Instead of doing a best in jazz and classical for 2011, I’ve segregated and done two top fives. Considering that the two genres occasionally overlap, it’s not the soundest decision, but this is 2012 and I’m a blogger, for crissake. It’s about time I started flouting logic and reason like cool bloggers s’posed to do.
Here’s your link to my classical picks after you finish with these here:
Charles Lloyd/Maria Farantouri — Athens Concert (ECM) — The top contemporary quartet in jazz, fronted by Lloyd on sax and flute with Jason Moran at the keyboard, encounters Greek diva Farantouri, plus the odd lyra tossed in for good measure. What results isn’t a feel-good detour into folksy world music but a passionate synthesis of wailing post-bop jazz and soulful torch singing at the birthplace of drama, in the shadow of the Acropolis. Lloyd is as good as ever and Farantouri is the vocalist Morgana King wished she could be.
Orchestre National de Jazz — Shut Up and Dance (Bee Jazz) — Led by Daniel Yvinec, the French band is made up of 10 talented soloists on a full range of traditional jazz instruments, with a couple of extras and electronic doodads tossed in. As if to underscore the virtuosity of the ensemble, Yvinec has composer John Hollenbeck writing a mini-concerto for each member of the ensemble, plus one brief concerto for the whole Orchestre. The result is a wondrous kaleidoscope of large combo jazz, somewhere between George Russell and Charles Mingus in temperature, with a few techno effects updating the brew. Matthieu Metzger impresses the most, quadrupling on alto, soprano, and midi saxophones plus trombophone; but kudos also extend to pianist Eve Risser on “Shaking Peace.” Don’t expect to throw a dance party to this two-CD set. “Praya Dance” comes closest to fulfilling the title formula, with Joce Mienniel wielding a bacchante flute.
Ehud Asherie — Organic (Posi-Tone) — Asherie released two CDs in 2011, each one bolstering the other’s assertion that this transplanted Israeli is a New York keyboard force to be reckoned with. Count Basie and Fats Waller are the most notable jazz figures who played both piano and organ, but as I said in my JazzTimes review, “their doubling is reduced to dabbling when compared to Asherie’s imposing proficiency at the organ, which instantly catapults him to the front ranks of current
B3 practitioners — and invites comparisons with the greats of the past.” Playing some truly monster organ here, beginning with an uptempo rampage on Leonard Bernstein’s “Tonight,” Asherie is fortified by Dmitry Baevsky on sax and Peter Bernstein on guitar, both formidable soloists in their own right, and Phil Stewart on drums. Aherie’s solo piano CD, Welcome to New York on Arbors, is pretty damn impressive, too, but the kid has a far better idea of who he is on the Hammond B3.
Marcin Wasilewski Trio — Faithful (ECM) — Combine a Vince Guaraldi musicality and simplicity with a Bill Evans depth and seriousness, and you’ll have some idea of the atmospheric, world-weary spell cast by this Polish piano trio. Wasilewski has a marvelous touch at the keyboard, tempering his melancholy explorations with the occasional teaspoon of honky-tonk sentiment. Drummer Michal Miskiewicz and double-bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz seem to be in the background, like the supporting players in a Guaraldi trio, but closer listening confirms that they both have plenty to say, like Evans cohorts Paul Motian and Scott LaFaro — just not in a solo spotlight. A perfect rainy-day CD, if the object is to feel bluer. Most colorful is “Oz Guizos,” followed by the most upbeat, uptempo track, “Song for Swirek.”
Francesco Cafiso — Moody’n (Verve) — Alto saxophonist Cafiso and his drumless Island Blue Quartet recorded this gem somewhere in the Udine Province of Italy, a few stone-throws from Slovenia. Aside from four Cafiso originals, the program includes top-shelf tunes by Horace Silver, Benny Golson, Miles Davis and a triple helping of alto god Charlie Parker. Cafiso and trumpet paisan Dino Rubino replicate the Bird synergy of “Ah-Leu-Cha” as convincingly as the Silver harmonies of “Strollin’,” but something new gestates when Cafiso solos on the Parker line with only bassist Rosario Bonaccorso or Rubino accompanying, especially since the altoist’s tone migrates toward Phil Woods’. On the title track, another prodigious duet with Bonaccorso, Cafiso emphatically stamps his bop credentials, but “In a Ghost Way of Love” reeks of Thelonious Monk. For Davis’s “Milestones,” Rubino returns to the mute, sounding more like the Miles of the '40s (who played with Parker) as he dukes it out with Cafiso rather than the expected Davis-Coltrane matchup. Soloing only rarely, pianist Giovanni Mazzarino emerges with a Red Garland ballad touch in the intro to “Secret Ways of Inviolable Beauties” before giving way to the composer’s most soulful playing. Bonaccorso solos beautifully on Parker’s “Barbados” before
giving way to the best solo efforts by Mazzarino and Rubino. Cafiso follows with aplomb, refusing to be upstaged, and the finale, Parker’s “Steeplechase,” is a blast. Bop lives on!
Also rans: Benoît Delbecq/François Houle — Because She Hoped (Songlines); Matthias Eick — Skala (ECM); Alex Brown — Paquito Rivera Presents Alex Brown Pianist (Paquito); Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian — Live At Birdland (ECM); Mace Hibbard — Time Gone By (Mace Hibbard)Image credit: Gabe's IRT