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.
David S. Ware, Surrendered (Columbia)
On Surrendered, tenor saxophonist David S. Ware retained much of the volcanic dynamism that had characterized his oeuvre and the free jazz of his stellar quartet with pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker and Guillermo E. Brown’s cymbal-heavy atmospherics replacing Susie Ibarra on drums. Yet, he also “surrendered” to rhythms and chord changes, making the second and final outing for Columbia a little easier on the beginner’s ears and the perfect entry point to the artist’s adventurous music world. Four of the songs on Surrendered are Ware originals, each with a clear rhythmic structure. On the soul-searching “Celestial Peace,” he particularly comes very close to echoing the spirituality of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders’ legendary collaboration, and on an inspired version of Charles Lloyd’s “Sweet Georgia Bright,” Ware’s band swings like they arguably never had before.
Anouar Brahem Trio, Astrakan Café (ECM)
In the hands of Tunisian virtuoso Anouar Brahem, the oud (an Arab lute or guitar) becomes a contemporary instrument, placed at the center of an original multicultural musical vision. Astrakan Café is the smaller-sounding follow-up to his 1997 album Thimar and his fifth release on ECM. Its music is hypnotic, dramatic and sometimes mysterious, primarily Middle Eastern but enriched by influences from the Balkan region. While Astrakan Café is considered by many as the finest document of Brahem’s formidable composing, performing and bandleading gifts, it is just as driven by his dialogue with his fellow trio members – Turkish clarinetist Barbaros Erkose and Lassad Hosi, who plays the bendir and darbouka hand drums.
Charles Lloyd, The Water Is Wide (ECM)
Charles Lloyd brought together authoritative players spanning the generations on The Water Is Wide, an album full of warmth, thoughtfulness and joy, blending reverence for the jazz and blues tradition with the saxophonist’s desire to take his music into new and different directions. Guitarist John Abercrombie and pianist Brad Mehldau returned from his acclaimed 1999 ECM release Voice in the Night, with Mehldau’s regular, bassist Larry Grenadier, replacing Dave Holland. Also returning, drummer Billy Higgins, one of Lloyd’s closest friends and collaborators, who would sadly pass away less than a year later. The Water Is Wide is defined by a carefully curated and ubiquitous program of songs, opening with a take on Hoagy Carmichael’s immortal blues classic, “Georgia.” Also included, among other tracks, are renditions of two lesser-known Duke Ellington classics, originals and a new version of Cecil McBee’s “Song of Her,” previously included on Lloyd’s 1968 classic LP, Forest Flower.
Andrew Hill, Dusk (Palmetto)
Pianist/composer Andrew Hill got his start in the heyday of post-bop, releasing a number of great records – including Point of Departure (1965) and Smokestack (1966) – on Blue Note in his early twenties. He later became a key figure in the development of avant-garde jazz. His music is often described as brilliantly cerebral – complex, yet accessible. The same could be said about Dusk, released via Palmetto, a then-new, daring independent label. Dusk marked his first release since his 1990 opus But Not Farewell, and was a welcome return inspired by the Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer’s 1923 book Cane, which dealt with the origins and experiences of African Americans in the United States. Much of the credit for the music on this record goes to the musicians of his wonderful sextet, including fellow avant-gardist Steve Ehrlich on alto saxophone, whom Mark Corroto defined as his “musical soulmate.”
Avishai Cohen, Colors (Stretch)
After his three-year collaboration with keyboard legend Chick Corea, Avishai Cohen emerged as a mature composer/musician. He draws on a wide-ranging palette of influences on the aptly titled Colors, his third full-length outing on Stretch as a leader. This is a prime showcase of his writing and arranging skills, presenting 13 originals performed by a septet plus guest percussionists and a string quartet, and Cohen himself on acoustic and electric bass, Fender Rhodes and vocals. The program ranges from cool to warm; melodies, rhythms and orchestrations are varied, yet the entire album sounds quite cohesive. That is because Cohen’s nonconformist and multicultural musical vision is clear, and is defined in the album liner notes as “jazz for the new millennium.”
Honorable mentions: Derek Bailey, Jamaaladeen Tacuma & Calvin Weston, Mirakle (Tzadik); Allan Holdsworth, The Sixteen Men of Tain (Gnarly Geezer); John Tilbury & Evan Parker, Two Chapters and an Epilogue (Matchless); St Germain, Tourist (Blue Note); Medeski, Martin & Wood, The Dropper (Blue Note).
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