Looking back at 2007’s best jazz recordings
IT’S TIME to cue up the year that was one more time. Here’s our list of the top 10 jazz records of 2007:
1. “Mi Sueno,” Ibrahim Ferrer (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
The title translates to “My Dream,” a reference to Ferrer’s lifelong ambition to record an entire album of boleros. The dream remained just that for decades due to a widely held belief in the industry that his voice wasn’t the right fit for the deeply romantic style of Latin music. But then he finally got the chance to record such an album.
Unfortunately, the Cuban vocalist — who came to fame as part of the “Buena Vista Social Club” documentary film and recordings — would die of multiple organ failure in 2005 before he could put the finishing touches on the album. From his deathbed, as the story goes, the 78-year-old star dictated a letter asking that “Mi Sueno” be completed in his absence.
Two years later, the album finally surfaced and it’s nothing less than an absolute dream recording for Latin music lovers. The tracks are all breathtaking, and Ferrer’s performance, in my mind, further cements his place among the very best singers in history. “Mi Sueno” is a work
of understated elegance, yet bursting with romance, and it’s the single greatest new disc — of any genre — that I heard in 2007.
2. “Tuesday Wonderland,” Esbjorn Svensson Trio (Spamboolimbo/Decca)
Like clockwork, the Esborn Svennsson Trio releases a new album and then, a few months later, it winds up on my year-end Top 10 list. E.S.T. is my current pick for the best piano trio in the jazz game, a position it has held ever since drummer Jorge Rosse left Brad Mehldau’s group. All the things that make this threesome so special — the unparalleled drama found in the
music, the cohesiveness and adventurousness of the playing, the compositions that defy easy classification, and the gentle builds that somehow climax with a tsunami-like force — can be found in abundance on “Tuesday Wonderland.”
3. “Cyrus Plays Elvis,” Cyrus Chestnut (Koch)
It’s a mystery why jazzers shy away from the Elvis songbook. Perhaps it’s the campier elements commonly associated with the King — his flamboyant white suits, his reign in glitzy Vegas, the abundance of corny impersonators and such — that have kept so many serious jazz
musicians at bay. That’s a shame since the King’s signature songs possess instantly recognizable and catchy melodies ripe for interpretation into instrumental jazz-speak. Pianist Chestnut illustrates that point in convincing fashion with this glorious batch of jazzy Elvis standards. There’s no weak link in the chain, but the album’s strongest moments come during such ballads as “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “In the Ghetto.”
4. “Live at Tonic,” Marco Benevento (Ropeadope)
The keyboardist is best known for being half of the Benevento/Russo Duo, a progressive jazz-rock combo along the lines of Medeski Martin and Wood, which has found great acceptance in the jam-band world. That could change if he keeps putting out solo records as profoundly enjoyable as “Live at Tonic.” This three-disc concert offering, recorded at the New York City bastion of experimental music, features Benevento and friends such as Phish’s Mike Gordon tearing through some remarkably diverse sets of music. The compositions range from Benny Goodman’s “Moonglow” to Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” and from Leonard Cohen’s “Seems So Long Ago Nancy” to Thelonious Monk’s “Bye Ya,” yet the album is as coherent an artistic statement as any made last year.
5. “Back East,” Joshua Redman (Nonesuch)
The Berkeley-born saxophonist shuffles the deck in a new way and still manages to deal straight aces. Having experimented with electric groove jazz in recent years, while pulling double duty as the leader of the all-star SFJAZZ Collective, Redman now pays tribute to one of
his biggest influences, tenor great Sonny Rollins, in this collection of acoustic trio works. The result is Redman’s best album since 2001’s monumental “Passage of Time.”
6. “Dear Miles,” Ron Carter (Blue Note)
The legendary bassist — who plucked alongside saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock and drummer Tony Williams in Miles Davis’ “Second Great Quintet” — pays respects to his former boss on “Dear Miles.” Davis often referred to Carter as the “anchor” of that
quintet, which many now call the greatest ensemble in the history of jazz, and the bassist has only gotten better over the years. This collection is as heartfelt a tribute as any I’ve heard; the bassist lovingly serves up “My Funny Valentine,” “Someday My Prince Will Come” and other staples of the Davis repertoire.
7. “Camp Meeting,” Bruce Hornsby, Christian McBride and Jack DeJohnette (Legacy)
Pop-star Hornsby left nothing to chance when he decided it was time to make a splash in the jazz world. He called upon two of the most potent position players in the game — McBride and DeJohnette — to form what would be a rock-solid rhythm section. With two-thirds of a great trio in place, Hornsby rises to the occasion and delivers shockingly assured jazz-piano work. That didn’t surprise me since I’ve long believed that Hornsby ranks among most versatile pianists in the business. If you need further proof, just listen to the fine bluegrass album “Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby,” which also hit shelves in 2007.
8. “This Meets That,” John Scofield (Emarcy)
The album’s title means what it says, and you’ll find a little bit of everything — and then some — on “This Meets That.” Scofield has always been one of jazz music’s greatest swashbucklers, a tireless adventurer ever in search of new sonic treasures, and he cracks open a pirate’s
chest of gold here. The guitarist is like a kid in a candy store as he fills his bag with bits of horn-driven R&B, swampy funk, fusion jazz and old-time rock ‘n’ roll. The result doesn’t ever sound jumbled or forced, which is a testament to Sco’s artist vision, even when he
makes a seemingly oddball choice like covering the Charlie Rich country hit “Behind Closed Doors.”
9. “Indian Summer,” Dave Brubeck (Telarc)
This remarkable collection of solo piano works becomes even more remarkable once you know its back story. Brubeck went into the studio in much pain, having injured his leg only days prior, and proceeded to knock out 72 minutes of music in a little more than five hours (that
included, reportedly, a break for lunch). There were no second takes. This Concord native, one of the greatest jazz musicians, makes me proud to call the Bay Area home.
10. “Breakfast on the Morning Tram,” Stacey Kent (Blue Note)
On her Blue Note debut, Kent produces a work of seemingly effortless grace and sophistication. Her vocal approach is both refined and restrained, two things that are in dreadfully short supply in modern jazz recordings. She artfully mixes new tunes with old favorites like “What a Wonderful World.” This is the album that should finally establish Kent among the top tier of female jazz vocalists.