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2010: Derek Taylor

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Dusted jazz critic Derek Taylor gives props to his favorite labels and albums of 2010.

2010: Derek Taylor

Joe McPhee’s position on the National Treasure registry remains secure with Trio X – On Tour 2008 (CIMPoL). The five-disc box improves on its seven-disc 2006 predecessor in terms of packaging and price point, and documents five dates on McPhee’s tour itinerary with stalwarts Dominic Duval and Jay Rosen. The ever-clever McPhee makes like Bartlett’s in his steady stream of familiar quotations, but my favorite stretch comes when, the loose-weave context of a larger free improvisation, his tenor flirts and flexes through Sam Rivers’ lovely ballad “Beatrice.” I haven’t yet spent time with Sound on Sound (Corbett vs. Dempsey), a two-disc collection of McPhee’s late 1960s/early ’70s solo work and experiments in multi-tracking, but have a strong suspicion it would make this list, too.

Label: Riverworks | Release Date: October 19

Warne Marsh has been deceased for a good couple decades, but as with most musicians of his stature, the posthumous releases keep coming. New York City Live is the boon this year, a two-disc 1980 concert at Alice Tully Hall with the tenorist in the agile company of bassist Red Mitchell and Tristano-taught drummer Pete Scattaretico. Sound is clean and the interplay, particularly between long time confreres Marsh and Mitchell is pitch-perfect. Storyville’s bargain box Two Not One is also worthy of a mention, as it brings back sterling Copenhagen concert collaborations between Marsh and Konitz, as well as a pair of pianoless studio dates by the former.

When it comes to the activities of the Lisbon-based Clean Feed imprint, “embarrassment of riches” still serves an accurate summary judgment. Their ridiculously prolific release schedule continued unabated throughout 2010, with every one of the 45 titles that hit the shelves offering at least something of interest and a handful competitively rising to superlative heights. My picks among that latter number include: bassist Adam Lane’s Ashcan Rantings; drummer Tom Rainey’s Pool School; trumpeter Kirk Knuffke’s Amenesia Brown; pianist Kris Davis’ Paradoxical Frog and the long waited release of the Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton trio w/trumpeter Peter Evans in tow. The only drawback is just how far behind I am in paying each of the year’s releases its proper listening due.

The Italian Black Saint and Soul Note labels exemplify daunting catalogs, both in terms of size and comparative cost in collecting individual titles. CAM Jazz combat these obstacles in a logical fashion with their line of artist-specific box sets. They’ve released nine to date, pitching cumbersome plastic jewel cases in favor of cardboard sleeves and paring everything down into space-conscious slim-line sets. While possibly a bit frustrating for those who have the albums in earlier forms, these collections are perfect for neophytes just getting into the music. The Bill Dixon, Henry Threadgill, Paul Motian and Cecil Taylor sets are essential.

The controversy-prone label endured an unfortunate shake-up in staffing this year, but that didn’t curtail them from continuing to mine their storied catalog while still funneling resources into projects by contemporary artists. At two discs apiece, the latest incarnation of Heliocentric Worlds and College Tour Volume One, which greatly expands on an earlier reissue of Nothing Is, offer heaping helpings of Sun Ra while improving substantially on past versions. Charles Tyler’s Eastern Man Alone, the altoist’s deep investigation of the chamber possibilities of free jazz in the company of three sharply-attuned string-players was probably my favorite single disc, though Michael Gregory Jackson’s Clarity weighs in at a close second.

Label: Emanem | Release Date: July 13

The Emanem/Psi cooperative appears regularly in my Year End summaries; Martin Davidson’s track record for picking out top-flight free improv is just that good. Riviere Composers’ Pool, an ensemble consisting of bassist Kent Carter, clarinetists Theo Jorgensmann and Etienne Rolin and violinist Albrecht Maurer absolutely blew me away in its pristine alloy of revolving chamber improv combinations. On the Psi side, it’s two from Evan Parker, Whitstable Solo, which finds him paying oblique homage to Steve Lacy and Psalms with Sten Sandell on pipe organ, which brings to mind at times fantasies of a long lost duo album by Sun Ra and John Gilmore, at others a meeting between Messiaen and Coltrane, while sounding wholly of its own throughout.

Label: AUM Fidelity | Release Date: September 14

AUM Fidelity’s reputation for releases traced a persistent upward trajectory this year. The majority of titles still flew past my radar, but David S. Ware’s Onecept, a return to his trio roots on Silkheart Records and reunion of sorts between him and several of the horns in his earlier arsenal, hit home as a counterpart to the solo Saturnian earlier in the year. The presence of reliable veterans William Parker and Warren Smith certainly helped, and health travails aside, Ware sounds creatively at the top of his game. Parker’s I Plan to Stay a Believer was a long time coming, but more than worth the wait in its marriage of Curtis Mayfield’s music with the bassist/composer’s own complementary world view and talent for large scale arrangement.

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Year of the Irabagon? Two releases on the indomitable Hot Cup label in particular make a strong case for such a proclamation. Foxy takes Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West as its conceptual springboard, teaming Irabagon with drum doyen Barry Altschul and bassist Peter Brendler for nearly 80-minutes of scorched-stage variations that somehow manage to skirt enervating exhaustion. Forty Fort, the latest platter from the Mostly Other People Do the Killing (Irabagon’s ensemble project with trumpeter Peter Evans, bassist Moppa Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea) sustains the quartet’s standard for seat-of-the-pants slapstick coupled to eye-popping ensemble precision.

Label: Steeplechase | Release Date: March 30

A slew of Steeplechase releases came my way this year including several featuring my favorite contemporary tenorist, Stephen Riley, but it’s this session by saxophonist/composer Chris Byars that percolated to the top of the pile. Byars is that special breed of musician who balances reverence for the past with a questing ear cocked to his own singular composerly sound. That he conscripted octogenarian vibraphonist Teddy Charles -- recently returned to active jazz duty after three-plus decades spent as a sea captain -- for this project highlighting the compositional genius of Gigi Gryce makes perfect sense.

