Best Jazz Recordings of 2002

A year ago, I made a post regarding the "Best Jazz Recordings" for the prior year, and I have received several private E-mails asking if I was going to make a similar post this year. I have bought far fewer CD's this past year because I was unemployed, but I have still read through the "Best of 2002" lists published by Downbeat, JazzTimes, and several other publications. The publications have nearly identical "best of" lists, although the rankings vary.

Before I present a composite "best of" list, a few personal comments are in order. First, I was not terribly inspired by a lot of the recorded jazz this past year, but I concede that is a partly a reflection of my personal taste in jazz. Second, some of the best jazz recordings were done on small labels that rarely get reviewed by the major jazz magazines, so I will mention a couple of recordings/labels that might be of interest to other listeners.

Here is the composite "top 50+" jazz recording list taken from the major jazz review magazines (again, not in a specific rank order). The first twelve have been included in the "top 10" of many of the lists:
1. Wayne Shorter: Footprints -- Live! (Verve). Wayne Shorter returns to the scene with his new quartet and first recording (under his name) since 1995. If you like Shorter, this is his best album in many a year.
2. Dave Holland: What Goes Around (ECM). Excellent 13-piece big band recording with spirited solos and fine ensemble work.
3. Andrew Hill: A Beautiful Day (Palmetto). Hill's CD in 2000, titled "Dusk", was on many "best of" lists for that year. This recording is close to the quality of "Dusk", and is a live recording to boot. This is another large group recording, with 11 members, with very challenging music that has echoes of Ellington, Mingus, and Hindemith.
4. Joe Zawinul: Faces & Places (ESC). This CD was conceived as a series of tourist recollections similar to the "suites" done by Ellington and Brubeck following their world tours. This CD serves up a variety of flavors, including jazz, vocalese, and world music. This recording is not to my taste, but younger listeners who enjoy idiomatic music may well add it to their "buy" list.
5. Keith Jarrett: Always Let Me Go (ECM). Jarrett's "standards" trio, which includes Gary Peacock on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums, is perhaps the finest working jazz trio on the current scene. This CD, however, goes well "outside" the standards, and will stretch the ears of many listeners.
6. Brad Mehldau: Largo (Warner Brothers). I really wanted to like this album, and maybe I will after some further exposure, but it has many elements that do not rest well on my ears. This CD is a real departure from the quite lyrical trio recordings that Mehldau has done in the recent past. Many of the tracks are influenced by hip-hop, alternative rock, and electronic effects (mutated acoustic instruments, "noise", etc.). There are, however, a few "straight ahead" tracks that serve to anchor the more traditional jazz listener. This is another CD that will not appeal to everyone, but it's a strong indication of the new influences that are emerging with young jazz musicians.
7. Jason Moran: Modernistic (Blue Note). I suspect that this CD, more than any listed thus far, will fall into the "love it" or "hate it" category. Moran is an eccentric stylist, and on this CD he draws upon influences ranging from James P. Collins stride piano to Afrika Bambaataa. Many jazz reviewers love Moran's work, and raved about this CD, but I think one's like or dislike of the CD will fall largely along generation lines.
8. Tomaz Stanko: Soul of Things (ECM). Stanko is a Polish trumpet player -- sort of a European Miles Davis (Miles in the 1950's, not the later "fusion" style). Stanko uses tonal colors and textures more than theme, chord changes, and typical jazz improvisation. Nevertheless, this recording has an appealing, even hypnotic, effect. The music is based on 13 variations of a theme, and thus -- to my ear -- gets a bit repetitive by the end of its 76-minute length. Stanko is backed by an three other very accomplished Polish jazz musicians (the pianist reminds me of Bill Evans). Older jazz buffs particularly should check out Stanko's recorded work for ECM.
9. Tom Harrell: Live At The Village Vanguard" (Bluebird). This CD is a good addition to the many live recordings made at the Vanguard, and features Harrell's full trumpet tone. Harrell's work can be intellectually demanding of the listener, since it may not "swing" in the usual jazz sense.
10. Randy Sandke: Inside Out (Nagel-Heyer). Another release featuring one of the lesser-known jazz trumpet players. Sandke is a fine technician with a full tone and crackling attack. His playing often has cutting-edge harmonies, and his band can swing. As JazzTimes said in their review: hip is as hip does...
11. Cassandra Wilson: Belly of the Sun (Blue Note). Wilson has developed over the years into a singer who has confidently integrated many styles into repertoire. On this CD, she includes songs drawn from a number of styles, and successfully makes them all "her own".
12. Pat Metheny Group: Speaking of Now

