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In Search of the Holy Grail

Of course it goes without saying that jazz has continued to struggle to find its place within a market that has changed dramatically over the past few years. In many ways, the presentation of jazz recordings from a historical perspective is directly opposed to current technological favorites such as iPods and MP3s. For the jazz fan, the album has always been the main artifact in developing familiarity with an artist. From the cover and liner notes to the programming of the tracks, listeners have a holistic memory of their favorites and this ideal is quite different from the current trend of "download and go." Because of this, it’s doubtful that many jazz fans are looking to cram as many "tunes" into their pods as they can. As such, it will be interesting to see just how jazz and technology will coexist in the coming years.

A very interesting trend however is that for the first time in many years, the record labels have feverishly scoured their holdings and sundry places of mystery to unearth previously unheard recordings of historical merit. The first of these releases to make a splash was The Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, a heretofore-unknown 1957 concert that adds more to the sparse recorded legacy of Monk and Coltrane. Another set, One Down, One Up! - Live at the Half Note, offers up even more Coltrane in radio broadcasts from 1965, a few of the performances only circulating privately among musicians prior to this release. Acetates from a 1945 concert featuring bebop legends Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker as heard on Town Hall, NYC have also been touted as major finds by Bird lovers everywhere.

In the final analysis, these "discoveries" and others like them do much for keeping the names of the music’s founding fathers alive among a young audience that has little or no knowledge about the history of the music. On the other hand, there’s always been something about live recording that somehow misses the mark in the final analysis for all but the most magical of performances. As they say, you really had to be there to fully appreciate the total impact of the experience. As a result, Cotrane’s extended improvisations on the Half Note set, which clock in at a half hour or more, do have a tendency to wear out there welcome without stimulation from the other senses.

As for recordings of new music, the most sagacious releases were ones that functioned within the mainstream vernacular but were also able to embrace newer elements or ideas successfully. Saxophonist Tim Ries has been a regular member of The Rolling Stones’ touring unit for several years now. He brought that experience and his own distinctive jazz sensibilities to bear on The Rolling Stones Project, a very resourceful take on iconic Stones favorites which also boasts the contributions of Norah Jones and Sheryl Crow. Joshua Redman further flexed his creative muscles, mixing the mainstream with electronics to great effect and solidifying his individuality succinctly on Momentum.

Another gentleman who continues to grow musically with each release is Kurt Rosenwinkel. Managing to be both exploratory and accessible, the guitarist’s Deep Song raises the bar in terms of what jazz guitar has become in the modern jazz era. Two veterans who record their own work only sporadically also made 2005 a memorable year for new music. Bassist for pianist Bill Evans during his final years, Marc Johnson joined forces with Joe Lovano, John Abercrombie, Eliane Elias, and Joey Baron for the sublime and intensely melodic Shades of Jade. Keeping the Nawlins legacy alive, Cream of the Crescent finds drummer Herlin Riley coming up with another winner on his sophomore effort as a leader.

Rounding things out, old favorite Pet Metheny marked a first by recording one continuous composition on the PMG’s The Way Up. A budding artist mentioned on my survey of last year’s jazz activity, trumpeter and Warren native Sean Jones continued to justify the praise endowed upon him by the cognoscenti and his second disc, Gemini, is bursting with creative energy. All in all and despite the previously mentioned growing pains, 2005 proved to be a pretty good year for new music, making inroads to many styles and varying tastes.

C. Andrew Hovan’s Top Ten Jazz Picks (in no particular order)

Joshua Redman Elastic Band- Momentum (Nonesuch)

Tim Ries- The Rolling Stones Project (Concord)

Sean Jones- Gemini (Mack Avenue)

Kurt Rosenwinkel- Deep Song (Verve)

Wes Montgomery- Smokin’ at the Half Note (Verve)

Pat Metheny Group- The Way Up (Nonesuch)

Herlin Riley- Cream of the Crescent (Criss Cross Jazz)

Marc Johnson- Shades of Jade (ECM)

Moacir Santos- Choros & Alegria (Adventure Music)

The Jazz Crusaders- The Pacific Jazz Quintet Studio Sessions (Mosaic Mail Order)

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various Artists
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