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:
- Steve Harris ZAUM - A' Is For Ox + I Hope You Never Love ...
- Trio X - Live In Vilnius + 2006 US Tour
- Natsuki Tamura & Satoko Fujii - Chun
- Satoko Fujii Ma-Do - Heat Wave
- Junk Box - Sunny Then Cloudy
- Larry Ochs, Miya Masaoka, Peggy Lee - Spiller Alley
- Vincent Courtois - As Soon As Possible
- Joëlle Léandre & Akosh S. - Kor
- Harris Eisenstadt - Guewel
- Anthony Braxton & Joe Morris - Four Improvisations
- Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Milford Graves - Beyond Quantum
- Kris Davis - Rye Eclipse
- Nuts - L'Atelier Tampon Ramier
- Matthew Shipp - Cosmic Suite
- William Parker - Double Sunrise Over Neptune
- Wadada Leo Smith - Tabligh
- The Stone Quartet - DMG@TheStone
- Roy Campbell - Akhnaten Suite
- Dans Les Arbres - Dans Les Arbres
- Frode Gjerstad, Kevin Norton, Paul Rogers - Antioch
- Paul Rogers - Being
- Bar Kokhba - Lucifer
- Bill Dixon & Exploding Star Orchestra
- Bill Dixon - 17 Musicians In Search Of A Sound/Darfur
- Chris Gestrin - After The City Has Gone: Quiet
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!