Looking back on a year worth getting jazzed about | AspenTimes.com

Looking back on a year worth getting jazzed about

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

If you can overlook the abysmal economic realities of being a current jazz musician ” which is a lot easier to do if you’re not actually one ” jazz music is in a splendid state. In an effort to distinguish themselves, be commercially viable, and just for the creativity of it, jazz players are incorporating contemporary styles and sounds in all kinds of vibrant ways.

Hip-hop, which seems a natural as it, like jazz, comes out of the black American experience, has been a primary catalyst in rejuvenating jazz. Since the rise of the Greyboy Allstars a decade ago, groove jazz has made an impressive comeback, and is being employed in fresh ways. Even the unlikely influence of the jam-band world is having some effect on jazz.

Moreover, there remains one last surviving wave of bebop players who are reining in young talent for a stimulating blend of old and new.

So it has been a fairly easy thing to find interesting, high-quality jazz CDs these past 12 months. Following is a list of the high points of jazz on CD in 2003.

Dave Holland Quintet, “Extended Play: Live at Birdland”

produced by Holland (ECM)

More proof of what can happen when a group of talented players, led by a visionary musician, are given time to develop. Bassist Dave Holland’s quintet ” with saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibraphonist Steve Nelson and drummer Billy Kilson ” has been intact for more than six years, an eternity for a top-level jazz combo. The two-CD set “Extended Play,” recorded at New York’s Birdland late in 2001, captures a band that has carved its own musical identity and speaks in a variety of languages. Holland’s Quintet started out strong, and has only gotten better.

Roy Haynes, “Love Letters”

produced by Haynes and Yasohachi “88” Itoh


“Love Letters” is neo-bop of the first order, showing that there is life in the style. Drummer Roy Haynes is 78 and swinging hard. On this collection of tunes not quite as old as Haynes himself (“Afro Blue,” “How Deep Is the Ocean”) he surrounds himself with the best of the best from several generations: youngsters Christian McBride and Joshua Redman on saxophone and bass, respectively, on up to middle-agers John Scofield and Dave Holland, on guitar and bass, respectively.

Garage a Trois, “Emphasizer”

produced by Garage a Trois and Mike Napolitano


After several years of here and there gigging, Garage a Trois finally gets together for a studio session. The group ” actually a quartet of guitarist Charlie Hunter, drummer Stanton Moore of Galactic, saxophonist Skerik and percussionist/vibraphonist Mike Dillon ” mixes groove, jam, Latin, avant-garde and more to make a significant contribution to the funk-jazz genre. And you can really dance to it.

“The Detroit Experiment”

produced by Carl Craig and Aaron Luis Levinson


This idea could have turned out disastrous or goofy. Take a bunch of Detroit-area natives and current players, put them in a Motor City studio, and see what happens. Consider the experiment a success. With players ranging from violin mistress Regina Carter to DJ Carl Craig to saxophonist Benny Maupin of the Headhunters, “The Detroit Experiment” is a multifaceted piece of music, with the experimental aspect fully present.

The Bad Plus, “These Are the Vistas”

produced by Tchad Blake and the Bad Plus


The Bad Plus ” bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer Dave King ” are making new-generation piano-trio jazz. On their debut, the trio brings in avant-garde rock producer Tchad Blake (Los Lobos, Tom Waits), to create a jittery, high-tension sound, pointing toward a different way of group improvisation. Among the songs on the song-oriented “These Are the Vistas” are Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and the super original “Bug Eater.”

Pat Metheny, “One Quiet Night”

produced by Metheny

(Warner Bros.)

Guitar wiz Pat Metheny was messing around with his new instrument, a baritone guitar, and an odd tuning he had first come across some years ago. Inspired, he headed into his home studio and cooked up a batch of tunes on one guitar and one microphone. Sometimes, the best music comes from the simplest, most spontaneous settings. “One Quiet Night” is warm, low-key and beautiful.

Charlie Hunter Quintet, “Right Now Move”

produced by Charlie Hunter and Scotty Hard


The ever-restless, eight-string guitarist Charlie Hunter assembles yet another combo, with yet another unique tilt. “Right Now Move” prominently features Gregoire Maret on the chromatic harmonica; the rest of the instrumentation is saxophone and bass clarinet, drums, trombone, and Hunter’s eight-string, which allows him to play bass parts and approximate a Hammond B-3 organ. The results are grooving.

Matthew Shipp, “Equilibrium”

produced by Shipp and FLAM

(Thirsty Ear)

Downtown New York pianist Matthew Shipp throws almost everything into the pot here: classical piano ideas, programming and synthesizers, an avant-garde sensibility. It makes for one of the smarter sounds to be heard.

Erik Friedlander, “Quake”

produced by Friedlander


Playing in a quartet of electric bass, drums and alto sax, cellist Erik Friedlander makes an original sound that focuses almost entirely on the group dynamic, rather than the ability to solo.

Matt Wilson Quintet, “Humidity”

produced by Matt Balitsaris


Young drummer Matt Wilson and his quartet, supplemented on several tracks by violin, trumpet and trombone, play invigorating, multicultural music on “Humidity.” Wilson leaves flashy drum solos aside in favor of showing the variety of texture, rhythm and sound the drums can produce.

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com