[JPL] Top Jazz Picks 2007

Jae Sinnett jaejazz at yahoo.com
Mon Dec 3 16:28:37 EST 2007

10. Ryan Cohan - "One Sky" - Motema - Writing, writing, writing...Very intelligent writing. In and in a strange way it makes me think about Ellington in how Duke played the piano like he arranged. There was this unique parallel. I hear this in Ryan's playing. He plays like he writes. Quirky and soulful in spots and played and written with humor. The songs have a forward moving quality to them that keeps me looking forward to what is coming next. Void of predictability from beginning to end and texturally sophisticated... "One Sky" is certainly one of the top picks of the year. 
  9.Jerry Bergonzi - "Tenorist" - I love the openness on this recording. Old school in a way in concept but with very advanced harmonic passages. In the tradition of the classic blowin sessions. Jerry is one of the great improvisers playing jazz today and why he hasn't become one of the marquee saxophonists to the "jazz public" is beyond me. Deep, deep, deep. His sound is huge and and he's one of the few I could sit and listen to just play changes all day. A great recording as well for John Abercrombie. A wonderful fit indeed.  
  8. Antonio Sanchez - "Migration" - One of the things I've never particularly care about the Metheny Group is the top heavy sound. I've never really "felt" the band. Lots of colors and textures and melodic beauty but little beef. Antonio brings a unique sense of time to the group but it's still that Metheny Group sound. That's okay because they have one. Here Sanchez brings home the point that he's considerably more versatile than what you hear from him in that organization. Also, out of the great Latin drummers playing today he's come closest in my opinion to demonstrating a clear understanding of swing... the American groove. The writing in spots is so so but the playing is fantastic. 
  7.  Bob Mintzer Quartet - "In the Moment" - Art Of Life Records - One of the most versatile and complete musicians playing today. Doesn't matter with him....big band, jazz quartet, Yellowjackets...he's always musically interesting. His writing has such clear logic and direction. What gets lost in how you listen to him is the fact that he swings. Swings hard. Phil Markowitz is one of the most underrated pianist playing today.
  6. Terence Blanchard - "A Tale Of God's Will" - Blue Note - One of the first things I listen for when I put on a new recording is how much does the sound relate to that particular artist. Are they creating an environment that is shaped on their conceptual direction? I think that is the sign of a great artist...one that creates their own avenue of art. Terence has succeeded in doing this. Like Mintzer and Bergonzi, his voice is clearly identifiable. His tone is warm and big and his maturity is evident in his use of space. At times a breathtakingly beautiful recording and certainly one with vision and originality. 
  5. Steve Smith and Vital Information - "Vitalization" - Hudson Music - One of the great drummer/educators and drumming historians playing today. Some of the world rhythmic concepts demonstrated here...mainly from India...are still played with it's roots in the American groove. That familiar and soulful elasticity. The addition of Vinny Valentino puts more of a "jazz" touch in the group. Knowing the perfectionist Steve is...his organization is a thing of study. Perfect balance and variation and while I wouldn't call Steve a composer... the conceptual direction of each piece is built around what he plays.
  4. Kurt Elling - "Nightmoves" - Concord - Wow...his interpretation of "Body and Soul" is alone worth putting this in my top picks. Extraordinary really. Taking Dexter's solo....singing for almost seven minutes straight! When have we heard something like that? He's the jazz singer of our time...period. Every aspect of his game raises the bar in jazz vocals. Pitch, phrasing, tone, rhythm...etc...doesn't matter. He can sing through anything. If you are listening just from the mechanics position... "Nightmoves" should give any singer a better point of departure in how they deal with approaching the composition.  
  3.  Maria Schneider Orchestra - "Sky Blue" - Artist Share - The thing that every jazz artist strives for...or should...is to establish their individual voice. Maria has done that as a composer and arranger. There's no question when you listen to her music...that it's her. Simply magnificent. Her ability to float through the time is a thing of beauty and her music no doubt requires the top soloists to play it. I'm not sure there is an arranger today that has taken the jazz orchestra in such a different direction. I'm sure that's why she took the "jazz" out of the title because it transcends the pure concept of what is usually expected from the jazz orchestra.
  2. Jonathan Kreisburg - "The South Of Everywhere" - Mel Bay Records - Well, I never heard of this guy before this recording and it reflects the common dilemma in jazz...great players that few know anything about. His tone, writing, line construction and improvisational ability are at such a high level that he's obviously been out there for many years playing and shedding. I'm personally not a big fan of the standards for dummies recordings that is so pervasive in jazz today but if musicians do one lets use his example of "Stella By Starlight" for approaching it "his" way. While meter changes and harmonic substitutions aren't new with doing familiar material... here with his arrangement he's forcing the musicians to think differently in how they approach it. The high point though for me is his writing and guitar work. Fresh and performed with outstanding musicianship from all involved and beautifully recorded. 
  1. Michael Brecker - "Pilgrimage" - Heads Up - I think any critic that would perhaps pick this as their favorite might have that feeling of some thinking that they are giving him the sentimental vote. Understandable but not the case here. This is simply a brilliant recording...from point A to point Z. Intense, complex, artistic, visionary, profound...everything is here. Then there is that individual voice thing again.... Having established that is one of the most profound statements an artist can make...good, bad or indifferent. Michael was the tenor saxophonist of our time but for some odd reason his writing...in my opinion... didn't get the credit I think it deserved. His writing here is astonishing in its textures, direction and thought. The advantage on "Prigrimage" is that besides the great writing you have an unbelievable level of improvisation... and it's not just about these guys knowing that Michael was sick and them giving their all. They've always played like
 this on his recordings. This is because Michael created that type of environment...he put the ultimate challenge up to them every single time out of the gate. He was beautiful that way...and the musicians loved playing with him. I think he knew what he created here...as did the other musicians involved. It was special. No doubt a masterpiece that will be embraced for years to come and hence...my top pick of the year. 
  Honorable mention:
  Alvin Queen - "I Ain't Lookin At You"
  Josh Nelson - "Let It Go"
  Ron DeSalvio - "Essence Of Green" 
  Rob Lockard - "Parallel Lives" 
  Jackie Ryan - "You and the Night and the Music"
  New York Voices - "A Day Like This"    
  Jae Sinnett
  Norfolk, VA

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