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Steve Greenlee's top CD picks of 2008

December 14, 2008
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BENNIE MAUPIN "Early Reflections" (Cryptogramophone) On soprano saxophone and bass clarinet, Miles Davis's former sideman (known best for his brooding work on "Bitches Brew") has produced a 77-minute album of masterful, meditative, contemplative work that never grows tiresome.

HOUSTON PERSON WITH RON CARTER "Just Between Friends" (HighNote) Sometimes simplicity equals power. Saxophonist Person and bassist Carter, grand masters both, swing lightly and convincingly as they work their way through a lovely set of standards.

DAVE LIEBMAN "Negative Space" (Verve) This might be the year's biggest surprise: that the prolific yet underappreciated saxophonist would not only wind up with a record on Verve but produce maybe the finest work of his career this far into it. This wild, free-flowing improvisation with an Italian rhythm section recalls John Coltrane's great quartet.

TODD SICKAFOOSE "Tiny Resistors" (Cryptogramophone) The bassist sees the musicians in his band as a palette from which to create what he hears. And he has created music that is thoroughly original and unabashedly modern without being iconoclastic.

DAVE DOUGLAS "Moonshine" (Greenleaf Music) Hard-pumping post-fusion jazz that gets the adrenaline going. The trumpeter keeps paying homage to Miles Davis, and every album gets more aggressive. Heck, this one even ends with a tune called "Tough."

DONNY McCASLIN "Recommended Tools" (Greenleaf Music) The saxophonist is on from start to finish during this outing with just a bassist and drummer supporting him. His blowing is brawny and brainy, blistering and beautiful.

ADAM RUDOLPH'S MOVING PICTURES "Dream Garden" (Justin Time) World jazz of the highest caliber. The hand percussionist's group features a roster of impressive musicians who appropriate the sounds of so many lands that their music is difficult to describe. It's definitely energetic, though.

PETER BROTZMANN AND PEETER UUSKYLA "Born Broke" (Atavistic) Hurricane-force saxophonist Brotzmann and drummer Uuskyla engage in what is for them a remarkably restrained session. Sure, Brotzmann still blows like mad, but there is structure beneath all the wailing.

WADADA LEO SMITH'S GOLDEN QUARTET "Tabligh" (Cuneiform) To say this new lineup is powerful would be a huge understatement. Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist John Lindberg, and drummer Shannon Jackson stretch out on four long songs. Much of the disc is made up of four-way simultaneous soloing, violent and free.

MARIO PAVONE "Trio Arc" (Playscape Recordings) The bassist reunites with an old comrade, pianist Paul Bley, and enlists drummer Matt Wilson to fill out the trio. Their simpatico replaces any need for structured timekeeping, and together they produce a beautifully odd amalgam of sounds.

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