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We polled contributors Albert Brooks, Dylan Canterbury, Brian Patneaude, Tom Pierce, and Randy Treece on their favorite jazz releases of 2018 ...

photography, concert reviews

1. Matthew Shipp Quartet – Sonic Fiction (ESP Disk)
On this arresting quartet date, Matthew Shipp’s spiky compositions and off-kilter pianistic excellence combine to provide continual delight. Mike Bisio and Whit Dickey, long-term Shipp veterans, are integral components of this music; especially Bisio whose bass mastery is always a joy to experience, whether he’s playing a supportive role or showcasing his sublime talents as a soloist. However, it is Mat Walerian who is the surprise treat here. His playing (alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet) is revelatory and perfectly suited to Shipp’s brilliant compositions.

2. Kenny Barron – Concentric Circles (Blue Note Records)
If you like your jazz of the post-bop variety delivered by a master of refinement, taste and keyboard eloquence, then you will want to cop Kenny Barron’s latest. Concentric Circles is full of passion, irrepressible swing and expressive group interplay and fine soloing led by the one and only Mr. Barron. Besides Kenny’s regular rhythm mates (Kyoshi Kitagawa on bass and the inimitable Johnathan Blake on drums), the cd features strong performances by tenorman Dayna Stephens and trumpeter Mike Rodriguez.

3. Henry Threadgill – Double Up Plays Double Up Plus (Pi Recordings)
Henry Threadgill, one of the finest woodwind players on any of the planets, limits his contribution to his latest cd to that of composer and conductor of an eight piece orchestra, comprising three pianists (David Bryant, David Virelles and Luis Perdomo), two alto saxophonists (Curtis Robert MacDonald and Roman Filiu, who doubles on alto flute), cello (Christopher Hoffman), tuba (Jose Davila), percussion and drums (Craig Weinrib). As does his other output, this cd showcases Mr. Threadgill eminent genius. He is an artistic ninja of unsurpassed skill in making diverse instrumental, rhythmic and compositional elements combine in obeisance to his musical vision.

4. Michael-Louis Smith – Live in Vermont (MLS Music)
Michael-Louis Smith is a gifted guitarist whose band and music I have been following with continual enjoyment for a number of years. “Live in Vermont” is another exemplar of the band’s fulsome musical intensity. The rhythm duo of Diallo House (bass) and Ismail Lawal (drums) are impressive as usual in providing a fluidly responsive but rock solid foundation for Smith’s and saxophonist Stacy Dillard’s extended improvisatory excursions. Dillard continues to impress as one of the more facile, imaginative horn players around. On this cd, he and Smith summon some of the best fusion-infused, trance-inducing dance music heard anywhere.

5. Cecile McLorin Salvant – The Window (Mack Avenue)
Ms. Salvant is that nonpareil songstress who comes along only once in a lifetime (if not a millennium). She can spellbind, enrapture and bewitch like no other singer I have ever heard. On “The Window”, Ms. Salvant is paired to great effect with the estimable Sullivan Fortner, and the listener is rewarded with the fullest possible access to her rich and vibrant instrument.

Honorable Mention:
Theo Hill – Interstellar Adventures (Posi-Tone Records)
Tim Warfield – Jazzland (Criss Cross Jazz)
Dafnis Prieto Big Band – Back to the Sunset (Dafnison Music)
Don Braden – Earth, Wind and Wonder (Creative Perspective Music)
James Brandon Lewis, Chad TaylorRadiant Imprints (Off-James Brandon Lewis)


1. Wayne Shorter - Emanon (Blue Note)
The latest release from the legendary saxophonist/composer may be his most ambitious idea yet. Thankfully, it is an idea that is realized to its most devastating potential. Shorter and his longtime working quartet are surrounded by the swelling textures of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on the first disc, followed by two live discs where the quartet explores the material as only they could in a variety of live formats. It's a challenge, and requires multiple listens to fully grasp, but it's an absolute masterwork that holds up alongside the best of Shorter's illustrious career.

2. Kenny Barron - Concentric Circles (Blue Note)
The old master of the piano's still got it. Barron took his working trio, added on two of the hottest young horn stars in jazz, and just let everything else fall into place on his Blue Note debut. The quintet has a wonderful synergy that becomes apparent from the first track and only grows deeper as the album goes on. Just as striking is that there's not a single dud of a tune on the whole album. Seriously, at least a couple of them better become modern standards; at the very least, I'll probably find a way to play them on a future gig or two of my own.

