Mark Saleski’s Top Albums for 2012: Jazz and Improvised Music

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLMme9ItKCw?rel=0&w=420&h=236]

Well, of course I don’t think jazz is stupid. I love jazz. But that didn’t stop me from laughing out loud when this scene showed up out of nowhere in a recent episode of The Office. And things showing up out of nowhere — that element of surprise — is what makes jazz and other forms of improvised music so much fun.

OK then, time for some fun! Just as with my Rock and Pop list, we have the album of the year followed by everything else in more or less random order.


ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Mary Halvorson Quintet – Bending Bridges

It’s an odd year when Pat Metheny appears on my list but isn’t at the top. That should give you an idea of how much I’ve been overcome by the guitar of Mary Halvorson. In fact, she appears on several list entries. It was great to hear her stretch out for this project, composing for a larger ensemble. There are so many avenues for exploration here that each listen feels fresh. I may never get tired of this one.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw3xV5nxyaU?rel=0&w=420&h=236]


Mary Halvorson, Weasel Walter, Peter Evans – Mechanical Malfunction

The interplay on this record is just killer. Guitar, trumpet, and drums making all sorts of crazed trouble.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yP-mRLLIM-Q?rel=0&w=420&h=236]

Joy Mega – Forever Is Something Inside You

Imagine that Jandek had just discovered Arto Lindsay. And somehow, Mary Halvorson was involved…

JOY MEGA by Jason Ajemian

Marco Cappelli’s Italian Surf Academy – The American Dream

Spaghetti western music done up with extra twang, foreboding, and naked surf girls. What’s not to love?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQHbNE5A5Pw?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

Katherine Young – Pretty Monsters

Bassoon like you’ve never heard it before.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zp4cZapoEM?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

The Heavens – The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album

Faith vs. reason, with horns. That smartass synopsis is really kind of unfair as Jacob Garchik’s concept goes much deeper. Still, this is a load of fun.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eKWeYaWKz0?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up – The Air is Different
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJbRG-Kfp5Q?rel=0&w=420&h=236]

Did I miss any releases with Mary Halvorson on guitar? Gee, I hope not.

Monday Michiru – Soulception

There are a ton of jazz vocal albums out there that are content to be polite, giving a “new” take of a handful of favorites from the canon. This is not that record. Michiru’s gorgeous voices winds its way though a program that’s as comfortable with spiky modernism as it is with a soulful Latin groove.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yERzIdhSSk?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

Jessica Lurie Ensemble – Megaphone Heart

It’s a pop album with jazz leanings. It’s a jazz album with pop sensibility. Yes, and sometimes it stomps around with such authority that I half expect Tom Waits to pop out of the speakers.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXA3o_08gHA?rel=0&w=420&h=236]

Luce Trio – Pieces, Vol. 1

An incredibly beautiful and interesting take on early music: alto sax, Sruti box, electric guitar, and bass. It’s serene, reflective, and full of space.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqZZcwVeZk4?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

Pat Metheny – Unity Band

After all these years (since the release of 80/81), we get to hear Pat sharing the compositional space with a saxophone. We are not disappointed.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IDi0Azsq94?rel=0&w=420&h=236]

Mort Weiss – I’ll Be Seeing You

There aren’t a lot of trouble-makers left in the jazz world, so you should acquaint yourself with Mr. Weiss. Don’t let the warm sound of his clarinet fool you because he can explode into one king-hell solo at a moment’s notice.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3dD9KjNwMs?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

Jeb Bishop, Jorrit Dijkstra – 1000 Words

Just trombone and alto sax. Sometimes pensive and circling, other times…skronk-a-licious! I suppose it’s a kind of chamber jazz, those not nearly so well-behaved as that moniker implies.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vycvlGu5QwA?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.