Sunday, December 25, 2005

Jazz past again trumps jazz present

It's not unusual for the jazz past, via reissues or previously unreleased music, to upstage the jazz present. But in gifting us with three newly discovered treasures -- Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker's "Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945" (Uptown); the John Coltrane Quartet's "One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note" (Verve), and most remarkably "Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane Live at Carnegie Hall" (Blue Note) -- this was a year in which the living couldn't hold a candle to the dearly departed.

Since all these CDs contain music that is brand-spanking-new to the public, it would be perfectly valid to rank them 1-2-3 on a year-end top-10 list. But having duly called attention to them, allow me to celebrate jazz as a living, breathing organism by directing you to albums by active musicians rising or returning to the highest levels of excellence. Here are the ones I had the hardest time getting out of my CD player:

1. Alexander von Schlippenbach, "Monk's Casino" (Intakt): A remarkable three-disc survey of Monk's entire output, fearlessly and fecklessly performed by veteran German pianist Schlippenbach and the young foursome known as Die Enttauschung: trumpeter Axel Doerner, bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall, bassist Jan Roder and drummer Uli Jennessen.

2. Dave Douglas, "Mountain Passages" (Greenleaf Music): Fronting a new band, Nomad (clarinetist Michael Moore, tuba player Marcus Rojas, cellist Peggy Lee and drummer Dylan van der Schyff), the trumpeter fashions a lustrous song cycle inspired by performing in Italy's Dolomite Mountains and remembrances of his father. The first release on his own label, it's his strongest in years.

3. Sonny Rollins, "Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert" (Milestone): The heroic tenor sax great, expounding melodically as only he can, overcomes the usual dead wood in his working band to make frequently thrilling statements in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack.

4. Vijay Iyer, "Reimagining" (Savoy Jazz): Teaming, as he frequently does, with alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, the Indian-American pianist combines rapturous emotion and knotty intellect, grounding his restlessly shifting patterns with his hard percussive attack.

5. Greg Osby, "Channel Three" (Blue Note): Now a senior spokesman for the under-50 generation, the alto saxist continues defying formula with a powerfully improvised trio outing featuring a youngster, bassist Matt Brewer, and a seasoned pro, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts.

6. Jim Hall and Enrico Pieranunzi, "Duologues" (Cam Jazz): Lyrical, yes, but edgy, as well, this meeting of Hall, the sotto voce-est of great guitarists, and Italian pianist Pieranunzi is about as satisfying a blend of intellect and emotion as you're likely to find. An album that refuses to settle into familiarity, much less predictability.

7. Hank Jones, "For My Father" (Justin Time): Jazz classics spanning Ellington and Monk, radiantly and impeccably rendered by the 87-year-old master pianist, bassist George Mraz and drummer Dennis Mackrel. As ever, Jones defines the concept of "touch."

8. Randy Sandke and the Inside Out Band, "Outside In" (Evening Star): One of three albums released on his own label by the ace trumpeter, this nonet effort achieves the rare feat of striking a balance between traditionalism and modernism in paying tribute to early jazzers including Jelly Morton and free jazzers including Ornette Coleman. The stellar lineup includes trombonist Ray Anderson (like the leader a Hyde Park native), saxist Marty Ehrlich and pianist Uri Caine.

9. Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio, "Other Valentines" (Atavistic): The adventurous cellist, now a member of the Vandermark 5, hooks up with bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly to smartly parse tunes by Pink Floyd, Sun Ra and other free spirits. A worthy successor to Lonberg-Holm's wonderful 2002 tribute to another classically trained jazz cellist, Fred Katz.

10. Paraphrase, "Pre-Emptive Denial" (Screwgun): Possibly Tim Berne's most satisfying venture into long-form improvisation, this outing with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey is good at establishing grooves as taking atonal flight.

BY LLOYD SACHS Staff Reporter - Chicao Sun-Time

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