RJA friend and East Lansing jazz DJ Mike Stratton sends us his top ten for the year. We have some overlap, but mostly this shows what an incredible year this has been for new music, as I've not experienced more than half of his entries.
Alex Cline - CONTINUATION; CrytoGramophone
A quintet that features Peggy Lee on cello and Myra Melford on piano is a mighty beast, indeed. Violin, bass and percussion round out the band, with the band leader taking a back seat as a player, first chair as composer. #1 (Nourishing Our Roots) is a bitter sweet Asian melody that would sound at home in the soundtrack of a Kurosawa film. #5 (SubMerge) visits an interior soundscape that invites reflection. Another beautiful melody is introduced but the band turns introspective. #6 (On The Bones of the Homegoing Thunder) goes from stringed dis-harmony to avant-piano-trio rolling and tumbling, then allows for a harrowing cello exploration of the depths. Violin is accompainied then, by an anchoring piano figure, giving the listener a chance to take a breath. This is music that goes someplace, quite unexpected, and invites many repeat visits.
Jeff “Tain” Watts - WATTS; (Dark Key Music)
With a front line of Branford Marsalis and Terrence Blanchard and Christian McBride locking it up with the leader, this is a players date that is killer diller. Much jaw dropping fun to be had.
Vijay Iyer - HISTORICITY; ACT Music
Vijay’s vision of jazz is unique; complex, dense, cerebral. This disc features some new compositions as well as some interesting covers (West Side Story? M.I.A.?). Not the same type of Philip Glass influence as on earlier recordings (I miss that, actually). Use #2 (Somewhere) #3 (Galang) or the #8 (Mystic Brew). I think this guy is the real deal and is a major stepping stone in the developmental of jazz piano.
Etienne Charles - FOLKLORE; Etienne Charles
This is a little masterpiece. Trinidad born trumpeter Charles leads a band through a set of original compositions that call on influences from calypso to Miles. Charles’ rapport with saxist Jacques Scharz-Bart seems telepathic. A beautiful disc. Use tracks #1 (Folklore) or #3 (Dance with la Diablesse).
Joe Morris - WILDLIFE; AUM Fidelity
I played the longest track first on my show (#2, Thicket); Sax, drums and bass. Saxist Cancura is influenced by Albert Ayler. First track (Geometric) shows this effectively.
Christian McBride & Inside Straight - KIND OF BROWN; Mack Avenue
This is a great record of straight ahead stuff. McBride put the band together to headline at the Village Vanguard, then recorded it on Mack Avenue last fall. The addition of vibes (Warren Wolf) is a masterful stroke. McBride composes the majority of the tunes. Use #1 (Brother Mister), or #2 (Theme For Kareem).
Joe Lovano Us Five - FOLK ART; Blue Note
Lovano continues his string of strong Blue Note recordings by leading this band of (mostly) youngsters by bridging the gaps of Ornette flavored free forms and more inside progressions. Use #5 (Song For Judi) as a ballad. #6 (Drum Song) in a free context or #7 (Dbango).
Bob Sneider & Joe Locke - NOCTURNE FOR AVA; Origin Records
The Film Noir project, as the artists call it, is a sampling of theme music, from Last Tango In Paris to Blow Up. Evocative music, smooth (in a good way), smokey and sensual.
Steve Lehman Octet - TRAVIL, TRANSFORMATION, AND FLOW; Pi Recordings
A very late addition to my list. Great timbres and motion. Steve Reich minimalism is as much a source as is Mingus.
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble - ETERNAL INTERLUDE; Sunnyside
Another release by one of my new favorite band leaders. Hollenbeck is not just a formidable drummer, his abilities as a band leader and a composer are very striking. I hope he has a long, rich career.