2008 was the year in which, much to the chagrin of my music-geek buddies, I got so absorbed in jazz that I lost sight of all the other music out there. What can I say? The deeper I go, the deeper I see there is to go. That said, there’s one entry on this list that’s actually old-time country music — it just happens to be by a jazz legend (Charlie Haden’s Rambling Boy).
So! Knowing that we’re dealing with the literal definition of One-Track Mind, I hereby present my Top 10 albums of 2008.
- Early Reflections, Bennie Maupin (Cryptogramophone)
The multi-reedist who made strides in fusion and the avant-garde switches tack, tapping into a lyrical acoustic vein with an extraordinary Polish quartet. It’s simultaneously progressive and timeless—and notably, Maupin’s first album in 30 years with a piano. Among the masterworks are “Jewel in the Lotus” (a re-casting of Maupin’s 1974 free-fusion piece) and the reflective “Escondido,” possibly the best single jazz track of the year.
Bennie Maupin, “Escondido”
- Afropeans, Courtney Pine’s Jazz Warriors (Destin-E)
Courtney Pine’s Jazz Warriors, “Abolition Day”
- Harriet Tubman, Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra (ROIR)
A staggering achievement in long-form, mainstream jazz. Bay Area bassist/composer Shelby’s oratorio is complex: a tale of triumph that’s consistently dark, encapsulating multiple facets of Tubman with an overarching theme of family ties. It’s also immediately pleasurable, and gripping for its entire 90-minute duration.
Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, “Life on the Chesapeake”
- Filtros, Guillermo Klein (Sunnyside)
Calling Klein’s music “Latin jazz” covers the foundation but not the whole beast. “Experimental Latin jazz” might be closer but the truth is that Klein’s music is its own style, absorbing Andean, American, and European sounds into wholly invented forms and rhythms. Filtros, with the saxophonist joined by rising stars like saxophonist Bill McHenry and guitarist Ben Monder, is the boldest and most successful expression of his idiosyncrasies yet.
Guillermo Klein, “Luz de Liz”
- Rambling Boy, Charlie Haden Family & Friends (Decca)
Charlie Haden Family & Friends with Bruce Hornsby, “20/20 Vision”
- 9 Levels, Greg Osby (Inner Circle Music)
Greg Osby, “Two of One”
- Gently Disturbed, Avishai Cohen (Razdaz)
A piano trio with the bassist (Cohen) at the helm plays gentle, often sad or romantic music that quietly breaks all the conventions of the format. Everything from structure to harmony is unpredictable, except in its undampened emotional wallop.
Avishai Cohen Trio, “Seattle”
- It’s Magic, Ahmad Jamal (Dreyfus)
Ahmad Jamal, “Swahililand”
- Layers of Chance, Dapp Theory (Contrology/Obliqsound)
Dapp Theory’s leader, pianist Andy Milne, has his eye relentlessly on the future. Layers of Chance is an experiment in advanced musical chemistry, with a free-floating collective of players taking cues from the underground hip-hop movement; heavy grooves weave their way through thick, lush pieces and out-there free meanderings, and a “percussive poet,” John Moon, illustrates the musical qualities of language itself.
Dapp Theory, “After the Fact”
- Broken Arm Trio, Broken Arm Trio (Skipstone)
Erik Friedlander’s Broken Arm Trio, “Pretty Penny”