2017: The Year in Jazz

The year 2017 was a thrilling one in jazz, bursting with new ideas, original voices, and irreverence. Jazz, for lack of a better word, is never in any one place at any one time — there are always many things happening within various mini-scenes, with talent coming from every direction—and from every generation (Roscoe Mitchell, at 77, is just as vital now as when he made his debut a half-century ago).

This year about four dozen records could’ve cracked any “best of” ranking, but here are 15 that had special resonance in 2017.

1. Nicole Mitchell: Mandorla Awakening II Emerging Worlds (FPE Records)

Mitchell released two albums in 2017: Liberation Narratives, a collaboration with the poet and founder of Third World Press Haki R. Madhubuti, and this Afrofuturist suite recorded live at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago two years ago during the 50th anniversary celebrations for the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Mitchell, on flute and electronics, composed and arranged all the music, and her Black Earth Ensemble—which includes the always compelling Tomeka Reid on cello—is electrifying. Alex Wing on guitar and avery r. young on vocals are revelations. A mesmerizing work and, to these ears, the record of the year. (Mitchell was the artist-in-residence earlier this month at NYC Winter Jazzfest.)

2. Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for the South Side (ECM)

Like Nicole Mitchell, the saxophonist and composer Roscoe Mitchell (no relation) presented the four trios here at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2015. (He was one of the original members of the AACM.) It includes long-time collaborators like Jaribu Shahid and Tani Tabbal, and new ones like the celebrated drummer Tyshawn Sorey (see below), who also plays piano and trombone on this outing. The overall effect is both ominous and joyous.

3. The Heliocentrics: A World of Masks (Soundway)

So many of Gil Scott-Heron’s lyrics seem as if they were written for today — “Winter in America,” “We Beg Your Pardon” — and none more so than “Is That Jazz?” This eclectic East London collective, which fuses jazz and funk with a wink to Sun Ra, is aided here by rising saxophone star Shabaka Hutchings (was also in town for Winter Jazzfest) and the ethereal vocalist Barbora Patkova. Is that jazz? I don’t know, and I don’t care. It’s an enthralling, unforgettable 45 minutes of music.

4. Trio Heinz Herbert: The Willisau Concert (Intakt)

Dominic Landolt (guitar), his brother, Ramon (keyboards, samples), and Mario Hänni (drums) are about as far away as you can get from a traditional trio. Their telepathic excursions, from quietly intense to out-and-out raucous, are best appreciated live. This album was recorded in Willisau, Switzerland, at one of the premier festivals for free and experimental jazz, famous also for the poster art by the festival’s founder, Niklaus Troxler. Rousing and unforgettable.

5. Tomas Fujiwara: Triple Double (Firehouse 12)

The 40-year-old drummer drifts from background to foreground with regular colleagues (and all-stars) Gerald Cleaver, Mary Halvorson, Brandon Seabrook, Ralph Alessi, and Taylor Ho Bynum. The results are electrifying and relentless. Brainy new-fusion that takes the roof off. One of the most exciting releases of this year.

6. Matthew Shipp: Piano Song (Thirsty Ear)

Shipp told this publication in early 2017 that he was going to stop recording. Blah, blah, blah. The East Village pianist can’t not record. His latest, on the label that cleared new paths within jazz under his leadership in the early 2000s, is one of his very best. That’s saying a lot. With the untrendy partners Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums, the results are rich, emotional, smart, and witty.

7. Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts (ECM)

One of the most admired pianists of this — or any — generation, Taborn has been on hundreds of recording sessions (including Roscoe Mitchell’s Bells for the South Side) but has never recorded prolifically as a leader, which makes this all the more special. Accompanied by the likes of Chris Speed, Chris Lightcap, and his fellow Minnesotan Dave King of the Bad Plus, Taborn conjures eerie, beautiful soundscapes, especially on electronics, in one of the year’s essential albums.

8. Irène Schweizer – Joey Baron: Live! (Intakt)

The veteran Swiss free-jazz pianist has made her reputation, in part, working in the unloved duo format with drummers like Han Bennink and Andrew Cyrille. On her latest, a live date in Zurich, she conspires with none other than Joey Baron. Her percussive attack, informed as much by pre-War stylings than of Cecil Taylor, artfully maneuvers around Baron, and she’s unafraid to clash toe-to-toe with him.

9. Eskelin/Weber/Griener: Sensations of Tone (Intakt)

The tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin has a sound and approach all his own, sinewy and off-kilter. He’s been part of New York’s downtown scene but is steeped in history, too. (He’s done the Great American Songbook, for instance.) Call him an abstract traditionalist. Along with Christian Weber on bass and Michael Griener on drums, the trio goes from early standards like Jelly Roll Morton’s “Shreveport Stomp” to its own group improvisations. Disorientating, and totally delightful.

10. Dayna Stephens: Gratitude (Contagious Music)

Stephens, another tenor sax player, is a musicians’ musician, thoughtful and brainy, with a wonderful tone. On this understated but complex effort (released on his own label he just started) he’s backed by the esteemed rhythm section of pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Eric Harland. As gorgeous as he is on tenor, Stephens’ finest moment may be on baritone saxophone in the Strayhorn-Ellington tune “Isfahan.”

11. William Parker: Meditation/Resurrection (AUM Fidelity)

The East Village bassist and composer has been a beacon in the downtown and international scenes for more than 40 years. He’s making some of his most adventurous and engaging music now. On this double album, he leads two quartets, one that includes the underdocumented pianist Cooper-Moore. Parker also appears on another AUM Fidelity find, the unreleased David S. Ware Trio Live in New York, 2010, when Parker and his late colleague lit up the Blue Note, an atypical venue for them.

