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The Year In Music: Jazz Pared All The Way Down

This week, Morning Edition is taking a look back at the music and trends of 2010. On Monday, we talked about sprawling, ambitious pop albums.

This year saw jazz go big, with musicians recording very large ensembles: 18-piece big bands, a swing choir, a 40-person wind ensemble, an entire chamber orchestra with star guest soloists. But the opposite was even more true.

It was also a big year for jazz musicians who focused on their small groups. Their really, really small groups.

It's a brave jazz musician who is willing to make a true solo album. But one soprano saxophonist has made his last two albums completely unaccompanied. His name is Sam Newsome.

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Newsome's is one of at least two solo sax records this year. There's also music from solo bass clarinet, solo bass, solo guitar -- a handful of those -- and at least one solo voice recording.

For his 2010 solo album, Theo Bleckmann took a big box of percussion instruments and toys with him to a Swiss monastery. On his recording of the standard "Comes Love," he accompanies himself with Indonesian frog buzzers.

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Jazz musicians are used to working with collaborators, supporting them with rhythm and harmony as they take their solos within a group. Jazz pianists are perhaps best equipped to record solo. They can accompany themselves, in a sense: They can play melodies and harmonies at once.

A lot of pianists released solo albums this year -- at least 10 by my count. Matthew Shipp is one of them; he's known as an adventurous improviser, fond of dissonances and free exploration. But he also likes to play over hymns and jazz standards.

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It's rare for jazz musicians to record solo albums, in large part because getting there takes a lifetime of practice and invention. This year, a lot of jazz musicians showed that off.

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