From: Nate Chinen
Season’s greetings from the Houston suburbs! I’m hunkered down with family for a spell, but wanted to throw out one more post before tying the ribbon on this thing. Since the last round, the year-end churn has given us a lot more to chew on, including scads of Top 10s.
NPR’s A Blog Supreme had an early roundup of roundups. Chris, your picks are up now as a slide show at the L.A. Times. I imagine the Village Voice will soon be posting its jazz poll, spearheaded by Francis Davis. (I’ll be shocked if the consensus pick isn’t Jason Moran’s Ten.) And JazzTimes has a compendium of critics’ ballots -- several of us among them. David and Shaun, Ten is our single item of overlap; Shaun, you and I also had Mary Halvorson and Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth. Shaun and David, you guys both listed the Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, which resides on my unseen extended list. (Jennifer, you may be glad to know that I share at least one fave with the Jazzfamoose, whose true identity is safe with me.)
Critical consensus should always raise more questions than it answers, but the Moran-tastic thrust of this year feels about right. Ten was also the only album to appear on two critics’ lists in the NY Times on Sunday: my Top 10 and Ben Ratliff’s. (By the way, this week’s NY Times Popcast will feature Ben and me jawing about the year in jazz. I’ll post that when it’s up; meanwhile, last week’s edition has all four pop and jazz critics talking more generally about the year in music:)
Ben placed Steve Coleman and Five Elements at the top of his list, and rightly so. Harvesting Semblances and Affinities is a stunningly realized statement, the sort of album that a Netflix algorithm would align precisely with my taste preferences. (Last year, I big-upped Steve Lehman, Henry Threadgill and Vijay Iyer. )
So why isn’t Coleman on my list? (For that matter, why not Threadgill again?) I’m not really sure. This year more than most, I made a conscious effort to form my list from the gut, thinking honestly about the albums that kept drawing me back.
Ten fit that bill, and so did my No. 2: Jasmine, by Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden. Is it completely nuts for me to suggest that this album has been slept on? Perusing the JazzTimes census, I see that eight other critics have listed it, mostly within the first five slots -- but there wasn’t a ton of discussion about the album, unless I just missed it.
On the surface, Jasmine might seem a conservative choice, but there are depths therein that I still haven’t exhausted. Like The Melody at Night, With You, Jarrett’s exquisitely brittle solo recital of roughly a decade ago, it’s a paean to melody and reflection. The impression it leaves is twofold: mastery and modesty. (Yes, I am aware of the oddness of deploying the word “modest” in any discussion of Keith Jarrett.) Perhaps “maturity” is the concept I’m grasping at here. For all the light and heat generated by our Halvorsons, our Tyshawn Soreys, our Irabagons and Abbasis, there’s something to be said for the direct, mature statement. Jazz does maturity well, now as ever.
It’s a brilliantly diverse ecosystem, though, and there’s room for all sorts. (I suspect your curiosity was as piqued as mine over the latest bit of Esperanza news.) So I end this roundtable more or less as I started: with deep gratitude for your participation, and benign indecision over the year’s unifying theory. I’m sorry you won’t all be at the Winter Jazzfest in a couple of weeks -- we’ll have to grab a drink some other time. How about a New Orleans hang next spring? Or Philly in the fall? Or some appointment drinking in Rehoboth Beach? To be continued...