Coming up with a top five jazz list is tough – there are far too many outstanding albums to choose from, writes Ray Comiskey
IT’S BEEN a very good year for jazz CDs, enough to make the job of picking only five favourites more off-putting than eating sushi in London with an espionage consultant. 2006 yielded a classic in Bob Brookmeyer’s Spirit Music (ArtistShare), a glorious example of his orchestral writing, impeccably performed by Germany’s New Art Orchestra.
Equally striking were François Couturier’s Nostalghia – Song for Tarkovsky (ECM), a remarkable evocation of the spiritual elements in the great Russian director’s work, and Joe Lovano’s Streams of Expression (Blue Note), an inspired revisiting of the music of Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool and Tadd Dameron.
Then there were Keith Jarrett’s solo, The Carnegie Hall Concert (ECM); the eponymous Metheny-Mehldau (Nonesuch), a delightful collaboration; and House on Hill (Nonesuch), a last recorded hurrah from Mehldau’s original trio, including Jorge Rossy on drums.
More recently there were Paul Motian on Broadway Vol 4 (Winter+Winter) and Jimmy Heath’s fine big-band opus, Turn Up the Heath (Planet Arts). And vibist Stefan Harris ex- plored later Ellington works on African Tarantella (Blue Note) to impressive effect.
Trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s great Polish quartet took their interaction to new and freer heights with the gripping Lontano (ECM), while Kenny Wheeler produced a typically lyrical album, It Takes Two (CamJazz), with the highly compatible John Abercrombie, John Parricelli and Anders Jormin. Veteran altoist Bunky Green proved there’s creative life after 70 with Another Place (Label Bleu), fronting a quartet that included the adventurous young pianist, Jason Moran.
Singers provided a couple of savoury surprises. Nancy King, one of America’s best kept secrets, duetted with Fred Hersch in Live at Jazz Standard (MaxJazz), and the little-known Su- sanne Abbuehl emerged with the arresting Compass (ECM), which included settings of poems by Joyce and William Carlos Williams, as well as pieces by Berio, Chick Corea and Sun Ra.
Martin Speake’s Change of Heart (ECM) took four years to come out, but with Paul Motian, Mick Hutton and Sweden’s Bobo Stenson gelling beautifully, it was worth the wait. Another Scandinavian pianist, Ketil Bjørnstad, found the perfect trio partners in Palle Danielsson and Marilyn Masur for his spare, melodic style with Floating (Universal).
Clearly, pianists remained a major force on CD. The great John Taylor led the remarkable Angel of the Pleasance (CamJazz), while Stefano Bollani and Misha Alperin, who, like Taylor, gave solo concerts in Kilkenny Arts Week, produced Piano Solo (ECM) and Blue Fjord (Jaro), respectively. Geoff Keezer, at the height of his powers on Wildcrafted (Maxjazz), also made a terrific duo album, Free Association (ArtistShare) with Jim Hall. And pianists John Donaldson and Mark Edwards showed four hands could be better than two with Live at Appleby Jazz Festival (Trio).
On the local scene, there were some notable releases. Ronan Guilfoyle released the excellent Live in Dublin (Auand), with Julian Arguelles and Jim Black. There were compelling debuts for the Kai Big Band with Projections, and the quintet Cortisol with Miscellaneous Meet, while longtime resident Sami Moukaddem produced two albums, Crest of a Wave and Soul Food, both informed by his roots in Lebanese culture.
But all this doesn’t include such stirring bigband CDs as Maria Schneider’s Days of Wine and Roses (ArtistShare), John Hollenbeck’s Joys and Desires (Intuition), Jim McNeely’s Up from the Skies (Planet Arts) and Slide Hampton’s The Way (Planet Arts). Or such unusual groups as Paquito D’Rivera’s beautiful Jazz Chamber Trio (Chesky), Anouar Brahem’s Le Voyage de Sahar (ECM) and Mark Feldman’s What Exit (ECM).