This year we undertook a somewhat complex formula to determine our collective choices. Full explanation here.
1. Dave Douglas, Spirit Moves (Greenleaf Music). A sublime homage to the all-embracing, pop-inspired spirit of Lester Bowie. This is brass band jazz that inherits and ennobles several different traditions at once.
2. Darcy James Argue, Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam). With his “steampunk” big band Secret Society, Darcy James Argue seamlessly blends post-rock guitar, electronica-inspired textures and post-minimalist rhythms with the modern big band tradition that stretches from Thad Jones to Maria Schneider. He has a great blog, too.
3. Vijay Iyer, Historicity (ACT). Pianist Iyer is the man of the moment in the jazz blogosphere. He’s at the top of his game as a player, composer, and arranger (and explicator of his own work), and though he's been turning out fantastic stuff for over a decade, this trio record is his breakout disc. One of many high points: a totally rocking cover of M.I.A.’s “Galang.” That’s all the reason you need to check it out.
4. Ben Allison, Think Free (Palmetto). Allison continues his experiments with a sound that incorporates the rock, pop, and film music of his formative years--but with a new band, featuring holdover Steve Cardenas on guitar, trumpeter Shane Endsley replacing Ron Horton, Rudy Royston in the drummer's chair, and Humboldt homegirl Jenny Scheinman on violin.
5. Ron Horton, It's a Gadget World (ABeat). Horton is the most lyrical of the newer New York trumpeters. Even with an enormous, dark tone he creates finely shaped figures which contrast nicely against the complex rhythmic backgrounds provided by Antonio Zambrini’s elegant piano, Ben Allison’s fun-loving bass and Tony Moreno’s busy drumming.
6. John Hollenbeck, Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside). For his Large Ensemble, Hollenbeck writes lengthy, well-thought-out, richly detailed compositions with such a large palette of colors, rhythms and textures that the label "jazz" is no more adequate a description of it than any other that's yet been created.
7. Dafnis Prieto, Si ó Si Quartet Live at the Jazz Standard (Dafnison Music). Today’s most innovative young drummer polishes some compositional gems that he unwrapped in Arcata last spring. Nobody else makes polyrhythms sound so easy.
8. Joe Martin, Not By Chance (Anzic). There were a few higher-profile jazz “supergroup” albums this year, but this sleeper gets our vote for Most Noteworthy. Tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Brad Mehldau, and first-call drummer Marcus Gilmore (see Vijay Iyer Trio, above) put their oversized talents to work in the service of nine beautiful, swinging tunes by in-demand bassist Martin, who steps out of his usual sideman role to lead the session.
9. Miguel Zenón, Esta Plena (Marsalis Music). The intense young altoist returns with his freshest exploration yet of the crossroads of jazz and the folk traditions of his native Puerto Rico. They don't give MacArthur "genius" grants to just anybody.
10. Tom Harrell, Prana Dance (Half Note). The veteran trumpeter/flugelhornist’s second album with a quintet of energetic young apprentices (Danny Grissett, Wayne Escoffery, Ugonna Okegwo, Johnathan Blake) serves up catchy but complex compositions and water-tight playing.