In Our CD Player

Christina Liao

Last year was just like the past few years in the jazz world. Legends continued creating masterpieces as new artists burst onto the scene. Here are the five best jazz CDs of 2003:

Dave Holland, Extended Play: Live at Birdland

The top-rated jazz group of the past decade is finally caught live on this two-CD set. The band’s strength is in group improvising, and Extended Play finally does the quintet justice. With only one song under ten minutes and with amazing digressions like Chris Potter and Robin Eubanks’ four-minute tenor-trombone duet in the middle of “Prime Directive,” the group takes listeners along on an odd-metered adventure, leaving them exhausted but wanting to hear it all over again.

Dave Douglas, Freak In

From the very first sound of tablas and electronic effects Freak In might not seem like a jazz album. But with Douglas, who has recorded everything from The Klezmer to straight-ahead to covers of Rufus Wainwright, this hardly matters. Douglas’ pristine trumpet and Marc Ribot’s eclectic guitar rise above the mix of loops and effects and convince the listener that there is someone in control on this amazing romp through 70’s Miles Davis, drum-and-bass, blues, post-bop and electronica.

Andrew Hill, Passing Ships

Recorded in 1969 and hidden in the Blue Note vaults for 34 years, Hill’s nonet album features the likes of Joe Farrell, Woody Shaw, Ron Carter and Lenny White. Using two trumpets, trombone, French horn and a mixture of tuba, bass clarinet, English horn and various other reeds, Hill’s writing is as original and off-kilter as ever. The soloing shifts from earthy blues to adventurous post-bop, all placed in Hill’s distinctive soundscapes.

Wayne Shorter, Alegria

In this follow up to his acclaimed 2002 comeback album Footprints Live!, Shorter has his first all-acoustic studio recording since 1967. With shifting personnel and group size (from 4 to 14 pieces), Shorter presents reconstructed originals from his days with Miles Davis and new gorgeous arrangements of classical pieces.

The Bad Plus, These Are the Vistas

The Bad Plus will be most famously remembered as the jazz power-trio that covered Nirvana. On These Are the Vistas, they not only play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” but also tackle covers of Blondie and Aphex Twin. Yet they are original enough to make the songs actually work in the jazz piano context. While repeated listenings fail to unearth many subtleties, this album announces another possible direction for jazz.

— Fritz Schenker