3. Dafnis Prieto Big Band - Back To The Sunset (Dafnison Music)
Innovating in the world of big band jazz is not an easy thing to do, as it's a challenging tightrope to walk between making something new and not losing the core identity of what it means to be a big band. Although there were a few contenders that managed to walk that tightrope with aplomb, this effort from Prieto takes the cake for me. With an all-star band, perfectly coordinated guest soloist cameos, and Prieto's mad scientist arrangements that push the envelope while remaining relentlessly grooving, it's no surprise the final product came out as great as it did.

4. Joshua Redman - Still Dreaming (Nonesuch)
This album is not so much a tribute to Redman's father Dewey and his group Old and New Dreams as it is a continuation of the concept. Redman is playing some of his most adventurous stuff on record, and I think he should take this route more often. He also found a perfect front-line foil in cornetist Ron Miles, whose brilliantly creative voice will hopefully get some much needed attention from performing with a more mainstream group. There were a lot of great chordless quartet albums this year, but this one was the most consistently entertaining for me.

5. Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens - In Common (Whirlwind)
Honestly, this album is just a really great feel-good listen. Although Smith and Stevens are the headliners, this is a collaborative effort between five of the most interesting young musicians on the scene today. The material is great, the solos are consistently strong and complimentary of one another, and the vibes-guitar-bass-drums rhythm section gives everything a really light and airy quality that suits the music really well. Most of all, it's just plain fun to listen to, and you can clearly tell that the quintet had a blast making this happen. Let's hope a follow-up is in the cards.

Historical Release of the Year:
John Coltrane - Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse)
This couldn't have been a surprise, right? There was a pretty stunning amount of old "lost" material that was brought into the light this year, but finding a new work from the classic John Coltrane Quartet at their peak powers is, as Sonny Rollins said in the liner notes, like finding a hidden room in the Great Pyramid. What makes it even more exciting is that the quality of performances ranks up there with the best of Coltrane and company's careers. How this one slipped by over 50 years ago I have no idea, but I'm certainly thankful it eventually all got out.


1. Aaron Parks - Little Big (Ropeadope)
Considered by some to be a follow up to the pianist's Invisible Cinema release from ten years prior, this immaculately produced collection of instrumental jazz/rock compositions is a modern day masterpiece to my ears.

2. Ben Wendel - The Seasons (Motema)
The saxophonist expanded his collection of year-long YouTube series compositions from duos to a quintet with tremendous results.

3. Mathias Eick - Ravensburg (ECM)
The Norwegian trumpeter continues in a similar vein to his prior ECM recording while switching his inspirational focus from the American Midwest to friends and family.

4. Bob Reynolds - Quartet
Recorded live in front of a studio audience, this music is most likely an accurate representation of the saxophonist's live performances with his working band, impeccably documented.

5. John Scofield - Combo 66 (Verve)
Memorable compositions and performances by the guitarist and his multi-generational quartet in celebration of his sixty sixth year of life.

Honorable Mention:
The Bad Plus - Never Stop II (Legbreaker)
Yellowjackets - Raising Our Voice (Motema)
Kenny Barron Quintet - Concentric Circles (Blue Note)

Historical Releases:
John Coltrane - Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse)
Esbjörn Svensson Trio - Live In London (ACT)

CD & concert reviews

1. John Coltrane – Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse)
This initial 2018 2-CD release by Impulse was recorded in March 1963 by the classic John Coltrane Quartet. It essentially contains 7 songs (plus alternate takes), which included two stimulating unnamed originals, a version of his earlier recorded “Impressions”, two standards (“Nature Boy” and Vilia”), the robust “One Up, One Down” and the intriguing “Slow Blues” that I found especially poignant. As with virtually ALL of Coltrane’s work in the 1950’s and especially 1960’s, it has intensely delivered & uniquely explorative compositions and intense solos. An interesting historical footnote is it being recorded on the day previous to the enormously popular album with Johnny Hartman.

2. Dafnis Prieto Big Band – Back to the Sunset (Dafnison Music)
Dafnis Prieto is a highly sought after 44 year-old Cuban drummer, composer & bandleader who relocated to New York City in 1999. He has 8 releases as leader and over 50 as a band-mate for a wide range of well-known artists. This recording is his first release heading a Big Band, which he did to pay tribute to some of the masters he’s played with since coming to NYC: Brian Lynch, Eddie Palmieri & Steve Coleman. I’ve long been a huge fan of different types of Latin & Brazilian music, as well as Jazz Big Bands. So, it was no surprise I found this wonderfully uplifting mixture so exciting and engrossing.

