Jazz has always been a genre for collectors, and as many of its perennial heroes age, we haven’t yet witnessed a wholesale shift away from the physical product. This is good news for both those who like to stack their jewel cases to the ceiling and those who love to wrap jewel cases in fancy paper.
Speaking of aging heroes, it was with sadness that we learned last month of legendary drummer Paul Motian’s death. No less than six new records came out this year that featured Motian’s playing, but the one for the fan and collector was The Windmills of Your Mind, his last recording as a bandleader that came out the day he died. The one that might capture his improvisational chops best, though, is Live at Birdland, a set he recorded with Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden.
Keith Jarrett has always been at his best at a piano and without a net. Fans could spend hours of their lives on his live solo improvised recordings alone, but that doesn’t make his new one Rio superfluous. Critics are calling it the new standard for his work in this mode. Following in a similar vein is pianist Matthew Shipp, who released four records this year exploring the outer limits of improvisation. The ones worth looking into are Night Logic, with Sun Ra’s Marshall Allen and Art of the Improvisor featuring legendary bassist William Parker.
There was plenty of good funky stuff that came out under the jazz banner this year. For True has been earning Trombone Shorty a lot of attention lately, and for good cause. The high-energy, trombone-playing bandleader has become one of the day’s great ambassadors of New Orleans music. Trumpeter Steven Bernstein has always been a shape-shifter, building and dissolving ensembles to do his bidding. The Millenial Territory Orchestra has always been one of his most exciting, and this year they put out one of their most distinctive records. MTO Plays Sly is just what it says: a record of Sly and the Family Stone covers. It’s one fun surprise.
With lots of jazz musicians adopting the rock band ethos to record and release group records, it was only a matter of time before Joshua Redman got in on the action. James Farm is the name of the group he co-leads with Aaron Parks, Matt Penman and Eric Harland. And James Farm is the name of their first release, a record that trades solo showboating for collective improvisation.
Albany High grad and celebrated vibraphonist Stefon Harris has a new record with a trio including David Sanchez and Christian Scott. Ninety Miles is an exploration of Cuban rhythms recorded in Havana with a number of different backing quartets.