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The OFN Top 10 : 2005


Top ten lists of any flavor are what they are: an entirely subjective account of what sounded better than everything else to a select group of self-empowered listeners. But that didn't stop us from taking another shot at something approaching consensus for 2005—debate the merits of such lists at will, but never question the sincerity and passion with which at least this particular group of pundits embraces such a daunting endeavor. 2005 was another stellar year for jazz and improvised music in all incarnations, as for every hard-contemplated list of ten presented here, there were another 20 or 30 worthy releases that easily merited inclusion. So one last look back at the year that has passed, and onward to yet another calendar's worth of great music...

#10 #09 #08 #07 #06
#05 #04 #03 #02 #01

10) William Parker Quartet “Sound Unity” (AUM Fidelity)
Considering bassist/composer/bandleader William Parker’s multifarious talents, it is in the most traditional of lineups—the stripped-down, piano-less quartet—that his true genius manifests itself.  With a penchant for catchy, swinging, post-bop melodies enlivened with exploratory free jazz excursions, Parker’s quartet is the most consistently rewarding of his many projects, having developed a repartee that is nothing short of stunning.  Recorded live on tour, Sound Unity—the much anticipated follow up to O'Neal's Porch—exemplifies the art of jazz improvisation at its most telepathic level, from a group that will easily go down in the history books as revered as Miles Davis’ second quintet or John Coltrane’s classic quartet. (Troy Collins)

09) Alexander von Schlippenbach “Monk’s Casino” (Intakt)
The culmination of Alexander von Schlippenbach’s career-long investigation into the genius of modern music’s sonic architecture is no novelty.  Hearing Monk’s entire oeuvre condensed into three discs of canny arrangements and superlative in-the-moment playing by a group of brilliant individuals is nothing less than exhilarating—like having the Riverside Shakespeare downloaded directly into your brain.  Most remarkably, the music sounds so fresh you’d think Monk’s lead sheets were still wet with ink. (James Beaudreau)

08) Joe Giardullo “No Work Today: Nine for Steve Lacy” (Drimala)
To record a tribute album to a player of Steve Lacy’s stature is to walk a tightrope; on one side is the risk of being too deferential and becoming a mere copyist or plagiarist; on the other is the risk of not doing justice to the subject. Here, Joe Giardullo is as surefooted as Blondin. His solo soprano renditions of Lacy’s “Prospectus” and “Hurtles” plus seven originals capture the spirit and logic of a Lacy performance but also imbue them with his own personality. The end result is a fine album that stands on its own merits but is a worthy tribute to the late great. (John Eyles)

07) Four Gentlemen of the Guitar “Cloud” (Erstwhile)
Most fans of improvised music take great delight when their favorite players can reduce, abstract, or extend their instrument(s) to the point where its idiomatic properties are almost unrecognizable. Even this general sensibility, however, leaves one unprepared for the sublime world of the Four Gentlemen of the Guitar. On Cloud, 4g (Oren Ambarchi, Christian Fennesz, Toshimaru Nakamura, and Keith Rowe) blow past these kinds of considerations. Over two discs and three pieces, this music unfolds so luxuriantly—but without sacrificing its edge of provocation—that it’s impossible to do anything less than concentrate fully on it. Encompassing both extreme abjection and arresting beauty, this is my record of the year. (Jason Bivins)

06) Stan Tracey & Evan Parker “Crevulations” (Psi)
Round Two between these seemingly disparate tempered British titans, this time in front of a fortunate (and fortunately attentive) Appleby audience.  Tracey tames the more trenchant sides of Parker’s tenor while Parker tests the limits of the pianist’s post-bop propensities, pulling him into some of his freest playing on record. The result: lyrical and elaborate chamber improvisations that linger lastingly in the ears and gesture expectantly ahead to future meetings between these unexpectedly kindred musical souls. (Derek Taylor)

05) Barry Guy New Orchestra “Oort-Entropy” (Intakt)
Bassist/composer Barry Guy’s New Orchestra returned with a thrilling follow up to 2001’s Inscape-Tableaux. Taking its predecessor as its guide, a compressed, pan-European tentet mines Guy’s compositional conception—a mix of improvised and written material, mounting tension, richly lyrical melodic threads, spontaneous inventions, and super-charged ensemble polyphony.  Worth noting is that while pianist Marilyn Crispell left the Orchestra before the recording, Agustí Fernández fills her massive shoes splendidly. But let’s face it, mixing Guy’s captivating compositional style with big guns like Mats Gustafsson, Herb Robertson, Johannes Bauer, Raymond Strid, and the triad of Parker-Guy-Lytton is a rather potent recipe for success. And boy does it ever work. (Jay Collins)

