Year By Year: Five Essential Albums of 1999

Jazz may not have an official yearbook, but it does have a vast and well-documented discography. ‘Year by Year’ is our attempt to bring you the most noteworthy albums of each year, complete with audio samples and fascinating backstories. We hope you join us as we travel through the music’s endlessly fascinating history, stopping every 12 months along the jazz timeline.


Ibrahim Ferrer, Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer (World Circuit/Nonesuch)

Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer was the second album spotlighting the talents of one of the artists from the ensemble of the legendary 1996 Buena Vista Social Club recording session. Ry Cooder, who plays slide guitar on the LP and co-produced it with Nick Gold, likened Ibrahim Ferrer to Nat King Cole and the album’s success turned the vocalist into an international superstar. The album included the same rhythm section of the Buena Vista Social Club album, plus pianist Rubén González. Along with infectiously lively numbers, Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer is notable for featuring a more prominent dialogue between the Cuban son of the pre-Castro years and American music of that same period, including ’50s big band music and the doo-wop – as especially shown in the ballads, including “Herido de Sombras.”


Keith Jarrett, The Melody at Night, With You (ECM)

Keith Jarrett is one of the most influential pianists of all time, particularly within the piano solo form. He is often defined as a piano virtuoso; that is another reason why The Melody at Night, With You, long-considered to be Jarrett’s most intimate recording, is somewhat of an anomaly within his decades-long discography. Recorded at his home at a time when he reportedly suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome, this ECM release finds him searching for the emotional core of a number of standards and lesser-known old-timey tunes by stripping them to their core and without resorting to dazzling flourishes. A profoundly melancholic rendering of George and Ira Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy” sets the tone, and the tracklist also includes one original Jarrett song: “Meditation.”


Michel Petrucciani, Solo Live (Dreyfus Jazz)

1999 saw the release of another essential solo piano album: Michel Petrucciani’s Solo Live. The French-born jazzman is rightly considered one of his generation’s greatest pianists, who was able to incorporate the influence of Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Oscar Peterson into a lyrical and dramatic language all his own. Solo Live was recorded in 1997 and in front of a large auditorium audience in Frankfurt, Germany, and released shortly after his death in January 1999, aged 36. It is as much a showcase of his unparalleled talents on his instrument of choice as much as it is a document of the consideration of his audiences. The program balanced standards with upbeat romps, and originals with standards – including a modal take on Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” Many of the tracks blend into each other and, with the exception of a few breaks in-between, Solo Live has a compelling suite-like structure that makes it all the more spellbinding.


Dave Holland Quintet, Prime Directive (ECM)

Bassist/composer/bandleader Dave Holland likes to make complex charts and orchestrations sound deceptively simple. Such is the case of Prime Directive, which picks up where Holland left off on his Grammy-nominated Points of View from the previous year. Prime Directive is a mostly joyous affair. It is driven by addictive rhythms, the tightness of the band and sublime collective improvisation. Holland’s band on this date included trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibraphonist/marimba man Steve Nelson and drummer Billy Kilson, plus a young saxophonist named Chris Potter, who had just started making waves on the global jazz scene. Five of the nine songs on Prime Directive were penned by the bassist himself, including the effervescent title track, which perfectly opens the program.


Bill Frisell, Good Dog, Happy Man (Elektra Nonesuch)

Good Dog, Happy Man found guitarist/composer Bill Frisell continuing his pursuit of a warm and deeply emotional, category-defying music via the blending of various indigenous American musics – including country, blues, bluegrass and beyond. This album found him further exploring ideas expressed in his previous albums, especially 1997’s Nashville and 1998’s Gone, Just Like a Train. However, the orchestration here is denser, the band is bigger and the array of traditional instruments is wider. Multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz alone is featured on dobro, mandolin, Weissenborn, National steel guitar, and lap and pedal steel guitars. All songs on Good Dog, Happy Man, are original Frisell compositions. The one exception is a beautiful rendition of the traditional folk song, “Shenandoah,” featuring special guest Ry Cooder on steel guitar.


Honorable mentions: Esbjörn Svensson Trio, From Gagarin’s Point of View (Superstudio Gul); Romano, Sclavis, Texier & Le Querrec, Suite Africaine (Label Bleu); Cassandra Wilson, Traveling Miles (Blue Note); Shawn Lane, The Tri-Tone Fascination (Eye Reckon); The Necks, Hanging Gardens (Fish of Milk).

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