From big band to electric fusion, the year's new releases offered a little something for every taste. In no particular order, here's a sampling of ten of the best.
1. Dave Stryker - SHADES OF MILES (SteepleChase)
Conjuring the vibes set forth in such Miles Davis classics as Bitches Brew, guitarist Dave Stryker's own program for electric ensemble is in a class all its own.
2. Carla Bley - 4 X 4 (Watt/ECM)
Simply put, take four horns, add a four-piece rhythm section, and you've got what has to be the best Carla Bley record in recent memory.
3. Jason Lindner Ensemble - PREMONITION (Stretch)
While few have the balls to regularly lead a modern big band, downtown newbie Jason Lindner proves that it can be done with originality and élan.
4. Herlin Riley - WATCH WHAT YOU'RE DOING (Criss Cross Jazz)
New Orleans native and Marsalis protégé Herlin Riley drums his way through a bracing set of his own original compositions that just gets better each time you listen.
5. Bill Charlap - WRITTEN IN THE STARS (Blue Note)
The first major label set from this distinguished pianist whose understated brilliance is so masterfully supported by bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington.
6. Pat Metheny - TRIO-LIVE (Warner Bros.)
Culled from various tour locations, these two discs present some of Metheny's greatest straight ahead work of current vintage, with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart along for the ride.
7. Keith Jarrett - WHISPER NOT (ECM)
As confirmed by this two-disc collection, Jarrett is still capable of the kind of communion with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette that has become the stuff of legend.
8. D.D. Jackson - ANTHEM (RCA Victor)
Spreading his wings with a new fusion of jazz and electric sensibilities, pianist D.D. Jackson conjures up his own brew of avant groove.
9. Dena DeRose - I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW (Sharp Nine)
The third and possibly finest release yet from this eminently gifted pianist and vocalist who is currently giving Diana Krall and her imitators and run for their money.
10. Nicholas Payton - NICK @ NIGHT (Verve)
Payton's intriguing mix of gumbo cum hard bop continues to age beautifully and the trumpeter's group with tenor man Tim Warfield is one of the top working bands in the business.
The significant amount of reissued material that floods the market every year is a blessing for collectors and a nightmare for reviewers when attempting this kind of retrospective. Although some important items have surely been left out, a few of the more noteworthy titles can be found below.
1. Collectibles' JAZZ ON ATLANTIC RECORDS Series (Collectibles)
By packaging two albums on one disc, Collectibles has managed to bring back hundreds of rare Atlantic jazz titles, most importantly restoring the work of New Orleans legend Wilbur DeParis.
2. Andy Bey - ANDY BEY & THE BEY SISTERS (Prestige)
This long overdue reissue collects two quintessential albums from the mid-sixties, with Bey's piano work and rich baritone standing out among his sisters' paired harmonies.
3. Gerald Wilson - THE COMPLETE PACIFIC JAZZ RECORDINGS OF GERALD WILSON AND HIS ORCHESTRA (Mosaic Mail Order - www.mosaicrecords.com)
Highlighting the work of one of jazz music's finest writers, this limited edition encapsulates some of the best big band works of the post war era, the majority of which have been long unavailable.
4. Various Artists - DAVID X. YOUNG'S JAZZ LOFT 1954-1965 (Jazz Magnet)
This book and two-disc set captures music, words, and art as seen from the viewpoint of David X. Young, whose New York loft was home to many artists and jazz musicians of the period.
5. Ronnie Mathews - DOIN' THE THANG (Prestige/Japanese Import)
This inexplicably unknown Prestige date from 1964 features the blistering front line of baritone saxophonist Charles Davis and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Mathews' charts and enthused playing makes this Japanese import a must-have item.
6. George Russell Sextet - AT THE FIVE SPOT (Decca/Verve)
Recorded in 1960 just before Russell would launch his impressive series of albums for Riverside, this obscure date highlights a noble group of youngsters bringing to life Russell's unique writing.
7. Miles Davis - THE COMPLETE COLUMBIA RECORDINGS OF MILES DAVIS WITH JOHN COLTRANE (Columbia Legacy/Mosaic Mail-Order)
Any self-respecting Davis or Coltrane fan will have to have this boxed set containing what amounts to a musical Holy Grail. These are the definitive versions of such classic albums as MILESTONES, KIND OF BLUE, and much more.
8. Sonny Criss - THE COMPLETE IMPERIAL SESSIONS (Blue Note)
Only available via Japan for so many years, the three albums included here from 1956 are some of Criss' finest work and to have it all on this two-disc set is pure ecstasy.
9. Charlie Parker - THE COMPLETE SAVOY AND DIAL RECORDINGS 1944-1948 (Savoy/Atlantic)
Finally some of the greatest bebop jazz ever recorded is assembled in an 8 CD box that makes sense, has great sound, and comes assembled in a nifty little package.
10. Various Artists - THE SOUND OF JAZZ (Columbia/Legacy)
The studio recording assembled following the historic 1957 television special has been long unavailable and includes such jazz luminaries as Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Jimmy Giuffre, and many more.