Lately I have been broadening my horizons a bit. If I stay up late I try to tune in to WBGO, which is a real national treasure. Thanks to their deep programming I have become acquainted with Oliver Nelson's classic "The Blues and the Abstract Truth", as well as Quincy Jones' big band albums from the 60's (I had thought he was just the guy who produced hit records for Michael Jackson).
And, lest we think that Jazz is dead, or just smells funny, I did pick up a few jazz albums in 2008 that were actually released in 2008.
The first I'll talk about is Larry Willis' "The Offering".
Willis has been in the New York jazz scene for a long time, and he even played in Blood, Sweat, and tears for a spell. This record is a straight ahead jazz effort with good compositions from start to finish. The track that first caught my attention was a swinging rendition of the Theme from Star Trek (original 60's series). It works really well as a jazz tune. "Ethiopia" is a plaintive ballad that lets the bowed double bass present the melody.
Another jazz pianist that I did not know about until recently was Willis' friend John Hicks. Hicks died in 2006, and his widow, Elise Wood-Hicks, and Larry Willis put together the John Hicks Legacy Band to honor him with great renditions of his tunes on a record called "Mind Wine".
The standout track for me is "After the Morning". The title tune also kicks off the CD with energy. I have yet to deeply explore Hicks' own playing per se (I bought a few cuts on I-tunes) but his compositions speak well of his sophisticated musicality.
Both these albums were released in 2008 and are highly recommended. However, this is by no means a "best of 2008" list. I have a lot of catching up to do with newer jazz releases!
ps - Here is a youtube video of two Frenchmen giving a beautiful rendition of my favorite John Hicks song.