12. Linda May Han Oh: Walk Against Wind (Biophilia Records)

The workmanlike Australian has been one of the most sought-after bassists in New York the last ten years. In her new album as a leader, she eschews bass solo pyrotechnics and instead focuses on her composing and the group dynamic. And what a group: Ben Wendel, Justin Brown, and Matt Stevens, young stars all. It was released on the new label started by the fine keyboardist Fabian Almazan, who marries new jazz talent with an environmental mission. The Village Voice was with her in the studio in Brooklyn when she recorded it.

13. Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (Pi Recordings)

It was a big year for the 37-year-old drummer: He received his doctorate of musical arts from Columbia University; started an assistant professorship at Wesleyan University (where he replaced Anthony Braxton); and won the big one, a MacArthur Fellowship. On his sixth album as a leader, a quiet but transfixing one, he leads a trio with the exceptional Cory Smythe on piano and Chris Tordini on bass. Sorey, like so many musicians young and old, doesn’t like the word “jazz.” Who can blame him; it feels, as Miles Davis might say, “corny.” He plays, he said in a recent tweet, MUSIC (the caps his). As Miles might also say, “Call it anything.”

14. Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die (International Anthem)

This debut by the 33-year-old Chicagoan now living in Brooklyn mixes live recordings and studio-enhanced work with startling results. Her trumpet playing is influenced by Booker Little and the technical experiments of Axel Dörner. Her former Chicago colleagues Tomeka Reid (again), drummer Chad Taylor, and bassist Jason Ajemian only enhance her compositions.

15. Cécile McLorin Salvant: Dreams and Daggers (Mack Avenue)

The 28-year-old singer is mature beyond her years and enjoys mining jazz and its environs from the early 20th century, like Josephine Baker’s “Si J’étais Blanche” (“If I Were White”). On Dreams and Daggers, she leads her stellar (and dapper) trio of Aaron Diehl (piano), Lawrence Leathers (drums), and Paul Sikivie (bass) through a (mostly) live set at the Village Vanguard. She’s affecting on “Somehow I Never Could Believe,” a piece from Street Scene, the underappreciated opera by Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes.

And if, like me, you treasure and pore over reissues (and newly discovered unreleased material), so many gems were put back into circulation in 2017.

Thelonious Monk’s full soundtrack to the Roger Vadim film Les Liaisons Dangereuses, never released in full until this year, was beautifully presented by Saga and Sam Records. If you really want to geek out on vinyl (and Monk), Craft Records has just put out The Complete Prestige 10-Inch Collection, a limited-edition box set of LPs Monk recorded for the label from 1952 to 1954.

Bass god Jaco Pastorius is in top form leading a cracking big band at Avery Fisher Hall in Truth, Liberty & Soul Live in NYC: The Complete 1982 NPR Jazz Alive! Recording (Resonance Records).

Hard-bop pianist Sonny Clark lived fast and died tragically at just 31. Long associated with Blue Note in its heyday, his trio date on another label, The 1960 Time Sessions with George Duvivier and Max Roach, has just been reissued on double vinyl by Tompkins Square.

Ornette Coleman’s Crisis and Ornette at 12 were out of print for decades and have been released for the first time on CD from Real Gone Music.

Pharoah Sanders’ greatest phase, you could argue, were the series of albums he did for the Impulse! label in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Three of those—Tauhid (1967), Jewels of Thought (’69), and Deaf Dumb Blind Summun Bukmun Umyun (’70)—were reissued by Anthology Records on vinyl, which somehow feels right.

The Jazz Dispensary, meanwhile, reissued some fertile 1970s work with Joe Henderson & Alice Coltrane’s The Elements, Gary Bartz NTU Troop’s Harlem Bush Music—Uhuru, and Azar Lawrence’s Bridge Into the New Age. What a year.


William Parker’s All-Inclusive Vision

William Parker settles in at a round table in his East Village apartment. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and he’s just arrived home from a string of European dates with his organ quartet, two of them in Italy, a country where Parker performs so often that he’s recognized in the street. In a couple of days he’ll head north to Tufts University for a performance and symposium on art, race, and politics. Not long after, he’ll be off to Peru to play with folk musicians. But today is for family and practicing.

Behind Parker is a large shelf full of vinyl records — he pulls out a beloved McCoy Tyner album, Reaching Fourth from 1963, when talking about how he’d pore over cover art and liner notes while he was growing up — and along the walls various instruments hang like objets d’art: waterphones, a kalimba from Mali, a Chilean trutruca, a bolon from Togo, two ngonis from West Africa, and some double-reed flutes.

Parker is one of the most acclaimed jazz bassists in the world, known for a sound that can alternate between the ferociously ecstatic and searchingly tender, but he can also play all of the above, as he’ll demonstrate later. In the meantime, though, he plops down a massive book, titled simply The William Parker Sessionography: A Work in Progress. Lovingly and doggedly compiled by the researcher Rick Lopez, it runs nearly five hundred pages and indexes Parker’s recordings — his own and those he’s done alongside Cecil Taylor, David S. Ware, John Zorn, and many other crucial figures in the worlds of free jazz and improvised music — as well as his concert dates going back to the downtown loft scene of the 1970s, where he broke in and was a fixture.

