Here we go, 20 to 11; the third part of four; some great jazz record albums from the year 2012. There have been a few surprises, but every choice comes straight from the heart. They also come from some very good people that let me hear their music for reviewing. These are all people I respect and appreciate; I think a forgot to say that in the earlier parts of the list.
20) Fred Hersch Trio, “Alive at the Vanguard” (Palmetto) – A couple of years ago, I get to see the jazz Mecca that is the Village Vanguard. Playing that night was the Fred Hersch Trio. No, this was not that night, but other than Billy Hart subbing for the album’s Eric McPherson, it was the same lineup. And it was as sublime as this two-disc set.
19) Brad Mehldau Trio, a) “Ode” and b) “Where Do You Start”, (Nonesuch) – Brad Mehldau has been studying the art of the piano trio for many years, fidgeting with it here, and hammering it shut there. He seems to be coming to a point where he’s got a handle on it. In 2012, he took two shots at it, and they were both brilliant. He doesn’t need fancy guest stars to help him on his quest; just a bass player and a drummer. I decided to ake both albums into one place on the list. It’s my list. When you write yours, you can do it your way.
18) Fly Trio, “Year of the Snake” (ECM) – Speaking of Brad Mehldau’s bassist (Larry Grenadier) and drummer (Jeff Ballard), they appear with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner on this surprising bit of genius from ECM. Turner’s sax sounds as strong in the upper register as it does in the middle to lower range, a feat that’s not easy to accomplish. That’s what makes the melodic content of this album so good.
17) Chick Corea/Eddie Gomez/Paul Motian (Concord) – This two-disc set was a beautiful tribute to Bill Evans, and one of Paul Motian’s last recordings. Eddie Gomez appeared at Dazzle last year, and proved himself still capable of amazing feats of strength on the bass. He also proved to be one of the kindest and engaging musicians extant. His insights on playing with Bill Evans were fascinating.
16) Anat Cohen, “Claroscuro” (Anzic) – Anat Cohen’s only way to disappear from the “best of ” charts is to not play that year. Her reed playing, especially on clarinet, has shot her to the top of the pack in jazz musicianship. Every now and then, she plays with ther brothers, and that’s a good thing, too. She’s also a kind and understanding woman.
15) Steve Kuhn/Steve Swallow/Joey Baron, “Wisteria” (ECM) – Okay, how many piano trios do we have so far? How many ECM piano trios? Do you think it’s because ECM does piano trios better than anybody else? If so, then pass “Go” and get $200. This one has a different sound, due to Swallow’s unique bass sound. He plays the bass like a guitar; with a pick that gets a sound unlike other electric bassists. Kuhn and Baron are good, too.
14) Ron Miles, “Quiver” (enja) – Our own Ron Miles put out an album in 2012 which included the three nicest guys in jazz: himself, Bill Frisell (who went to Denver East High School, as did Miles), and Brian Blade. I have a real long story about how nice Brian Blade (as well as his wife) is, but we’ll let that go for my “Nice Jazz Drummers” column. Some of this was recorded at Dazzle, a club of which Denver should be justly proud. I’d rather be at Dazzle than any other place in the world. I’m going to patent that line.
13) Michael Formanek, “Small Places” (ECM) – Well, two albums with this lineup (Formanek, bass; Tim Berne, alto sax; Craig Taborn, piano; and Gerald Cleaver, drums), and two five-star reviews in DownBeat magazine. Not that DownBeat affects my opinion, but it’s a good sign. The lineup is a good sign, too. Berne and Taborn have both recently released great albums (both on ECM, it should be noted). And, doesn’t it seem that albums led by bass players tend to be really good?
12) Jimmy Owens, “The Monk Project” (IPO) – No one was happier than this writer was to see this album come out at the beginning of 2012. I’ve always been a fan of Owens’ melodic style of playing, and an album of Monk standards is always a good place to separate the men from the boys, at least melodically. His band is great, too. Pianist Kenny Barron, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon (who makes everything fun), and tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland give you some idea of how serious and fun this album is. Rave on, Jimmy Owens.
11) Ravi Coltrane, “Spirit Fiction” (Blue Note) – Jazz needs Blue Note Records. That’s been a fact for more years than most of us can count. Ravi’s father had a classic on Blue Note (“Blue Train,” for those of you who needed to be told), and Ravi’s on his way to making one here. This may not be a classic, but it’s a fine example of having two jazz heroes help a newer hero produce an album. Joe Lovano and Bruce Lundvall know when to give Ravi his head, and when to rein him in. And Ravi takes all he can get. He’s a blast on soprano and tenor saxes, and his selection of compositions is nearly perfect. You just can’t wait to see where he’ll head next.
Ready, now? The Top Ten is next. I’m not unduly proud of it, and I hope you’ll read it, and if you don’t know a record that’s on it, I hope you’ll give it a try. Buy it at Denver’s best independent record store, Twist and Shout, and see the artists when they play at Dazzle. I’ve already told you how I feel about Dazzle’ it’s heaven-on-earth. Top Ten, coming up!