2006's Best Jazz Albums
Here are 10 great jazz discs from 2006. On certain days, they might even be my top 10 of this abundant year.
Sonny Rollins's tenor sax evokes mostly giddy awe for the tonal depths it can plumb, the encyclopedic range of tunes he quotes, the rhythmic wrinkles he bunches and straightens, and the ceaseless torrent of melodically galvanized yet structurally sound ideas that pour from his horn during a typically inspired solo. Sonny, Please has its customary share of such jaw-dropping displays, placed in the usual setting: some ballads, a calypso, some spunky originals, all supported by mediocre sidemen who are left in the dust when the inspiration hits.
Long Hidden: The Olmec Series
African polyrhythms and Latin merengue, replete with braying saxes and a jaunty accordion, make up one of the sonic milkshakes Parker concocts with his Olmec septet. On four other tracks from Long Hidden, this old Cecil Taylor cohort plays solo bass with an enormous tone, as if a field of high-tension wires were his fret board and strings.
Radio Guantanamo: Guantanamo Blues Project, Vol. 1
On Radio Guantanamo, Bunnett's longtime fascination with Afro-Cuban hybrids hits the Eureka! spot of profundity and versatility. Starting with traditional ensembles who know changui, the Haitian-oriented roots music of southeastern Cuba, she adds the New Orleans gumbo of harpist-accordionist-vocalist Jumpin' Johnny Sansone. Next come the big jazz horns of tuba player Howard Johnson and the late tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, plus her own flute and soprano sax filigree, and enough shakers and rattlers for some glorious holy rolling. This Guantanamo produces the opposite of torture.
Personalities matter. The self-effacing Marsalis—trombonist Delfeayo—helms a disc that epitomizes ensemble synergy (with luminaries like Mulgrew Miller and Eric Revis) and showcases the sublime relationship he had with his mentor, the late, ex-Coltrane Quartet drummer Elvin Jones, playing here for the last time with horns. The spirit of 'Trane is pervasive, from altoist Donald Harrison's modal phrases on "Lone Warrior" to the entire sweep of "Lost in the Crescent" to brother Branford's blitzkrieg on the title track.
Braggtown is Branford the egotist stretching big canvases for the most swaggering hard bop and the most delicate ballads. Drummer 'Tain Watts provides invaluable support.
Bassist Holland has nurtured the best small ensemble in jazz by encouraging all four of his cohorts to compose, while setting a high standard with his own distinctively sinuous tunes, and the wide-ranging harmonic and textural possibilities of a piano-less lineup that includes a trombonist and vibraphonist. Critical Mass fully integrates newest member Nate Smith on drums, and, like the band's half-dozen previous discs, lets its unique instrumentation, generous spotlight-sharing, acute familiarity, and enormous core talent do the rest.
Meaning and Mystery
It's been delightful to see Dave Douglas shed some of his Artist pomposity and rejigger his own quintet along similar lines on Meaning and Mystery. Electric pianist Uri Caine delivers the warm, diaphanous tones Holland vibist Steve Nelson executes, and the group utilizes the fulcrum of a pliable, intelligent rhythm section and forceful horns to remind us that, done right, mainstream jazz remains a spontaneous, suspenseful joyride.
The Coalition of the Willing
Speaking of joyrides, Bobby Previte's "Ministry of Truth" hurtles along like tsunami surf music, a winsome gush of kitsch delivering irresistible momentum and a cosmic—or at least political—undertow. The title reference to our Iraq War partners and song names linked to Orwell's 1984 can be beside the point if you'd rather spazz out on jazz-rock adrenaline leavened by Farfisa organ and woozy slide guitar. Ex-members of Sex Mob and Primus are on board, and the funk of Sly and JB is not forgotten.
Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band
A grin-granting ruckus of a much different sort, Dizzy's Business doesn't forget that Gillespie swung as hard as he bopped. An incredible array of 20 musicians gathered in Pittsburgh and chased through charts reworked by some of the bop era's best arrangers, including Ernie Wilkins, Slide Hampton, and Jimmy Heath. Big-band glue guys like baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, stars like Roy Hargrove and Randy Brecker, and crucial bit players like scat-vocal stalwart James Moody (of "Moody's Mood" fame) were all on hand. Put simply, they proceeded to swoon, burn, prance, and careen through some of Dizzy's signature tunes, making this recording of the gig the jazz year's most reliable crowd-pleaser. - BRITT ROBSON