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Best of 2010
BEST OF 2010
Jazz pianist Jason Moran and his trio, Bandwagon (Tarus Mateen, bass, and Nasheet Waits, drums) has been together for ten years, and TEN (Blue Note, $17.98) is a strong collection to celebrate the occasion. Moran pays tribute to mentors and teachers (Monk, Jaki Byard, Andrew Hill), plays tunes by Bernstein and Nancarrow, and throws in plenty of originals. Moran also won one of the MacArthur “genius grants” this year.
Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden, JASMINE (ECM, $17.98) – Pianist Keith Jarrett played with bassist Charlie Haden in the 1970s in a trio and, later, a wonderful quartet. The quartet (with Dewey Redman and Paul Motian) recorded many influential records on Impulse and ECM. After decades, Jarrett and Haden reunite in a program of love songs. The classics include “Body and Soul,” “Where Can I Go Without You,” and “For All We Know.” If you are a fan of Jarrett’s 1999 album, The Melody at Night, With You—also meditative readings of standards—you will be in for a treat.
Benoît Delbecq, CIRCLES AND CALLIGRAMS (Songlines Recordings, $17.98) and Benoît Delbecq Trio, THE SIXTH JUMP (Songlines Recordings, $17.98) – These two companion CDs by French pianist Benoît Delbecq are among the most intriguing of the year. Delbecq incorporates the percussive, “prepared” piano sounds of a John Cage, and the complex rhythmic writing of a Ligeti into his jazz, but also includes remixes of his tunes, and (on his trio album) surrounds himself with players who are versed in African grooves. The trio includes Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass (who’s studied the kora), and Émile Biayenda on drums and percussion instruments including the calabash. I recommend both, and advise listening to the albums on headphones for the fullest timbral effects.
Geri Allen & Timeline, LIVE (Motema, $13.99) – Jazz and tap dancing have a long history together, and, especially in the swing era, tappers would trade fours and eights with the elite bands of the day, as well as alternating sets. Pianist Geri Allen revives this tradition back in a modern context in a fantastic album recorded live with her trio: Kenny Davis, bass; Kassa Overall, drum; and Maurice Chestnutt, tap percussion. The CD also includes bonus videos of two performances from last year’s Detroit Jazz Festival. Ms Allen also had a great solo album,
Aaron Goldberg Trio, HOME (Sunnyside, $16.98) – This is one of the most melodic and swinging piano albums of the year. Goldberg’s trio with Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums (with tenor saxophonist Marc Turner on three cuts) plays a great mix of originals plus tunes by Pablo Milanés, Jobim, Monk, and a crackling version of Stevie Wonder.
If you love the saxophone, Charles Lloyd’s MIRROR (ECM, $17.98) is the album for you. Lloyd assembled a fantastic group (Jason Moran, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass; and Eric Harland, drums) to play originals, interspersed with tunes by Jule Styne and Sammy Kahn (“I Fall in Love Too Easily”), Thelonious Monk (“Ruby, My Dear”), Brian Wilson (“Caroline, No”), as well as spirituals (“Go Down, Moses” and “The Water is Wide”).
Vocalists and Instrumentalists:
Paul Motian/Chris Potter/Jason Moran, LOST IN A DREAM (ECM, $17.98) – I love the playing and the compositions of drummer Paul Motian. Last year he released a splendid quintet album of standards -- all ballads – called Motian on Broadway, Volume 5. This year, he collaborates with young lions, saxophonist Chris Potter and pianist Jason Moran, for an album of his own compositions (plus a workout on Irving Berlin’s “Be Careful It’s My Heart”). It’s a live album, recorded a year ago at the Village Vanguard. To quote the New York Times: “Melody is at the heart of everything on this album; it brings out a contemplative glow in Mr. Moran…and an openhearted tenderness in Mr. Potter.”
