Best Jazz Records of 2012
• Not Getting Behind is the New Getting Ahead, Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola. Charlie Hunter Music. You know you're in for some fun with tracks titled "There Used to Be a Nightclub There" and "Those Desks Aren't Going to Clean Themselves." Track to sample: "Assessing the Assessors, an Assessor's Assessment."
• Four MFs Playin' Tunes, Branford Marsalis Quartet. Marsalis Music. Anyone who can quit a gig as juicy as the bandleader on "The Tonight Show" is perpetually all right with me. Branford Marsalis plays in the same straight-up boppish tradition as his more famous bro Wynton, but he's not as doctrinaire about it. Track to sample: "Teo."
• Mischief and Mayhem, Jenny Scheinman. If you're getting the idea that I like a bit o' rhythm in my modden jazz, you've got that right. Violinist Jenny is a collaborator of Bill Frisell and Ani DiFranco among others and is joined here by Wilco guitarist Nels Cline. Track to sample: "Ali Farka Touche."
• Bright Light in Winter, Jeff Parker Trio. Delmark Records. One for guitar heads. Clean and spare, like, well, bright light in winter. Somethingelsereviews says "Parker's pillowy soft guitar tone permeates the record and his steady-tempered jazzy lines never go past 4 on the adrenaline knob," not exactly what you'd expect on the first record in seven years from this veteran of the Chicago Underground Orchestra and Tortoise. A friendly, flowing record. Track to sample: "Mainz."
• Wasted & Wanted, Michael Wollny's [em]. ACT. From Germany, with love. Wollny is a rising European star with a darkish ethos who claims inspiration from literature, films and painting as well as from music. Wasted & Wanted bends genres but without making a big thing out of it. Track to sample: "Metall."
• Live at Kitano, Frank Kimbrough Trio. A classic piano trio. Fred Kaplan wrote that this lush recording of quiet jazz "is for late nights and close listening," and so it is. Track to sample: "Single Petal of a Rose."
• Black Radio, Robert Glasper. Blue Note has come a long way, baby...this might be too "crossover" for some tastes, with flavorings of everything from rap to the Isley Brothers. Glasper, his guests, and the Experiment Band create a fascinating soundworld that sounds like cities late at night, from the streets to the bars to the penthouses. Featuring Erika Badu and Lalah Hathaway (and Mos Def, as yasiin bey). And covers of Sade and Nirvana. You can argue that it's not jazz, but it's lovely. Track to sample: "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
• Bending Bridges, Mary Halvorson Quintet. I got a little obsessed with Mary Halvorson's Dragon's Head after my friend Bob Burnett turned me on to it. Gassy and noisy on first listens, its originality and quirky, spiky odd turns begin to delight deeply on repeat visits. I still don't know if I like Mary Halvorson, but I listen to her a lot. Track to sample: "The Periphery of Scandal."
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Honorable mentions: Alexander Hawkins Ensemble, All There, Ever Out; Vijay Iyer Trio, Accelerando (this makes everybody's best of 2012 lists, better not leave it off mine); Lee Ritenour, Rhythm Sessions (with plenitudinous guest stars). Best Band name: Snarky Puppy. Yes, Snarky Puppy. Best album concept: The Atheist Gospel Trombone album (Jacob Garchik). I'm still waiting for the Acid Jazz Trip-Hop Accordion album, but maybe next year.
Best historical reissue: Thelonious Monk, Complete Albums Collection. The box set features all six of Thelonious Monk's Columbia album with Charlie Rouse: Monk's Dream (1962), Criss Cross (1962), It's Monk's Time (1964), Monk (1964), Straight, No Chaser (1966) and Underground (1967). (Criss Cross and Straight, No Chaser are among my favorites). No to-do is made about the remastering, but it's remarkable—the sound quality is stellar, the best ever. For this set you want to buy the physical CDs, since the box features the nifty booklet with lots of archive photos. Being a super-duper screaming great deal ($4.85 per CD, the box for less than $30) doesn't hurt anything, either.
I'm not an expert on jazz by any stretch, especially contemporary jazz, so I'm more than open to being corrected....
"Open Mike," frequently wandering off topic, scats past on Sundays here at TOP.
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
A book of interest today:
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Dana: "...Hey Mike...I am going to narrow this down a bit and give you my jazz single of the year: Ahmad Jamal's 'Blue Moon.' At 81 years old this amazing musician produces and plays an absolute masterpiece. Listen once and you will be hooked."
Howard French: "This is one of my favorite features on this site, and I love the modesty of spirit reflected in the concluding comment: 'I'm no expert on Jazz...' I've been listening intently to the music all my life, and think you've got a first class sensibility and exquisite taste. Many of the past recommendations, mostly involving older music (Ellington, Wes Montgomery, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, Archie Shepp etc., etc.) have been truly first rate. Now to Amazon to check some of this stuff out."
Mike replies: Thanks Howard. Posting this as a featured comment might contradict your point about my modesty, but since only about 38 readers have read this post down this far....[g]
Jamie Pillers: "Wha...?? Mike, what were you thinking? Christmas is gone, man. Now I have to put these on my wish list for next year!!"
Mike replies: Naw, music is more like food...a consumable necessary for survival. For all year 'round, not just for special occasions.
Dave: "Thanks for the ideas. I always want to get more into jazz but don't know where to start—just added Jazz 101 to my amazon shopping cart. Also, I added some of your recommended albums to my Spotify playlist. For those of you that don't know about Spotify this is the perfect opportunity to try out their service. Most of these albums are available on Spotify. It's free on your computer."
Mike replies: These aren't horribly "out there" or avant-garde as new jazz goes, but they're probably not the place to start for people who just want to "get more into jazz." For that, I'd recommend my Jazz Starter Kit. But by all means explore on Spotify as you like.