Saturday, December 8. 2007
I made my first pass at my year-end jazz list last night -- my piece for the Voice is due next Friday, and my ballot for Francis Davis is due earlier -- and was rather shocked in the way that only statistics can do: by highlighting otherwise inscrutable trends. All I did was to pull the jazz records out of my Year 2007 list: 65 records at present, 37 jazz. The shocking thing is how much down the totals are. I don't know where the overall list stood a year ago, but the current Year 2006 list stands at 116 records, with only 8 of those records added since the Jan. 12, 2007 freeze date. So my current overall list is down 40% (65 from 108) with one month to go. The jazz part is down a little less, 37 from 55 (at the freeze date), about 32%. (Ergo, the jazz share of the A-lists has increased from 51% in 2006 to 57% in 2007, but that is likely to narrow over time, and may wind up dropping.)
I didn't think the reason for these drops could possibly be a shortfall in records, but the rated totals are actually down a fair bit: 555 this year vs. 668 last year (freeze list). But the difference there is accounted for by the pending list -- 180 at present vs. 87 at freeze time last year. I see 4 first-pass A- records in the pending list, so that will reduce the deficit a bit. But I've spent all this week playing what look to be the most promising unrated records, and haven't found anything that I felt like adding to the A-list. (Two non-jazz records did make the list this week: Koko Taylor's triumphant comeback, Old School, and Youssou N'Dour's Rokku Mi Rokka, which is likely to move further up the list.) The rest of the shelf doesn't look so promising, but there's probably a surprise or two or three lurking somewhere. Still, it really feels to me like there's been a downturn this year. Part of this is just my subjective feel for how the top of the list hangs together. The top 10 at the moment looks like this:
Closely followed by: David Torn, Prezens (ECM); Matt Lavelle, Spiritual Power (Silkheart); David S. Ware, Renunciation (AUM Fidelity); Logan Richardson, Cerebral Flow (Fresh Sound); Vijay Iyer/Mike Ladd, Still Life With Commentator (Savoy Jazz); Pablo Aslan, Buenos Aires Tango Standards (Zoho); and Louis Sclavis, L'Imparfait des Langues (ECM). These are all good records, but I'm not wild about this list. Compare it to the 2006 list:
Offhand, the 2007 list strikes me as weaker at the top, weaker at the bottom, and less pleasantly balanced. The 2005 list had pick hits in the 6-7-8 slots, and the 9th place Billy Bang record strikes me as stronger (maybe not as pleasantly gratifying) as this year's 4th place Bang. This year's 8th place Muthspiel isn't as good as the one I missed in 2006, and the 9th place Tsahar is no better than Lost Brother, which missed the 2005 list. I'm also surprised to see van Veenendaal in 5th -- less because it's an extremely obscure pick than because it's the first piano trio to make the list. Go figure. (I'd guess there are about 10-12 piano trios on the combined A-lists.)
Of course, this will settle down more in the next week. I started this exercise wondering whether I was losing my taste or grip or raw excitement -- I really doubt that the jazz world itself is slipping. But already I see that any such deficits are rather marginal, maybe even statistically insignificant. Will know more in a week. What I suspect now is that I've fallen slightly behind schedule, and won't have time to catch up as much as I'd like. So whereas last year I added 10 records to the 2006 A-list after publishing the year-end list, this year a few more will come in late -- I'm guessing 15-20.