Yesterday’s Jazz Matters panel on the Best of 2010 was a blast -- it could only have been improved by a stronger turnout and pitchers of draft beer. (Jazz Journalists Association president Howard Mandel, our moderator, voiced his awareness that those two things are probably related.) I could hardly put together a more astute or collegial crew than the one David Adler assembled, with WBGO’s Josh Jackson and Down Beat’s Jim Macnie (and of course, Adler himself). There was plentiful agreement; I’m amused to report that the only real dissent formed around one of my picks. Read on for more about that.
But first, a side note on the comments below my last related post. Mahalo to everyone who contributed picks (and keep it coming)! I’m intrigued by the apparent consensus around Mary Halvorson’s new album, and can’t help but muse about selection bias: beyond this here blog-ville, and the teeming urban centers, how are people feeling about it? Or perhaps the salient question is: who hasn’t heard it that should? On the panel I wondered aloud whether it would even show up in the jazz-mag reader’s polls. It’s certainly in the running for my Top 10, as is the other comment-field-consensus pick, Jason Moran’s Ten. (Speaking of Halvorson and Moran, you saw this, right? Amen.)
Photo by Matt Merewitz
Now onto the panel. I believe Adler is preparing a more detailed recap, so consider this my informal impression. Jackson started us off with a track from Geri Allen’s solo-piano album; I recognized her playing but not the track itself, which was great. Next came a curveball. Adler played us an Oliver Lake tune from the new Tarbaby album -- so new, in fact, that my copy arrived in the mail less than a week ago. A stumper! Good thing bassist Reggie Workman was in the audience. At this early stage in the game, he must have been wondering if our panel was only going to feature his band mates.
Nope: it was my turn, and I opted for “Ando,” from the new trio album by pianist Benoît Delbecq. This was my trickiest selection, given the prepared-piano textures and seductive African rhythm on the track -- and the fact that it was just released, rather quietly, on Tuesday. Nobody guessed it, though we were all familiar with Delbecq. (He, and “Ando,” also appear on John Hébert’s Spiritual Lover, which Adler said he almost brought to the panel. I’ve got to reconsult that one.) Anyway, I won’t say more about Delbecq here: my review of his new albums, two of ‘em, will be in Monday’s Times.
And I’ll spare you further play-by-play, and just cite some albums played. Let’s see... Bryan and the Haggards (selected by Macnie); Ralph Alessi with Moran (via Jackson). A rustling ballad from Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth album (Macnie); an electric-Miles-ish track from trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (Jackson). Nels Cline Trio (Macnie). Adler skipped one round, and I’m blanking on a good track that he played.
As for me? I couldn’t resist the urge to play the rightly ballyhooed, Savory-salvaged Coleman Hawkins saunter through “Body and Soul.” (People! See what happens when you miss a JJA event?) Quite frankly this has been one of the most heartening things I’ve heard this year, irrespective of genre. I’m confident that it will eventually be released. There was a good discussion sparked there, about generational shift and secret wisdom in jazz. I’ll post separately about this track soon.
I should note here that my Top 10 list is nowhere near decided: I’m a real tinkerer when it comes to year-end lists, and will probably be shuffling items around right up until deadline. (Viewed from this vantage, you can see how playing Hawkins is a bit of a hedge.) Thus disclaimered, though, I’ve already mentioned Moran and Halvorson, and I’ve got a strong hunch about Keith Jarrett with Charlie Haden. But I didn’t play any of that at the panel. What I did play, expecting a spark of disagreement, was Brad Mehldau’s Highway Rider.
What I got was more than a spark: neither Macnie, nor Adler, nor Jackson lined up on my side of the fence. “To me, that’s a Failure Album,” Macnie said. (I hereby suggest, by the way, that this term be co-opted by someone; surely there’s room in the world for a band called Tim Berne’s Failure Album?) The general agreement -- I’m paraphrasing -- was that Highway Rider lacks a certain urgency, clarity and concision. Too wafty, too sprawling, not enough ensemble interaction. (Thankfully, “pretentious” wasn’t an issue for the panel. I checked. Anyone lobbing that argument at this point should feel silly.)
I’ve gone on here long enough, and I’ve posted plenty about the Brad Mehldau-Jon Brion hookup. But allow me to make a quick argument for the grace and feeling on a track like “Don’t Be Sad,” which is the one I played last night. Joshua Redman is the track’s star attraction, on tenor, and he’s simply brilliant -- his solo keeps the melody in play while responding to a range of sounds, from Mehldau’s exquisite comping to the passing dissonances of the strings.
While dashing off this post, I stumbled across something I’d never seen before: a scrolling score of the track, on Mehldau’s website. If you harbor any curiosity at all about the words in my previous paragraph, set aside 8:41 to watch that video. Even if you don’t have much experience reading scores, it’ll bring you into the song. Dig specifically what Redman does, answering the arrangement, starting at bar 169. Keep in mind that Mehldau wouldn’t let him peep the score at all; he was playing against what he heard, live. First take? I believe it was.
I still don’t know whether Highway Rider is assured a spot on my Top 10, but “Don’t Be Sad” is easily one of my favorite single tracks.