Our fave jazz discs of 2010

Wow, that was a great year. Yes, that was a killing year.

While we don’t pretend toward comprehensiveness in our listening, we thought it might be of moderate interest to D:O’s absurdly intelligent and good-looking readership to know of some releases that, if you haven’t already heard them, would be worth your valuable time and cents, in our estimation.

So here, helpfully arranged into highly scientific categories, are our favorite 2010 recordings:

Little Women. Throat

(AUM Fidelity)
It hurts so good.
Amazon | previously on D:O

Marc Ribot. Silent Films

Music for the movies in your head. Silence not included.

Vijay Iyer. Solo
(ACT Music)
Great American music, from Michael Jackson to Duke Ellington to Sonny Blount to Vijay Iyer.

Geri Allen. Flying Toward the Sound
Solo piano inspired by Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock – but the results are unmistakably Allen.

David S Ware. Saturnian
(AUM Fidelity)
Fresh off a kidney transplant, Ware strips back and takes it to the next level.

Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley.
(Triple Point Records)
This deluxe package is a must have for vinyl hounds, but what’s really worth fetishizing are the great performances enshrined in the grooves.
previously on D:O

Henry Threadgill. This Brings Us To, Vol. II
The fabulous sequel.
Amazon | previously on D:O

Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell. The Blue Mountain’s Sun Drummer
Brilliant melodic duets, rescued out of time, just in time.

Adam Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra. Ashcan Rantings
(Clean Feed)
Big sounds from a big band extraordinaire. Coming to the Loft/Lab series in March!

Kris Davis, Ingrid Laubrock, Tyshawn Sorey. Paradoxical Frog
(Clean Feed)
Nimble trio music, alternately minimalist and buoyant.

Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth. Deluxe
(Clean Feed)
Massive tunes played by a ridiculously talented group, all working toward a common goal. What “jazz” is today.

Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis. Cerulean Landscape
(Clean Feed)
Ellingtonia reimagined as sci-fi soundscapes. Distilled beauty.

Mary Halvorson Quintet. Saturn Sings

(Firehouse 12)
Stepping out with horns, building harmonies on top of bent strings and bizarro boogie.
Amazon | previously on D:O

Tom Rainey Trio. Pool School
(Clean Feed)
Amazingly Rainey’s first as a leader. An intimate trio setting that’s both brash and delicate.

Ches Smith & These Arches. Finally out of my hands
Unusual textures in the service of some beautiful melodies.

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green. Apex

Outstanding playing spanning generations and continents. Ballads a specialty.

Amir ElSaffar and Hafez Modirzadeh. Radif Suite
Middle Eastern modes, classic Ornette Coleman echoes, and “chromodal” improvs all their own.

Billy Bang. Prayer for Peace
An ambitious ensemble record that traffics in unabashed beauty and swing. Understated and quietly powerful.

William Parker. I Plan to Stay A Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield

(AUM Fidelity)
The continuum from great R&B to free jazz, made plain.
Amazon | previously on D:O

Ideal Bread. Transmit: Volume 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy
Pushing Lacy’s tunes as far as they can go, and investing them with that 21st century touch.
Amazon | previously on D:O

There were MANY more jazz albums that gave us tremendous enjoyment over the past year, among them: New York Art Quartet Old Stuff, Steve Coleman & Five Elements Harvesting Semblances and Affinities, Matthew Shipp 4D, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman Dual Identity, Mike Reed’s People Places and Things Stories and Negotiations, Mario Pavone Arc Suite T/pi T/po, David S. Ware Trio Onecept, The Bad Plus Never Stop, Chris Schlarb Psychic Temple, Colorlist A Square White Lie, Oluyemi Thomas/Sirone/Michael Wimberly Beneath Tones Floor, Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up Actionspeak, Dawn of Midi First, Kirk Knuffke Amnesia Brown, Vox Arcana Aerial Age…

Of course there are also PLENTY of things that we’re still digesting and/or catching up on, chief among them:  William Parker Organ Quartet Uncle Joe’s Spirit House (also the WP solo jam At Somewhere There), Michael Formanek The Rub and Spare Change, Mostly Other People Do the Killing Forty Fort, Myra Melford’s Be Bread The Whole Tree Gone, Dominic Duvall and Cecil Taylor The Last Dance,  Supersilent 10, Sclavis/Taborn/Rainey Eldorado Trio, The Jazz Passengers Reunited, Asphalt Orchestra s/t, Chicago Underground Duo Boca Negra, &c. &c.