Rebecca Martin, WHEN I WAS LONG AGO (Sunnyside, $16.98) – I first heard Rebecca Martin sing beautiful ballads on drummer Paul Motian’s Motian on Broadway, Vol. 4, from 2006. I wanted to hear more, and now she’s released a full album of standards, backed by only bassist Larry Grenadier and saxophonist Bill McHenry. The low-key setting, recorded live to two-track, lets the songs shine, and Ms Martin includes beautiful readings of “Lush Life,” “Willow Weep for Me,” “Wrap Your Trouble in Dreams,” and eight more (and she sings all the introductory verses that are often left out).
Regina Carter, REVERSE THREAD (E1 Entertainment, $17.98) – Jazz violinist and MacArthur grant winner Regina Carter has spent the last couple of years immersed in African music. She’s put together a sweet-sounding group featuring violin, kora, accordion, bass, and drums to play traditional songs from Uganda and Madagascar, to tunes by Amadou & Miriama, Habib Koité, and Bouboucar Traoré. Ms Carter will perform tonight as part of the DC Jazz Festival.
PRESERVATION (Preservation Hall Records, $13.98) is full of great performances: nineteen tracks of artists – both young and old, crossing many genres – collaborating with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The hightlights include Dr. John, Merle Haggard, Del McCoury, and Richie Havens (a splendid version of “Trouble in Mind”). Tom Waits, Steve Earl, Ani DiFranco, and Andrew Bird feel right at home on the blues and Mardi Gras chants. Even Angélique Kidjo (backed by Terence Blanchard on trumpet) brings it back to New Orleans, singing a jazzy version of “La Vie En Rose.” The album benefits Preservation Hall and the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program.
Jazz and Latin:
Pablo Aslan, TANGO GRILL (Zoho, $15.99) – Argentinian bassist Pablo Aslan has brought jazz improv to tango classics, and also assembled top-notch groups to handle the assignment. “Tocar a la parilla” (to play on the grill) is to play without written arrangements, and Aslan and his group including bandoneon, piano, violin, trumpet, and drums, bring verve and excitement to 11 tango classics. Aslan played at the Smithsonian in early April, and having seen the group live, I recommend this very highly.
Chucho Valdes, CHUCHO’S STEPS (4Q) – As Ben Ratliff asked in his New York Times review of Chucho’s recent concert with his Afro-Cuban Messengers, “who else plays so much piano?” The pianist, once the leader of Irakere, brings the best of jazz and Cuban music together, and he honors many musicians on his latest album, with homages to John Coltrane, Joe Zawinul, and Duke Ellington.
Christina Pluhar & L’Arpeggiata, VIA CRUCIS (Virgin, $17.98) – Christina Pluhar and her group, L’Arpeggiata, have made a specialty of 17th-century French, Italian and Neopolitan music, and also bringing back the art of improvisation into this music. Via Crucis focuses on music from Southern Europe, and includes the Corsican choir, Barbara Furtuna. Pluhar also brings in the fantastic countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, and soprano Nurial Rial. Also check out L’Arpeggiata’s other CDs, Monteverdi: Teatro d’Amore, and La Tarantella.
Philippe Jaroussky, J.C. BACH: LA DOLCE FIAMMA (Virgin Classics, $16.98) — Countertenor Jaroussky explores the rarely heard operas of Johann Christian Bach.
Magdalena Kožená, VIVALDI (Archiv, $18.98) – The last few years have seen a surge in recordings of Vivaldi’s vocal music, centered on the manuscripts in Turin’s Library. It’s also a time of great mezzos doing Baroque repertoire, and Ms Kožená is one of the best. Following her Handel recording, she once again teams up with the superb Venice Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Andrea Marcon. Selections from Juditha Triumphns, Orlando Furioso, Griselda, and other operas.
Gerald Finley & Julius Drake, BRITTEN: SONGS & PROVERBS OF WILLIAM BLAKE (Hyperion, $18.98) – One of the most enjoyable concerts I went to this year was baritone Gerald Finley’s superb recital of songs by Schumann, Ravel, Ives and Barber. His new recital, with pianist Julius Drake, showcases Britten’s song cycles (of poems by Blake and Walter de la Mare), and his settings of folk songs.
