S. Victor Aaron’s Best of 2017 (Part 2 of 4, Modern and Mainstream Jazz): Chris Potter, Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh

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With another year in the books, it’s about that time to look back and assess which ones are the cream of what’s been a bumper crop of jazz records. It was easy to find jazz records that deserved an extra, year-end salute; maybe too easy. The heavy lifting came from figuring out which of these stood above the rest.

For this and for all four parts of this “Best of 2017” series, these selections were all culled from reviews published on this site with links to those reviews nested in the names/titles. The records listed here reflect the best out of the ones that just didn’t sound good in passing but met the standard even after a deep probe that’s required when putting together a written piece describing them in some detail. This way, there’s always a lot of ‘why’ to go along with the ‘what.’

And the ‘what’ to jazz’s Album of the Year comes from a ensemble that’s built around a great concept and managed to find a way to get even better at executing it…


David Weiss and Point of Departure – Wake Up Call: Maybe this record gets the Best of 2017 nod because lately I’ve been binge listening to late ’60s MIles Davis records, and Weiss’ Point of Departure project treads much of the same ground (and same tunes, here and there). Miles’ advanced modern jazz through blues-based abstractions paved the way for that electric fusion that soon followed, and Point of Departure recaptures the spirit of that key transition period, starting with 2008’s Venture Inward.

After some period of recording inactivity, the master trumpet and bandleader Weiss restarted Point of Departure, holding on to bassist Matt Clohesy and sporting a new drummer (Kush Abadey) and saxophonist (Myron Walden). But the key move here was to replace guitarist Nir Felder with Ben Eunson and Travis Reuter. That provides a muscular electric guitar front line to compete with the bop-minded 2-horn front line, and the two opposing forces provide lots of sparks.

Again digging deep for inspired choices for covers (including Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Sanctuary” and Tony Williams’ underrated composition “Pee Wee”), Point of Departure recasts these songs in their own, dynamic style. Using bright, open-minded up-and-coming musicians much as Miles had done throughout his career, Weiss through Point of Departure very effectively uses a forgotten, fertile slice of jazz’s past to suggest a way forward.


Roxy Coss – Chasing The Unicorn: Coss shines brightly on ‘Chasing The Unicorn’ because this talented saxophonist and composer shines in so many areas.

AMP Trio – Three: A piano, bass and drums trio made up by big talent all around is always a treat, but when it’s a trio of up-and-comers with a zest for moving jazz into contemporary areas, it’s all the better.

Linda May Han Oh – Walk Against The Wind: Oh’s got a flair for complexity in her scores that are nonetheless personal and engaging in leading a quartet full of guys who like her, make you feel assured about the future of jazz.

Chris Potter – The Dreamer Is The Dream: With a new quartet and a few new twists but that same elite-class reeds playing and composing, The Dreamer Is The Dream keeps Chris Potter at the head of the sax class.

Avishai Cohen – Cross My Palm With Silver: The delicacy and low-key passion of Avishai Cohen shows up through his trumpet, compositions and every member of his quartet; Cross My Palm With Silver speaks volumes about how Cohen feels without uttering a single word.

Sam Boshnack Quintet – Nellie Bly Project: Just as Nellie Bly was able to show what a woman is capable of when gender barriers are confronted or outright ignored, Boshnack is an example of a growing number of women leading a resurgence of creativity in jazz.

Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far From Over: By not limiting himself within a narrow concept and exploiting a multiple of possibilities presented by the larger sextet, Iyer’s variety of tactics make this an insightful window into his wide-ranging capabilities.

Scott DuBois – Autumn Wind: DuBois’s desire to blur the lines between creative jazz, chamber music and folk forms is a quest others before him have taken on, but the challenge of putting it all together both coherently and provocatively is where many have fallen short. Not so here; Autumn Wind excels at that.

Mark Zaleski Band – Days, Months, Years: Varied, inviting, unpredictable but never jarring, Days, Months, Years is anything but boring.

Jason Stein Quartet – Lucille!: This is another fun-filled jazz history lesson on the connection between Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman.

Riverside (Dave Douglas, Chet Doxas, Steve Swallow, Jim Doxas) – The New National Anthem: With his thoughtful musical dissertations and fresh takes on some of the most complex and misunderstood jazz geniuses throughout the idiom’s history like Carla Bley, Dave Douglas keeps elevating his own craft and himself becomes a shining example for others to follow.

Rez Abbasi – Unfiltered Universe: Rez Abbasi and his potent Invocation band have demonstrated that creativity and originality is more than just ideas and knowledge, it’s about vision.


Victor Assis Brasil – Toca Antonio Carlos Jobim: In a year when a rare, pristine recording of Bill Evans with Jack DeJohnette on drums saw the light of day, anything that gets the nod over that had better be damned good. Well, Toca Antonio Carlos Jobim is. A set of compositions by Brazil’s greatest composer artfully and sensitively interpreted by arguably that country’s greatest saxophonist, Brasil stripped out nearly any hint of pop, yet these performances are accessible and engaging; all the right emotions are retained.

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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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