Ok, down to the Top Three Chicago Jazz CDs of 2009. For those who might have seen my all-inclusive Top Ten (published the week before last), the top Chicago disc will come as no surprise – I selected it second overall when considering the 550 or so discs that came my way during the year-long period ending with Thanksgiving. (BTW, if you think that’s a lot, I know of about 100 other discs by name artists, most on tiny labels, that never even crossed my desk.)
And once again, to allay any accusations of conflict of interest, I happily state that I wrote the liner notes for the top two albums on my list. Or to put it another way – I was privileged to contribute, however slightly, to these two albums, which I would have selected in any case among the best Chicago jazz CDs. I can only point out that my involvement stops when I turn in the copy: I receive no financial consideration of any kind for increased attention (or any subsequent sales) that might result from what I write here. Some polls and publications request that critics recuse themselves from considering such albums; if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have the chance to pull your coat to these highly deserving projects.
The envelopes please:
#3 – Josh Berman, Old Idea (Delmark). An important contributor to well over a dozen different bands and one-off projects over the last few years, Josh Berman finally debuted as a leader with this widely acclaimed disc. His band, Old Idea, has some of those – old ideas, that is. They include a reliance on lyricism for beauty’s sake, a faith in compositional form, and even the instrument Berman himself plays: unlike most modern trumpeters, he sticks to the smaller, sweeter-toned cornet, which prevailed over the trumpet in the earliest New Orleans jazz. But in Old Idea – as with his excellent Josh Berman and His Gang (which takes its cue from the first Chicago School of jazz in the 1920s) – Berman recasts the old verities in the language and temperament of 21st-century improvisation, Chicago style. He brings a measured grace, a mature use of space, and a matter-of-fact command to the proceedings. But the band – tenor saxist Keefe Jackson, vibist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Aaron Hatwich, and drummer Nori Tanaka – also imbues the music with a subtle but intoxicating intrigue. A boppish melody morphs into fractured pointillism; a section of group improvisation coalesces into the main theme; a free solo wends inexorably back toward conventional harmony, then pushes the rhythm in anticipation of the next soloist. Each time the band starts down one path, they quickly and seamlessly turn onto another, and it’s that adventurous uncertainty that keeps me coming back for more.
Top Ten Chicago Discs, pt.1
Top Ten Chicago Discs, pt. 2
Top Ten Jazz CDs of 2009
TOP TEN 2009 CHICAGO JAZZ DISCS
Dee Alexander, Wild Is The Wind
Jim Gailloreto’s Jazz String Quintet, American Complex
Josh Berman, Old Idea
Paul Giallorenzo, Get In To Go Out
Bobby Broom, Plays For Monk
Jason Adasiewicz’s Rolldown, Varmint
Aaron Koppel, Falling Together Falling Apart
KLANG: Tea Music
Dana Hall, Into The Light
Kyle Asche Trio, Blues For Mel
[NOTE: Only after this list was completed did I notice the fact that Berman and Adasiewicz all but dominate the proceedings. Adasiewicz appears on the album by KLANG (#8 on my list) as well as his own Varmint (#6); Berman appears on Varmint as well as the album by pianist Paul Giallorenzo, Get In To Go Out (#4). That would seem to qualify them as 2009’s “Most Valuable Players” in Chicago jazz.]
#2 – Jim Gailloreto’s Jazz String Quintet, American Complex (Origin Classics). There actually exists a short list of precedents for Jim Gailloreto’s Jazz String Quintet, in which the accomplished multi-reedist marries his soprano sax to the classically-oriented HAWK String Quartet. But despite the presence on that list of such composers and leaders as William Russo and Max Roach, I’ll repeat here what I’ve said before: no one has written string-quartet music with as firm a grasp of both the classical and jazz traditions as Gailloreto. His previous album proved that point, with rangy charts to support and engage his own exquisite soloing in a variety of moods and tempos. On this one, Gailloreto once again features a mix of original works and jazz-repertoire standards, including a stunning version of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t”; he also brings pianist and vocalist Patricia Barber to the party, with two songs she wrote specifically for this album. But on American Complex, Gailloreto also bolsters his credentials as a full-fledged composer, with the 29-minute title work, as well as one shorter (but still major) composition. Adding to the success is his long partnership with HAWK; Gailloreto writes not for some generic string quartet but for these players in particular, taking advantage of their individual strengths. This is brand-new music, a genuine third-stream fusion that brings out the best of Gailloreto’s talents – not only as a composer but also as an improviser.
#1 – Dee Alexander, Wild Is The Wind (Blujazz). You can read my original write-up of this album in the all-inclusive Top Ten list here. I’ll only add that this album was several years overdue for those of us who’ve followed Alexander over the years – and that the combination of her effortless swing, authoritative intonation, voluptuous ornamentation, and improvisatory muscle made it entirely worth the wait.