“There’s quite a lot in there,” says Parker, 65, whose range is, frankly, astonishing. The past decade has seen him interpret Duke Ellington and Curtis Mayfield; collaborate with vocalists such as Leena Conquest and Lisa Sokolov; devise an orchestral work, with the National Forum of Music Symphony in Poland, that included a children’s opera; and form a duo with classical bassist Stefano Scodanibbio. He recently recorded a bass-poetry duo with his wife, dancer-choreographer Patricia Nicholson Parker, and will soon release Meditation/Resurrection, a double album that finds him leading two quartets through some of the very best, and most accessible, music he’s made. And beginning Monday, May 29, he’ll perform five of the six nights of the annual Vision Festival, this year to be held at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South.

“I’ve always been that way: music, words, sound, organizing, plays, poetry,” says the quiet, cerebral Parker, who was raised in the Melrose and Claremont housing projects in the South Bronx. “It’s always been one thing. And I’m still trying every day to learn more.”

Parker has long been associated with the Vision Festival, now in its twenty-second year, but it is Patricia who founded it and remains its artistic director, running it with her daughter Miriam and her cousin Todd Nicholson. Patricia describes the festival as “built on the intersection of social justice [and] great art.” To wit, on Friday, June 2, a roving band of musicians that she organized under the name Artists for a Free World will be part of a rally at Washington Square Park, near the festival site — one of the more than a dozen such marches Artists for a Free World have participated in since Inauguration Day. “We now have a common enemy,” she says. “Maybe that’s one of the things that unites people better, which is kind of sad, but it’s also a good outcome. Whatever helps us to be where we should be — and who and how we should be.”

This year’s Vision Festival will honor Cooper-Moore — the maverick pianist, educator, and inventor of handmade instruments — with a Lifetime Achievement award. The festival actually opens on Sunday, May 28, not with music, but with a night of short films at Anthology Film Archives, including Ashimba: A Portrait of Cooper-Moore. The following night Cooper-Moore will lead his group Digital Primitives as well as play in Parker’s quartet with drummer Hamid Drake and alto saxophonist Rob Brown.

That’s one of two quartets featured on Parker’s Meditation/Resurrection. The other features Drake and Brown along with modern classical trumpeter Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson. The album opens with a composition titled “Criminals in the White House,” though it’s not exactly what you might think: It was written in 2001, Parker says, “for Baby Bush.” “Give Me Back My Drum” — part of a larger piece on Martin Luther King Jr. that Parker has been working on since 2014 — gathers momentum over its eleven-plus minutes to take on the rollicking feel of a Charles Mingus composition. “Sunrise in East Harlem” is dedicated to Cooper-Moore (who lives in that neighborhood) and finds the pianist and Parker’s arco bass in perfect symbiosis.

Meditation/Resurrection also includes a piece dedicated to Oliver Lake, the saxophone lion, who will appear at the Vision Festival on Tuesday, May 30, with two other giants, Andrew Cyrille and Reggie Workman, in Trio 3. The album ends with “Orange Winter Flower,” for the poet David Budbill, with whom Parker recorded in 2015, as the writer was confronting his own death. The delicately abstract cover art for Meditation/Resurrection was done by Budbill’s widow, Lois Eby; one of her paintings hangs in William and Patricia’s apartment.

After I leave, Parker tells me, he’ll practice his bass — as he does every day — but as I walk out he’s alone in the living room playing a South American flute. He’s got the windows open, so I can hear it out in the street, which brings to mind something else he’d said earlier: “You come to the point of, ‘Well, the music is beautiful, but nobody knows about it.’ But you’re playing for nature. If I play a note on my bass, or any of these instruments, maybe there’s nobody listening. But the earth is listening, the environment. It’s going somewhere. It’s not useless. Once you understand that, everything you do is important.”


Vijay Iyer

It’s often said the celebrated pianist’s killer trio draws upon the Carnatic music of his heritage, and this week of gigs with various confreres might underscore those allusions. His insightful piano will be matched with percussion instruments such as the mrudangam, kanjira, and tabla on various nights. And electronics enter the picture as well. Perhaps the most enticing excursion is a new unit with violinist Mari Kimura and bassist William Parker. Multiple visits?

July 31-Aug. 4, 10 p.m., 2013


Grass Roots

For 16 years, Brooklyn’s AUM Fidelity label has unleashed glorious throngs of otherworldly music, presenting New York’s avant-garde jazz royalty like David S. Ware, William Parker, and Matthew Shipp. Now, Grass Roots can be added to its paramount stable, and tonight, the Herculean quartet—featuring dueling sax masters Darius Jones and Alex Harding, bassist Sean Conley, and drummer Chad Taylor—celebrate the release of their self-titled debut. Like the gurus they are, Grass Roots effortlessly bounce from epic blues-‘n’-soul throb, swinging bebop, improvisational wizardry and chaotic skronking, sometimes all within the same composition.

Thu., Dec. 13, 7 & 8:30 p.m., 2012


Smashing Jazzheads on the Punk Rock with AUM Fidelity

‘My concept of a label came from SST Records in high school when I was getting into punk rock,” explains Steven Joerg, owner, operator, and sole employee of the Brooklyn-based “jazz-forward” label AUM Fidelity. “My introduction to them was when I got The Blasting Concept compilation with the [Raymond] Pettibon drawing on the cover. I was like, ‘What the fuck? Whoa.’ “

Pettibon’s trademark grisly art—a scrawl of a scuzzball dude choking the life from a chick sprawled naked below him—both epitomized Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn’s ’80s Amerindie institution and imprinted the jolting imprint of its DIY aesthetic on Joerg’s psyche. Sixteen years have passed since he launched AUM Fidelity after selling his car and half of his record collection, not to mention liquidating his savings and taking out a loan. He has remained as staunchly independent and music-driven as SST was to this day. “I was all about introducing this work to the world,” he recalls. “It was about having worldwide distribution and recording amazing albums. And that remains the main thing I do.”

