Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Best Jazz Albums of 2007

I've been noticing a stronger presence in jazz over the last year or so, with artists being more heavily promoted and talked about. I don't know what's causing this, and it could be that I haven't been paying attention, that there is a larger presence of jazz musicians or that record labels are jumping on the success of Norah Jones.

Slate has a pretty healthy article the best jazz albums of 2007, all good picks. I did feel like they left out three good albums, so I'll list those:

Robert Glasper - In My Element (Blue Note). This album struck me by surprise in its simplistic brilliance. Glasper, a jazz pianist, is assisted by only a bassist and a drum player throughout the album, which helps to highlight Glasper's unique talent. Released shortly after the death of hip-hop producer J Dilla (who passed due to a rare blood disease called TTP), Glasper and his group shine on the track "J Dillalude," where the trio adopts many of Dilla's songs into a jazz style, possibly creating a new hybrid-genre in the process. While far from a classic, Glasper does show that he is a pianist worth keeping an eye on.

Wynton Marsalis - From the Plantation to the Penitentiary (Wynton Marsalis Enterprises, Inc.). I have no idea why this album didn't make it onto Slate's list. Perhaps some of the politics of the album offended Fred Kaplan? The album is certainly packed with political provocation, as Marsalis, through his own spoken word and with the vocal aides of guest singer Jennifer Sanon, attacks gangsta rap as a "modern day minstrel show" and ridicules both liberal and conservative politicians. When many musicians turn their hand towards political messages, many of them come off seeming ignorant. Marsalis showed himself to be both intelligent and articulate, and From the Plantation to the Penitentiary brought a degree of sophistication to music that is not too common today.

Delta Saxophone Quartet - Dedicated to You But You Weren't Listening (MoonJune Records).
Delta Saxophone Quartet is the official quartet of London's Kingston College, and the money that comes with being funded by an educational institution comes through strongly on this album. The quartet melds bebop-style saxophone stylings with sound effects and synthesizers in a style reminiscent of Pink Floyd. The first track, "Dedicated," brought out an atmosphere quality more common with electronic groups like Orbital than in jazz. The album unfortunately got a little too experimental for my tastes towards the middle.

Jazz releases are usually full of reissues and posthumous releases, and for not only a flood of new releases, but good ones, to come out is indeed a rare treat. 2007 was a year where we were lucky enough to witness this happen.

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