Here are ten albums I really enjoyed this year:
1. Brad Mehldau - Highway Rider (Nonesuch)
In 2002, pianist Brad Mehldau teamed up with pop producer Jon Brion to produce Largo - an incredibly influential jazz/rock crossover album that successfully combined spontaneous improvisation with pop production values. Eight years later the two have reconvened to produce Highway Rider - a fifteen song double album featuring Mehldau's regular trio of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard augmented by saxophonist Joshua Redman, drummer Matt Chamberlin and a chamber orchestra. The music melds the duo's previous jazz/pop hybrid with a decidedly classical influence featuring Redman's saxophone improvisations floating seamlessly over the top.
2. Myron Walden In This World - What We Share (Demi Sound)
For most of his career Myron Walden has primarily been known as an alto player. Recently his focus has shifted to the tenor and this year he documened this transition with a handful of new releases from several different bands. In This World is comprised of Walden on tenor/soprano sax & bass clarinet; Mike Moreno on electric & acoustic guitars; Jon Cowherd on fender rhodes; Yasushi Nakamura or Chris Thomas on acoustic bass; and Kendrick Scott or Brian Blade on drums. The music is lush and melodic. It's gentle and restrained yet contains an undercurrent of urgency that keeps it moving forward.
3. Christian Scott - Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord)
Trumpeter Christian Scott has molded his own unique brand of improvised music that owes as much to jazz as it does to rock. He's developed his own unique compositional style but the rendition of Thom Yorke's "The Eraser" is what won me over.
4. Phantogram - Eyelid Movies (Barsuk)
The duo describes their music as "a mix of organic and electronic sounds, with swirling guitar, spaced-out synths, and chopped up samples and rhythms" and that's about an apt a description as I could have come up with. And they're from Saratoga.
5. Kneebody - You Can Have Your Moment (Winter & Winter)
Forward thinking music by five musicians that play as one. Kneebody once again continues to create intriguing music that defies categorization.
6. The Album Leaf - A Chorus of Storytellers (SubPop)
Prior to this release, The Album Leaf was the alter-ego of Jimmy LaValle. On A Chorus of Storytellers the multi-instrumentalist added a full band to help pump out his signature brand of atmospheric pop.
7. Sting - Symphonicities (Deutsche Grammophon)
Sting's music played a big part in my musical upbringing - Branford Marsalis' sax solos on Bring On The Night were some of the first things I ever transcribed - and hearing these songs arranged for orchestra reminded me just how much I enjoy the Englishman's songs.
8. John Ellis & Double Wide - Puppet Mischief (ObliqSound)
Saxophonist John Ellis continues to seamlessly blend myriad influences with a great sense of humor. Seriously, how many jazz musicians do you know that would pose with two puppets on their album cover? Imagine the highbrow ethos of NYC jazz mixed with the party spirit of New Orleans street bands and you'll start to get an idea of what this music sounds like.
9. Rob Wilkerson - Nest
Saxophonist Rob Wilkerson presents an album of accessible instrumental music featuring original compositions and covers of Radiohead, Elliot Smith and Beck. More jazz should sound like this.
10. Broken Bells - Broken Bells (Columbia)
Danger Mouse + The Shins' James Mercer = very catchy music.
: : : :
Here's a link to a playlist of this music on iTunes Ping.