A note on the title – all these best of the year lists, but who really can hear all the great music put out in the same year it was released? Does anyone have the time for this? So, I feel this is a better list – the albums can be from any year, any recording date, any release date, they’re just the best that I heard for the first time this year – otherwise, huge amounts of great music can’t be mentioned because I heard it a year or 2 late. So, here it is.

Exception To The Rule John Escreet (Criss Cross) – recorded Jan 2011
Escreet’s album Don’t Fight the Inevitable is a classic of modern jazz – knotty and complicated lines played with joy and flare and breathtaking ease mixed in with fiery solos – all of it over modern drumming that never hits a beat. This, his latest, is a tad less complicated, but still completely wonderful. With David Binney as the sole horn and Nasheet Waits drumming in his crab-legs movement, this is great modern jazz. Like a lot of Escreet’s albums, this one blends full tunes with interludes and expressionistic passages that stand as short, in-betweeners. I prefer the full tunes, largely because it’s almost impossible to get enough Binney these days with the way he’s playing.

Oblique ITyshawn Sorey (Pi) – recorded June 2011
Finally, the great Sorey album as a leader (This/Not being half outstanding and half, well, interesting). This is an excellent band with Loren Stillman on alto and John Escreet on piano leading the way through a collection of out tunes, structured in fascinating ways. I only wish this band would release oodles of more albums. (with Chris Tordini on bass, Todd Neufeld on guitar)

Dialect FlurescentSteve Lehman Trio (Pi) – recorded Aug 2011
His albums, like Steve Coleman’s, are titled like PhD theses. But the music is always purely enjoyable. His last disc, Travail, Transformation and Flow , is a classic of the modern era – an octet with extremely unique and modern harmonies. Here, he’s striped down to a sax trio and it’s almost a blowing session (well, as close as Lehman will probably ever get). There is still the precise rhythmic structure, but it’s underneath like a secret language that you can never quite grasp. The real beauty is how the combination between the fiery soloing and the complex, intriguing mystery of the rhythmic structure keeps you coming back for more. This is a disc I found myself listening to quite a bit this year – and his covers of Coltrane and Jordan’s “Jeannine” are original and excellent.

OdeBrad Mehldau Trio (Nonesuch) – recorded Nov 2008; April 2011
Mehldau released two new albums in succession this year – Ode, an album of originals, and Where Do You Start, an album of covers. As good as the covers disc is, this is certainly the better of the two. It’s difficult to say exactly why – their playing as a trio is always excellent and the tunes selection is great, but on Ode, the band is in some sort of telepathic groove that is hard to match or pinpoint. Just one of those days where everything they play sounds amazing (and they have a lot of days like that). Great variety of tunes here too. Few bands reach this sort of togetherness – and no matter how many albums Mehldau releases, it just never seems to sound anything but fresh and new.

Brain DanceCarlo De Rosa’ Cross-Fade (Cuneiform) – recorded Feb 2009
Wasn’t familiar with De Rosa when I found this at Amoeba, but impossible to pass up thanks to the band (Mark Shim/Vijay Iyer/Justin Brown). And it is a fanrtastic modern album with driving, complex tunes. De Rosa heads the whole thing off, leading them through knotty and cool music. Great stuff (and there is a bootleg of this band live that is just dynamite).

Snuck InDavid Weiss Point Of Departure (Sunnyside) – recorded March 2008; June 2008
Weiss is an excellent trumpet player, despite looking quite a bit like Ed Rooney. Here, he has a great band of young players tearing it up live. Excellent, thick and layered covers of “I Have A Dream” and “Black Comedy” get the album off to a driving start. JD Allen on tenor is always a pleasure to hear, and outside of his dynamite trio and in a flushed out band, he sounds wonderful. Nice driving and modern drumming from Jamire Williams.

Unrehurst, Vol 2Robert Hurst (Audio &Video Labs ) – recorded March 2007
I much prefer Vol 2 to Vol 1 since, well, I don’t have Vol 1. I’ll have to work on that. This was a very pleasant surprise. It can’t be that easy to make a piano trio playing “I Love You” and “Monk’s Dream” sound so fresh and new, but this wonderful live gig is full of long, involved tunes that are completely that. With Robert Glasper letting loose and Chris Dave playing a jerking and swinging beat, this is a completely enjoyable listen.

AccelerandoVijay Iyer Trio (ACT) – recorded Aug 2011
Iyer’s trios are modern affairs in the best of ways – tight, focused, complex and earthy. I slightly prefer the quartet albums, but this being my favorite of the trio disc with it’s excellent interplay and tunes.

Silent Z Live Pete Robbins (Hate Laugh Music ) – recorded Dec 2008; Feb 2009
The Tyshawn Sorey rule has been driving my purchases for a while now (buy anything and everything he plays on). And it continually proves to be a great way to buy albums. This is an outstanding live band, whipped into a frothy intensity by Sorey’s drumming. Robbins is a clever alto player – nice sound, nice concepts, some very good albums under his belt (and little recognition). Here’s hoping to him getting more attention.

Line Of SightJohn O’Gallagher’s Axiom (Fresh Sound New Talent) – recorded Jan 2004
A ferocious and brainy alto player that puts out continuously interesting albums. Here, teamed up with the excellent Tony Malaby in the front line, they put together a tight, challenging album of music. One that really grows with continued listens.

Before The Rain Noah Preminger (Palmetto) – recorded 2010
Preminger’s discs really grow on you – they have a haunting quality that is beautiful and eerie. This, his 2nd, is one full of wonderful ballads and mid-tempo tunes that play tight and relaxed but are somehow driven with a secret urgency. Very enjoyable player and album.

Rye EclipseKris Davis – (Fresh Sound New Talent) – recorded June 2007
The presence of Tony Malaby on this earlier Davis disc is such a pleasure. The title track and Black Tunnel are just ferocious tunes with outstanding tenor playing that it outshines much of the rest of the disc – though all of it is very good.

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