Last May, the Washington Chorus presented an evening devoted to Nico Muhly’s music – especially his gorgeous choral writing – with witty commentary (and piano playing) by the composer himself. Now you can hear the music on NICO MUHLY: A GOOD UNDERSTANDING (Decca, $18.98), sung by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon conducting. Listen to “Senex Puer Portabam,” and Mr. Muhly’s early inspiration, William Byrd.
Almost every year brings versions of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. This year, Isabelle Faust’s recording has received rapturous reviews. Her BACH: SONATAS & PARTITAS, V.1 (Harmonia Mundi, $19.98) brings “rhythmic freedom…grandeur…emotional authenticity,” to these works, said Gramophone, as she demonstrates the best lessons of Baroque playing using the modern violin.
In December, 2008, pianist Alfred Brendel gave farewell recitals after 60 years of concertizing. THE FAREWELL CONCERTS (Decca, 2 CDs, $24.98) includes masterful solo pieces (Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn, Bach/Busoni), as well as Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, accompanied by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Charles Mackerras. To quote the Gramophone review, “there is greatness to be found in every bar of these two discs, and that goes not only for the music but the musician too.”
The fortepiano was a predecessor of the modern concert grand, popular throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries. The fortepiano has different sounds in different registers and a softer sound, and both Mozart and Beethoven wrote for the instrument. It has made a comeback in “historically informed” performances that bring out new colors and textures in standard repertoire. I hightly recommend three recent CDs:
Alexei Lubimov, SCHUBERT: IMPROMPTUS (Zig-Zag Territoires, $17.99)
Viktoria Mullova & Kristian Bezuidenhout, BEETHOVEN: VIOLIN SONATAS (Onyx, $20.98)
Kristian Bezuidenhout, MOZART: SONATAS, FANTASIES & VARIATIONS, VOL. 1 (Harmonia Mundi, $18.98)
Teodoro Anzellotti, BACH: GOLDBERG VARIATIONS (Winter & Winter, $18.98) – Everyone’s heard the Goldberg variations on piano, on harpsichord…but on accordion? Mr. Anzellotti is an amazing accordionist who’s played Satie, Scarlatti, and Janacek (as well as contemporary works) on the instrument. Listen, and hear new colors in this work.
Stephen Hough, CHOPIN: LATE MASTERPIECES (Hyperion, $18.98) – In the year of Chopin, one of the finest collections.
Violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica have two recordings: DE PROFUNDIS (Nonesuch, $16.98) features works by, among others, Sibelius, Pärt, Schumann, Shostakovich, Lera Auerbach, and Alfred Schnittke. HYMNS AND PRAYERS (ECM, $17.98) has works by Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer, César Franck, and Giya Kancheli.
AFROCUBISM (Nonesuch, $17.98) – Fourteen years after Buena Vista Social Club, the original idea for that album – a Mali-Cuba collaboration – has finally come to pass. When their visas were delayed in 1996, Malian musicians couldn’t make the Havana sessions that producers Nick Gold and Ry Cooder had set up, and the result was an all-Cuban CD that was a world-wide phenomenon. But now, Nick Gold has assembled an all-star group of musicians to finally realize his project: guitarist and singer Eliades Ochoa and Quarteto Patria lead the Cuban contingent, with kora player Toumani Diabaté, ngoni player Bassekou Kouyaté, guitarist Djelimady Tounkara, and balafon player Lassana Diabaté.
Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabate, ALI & TOUMANI (Nonesuch, $17.98) – Guitarist Ali Farka Touré was a pioneer in translating the traditions of northern Malian string instruments to the acoustic and electric guitar, and created an innovative and influential bluesy style. His last project, , a quiet instrumental album, is a second collaboration with kora player Toumani Diabate, and is lovely summation of his work, mixing songs from the Mandé, Peul, Songhai traditions, plus a couple of meditative improvisations.
