With the rise of digital music-making and web-based distribution, the collapse of the CD business, and the shrinking of the classical audience, the musical world is in a phase of systemic change worth the attention of Al Gore. Yet, for the most part, the air has been good and the population content on the remote little musical island of jazz. Here, in an order not precisely descending, are ten high points of a fine year for one kind of music.
1. Love Is What Stays, a CD by Mark Murphy. Wrenching late work by a fearless vocal improvisor. Companion piece: Abbey Sings Abbey by Murphy's peer, the composer/singer Abbey Lincoln.
2. Coltrane: The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff. Not a conventional biography of Coltrane, nor a defense of his cult, but a narrative study of the Coltrane aesthetic. A jazz book of uncommon insight.
3. The Greg Osby Five at Birdland. Osby, the composer and alto saxophonist, is not merely one of the most venturesome and original voices in jazz; he comes with things to say. In this July run at Birdland, each set was a self-contained suite of probing music.
4. Marilyn Maye at the Metropolitan Room. Old-style nightclub singing without irony or apology. Maye, a forgotten jazz-pop vocalist about the same age as Tony Bennett, restores dignity to entertaining.
5. Charlie Parker Sessions on YouTube. Hardly anyone I know had ever seen this gorgeous footage of Bird, and now everyone can click to it in a blink. Parker on alto saxophone, Hank Jones on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Buddy Rich on drums, filmed by Gion Mili (director of the more stylized short, Jammin' the Blues, which, of course, is also on YouTube). While you're clicking, don't skip the "Related Videos" from the same sessions, with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.
7. Jim Hall at the Village Vanguard. Intimate sets of ruminative guitar in restless hands.
8. Sky Blue, a CD by the Maria Schneider Orchestra. In which a fully mature jazz composer succeeds so well at shaking off her mentor, Gil Evans, that I'm sorry for bringing up his name.
9. Theo Bleckmann at Cafe Sabarsky. A bit self-consciously arty, at times, Bleckmann is a singer with emotional range to match his chops and rare command of the darker hues in the emotional spectrum.
10. That/Not, a CD by Tyshawn Sorey. A highly promising debut album by a fiery young drummer/composer.
David Hajdu is the chief music critic for The
By David Hajdu