Avant-garde legend John Zorn personally tabbed Joerg to curate his Avenue C experimental and avant-garde nest the Stone for the second half of June. AUM Fidelity’s stacked roster of jazz visionaries, including saxman David S. Ware and the revelatory duo of rising sax virtuoso Darius Jones and the veteran pianist Matthew Shipp, will set the tiny space ablaze during the course of the month.

Joerg first honed his chops at Bar/None Records before landing at Homestead as label manager in 1992, when it possessed a trailblazer-stacked roster (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and Big Black). Upon arrival, Joerg, who was “not a jazz historian but certainly well-versed in its history,” set forth a radical vision—integrating jazz on a predominantly indie-rock imprint—that sent him on what he calls, quite seriously, a “mission from God.”

“It started with [free jazz drummer] William Hooker, actually,” Joerg explains. “That was the initial entrée. William was playing with Thurston [Moore] and Lee [Ranaldo] in the rock clubs and going in that realm. William sent me a postcard in the mail—very old-school. He wrote, ‘Hey, how can I present something that Homestead could put out?’ I sent him a postcard back saying, ‘Yeah, send me a tape, certainly.’ I was familiar with him and seen him a few times. And the tape he sent me became the album that came out: Radiation.”

That cataclysmic free-improv shredder came out in 1994, and AUM Fidelity slowly came to be after that. First, Joerg forged relationships with the then-obscure triumvirate of Ware, William Parker (bass), and Shipp. “Matt had a duet record with William on a Texas punk-rock label which had a distro deal with Dutch East,” Joerg recalls. “He was in the office on a regular basis, dropping off presses and saying ‘hey’ to the Dutch East salespeople—hustling, basically. So I got to know Matt that way. He knew I put out the Hooker record. One day, Matt came in and gave me a David S. Ware Quartet record, Third Ear Recitation. I went home, listened to it, and was completely bowled over.”

After hitting the Knitting Factory on Houston to see the Ware Quartet, Joerg was sold. “I saw them two weeks later and when first meeting David, I was nervous because he’s an imposing individual, artistically and being a big dude,” he reminisces. “Seeing him play live, I was blown away; it was one of the greatest musical experiences I’ve had.” Alas, he faced a tough sell to Homestead’s upper echelon. “The idea of signing the Ware Quartet was a bit of a stretch, but I convinced them. The first record we did—Cryptology—ended up being the lead review in Rolling Stone.”

Joerg left Homestead in 1996, and the next year AUM released the Ware Quartet’s Wisdom of Uncertainty, then Parker’s Sunrise in the Tone World. “I knew I wanted to do my own thing, focus on this jazz music and these artists,” says Joerg. “It was a big leap, but I was completely moved by the music.” Parker was an instant convert to Joerg’s artist-friendly, split-profits philosophy that was born from his punk-rock lineage, and the antithesis of the business models used by vanguard jazz labels such as Impulse! or ESP-Disk.

“During the ’70s, it was hard to find a record company interested in my music,” Parker explains via email. “I was a New York musician, and some of us were labeled hardcore avant-garde. So we put out our own recordings. But underneath, I knew it was the musician’s job to play music and the job of the record company to produce, sell, and distribute the music on the same level as the music itself. Steven Joerg does just that: record the music with compassion. He overlooks each aspect of the process: from the artwork which he designs, to distribution and to the bookkeeping, which is a very important part of the process. I can totally trust him and consider him an extra member of the band.”

Joerg’s modest persona results in him squirming when he has to talk about himself. He’d rather discuss AUM’s newest releases: Farmers by Nature, a full-on improv unit led by the shape-shifting pianist Craig Taborn whose compositions juxtapose frenetic maelstroms and subtle nuances; the strident tenor blast of Planetary Unknown, featuring Ware’s first-ever collaboration with Cooper-Moore and the recorded debut of late drums legend Rashied Ali’s brother, Mohammed Ali; and Cosmic Lieder, Jones’s and Shipp’s otherworldly, soul-searching melding of alto sax and piano.

Most of these pioneering avant-gardists will be gracing the Stone’s storied, mangy floor (on which Yoko fuckin’ Ono writhed just weeks ago), as will improv guitar-picking purveyor Joe Morris, the furious punk-jazz terrorists Little Women (with Jones), and silky jazz-funk troupe Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys (with Jones, yet again). Joerg happened upon the omnipresent, talented Jones (who will be playing no fewer than three projects at the Stone) at the Williamsburg music pub Zebulon, something for which the fledgling alto composer is forever grateful. “Personally and professionally, Steven has been a blessing to me. When he first approached me to be a part of AUM, I had no idea what that would look like,” Jones says via email. “After recording my debut Man’ish Boy with him, I realized I had found a friend and that necessary element to help my musical career blossom.”

Joints like Park Slope’s multicultural music nook Barbès, Gowanus’s experimental haven Issue Project Room, and performance/art space Littlefield book Joerg’s stable of musicians regularly. “Yes, I’ve played a role in getting the music world to know Ware and Parker,” says Joerg. “But as far as creating a ‘scene’? No. I’m happy to have been there at the right place and right time and been inspired to take action to introduce ‘Jazz Now.’ Every-body who loves music loves some part of Coltrane, right? I wanted to introduce people to these men and that remains the reality: These giants walk among us now, and you got to fucking pay attention.”

