With another year gone, the time for lists is upon us. I’ve already toiled over my list of favorite metal albums and my list of pop/rock/whatever albums, so the unenviable task now falls to identifying 2012′s favorite jazz records.
This was no easy feat, as there was an awful lot of good stuff to get to – and an awful lot of stuff that I had no chance of getting to.
As has been the case with my other lists, the plan is to name the albums that I consider to be my favorites. This isn’t about the “best” – or “worst” – music of the year. It has nothing to do with popularity or checking with my fellow critics to determine if my selections are copacetic. It has everything to do with the music that touched me and moved me the most in 2012.
Without further ado, here are my favorite ten jazz albums of 2012:
10: MARK TAYLOR AND JESSICA JONES – LIVE AT THE FREIGHT: Recorded live at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, California, this disc explores the value of conversation between Taylor’s French horn and Jones’ tenor saxophone. Drummer Jason Lewis and bassist John Shifflet provide the rhythmic foundation for Taylor and Jones, providing a basis on which to set tales of Taylor’s self-invented muse Osmium Zamindar.
9: SUMI TONOOKA – NOW: LIVE AT THE HOWLAND: Recorded from two solos sets at the Howland Center in Beacon, New York, Now: Live at the Howland is what happens when a pianist takes the stage without accoutrements. The music is presented without overdubs or studio tricks, making it an exploration of playing without excesses and as intimate a jazz album as I’ve heard all year.
8: EZRA WEISS – OUR PATH TO THIS MOMENT: Weiss traces the contours of the big band format with the sublime Our Path to this Moment, a culmination of a dozen years of desire. Featuring the 17-member Rob Scheps Big Band and Weiss on piano, this record takes the compositional spirit to the stars with an intelligent and entertaining sense of evolution.
7: VERONNEAU – JAZZ SAMBA PROJECT: Recorded in a church, Jazz Samba Project puts Veronneau in the mood for a spiritual approach to bossa nova and American jazz music. The inimitable voice of Lynn Véronneau leads the charge through an exuberant and passionate rendering of Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz’s classic Jazz Samba record. Watch for an arrangement of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” to spice things up further.
6: KATE McGARRY – GIRL TALK: A spectacular listen that I didn’t get to until the end of the year, Girl Talk presents a wonderfully complete jazz vocalist paying homage to her “beloved singer-mothers.” McGarry sings freely, delivering awesome renditions of “We Kiss in a Shadow” and Henry Mancini’s “Charade.” The latter is as mysterious and amusing as the film it shares its name with.
5: GRAHAM DECHTER – TAKIN’ IT THERE: The guitarist joins pianist Tamir Hendelman, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton for a blistering good time on Takin’ It There, a contemporary yet traditional chunk of jazz guitar heaven. Dechter proves why he’s one of the best young jazz cats going, not only playing guitar with stunningly lyrical control but arranging pieces with class.
4: REGGIE QUINERLY – MUSIC INSPIRED BY FREEDMANTOWN: An education in “soulful essence,” Quinerly’s labor of love is as comprehensive a project I’ve heard in 2012. His mastery of space is as appealing as his mastery of drumming. And his arrangements brim with the spirit of Houston and slices of old-school soul, highlighting Quinerly’s discovery of impact and identity with traditional jazz.
3: RAN BLAKE AND SARA SERPA – AURORA: The blend of Blake and Serpa makes its way through their second outing, with the pianist and vocalist providing more than enough challenges for listeners. Aurora refuses to play it safe, taking angular approaches to standard tunes and developing the art of sound with tonal work-outs and adventurous vocal accents.
2: SARA GAZAREK – BLOSSOM AND BEE: Gazarek’s Blossom and Bee certainly stands out among my most-played discs of 2012. An ode to Blossom Dearie and an exhibition of Gazarek’s straightforward but elegant approach to singing. Her entrancing take on Ben Folds’ “The Luckiest” is a thing of beauty, while her work on “The Lies of Handsome Men” is heartrendingly beautiful.
1: ANAT COHEN – CLAROSCURO: The Tel Aviv-born saxophonist and clarinetist shares her gift with living, breathing passion on Claroscuro, my favourite jazz record of 2012. Cohen moves through traditional jazz, Brazilian and West African music with flexibility seldom heard. And her duet with Paquito D’Rivera on “Nightmare” is like a dream, blending two of the finest players in timeless fashion.