folk, classical, and Latin — to full effect. The CD was released in the spring, shortly after its recording. By the time the band hit Scullers in September, the material had become fodder for a loose and joyful five-way conversation.

• Sofia Rei Koutsovitis
Argentine singer/composer Koutsovitis is part of a long line of South and Central American musicians who have enriched the Boston scene with a pan-American style. (Among singer-songwriters, Mili Bermejo is the Mother of Them All.) An ambitious writer and arranger, Koutsovitis (now living in New York) stripped down the nine-piece band from 2006's Ojala for this year's Sube Azul (World Village/Harmonia Mundi), which puts her dark, athletic vocals at the center of reimagined folkloric songs driven by strong traditional dance rhythms. At the Regattabar in November, a one-of-a-kind band — with pianist Leo Genovese, bassist (and album co-producer) Jorge Roeder, guitarist Eric Kurimski, and percussionists Jorge Pérez-Albela and Tupac Mantilla — lived up to the album and then some.

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