Saturday, January 7, 2012

TIME CHANGES #2: Top Jazz Picks '11

The premiere post for Skeleton Crew Quarterly’s jazz foray dealt with discovery, not necessarily finding one’s genre but music as a general hobby. Breaking into the world of jazz has required those same hesitant steps that instigated my first pop/rock purchases: find a group of artists you enjoy, take a look at the company they keep (their band-mates, labels), and then refine your tastes ad nauseum.

I’ve taken to these steps with an obsessive’s dedication, sampling artists I’ve only recognized by name and compiling extensive lists of promising releases worth looking into. Most interestingly, however, I’ve immersed myself in jazz’s labyrinthine name-game. A cursory glance upon bassist Dave Holland led me from his key session work on Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew to his barrier-pushing solo catalog (from which his 1990 highlight, Extensions, now sits in my collection). Or take Terje Rypdal, the Scandinavian guitarist I first heard in the soundtrack to Michael Mann’s Heat, whose work I’ve become an avid collector of. That both of these chosen-at-whim artists belong to the ECM label is also no fluke; the Munich-based imprint, known for releasing some of the most progressive modern classical and jazz, has introduced a bottomless pit of pivotal musicians for my perusal. And through each bandleader’s palette and take on improvisation, my tastes have begun to refine indeed.

Funny thing about tastes, though; you can’t necessarily share them with all of your closest friends. Our earliest refinements in taste endured this same phenomenon – the “guilty pleasures” – where we’d fear being judged for enjoying something outside of the norm. Even though I’m no longer the bashful teenager hiding Bjork CDs behind my Sublime catalog, jazz remains an impossible divide when entertaining friends. Not to say I haven’t tried: I scored a friend’s study session with Pat Metheny’s New Chautauqua and played the icy thaw of Rypdal/Vitous/DeJohnette for an open-minded visitor. Both were polite in their indifference. It was me who couldn’t handle it, the whole time listening not only through their ears (and any assumptions I had grabbed from their mute reactions) but through my own past preferences, with ears that would’ve balked over these records even two years ago.

As you might imagine then, jazz has remained a personal hobby for me but an obsessive one too. And with that in mind – not to mention the approaching one-year anniversary of my first jazz purchase – I thought I’d kick-start the January blahs with Skeleton Crew Quarterly’s Top Ten Jazz Albums of 2011. What makes this list particularly off the cuff is that it pulls from nearly a century of jazz I happened upon over the past twelve months, so only a few of these titles will actually be from 2011. Test some of these out...

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