If you have no interest in jazz, I recommend you don't read this. You will be bored.
Last year I correctly predicted that Portico Quartet would be nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. This year the sponsor has changed to Barclaycard, but I'm assuming that the ethos remains the same, so I'm gonna try and predict another entry. This year I reckon Led Bib will gain a nomination for their album 'Sensible Shoes'.
See, we all know they like to stick in a jazz nomination each year, and Led Bib has exactly the kind of thing the Mercury judges have always looked for in their UK jazz. Something fresh, exciting and innovative. Hence the nominations in recent years of Portico Quartet, Basquillat Strings & Polar Bear (of course, we'll gloss over the Zoe Rahman nomination and pretend it didn't happen. They can't get it right every time I guess).
Led Bib's album is an awesome and exciting slab of modern jazz with 'Free' thinking tendencies. In the same vein as Polar Bear, Fraud and to a certain extent Acoustic Ladyland too. There's a quote on the Led Bib album that says "Proof that groovy dirty jazz isn't just the preserve of downtown New Yorkers."
Ah yes. America. The birthplace and spiritual home of jazz. Still the place to look to for all the best jazz, right? Well no. Wrong on that last point actually. American jazz seems to have become somewhat stagnant and, well, boring. It's been about three years since there was an American jazz album worth getting excited about. In 2006 we were practically spoilt with great albums by Ornette Coleman, Branford Marsalis Quartet, Kenny Garrett, Charles Lloyd, Brad Mehldau Trio, and Anthony Braxton.
Since then? Well the new Branford Marsalis Quartet album sounds like they've run out of ideas, The Brad Mehldau Trio seem to be operating on cruise control, and I can't even think of anyone else worth mentioning.
In that time we have had excellent jazz albums from the UK from Portico Quartet, Neil Cowley Trio, Fraud, Polar Bear, Empirical, along with more decent European jazz albums than you could shake a saxophone at.
My points, and I'm in danger of going off on one and losing them so I'm gonna try and reign them in, are; a) that if you are after some truly forward thinking, interesting, boundary pushing, innovative music, there are a batch of UK jazz bands around at the moment who really can supply it; and b) America is no longer the place to look for great jazz. Europe is doing it so much better.
Case to illustrate point b); Esbjorn Svensson Trio. A truly innovative piano trio who were really making people realise just what could be done with this traditional set up. Then Esbjorn Svensson died. After his death, the album the trio had been working on "Leucocyte" was released. Although not the great album that we were all hoping for, it showed a band in transition, breaking further from the traditional structures and expectations of a jazz trio, and really pushing things forward. A signifier of the experimentation that would have come. One of the truly sad things about Svensson's death was that they were on the verge of going to another musical level, something you get the feeling would've been beyond anything we had ever heard in jazz music.
And when he died, all eyes turned to the Brad Mehldau Trio, who seemed to be the natural successors to the piano trio crown. And what have they done with it? Rested on their laurels, that's what. The problem with them is, is that while they're very good, they pretty much follow the same formula for all their releases. The jazz crowds are looking to the wrong torch bearers. The Neil Cowley Trio are doing far more interesting things. While not quite as technically superior, seeing as they haven't been together as long, their two albums to date are packed with excitement and energy and a real desire. Aside from EST, far more interesting than any other piano trio's output in recent years. And their British. And EST were Swedish.
American jazz needs a kick up the arse. It's become stagnant. All the best stuff now is European.
This is just getting rambly now. I shall stop here.