Rons' Top 10 for 2007

1. Keith Jarrett – My Foolish Heart (ECM)

The material on this 2-CD set was recorded live in 2001, but just released. It plumbs the depths of this trio that now has played spectacularly together for 25 years and clearly is the best jazz band extant. Bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette have redefined the terms “rhythm section” and “empathetic,” while Keith Jarrett clearly has redefined jazz improvisation (and, unfortunately, subvocalization). Think you have heard everything this trio can do? There are three rag tunes that are not only authentic and unperverted, but captivating. The CD has received mixed reviews, but there are unforgettable moments throughout the recording. While it is easy to focus on the astounding talent of KJ, Gary Peacock’s playing is in its own class. Jack DeJ, of course, is the engine that makes the trio hum.

2. Michael Brecker – Pilgrimage (Heads Up)

On Michael Brecker’s last recording shortly before his death in January 2007, his tenor saxophone and EWI (electronic wind instrument) playing were simply amazing, particularly considering the circumstances of his dire, terminal illness, which he fought with predictable vigor and equanimity. Brecker hand-picked the sidemen, most of whom were long-time colleagues, to record these nine original and final pieces. Pianist Herbie Hancock plays on four tunes and Brad Mehldau the others; and play they do, particularly Mehldau. Guitarist Pat Metheny, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Jack DeJohnette are simply outstanding throughout, as anticipated. All-star bands frequently do not live up to expectations, but there were no ego clashes here as each player seems to have realized the significance of the moment with their friend as he was concluding his personal pilgrimage.

3. Joshua Redman – Back East (nonesuch)

The leader tips his hat to Sonny Rollins’ 1957 LP, Way out West, recorded with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne. Redman playing tenor or soprano saxophone, rotates bass and drums trios (Christian McBride, Reuben Rogers or Larry Grenadier on bass; and Eric Harland, Brian Blade or Ali Jackson on drums). You cannot tell the players without a scoredcard on any given track, and it does not make much sense to me to have three discreet, but not necessarily distinctive bass/drum combinations. I would have been thrilled with just Chris McBride and Brian Blade. That said, this is extraordinarily good music. There are cameo appearances by Joe Lovano as well as Joshua’s father, Dewey, shortly before he perished, which makes this recording even more poignant and important.

4. Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau – Metheny Mehldau Quartet (nonesuch)

As a brilliant follow-up to their first pleasant, if tepid CD (Metheny Mehldau), this recording features Mehldau’s trio  with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard much more prominently and energetically. The two big dawgs really put a beauty together this time. No, you won’t be humming these tunes, but you will want to hear them several times over before moving on. Pat’s sound is patented especially on those weird guitar synthesizers he is so fond of employing; and Brad is the second best musician and most intriguing and controversial intellectual figure in jazz (see Ron’s Pick 1. above)

5. Steve Kuhn – Live at the Birdland (Blue Note)

For a recording that starts a trifle slowly, this one becomes so compelling that you won’t want it ever toend (especially “Slow Hot Wind”). Pianist Kuhn, a former child prodigy with an impressive lifelong résumé, has been under the radar seemingly forever, and that is a shame, because he brings so much depth, coherence and relevance to each arrangement and solo. He is very well served on this date by his former bandmates Ron Carter and Al Foster from his mid-1980s band, All-Star Trio. Yes, that really was the name of the band.  As usual, every bass note sounds perfect coming from R.C. and Al Foster has always played the music perfectly, regardless of the style, whether it was electric Miles, Joe Henderson’s post-hard-bop, or whatever. The live audience at Birdland unquestionably raises the energy level of the band.

6. Martin Bejerano – Evolution/Revolution (Reservoir)

For a first offering, this is quite a dramatic CD from a pianist who combines extraordinary historical insight and prodigious technique. Martin is a Miami product with a Master’s from UM. His first major gig was with Roy Haynes’ Fountain of Youth band, which is even more serious postgraduate training. His trio with bassist Edward Perez and drummer Ludwig Afonso is very tight, but sometimes they do channel Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio just a little too closely. Influences of Jarrett and Chick Corea are most evident on the standards, jazz and otherwise. Bejerano’s originals are compositionally fascinating, with quirky forms and meter signatures. Track 1, “Evolution,” is an especially good example – and it knocks your socks off. The best part of that, of course, is that they are just getting warmed up!

7. SFJAZZ Collective – Live 2007 (SFJAZZ)

The entirety of Disk 1 is Thelonious Monk material done with exquisite sensitivity and imaginative arranging and soloing. Disk 2 features the group’s own spirited repertoire with too many great moments to mention. Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon is cementing his place as a major player and innovator. Remember his name. Trumpeter Dave Douglas is a major upgrade over his predecessor Nicholas Payton. Unfortunately, Joshua Redman, the SFJAZZ artistic director, and Bobby Hutcherson left the Collective after this tour. They have been replaced by Joe Lovano and Stephon Harris, so the band will continue with superior personnel.  Collectives are difficult to keep together, especially when all of the members lead their own bands, but SFJAZZ continues to make the endeavor memorable.

8. Miles Davis – Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival (MJF Records)

Twenty-four years after the fact comes the initial release of a somewhat raw, but startling live performance by the newly formed band that would shortly become Miles’s “Second Great Quintet” featuring a young Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, 17-year-old(!) Tony Williams and tenor saxophonist George Coleman (Wayne Shorter would join the band a year later). This gem is a precursor to the blistering Four and More, every jazz musician’s favorite Miles Davis album. Wait, what? You don’t believe me? Shake a jazz musician awake at 3:00 p.m. and ask!

9. Silvano Monasterios/Mark Egan/ Paul Wertico – Jazz Impressions April 2006 (Dogleg)

This is a marvelous live recording of daunting material played by very accomplished musicians. Pianist Silvano is a Miamian (by way of Caracas, Venezuela) and arguably the area’s most talented player and composer. He teams with New York electric bassist Mark Egan and Chicago percussion phenom, Paul Wertico. Mark and Paul came to prominence with Pat Metheny and later Larry Coryell (see the “Jazz Impressions” concert for June 2008). They are two very sought-after musicians, both of whom gravitated to Silvano’s music. There were no gimmies on this tune list. Paul’s solo on the 5/8-time “Avila” is jaw-dropping. The shame is that the entire dazzling performance doesn’t appear here.

10. Charles Mingus – Cornell 1964 (EMI)

Perhaps the best new issue of important historical material in some time, the 2-CD set has Eric Dolphy (alto sax, bass clarinet and flute) in possibly his last performance before his untimely demise. He plays in tandem with tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan. Jaki Byard’s piano comping and solo work are excellent and the band burns throughout this concert, sailing on Mingus’s buoyant, propulsive bass lines and Danny Richmond’s dancing ride cymbal. The material is replete with Mingus compositions with some Ellington standards, and a few weird surprises  thrown in (“When Irish Eyes are Smiling”???). This is a “must have” for serious jazzophiles.