Here’s the final part of the list; The Top 10. The less said, the better, so:
10) Robert Glasper Experiment, “Black Radio” (Blue Note) – This was to be the explosive album of the year. And, while it wasn’t explosive, it certainly was a terrific recording. We were promised a marriage of hip/hop and jazz, and we were given a fine, R&B-inflected jazz album with vocals by such singers as Erykah Badu, Lalah Hathaway, and Bilal. Glasper’s band is as tight as ever, which gives this album the punch it needs.
9) The Cookers, “Believe” (Motema) – Trumpeter/arranger/bandleader David Weiss has put together a group of full-time swingers, blowers, and screamers. These veterans have not been brought together for a “what-it-was-like” set of albums. No, all three of the Cookers’ albums have been “what-it’s-like-now.” Maybe they got famous in the Seventies and Eighties, but these musicians (including pianist George Cables, tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Billy Hart) are keeping jazz going in the 21st century.
8) Ralph Peterson, “The Duality Perspective” (Onyx) – This was a surprising recording for this writer. Not because drummer Ralph Peterson made a good album, but because he put out a sensational album, using two different groups. “The Fo’tet” consisted of clarinet (Felix Peikli), vibraphonist (Joseph Doubleday), bassist (Alexander L. J. Toth), and Peterson on drums. “The Sextet”, with Sean Jones on trumpet, tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, Zaccai Curtis on piano, Luques Curtis on bass, our own Tia Fuller on alto and soprano saxophonist, is a hard-swinging group that is a fine contrast to the “Fo’tet”, which is a more exotic sounding group. They both add up to a magnificent jazz recording.
7) Masabumi Kikuchi Trio, “Sunrise” (ECM) – I think I’ve used this phrase too much this year, but it applies to Kikuchi’s album the most: This is a free jazz album for people who think they hate free jazz. Every tune on this record is spontaneously composed by the trio of Kikuchi on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Paul Motian on drums. Kikuchi’s liner note includes a touching tribute to the late Paul Motian, whose last recording this was. This is a splendid way to go out.
6) Keith Jarrett/Jan Garbarek/Palle Danielsson/Jon Christensen, “Sleeper” (ECM) – Once again, ECM went to their vaults and found treasure. It’s a two-disc set from 1979 made with the group that was known as Jarrett’s “European Quartet.” With the keening wail of Jan Garbarek’s saxophones and the tight rhythm section of bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen, “Sleeper” is over an hour-and-a-half of exciting music that demands re-listening after every time through.
5) Henry Threadgill Zooid, “Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp” (Pi) – Pi Recordings had a great year in 2012. Henry Threadgill was the reason for Pi’s existence in the first place. Every year, he pays them back with brilliant work. Some of the best is done with his Zooid, and 2012 had one of the best Zooid album’s ever. Threadgill uses his exotic instrumentation to play joyful, fun music that challenges but never confuses the listener. When you see a Henry Threadgill album, buy it; you won’t be bored.
4) Wadada Leo Smith, “Ten Freedom Summers” (Cuneiform) – I wouldn’t be surprised to see this piece of modern jazz come up with the Nobel Peace Prize. Smith and his Golden Quartet/Quintet are joined by Southwest Chamber Music to give a history of African-American history from the Dred Scott case through the Freedom Riders up to 9/11. His trumpet can resort to histrionics, but considering the subject matter, who can blame him? His trumpet and the Chamber Music’s strings join with his quartet/quintet to take you through a morality play that should never be forgotten.
3) Vijay Iyer Trio, “Accelerando” (ACT) – Here’s a shock: Vijay Iyer made a great album. Seriously, every year it seems Iyer is found at the top of everybody’s lists of the best albums of the year. His trio includes Stephen Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. These three fit together like the workings of a fine Swiss watch. This watch keeps jazz on time for now and the future. And as long as it does, jazz is just fine.
2) Ryan Truesdell, “Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans” (ArtistShare) – This was a surprise for everyone. We didn’t know that Gil Evans had all this leftover material available. And we didn’t know Ryan Truesdell was lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce on it, and record it for all our enjoyment. One of Truesdell’s great ideas was to add Dan Weiss on tabla for the first cut, called “Punjab.” His other great ideas included everything on the album.
1) Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul, “Reunion: Live in New York” (Pi) – in 2007, the Sam Rivers Trio of the Seventies got together for a reunion gig that was nothing less than sensational. Rivers played Tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, and piano; Dave Holland was on bass, of course; and Barry Altschul manned the drum chair. Sadly, Rivers passed away before this incredible two-disc set could be released. Happily, jazz fans everywhere have a keepsake by which to remember him. Holland and Altschul are also impeccable. You must buy this album immediately.
There they are; my top forty, ending with my top ten. If you have any complaints, feel free to let me know. I’ll ignore each and every bellyache individually. But we can all be made happy by the fact that 2012 was one of the greatest years in recent jazz history. And don’t forget to buy these albums at Denver’s best independent record store, Twist and Shout. And see these fine artists at the place I’d rather be than any other place in the world: Dazzle. Nothing beats live jazz. So go see some.