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Top Jazz Picks For 2002

To put things candidly, the music industry has suffered through a year of conservatism and slim pickings at best, yet another victim of the post 9/11 state of affairs that has hampered business and the health of the economy in general. While the past few years have seen a decrease in the number of reissues to hit the market, the real surprise this year came in the modest amount of new releases and even among these it was a hit and miss affair in terms of real quality. Gone are the days when one can quibble over a piece being cut of new cloth or simply a rehashing of the mainstream tradition, the fact is that jazz of lasting merit has to move the soul and the number of records that fill that bill seem to be fewer and farther between every year. As such, the following selected items, both reissues and new releases, qualify for their place here for one reason- each recording merited several spins in the CD player and will probably have enough lasting value to be returned to upon occasion in the future. So, here we go, in no particular order.

1. D.D. Jackson- Sígame (Justin Time)
Although this set came out initially in 2001, distribution woes didn’t make it widely available until 2002. Simply one of Jackson’s best to date, not to mention one of the more memorable trio sides to surface in years, the mood ranges from gospel to Latin-tinged funk. Keep an eye on drum phenom Dafnis Prieto too, he’s sure to be turning heads for many years to come.

2. Dave Douglas- The Infinite (RCA)
One of the meatiest of Douglas’ current spate of releases for RCA, Uri Caine’s use of the Fender Rhodes gives this whole recital a "Milesian" or "In a Silent Way" groove that is highly intoxicating. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the trumpeter has a true superband on the case and the original material is of a superior nature.

3. John Coltrane- A Love Supreme: Deluxe Edition (Impulse)
How do you take something great and make it even better? The answer is to find more of it and make it sound as first-rate as possible. With newly unearthed tapes, Rudy Van Gelder remastered this entire magnum opus and in the process added a whole other CD of bonus material. Bravo!

4. Joshua Redman- Elastic (Warner Bros.)
Sure, I might be the only one to throw this one in considering the critical backlash this album has received from my fellow critics at large, but this funky concoction just seems to speak to me. Redman’s muse has always been hook-based and with Sam Yahel’s retro keyboards and Brian Blade’s whirlwind drumming on hand, it all seems to lock in tight with a vengeance.

5. David Hazeltine- The Classic Trio Meets Eric Alexander (Sharp Nine)
When it comes to the hard bop mainstream, no one does it better than pianist David Hazeltine. This time around this most sympathetic of trios (with Peter Washington and Louis Hayes) gets a chance to run with tenor whiz Eric Alexander and the results are swinging and classy to be sure. A sanguine reworking of Stevie Wonder’s "Knocks Me Off My Feet" joins Hazeltine’s catalog of modern standards.

6. Miles Davis- The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991 (Warner Music/CBS Legacy)
While certainly a capacious collection numbering some 20 discs, no better place can be found for re-examining Davis in his twilight years. While the more pop-inflected side of his personality turned many off to Davis’ studio sides of the time, it’s in these live sessions that the power and majesty of a true genius comes shining through. Simply put, this is a "must own" for any diehard Miles fans.

7. Walt Weiskopf- Man Of Many Colors (Criss Cross)
While there are a host of young tenor men who get all the press, my vote for one of the most original voices on the horn has always gone to Walt Weiskopf. In future years we’ll all hopefully come to view his distinguished catalog for Criss Cross as a touchstone for what modern jazz excellence is all about. In a quartet setting with pianist Brad Mehldau on hand, Weiskopf not only dazzles with his sax chops but with his writing skills too.

8. Gerry Mulligan- The Concert Jazz Band at the Village Vanguard (Verve)
Not getting their dues in the same way as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra or the Francy Boland/Kenny Clarke ensemble has over the years, the big band led by Gerry Mulligan in the early ‘60s was every bit as good as any group on the scene at that time. This 1960 live set features charts by Gary McFarland, Bob Brookmeyer, and others and will hopefully be just the start of many more reissues to come from the CJB.

9. Jeremy Pelt- Profile (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Just starting to make a big splash, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt has proven his worth on discs by drummer Ralph Peterson and his mentor returns the favor on this flattering debut set. Bold and daring with a hint of brashness not unlike the early work of Freddie Hubbard, Pelt is easily the most promising new find in recent years.

10. Dave Stryker- Blue to the Bone III (SteepleChase)
While not quite scaling the heights of the second installment of Stryker’s "Blue to the Bone" series, the guitarist still makes a solid showing on some bluesy items with regulars Brian Lynch and Steve Slagle on hand. Pianist James Williams also makes a surprise addition to the group.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various Artists
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