My opinion – we’re enjoying a new golden age of music. The proliferation of available music production and distribution tools driven by the Internet have unleashed a complete torrent of creativity that may very well be unprecedented. The problem now is not seeking out rare finds, but trying to figure out which of the gazillions of options to spend precious time and attention on. Luckily, we’re also seeing great people stepping to the fore to help find good music. My favorite resources for finding new tunes lately have been the ever wonderful John Gilbreath, now on radio five mornings a week at KBCS, and two great NPR offerings, the Blog Supreme jazz blog and the All Songs Considered web site and podcast. I spend a fair amount of time listening to Accujazz Radio on the web, which has a great selection of different jazz channels to pick from. I’ve also used the lists on emusic a lot. Other great local sources to follow have been trumpeter and bandleader Jason Parker’s One Working Musician blog and Twitter feed, and all the good work happening at KEXP.
So that’s how I find music, but what have I found that I liked this year?
- Allen Toussaint – The Bright Missisippi.
The New Orleans r&b icon goes further back to the sources of New Orleans jazz and finds the spirit still burning bright.
- Visqueen – Message to Garcia
Lots of late ’70s New Wave influences get modernized in Rachel Flotard’s fine return to power-pop-punk form. I hear echoes of Blondie, the Ramones, Joan Jett, and the Cars, underneath the fine writing and singing. This one I find addictive.
- Jason Parker Quartet – No More, No Less
Local trumpeter, blogger, and tweeter Jason Parker put out this fine release this year, and it’s been in heavy rotation in my household ever since. Nothing revolutionary or outré, but fine jazz from some of Seattle’s best young lions. Support your local jazzers!
- Miguel Zenón – Esta Plena
OK – so he’s both a MacArthur (who said he’s “at once reestablishing the artistic, cultural, and social tradition of jazz while creating an entirely new jazz language for the 21st century”) and a Guggenheim fellow, on the faculty at the New England Conservatory, and he’s not yet 35 – you can tell he’s a real slouch. Zenón’s Earshot concert at the Triple Door was a 2009 highlight for me, and this album where he delves deep into the plena rhythm of his native Puerto Rico is at once modern and traditional, and swings hard with sweat, brains, and joy.
- Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – Infernal Machines
When I was a kid in the ’70s Don Ellis was the hip big band. This is much (MUCH!) better. Darcy James Argue is reinventing the big band tradition, with a healthy dose of indie rock and a steampunk aesthetic that is intensely appealing. He writes a great blog, too!
- Ben Allison – Think Free
Fine moody, cinematic jazz from bassist and composer Ben Allison along with a good crew of co-conspirators including violinist Jenny Scheinman, who’s showing up everywhere these days. I also like his Think Free Project, where he’s encouraging musicians and film makers to use his compositions as a springboard for creativity and asks them to post the results.
- Chick Corea and John McLaughlin – The Five Peace Band
Fusion Lives! The old guys can still play rings around most anybody, and are clearly having a ball with an all-star band composed of Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride, and alternating drummers Brian Blade and Vinnie Colaiuta. Better than a quadruple shot Americano!
- Booker T. – Potato Hole
Speaking of old guys, Booker T. is another one not content to rest on his considerable laurels. He gets together here with the Drive By Truckers and some lead guitar from Neil Young and produces a fine modern set of greasy, soulful instrumentals.
- Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood – Live from Madison Square Garden
More old dudes! I’ve always had a weakness for Steve Winwood’s soulful voice and great songwriting, and it’s great to see him get back together with Clapton in what is essentially a Blind Faith reprise. The songs are mostly terrific and the band is in a solid classic groove. Get your ’60s nostalgia on!
- Mark Isham + Kate Ceberano – Bittersweet
This was a discovery from eMusic. Mark Isham is a West Coast jazz and film musician who plays trumpet, and Kate Ceberano is an Australian pop singer. In an era where every pop vocalist seems to feel the need to issue an album of jazz standards, this one stands out for its smoky atmosphere and understated elegance. If you walked into a nightclub and heard this you’d have a very fine evening indeed. Okay, they’re both Scientologists – what’s up with that, anyway?
- Fly – Sky & Country
Lyrical, spare, almost introspective chamber jazz that stakes out its own territory. Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier (who’s one of my favorite current bassists), and Jeff Ballard explore the sax-bass-drums trio format, which I know from experience is not easy. Beautiful music that deserves more than a casual listen.
- Passion Pit – Manners
Fun! Poppy! Synths! Beats!
- Mulatu Astatke / The Heliocentrics – Inspiration Information 3
The London-based jazz-funk-hiphop collective perhaps best known for being DJ Shadow’s backing band get together with esteemed Ethiopian musican Astatke and cook up a hard grooving melange that is a blast to listen to, but hard to not move to. Pan-global-funkalicious-jazzy-afro-jazz!
There’s lots more from 2009 that I haven’t caught up with yet – Bill Anschell and Brett Jensen’s duo offering, Phoenixs’ Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, Vijay Iyer’s Historicity, Henry Threadgill’s Zooid – This Brings Us To, Vol. 1, and so much more – and here comes 2010! So much music, so little time. What are your 2009 faves that I should check out?