Howard Mandel: Best Jazz CDs Of 2009

December 1, 2009


Author, jazz critic and President of the Jazz Journalists Association Howard Mandel posted a list of his favorite CDs from 2009 on his blog, Jazz Beyond Jazz, this past Friday.

Darcy James Argue’s Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam) and The Thirteenth Assembly’s (un)sentimental (Important Records) both earned spots of the 11-title list.

Of the former, Mandel writes, “Recasting the ‘jazz’ orchestra with an ear hip to a spectrum of contemporary composition but most of all sound itself, Argue diplays a nervy ethos by conducting 18 not-very-well-known but gutsy instrumentalists through arresting themes, solid rhythms and energized solos. This is Brooklyn offline, ironic but earnest, and has drawn a following among listeners in their late 20s-early 30s.”

And, he called the debut of Taylor Ho Bynum, Tomas Fujiwara, Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone’s collective quartet, The Thirteenth Assembly, “Chamber music for moderns—a cornetist, drummer, guitarist and violaist walk the lines between structure and improv, sensitivity and humor, questions and suggestions, inherent references to the past and unpretentious confidence they’re in the right place for music now.”

The list was compiled from nearly 1000 CDs Mandel received for review since last November, so naturally there were lots of honorable mentions. John Hébert’s highly regarded debut, Byzantine Monkey (Firehouse 12), was part of the “Also Much Enjoyed” list.

UPDATE: Mandel’s Top 11 of 2009 is now posted at the Jazz Journalists Association’s Web site.

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New Darcy James Argue Download

October 17, 2009

Both sets of Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society performing at The Jazz Gallery on September 18th are now available for download.

“Secret Society doesn’t exactly swing so much as groove, stomp and sort of rock,” wrote Howard Mandel in his blog review of the show. “There’s a touch of minimalism somewhere in composer-conductor DJA’s background, and some very sly wit that stops well short of dire irony.”

If you like what you hear, please consider making a donation to cover the 18-piece band’s often overwhelming overhead costs through Fractured Atlas.


iC Media Poll Results: Part 2

July 20, 2009

Print publications

Today we explore the results from the second of five sections of our recent survey of 50 prominent jazz writers and editors.

This section, called Web and print habits, asked about the jazz-related publications, blogs and Web sites these professionals are reading, how they access them, and if what they read there impacts their own work.

As shown in the chart above, we first asked respondents to indicate which of the eight major jazz magazines they read on a regular basis. The list, which featured English-language publications only, included AllAboutJazz-New York, Cadence, DownBeat, Jazz Improv, Jazziz, JazzTimes, Signal To Noise and The Wire. We also made it possible for people to write-in any other publications as well.

The clear winner was AllAboutJazz-New York with 54.5%. The runner-up was Signal to Noise with 51.5%, followed by DownBeat and JazzTimes, which each scored 48.5%. The Wire (39.4%) and Cadence (18.2%) were next, while Jazziz and Jazz Improv each scored less than 10%.

One write-in vote each was cast for Cuadernos de JazzCoda, Improjazz, Jazz Journal and Ritmos del Mundo.

Print influence

We then asked if the coverage in these publications influenced the respondent’s own work (i.e. discovering new releases, coloring their judgement of artists/releases, etc.).

The results (above) were clear as 85.3% answered in the affirmative.

Web sites

Next we asked which jazz-related Web sites respondents visit on a regular basis, again spotlighting eight popular choices and giving people the chance to write-in any others they prefer.

AllAboutJazz.com was the clear favorite with 77.4%, with AllMusic.com finishing a close second with 61.3%. Next came Bagatellen with 32.3%, followed by Jazz.com and NPR Music, which each earned 29%. Avant Music News (16.1%), Jazz Corner (12.9%) and PopMatters (6.5%) also got multiple votes.

A significant number of write-in votes were cast for blogs, which we tackle in the next question, but Point of Departure was a popular choice (an admitted oversight on our part), as were Pitchfork and Dusted.

Web influence

Again, the majority (82.4%) indicated that the content of these sites influence their own work.

When tackling the subject of blogs, we asked respondents to list five of their favorites. Oddly enough, more than half skipped this question completely, and only 37.5% filled in all five slots. Some even dedicated one or more of the slots to expressing their dislike for reading and/or discussing blogs at all.

The calculations don’t apply to write-ins, but the most popular choices were Destination: Out, Do The Math, Free Jazz, Jazz Beyond Jazz, Lerterland and Secret Society.

Blog influence

But this time, when we asked if what they read on these blogs influenced their own work, only 44.4% said yes.

Blog access

When it comes to accessing the blogs they read, the Web is by far the most popular way with 94.1% giving that answer. Using a built-in blog reader in one’s browser and using a stand-alone RSS feed reader represented the rest of the vote with 8.8% each.

Twitter account

Finally, we asked if any of the respondents have a Twitter account.

Unlike with the blogs, everyone who took the survey answered this question, but only 35.3% said yes.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the third section of our survey, Personal Listening Habits, which features questions about writers’ interaction with jazz radio, their preferences for format (CD, MP3 and vinyl) when purchasing music for personal use, and the amount of music they purchase in a given year.

Please stay tuned!


NY Times Reports JazzTimes Will Resume Publishing

July 12, 2009

In a story that will run in Monday’s print edition, the New York Times‘ Ben Ratliff reports that JazzTimes has been sold and will resume its publication schedule with an August issue.

Ratliff, who interviewed the magazine’s editor, Lee Mergner, earlier today, also writes the publication plans to retain Managing Editor Evan Haga and that “arrangements are being made to pay contributors what they are owed.”

UPDATE 7/13: Howard Mandel confirms the sale in an interview with Madover Media‘s company director, Joan Lynch, who explains, “we believe in print, in the web, and in delivering the best product we can, hoping to keep Jazz Times the publication aficionados want.”


Reminder: Mary Halvorson Trio at Roulette February 13th

January 13, 2009
Mary Halvorson by Hilary McHone

Mary Halvorson by Hilary McHone

On Friday, February 13th at 8:30 p.m., Brooklyn-based guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson and her trio will perform at Roulette in New York. 

The group, which also features bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith, will be premiering brand new music in addition to performing selections from its acclaimed 2008 debut, Dragon’s Head (Firehouse 12 Records). 

The record, Ms. Halvorson’s first at the helm of her own ensemble, is featured on best-of-the-year lists in a long list of publications, including AllAboutJazz-New York, JazzTimes, the New York Times, The Wire and the Village Voice.

The success of Dragon’s Head led critics to call Ms. Halvorson “probably the most original jazz guitarist to emerge this decade” (Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader) and “the freshest, busiest, most critically acclaimed guitar-slinger out of downtown Manhattan/Brooklyn right now” (Howard Mandel, Jazz Beyond Jazz). 

“A singular talent,” adds AllAboutJazz.com’s Troy Collins, “Brooklyn-based guitarist Mary Halvorson has come into her own as a composer and improviser with her trio debut, Dragon’s Head…light years ahead of her peers, she is the most impressive guitarist of her generation. The future of jazz guitar starts here.”