Mavis Staples recorded a stellar album of civil rights songs We’ll Never Turn Back, in 2007, Ms Staples returns with YOU ARE NOT ALONE (Anti-, $17.98) with some gospel songs plus tunes by Little Milton, Allen Toussaint, her late father “Pops” Staples, and the album’s producer, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco.
Natalie Merchant, LEAVE YOUR SLEEP (Nonesuch, 2 CDs, $22.98) – April is National Poetry Month, and Natalie Merchant has delivered the perfect opus combining poetry and music. Ms Merchant has found mostly Victorian, and early 20th-century poetry, and set them to a wide variety of musical settings. Celtic, early jazz, Chinese, Klezmer, reggae, and lush strings all make an appearance, to frame poems by, among others, Ogden Nash, E.E. Cummings, Robert Louis Stevenson, Christina Rossetti, Edward Lear, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Robert Graves. Other poets like Rachel Field, Albert Bigelow Paine, Lydia Huntley Sigourney, Nathalia Crane, William Brighty Rands, Eleanor Farjeon are represented as well. There are biographical notes on each poet in a lovely book containing the two CDs. This is a lovely project, and is perfect for poetry month, and perfect for Mother’s Day.
The Mynabirds, WHAT WE LOSE IN THE FIRE WE GAIN IN THE FLOOD (Saddle Creek, $13.98) – Laura Burhenn (formerly of DC duo Georgia James) has a big bright voice (a little like Neko Case), and has produced a set of retro-pop and R&B tunes with “echoes of Dusty Springfield and Bobbie Gentry.” Great tunes, great echo-y wall of sound.
Best Coast, CRAZY FOR YOU (Mexican Summer, $12.98) – Bethany Cosentino writes catchy, boy-crazed tunes drenched in big reverb that are perfect summer listening. Her group, Best Coast, has a fun new album, perfect for the whole year.
The Rolling Stones, EXILE ON MAIN STREET Deluxe Edition (Universal, 2 CDs, $29.98) – One of the Rolling Stones’ greatest works, recorded in Villefranche-sur-Mer and Los Angeles, and originally issued in 1972, gets the deluxe treatment. The album (with its Robert Frank cover) comes with a second CD which includes outtakes and alternate takes, as well as newly issued songs (some with newly written and sung lyrics) mixed from the Exiles sessions
Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim, SINATRA/JOBIM: The Complete Reprise Recordings (Concord, $18.98) — Frank Sinatra got together with Antonio Carlos Jobim for recording sessions and a memorable television show in 1967. They followed with more sessions in 1969. Sinatra sings soft and low, getting into the spirit of bossa nova; the arrangements are by Claus Ogerman and Eumir Deodato. These are classic sides, and have been out of print for a long time; they return in fine remastered fashion.
One of the most original collections of many years has arrived: BLACK SABBATH: THE SECRET MUSICAL HISTORY OF BLACK-JEWISH RELATIONS (Idelsohn Society, CD & book, $14.98) assembles an extraordinary cast of Black entertainers singing Jewish-themed and Yiddish songs. The set (which comes with a beautiful 5x7 paperback book of essays, pictures and notes) has many hightlights: Johnny Mathis’s moving “Kol Nidre,” arranged by Percy Faith; Billie Holiday’s “My Yiddishe Momme;” Jimmy Scott’s slow, ballad-tempo take on “Exodus;” Lena Horne’s protest song, “Now,” sung to the tune of “Hava Nagila.” There are terrific songs performed by Cab Calloway, Eartha Kitt, Aretha Franklin, Slim Gaillard, Nina Simone, Cannonball Adderley, and the Temptations (with a Fiddler on the Roof medley).
Mbilia Bel, BEL CANTO: BEST OF THE GANIDIA YEARS (Stern’s, 2 CDs, $23.98) – A protégée of Tabu Ley Rochereau, singer Mbilia Bel made a dozen fine albums backed by Tabu Ley and his band, Afrisa International between 1982 and 1987.
PLAYING IN THE STORE…
Gotan Project, TANGO 3.0 (XL Recordings, $14.98) – Tango meets electronica.