Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jazz 08 Part One: This Year in Jazz!

I'm just going to come out and say it- disagree if you want, but this is an honest belief of mine- 2008 has been the best year for new jazz in a long, long time. Everything seemed to come together in 2008; 90 year olds released some of the best albums of their careers (Marian McPartland and Buddy DeFranco) and other well-established artists made some major leaps (Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Mehldau). Most of the best records came from artists on the periphery of the jazz establishment, either too weird or too young: artists like Vijay Iyer, his cohort Rudresh Mahanthappa, Esperanza Spalding, Jenny Scheinman, Mathias Eick... the list goes on and on.

Even the disappointments weren't that bad (of course there are exceptions; the Wynton and Willie record was deathly boring, and Dianne Reeves' latest was unlistenable); when Ambrose Akinmusire's "Prelude to Cora" can be put on any kind of list of disappointments you know it was a good year. Perhaps the most surprising moments of the year came with the announcement of the year's MacArthur Fellowships (in a bad way) and Monk Institute Competition winners (in a surprising and sorta good way).

Of course the jazz media fixated on the same boring old people it always does (Sonny Rollins is, for probably the fortieth year in a row, the tenor saxophonist of the year according to Downbeat critics in spite of the fact that he doesn't perform regularly and didn't release an album this year) as opposed to focusing on the cool old people it tends to ignore (McPartland and DeFranco spring to mind- and I'm convinced that the only way Lee Konitz can get into the Downbeat Hall of Fame at this point is by dying).

The music this year speaks for itself, however. Rural Jazz has hit its peak with records like "History Mystery" and "Crossing the Field," and the Jewish Jazz scene only gets better with every barely-heard Tzadik release by somebody like Daniel Zamir or Paul Shapiro. And of course there's Esperanza, the girl of the moment, who deserves to be the next Norah Jones (perhaps the only Norah Jones). Young Ms. Spalding came out of nowhere (well, I'd heard of her, but I also go to Berklee), was suddenly featured on the cover of every jazz magazine and played on Letterman and Kimmel over the course of a week, not to mention her emergence as one of the go-to bassists of the Monk generation.

All in all, a stellar year. Next time on the Jazz Monster I'll have part two of my Jazz 08 series: The Superlatives, all leading up to the final edition of the Jazz 08, my top ten. So tune in a few days, because there's more to come.


Anthony said...

I agree that this was a good year, but maybe I just bought more CD's than usual.

AccuJazz said...

Ouch! I agree that it's discouraging to see Sonny, Roy Haynes, Wynton, etc. at the top of the Down Beat polls every year, but Sonny did release a very good album this year (albeit consisting of mostly old material) and still tours. I can personally attest that he sounds as good as ever in concert. To suggest he's been up to nothing in '08 isn't quite accurate.