WHAT HAVE WE MISSED? What are your favorites for the year?

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And if all this wasn’t enough fodder for  you, the truly list-hungry would do well to visit Dean Minderman’s meta-compilation of “best jazz of 2010 lists,” at his St. Louis Jazz Notes. And for maximal head-spinning, psychosis-inducing list trauma, the meta-list-to-end-all-lists is at Largehearted Boy. Happy 2011!

Discussion17 Comments Category lists

17 Responses to SO KILLING:
Our fave jazz discs of 2010

  1. Happy New Year & thanks for the shout-out re: the StLJN best-of list roundup. Thanks also for all you do to showcase good music throughout the year. As I hope you guys know by now, D:O has been a favorite of mine for years.

    FYI, the 2010 list-of-lists post has been updated again to add D:O’s list and some others just posted today. I’ll keep updating & adding until I can’t find any more new ones coming online… probably another week or so, if past years are any indication.

  2. Killing roundup, gentlemen. Just wanted to go to bat for one omission, namely Dan Weiss’s “Timshel” on Sunnyside. Really subtle and mysterious (not to mention beautiful) piano-trioism. Video preview here:

  3. great list. i like the categorical breakdowns. thanks.

    here’s another nice vinyl LP from 2010: joshua abrams natural information (

  4. “Saturn Sings” = hogwash

    Can’t believe the hype it’s getting.

  5. @dean : thanks so much for coming by, and including us, and doing the work of compiling all those lists. My wallet, however, does not thank you.

    @hank : made a note of Timshel after your own write-up. Will track it down for sure. Thanks for the shout-out here.

    @gandoo: yes, a good one!

    @J: can you elaborate a bit on what it is you don’t like about SATURN SINGS. The tunes? The playing? Genuinely curious to hear!

  6. Thanks for the recs y’all – here’s a brief (European free improv) addition:

    Barry Guy/Agusti Fernandez – Some Other Place (Maya)

    Who knew that these two could pass so closely to a post bop/ballad sound? Well, not on every track. Brace yourself for some violent stutter-stepping on “Rosette.”

    Especially adventurous listeners should also peep one of the most originally-titled albums of 2010 – “Heart and Soul” by Kenny G.

    @J: Also curious to hear what’s not to like on Saturn Sings. I’m wouldn’t say that it’s my favorite album, but I think that it’s praiseworthy. Without implying that Halvorson’s music is merely derivative of Anthony Braxton’s, I’d suggest that one of the enjoyable parts of the album is hearing the way in which Halvorson appropriates and accentuates some of the sounds we’re used to hearing in Braxton’s compositions (e.g., I hear echoes of GTM in the angular “Mile High Like”).

    “Hype” is not an appropriate word to use – I’m sure that most folks reading this (that have listened to the album) will agree that album is not devoid of substance – it possesses a relatively original compositional/improvisational logic that results in a unique sound. Also, I don’t see most reviewers heaping unjustified praise on it (i.e., reviews generally provide reasons about why they think it’s good – they don’t simply assert “Fantastic! Mind-blowing!”). Finally, I’m positive that Firehouse 12’s promotional budget is not “excessive” (one of the adjectives that the OED associates with the word “hype”).

    If you want to see hype, take a gander at Vampire Weekend and MIA. I have yet to listen to a free jazz/free improv/creative music album that I would characterize as over-hyped (even if I didn’t care for it).

    Maybe I’m wrong – can anyone tell me if I missed the ubiquitous promo flyers for “Silent Movies” or “This Brings Us To, Vol. 2?” ;-)

  7. @robert, re hype: it can be easy, if you’re part of jazz internet fandom like me, to get caught up sometimes when there’s a couple of forum posts made or a couple of blog posts about a particular album, and misconstrue it as ‘hype’. Then i take step back and realise that it’s like literally two guys on the entire planet talking about a particular album. In the case of Saturn Sings, it *has* been popping up on quite a few top ten lists, but i think it’s been absent from many more. Who knows.

