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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Looking back on jazz in 2008

I think 2008 was a great year for modern jazz, and it may take some years, like good wine, before it's really appreciated.

An interesting move, at least in my listening experience, is the ongoing evolution of jazz into the realm of pure sound, away from fixed form, but also away from the violent blowing sessions, into very restrained, controlled, lyrical and deeply emotional music. I'm thinking about Larry Ochs, Ingrid Laubrock, Vincent Courtois, Nuts, Dans Les Arbres, Frode Gjerstad, Abelhai Bennani. It is sometimes hard to call this music "jazz", maybe some of the instruments belong to the jazz tradition, the improvisation is, but all the rest is pure musical freedom.

Secondly, some record labels did really great things. Four labels immediately come to mind :

AUM Fidelity managed to order great compositions from some of its regular musicians : Bill Dixon, Roy Campbell, William Parker, leading to three stellar albums, with music that might otherwise not have seen the light of day without the label's support.

Clean Feed continues to amaze me with their openness of ears for new and upcoming musical visions, together with their courage to sign on new talent. I'm thinking about Fight The Big Bull, Memorize The Sky, RIDD Quartet, Mauger, Angles, Kirk Knuffke, Sean Conly, Luis Lopes, Empty Cage Quartet, but also with great albums by Braxton, Adam Lane, Mark Dresser, Conference Call, Harris Eisenstadt, ... What a list of names, but most of all, what a list of great quality albums.

CIMP is of course one of the long-standing true values in the modern jazz, but they keep delivering great stuff, with the Trio X box being my absolute favorite, but there's also Bill Gagliardi, Stephen Gauci, Joe McPhee & Dominic Duval. The quantity is less, but the quality remains high.

Ayler Records kept offering great live performances, branching out into wilder territory, often involving electronics, and why not? They also released great boxes, with François Carrier, Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut, and great albums with Frode Gjerstad and Abdelhai Bennani to name just a few.

But of course there are also the new labels: Amor Fati, Sans Bruit, NoBusiness, NotTwo, Skirl, ... who released great and adventurous albums.

Another great and remarkable element is the great prominence of female musicians. Many of my favorite albums of the year are led by women : Satoko Fujii, Joëlle Léandre, Kris Davis, Angelica Sanchez, Ingrid Laubrock, Peggy Lee, Lotte Anker/Sylvie Courvoisier/Ikue Mori, Joan Jeanrenaud, Marilyn Crispell, Matana Roberts, Aki Takase & Silke Eberhard, Hélène Labarrière, Marilyn Mazur, ...

OK, then here are the must-haves for 2008 in random order:
Now it is extremely hard to name the best albums in this list. With some records I laughed out loud because of the sheer musical joy they offered (despite the sadness), and those include Harris Eisenstadt's Guewel and William Parker's Double Sunrise, and I listened to those two albums the most of the above list, possibly together with the double trumpet front line of Nuts. I was emotionally overwhelmed by Paul Rogers Being and Bill Dixon's Darfur. I was impressed by the new musical avenues demonstrated by Dans Les Arbres, Larry Ochs/Miya Masaoka/Peggy Lee and Vincent Courtois. I was perplexed by Satoko Fujii's musical breadth, depth, energy and vision (and she's only 50!), I was stunned by Kris Davis' Rye Eclipse, and to be sure, Tony Malaby figures on many of my favorite albums of the year, as does Roy Campbell, I was charmed by Bar Kokba, as always before, I was happy that Matthew Shipp came out with an album that I could relate to (I love the guy's stubborn search for new things!), I enjoyed every second of Trio X's endless recordings of the same material, because it's so fantastically moving, I am sad because a musical visionary like Steve Harris is no longer among us, and really at the height of his possibilities ...

In the end, musical lists are futile. Paul Rogers' Being is to me like Lou Reed's Berlin: it has such emotional depth and range, that the moments you will listen to it are far and wide apart, but you know one thing: in ten years from now you will still listen to it. And just to show how futile these lists are: in many years from now, I will still listen to records that do not figure on this list, including "Fight The Big Bull", "Angles", to the albums that were released this year by François Carrier, Erik Friedlander, Chris Kelsey, Mark O'Leary, Franz Hautzinger, Taylor Ho Bynum, Daniel Humair, ... and many other albums.

A great year!

© stef