In no particular order:
1. Saxophone Summit, Seraphic Light Three of the (arguably) finest American jazz tenor sax guys alive-Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, and Ravi Coltrane-pay alternately joyous and elegaic tribute to fallen comrade Michael Brecker. These hepcats know when to wail, when to rein it in, and most importantly, to play as a unit.
2. Augustus Pablo, The Mystic World of Augustus Pablo: The Rockers Story Though he seemingly shunned the limelight in his lifetime, multi-instrumentalist/producer was one of the most influential figures in reggae history ever, and consequently impacted punk rock, electronica, etc. The four-CD plus DVD set is, obviously, not for the novice, but for the smitten, the explorer, the eclectic, it is crucial.
3. Bob Mover, It Amazes Me See my review elsewhere on/in this webzine.
4. Ted Nash, The Mancini Project An top-shelf up-and-coming tenor saxophonist in the NYC jazz scene pays a inspired homage to Henry Mancini, who’s always looked Squaresville but composed some of the COOLEST music for film (Breakfast At Tiffany’s) and TV (Peter Gunn). Accompanied by kick-ass pianist Frank Kimbrough, bass ace Rufus Reid, and drum-dynamo Matt Wilson, mainstream/post-bop jazz scarcely gets better than this.
5. Bill Cunliffe, The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2 Jazz pianist/arranger Bill Cunliffe re-makes/re-models the classic 1961 Oliver Nelson album Blues and the Abstract Truth (plus two originals). Wisely, Cunliffe & company don’t try to "top" the original (which featured Bill Evans, Freddie Hubbard, and Eric Dolphy), just play it their way-convivially but with pointed soloing (from Terrell Stafford and Bob Sheppard), and, ooh-la-la, those Nelson melodies!
6. Kieran Hebden/Steve Reid, NYC An electronica guy (K.H., also known as FourTet) and a drummer that’s excelled at free jazz and Motown (Reid) engage in some free improvisation and lay down some surreal grooves and inspired soundscapes.
7. Bela Fleck, Jingle All The Way At last, a Holiday disc (all instrumental) that’ll sound good the whole year round! Good Seasonal vibes, hot 'n' cool fusion stringjazz be-bop, and outstanding solo flights.
8. Lukas Ligeti, Afrikan Machinery As a drummer, Ligeti can do it all-bebop, free, fusion, whatever; as a composer, the sky could be the limit. This disc captures a unique nexus between percussion and electronics, tradition and technology, sounding crazy-alive and so human.
9. Norma Winstone, Distances Ms. Winstone is an excellent UK jazz singer with an airy, translucent voice a la Karin Krog and Sheila Jordan, and Distances may be her magnum opus, her Something Cool. Accompanied only by piano and soprano sax (or bass clarinet), the songs are like unto beautiful mirages.
10. Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet, Tabligh An AACM godfather helms one of the most accessible and compelling albums of his career-it inhabits an area between crackling hard bop, free elasticity, and Miles-ian fusion.
Impressive non-jazz/blues/etc. of 2008 include:
-Lucinda Williams, Little Honey
-Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Dawn of the Cyads
-Richard Pinhas/Merzbow, Keio Line
-Quarteto Novo, Quarteto Novo
-Gilberto Gil, Gilberto Gil [Water Records reissue]
-Various Artists, Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia [box set]
-George Gershwin/Anne-Marie McDermott, Complete Music For Piano and Orchestra [Bridge Records]
Happy New Year, and let's be careful out there!