Best Jazz CDs of the Year?

It’s always one of a music critic’s toughest jobs.

How do you pick out the “best” recordings, of any genre, for any given year?

And, given the volume of CDs that continue to be unleashed, who – anywhere – has the time and wherewithal to listen to all the good, or even great, stuff that’s out there?

I never feel like I get it quite right – as soon as one of my year-ender pieces is published, I feel like I ought to go back and sub one of the discs for another that I’ve decided is more deserving.

At any rate, with the certainty that I’m leaving out one or two, or a dozen or more, great recordings, below is my “working” list of the year’s best jazz CDs.

This, of course, doesn’t include my favorites from other genres, a list that would include Radiohead’s In Rainbows, Lucinda Williams’ Little Honey, and the self-titled debut from The Steeldrivers.

An expanded version of my jazz list, with teensy descriptions of each disc, will soon be published elsewhere. When that happens, I’ll link to it.

The Best Jazz Discs of 2008 (in alphabetical order)

  • Brian Blade Fellowship, Season of Changes (Verve)
  • Anat Cohen, Notes From the Village (Anzic)
  • Chick Corea & Gary Burton, The New Crystal Silence (Concord)
  • John Ellis, Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow (Hyena)
  • Lionel Loueke, Karibu (Blue Note)metheny
  • Pat Metheny, Day Trip (Nonesuch)
  • Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 1 (Doxy)
  • Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza (Heads Up)
  • Robert Walter, Cure All (Palmetto)
  • Cassandra Wilson, Loverly (Blue Note)

Langerado: Hmmmm

I wrote this in response to a comment on my below post, and I thought I might as well give it its own post:

“It’s not nearly impressive as it could have been, and should have been.

As it stands now, I’m no longer sure that this will be a “must” on my 09 concert calendar.

For those (like me) interested in seeing great jam bands on the bill, the lineup at Bear Creek was far, far more impressive.

If I were running the fest, I would have included far more jam bands — MMW? Karl Denson? Robert Walter? Charlie Hunter? Galactic? The Motet? Lettuce? — plus at least one of the Dead-related bands, one of the Allmans-related bands, more altcountry, New Orleans acts, blues acts, and a jazz act or two.

And for the love of God, it’s in Miami: Why not more reggae and/or African acts? One or more of the Marleys? Femi Kuti? Thomas Mapfumo? Boukman Eksperyans? Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra? Chicago Afrobeat Project?

How about Latin jazz and Brazilian? Arturo Sandoval? Omar Sosa? Eliane Elias?

I could go on, but, in short … color me disappointed.

Bear Creek: The Afterglow

I’m still feeling the extra-sensory afterglow of the great music – and serene outdoors setting – I experienced at the Bear Creek Music & Art Festival, last month at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park near Live Oak.

One of the stars of the fest was a guy who wasn’t even officially on the bill. I’m talking about north Florida homeboy Derek Trucks. I’ve been watching and listening to the slide-guitar wizard since he was all of 11 years old or so, and making semi-regular treks from Jacksonville (with his dad/manager chaperoning) to play Skipper’s Smokehouse. Back then, I interviewed Derek several times for the Tampa Tribune, and I wrote a short feature on the six-string wunderkind for Guitar World magazine.

Was that the first story on Derek in a national mag? Not sure. But I do remember being very annoyed at how heavily the piece was edited. GW turned my story, on Derek and his music, into an extremely puffy piece about how “cute” it was to see such a little fellow carrying around that big guitar. Note to Derek: Don’t blame me for that.

At any rate … Word was that Derek was going to make a guest appearance or two, and I saw him pull up to one of the stages late Saturday afternoon. As it turned out, he applied those trademark sweet-and-stinging slide lines to several pieces during three sets – by jazzy soul/R&B outfit Lettuce, New Orleans keyboardist Ivan Neville and his Dumpstaphunk outfit, and high-energy organ trio Soulive. My pix of Derek, on this post, are from his performance with Lettuce. So is the above YouTube video.

The guy is a natural, of course. Not that we need reminders after all the great work he’s done leading his own band, and playing with the Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, and Susan Tedeschi – Derek’s wife and an impressive blues guitarist and singer in her own right (more about her in a forthcoming post).

The Robert Walter Trio, led by the former Greyboy Allstars B3 organist/keyboardist, played one of my other favorite sets at Bear Creek. Walter, with great New Orleans bassist James Singleton (Astral Project) and new NOLA drummer Simon Lott, dug deep into various strains of jazz, funk, and, of course, Crescent City rhythms (check out my pix of Walter and Singleton).

The tunes were drawn, in part, from Walter’s new Cure All, with Singleton and Johnny Vidacovich, the other half of Astral Project’s rhythm section. I caught the group playing an evening set at Preservation Hall during Jazz Fest week this year (saxophonist Donald Harrison sat in), and I recently covered the CD for Las Vegas City Life. Click here to read the review.

I spoke with Singleton after the set, and in addition to gifting me with his gorgeous sounding string-quartet CD, Gold Bug Crawl, he told me that he is in the process of moving back to New Orleans, after a long post-Katrina residency in Los Angeles. It will be great to have such a vital part of the NOLA music scene back in the mix there.

Sunday morning, my friend Lennie and I ran into Walter near one of the concession stands, and he told us how big a fan he is of Derek – the musician, and the man. I’m guessing that it’s something of a mutual-admiration society.

As mentioned in an earlier post, my full review of Bear Creek will be published in the coming months in Relix magazine.

Meanwhile, check out these other reviews of the fest:

Jambase

Jambands.com