My 11 top CDs of 2009 blow past conventions to enrich jazz, blues, new and unusual music. They’re chosen from almost 1000 I received for review — an abundance of fine releases since November 2008, the full year following Barack Obama’s election to president.
Maybe it’s coincidence that fresh thinking, spirited energy and practical creativity runs high at this moment in history — or maybe it’s that 2009’s challenges require musicians like everyone else to find new answers to the tough questions: how to find joy amid gloom, work to harmonize and stand independently, keep the beat and take time out, too. The following CDs (most also available as MP3 downloads), are pleasures from the past 12 months I recommend for their surprises and soulfulness. Listed in no particular order. For complete annotations and a list of more-than-honorable mentions, see my blog posting.
Henry Threadgill Zooid, This Brings Us To, Vol. 1 (Pi)
The Thirteenth Assembly (Bynum, Fujiwara, Halvorson, Pavone), (un)sentimental (Important Records)
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Infermal Machines (New Amsterdam Records)
Charles Tolliver Big Band, Emperor March (Half Note)
Steve Lehman Octet, Travail, Transformation, and Flow (Pi)
Bela Fleck, Throw Down Your Heart, Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3: Africa Sessions (Rounder)
Kurt Elling, Dedicated to You (Concord
Keith Jarrett, Paris/London: Testament (ECM)
Indigo Trio (Mitchell-Bankhead-Drake), Anaya (Rogue Art)
Allen Toussaint, The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch)
Digital Primitives, Hum Crackle and Pop (Hopscotch)
— Howard Mandel, www.ArtsJournal.com/jazzbeyondjazz, Down Beat, City Arts-New York, The Wire, So Jazz (see my cover interview with Keith Jarrett in the Dec 09 issue), NPR