Label: Delmark | Release Date: September 21

Jason Adasiewicz has already established himself as the aural antidote for anyone operating under the false assumption that jazz vibraphone begins with Hampton and ends with Hutcherson. Peeled down to the stark accompaniment of bassist and drummer this economical disc feels very much like an album and echoes the sort of open-structured work Walt Dickerson was doing with the format in the 1970s. Like his lesser known counterpart Matt Moran, Adasiewicz is keeping his instrument on the vanguard one magisterial mallet stroke at a time.

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Label: Porter | Reissue Date: July 20

Porter’s stewardship of 1970s Philly jazz hit a summer peak with the release of this two volume collection. Improving on an out-of-print 32 Jazz set with vintage photos and an extra track, the set collects virtually every studio track by saxophonist Odean Pope’s pioneering fusion group. Several pieces slip a little too liberally into the syrupy side of commercial instrumental soul, but the bulk of the collection blends progressive funk and jazz into a period-heavy snapshot of Pope and colleagues in their superfly early years.

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Label: Smalltown Superjazz | Release Date: July 13

Peter Brötzmann is another surname that reliably makes my list in some fashion and this year is no exception, what with the appearance of this mammoth document of the titular concert stand by his flagship band. The Wuppertalian reed splitter wisely varies the playing field this time out, participating in only a fraction of the music and leaving the rest to stirring sets by configurations of his colleagues including a brass choir and several duets. The box also works as a weighty complementary bookend to the Tentet’s initial box on Okkadisk released a dozen years earlier.

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Several years old, it’s still a reissue program to marvel at. Candid co-opted the catalog of the storied Japanese Why Not label and set about putting the albums back into circulation at affordable prices. The standouts in this year’s crop include altoist Monty Waters’ The Black Cat (featuring some superbly recorded Ronny Boykins on bass); the father son tandem of Chico & Von Freeman backed by the blue chip 80s rhythm section of George Cables, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart on Lord Riff & Me, Air’s seminal Air Raid and the self-explanatory Don Pullen Plays Monk.

Label: Rounder | Release Date: September 28

Compiled by field recording sage Ralph Rinzler, the music on this set presents material originally performed at a handful of Newport Folk Foundation concerts in the mid-60s. It’s a who’s who of Cajun and Creole music legends among them, The Balfa Brothers, Austin Pitre, Alphonse “Boise-Sec” Ardoin and Canray & Osom Fontenot, each holding forth at their most impassioned and unadorned. It’s also a welcome return to form for Rounder, one of the few labels that still specialize in this sort of thing.

Label: Fat Possum | Release Date: July 6

Blaze Foley’s a shadowy fellow that I’d long heard of rather than heard, a country-scented songwriter akin to Kristofferson with tunes known far more for the luminaries who’ve covered them than in their original forms. A self-destructive roustabout in the mold of Townes Van Zandt, his hard living and personal excesses extinguished his talent well before its expiration date. This gathering of intimate 1970s recordings captures him under his early alias Deputy Dawg near the start of that spiral and corroborates on his storied rep through a program that’s haunted and heart-warming in equal measure, particularly the tracks that find him serenading the enraptured infant who penned the disc’s liners as an adult.

Label: Vampisoul | Release Date: July 1

A missing 1960s link of sorts between earlier vallenato origins and modern dancehall cumbia styles in Peru. The linchpins are the electric guitars, replacing button accordions and supplying the bouncing bass-driven rhythms of the music with a coruscating sting. Spread across two 40-odd minute discs, the program could’ve been expanded or pared down a single, but VampiSoul’s attention to history and context in the accompanying booklet shores up the set’s value.

And 25 more for good measure…

• Mike Reed’s People, Places & ThingsStories & Negotiations (482 Music)
• Wadada Leo Smith & Ed BlackwellThe Blue Mountain’s Sun Drummer (Kabell)
• CommitmentLive in Germany 1983 (No Business)
• John Zorn/George Lewis/Bill FrisellMore News for Lulu (hatOLOGY)
• Domenic LandolfNew Brighton (Pirouet)
• Jeremy PeltMen of Honor (HighNote)
• Ideal BreadTransmit Vol. 2: The Music of Steve Lacy (Cuneiform)
• Kris KristoffersonThe Publishing Demos (Light in the Attic)
• Ingrid LaubrockAnti-House (Intakt)
• Mike Mainieri/Charlie Mariano/Dieter IlgCrescent (NYC)
• Gregory TardyThe Strongest Love (Steeplechase)
• Rich Halley QuartetLive at the Penofin Jazz Festival (Pine Eagle)
• William Parker Organ QuartetUncle Joe’s Spirit House (Centering)
• J.D. ParranWindow Spirits (Mutable)
• Dennis Gonzalez Yells at EelsCape of Storms (Ayler)
• Vijay IyerSolo (ACT)
• Billy BangPrayer for Peace (TUM)
• VariousGood God! Born Again Funk (Numero Group)
• Jimi HendrixWest Coast Seattle Boy (Sony Legacy)
• V/AAfro-Beat Airways (Analog Africa)
• V/ARoots of OK Jazz- Congo Classics 1955 to 1956 (Crammed)
• Porter WagonerWhat Ain’t to Be Just Might Happen/Sings His Own (Omni)
• Charlie ParrWhen the Devil Goes Blind (Nero’s Neptune)
• The Black KeysBrothers (Elektra Nonesuch)
• V/ANext Stop Soweto, Vols. 1-3 (Strut)

By Derek Taylor

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