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? Or the money? 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.

Wood Flute Songs William Parker Quartet (AUM Fidelity) – recorded 2006-2012
If I had to choose the 10 best CD’s of the year, this could be the top 8 discs. An amazing box set of Parker’s quartet (Rob Brown, Lewis Barnes, Hamid Drake) in a variety of live settings – four discs of just the quartet, then the quartet augmented with additional players. No matter which disc you pull, you’ll feel like you’re listening to the best one. Everything here is just tremendous, full of vibrant energy, rippin’ solos, great original tunes (and a nice variety of tunes too). A thrilling release. If only more bands would do the same – the best jazz is almost always live, and the world would be a better place with similar 8CD live box sets from Wayne Shorter, David Binney, Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, Steve Lehman. Well, you get the picture.

Shadow ManTim Berne Snakeoil (ECM) – recorded Jan 2013
When Berne signed with ECM, I almost cried. So many of ECM’s releases are watered down ballad albums from dynamite players that I’d rather see tearing it up live (always beautifully recorded though). But no way, Berne was clearly having none of that – and this is an almost evilly ferocious album. Berne is in top screeching form with his long, complicated tunes full of raw, free energy and insane soloing. This may be his best album – a tremendously enjoyable blitzkrieg of music. I can only imagine that it must have nearly blown up the ECM studios and their delicate soundboard.

Sabotage And CelebrationJohn Escreet (Whirlwind) – recorded Nov 2012
Escreet puts out excellent albums consistently. Sometimes they are marred a tiny bit by too many segue snippet tunes and not enough of the big meaty ones, but that’s nit picking since the playing and writing is always outstanding. And he pulls together excellent bands. Here, with Chris Potter and Jim Black, he’s made another densely intense and burrowing into the core of something very hard sort of music. The free playing section of the title track is nothing like it was in the 70’s – here it is very clear that the musicianship is driving the out playing and not some spiritual communication. Not that there’s anything wrong with talking with your imaginary friends, but the modern feel to it and the interplay is thoroughly enjoyable.

The Anton Webern ProjectJohn O’Gallagher (Whirlwind) – recorded Sept 2012
The album of the year, at least in my write-in vote, which most certainly got tossed. O’Gallagher is an intense alto player that never gets his due – and he tackles big ideas with excellent bands. Here, the Tyshawn Sorey rule comes into effect again (buy anything and everything the man is on) and his drumming is spot on driving and out. Russ Lossing plays outstanding piano here too. A wonderful band playing hard to imagine music in a modern jazz way – unmissable.

9 LevelsGreg Osby (Inner Circle Music) – recorded Aug 2008
Not the easiest album to find. Osby is one of my favorites, but it still took me a while to hunt this album down. It is typically brilliant. Osby hasn’t made anything less than a fantastic album since he had rappers on them and their covers looked like they were designed by Punky Brewster. This is very much of a piece – the whole album sounding unified and driven toward a certain sound and feel. Excellent modern music.

HaymakerNoah Preminger (Palmetto) – released 2013
Preminger has a unique voice – modern and original, but along completely different lines than most of the modern players out there. He sounds fantastic in eerie, swelling ballads and emotionally dripped tunes of medium tempo. His sound is warm, full and the soloing is not primarily rhythmic, at least not in the way a lot of modern players are. Like all of his releases, the albums grow on you with more listening. This is a nice collection of tunes with some excellent playing. A very enjoyable album that never tires.

MysteryLucian Ban Elevation (Sunnyside) – recorded Jan 2010
A delightful surprise. This album of Ban’s band recorded live in New York grows with continued listens. Or, rather, most of the album does. Abraham Burton’s tenor solos need no growing – they are ear grabbing and standup and listen sort of stuff right from the moment you hit play.

The SirensChris Potter (ECM) – recorded Sept 2011
Not often a big fan of Potter’s albums as a leader – he seems to often push his drummers into backbeats and away from the polyrhythmic tirades that make so much of modern jazz amazing. It undercuts his own excellent playing, I think, making his solos sound less thrilling. Hiring Eric Harland was therefore a stroke of necessary genius. Harland is a rhythmic revelation and his complex drumming, along with just wonderful piano by David Virelles and Craig Taborn, make this a masterful album, and Potter’s best to date (by far).

ChantsCraig Taborn Trio (ECM) – recorded June 2012
Taborn has really come into his own of late. For years (and years) he has been outstanding in the bands of Tim Berne, David Binney, James Carter, well, a huge list of bands. This trio, which has been together now for a while now, shows Taborn in a different light. Like much of his music as a leader, it is full of his driving, collective grooves, headed out and full of vamping. A trio made up of modern masters play a delicious set of trio music. Outstanding.

Ethnic Stew And Brew Roy Campbell Pyramid Trio (Delmark) – recorded Oct 2000
There are those discs that you know you need to get for years, but it just takes time. This is one of them – and it was a surprise just how excellent it was once I finally got to it. A trumpet trio with the terrific complex groove and free rhythm team of William Parker and Hamid Drake – a solid album with tunes that has influences from everywhere, but it all boils down to one excellent stew of out-tinged jazz.

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