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Top Jazz Picks For 2001

For the first time in at least five years, it seems that the jazz market has evened out, with few surprises and even fewer reissues when compared with the plethora of vault goodies that have seen the light of day over the past decade. Although Ken Burns’s Jazz created some momentum, marketing ploys favored the kind of compilation discs that hardcore jazzers stay away from like the plague. Nonetheless, among the slim pickings this year were the selected gems listed below, in no particular order.

1. Larry Goldings Trio - As One (Palmetto)
Goldings’s long standing organ trio with guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart offers another winner among a strong pedigree of solid releases, with the Zombies hit "Time of the Season" becoming the centerpiece in a souped up reworking.

2. Sarah Vaughan - Viva Vaughan! (Verve)
Amidst a large body of recorded works, this obscure set from 1964 finally gets a long overdue reissue and finds Sassy playing it coy and cool on a set of bossa-inflected numbers arranged for big band by Frank Foster.

3. Gary Smulyan - Blue Suite (Criss Cross)
One of only a handful of baritone saxophonists working among the jazz milieu, Smulyan delivers his most mature statement yet as a leader, supported by a brass ensemble and the inventive charts of Bob Belden.

4. George Braith - The Complete Blue Note Sessions (Blue Note)
Unavailable for too long, the three albums assembled on this two-disc set present the still-active Braith in prime form during the mid-‘60s. Although the comparisons with Roland Kirk are inevitable, Braith’s sound for two saxophones is more on the tart side and his buddy Grant Green proves to be a worthy foil.

5. Jim Rotondi - Destination Up (Sharp Nine)
A hard bopper among the lineage of post Freddie Hubbard trumpeters, Jim Rotondi has been on the mainstream front lines for several years now and this set just may be his strongest showing as a leader to date.

6. Miles Davis - The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions (Columbia/Legacy)
Catch a glimpse of the Prince of Darkness during the quiet storm that preceded his molten Bitches Brew period with a three-disc set that boasts loads of previously unreleased trinkets.

7. Karl Denson - Dance Lesson #2 (Blue Note)
Who says you can’t dance to the groove and make a little jazz too? Not Karl Denson, who gets some help from guitar slinger Melvin Sparks, organ legend Leon Spencer, and bassist Chris Wood for a funky fest that jams from start to finish.

8. Eric Alexander - The Second Milestone (Milestone)
When it comes to distinctive voices among the thirty-something crowd, the award goes to tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. Fluid and resourceful as a soloist, Alexander speaks confidently, with a fine sense of form and balance.

9. Joe Pass - The Complete Pacific Jazz Joe Pass Quartet Sessions (Mosaic Mail Order)
The early cornerstones in a great career were laid with the mid-‘60s sides that guitar whiz Joe Pass cut for Richard Bock’s Pacific Jazz label. This boxed set includes such classics as Catch Me and For Django and much of the material has never been available on CD previously.

10. Charles Lloyd - Hyperion with Higgins (ECM)
Our last visit with the late drummer Billy Higgins, Lloyd’s ethereal tenor horn pays tribute in a set that is much livelier than last year’s The Water is Wide, but features the same ensemble.

One more beyond category

Joyce - Gafieira Moderna (Far Out)
One of Brazil’s most valuable musical resources, this singer-songwriter’s blend of timeless bossa and more modern proclivities makes for an intoxicating mix that is deeply satisfying.

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