Grachan Moncur III – Evolution
Might be the find of the year. All mood. Reminds me of Walt Dickerson’s Impressions of a Patch of Blue, in that way—just incredibly evocative. I’d never heard much from Moncur, a trombonist, except I knew he recorded quite a bit for Actuel. Pair that “out” aesthetic with some of the best from the Blue Note roster—Jackie McLean, Bobby Hutcherson (in full Out to Lunch mode), Anthony Williams, longtime Sonny Rollins bassist Bob Crenshaw and Lee Morgan, of all people—and this is an engaging winner. The title track in particular is timeless.
Marion Brown – Three for Shepp
Right after Brown died, I surprisingly found used copies of Afternoon of a Georgia Faun, Geechee Recollections and Three for Shepp at the record store. I love the autobiographical undertaking of the first two, but for pure listening pleasure, this one’s the winner, with the aforementioned Grachan Moncur on trombone and liner notes which posit the question, with a straight face, “Can white people play jazz?”
Reggie Workman – The Works of Workman
Not too many people can record solo upright bass records, but I figure anyone who played on Olé Coltrane is allowed this indulgence. Workman has the tone of three oxen and the conception of a carburetor; he’s not always running at full potential but sounds incredible.
John Lewis – The John Lewis Piano
I’m into Andre Previn, but John Lewis brings a European classicism to jazz that’s unequalled. A lot of people remark about soloists, “they make it sound so easy.” Lewis makes it sound easy to sound hard, and then makes that gossamer. The Sophia Loren of jazz records.
Grant Green – Green Street
Sometimes it’s all about finding the right record. Or maybe it’s about not finding the wrong record; the first Grant Green album I heard was The Main Attraction. You can see why I might have been turned off to the guy for a while. Such a relief to discover his other work; and have my mind forcibly changed. This record walks crowded sidewalks, and all others get the fuck out of the way.
Freddie Hubbard – Polar AC
I was waking up to 1970s jazz this year, but in actuality this record is on the list solely for one asset: the Ron Carter bassline that kicks off the title track, which has been lodged in my head for months. (I asked Edgar Meyer earlier this year which bassist he looked up to most; “I am glad that Ron Carter is still alive” is all he could say.)
Ron Carter – Uptown Conversation
Speaking of Ron Carter, I picked this one up at a store in Augusta, Georgia in the spring. “Doom” is incredible, but the entire thing is worth seeking. It’s gotta be hard to be Ron Carter and have people ask you, “So which record of yours should I buy?”
Quartetto Basso-Valdambrini – Walking in the Night
Found a pair of reissues by this Italian post-bop group on Dusty Groove and I couldn’t stop playing them for weeks; they’re reminiscent somewhat of Miles Davis’ Jazz Track. Just very cosmopolitan and cool.
Francois Rabbath – Multi-Basse
This man’s Bass Ball is one of my favorite jazz records ever, completely ahead of its time. One day, it will see a reissue on Warp (in quite a few ways, it’s the original drum ‘n’ bass record) or Revenant (probably a more suitable label) and be regaled by the multitudes at last. It was nice to find another album of his dizzyingly creative, if slightly less fearless, works.
Horace Silver – The Jody Grind
Especially because of the go-go girls on the cover, I figured this’d be more “Song for My Father” soul jazz stuff. Instead, it’s my current favorite Horace Silver record, somewhere beyond late ’60s boogie and emerging into its own, with Woody Shaw and James Spaulding.
The Great Jazz Trio – Collaboration
I love Someday My Prince Will Come and was glad to find this, from the same 2002 sessions with Elvin Jones. Hank Jones was a living miracle.
Dizzy Gillespie – The Greatest of Dizzy Gillespie
It seems silly to put a Best-Of on this list but damn if RCA didn’t do them right. I have The Popular Duke Ellington—re-recordings, no less!—and I listen to it much more than the so-called cream-of-the-crop Webster-Blanton stuff. This Dizzy record truly is his best stuff under his own name, a great reminder of his prowess. I adore the cover photo.
Noah Howard – The Black Ark
Originally on Polygram! Which is like Hell Awaits being played on KZST or something. Violent and snarling. Pick up this reissue while you can.
Henry Threadgill – Rag, Bush and All
SFJAZZ booked him this year, and though I couldn’t go, I hope ticket sales were strong enough to bring him back soon.
Sheila Jordan – Portrait of Sheila
A nice little vocal trio album on Blue Note, who didn’t much release vocal albums. This record is marred only by “Dat Dere,” whose lyrics are so asinine they’d make Tracy Byrd cringe.
Gunther Klatt – Strangehorn
Not all Germans play like Peter Brotzmann, and this record—a tribute to Billy Strayhorn—is a nice breath of invention. Finding it in the dollar bin, I was charmed by the credits: “Dtae: July ’84. Cut: Uwe Clemens. Producer: Gunther Klatt. Reason: Don’t know.”
Ran Blake – Plays Solo Piano
Of all instruments, the piano is the most infinite. Ran Blake plays compositions by George Russell and Ornette Coleman alongside “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” and “On Green Dolphin Street” and makes it all appear as if from the same mind. A good early ESP disk. (Speaking of ESP, did you hear the incredible story about Giuseppi Logan, who was presumed to be dead, discovered last year playing “Begin the Beguine” in Tompkins Square Park?)
Contraband – Time and Space
The cover gives it a prog look but this is full-on jazz, played by an only slightly “rock” band. Epic, who put out albums by Ruby Braff, Dave Pike and Dave McKenna, was obviously going for some San Francisco-sound thing with this signing. I’m glad it doesn’t resemble Santana.
William S. Fischer – Akellare Sorta
Originally recorded in 1972 and possessed by Basque witches and psychedelic chemicals. Fischer worked with Roberta Flack, Les McCann and Wilson Pickett and then dropped off the deep end with this insane recording. Reissued by a label in Barcelona.
Booker Ervin – The Freedom Book
You know how, like, you heard the name Sonny Rollins a lot but always took his existence for granted until BAM! it hit like a ton of bricks and you bought everything he recorded? (Sam Amidon’s I See the Sign from this year has a wonderful and tangential little blurb about Rollins in the credits.) This year, Booker Ervin’s mortar splattered all over my consciousness. Of all the “Book” titles that I committed myself to finding after stumbling across The Blues Book from last year’s jazz discoveries list, I play this one the most.
Ricky Ford – Manhattan Plaza
Jaki Byard and Dannie Richmond? Yes, thank you. Manhattan Plaza is a government-subsidized building that’s served as a home to jazz musicians over the years; read about it in this fine article. Samuel Jackson was a security guard there. Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon lived there, as well as Tennessee Williams, Mickey Rourke and Alicia Keys. New York is crazy! Ricky Ford lives in France now, it seems.
Henry Franklin – The Skipper
You won’t likely find another album with the song title “Beauty and the Electric Tub” in your lifetime, nor will you find a better album on Black Jazz Records, in my opinion. The story of the label, and how it came into the hands of the current owner, is pretty fascinating. This past February, the label’s best-selling artist Doug Carn appeared at Yoshi’s for one night only with other artists, billed as “Black Jazz Reunion.” These days, Franklin plays at a hotel lounge in L.A. every Friday and Saturday night.
Dollar Brand – The Children of Africa
“I am not a musician,” writes Abdullah Ibrahim on the back of this LP. “I am being played.” I saw him last year and he played one seamless, hour-long song. It seemed like he was being played. No one else sounds like him.
Byard Lancaster – Sounds of Liberation
Philadelphia, 1972. Solid bass lines. Somewhere the spirit of this record is in The Roots, pre-sousaphone, before they started doing shit like this.