S. Victor Aaron’s Mid-Year Best of 2013 (Modern and Mainstream Jazz): Chris Potter, Rudresh Mahanthappa

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For this middle-of-2013 version list of best modern and mainstream jazz records, I expanded the meaning of “modern and mainstream jazz” a little bit this year to take into account jazz that’s the “mainstream” or “modern” of today. In years past I might have placed the Brian Landrus record in fusion and the Matt Parker release under whack jazz, but among the artists of their generation, they’re not considered so far outside the “new” normal for what’s considered modern jazz today.

That, I believe, is healthy development. Every new wave of jazz practitioners seeks to leave a mark on the music form, sending it further along its path of evolution. Many of the dozen releases below have that freshness that does a good job of bringing jazz into the new century, and a few others do traditional forms so dead gummed well, it’s impossible to ignore their own charms. But most of these are here on this list because they combine the rich traditions of the old with the ingenuity of the new.

In no particular order or ranking, here are the best examples I’ve heard so far this year in real jazz. “Real” as I see it, at least…

Chris Potter – The Sirens: Chris Potter invested much into his compositions, his choice of supporting musicians and even his choice of production team to make a record of substance, emotion and refinement.

Kari Ikonen Trio – Bright: Inventive, spright and clever, Bright is not just a good Nordic jazz record, it’s world-class good.

Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope – Mirage: Resplendent with beautiful melodies, a small but smartly used string section and Landrus’ own unique appealing approach to the low reeds, this one’s both an artistic triumph and real listening pleasure.

Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom – No Morphine No Lilies: Allison Miller builds on the solid foundation she built with Boom Tic Boom, with more subtle artistry, measured risk-taking and varied moods that holds up together as a unified piece of work. No Morphine No Lilies is, in so many ways, imposing from beginning to end.

Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense – Moment and the Message: Songs run like smooth running machines with dozens of gears, belts and other moving parts, and like any machine with so many moving parts, you’re waiting for it to malfunction. Only, the Sicilian Defense never does.

Matt Parker – Worlds Put Together: This being Matt Parker’s first time out as a leader, Parker casts caution to the wind whereas most first time leaders take timid steps in establishing themselves. It is his daring while keeping intact a strong bond to classic jazz that make Worlds Put Together an astonishing debut.

Next Collective – Cover Art: The Next Collective’s remarkable debut makes the statement that there are plenty of highly skilled, insightful revolutionaries to lead the charge to bring jazz into the next phase of its evolution.

Rudresh Mahanthappa – Gamak: The partnership with David Fiuczynski presented so many new possibilities and Mahanthappa might have exploited every single one of them on Gamak.

Tim Green – Songs From This Season: A collection of songs with both variation and vision, Songs From This Season is affirmation of the praise Tim Green has received from judges, mentors and peers.

Antonio Sanchez – New Life: It’s difficult to think of Sanchez as “just” Pat Metheny’s drummer after listening to this, as good as he’s been in that role. But he is clearly destined for more than that.

Craig Taborn Trio – Chants: By focusing on the interactions among the performers and not the construction or parameters artificially imposed by composition, Craig Taborn had faith that the resulting music would take care of itself. Thanks to prime support by Thomas Morgan and Gerald Cleaver, it did.

David Ake – Bridges: The performances are grand all over Bridges because Ake knows the strengths of every player he’s got at his disposal and lets them do their thing within his well-conceived compositions, resulting in performances that are as unpredictable as it is thoughtful.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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