Writing this year’s article took me right down to the wire. However, readers may have observed that, ever since the middle of this month, much of my time has gone into catching up on the heavier-than-usual load of recordings that I either received or downloaded. Readers probably recall that reviewing this year’s GRAMMY nominations turned out to be a rather grim affair. Indeed, the only nomination that sparked much of a positive response turned out to be from a single track of a recording that I would have acknowledged from beginning to end. Furthermore, that recording was from the jazz genre, while pretty much anything I had valued from the classical side never seemed to register with the GRAMMY authorities.
Indeed, in taking stock of the full extent of my listening experiences throughout the year, only one classical recording rose to the top. That was Shostakovich Plays Shostakovich, a five-CD box of recordings of Dmitri Shostakovich playing his own music at the piano, released by the Russian Melodiya label this past October. The entire collection provided no end of insights regarding how Shostakovich-the-performer approached the music of Shostakovich-the-composer. Furthermore, like many, I have particular interest in the Opus 67 (second) piano trio in E minor for the intensity of its perspective on World War II; and the performance in this collection brings Shostakovich together with violinist David Oistrakh, along with cellist Miloš Sádlo, whose account of the opening measures is downright scary.
Listening to recorded jazz over the course of this year, on the other hand, was much more satisfying in a variety of different domains. The GRAMMY nomination cited in the first paragraph was in the Best Instrumental Composition; and the nominee was Fred Hersch for “Begin Again,” the title track for an album of Hersch performing with the seventeen members of the WDR (West German Broadcasting) Big Band. The fact is that the entire album surveys nine of Hersch’s compositions in big band settings, and every one of those tracks makes for a highly satisfying listening experience.
Furthermore, one of the most important reasons for the delay in this article is that I first wanted to account for another Hersch release that, like the Shostakovich album, also took place this past October. Readers probably know that I only got around to writing about The Fred Hersch Trio: 10 Years / 6 Discs yesterday; and, yet, I was determined to get it “under the wire” before taking the entire year into account. Ironically (but no surprise), the last CD in this collection Live in Europe was the first album I cited in last year’s account of memorable recordings! Even more ironically, this album did get a GRAMMY nomination, along with a Best Improvised Jazz Solo nomination for its track of Thelonious Monk’s “We See.”
Another jazz pianist that I follow conscientiously is Satoko Fujii. Three of her albums were released this year, following up on the twelve “Kanreki Cycle” albums she had released last year. The first of these was released in January. Imagine Meeting You Here is a suite of compositions by Alister Spence all of which involve improvisations for a large-scale ensemble, and the recording was made by the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Kobe. This was followed in May by the release of Confluence, a duo album marking the first time that Fujii performed with Spanish drummer Roman Lopez without any other musicians contributing. Finally Stone, whose title was inspired by the epithet “stone deaf,” was released in June. More specifically, Fujii’s grandmother was completely deaf during the final years of her life, communicating only through writing. One of the sentences she wrote was:
Now I can hear beautiful music the likes of which I never heard before.
The compositions on Stone amounted to a “response” to the “call” of that sentence.
Finally, it is important to acknowledge the leading role that Resonance Records took in the release of valuable archival material. The year began with the release of Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions, a “deluxe” three-CD album of recording sessions led by Eric Dolphy on July 1 and 3 of 1963. Then, on a much larger scale, last month Resonance released Hittin’ the Ramp: the Early Years (1936-1943), a seven-CD comprehensive collection of the recordings that Nat King Cole made prior to signing with Capitol Records. These two collections could not be more different in the styles of jazz and improvisation that they offer; but, for those that take listening to jazz seriously, neither of these offerings deserves to be neglected.