Understand that I can only praise the recordings that I have heard, and I missed some significant ones. But given the strictures of the process, these lucky seven (in alphabetical order by artist) stood out.
J.D. Allen Trio Shine! (Sunny Side) – In a good year for tenor sax-bass-drums trios, the young Detroiter’s effort – and terrific band – commanded attention.
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society Infernal Machine (New Amsterdam) – This Vancouver-born arranger and his “steampunk” big band delivered a powerful – and powerfully original – set.
Magos Herrera Distancia (Sunny Side) – It seems that if you are a woman and you can sing, you can get a recording contract. The Mexican Herrera, on the other hand, can really sing (and charm and beguile – think Cassandra Wilson) with a voice like chocolate.
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble Eternal Interlude (Sunny Side) – Hollembeck is that rarest of birds – a sensitive, big-eared drummer who can really drive a band. He’s also an arranger unafraid to bring influences such as Philip Glass and prog rock into the big band fold on this endlessly fascinating CD.
Vijay Iyer Historicity (Act) – Rochester-born pianist Iyer holds a interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Technology and the Arts from the University of California at Berkeley, and yes, his music is brainy. It’s also surging, wide-ranging and powerful. With bassist Stephan Crump and incredible drummer Marcus Gilmore, Iyer has produced the record of the year.
Keith Jarrett Paris/London: Testament (ECM) – Yes, he’s done the solo piano thing for almost 40 years now, and yes, the recordings have tended to blur together over time. But even Jarrett concedes that this three-CD set is special, and darned if he isn’t right.
Henry Threadgill Zooid This Brings Us To (Volume 1) (Pi Recordings) – Jazz’s heir to Miles Davis’ shape-shifting mantle does it again.