Friday, December 21, 2012

Favorite jazz of 2012

I handed Francis Davis my ballot for the 7th annual Jazz Critics Poll a few weeks ago, and since then several publications and writers have offered their best-of-the-year's, top 10s and so forth. I had initially considered not posting mine until after the poll results had been announced, but after going over several other top 10's/faves/etc., I had second thoughts. Some of the below (not many) already look like safe bets to place high on the poll, based on the lists I've seen. Others have (sadly) not featured as prominently elsewhere:

New albums:

  • Steve Lehman Trio: Dialect Fluorescent (Pi Recordings) - Lehman looked back to some of his (post-) bop heroes, and fused their legacy with his own futuristic ideas of jazz for Dialect Fluorescent. Rhythmically complex yet groovy and propulsive, with Lehman himself weaving in and around his compatriots, Matt Brewer and Damion Reid, sometimes lightly and quietly, at other times in impressive and exhilaration leaps and hurdles. Bop for the 21st century. (Reviewed for Klassekampen, Dec. 24th, 2012)
  • Grass Roots (Sean Conley, Alex Harding, Darius Jones & Chad Taylor): Grass Roots (AUM Fidelity) - Rough blues and syrupy, acoustic funk grooves combined with soulful avant-garde. The dual attack of Jones' alto sax and Harding's baritone sax over or in conjuncture with Conley and Taylor's rock solid base, make for some of the most boisterous, hearty and compelling jazz of the year. (Reviewed for Klassekampen, Nov. 19th, 2012)
  • Vijay Iyer Trio: Accelerando (ACT) - Rhythms were central to Accelerando as well, and by a trio which is growing ever more assured in its interplay. Iyer has long had a percussive bend to his playing (listen to the heavy bass notes he slams down on the bassist-less Fieldwork recordings, for example), yet some of his most recent efforts have leaned towards a more melodic and lyrical side, notably on last year's solo album. Here, these approaches are combined to great effect, be it through covers - the tricky Henry Threadgill number "Little Pocket Demons" and a rewarding version of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" - as well as in invigorating originals.
  • Ben Allison, Michael Blake & Rudy Royston: Union Square (Abeat Records) - After a few records of rock tinged modern jazz, Allison returned with a slightly more traditional trio record full of gently grooving (that bass riff on "No Other Side" is the sound equivalent of a boat being rocked by waves) yet becomingly edgy jazz.
  • Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Clean On the Corner (482 Music) - Reed's efforts to channel forgotten Chicago post-war jazz into our time has perhaps never been as successful as on this year's Clean On the Corner. Rollicking, hard hitting, yet also melodic, mellow and bluesy.
  • Charles Gayle Trio: Streets (Northern Spy) - 2012 saw Gayle return to the sax, bass and drum format that helped make his name in avant-garde circles in the late 80s and early 90s. While not quite the doggedly headlong venture of old, the sparser tunes on Streets, with their herky-jerky rhythms provided by seasoned bassist Larry Roland and drummer Michael TA Thompson, showcase Gayle in a wittier mood than usual, while maintaining his gruff and spiritual edge (longer notes here).
  • Devin Gray, Dave Ballou, Ellery Eskelin & Maichael Formanek: Dirigo Rataplan (Skirl) - The playful improvisation and skittish rhythms on this album come at you like spontaneous and excitable burst of sound, intricate yet it never feels hectic nor crowded.
  • William Parker Orchestra with special guest Kidd Jordan: Essence of Ellington (Centering) - A big band full of avant-garde luminaries as well as a host of younger talents channel Ellington, sometimes in quotes, at other times by "feel", through Parker's vision of a modern big band. With Parker at the helm, no stranger to larger ensembles, you know there will be some rollicking music coming at you. 
  • Jasmine Lovell-Smith's Towering Poppies: Fortune Songs (Paintbox Records) - A gorgeous collection of subtle, loose knit, sweet with just a pinch of sour, lyricism. Nothing is rushed, here, and it's all the more rewarding for it
  • FLY: Year of the Snake (ECM) - The third album from saxophonist Mark Turner, drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier, and also their best. All three quick of mind and swift of hand, the trio whip up some bouncy yet forceful tunes that at times are more than a little reminiscent of early 80's Air.
  • Rich Halley 4: Back From Beyond (Pine Eagle Records)
  • Henry Threadgill Zooid: Tomorrow Snny/The Revelry, Spp (Pi Recordings)
  • Jason Robinson: Tiresian Symmetry (Cuniform)
  • Mary Halvorson Quintet: Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12)
  • Eric Revis 11:11 (Eric Revis, Jason Moran, Ken Vandermark & Nasheet Waits): Parallax (Clean Feed)
  • Darius Jones Quartet: Book of Mæ'bul (Another Kind of Sunrise) (AUM Fidelity)
  • Hugo Carvalhais: Particula (Clean Feed)
  • David Virelles: Continuum (Pi Recordings)
  • Ravi Coltrane: Spirit Fiction (Blue Note)
  • Tim Berne: Snakeoil (ECM)
  • Branford Marsalis Quartet: Four MF's Playin' Tunes (Marsalis Music)
  • Jim Black Trio: Somatic (Winter & Winter)
  • Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneifrom Records)
  • The Bad Plus: Made Possible (Entertainment One Music)
  • Neneh Cherry & The Thing: The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound)
  • Elliott Sharp: Aggregat (Clean Feed)
  • Hairy Bones: Snakelust (Clean Feed)
  • Henry Cole & The Afrobeat Collective: Roots Befroe Branches (self released)
  • Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts: An Attitude for Gratitude (Palmetto Records)
  • Pixel: Reminder (Cuneiform)
EDIT: These deserve a mention, too: The Thing & Barry Guy: Metal (NoBusiness), Eivind Opsvik: Overseas IV (Loyal Label), Resonance Ensemble: What Country Is This (Not Two) 

(William Hooker Quintet's Channels of Consciousness (No Business) sounds very promising, but arrived to late to be considered for the list).

  • Charles Mingus: The Workshop Concerts 1964-64 (Mosaic) 
  • William Parker: Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings (NoBusiness) 
  • Jimmy Lyons & Sunny Murray Trio: Jump Up (Hat Ology)
  • Cecil Taylor: The Complete Nat Hentoff Sessions (Ais)
  • Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society: Whispers From the Archive (1970-78, Porter)
(Never got around to Coleman Hawkins Mosaic set, couldn't afford it, but I'm sure it would be in contention. EDIT: I also missed the Wilbur Ware Super Bass album, which sees the release of a "lost" 1969, and great, session, and what wold have been only Ware's second album as a leader).

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