2009 Jazz Poll: Tom Hull’s Alternate, Unsettled Top 10


Hard-luck stories abound in the industry, but the flow of 2009 jazz records was scarcely dampened. I figure some 2,000 new releases appear each year, and I’ve managed to check out nearly 700. I wish that felt like more of an accomplishment, but I’m reminded that I missed Rova’s Juke Box Suite in 2007—it appeared as a Jazz Consumer Guide Pick Hit two years later. Before long, I’m sure I’ll find an outstanding 2009 release that simply slipped my net.

Of those 700 records, about 60 strike me as distinctive enough to A-list, another 100 to 120 are exemplary enough to consider as Honorable Mentions, and maybe 200 more are so expert and pleasurable that I can’t really say anything bad about them. With so much unsettled at year’s end, picking a top 10 seems rather arbitrary, but here goes:

1.The Matthew Shipp Trio, Harmonic Disorder (Thirsty Ear). His most definitive piano trio, moving beyond nods to Monk and Powell with dense harmonics and snappy rhythm.

2.The Fully Celebrated, Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones (AUM Fidelity). Drunk on Ornette Coleman, for starters, as Jim Hobbs lays simple sax figures on basic funk grooves.

3.Peter Brötzmann/Toshinori Kondo/Massimo Pupillo/Paal Nilssen-Love, Hairy Bones (Okka Disk). The horns twist into tight sonic wads, propelled by the rock-schooled rhythm section.

4.Brad Shepik, Human Activity Suite (Songlines). The new global cool, ushered in by a postbop band that meshes perfectly alongside a bit of Balkan beat.

5.Digital Primitives, Hum Crackle & Pop (Hopscotch). The new folk jazz, with homemade twinger and diddley-bow, hot sax, or blue bass clarinet.

6.Mulatu Astatke & the Heliocentrics, Inspiration Information, Vol. 3 (Strut). Ethio-jazz juiced and grooved by Sun Ra worshipers.

7.David S. Ware, Shakti (AUM Fidelity). A new quartet, a new lease on life.

8.Dennis González Jnaana Septet, The Gift of Discernment (Not Two). A vast river of percussion, sanctified by gospel voice, with piano and trumpet clearing the way.

9.Bill Frisell, Disfarmer (Nonesuch). Focuses his Americana as sharply as the rural Arkansas photographs that inspire him.

10.Andy Sheppard, Movements in Colour (ECM). Tabla, bass, and guitars provide the movement; the color is all saxophone, precise soprano, and rugged tenor.

Still, a top 10 barely scratches the surface of fascinating jazz now available. So here’s a bit more of the A-list: Roberto Rodriguez, Timba Talmud (Tzadik, and my pick for Best Latin); Wadada Leo Smith, Spiritual Dimensions (Cuneiform); Darren Johnston, The Edge of the Forest (Clean Feed); De Nazaten & James Carter, Skratyology (Strotbrock); Evan Parker, The Moment’s Energy (ECM); Steve Lehman Octet, Travail, Transformation, and Flow (Pi); Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity (ACT); Ken Vandermark, Collected Fiction (Okka Disk); John Zorn, Alhambra Love Songs (Tzadik); Abdullah Ibrahim, Senzo (Sunnyside, and my Best Solo Piano); Lisa Sokolov, A Quiet Thing (Laughing Horse, and my Best Vocal); Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Detroit (Mack Avenue, and my Best Big Band); Vandermark 5, Annular Gift (Not Two); Jan Garbarek Group, Dresden (ECM); Michael Musillami Trio + 3, From Seeds (Playscape); Roy Nathanson, Subway Moon (Yellow Bird/Enja); Radio I-Ching, No Wave Au Go Go (Resonant Music); Ralph Carney‘s Serious Jass Project (Akron Cracker, and my Best Trad); Little Princess: Tim Sparks Plays Naftule Brandwein (Tzadik); Freddy Cole, The Dreamer in Me (HighNote); Joe Morris, Wildlife (AUM Fidelity); James Carter, Heaven on Earth (Half Note). For full accounting, see

I’d also like to point out that anything with Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Ellery Eskelin or Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Ken Filiano or John Hebert on bass, and/or Tom Rainey or Michael T.A. Thompson on drums is practically guaranteed to be superb.