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Top Jazz Picks For 1999

As we close one decade and get ready to open a fresh one, it seems that jazz is in a healthy state, fostered tremendously by the colossal reissue boom. That's not to say there wasn't great new music being made. In fact, there was an interesting shift in equilibrium as the overt neo-classicism of Wynton Marsalis and his clan gave way to a healthier mix of styles, from the "tradition with an edge" of Nicholas Payton to the mind-expanding journeys of Dave Douglas, Don Byron, and many others. As a survey of the past twelve months, here's a sampling of the best 1999 had to offer in terms of new releases and reissues. Enjoy!

NEW RELEASES

1. Joe Locke/David Hazeltine Quartet - MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY (Sharp Nine)
These two heavy-hitters update the vibes/piano duo with remarkable finesse and stellar musicianship. Highlighted by exceptional arrangements and a refined choice of tunes, this is mainstream fare of the highest order.

2. Don Byron - ROMANCE WITH THE UNSEEN (Blue Note)
Adventurous without being alienating, this is one of Byron's most coherent sets, booted along nicely by drummer Jack DeJohnette.

3. Larry Goldings - MOONBIRD (Palmetto)
Of all those involved with the recent Hammond B-3 renaissance, Larry Goldings seems to be the most tasteful proponent of the lot. His trio with guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart delivers their finest effort yet on this majestic and deeply satisfying set.

4. Walt Weiskopf - ANYTOWN (Criss Cross Jazz)
Weiskopf continues to be one of jazz music's best kept secrets and his albums just keep getting better. This one benefits from hearty writing and a persuasive ensemble that flaunts vibist Joe Locke and pianist Renee Rosnes.

5. Mike LeDonne - THEN & NOW (Double-Time Jazz)
Talk about talent deserving wider recognition! Pianist LeDonne is a master and this ensemble, including trumpeter Jim Rotondi and Eric Alexander, performs his spirited originals with great verve.

6. Horace Silver - JAZZ HAS A SENSE OF HUMOR (Verve)
Even after all these years, Silver continues to be an artist with something substantial to say. An excellent follow-up to A PRESCRIPTION FOR THE BLUES, Silver's originals are superlative and the youngsters on hand include Ryan Kisor, Jimmy Greene, and Willie Jones III.

7. Tom Harrell - TIME'S MIRROR (RCA Victor)
Perhaps one of the most imaginative trumpeters currently on the jazz scene, Harrell is also renowned for his compositional talents. It is the latter that impresses the most on TIME'S MIRROR, a modern big band bonanza.

8. John Abercrombie - OPEN LAND (ECM)
If Abercrombie's regular trio with Dan Wall and Adam Nussbaum wasn't sweet enough, add Kenny Wheeler, Joe Lovano, and Mark Feldman to the mix for a taste of one of 1999's sleepers.

9. Harold Danko - THREE OF FOUR (SteepleChase)
One of jazz's most lyrical pianists, Danko and his regular trio explore an assorted and well-chosen set of tunes all in waltz time. It's to their credit that what could have been merely a gimmick comes off sounding so damn musical.

10. Dena DeRose - ANOTHER WORLD (Sharp Nine)
Look out Diana Krall, you've got competition. DeRose is an extremely gifted vocalist and pianist ready to become the next jazz diva. Based on the evidence of this, her second set as a leader, she has the goods to deliver!

REISSUES

1. Duke Ellington - ELLINGTON AT NEWPORT 1956- COMPLETE (Columbia/Legacy)
Sure you know about Paul Gonsalves' marathon solo from this live set, but have you heard it in true stereo? Doubtful, because this is the first release of the entire live event in stereo along with the cuts done in the studio that were passed off as the concert for over 40 years.

2. Anita O' Day - THE COMPLETE ANITA O' DAY VERVE/CLEF SESSIONS (Mosaic Mail Order)
Way overdue for reissue, this 9-CD set presents the recorded material that will serve as O'Day's legacy. So much great vocalizing is captured here that it proves to be almost miraculous in hindsight.

3. JFK Quintet - NEW JAZZ FRONTIERS FROM WASHINGTON (Riverside/OJC)
Almost impossible to find on record, this set documents one of the more original and sadly neglected hard bop groups of the '60s. Just to hear alto saxophonist Andrew White is worth the price of admission. Now, we can just hope that Fantasy returns to circulation JFK's other Riverside gem.

4. Roy Ayers - STONED SOUL PICNIC (32 Jazz)
Although all three of Ayers' pre-fusion classics for Atlantic are worth hearing, this one has special significance, not only for Ayers' smart vibe work, but also for the band assembled and trumpeter Charles Tolliver's robust arrangements.

5. Marcos Valle- SAMBA'68 (Verve)
Along with possibly Edu Lobo and Moacir Santos, Valle is one of the greatest Brazilian writers you've probably never heard of. This totally enchanting set, which includes the smash hit "Summer Samba," was reissued due to great demand from the European dance crowd and dee-jays who were paying upwards of $100 for the original vinyl.

6. Kid Ory - THE COMPLETE KID ORY VERVE SESSIONS (Mosaic Mail Order)
One of the true legends present at the birth of jazz and still active during the '50s and '60s, trombonist and singer Kid Ory was in the prime of his comeback years when the sessions assembled on this 8-CD set were made. Too long unavailable, this music is prototypical New Orleans jazz at its finest.

7. Various Artists - THE RUDY VAN GELDER SERIES (Blue Note)
What else can you say? Van Gelder wrote the book on jazz recording techniques and the inspiration to have him remaster some of his original works was nothing less than genius. With 30 titles now under the series umbrella, get these limited editions while you can.

8. Ted Curson - THE NEW THING AND THE BLUE THING (Koch)
Sorely underrated over the years, trumpeter Ted Curson has made very few recordings as a leader. Another item that has been tough to track down, this reissue brings to light one of Curson's golden moments, a date that strikes a mature balance between, well, the new thing and the blue thing!

9. Walt Dickerson - IMPRESSIONS OF A PATCH OF BLUE (Verve)
Here we go again. Dickerson is another fellow who has not received his just dues as one of the most innovative vibists of the post-Bags era. While his Prestige sides have been obtainable on disc for some time, this one has taken awhile to resurface. That's a righteous thing because it's a real gem, sporting a rare sideman appearance from Sun Ra nonetheless.

10. Various Artists - THE LOST SESSIONS (Blue Note)
Even if there was nothing else of value to be found on this disc, the purchase price would be justified by the 20 minutes of previously unissued Tadd Dameron material from 1961. As luck would have it though, there's even more "never before heard" masterpieces from the likes of Charlie Rouse, Ike Quebec, Herbie Hancock, and Fred Jackson.

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