  8. lots of interesting stuff on that list by the look of it. but if we’re discussing hype – am i really the only reader who didn’t think much of that little women album? i was very disappointed by it: neither noisy enough to rank with the real firebreathers (instrumentation demands comparison with borbeto, but it’s nowhere near intense enough to stand in that company), nor focussed enough to keep my attention. i just thought it meandered pointlessly and never coalesced… admittedly i only listened to it once, but i was so “underwhelmed” that i never felt like going back for another try. i know i’m *not* the only person who doesn’t like it; so i suppose the question is, how many people really thought it was good?

  9. Nice roundup. Good to see more appreciation for Adam Lane’s terrific album, as I was starting to think only Tom Hull, Stef @ free-jazz and myself were about the only ones having picked it up (‘though, I’ve seen it pop up on a couple of other lists recently, too). Wish I could hop a plane and join up for the gig in March, but as of now that’s not possible (financially speaking).

    Looking forward to jazz in 2011. Keep up the good work.


  10. @Chris M: thanks. Sorry you’ll miss the Lane hit. The scheduling has been a bit tricky, as you might imagine, but we believe we’ll have the same group that recorded the album.

    @centrifuge: thanks to you, too, and good to see you around these parts. Fair ’nuff re Little Women. And while asking how many people didn’t like an album is certainly a question, the more productive question might simply be: what else DID people (people like you!) enjoy hearing?

    One more that I heard in ’10 but that appeared in 2009 (and moreover was recorded in 75/76/77): Harry Miller’s Isipingo, FULL STEAM AHEAD! (Reel). A total treat.

  11. Centrifuge — I share your feelings about that Little Women album (one of a number of underwhelming offerings in 2010).

    The unexpected re-release (first time on CD) that gave my most pleasure in 2010 was ‘Pipedream’ by Marc Charig on the ever-elusive Ogun label. Charig went to church with Keith Tippett and Ann Winter 34 years ago and produced a wonderful example of creative improvisation — the right people in the right place at the right time in the right mood.

  12. For what it’s worth, i loved Throat… (like it or dislike it, attempting to place them in the same company as Borbetomagus misses the mark hugely in my opinion).

  13. Excellent list and of course as someone already mentioned bad news for the wallet!

    I also have to say that Marc Charigs ‘Pipedream’ is one of the highlight re-issues that made 2010.

    On the erring side I’m rather sceptical over Adam Lane’s Ashcan Rantings, a little over rated, why not go for Fight the Big Bull’s ‘All is Gladness in the Kingdom’ which after all is a little more original. Ashcan Rantings is of course fine music but I don’t think it’s as revolutionary as that, just Mingus 2010.

    I’d also be interested to read ‘J’s’ remarks on ‘Saturn Sings’ (which I haven’t yet heard), I was rather tempted after hearing recent interviews/discussions.

  14. well, be fair, i did ask how many DID like little women (as well as wondering aloud if i was the only one who didn’t). but i take your point… i’m not about to do a “best of 2010″ since i haven’t heard that many of last year’s releases, so such a list would be pretty meaningless. my blog is not particularly high profile, so labels are not exactly queuing up to shower me with freebies ;-) i did get sent the dawn of midi album (posted about it in june), and i enjoyed listening to it but don’t rate it as highly as some reviewers apparently have done.

    of the titles on your main list, i have only heard three: zooid (fantastic – always love threadgill); david s. ware solo (fuckin dynamite!); and mary halvorson. i’m still trying to make my mind up about this last one, on the whole i think i prefer her writing for the core trio… not sure how well these tunes work for quintet, and it’s interesting that not all the pieces feature the whole band. but it’s a very challenging and interesting recording, certainly not “hogwash” whatever else it might be (but then if “j” is who i think he is, don’t expect to get any more details out of him – he usually only pokes his head out to take a dump on things). has it been hyped? very possibly… the music press (of whatever stripe) does tend to deal in that currency.

    some things i’ve heard that aren’t on your list:

