2010 Year End -- Jazz
Although in recent years jazz could seem mired in defensive talk about the music's health or its makeup, 2010 felt different somehow. Whether it was the often sumptuous, jazz-drunk taste of New Orleans offered by David Simon & Co. in HB0's "Treme" (which wasn't exactly "The Wire," but Baltimore never let us sit in with Galactic, Trombone Shorty or Kermit Ruffins, either) or a surprising best new artist Grammy nod for Esperanza Spalding, jazz enjoyed a little more light than usual in the pop cultural consciousness.
Here in L.A., the music's ever-rich history took its usual turn in the spotlight, including a night with the ever-exploring Ornette Coleman at UCLA, an uneven if well-deserved birthday victory-lap for the L.A. Phil's jazz chair Herbie Hancock or a journey into the transcendent genius of Alice Coltrane in a recent tribute. But our city also reveled in the jazz vanguard with the third Angel City Jazz Festival (marked by a riveting performance of "Dirty Baby," a three-headed monster combining work from Ed Ruscha, David Breskin and Nels Cline) and an upstart Little Tokyo club called the Blue Whale, which challenged ideas of what an L.A. jazz club could look, feel and sound like.
In looking at the year's best albums, the piano-led adventures of Jason Moran and the Bad Plus collide with the shape-shifting guitar alchemy of Mary Halvorson, Marc Ribot and Nels Cline; Cline seemed just about everywhere this year, but on his most recent album he showed that he fits in just as easily with Jim Hall and Joe Zawinul as he does Jeff Tweedy and Thurston Moore. And then there was pianist Brad Mehldau, who went for broke with "Highway Rider" in an ambitious meeting of his classical, jazz and pop impulses that divided critics but offered its own compelling journey.
-- Chris Barton
Photo: Trombone Shorty onstage at the 2010 Playboy Jazz Festival. Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times.