[JPL] WWUH's Chuck Obuchowski's Top 10 in 2007

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Mon Dec 31 10:03:10 EST 2007


courant.com/entertainment/music/hc-jazztop10.artdec30,0,7854373.story


  Courant.com


    Among All That Jazz, Some Standouts


      The Last Recordings Of Michael Brecker, Joe Zawinul; A '64 Set
      With Mingus And Dolphy

BY CHUCK OBUCHOWSKI

SPECIAL TO THE COURANT

December 30, 2007

With the approach of each new year, it seems reasonable to reflect on 
the one that's drawing to a close. Since 1987 I have shared my list of 
favorite jazz releases with my audience on WWUH-FM (91.3) at the 
University of Hartford.

These are jazz releases that I've gone back to most often during the 
last 12 months. They are listed in alphabetical order, according to each 
artist's last name.

/?John Abercrombie/, /"The Third Quartet" /(ECM Records)

This is guitarist/composer Abercrombie's 47th recording in a 
professional career entering its fourth decade.

The quartet referred to in the title coalesced about five years ago. 
Bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron are as tight a rhythm 
section as any on the current jazz scene. Violinist Mark Feldman 
combines classical nuances with Coltrane-like harmonic prowess to create 
a formidable sound.

The leader's writing has never sounded better, but he slips in a couple 
of covers, by Bill Evans and Ornette Coleman, for good measure. 
Abercrombie's playing, whether electric or acoustic, is musical poetry, 
nothing less.

/?Tim Armacost/, /"Rhythm and Transformation" /(ArtistShare)

This world-traveling saxophonist fell in love with Indian music when his 
wife received a research grant to work there about 15 years ago. 
Although he has been performing some material hinting at his 
appreciation for Asian sounds ever since, he leaps in deeply at last 
with "Rhythm and Transformation."

The result is one of the most exciting crossover recordings in recent 
memory. Armacost's quartet is augmented by tabla (Indian clay drums) 
player Ray Spiegel and by veteran trumpeter Eddie Henderson. The 
compositions combine blues, bop and funk with Eastern rhythms and modes, 
intricately weaving together the best of the two musical worlds.

/?Michael Brecker/, /"Pilgrimage" /(Heads Up)

By now we've all heard the stories about how ill Michael Brecker was 
when he took on this project and how he hid the extent of his pain from 
his colleagues during the recording process.

Putting all of that drama aside, "Pilgrimage" still comes across as some 
of the most alive-sounding music of the year. One listen to "Tumbleweed" 
and you'll have to agree. Brecker's writing and playing are potent 
throughout, never revealing the toll his illness took on his body.

It doesn't hurt that Brecker was able to assemble an all-star lineup of 
musicians who've worked together in different contexts before --- the 
crème de la crème of today's players: Pat Metheny, Brad Mehldau, Herbie 
Hancock, John Patitucci and Jack DeJohnette.

/?Herbie Hancock/, /"River: The Joni Letters" /(Verve Records)

This has been a great year for Joni Mitchell fans. Pianist Hancock's 
exquisite reworking of her music follows a various-artists tribute to 
the renowned singer-songwriter issued by Nonesuch Records --- and 
"Shine," Mitchell's first album of new material in nearly a decade.

The superb quintet assembled for "River" includes longtime Mitchell 
collaborator Wayne Shorter, whose superb saxophone solos dance merrily 
around Mitchell's melodies. Bassist Dave Holland adds firm foundations 
to the 10 free-flowing portraits offered here.

A half-dozen vocalists (including Mitchell) were enlisted to deliver 
Joni's "letters." Each brings his or her own enticing spin to these 
beautifully arranged pieces.

/?Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy/, /"Cornell 1964" /(Blue Note)

This concert performance from March 18, 1964, discovered recently by Sue 
Graham Mingus, the great bassist's widow, is astounding.

It captures Mingus at the height of his powers, fronting one of his 
strongest (if short-lived) bands. This material predates previously 
released European tour performances by a month. While some of these 
interpretations have a more ragged feel, they also contain bolder 
improvisations and greater urgency.

The two-disc set also includes some inspired cover selections, from Fats 
Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" to "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."

Don't be put off by the monaural recording or less-than-perfect 
fidelity. The quality of this music easily transcends the limitations of 
its source.

/?William Parker/Raining on the Moon/, /"Corn Meal Dance" /(AUM Fidelity)

Parker, one of the leading lights of the jazz avant garde for three 
decades, reveals a "rootsier" side for a second time with his Raining on 
the Moon sextet.

His mysterious, provocative poems are expertly converted to song by 
Leena Conquest, a woman who sounds well-schooled in '60s soul and R&B. 
William Parker fans looking for some envelope-pushing won't be 
disappointed, however. Horn players Ron Brown (alto sax) and Lewis 
Barnes (trumpet) add muscle and daring solos to many of these probing 
pieces.

/?Chris Potter 10/, /"Song for Anyone" /(Sunnyside Communications)

Most often heard for the past eight years as a member of Dave Holland's 
highly regarded ensembles, this fine saxophonist presented two strong 
recordings under his own name in '07. "Follow the Red Line" featured his 
electric quartet in a live setting.

Here Potter, who celebrates his 37th birthday Tuesday, leads a modified 
chamber ensemble (strings and woodwinds plus jazz quartet). The success 
of this endeavor can be heard in the majesty of a dynamic tune like 
"Chief Seattle," but is just as evident during the ruminative gospel 
murmurs of "All by All."

/?Antonio Sanchez/, /"Migration" /(CAM Jazz)

Drummer Sanchez remains a much-in-demand sideman. This is his 
outstanding debut release as a leader. Musical contributions on two 
selections from Pat Metheny, his current employer, have certainly 
boosted the visibility of this release. Still, it's Sanchez's creative 
ideas that resonate most powerfully on this disc.

Many of the tunes have a "blowing session" feel to them, although 
they're more akin to Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition projects than 
classic Prestige saxophone summits. The participants here are David 
Sanchez and Chris Potter; listen to them wail on Joe Henderson's "Inner 
Urge."

Antonio Sanchez also performs with Chick Corea on a wonderful trio piece 
written by the master pianist called "One for Antonio."

/?Kendra Shank/, /"A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook" /(Challenge 
Records)

Kendra Shank --- a protégé of Abbey Lincoln --- has made a tribute to 
one of jazz's most respected singer/songwriters a reality.

Shank and her colleagues make no attempt to approximate Lincoln's voice 
or song arrangements. Rather, they honor the originals by adding 
something of themselves to the mix. Hence, Lincoln's famous "Throw It 
Away" becomes an abstract tango in Shank's version, and "I Got Thunder" 
a boisterous post-bop barn burner.

Lincoln released her own retrospective this year, too: "Abbey Sings Abbey."

/?Joe Zawinul/, /"Brown Street" /(Heads Up International)

Although the electronic keyboard pioneer died in September, this live 
recording finds the 75-year-old back in his old stomping grounds in 
Vienna mere months earlier, still full of energy, passion and unique 
perspectives.

The addition of Germany's superlative WDR Big Band, with arrangements by 
Vince Mendoza, adds completely new dimensions to Zawinul's still-popular 
fusion compositions. His band also includes Weather Report alums Victor 
Bailey on electric bass and Alex Acuna on drums.

"Brown Street" bends musical genres constantly, but the sounds almost 
always convey a spirit of celebration. Grab your dancing shoes and head 
for the stars!

Chuck Obuchowski writes frequently about jazz for The Courant.

Copyright © 2007, The Hartford Courant <http://www.courant.com/>

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