In the jazz world, I’ve found that the long-established artists, especially the ones who play in the well-established styles, get the bulk of the press and buzz. There’s nothing wrong with giving those guys their due even today, and if you peeked down to my list already, you saw the names “Chick Corea,” Gary Burton,” “Ahmad Jamal,” “Steve Kuhn,” “Lee Konitz” and even a long-dead “Bill Evans” amongst the musicians who made some of the best mainstream jazz albums this year. But a lot of vital jazz is being made right now by the younger guys and gals, too, and I couldn’t help but to give them due props as well.
Thus, this tabulation cuts across generations, lead instruments and approaches as long as it isn’t too fusion-ish or too outside — those records go on their own respective lists — but it didn’t happen that way consciously. These are records I simply think were the best this year disregarding any kind of quota to fit a particular pattern or even a set amount of entries. Some of these discs are innovative, others are “safe” but revere and apply old forms of jazz so well, they’re simply just too enjoyable to ignore their greatness. This is a list that fits all your moods for mainstream and modern jazz.
And so, below are my highly recommended choices for mainstream and modern jazz, which, like the non-jazz list published the other day, are unranked and unlimited to a set number of choices. And likewise, I picked one album that stood above all others. It’s by this guy from a younger generation who’s already been making incredible albums the last years, but this time he truly outdid himself.
Click through the titles for the complete reviews …
Vijay Iyer – Accelerando: Vijay Iyer is already one of the original, fearless and technically brilliant pianists in New York. Usually guys with those sorts of adjectives applied to them are the whack jazzers, but Iyer is just too big of a fan of melody to be lumped in with that gang. At the same time, he’s just as experimental, is just that he experiments within a more conventional space.
He’s a fantastic composer but tends to be more mind-blowing as an interpreter. Whether he is deconstructing songs, common or obscure, from RnB (“Star Of The Story”), pop (“Human Nature”), electronica (“Mmmmhmmm”) or avant garde (“Little Pocket Size Demons”), Iyer places his own personality into these songs, but leaving the melodies that has attracted him to these songs to begin with intact. It’s a distinctive sounding trio that he leads, but I don’t think these guys set out to redo the jazz trio, they go after originative arrangements, and let the chips fall insofar of how their roles fall inside or outside convention. It’s this fresh minded approach they take to the music that results in such fresh sounding jazz, making one forget it’s being done with the venerable piano/standup bass/drums setup.
The use of modern rhythms, imaginative arrangements, creative material and just plain, old fashioned butt kicking virtuosity makes Accelerando a strong album from nearly every aspect by which a modern jazz album can be judged.
THE BEST OF THE REST:
Tony Monaco – Celebration: Showing off all his best sides stylistically on disc 1 and his best sides historically on disc 2, this is the perfect intro to the exuberant, soul-stirring chicken shack grooves that few can do as well as Mr. Monaco.
Florian Weber – Biosphere: Weber shares Iyer’s bold conception of jazz, experimenting with melody and rhythm together and making it sound as innately sensible and modern as it is unique.
Chick Corea & Gary Burton – Hot House: Forty years going, Burton/Corea meetings are as much a treat today as they were then. A choice selection of covers interpreted with insight and preciseness makes it even more so.
Michael Feinberg – The Elvin Jones Project: Ostensibly a look back at one career, but it’s just as much about the advancement of another, of an up-and-coming bassist who effectively explores the symbiosis that can occur between a great bassist and a great drummer.
Ferenc Nemeth – Triumph: Nemeth’s musical manifestation for his hopes for a world where people can attain their highest potential and work together harmoniously as a collective ambition. These are lofty goals, but with three sympathetic masters, he gets there.
Ron Miles – Quiver: Ron Miles brings in the big guns (Bill Frisell, Brian Blade) for Quiver, but most importantly, he knew how to use them to bring the best out of songs and covers that were seemingly custom built for them.
Rez Abbasi – Continuous Beat: Music Abbasi originally conceived to be performed with drumming great Paul Motian, he adopts Motian’s overriding approach of what Abbasi so accurately identifies as “complexity within simplicity.” An approach executed with much vigor, enthusiasm, and especially, expertise.
Jacques Schwarz-Bart Quartet – The Art Of Dreaming: The long-awaited return to the acoustic, small combo format Schwarz-Bart started with on his 1999 debut Immersion, but enriched by his experiences since then as a composer, bandleader and performing artist.
Orrin Evans – Flip The Script: Orrin Evans poured in heaping doses of his heart as well as his head in making this album, setting a new high water mark for this exceptional talent.
Brandon Wright – Journeyman: A solid, tight set from a fast-rising saxophone star who on his second time out already got the chops and the vision down.
Brian Charette – Music Organ Sextette: Charette had a great idea to shake up the traditional organ combo format by adding four horns to it and offered something unique that succeeded not because of the idea, but because the idea was executed so well.
Luis Perdomo – Universal Mind: This set led by Ravi Coltrane’s pianist is everything you could ask for from a mainstream jazz piano/bass/drums record: well-constructed compositions, exemplary performances and outstanding rapport.
Steve Kuhn – Wisteria: Kuhn’s unwavering commitment to the melody, along with the devotion to understated prowess of a prime trio lineup, lifts Wisteria well above your run-of-the-mill piano trio albums.
Ahmad Jamal – Blue Moon: At 82, Jamal sounds as vital as ever. Manolo Badrena amps up the groove factor.
Omer Avital – Suite Of The East: Underrated bassist/composer Avital waited for the right time to record this stash of songs, and given the performances of these special musicians, he wisely struck while the iron was red hot.
Aruán Ortiz – Orbiting: Elegant and incisive, Ortiz spins his songs like a mystery to be solved over several, satisfying listens. Guitarist Dave Gilmore makes a great guitar foil.
Marquis Hill – Sound Of The City
Iris Ornig – No Restrictions
Harry Allen & Scott Hamilton – ‘Round Midnight
Bills Evans – Live At Art D’Lugoff’s Top Of The Gate
Avishai Cohen – Triveni II
Lee Konitz – Enfants Terribles
Kenny Garrett – Seeds From The Underground
Mort Weiss – I’ll Be Seeing You
NEXT UP: Part 3, Whack Jazz