Year in Jazz: Playing for keeps

By JON GARELICK  |  December 22, 2008


UTILITY STRING: Jenny Scheinman released two CDs, played her vocal music at the MFA, and was the lead “voice” of Bill Frisell’s string ensemble.

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

WFNX Jazz Brunch Top 10 of 2008
1. Cassandra Wilson, Loverly [Blue Note]
2. Patricia Barber, The Cole Porter Mix [Blue Note]
3. Brian Blade, Season of Changes [Verve]
4. Todd Sickafoose, Tiny Resistors [Cryptogramophone]
5. Marco Benevento, Invisible Baby [Hyena]
6. Aaron Parks, Invisible Cinema [Blue Note]
7. Pat Metheny, Day Trip [Nonesuch]
8. e.s.t., Leucocyte [Emarcy]
9. Maceo Parker, Roots and Grooves [Heads Up]
10. Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza [Heads Up]
Brian Blade Fellowship
Blade has become the man in jazz drumming, most prominently with Joshua Redman in the '90s and Wayne Shorter in the '00s. But he's got a string of pop credits that includes Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Daniel Lanois. His Fellowship Band, with co-composer and keyboardist Jon Cowherd, represents the merger of Blade's pop and jazz sides and a general movement in jazz among players under 40 toward creating jazz from the kind of pop they grew up with (as opposed to the pop Sonny Rollins grew up with). Blade, Cowherd, bassist Chris Thomas, reedmen Myron Walden and Melvin Butler, and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel released only their third album since 1998, Season of Changes (Verve), tore it up at Newport last August, and (with a slightly different line-up) filled Scullers for two shows in November.

Rudresh Mahanthappa
Colorado-raised alto-saxophonist Mahanthappa didn't begin to explore seriously the music of his parents' native country till he traveled to India as a Berklee student in 1994. Since then he's continued to travel there, studying and developing his own vision of the music, and he's continued to collaborate with fellow Indian-American Vijay Iyer. In February, he brought pianist Iyer as part of a quartet to the Gardner Museum for an exciting concert. In September, Mahanthappa released Kinsmen (Pi), perhaps his most fully realized Indo-jazz fusion yet, a collaboration with veteran Indian alto-saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath and an ensemble that included violinist A. Kanyakumari and guitarist Rez Abassi.

Carla Bley
Bley's local performances have been rare in recent years, so it was a treat to see her at Scullers in April with long-time collaborators Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard — her Music with Legs trio. They played her 20-minute suite "The National Anthem," the beautiful slow tango "Tropical Depression," the rock-beat "Sidewinders in Paradise" (which of course quoted "Stranger in Paradise"), the Monkish bebop "Doctor," the sinister matinee-movie waltz "Valse Sinistre," the Norwegian folk "Útviklingssang," and her eternal cyclical waltz "Ad Inifinitum." This was the intimate, small-group Bley. Later in the year came Appearing Nightly (ECM) — Bley in her daunting big-band mode. Maybe we can get her back live with the big band in 2009?

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