Best of 2019: The Jazz2K Awards and “The Rest of The Best!”

Before I start moaning about how goshdarn HARD it is to put together a Top 10 Disc List for any given year, let’s hand out a couple of bowling trophies.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

TOM HARRELL – Infinity (HighNote)

Harrell’s first recording with his new quintet is an absolute stunner, riding that tightrope between acoustic & electric jazz with the dexterity of a circus acrobat. The chemistry and communication the 73-year old trumpeter shares with saxman Mark Turner, bassist ben Street, guitarist Charles Altura, and drummer Johnathan Blake is a wonder to behold, and the result is music that engages both the mind and spirit. It’s also a wonderful picture inside the mind and spirit of a man who’s fought paranoid schizophrenia since his early 20s, and who uses music as his way of reaching out to the world. Even with over 30 albums on his voluminous resume, Infinity may be the brightest star in the musical universe Harrell has created, and it should be held up as a new standard for how jazz in the 21stcentury should carry itself.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR (Best Debut as a Leader)

IDAN MORIM – I.M. (Outside In Music)

Jazz owes the state of Israel a major debt, because it responded to the U.S.’ importing of jazz to the world by gifting us with towering talents like the Cohen siblings, Yotam Silberstein, Omer Avitel and Shai Maestro, among many others. We can now add guitarist Idan Morim (who played with Nicole Zuraitis at “Jazz at The Lake” in September) to this roster: A NYC resident who studied with Vic Juris and Adam Rogers at the New School, I.M.teams Morim with another proud young lion, trumpeter/3rd-generation jazzer Adam O’Farrill, and you can’t help but love a future with these two players rocking the house. Morim creates exciting, edgy, original music that’s right in line with the next-level sound Outside In Music has been hitting us with this year. More of this, please – both from Outside In and from Morim.

BEST SOLO OR DUO RELEASE

ALFREDO RODRIGUEZ / PEDRITO MARTINEZ – Duologue (Mack Avenue)

Both Rodriguez and Martinez have spent most of this decade finding new and different ways to define the word “extraordinary.” Now the two products of Cuba have come together to create their own musical language. Utilizing the arsenal of instruments each player brings to the table, Duologueseems less like a duet date and more like a celebration of freedom – not just from the repressive regime they both escaped from, but from the directions and roles others have placed them in. The fact that they come from different perspectives on Afro-Cuban jazz (Martinez from the traditional, Rodriguez from the modern day) creates a wild dynamic that builds on the movement to bring the New Yor-Uban zeitgeist to the forefront while showing that joy is an element that should never be lost in jazz.

BEST PARTY DISC

BONERAMA – Bonerama Plays Zeppelin (Basin Street)

As anyone who listens to “Jazz2K @ The Saint” knows, I am all about the “New Great American Songbook – that is, jazz takes on rock songs my generation (and after) grew up with… but a jazz take on LED ZEPPELIN??? I was SURE that would be a bridge too far! Once again, I’m happy I’m dead wrong, as Bonerama keeps the energy and the audacity of the band that’s at the root of every Heavy Metal band in history, and does it while maintaining their own in-your-face, NOLA2K style. Anyone who’s heard Bonerama’s last release Hot Like Fireknows these monsters pack a knockout punch that sets them well apart from other Crescent City brass outfits like Rebirth or Dirty Dozen. In the days of my youth, Led Zep wielded the Hammer of the Gods; now, Bonerama takes that hammer to Mardi Gras – and USES IT!

BEST VOCAL DISC

SIVAN ARBEL – Change of Light (Self-released)

One of my biggest regrets is walking out of NYC’s Club Bonafide a few years back, just before Sivan Arbel took the stage for the midnight set. Since then, I’ve been a complete fanboy of the Israel-born, Brooklyn-based singer / songwriter / bandleader, and her latest collection of all-original material is one of the reasons why crowd-funding is the greatest thing to happen to jazz since George Wein. Arbel’s sound is an international sound, with elements of Israeli, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern music whipped together and poured over a lyrical sense that is wise beyond Arbel’s years. When Sivan sings and scats, cultural and musical boundaries come crashing down like Gabriel gave them a good blast. Like I said before, jazz owes Israel a major debt, and another reason for that is Sivan Arbel.

LOCAL HERO AWARD (Best Local or Regional Release)

BRIGHT DOG RED – How’s By You? (Ropeadope)

Some years, the pickings are pretty slim when looking for a Local Hero. Not this year, though: Between the Tani Tabbal Trio’s post-Ornette insanity, Hetko/Syracuse/Siegel’s beautiful Lee Shaw tribute, Michael-Louis Smith’s mega-project Brawlik, and Jamie Saft’s power trio date with Steve Swallow and Bobby Previte, 2019 was a banner year for Greater Nippertown jazz. But at the end of the day, the one disc that grabbed my soul and wouldn’t let go was the sophomore release by drummer Joe Pignato’s boundary-breaking alt-jazz improv group Bright Dog Red. How’s By Youchecks off all the boxes, and then proceeds to kick those boxes into itsy bitsy pieces with a mix of jazz, rock, and hip-hop that will make you ask, “Wait… WHAT just happened?” And then you’ll want it to happen again, and again, and again…

As I was saying, putting together an annual Top 10 list is HARD WORK! It’s HARD! The main reason is there are so many incredible groups and releases that deserve recognition. One way to get around that problem, interestingly enough, is to set up a series of awards for discs that miss the cut; the other is to take the remaining cut list, stop it at 26, and create a whole separate show called “The Rest of The Best.”

Okay, it’s sneaky, but if you listen to this music, I think you’ll agree that any of the following releases could have snuck onto the Top 10 Jazz2K Discs list I’m revealing next week:

  • AARON PARKS – Little Big (Ropeadope)
  • BRAD MEHLDAU – Finding Gabriel (Nonesuch)
  • BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET – The Secret between The Shadow and The Soul (Marsalis Music)
  • THE COMET IS COMING – Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (impulse!)
  • DAVE LIEBMAN & FRIENDS – On The Corner Live! The Music of Miles Davis (Ear Up)
  • DAVE STRYKER – Eight Track III (Strikezone)
  • GREG WARD PRESENTS ROGUE PARADE – Stomping Off to Greenwood (Greenleaf Music)
  • JEREMY PELT – The Artist (HighNote)
  • MIGUEL ZENON – Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera (Miel Music)
  • OUT TO DINNER – Different Flavors (Positone)
  • RALPH ALESSI – Imaginary Friends (ECM)
  • TED NASH – Somewhere Else: West Side Story Songs (Plastic Sax Records)
  • TERRAZA BIG BAND – One Day Wonder (Outside In Music)
  • THEO CROKER – Star People Nation (Sony Masterworks)
  • T.K. BLUE – The Rhythms Continue (Jaja Records)
  • XAVIER LECOUTOURIER – Carrier (Origin)

NEXT WEEK: We count ‘em down!

Be there. Aloha!

The “Jazz2K Holiday Spectacular” presents “The Rest of The Best 2019” on Saturday, December 14that Midnight on WVCR 88.3 / Albany, NY – available online at wvcr.com and on the iHeartRadio app!

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