2017 saw some incredible releases which made narrowing down my year end list rather difficult.
Charles Lloyd – Passin Thru: The Charles Lloyd New Quartet, featuring Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums, isn’t really so new, having released its first album nearly a decade ago. The quartet’s first album, 2008’s Rabo de Nube, was a live release of immense power and beauty, and with Passin’ Thru it has finally received a worthy follow up. An epic 17 minute rendition of the Lloyd classic “Dreamweaver” that opens the album is worth the price of admission alone, as is the slyly updated take on the title track and the blues stomp of “Tagore On the Delta”.
Chick Corea – The Musician: A sprawling three disc collection of tracks recorded in November 2011 when Chick spent a month at the Bluenote celebrating his 70th birthday by performing with a host of different bands. Perhaps the set is a little lacking in cohesion – there’s only space for a couple of tracks from each band and there are a few awkward transitions, as on disc three which places two tracks of fusion shred from the Elektric Band after a first half of piano duets – but the music documented within has to be among the best Corea has released in a long time. Come for two previously unrecorded tracks from the Five Peace Band with John Mclaughlin, a couple of great duets with Bobby McFerrin, a 16 minute flamenco jam and three tracks in duet with Herbie Hancock.
Craig Taborn – Daylight Ghosts: Taborn, a pianist who mixes free exploration with a sly sense of groove and a flair for the polyrhythmic, leads a quartet perfectly attuned to his sensibilities. Just listen to the weaving together of the piano, saxophone and bass lines in “Ancient”, as improvisation blends into composed lines, at first offset before, almost imperceptibly, coming together into one line in unison.
Fabian Almazan – Alcanza: Almazan’s followup album with the Rhizome band – combining a traditional piano trio with a string quartet. This one is a single suite of music, a smartly arranged and emotionally charged blend of Latin jazz and chamber music that surges forth with boundless energy.
Jason Moran – Thanksgiving at the Vanguard: Jason Moran released three great albums this year, each of which could easily earn its place on a best of list. In fairness to everyone else, I’m only including one here, a live release with his long running trio the Bandwagon, featuring Nasheet Waits on drums and Tarus Mateen on bass. The bluesy groove of “Gangsterism at the Vanguard” and the culminating wild abandon of “Thelonious” are life affirming. Album of the year.
Joey Alexander – Joey.Monk.Live!: A truly satisfying Monk tribute is a thing often attempted but infrequently pulled off. Joey succeeds on this joyous live album.
Kneebody – Antihero: Kneebody’s latest release is their most successful. They’ve always been eclectic and energy filled, but they’ve finally started to open up and give themselves time to explore. With such prodigiously talented musicians, the results are stunning. Just listen to saxophonist Ben Wendel tear into “Drum Battle”.
Miguel Zenon – Tipico: Latest release by the alto saxophonist’s longstanding quartet with Luis Perdomo on piano, Henry Cole ondrums and Hans Glawischnig on bass. It’s a working band with a real sense of identity and Zenon writes well for it with a pretty far-reaching collection of compositions.
Mihaly Dresch (feat. Chris Potter) – Zea: Release by Hungarian saxophonist Mihaly Dresch flew a little under the radar. Featuring saxophone titan Chris Potter, the album includes some material from the Chris Potter Underground repertoire, but is mostly comprised of Dresch’s own material: passionate, freewheeling combinations of jazz and Hungarian folk music. Songs like “Lad’s Dance”, “Falling Gently” and “Get Your Skates on, Mick!” brim with manic, frenetic energy.
Ron Miles – I Am a Man: The piano and bass are smart additions to Miles’ longstanding trio in this homage to the Civil Rights era, extending the interplay without ever sounding busy or imbalanced. It’s a hard thing for a band to maintain five compelling, independent voices at once, but the quintet here pulls it off and Miles’ cornet just sings.