    – john zorn: *ipsissimus* (patton/dunn/baron plus guests – liked it, but i suspect this project may have peaked with its third album, this being the fifth)
    – rodrigo amado: *searching for adam* (w/taylor ho bynum etc – liked this a lot, leader has a great tenor sound)
    – the amazing peter evans… maybe the most surprising omission from your list since he has appeared on at least three 2010 releases that i know of! one of these, *scenes in the house of music*, has evans sitting in with parker/guy/lytton and is predictably impressive; there was the second album by evans’ own quartet, *live in lisbon* (which stef at free jazz seems to think is bloodlessly cerebral musos’ music, though i don’t really understand why – given that it is clearly musos’ music, i didn’t find it any less accessible than lots of other things); and the third one did make it onto your long list, though it isn’t clear whether you’ve actually played it yet (!): *forty fort* by mostly other people do the killing… i like this band a lot, it’s a very simple idea but very fertile (as evidenced by the fact that they can keep a guy like evans in the band for four albums and counting). the basic ethos: themes mainly out of old school “good time party jazz”, but playing and interaction bang up to date, taking note of every innovation going and especially free jazz of all sorts. i’d have thought the band would be right up you guys’ street actually. (altoist jon irabagon plays on *saturn sings* also, drummer kevin shea is in evans’ quartet, as well as a duo with halvorson… this is all starting to get a bit incestuous now i come to think of it…)

    … and that’s probably about it, though i may have forgotten something.

    (touching on the sort of stuff that doesn’t get mentioned around here, i also made sure to hear the latest albums by the dillinger escape plan and high on fire, and enjoyed both, but – as with the zorn album – i prefer older material by both bands.)

    finally, getting back to little women – in the unlikely event that chris is reading (comment #12): most positive reviews of this album have characterised it as a cathartic, high-intensity blowout and that, combined with the twin-sax/guitar line-up, had me thinking of borbeto before i’d heard a note. simple as that… i didn’t say it sounded like them (in fact i more or less said that it doesn’t..!)… and jeffs, fwiw i quite liked those darius jones tracks you posted a while ago, i just didn’t like little women much, but i expect i’ll give it another try at some point.

    way more than i intended to write… peace out, c

  15. c, thanks for the additional context and fuller picture of what you’ve liked. Much appreciated. There’s a disc coming up – Evans, Halvorson, Weasel Walter trio – that should be right up your alley (if you are not already listening to it). I’m still trying to get my bearings, but it sounds great given short dips into it this month.

    Overall, I am perhaps behind the curve on Evans, and need to catch up.

  16. thanks for the tip – no, wasn’t aware of that one but it does sound very promising…

    … a further play of *saturn sings* yesterday saw a penny drop which had been teetering for a while: MH’s quintet arrangements really remind me of andrew hill. it’s definitely a worthwhile album, though it does pretty much suggest to me that her writing at this stage is more naturally suited to the trio. i’m certainly not finished with it anyway.

  17. centrifuge, I’ve only left two or three comments on Destination: Out in my whole life, and they were positive things. Your beef is with some internet troll that is, honestly, not me.

    In the spirit of honesty, it’s true I don’t care for “Saturn Sings.” Robert is right that ‘hype’ may be an inaccurate word to use here. But when you look at modern jazz as a microcosm, I can’t help but think that an album getting placed on numerous year-end best of lists, including NPR, feels like special treatment.

    I don’t doubt that Mary Halvorson can play circles around me with a guitar. But as a consumer, I thought “Saturn Sings” was off-putting. During the Golden Globes ceremony, my brother was grumbling about how the film “Inception” tried too hard to be clever. I feel the same way about “Saturn Sings.” There are a lot of notes flying around, but no soul. I can’t recall a single theme or melody from it at the moment, and I listened to the whole thing several times.

    The horns sound kinda sloppy joe to me and I don’t understand why she has to make her guitar sound wobble around so much. I guess it’s a neat trick, if used sparingly. But like chili with too much spice, or beer with too many hops, or an actor who has to roll his r’s every time he speaks, subtlety easily turns to overkill.

    I like intermittent bursts of noise in music if they enhance what is going on. I don’t get it if it’s willfully obscure and just trying to turn heads. When you turn heads, I think you should be prepared to have some substance behind the element of surprise to back up the whole thing.

    I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but I’m just being honest. I see that many of you like it, but…I gotta be me.

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