10 artists delivered 11 albums that really stood out in 2014
Antonio Sanchez – Three Times Three: a trio of trios serving up three songs each resulting in an album that is somehow both one of the most varied and most consistent of the year. The bands in support of master drummer Sanchez highlight different instrumentations: Brad Mehldau features in the first trio on piano, John Scofield in the second on guitar and Joe Lovano on the third on saxophone. Sanchez provides typically tight and expressive original compositions, but to me the highlight is the subtly reimagined classics, particularly the slinky, swinging, time bending take on I Mean You with Lovano.
Bad Plus – Inevitable Western/Rite of Spring: The Bad Plus served up what may be their two best albums over the course of the year. The first, a long awaited studio recording of their arrangement of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, takes on modern classical music with limited spontaneous improvisation, yet might be the quintessential Bad Plus album; the off-kilter, syncopated ‘Procession of the Sage’ is probably the hardest groove of theirs on record. For those who prefer a more straightforward Bad Plus album, they released their most consistently satisfying album of original tunes in the fall.
Brian Blade – Landmarks: Drummer Brian Blade’s longstanding but infrequently recorded band returns with an incredibly narrative album, at times meditative and at others passionate. Compositions like Landmarks and Ark.La.Tex. creep up on you as immersive walls of sound.
Joshua Redman – Trios Live: Critical live recordings of saxophonist Joshua Redman in trio setting with either Matt Penman or Reuben Rogers on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. Redman has a singular ability to keep his high-virtuosity melodic and swinging; marvel as he careers through a boisterous rendition of Mack the Knife to open the album or of Led Zeppelin’s The Ocean to close. In between he delivers a firecracker take in Monk, a passionate evocation of his father Dewey Redman and, yes, even a ballad.
Keith Jarret, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian – Hamburg ’72: Beautiful captured live session of Jarrett with his most exciting rhythm section. In true Jarrett fashion, the set ranges over a lot of ground from funky, soul jazz to noisy free exploration (including some wild work on soprano saxophone). An all time great rendition Charlie Haden’s classic composition Song for Che closes the evening out.
Marc Ribot – Live at the Village Vanguard: Guitarist Marc Ribot with Henry Grimes on bass and Chad Taylor on drums in a set focusing on raucous, passionate tribute to the free work of John Coltrane (Dearly Beloved, Sun Ship) and Albert Aylor (The Wizard, Bells) with two melodic and consonant detours through old standards that manage to be unexpected and jarring in their own way. Album of the year.
Matthew Shipp – I’ve Been to Many Places: Avant piano master in solo setting displaying both fearless exploration and a keen ear for accessible melody. Strong mix of original compositions, free improvisation and a couple of standards; the beautiful abstracted introduction to ‘Naima’ is worth the price of admission alone. My favorite is the three track medley Where is the Love? – Light Years – Where is the Love (Reprise): sweet melodic statement gives way to dynamic free exploration before the melody forcefully reasserts itself.
Pat Metheny – Kin (<–>): Pat Metheny Unity Band, with Chris Potter on saxophone, Antonio Sanchez on drums and Ben Williams on bass, presenting long form compositions. Brings together Metheny’s orchestral tendencies (as seen on the Orchestrion material) with a top notch line up of improvisers. The less restrictive environment makes it an even better showcase for Metheny’s own prodigious skills.
Ron Miles – Circuit Rider: Follow up collaboration for cornetist Ron Miles with Bill Frisell and Brian Blade. Miles, a latter day Don Cherry who combines an easy melodicism with a penchant for probing exploration, shares some sort of psychic connection with his bandmates. From the hopeful shuffle emerging from Frisell’s effects noise on the first track, ‘Comma’, to the closer, a swing take on Jimmy Giuffre’s ‘Two Kinds of the Blues’, Circuit Rider consistently delivers.