Yep, it’s a 30-way tie for first this year. Be wise: spend quality time with all of ’em.
Noah Preminger Genuinity (Steeplechase)
Burn, baby, burn. Everything’s on fire here. Cue the flame emojis.
Allison Miller & Carman Staaf Science Fair (Sunnyside)
Polish, balance and a dedication to providing lyricism with the leeway it needs to make its mark.
A fierce blend of unity and scope that foregrounds history, politics and race.
Adam O’Farrill’s Stranger Days – El Maquech (Biophilla)
Pliability sitting in front of the mirror and wondering if any aspect of music is more valuable than its own bad self. The Mexican folk music strains juice the post-bop approach and sit nicely with the Kahlo and Monk inspirations.
Pulse, sure. And lots of lift-off, too. But voicings and clusters and bundles of instruments expressing themselves in a very singular way.
Miles Okazaki – Work (Volumes 1-6) (Bandcamp)
Oodles of invention in this parade of 70 solo Monk pieces, which is wildly fetching in both the rhythm and melody realms. Buckle your seat belt for the wise redressing of “Raise Four” and grab a hanky for the sentiment floating through the chutes and ladders of “Boo Boo’s Birthday.” You can almost hear the guitarist shout “en garde!” when he approaches wielding “Hackensack.” And a thanks: I’m not sure I knew “Blue Hawk” existed before this.
Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret – The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12)
The music is basically a parade of particulars, and and it def has it’s itchy side. But most moments are so fluid it’s easy to be washed away with the ensemble’s momentum.
Thumbscrew – Theirs (Cuneiform)
Runaway repertory, wisely rendered thanks to runaway ideation.
Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings (International Anthem)
Completely thoughtful in its use of manipulated sound, and ballsy enough to eschew a steady density for the kind of lightness that the drummer/composer must hold in high regard.
Bill Frisell – Music IS (Okeh)
The playing speaks for itself – a confluence of poise, whimsy and personality. But the layout of this recital is truly inspired, each track – perhaps each phrase – linking to the next.
Adam Kolker & Russ Lossing – Whispers and Secrets (Fresh Sound)
Coos and sighs and examinations of life’s more impressionistic notions. Sweet nothings that turn out to be sweet somethings proud of DNA that harks to everything from “Karen On Monday” to “Lonely Fire.” This array of original ballads has a way of wafting through the room and then drifting right out the window. And its essence is alluring enough to make you want to chase after it.
Don Byron / Aruán Ortiz – Random Dance & (A)tonalities (Intakt)
They def get each other, and it’s great to hear Byron’s lines back in business again. There’s a warmth that gives these duets, which stretch from Geri’s “Dolphy Dance” to Duke’s “Black and Tan Fantasy” a heart-on-sleeve vibe some like-minded abstractions often lack.
JD Allen – Love Stone (Savant)
For the way JD chooses each note, adjudicates each note and cuddles each note. And for having the wisdom to invite Mr. Ellman along.
Andrew Cyrille – Lebrobra (ECM)
At first I found its meanderings a bit too loose. But when you’re spending time with masters, a logic always emerges, and these three-way chats between Frisell, Smith and Cyrille are mighty in a wonderfully hushed way.
Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFUNK Wet Robots (ESP)
Nothing really like it this year. The singer’s intrepid choices goose the sense of daring that the full quartet brings to the table. Here’s a review.
Miguel Zenón ft. Spektral Quartet – Yo Soy La Tradición (Miel)
A masterful portrait of dynamics, and an example of how the shading between foreground and background can be creatively manipulated.
Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints, Scandal (Greenleaf)
Lessons in Freebop: $10. Inquire within.
Luciana Souza The Book of Longing (Sunnyside)
Nothing less than enchanting. Souza’s one of the few singers who truly translates a poet’s non-musical phrases in a terrifically musical way.
Tim Berne/Matt Mitchell Angel Dusk (Screwgun)
They know each other’s moves, and give Berne’s sober scores the kind of warmth that brings out the drama of each idiosyncratic piece.
Jon Irabagon – Dr. Quixtotic’s Traveling Exotics (Irabagast)
The go-anywhere/do-anything boss was wise to tap Tim Hagans for a front line foil – he’s a slept-on go-anywhere/do-anything dude himself.
Mary Halvorson – The Maid With The Flaxen Hair — A Tribute to Johnny Smith (Tzadik)
Halvorson and Bill Frisell bonded over Smith’s genteel insights into melody and then shared a stroll through the songbook while prioritizing his soft touch. From “Scarlett Ribbons” to “Old Folks,” a peach of a disc.
Michael Leonhart Orchestra: The Painted Lady Suite (Sunnyside)
Some arrangers have the touch – they lay down the road and you follow ’em anywhere it goes. Leonhart is a composer too, of course. His expansive palette bubbles over with ideas. But it’s the way he lays out this sweep of horns that’s so seductive.
Various Artists We Out Here (Brownswood)
A big jolt of vitality from assorted UK artists who earned themselves a sizable audience and sweeping critically hosannas in 2018.
Frank Kimbrough – Monk’s Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk (Sunnyside)
A valuable repertory move, sure. But also a brisk joyride through a bounty of tunes that have been entertaining listeners for 60 years. Sound-wise, Scott Robinson’s sizable arsenal of horns keeps the changes coming fast.
Aaron Parks Little Big (RopeADope)
Moody and cinematic, Parks’ electric snapshots hard to Wayne Horvitz’s early experiments while giving futurefusion a good name.
Rich Halley 3 – The Literature (Pine Eagle)
A gnarly, joyful and daring frolic through the canon, from “Pussy Cat Dues” to “Broadway Blues.”
Cécile McLorin Salvant – The Window (Mack Ave)
Love the way she rolls through “I’ve a powerful anesthesia in my fist,” love the way she doesn’t try to out-swag Nat Cole, love the way she pinballs against Sullivan on “By Myself,” almost as if they’re not in the same quadrant. But they are. Virtuosity sets its own parameters.
Ambrose Akinmusire’s Origami Harvest (Blue Note)
Swings for the fences and hits it hard. Not easy to coordinate spoken word, string quartet and jazz trio. But trusting in the power of poetry, the trumpeter lassos all the action into a vivid, cohesive whole.
Joshua Redman – Still Dreaming (Nonesuch)
Repertory twice removed. Old and New Dreams bowed to OC, and these guys bow to Cherry, Haden, Redman and Blackwell. With inventiveness and originality always in the spotlight.
David Virelles – Igbó Alákọrin (The Singer’s Grove) Vol. I & II (Pi Recordings)
Not easy to give a traditional sound a modern resonance. But the pianist’s investigation teems with both pride in the past and a vehement view of the future possibilities.
Various Artists – Amarcord Nino Rota (Corbett vs Dempsey)
John Coltrane Both Directions at Once – The Lost Album (Impulse!)
Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau – Long Ago & Far Away (Impulse!)
Charles Mingus – Jazz in Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden (BBE)
Eric Dolphy – Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions (Resonance)