It's that time of year again ...
1) SAM YAHEL TRIO - Truth And Beauty (Origin)
Previously known as Yaya3 and the Joshua Redman Elastic Band, the trio of organist Sam Yahel, saxophonist Joshua Redman and drummer Brian Blade eschews their usual electronics in favor of a stripped down organ combo sound on a collection of memorable compositions by the leader and covers of Ornette Coleman and Paul Simon.
2) KNEEBODY - Low Electrical Worker (Colortone Media)
Kneebody continues to create intriguing music that defies categorization. I had the pleasure of seeing the band perform at Bennington College this fall and was blown away, as expected. How this band can continue to stay just below the radar is beyond me.
3) KENDRICK SCOTT ORACLE - The Source (World Culture Music)
A varied collection of modern jazz compositions penned by the drummer featuring saxophonists Seamus Blake, Myron Walden & Walter Smith III, guitarists Mike Moreno, Lage Lund & Lionel Loueke, pianists Aaron Parks & Robert Glasper, bassist Derrick Hodge and vocalist Gretchen Parlato.
4) MIKE MORENO - Between The Lines (World Culture Music)
Having heard bootleg versions of several of these compositions, this studio collection of eight well crafted originals by the guitarist was well worth the wait. This one grew on me more and more with every listen.
5) E.S.T. - Live In Hamburg (ACT)
Released late in the year, this two disc set documents an evening with the Esbjorn Svennson Trio exactly as it went down from start to finish. These guys continue to be my hands-down favorite band in the world and the only thing that kept this from creeping up to number one was the fact that I love their studio recordings so much.
6) JEROME SABBAGH - Pogo (Sunnyside)
The French saxophonist's follow up to North (Fresh Sound New Talent) finds him surrounded with the same cast of characters - guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Ted Poor - interpreting eight of his intriguing original compositions.
7) MANU KATCHE - Playground (ECM)
On his second ECM release the drummer employs the same rhythm section as his debut - pianist Marcin Wasilewski and bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz (on loan from trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's quartet) - together with with a young horn section comprised of saxophonist Trygve Seim and trumpeter Mathias Eick. The music is a great mixture of what one would expect from the ECM label with a touch of Katche's pop background seeping in. David Torn's subtle guitar on two tracks is an added bonus.
8) SEAMUS BLAKE - Way Out Willy (Criss Cross)
It's been a while since Seamus Blake put out a record under his own name. He's always been one of my favorite musicians and this collection of six originals was, to use the overused cliche once again, well worth the wait. The saxophonist is joined by a pair of his usual compatriots - pianist Dave Kikoski , and drummer Bill Stewart - and two younger musicians - guitarist Lage Lund and bassist Orlando LeFleming.
9) BRAD SHEPIK TRIO - Places You Go (Songlines)
This was a pleasant surprise for me this year. I was familiar with Brad Shepik but I had never checked out his work as a leader. I think I first discovered this recording through MySpace and it's another organ trio but with leader's guitar instead of sax. These ten tunes just stuck with me - I never get tired of listening to this record.
10) MANUEL VALERA - Vientos (Anzic)
I'm not usually a fan of chamber jazz recordings but pianist Manuel Valera came up with just the right combination of jazz quartet and woodwind quintet for my tastes. The tunes are great and Joel Frahm absolutely tears it up on tenor and soprano.
EBERHARD WEBER - Stages of a Long Journey (ECM)
I first heard this music on Jason Crane's "The Jazz Session" podcast and immediately downloaded it from iTunes. This is an incredible recording of a live concert with the bassist's all star combo - featuring vibraphonist Gary Burton and saxophonist Jan Garbarek among others - backed by a full orchestra. Beautiful, beautiful music.
I also listen to music that isn't jazz from time to time. Here are a few more records I enjoyed this year:
RADIOHEAD - In Rainbows
THE SHINS - Wincing The Night Away (Sub Pop)
IRON & WINE - The Shepherd's Dog (Sub Pop)
FIRE FLIES - Two New Sciences (Asteroid B-612 Records)
SARAH PEDINOTTI - City Bird