3. Anat Cohen/Fred Hersch – Live at Healdsburg (Anzic Records)
This extraordinary live duo recording features Anat Cohen whose recent Nov 2 appearance at A Place For jazz attracted over 300 enthusiastic attendees and masterful pianist Fred Hersch, who’s played professionally for over 40 years, with more than 50 releases as leader or co-leader. I found most compelling the stunning combination of beautifully tempered and intertwined BEAUTY and STRENGTH in their playing, whether each is either serving as the lead voice, performing the “comping” role or playing together, on both the four excellent standards & four originals they contributed.

4. Phil Allen’s Concert Jazz Band – North Greenbush Blues
Anyone who has heard this exceptional 12-pc band live has come away extremely impressed with the fine arrangements, strong solos and tight ensemble work. The 9 diverse tracks here also clearly demonstrate the impressive composing chops of Phil Allen on 7 tunes, as well as Dylan Canterbury & Chris Pasin on the songs they each created. And even more significant is their consistent musicality and very strong groove.

5. Cliff Brucker Full Circle - Vol. 2 (tie)
This dynamic sextet’s follow-up CD to their impressive 2016 debut is every bit as outstanding as that one, as it matches its prowess and excitement. This is NOT surprising, given the caliber of these 7 excellent players (Cliff Brucker, Leo Russo, Dylan Canterbury, Mike Novakowski, Otto Gardner, Larry Ham and Pete Levin. Additionally, they have the advantage of almost two additional years of frequently playing this outstanding Post-Bop material together. I was especially touched by the beauty of their versions of Johnny Mandel’s gorgeous “Emily” and Clare Fischer’s exotically alluring “Pensitiva”.

5. Teresa Broadwell – Just Us (tie)
This is a very well-conceived & tightly-executed tribute to the timeless pianist/vocalist Nat “King” Cole, in a very MUSICAL package. In addition to these buoyant & classic songs, like the title track, “Sometimes I’m Happy” and Straighten Up & Fly Right”, Ms Broadwell and her sextet feature a host of extremely melodic players. This includes her own warm vocals and violin, Leo Russo’s strongly distinctive sax, Mike Novakowski’s vibrantly resonant guitar, Mike Lamkin’s supportive piano & Pete Toigo’s rich bass tone.

features, concert reviews

1. Kenny Barron Quintet - Concentric Circle (Blue Note)
This recording is a testimony to this pianist’s exquisite durability and eclecticism over the past five decades. Within a quintet setting, Barron delivers supremely engaging originals and interpretations of songs by Thelonious Monk, Lenny White, and Caetano Veloso. Presented is a diversified palette of hard bop, ballads, swing, and Brazilian sensibilities. Kudos to this timeless master.

2. Cecile McLorin Salvant - The Window (Mack Avenue)
Without doubt, Salvant is on an artistic trajectory to become a legend in jazz. She is already a powerful presence in jazz with her inimitable voice and peerless artistic leanings. Over a decade she has recorded in every musical format and here she pairs her enormous talents with a formidable pianist, Sullivan Fortner. This duo improvises and freely plays in both a live and studio settings. The listener is treated to Salvant’s originals and several standards, previously understated until Salvant plies her rapturous instrument. Salvant’s interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s Visions will certainly be a classic. Additionally, there is a surprise visit from saxophonist Melissa Aldana on Jimmy Rowles’s Peacocks.

3. Eddie Daniels - Heart of Brazil (Resonance Records)
This recording is an elegant tribute to the underappreciated Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti. Daniels alternates between the clarinet and tenor saxophone accompanied by piano, bass, and drums, and the Harlem String Quartet. The music is lyrical, innovative, absolutely beautiful – a superb and enjoyable listening experience.

4. Orquesta Akokan - Orquesta Akokan (Daptone Records)
This is authentic Cuban music from the heart and soul of the Island. The group is a collective of fine musicians from Cuba who performed live in Havana. The music is authentic, exotic, intoxicating with enormously engaging and exuberant charts. If you like good Latin music, you will love this recording. As one critic observed, “it is humanely impossible not to smile” when listening to Orquesta Akokan.

5. Erik Friedlander - Artemisia (Skipstone Records)
It is difficult to imagine that an artist would compose an homage to absinthe, a famously hallucinating alcoholic beverage, but cellist Erik Friedlander has found a conceptual, artistic way to do so. The songs are poetic, meditative, euphoric, and often exceptionally beautiful. There is a tremendous synergy created by a cello, piano, bass, and drums that delivers an incomparable CD. This recording is a sleeper.