Sometimes journalists root for a story to develop, and I think that concept was behind my NPR ballot of the best jazz recordings of the year.
This is the ballot
- Thumbscrew, Ours/Theirs(Cuneiform)
- Ambrose Akinmusire, Origami Harvest(Blue Note)
- Makaya McCraven, Universal Beings(International Anthem)
- Andrew Cyrille, Lebroba(ECM)
- Cécile McLorin Salvant, The Window(Mack Avenue)
- Adam O’Farrill’s Stranger Days, El Maquech(Biophilia)
- Miles Okazaki, Work: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Monk, Vols. 1-6(self-released)
- Michael Formanek Elusion Quartet, Time Like This(Intakt)
- Kris Davis & Craig Taborn, Octopus(Pyroclastic)
- Christian McBride, Christian McBride’s New Jawn(Mack Avenue)
- The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles(ECM)
- Charles Mingus, Jazz in Detroit/Strata Concert Gallery/46 Selden(BBE)
- John Coltrane, Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album(Impulse!)
- Cécile McLorin Salvant, The Window (Mack Avenue)
In addition the organizers of the poll asked me to write a little (50 words, though I turned in about 70) about my choice for #1. So I contributed these thoughts
With two companion recordings, Ours, a program of nine originals, and Theirs, an album of ten covers, Thumbscrew, the trio of bassist Michael Formanek, drummer Tomas Fujiwara and guitarist Mary Halvorson, obliterate the false dichotomy of innovation versus tradition in jazz (you have to have both), and create a personal canon of music that seethes with rhythmic ingenuity, bristles with surprise and connects the dots in unique ways. —Martin Johnson
So what was that about?
The idea writ small in the blurb is that one of the most animating factors in jazz this year was the evolution of personal canons. I heard it in the way that Okazaki took on Monk, the way that Mark Turner and Ethan Iverson embraced the stylings of Warne Marsh, the way that Davis and Taborn channeled Carla Bley and Sun Ra, the inheritance presented by Joshua Redman on Still Dreaming, and on many other recordings and in concert literally dozens of times over the course of 2018. And I thought it was especially significant. Since the mid ’80s, the jazz tradition was incorrectly presented as something that needed fealty rather than honor. You don’t honor Monk by playing like Monk, you honor Monk by building on his innovations the way that Thelonious built on the Harlem stride pianists.
The second element of significance is in the lineage. 50 years ago, apprenticeship defined lineage. Wayne Shorter’s tendencies were honed while performing in bands led by Art Blakey and Miles Davis. Now, musicians come from conservatories and have the entire history of recorded music literally in their pockets, so lineage is far harder to deduce.
In these canons, jazz fans can look back to understand the present and focus forward to hear the future of the music much more clearly than before. It isn’t that there weren’t other vital trends, but this was the one that moved me most and I organized much of my ballot to reflect that.
Here’s the entire NPR poll. If you love jazz, you will likely discover at least a week’s worth of new listening from it. https://www.npr.org/2019/01/05/682193795/the-2018-npr-music-jazz-critics-poll
And here are the individual ballots of the contributors, http://hullworks.net/jazzpoll/18/