If you happened to peruse the Half-Year List of Top Albums for 2012 for Modern and Mainstream Jazz before this list and you’ve been keeping up with the latest jazz releases, you might have wondered, “Where’s that new Matthew Shipp?” or “You mean you didn’t think that much of Dialect Fluorescent?” If you’re like our own Mark Saleski, you were probably most offended by the omission of Mary Halvorson’s latest on that list. There’s a good reason those records didn’t go on that list; they go instead on this list.
You see, jazz to me comes in three basic varieties: modern/mainstream, avant garde and fusion. A few crafty musicians manage to blur the lines among the three from time to time, but these three areas represent their own distinct moods. As in, I’m either in the mood for some Chicago Underground Duo or some Ahmad Jamal, but never both at the same time. And there’s so much new avant garde out there I dig every year, it could easily crowd out all the more conventional stuff on an “all-jazz” list. That brings us here, a separate list for the outside stuff I affectionately call “whack jazz.” And sure enough, there’s plenty here to shout about.
The twelve selections were made without regard to trying to achieve a certain number of picks; these were simply the ones I thought stood above the rest. Click through the titles for the complete reviews …
Mary Halvorson Quintet – Bending Bridges: Hear the blossoming of one of the most unique voices in jazz guitar to come around in a while.
Many Arms – Many Arms: Some might not call this jazz at all but it’s whack in a wonderfully raw, mathematical kind of way.
Maria Neckam – Unison: Evocative of many but duplicative of no one, Maria Neckam advances her art with this eccentric but endearing vocal jazz release. A record bound to make some waves in the hard-to-impress world of New York modern jazz.
Charles Gayle Trio – Streets: Gayle in a sax/bass/drums setting playing uninhibited is about as good as it gets for free jazz these days. Powerful, purposeful and spiritual.
Matthew Shipp Trio – Elastic Aspects: Shipp and his very capable rhythm section create friction against each other, providing the sparks that makes this album dynamic and dance on the edge.
Chicago Underground Duo – Age Of Energy: Creating in the moment like their AACM brethren but with the lo-fi electronic effects of an indie act, the Duo continue to make truly original music only possible by two, open minded and innovative musicians.
Eivind Opsvik – Overseas IV: Opsvik calls it “experimental cinematic music,” I call it an ingenuous alchemy of the very ornate with the very edgy.
Johnny DeBlase Quartet – Composites – Similar to Deblase’s Many Arms band, but with a trumpet and more breathing space. Turns out, DeBlase is a force on acoustic bass, too.
Steve Lehman Trio – Dialect Fluorescent: Steve Lehman has propelled past his peers because he took more time to fully immerse himself in tradition first. And it shows on Dialect Fluorescent.
Jenny Scheinman – Mischief & Mayhem: Like her sometimes bandleader Bill Frisell, Scheinman’s music is hard to categorize, but easy to love. Scheinman’s songs lurch from chamber and bluegrass to jazz and fusion, but with a consistent flair for experimentation and creativity. Excellent support from Nels Cline, Jim Black and Todd Sickafoose.
Ross Hammond – Adored: Loose but intense, Hammond & Co. play this collection of avant jazz-rock songs largely by instinct; they have good instincts.
Tim Berne – Snakeoil: Brilliantly walking the line between free and forethought, Berne’s new band is about improvising that doesn’t force fit into composed music; through dramatic and impulsive turns, it feels its way naturally to the melody.
NEXT UP: Part 4, Fusion Jazz