Monday, December 21, 2009

The Best of 2009, According to People Older and Smarter than I

I knew that I wanted to create a Best of 2009 channel this year, but I still haven't made a top-10 list of my own yet. So, instead of relying on my own opinion, I looked to a whole bunch of people who are smarter, more experienced and better-listened than I am to guide the channel's programming.

Critics and bloggers have been posting best-of lists on their own websites as well as on the Jazz Journalists Association site for well over a month now. JazzTimes also conducted a critics poll, tallying up everyone's votes and aggregating the results into a top-50. I expect the Village Voice to publish their critics poll soon.

For the last few weeks, I've been keeping my eyes peeled for year-end lists and compiling the results in a spreadsheet, awarding an album one "point" for every list on which it appeared, and half a "point" if it was granted an honorable mention. The objective was to have a document that showed which albums were deemed the best by the largest number of experts, so that I could create a channel that reflected their opinions.

Now, I know this is an inexact method: some people published a top-10, others had a top-25, and one guy even had a top-130(!). One critic's #11 would be actually be as good as another critic's honorable mention. Also, the JazzTimes poll included the opinions of 40 different critics -- should I have awarded points based on every single critic's individual list, or make up some other points system based on the final results? In the end, I just made up the rules as I went along, and ended up with a spreadsheet that I think fairly accurately reflects the "critical consensus."

You can check out a document showing all of the lists I referenced here. Below is the list of high scorers. With my simplistic point system, many albums received the same amount of points, so I've indicated the ties with letters placed after the numbers. Also, I've only included albums that we have in the AccuJazz collection, so you [regrettably] won't see Miguel Zenon or John Hollenbeck -- gotta get on that. Without further ado, the heavyweight champions of Jazz in 2009:

1) Vijay Iyer - Historicity
2a) Darcy James Argue's Secret Society - Infernal Machines
2b) Steve Lehman Octet - Travail, Transformation and Flow
3) Henry Threadgill Zooid - This Brings Us To, Vol. 1
4) Allen Toussaint - The Bright Mississippi
5a) Keith Jarrett - Paris/London: Testament
5b) Joe Lovano Us Five - Folk Art
6a) Fly - Sky & Country
6b) Darius Jones Trio - Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing)
6c) Gary Burton/Pat Metheny/Steve Swallow/Antonio Sanchez - Quartet Live
7a) Linda Oh - Entry
7b) Matt Wilson - That's Gonna Leave a Mark
7c) Jeff "Tain" Watts - Watts
7d) Monterey Quartet - Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival

Total, there are 242 different albums on my spreadsheet, the majority of which are not in the AccuJazz collection. There are dozens more albums that received less points but were still singled out by critics as being among the best. You will hear many of these on the channel, too, but with less frequency. Chances are you'll hear a Vijay Iyer track within your first 6 songs, but it may take a while before you hear something from Mike Reed's About Us, an album that only received a half a point but which I personally place among the best.

There were exactly 2 albums that made it on the JazzTimes poll and which are in my collection but I didn't deem deserving of a place on the channel. What albums are they? I'd rather not publicly ridicule anyone on the blog. If you really, really want to know, you can DM me on Twitter.

I really love listening to this channel, and I sincerely hope you do too. It's as good of evidence as any that the art of jazz is alive and well in 2009. An hour of music from this channel is as good a rebuttal as any to NYT columnist Glenn Branca's recent claim that "Jazz has stopped evolving and become a dead art." From Henry Threadgill's brainy explorations of free improvisation to Darcy James Argue's fusion of big band tradition with modern rock sensibilities, jazz in 2009 was as varied and exhilarating as ever, perhaps moreso than ever.


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