Here are the other 40 recordings found on various "best of" lists:
13. Weather Report: Live and Unreleased
14. Billy Bang: Vietnam - The Aftermath
15. Branford Marsalis Quartet: Footsteps of Our Fathers
16. Dee Dee Bridgewater: This Is New
17. William Parket Quartet: Raining on The Moon
18. Davis S. Ware: Freedom Suite (adaptation of Sonny Rollins composition)
19. Ron Miles: Heaven
20. Wadada Leo Smith: The Year of The Elephant
21. Diana Krall: Live in Paris
22. Dave Douglas: The Infinite
23. Hancock/Brecker/Hargrove: Directions in Music
24. Woody Shaw: Live, Volume Two (HighNote) (also check out Volume One and Volume Three -- both feature some unusually fine work by this wonderful trumpet player who died much too young. If you like what you hear, buy his recently re-mastered and re-issued Grammy-winner, "Rosewood", recorded in 1977.)
25. Mujician: Spacetime
26. Tim Berne: Science Friction
27. Charles Lloyd: Lift Every Voice (the latest in a fine batch of recordings done for ECM over the past 12 years. If you like this CD, check out some of the earlier work, including "Fish Out of Water" and subsequent releases.)
28. Michel Camilo: Triangulo (one of the best of the Latin jazz pianists, Camilo can swing with amazing intensity)
29. Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Big Band: Things To Come
30. Matthew Shipp: Nu Bop
31. Roscoe Mitchell: Song For My Sister
32. Yellowjackets: Mint Jam
33. Omar Sosa: Sentir
34. Norah Jones: Come Away With Me (Blue Note) (this CD has gotten some very favorable comments from both younger and older listeners)
35. Curtis Stigers: Secret Heart
36. John Surman & Jack DeJohnette: Invisible Nature
37. Greg Osby: Inner Circle
38. Eddie Palmieri: La Perfecta II
39. Anthony Braxton Quartet: 8 Standards (Wesleyan) 2001
40. Mingus Big Band: Tonight at Noon
41. Joshua Redman: Elastic
42. Claudia Acuna: Rhythm of Life
43. Buster Williams: Joined At The Hip
44. Chris Potter: Travelling Mercies
45. Chano Dominguez: Hecho a Mano (Dominguez is the first musician to successfully combine jazz with flamenco. He is featured on the outstanding music DVD, "Calle 54", which includes many of the best contemporary Afro-Cuban musicians.)
46. Bill Frisell: The Willies
47. Paul Motian: Holiday For Strings
48. Brian Bromberg: Wood
49. Joe Lovano: Viva Caruso
50. Phil Woods with Bill Charlap Trio: Voyage
51. Ron Carter: Stardust
52. Charlie Haden & Michael Brecker: American Dreams
53. Ray Brown Trio: Some of My Best Friends Are Guitarists (one of the last CD's recorded by perhaps one of the truly stellar jazz bass players)
54. Ruby Braff: Variety Is The Spice of Braff
55. Von Freeman: The Improvisor

Box Sets and Reissues:
1. Charlie Christian: The Genius Of The Electric Guitar Columbia/Legacy)
2. Bill Evans Trio: Consecration (Milestone)
3. The Complete Roost Johnny Smith Group Sessions (Mosaic)
4. Grant Green: Retrospective 1961-1966 (Blue Note)
5. John Coltrane: A Love Supreme - Deluxe Edition (Impulse)

To close out this rather long post, I want to mention a couple of recordings that I like that are available only through the Blues Alley Music Society in Washington, DC. Blues Alley is a small lub in the Georgetown area of Washington (Eva Cassidy's last CD was recorded there), and the Society now has 5 limited edition (2500 copies) CD's. I purchased 2 of the CD's in the series, and really liked both of them. The CD's were both recorded in 1991 during live performance:
1. Charlie Byrd Trio: Live! at Blues Alley. I grew up in Washington DC, and listened many times to Charlie Byrd when he was playing at the old Showboat Lounge. This recording is a real "time travel" for me, as it wonderfully re-captures Byrd playing familiar tunes in a club setting (it even features Charlie singing). The opening cut on the CD is "Blues For Felix", a tune that Charlie wrote in dedication to the superb Washington-based jazz show MC and DJ, Felix Grant. I did my high school homework listening most nights to Felix Grant's program from 7PM-midnight.
2. Dizzy Gillespie Quintet: Live! at Blues Alley.