AUM Fidelity’s Steven Joerg curates the Stone June 16 through 30


‘The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield’

In conjunction with a new Aum Fidelity release, bassist William Parker assembles a first-rate band of relative outsiders–including Sabir Mateen (saxophone), Hamid Drake (drums), and Dick Griffin (trombone)–to reignite the incendiary melodic momentum of America’s most politically inclined soul star. Singer Leena Conquest adds vocals and occasional dramatizations, while poet Amiri Baraka supplies occasional color-coded interjections such as “353 shades of darkness” and “250 flavors of invisible.”

Fri., Jan. 21, 7 p.m., 2011


Jazz Consumer Guide: Low-End Theories

Pick Hits

Adam Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra

Ashcan Rantings | Clean Feed

Like Mingus, Lane plays a mean bass, composes pieces that encapsulate the entire jazz tradition and then some, and runs a band that sounds even bigger than it is. His new group dispenses with guitar to deploy seven horns, doubling up on trumpet and trombone for cozy warmth as well as freewheeling action. Yet below all that brass, the bass dominates the tone and pulse, holding the power back so it’s more implied than felt, except when the throttle opens. A

William Parker

I Plan to Stay a Believer | AUM Fidelity

Long awaited. Parker unveiled his inside take on Curtis Mayfield’s political thoughts in 2001 and has shopped it around ever since, finally collecting slices from six concerts up through 2008 onto two discs. Leena Conquest sings, Amiri Baraka waxes eloquent, ad hoc choirs come and go, and the groove picks up some swing and a bunch of horns. “This Is My Country” could shut down a tea party, or launch another. A


Epileptical West | Clean Feed

Leader/alto-saxophonist Martin Küchen’s other group is Exploding Customer. Trumpeter Magnus Broo’s main group is Atomic. There seem to be scads of young Scandinavians who cut their teeth in rock bands, then switched to jazz when they found they could play wilder, and maybe even louder. A sextet, with trombone for extra dirt and vibes for extra sparkle, live and loose in Coimbra. A

Tommy Babin’s Benzene

Your Body Is Your Prison | Drip Audio

Although the hype sheet suggests “improv/space rock,” this is more dense than spacey, and doesn’t rock so much as bring the noize. The bassist-leader introduces two Chads, his star MacQuarrie on guitar, and Makela beefing up the bottom on bari sax. The group name and title suggest art/music that’s toxic and inflammable, and maybe we’re too far gone not to indulge it. A MINUS

The Nels Cline Singers

Initiate | Cryptogramophone

No vocals, just a guitar trio that’s been around a while, took a backseat while Cline pursued other projects (including a day job with Wilco), then decided they had something to prove. Two discs, a brainy one cut in the studio with lots of ideas and a few guests, and a brawny one recorded live that sounds like Cline learned something playing arenas, and that he’s delighted not to be backing a vocalist. A MINUS

Anat Cohen

Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard | Anzic

A couple of songs beg comparison to Barney Bigard and don’t flinch, and her “Body and Soul” is worthy of Gary Giddins’s mixtape. It helps that the Peter Washington–Lewis Nash rhythm section is the best that mainstream has to offer, and that pianist Benny Green keeps pace. Helps even more that she answers any reservations I had about her poll-winning clarinet work. A MINUS

Freddy Cole

Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B | HighNote

Mr. B is ’40s crooner Billy Eckstine, whose rich baritone and studly swagger have left him irretrievably passé. No such problem for Cole, whose soft touch pries these gems loose as surely as Houston Person’s tenor sax shines them up. A MINUS

Bill Frisell

Beautiful Dreamers | Savoy Jazz

The Norman Rockwell of jazz guitarists, growing ever more comfortable framing his string-toned Americana, with Eyvind Kang’s viola for flair and Rudy Royston’s drums for emphasis. The signposts are as familiar as “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Goin’ Out of My Head.” The originals cast unexpected highlights. A MINUS

Fred Hersch Trio

Whirl | Palmetto

Returning from a two-month coma: They say near-death focuses the mind, but so does working with a superior bass-drums combo—John Hébert and Eric McPherson—and focusing on your own legacy instead of cranking out another songbook tribute. If he sounds like his idol, Bill Evans, he isn’t bouncing back. He’s just being true. A MINUS

Oleg Kireyev/Keith Javors

Rhyme & Reason | Inarhyme

A Russian saxophonist from deep in the Urals, Kireyev worked his way through Poland to the U.S., where he studied under Bud Shank. His recent Mandala tapped into diverse streams of world fusion, but here he teams up with pianist Javors for an album of insouciant mainstream, fresh enough to do his late mentor proud. A MINUS

Myra Melford’s Be Bread

The Whole Tree Gone | Firehouse 12

She’s a dazzling piano player when she takes charge, but mostly she holds back, letting Brandon Ross’s guitar, Ben Goldberg’s clarinet, and Cuong Vu’s trumpet shape and color her seductive compositions. When she does cut loose, the whole band lifts up. A MINUS

Sounds of Liberation

Sounds of Liberation [1972] | Porter

Before the dark age of conservatism descended upon us, before Reagan, just before Watergate, this is what the future that might have been sounded like: funky conga rhythms sprinkled with sparkling Khan Jamal vibes, topped with Byard Lancaster’s avant-sax all but screaming freedom, justice, good times. A MINUS


The Stryker/Slagle Band

Keeper | Panorama

Dave Stryker’s fleet guitar changes, warmed up with Steve Slagle’s blues-inflected alto sax, with dependable bassist Jay Anderson and redoubtable drummer Victor Lewis keeping time: Postbop journeymen pull a minor masterpiece out of decades of earnest toil. A MINUS

Henry Threadgill Zooid

This Brings Us To: Volume II | Pi

More of last year’s hit, and better, I’d say: The flute never flails against the tense, jagged rhythms, and contrasts neatly with tuba or trombone, while guitarist Liberty Ellman spins ever more elaborate lines. A MINUS

Vandermark 5

Annular Gift | Not Two

With Fred Lonberg-Holm’s cello and electronics broadening the palette—including what sounds like a more refined return to Jeb Bishop’s guitar—the band returns to Alchemia in Krakow, and whips out a furious set that stands proudly alongside the Alchemia box. A MINUS

Honorable Mentions

Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark

Milwaukee Volume/Chicago Volume | Smalltown Superjazz

Two nights of smoldering sax and lascivious clarinet knocked about by a drummer who rocks in no known time.


