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BEST OF 2006 / POP MUSIC | JAZZ / DON HECKMAN

They know how to push the envelope

December 17, 2006|DON HECKMAN

Ornette Coleman, "Sound Grammar" (Sound Grammar). At 76, Coleman continues to be an astonishingly creative adventurer, performing on his first new album in a decade with a two-bass and drums lineup that triggers some of his most imaginative playing -- on alto saxophone, trumpet and violin.

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Stefon Harris, "African Tarantella" (Blue Note). Harris' thematically conceptual approach to improvisation expands considerably in this lovingly conceived dedication to the music and the inspiration of Duke Ellington, arranged for an intriguingly instrumented 12-piece ensemble.

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Keith Jarrett, "The Carnegie Hall Concert" (ECM). Jarrett's return to solo piano improvisations reveals a more playful, epigrammatic, melodically engaging style than typical of the intense probing of his solo efforts from the '70s and '80s.

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Randy Brecker & Michael Brecker, "Some Skunk Funk" (Telarc). Recorded in 2003 with Germany's WDR Big Band, the state-of-contemporary-jazz performances are notable for the cutting-edge tenor saxophone playing of Michael Brecker, shortly before he was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndrome.

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Patricia Barber, "Mythologies" (Blue Note). Love it or hate it, Barber's extraordinary song cycle based on the "Metamorphoses" of Ovid is a must-hear outing -- a remarkable example of an envelope-stretching jazz imagination at work, finding contemporary musical links with a centuries-old literary classic.

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