For more info about these CD's, or to purchase them, go to the following link for the Blues Alley Music Society:
After I made this post, I realized that I had inadvertently erased a couple of sentences pertaining to the Dizzy Gillespie recording, "Live! At Blues Alley". Here are the missing comments:

This recording was done about a year before Dizzy's 75th birthday, at which point his playing no longer featured the blistering tempi and high register runs of earlier years. I heard Dizzy at a club in Seattle about a year before this recording, and it was obvious that he was allowing the other members of the group to "carry the load". This CD features some very good solo work by Ron Holloway on sax and Ed Cherry on guitar. Dizzy plays a lot of muted trumpet, and his style is more laid-back, but his musical ideas are still fresh. There are 4 tunes, ranging in length from 13 to 19 minutes, so everyone has time to stretch out.

The audio quality of both Blues Alley CD's is excellent for live recordings -- I'd give them a 9 out of 10.

Finally, a few words about a new series of jazz LP's from Japan, on the "Eighty-Eights" label. Yasohachi Ihto, whose nickname is "Eighty-Eights" (after piano keys) owned the East Winds label in the late 1970's, and released several D-to-D LP's of the LA4 which were notable for their superb audio quality. His initial releases on the new "88's" label feature some of the best, older American jazz musicians, such as Clark Terry (trumpet), Max Roach (drums), etc. I purchased the Terry/Roach release called "Friendship", which consists both of duets between Terry and Roach and quartet numbers.

I can report that the audio quality of this recording is excellent -- very, very lifelike, although miked a bit closely and therefore lacking some recording ambience. The duet numbers between Terry and Roach feature some technically excellent playing, but most of it failed to get my feet tapping. The quartet numbers felt much more fleshed out -- both in sound quality and performance -- and I therefore liked them better. Even with these reservations, however, "Friendship" is a good album by two of the living masters of American jazz (and who may soon pass from the scene).

The releases on the "Eighty-Eights" label (LP, CD, and some SACD's) are being distributed by Acoustic Sounds. For more info on the "88's" releases, see their web site at:
Thanks for the list, Scott. I'll nominate one other: Stardust, by the Bill Charlap Trio--a real throwback, in some ways, but expertly done, with some great "guest stars" (Tony Bennett, Jim Hall, Shirley Horn, Frank Wess).
Thanks Scott.
I have it dropped in the file with last years which I referred to often!
Little disappointed you bought fewer because I liked your personal choices last year. Even liked you pop stuff (Dr John and a few others)

Long live Charles LLoyd. I've gone back and dug up all of his stuff on your recomendation.

Bomarc: Bill Charlop is good. "Written in the Stars" his last LP was on Scott's list last year if I recall correctly.
Have to pick the new one up.

Thanks and
I remain,
Of course there's Kurt Elling's magnificent 'Flirting With Twilight'. His 'Moonlight Serenade' and 'Orange Blossoms in Summertime' alone are worth the price of admission.
Clueless: You are correct that the Bill Charlap CD, "Written In The Stars", was on my list last year. It's a very nice recording that I still enjoy. And Charles Lloyd just keeps putting out beautiful music ...
Saw Bill Charlap in August. A stunning pianist with great back-up.

I'm a little surprised you didn't include the 5 star rated Bill Bruford & Earthworks double CD called "Footloose and Fancy Free", live and in your face, a great quartet and this guy (from YES) is a monster jazz drummer. As the reviewer noted, what fusion should have been (with no electronics!).

Thanks, however, for the list. I think I am more in your camp, tho'. Give me Joey D on the B3 gorilla and set my toe to tappin' any day.
01-28-03 Roy

I was in Lisbon last summer ,family went to bed early and decided to go out and listen to some CD's. I came accross a new CD by Michel Portal called
***** " Minneapolis We Insist!".***** HOT STUFF
A very exciting jazz cd recorded in Paris/Lyon/Tourcoing and last in Creteil. Michel Portal on Bass Clarinet/ Alto Sax, Jef Lee Johnson on Guitar,Vernon Reid on Guitar, Tony Hymas on Piano, Sonny Thompson on Bass, and Michel Bland on Drums. Very creative specialy on track 1 - "Good Bye Pork Pie Hat", 5- "Sky Tinted Water", excellent base, grab on to your seat, track 12- "Shopping for black Shirt" , Drum Solo *****. My favourite for 2002 , If you have heard it let us know. on CD - Universal- EU 017 796 -2 LC 00699. My first write up
Excellent list.

One more for B3 fans:

YaYa3- Loma 948277-2

How's your Tony Monaco CD collection coming? He's next to Joey D.
I just received a Japanese import of Allan Holdsworth "All Night Wrong" which is a live recording. Although his music fits in the genre of Jazz fusion, it is well recorded and captures him him in rare form. Jimmy Johnson (James Taylor) and Chad Wakerman are also in pristine form as well. BTW, I have agree with Travis. Just any recording from Bill Bruford is a recording to die for in my book.