With Ron Miles | Tapestry

This Colorado sax trio remains intimate enough to merit the introspective moniker, as Miles’s cornet fits in and draws them out.

Allison Miller

Boom Tic Boom | Foxhaven

Drummer-led trio, an even better showcase for Myra Melford’s piano than her own album.

James Blood Ulmer

In and Out | In+Out

As his grizzled vocals sink deeper into the blues, his harmolodic guitar skitters beyond.

Vijay Iyer

Solo | ACT

Can the best jazz pianist of the last decade do a solo album? Sure, easy.

Bryan and the Haggards

Pretend It’s the End of the World
Merle’s melodies run through the mill, from Bird to Ornette to Ayler.

Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin

Llyria | ECM

Precision Swiss movement, more dazzling at high speed than when they settle for ambience.

Steve Turre

Delicious and Delightful | HighNote

Bright, bold flavors: Billy Harper, Larry Willis, and the trombonist, of course. Even the conch shell contributes.

Ralph Alessi

Cognitive Dissonance | CAM Jazz

Everyone’s favorite sideman brings his trumpet out front, outshining even pianist Jason Moran.

Rova & the Nels Cline Singers

The Celestial Septet | New World

Sax quartet and guitar trio, a perfectly matched band, but sometimes they cancel out each other’s idiosyncrasies.

Peter Evans Quartet

Live in Lisbon | Clean Feed

With pianist Ricardo Gallo tossing bombs every which way, a tough venue for a hard-playing trumpeter.

David Murray Black Saint Quartet

Live in Berlin | Jazzwerkstatt

The piano and bass slots aren’t much, but muscular bass clarinet and monster sax prevail.

James Moody

4B | IPO

Finely aged standards, no rough edges, no flute—just tenor sax framed for posterity, or a romantic dinner.

Erica Lindsay/Sumi Tonooka

Initiation | ARC

Unheralded stars team up: Spare, Coltrane-ish sax thrashes a bit with rich, loquacious piano.

Paul Motian/Chris Potter/ Jason Moran

Lost in a Dream | ECM

Enigmatic drummer sets two stars adrift, trying to make sense of nothing.

Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet + 1

3 Nights in Oslo | Smalltown Superjazz

Five discs, two with the large band in full fury, three cleaving off subsets deconstructing the mischief.

Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton + Peter Evans

Scenes in the House of Music | Clean Feed

Trumpet enfant terrible can’t rattle the old guys of the Anglo avant-garde.

Curtis Fuller

I Will Tell Her | Capri

A classic Detroit cruiser from the 1950s, the trombonist’s band spiffed up with Keith Oxman’s tenor sax and Al Hood’s trumpet.

William Parker

At Somewhere There | Barnyard

Long bass solo, mild and creamy as those things go, followed by experiments on dousn’gouni and double flute.

Roscoe Mitchell and the Note Factory

Far Side | ECM

A double quartet clash: two drummers, two bassists, two thrashing pianos, trumpet sparks to ignite the leader’s sax.

Nels Cline

Dirty Baby | Cryptogramophone

An art box of Ed Ruscha paintings, bracketed by a guitar tour de force on one disc, meaty scraps on another.

Gia Notte

Shades | Gnote

Tasty standards from Ellington, Weill, and the usual suspects, saxed up by Don Braden.

David Weiss & Point of Departure

Snuck In | Sunnyside

Twenty-first-century Jazz Messengers, with horns sparring, guitar slinking, and nothing as obvious as hard bop.

Nils Petter Molvaer

Hamada | Thirsty Ear

Two bass-and-drums eruptions break the Arctic chill of trumpet and electronic ambience.

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green

Apex | Pi

Ever the chameleon, he could pass for Green’s old partner, Sonny Stitt, at the bebop joust.

Mort Weiss

Raising the Bar | SMS Jazz

Small businessman, picked up the clarinet at 65, plays solo on well-worn covers, gets by on charm.

Nilson Matta’s Brazilian Voyage

Copacabana | Zoho

The bass pulse of Brazil, with Harry Allen’s elegant sax swing and wisps of flute.


Jason Robinson

The Two Faces of Janus | Cuneiform

Backed with a fleet-footed band, with crucial interventions by Marty Ehrlich and Rudresh Mahanthappa.


Quiet Inlet | ECM

Thomas Strønen’s electronics overcome his percussion, devolving into ambiencelaced with Iain Ballamy reeds.

Brad Mehldau

Highway Rider | Nonesuch

Two discs of string-swept pastorale, dotted by the occasional Joshua Redman oasis.


Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis

Cerulean Landscapes | Clean Feed

Sax-piano duets, limited palette, fancy abstractions. B

Metropole Orkest

54 | Emarcy

Vince Mendoza rolls out so much red carpet for John Scofield that nobody notices the guest star. B MINUS

Puttin’ on the Ritz

White Light/White Heat | Hot Cup

Sometimes, when they try to kill, they only maim themselves. C PLUS


William Parker+Rob Brown+Gerald Cleaver

Call it a micro Vision Fest that’s welcoming the new year with an evening of duets and trios. Bassist William Parker’s earthy thump will inspire the dance movements of Patricia Nicholson. Gerald Cleaver’s mercurial percussion strategies will prompt the improvised vocals of Jean Carla Rodea. Cellist Daniel Levin will bob and weave with saxophonist Rob Brown. And the evening’s closer: A Parker/Cleaver/Brown amalgam should put a 2011 spin on the term “pliability.”

Mon., Jan. 3, 7 p.m., 2011


‘2010 VisionFest Presents Akron/Family’

It doesn’t take much to get Akron/Family to play freely. This time, their excuses are tunes-in-progress from an album-in-progress; at Music Hall of Williamsburg in March, new jams took up more than half the show. Tonight, it’s the fact that they’re the closing set of the even-freer VisionFest. They’ll be joined by bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake (who added heavy levitations to 2006’s fantastic mini-LP Meek Warrior). The tunes are Afro-psych-something, and even if Akron/Family don’t sing about love and space anymore, that’s exactly where they’re still pointed. With William Parker’s Southern Satellites and [the] Slowest Runner [in All the World].

Wed., June 30, 8 p.m., 2010


Jazz Consumer Guide: A Summer Suite of Harmonic Disorder

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York
Summer Suite

With esteemed freethinkers at every position—including Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby on tenor sax, and Steven Bernstein and Herb Robertson on trumpet—this big band packs fierce solo power, but Fujii flexes all that muscle masterfully. Her suite runs the loud-quiet, sweet-sour gamut, a model of tight composition and daring arrangement, driven by a rhythm section that hews close enough to the beat and a trio of trombones that do the heavy lifting. A

The Matthew Shipp Trio
Harmonic Disorder
Thirsty Ear

His early records were strictly avant-garde piano, often in improv duos, but when he took command of this experimental rock label’s jazz series, he cranked up the electronics and folded in DJ beats, inventing avant-jazztronica on such releases as Nu Bop and Harmony and Abyss. Lately, he’s reverted to solo and trio albums, less to shore up his jazz-pianist cred than to prove he never really needed electronics to deliver dense harmonics and snappy rhythm. Nods to Monk and Powell recall roots he has moved beyond. A

Arild Andersen
Live at Belleville

One of the young Norwegians George Russell took under his wing in the late 1960s, bassist Andersen isn’t as well known as Jan Garbarek or Terje Rypdal, with a big chunk of discography under Masqualero, a group now better known for Nils Petter Molvaer. Just a trio here: Andersen’s playing is masterful, but it’s hard to concentrate when tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith gets up a full head of steam. A MINUS

Patricia Barber
The Cole Porter Mix
Blue Note

She takes Porter as a fellow modernist and drags him into a world where modernity’s future has dimmed. The songs are slower, sadder, and hazier, their flippant irony transmuted into ambiguity. The guitar-driven music is, if anything, even more Art Deco and elegant than her singing. Chris Potter’s tenor-sax breaks grab you every time, then fade into the smoke. A MINUS

Jorge Lima Barreto
Zul Zelub
Clean Feed

Impromptu solo-piano constructions over João Marques Carrilho’s ambient electronics: random radio sweeps on the 45:12 “Zul,” four CD players cycling air-earth-water-fire ambience on the 30:10 “Zelub.” It’s never clear whether it’s Barreto or the listener who turns the randomness into meaning and makes conceptual art real. A MINUS

François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Jean-Jacques Avenel

Canadian alto-saxophonist Carrier started out chasing that old Trane, but with longtime drummer chum Lambert, he finally caught the spirit and found his own sound. Steve Lacy bassist Avenel pushes them even further inside their telepathic free-jazz vein. A MINUS

François Carrier
The Digital Box

A scrapbook of the saxophonist’s trek spread out on seven downloadable CD-Rs: one from 1999 with Dewey Redman, plus various 2004-06 sets, including two duos with drummer Michel Lambert, the rest adding bass and sometimes guitar. De trop, you might think, but the introspection keeps drawing me in as he fleshes out his world. A MINUS

Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble
Proverbs for Sam [2001]
A belated tribute to alto-saxophonist Sam Furnace, who died in 2004, but who, in this Vision Festival set, holds the musical center with super-bassist William Parker, while the leader’s squeaky Asian double-reeds (soona, shenai, nagaswaram, didgeridoo), Cooper-Moore’s diddly bow, and multiple percussionists swarm in pursuit of their otherworldly avant-exotica. A MINUS

Satoko Fujii Trio
Trace a River

The pianist plays a jaunty little figure, then the notes descend into a loud crash. She wends her way through meditative quiet, then all hell breaks loose. The often-inscrutable bassist Mark Dresser finds he can push a groove as hard as anyone, and drummer Jim Black relishes every moment. A MINUS

William Parker Quartet
Petit Oiseau
AUM Fidelity

Two freewheeling horns backed by the hardest-working rhythm section in avant-jazz (the leader on bass and Hamid Drake on drums), this has been a glorious group ever since O’Neal’s Porch dropped in 2000. Here, surprisingly, the horns hew to the heads, and the pulse conjures hard bop. That’s what happens when the leader’s writing evolves from scenarios into full-blown songs. A MINUS

Brad Shepik


The liner notes lecture on anthropogenic climate change and name-drop a reading list I can vouch for as some of the best nonfiction of the last decade-plus. The music is a different sort of human activity. Shepik’s guitar, sax, and tambura skitter across a world of rhythms, most obviously from the Balkans, where Ralph Alessi’s trumpet and Gary Versace’s accordion converge. A MINUS

Cedar Walton
Seasoned Wood
High Note

The 74-year-old pianist does a lot of little things he rarely gets credit for, like writing for horns—Vincent Herring and Jeremy Pelt never enter a song here unless they have something cogent to say, which isn’t always the case on their own albums. The pianist is in top form, too, maybe because Peter Washington and Al Foster leave him no slack. A MINUS


Honorable Mentions

Count Basie Orchestra
Mustermesse Basel 1956 Part 1 [1956]

Early New Testament band, the arrangements just barely subatomic, but with Old Testament virtues, like soloists who aren’t just cogs in the machine.

