Best Recordings I heard in 2001
Another post about the best jazz recordings heard in 2001 got me thinking about all of the recordings I heard this past year that I really liked – not just on the first hearing, but over a period of time. I normally confine myself to comments about jazz, but I have pretty broad music tastes, and decided to offer some recommendations that might be of interest to a wider audience. The recordings I’m listing below are not necessarily ones that were released during the past year, but they are ones that I heard for the first time during 2001. The recordings are listed without regard to order of preference.
1. I’ll start with Charles Lloyd’s recording, “The Water Is Wide”. This CD is either the fifth or sixth he’s done for the ECM label since 1989, when he released “Fish Out Of Water” (still my favorite in this series of recordings).
2. Chuck Israels Quartet: The Bellingham Sessions (Vol 1 & 2). Straightforward, mainstream jazz that is played very well, and is superbly recorded. (Released by Audio Ideas, a Canadian audiophile mag.)
3. Art Tatum Group Masterpieces: with Ben Webster. An XRCD re-issue of a Pablo release from 1956. Great jazz, and great sound.
4. Von Freeman: Live at the Dakota. Premonition Records. Von Freeman is Chico Freeman’s father, and one of the last of a generation of great tenor players.
5. Dave Holland Quintet: Not For Nothin’. Dave Holland and Charlie Haden continue to lead their fine groups which are serving up some of the best jazz of our time. ECM label.
6. David Murray: Like A Kiss That Never Ends. A fine, accessible recording by one of the true giants of the tenor sax.
7. Joe Pass: Virtuoso. An XRCD release of a 1973 Pablo recording. To my mind, this is the finest recording that Joe Pass has ever made.
8. Marian McPartland and the Hickory House Trio: Reprise. Concord Jazz. Marian has arrived at the “national treasure” stage. If her NPR program on jazz hasn’t won her all the converts she deserves, this album should. Great, great mainstream piano jazz.
9. Charlie Haden & Chris Anderson: None But The Lonely Heart. Naim recording. Although recorded in 1997, I finally managed to get a copy of this CD thru special order from Tower Records. Haden is responsible for bringing Anderson to the attention of Naim, and we should all be thankful. If you crossed Thelonious Monk with Bill Evans, the product you’d get would come very close to Chris Anderson.
10. Clark Terry: One on One. Chesky Records. This CD features a series of duets between Terry and 14 of the finest pianists in jazz, with each tune dedicated to a great jazz figure. Great jazz, and some of the finest quality audio I’ve ever heard on a jazz recording.
11. Al Cohn & Zoot Sims: Easy as Pie – Live at the Left Bank. Recorded live at the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore in 1968, but just recently released on the new Label M. Two of my favorite tenor players who were members of the famous “Four Brothers” group.
12. Bob Belden: Black Dahlia. Blue Note. A jazz suite by Belden that reminds me of the best work of Gil Evans. The work is dedicated to a woman named Elizabeth Short (the “Black Dahlia”) who was murdered in 1947 in Los Angeles at age 23. Rich, textured writing and superb ensemble playing by a 50-person jazz orchestra. This album gets my award for one of the top jazz releases of 2001.
13. Joey Baron: We’ll Soon Find Out. Intuition label. Features Baron on drums, with Arthur Blythe (alto sax), Ron Carter (bass), and Bill Frisell (guitars).
14. Chucho Valdes: Solo – Live in New York. Blue Note. If you dig Latin-flavored jazz and can listen to this CD without your whole body moving to the rhythm, you’d better get your pulse checked.
15. John Scofield: Works for Me. Verve. One of the jazz guitar masters backed by 4 of the best on the contemporary jazz scene: Kenny Garrett (alto), Brad Mehldau (piano), Christian McBride (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums). Higgins, one of the finest modern jazz drummers, died recently, and this may be his final recording.
16. Wallace Roney: No Room For Argument. Stretch Records. This CD will stretch your ears a bit with some of its hip-hop inflections, but there’s some great music on this session.
17. Charlie Byrd: For Louis. Concord label. Charlie Byrd was my favorite jazz guitarist. I grew up listening to him in the late 1950’s at The Showboat in Washington DC, and I don’t think he ever made a less-than-good recording. This CD is his final recording, done shortly before his death in December, 1999. Appropriately, his final effort was an album dedicated to Louis Armstrong, and features some fine work by Charlie and Joe Wilder (trumpet).
18. Gene Harris: The Best of the Concord Years. This is a double-CD of Harris recordings for Concord. Harris chose to live and play in Boise, Idaho, but he played on more than 80 recordings with a wide cross-section of jazz luminaries. His playing is blues-influenced, and this collection contains a number of infectiously swinging tunes. If you don’t have any of Gene Harris’ work in your collection, this is a GREAT place to start.
19. Art Pepper: The Hollywood All-Star Sessions. Galaxy label. I wrote a long review on this 5-CD re-issue, so I won’t try to do a recap here. Look for my review in the Audiogon archives. A must-have set for Pepper fans, as well as those who simply love great jazz.
1. Mahler Symphony #5, performed by the Young German Philharmonic, and conducted by Rudolf Barshai. Laurel Records. This CD is recorded by the German youth symphony, comprised of the finest high school classical musicians. An astonishingly well-performed effort, featuring outstanding audio quality. If you are not familiar with Laurel Records, check out this small, eclectic label at their web site: www.laurelrecord.com
2. Branford Marsalis and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra: Creation. Pieces by Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Darius Milhaud, Gabriel Faure, and Jacques Ibert.
3. Giuliano Carmignola and the Venice Baroque Orchestra. Sony label. Late Vivaldi violin concertos, performed on period instruments. Superb stuff.
4. Murray Perahia: Goldberg Variations. Sony label. A must-own version of the Goldberg variations. Glenn Gould and others have done definitive recordings of this music, but this recording by Perahia is my personal favorite.
5. Telemann: String Concertos. Archiv label. Musica Antiqua Koln, with Reinhard Goebel.
6. Johann Sebastian Bach: Solo and Double Violin Concertos. Harmonia Mundi label. Andrew Manze and Rachel Podger, with the Academy of Ancient Music.
7. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Complete Brandenburg Concertos. Telarc. Boston Baroque, with Martin Pearlman (director). Wonderful version recorded on period instruments.
8. Mozart: The Piano Quartets. Sony label. With Emanuel Ax, Isaac Stern, Yo-Yo Ma, and Jaime Laredo.
9. Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, and Russian Easter Overture. Telarc. Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. This may be a “war horse” piece, but this is one of the best recordings ever done of this piece.
Pop, folk, etc:
1. Dr. John: Duke Elegant – Performing the Music of Duke Ellington. Blue Note. If you’re a fan of either the Duke or Dr. John, try this – you’ll like it.
2. Ingrid Lucia and the Flying Neutrinos: Hotel Child. Ao! Records. Not sure how to describe this CD – it’s a series of original songs done in the style of the early 1940’s big bands, but performed by Ingrid (vocals) and her quartet and supplemented by other players. I’d be interested to hear from others who try this recording.
3. Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm: Here and Now. Ikon Records. Ike plays some seriously rocking piano and guitar in his first recording in a number of years.
4. Dolly Parton: The Grass Is Blue. Sugar Hill Records. I had to leave this CD for last. I’m a closet bluegrass fan, and this recording just blew me away. Dolly grew up hearing the “high lonesome” sound, and she sings it to perfection on this CD. It helps that she is backed by some of the finest bluegrass musicians in the country, and we’re treated to some terrific work on the mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and banjo.