04) Anderson/Drake/Parker “Blue Winter” (Eremite)
Tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson is a most unassuming performer. With a flannel shirt, suspenders, and work pants, he may be mistaken for the custodian; and he is a custodian of the broad, plainspoken yet free style of jazz that he and his Chicago cohorts cultivate. Blue Winter finds this homebody on tour in New England where Eremite brought him and fellow Chicago resident Hamid Drake and New York bassist William Parker to both perform live and record. The two discs are full of music that springs deep from the heart—and the heartland. Rocking episodes, spiritual incantations, folk blues moans, and ballads that burst into flame performed by a trio of distinctive personalities, each performer powerful in his own right, yet creating spontaneously as if of one mind. (David Dupont)

03) David S. Ware “Live in the World” (Thirsty Ear)
A huge act of generosity, this: three discs featuring three live recordings of European gigs by three different quartets. Pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker are present throughout, offering an enormous, roiling accompaniment, while Susie Ibarra, Hamid Drake, and Guillermo E. Brown take turns at the drum stool highlighting differing approaches, from the abstract to the soulful. Material is drawn from different periods of the tenor saxophonist’s ecstatic back-catalog and highlights include a tumultuous 30-minute exploration of his modal classic “Aquarian Sound”, with an epic arco bass solo from Parker; and a joyful run through Ware’s tribute to Sun Ra, “The Stargazers”. Most compelling, though, is his updated take on Sonny Rollins’ iconic “Freedom Suite”. With Shipp rounding out the original, piano-less compositions into more complete shapes, Ware takes Rollins’ cry for social equality in late 50s America and creates a stinging, post-Coltrane shriek of spiritual longing. Essential. (Daniel Spicer)

02) Triptych Myth “The Beautiful” (AUM Fidelity)
As a master of several homemade instruments, Cooper-Moore’s piano work is often overshadowed on his recordings; but in the context of Triptych Myth, C-M’s working trio with bassist Tom Abbs and drummer Chad Taylor, it’s given the exclusivity that it deserves.  Though it’s impossible—and irrelevant—to pin down specific influences, the ghosts of Herbie Nichols and early Cecil Taylor hover over the group’s second full-length recording, one that expands upon the promise of its Hopscotch debut in terms of both musicianship and sonic fidelity.  Indeed, The Beautiful is so aptly titled, it’s difficult to tell whether it’s meant as a gesture of tremendous understatement or simply plainspoken truth; either way, in a surprisingly good year for piano trios, it still towers above its peers as a definitive treatise on the subject. (Scott Hreha)

01) Rowe/Sachiko M/Nakamura/Yoshihide “ErstLive 005” (Erstwhile)
With the launch of his ErstLive imprint, Jon Abbey continued on his roll of stellar releases, documenting a handful of live performances from his AMPLIFY 2004 festival. The standout by far was the four-hour performance captured on this three-CD set. Setting out to grapple with weaving a collective structure from a long-form improvisation, this quartet took its music to a new level. It may be somewhat daunting to carve out four hours of listening, but what is revealed (thanks in part to Christoph Amman’s impeccable recording) is a true extension of time as etched gestures, burred timbres, and slowly modulating drones coalesce and morph into a contemplatively variegated and multi-layered piece. Picking out the various individual voices is beside the point. What is remarkable is how this all falls together into a subtly shaded and richly detailed evolving structure without any trace of false starts, dead-ends, or tentative stasis. (Michael Rosenstein)

Honorable Mention
  • Sawai/Doneda/Imai/Lê Quan/Saitoh, “Une chance pour l'ombre” (Victo)
  • Dennis Gonzalez’s Spirit Meridian “Idle Wild” (Clean Feed)
  • Vijay Iyer “Reimagining” (Savoy)
  • Adam Lane Trio “Zero Degree Music” (CIMP)
  • FME “Cuts” (Okkadisk)
  • Marc Ribot “Spiritual Unity” (Pi)
  • James Finn Trio, “Plaza De Toros” (Clean Feed)
  • Tomas Korber “Effacement” (Cut)
  • Dave Liebman/Ellery Eskelin Quartet “The Same But Different” (hatOLOGY)
  • Jason Moran “Same Mother” (Blue Note)