Jimmy Rushing
The Scene [1965]
High Note

His blues touched by grace, charm, and swing, a singer who could bring out the old-time religion in brothers Sims and Cohn.

Raoul Björkenheim/William Parker/Hamid Drake
DMG @ the Stone: Volume 2

Slash-and-grind guitar supported by the rhythm section, with a snake-charming shawm bonus.

Diana Krall
Quiet Nights

Warmed by soft Claus Ogerman strings, melting the heartbreak of the cold North with nice little samba songs.

Bebo Valdés & Javier Colina
Live at the Village Vanguard
Calle 54/Norte

Cuban classics made simple, just bass supporting the 86-year-old master.

Ahmad Jamal
It’s Magic

An old pianist with a light touch, his trio fluffed up with extra percussion, his catchy melodies undiminished.

Bridge Quartet

Saxman Phil Dwyer cooks up some Rollins, Parker, and Monk with an intriguing spice from “Isfahan.”

Andy Middleton
The European Quartet Live

A saxophonist with patient poise on the slow ones and fierce resolve on the fast ones.

Michael Bates
Greenleaf Music

Bassist-led pianoless quartet, the tight writing neatly binding a dense, complex thrash of trumpet and sax.

Evan Parker/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble

Roscoe Mitchell leads a feisty American contingent to this avant-garde summit, but Parker prevails, his soprano sax rising above it all.

Gato Libre

Natsuki Tamura’s avant-folk quartet, with Kazuhiko Tsumura’s tart guitar and Satoko Fujii’s swaying accordion.

Luis Lopes
Humanization 4Tet
Clean Feed

Guitarist-composer’s date, but all the choice spots go to heavyweight tenor-saxophonist Rodrigo Amado.

Brad Leali-Claus Raible Quartet
D.A.’s Time

Swing saxophonist in a bebop quartet brings out the Bird—but also the funk.

Todd Coolman
Perfect Strangers

A quintet of hard-bop all-stars play seven compositions mailed in by strangers.

Donald Bailey
Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 3
Talking House

Jimmy Smith’s old drummer gets the call and flares out to Odean Pope, who crashes upfield and lets Charles Tolliver kick the extra point.

Craig Enright
La Belleza

Straightforward Omaha saxophonist leads Afro-Cuban group, transposing “Iowa Folk Song” and “Bata Boogie.”

Roger Davidson & Raúl Jaurena
Pasión por la Vida

Pianist Davidson writes a batch of tangos; Jaurena’s bandoneón renders his fascination classic.

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber
Making Love to the Dark Ages
Live Wired

Embracing the real dark side: furtive, resilient, and so clever it could pass harmlessly as mood music.

Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii

Husband-wife duets, his trumpet warm and supportive, her piano stark and brash.

Satoko Fujii/Myra Melford
Under the Water

Two avant-pianists square off for three duets and a solo apiece, rumbling and waxing eloquent.

Scotty Barnhart
Say It Plain
Unity Music

Basie ghost trumpeter runs rings around the post-Marsalis neo-trad playpen.

John Ettinger/Pete Forbes
Ettinger Music

Violinist and drummer, switching on keyboards and setting up loops—compellingly fast and intriguingly slow, lovely when they tune in “Stardust.”

Steve Herberman Trio
Reach Music

Subtly hinting at Wes Montgomery groove and Joe Pass craftsmanship.

Wolfert Brederode

Another gray world, the palette thinned down to acoustic piano and clarinet.

Jamie Davis
Vibe Over Perfection
Unity Music

Forty years ago, he would have been a terrific soul singer, but the moment passed, so he looks back to Basie.

Michel Sajrawy
Writings on the Wall

Israeli guitarist who feels Palestinian plays Montgomery lines with Arabesque fillips.

Bo’s Art Trio
Live: Jazz Is Free and So Are We!

The poet’s sane revolution is just for fun, like Bo van de Graaf’s sax.

Billy Harper
Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 2
Talking House

Amiri Baraka’s blues people, from Africa to be-bop and hip-hop, atop churchly sax vamps and big-band breaks.

Junk Box
Sunny Then Cloudy

More Satoko Fujii–Natsuki Tamura jousts, with John Hollenbeck’s fractured martial drums stirring up trouble.

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Nagoya

An exhilarating blast of sci-fi fusion with occasional squawkfests and crashes.

Anthony Braxton/Kyle Brenders
Toronto (Duets) 2007

Tight sax dialogues, mostly soprano/sopranino, depend on little things signifying.


Tim Ries
Stones World: The Rolling Stones Project II

A worldwide tour promoting the Stones’ great idea: miscegenation. B

The Blue Note 7:
Blue Note

Too mod for the Bill Charlap trio; too congested for the extra horns and guitar. B

East West Quintet
Native Language Music

Not only do they not know how to fuse jazz and rock, but this Brooklyn group is even confused about its name. C PLUS