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J Hunter's 2013 Top 10 Countdown

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"Tis the season to do countdowns Fa la la la lahhh, la lahh lahh lahhhhhhh..."

Okay, okay, not one of the most original openings ever written. But don't worry: There's plenty of originality to be had on the ten bundles of fabulousness listed below:

10...

Etienne Charles
Etienne Charles
Etienne Charles
b.1983
trumpet

Creole Soul
(Culture Shock Music)

Still in his 20's, Charles has been racking up Mozart-like career accomplishments since he left Juilliard, and his latest release kicks open a whole new door. Armed with the Afro-Caribbean beats of his native Trinidad, Charles serves up a tantalizing mix of originals and standards that put serious muscle on his assertion that "Jazz is creole music." Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
's "Green Chimneys" gets the liveliest reading it's received in quite some time, and Bo Diddley's "You Don't Love Me (no no no)" enters the jazz idiom in fine style. If Charles is this good now, imagine how amazing he'll be when he's grown up!

9...

Antonio Sanchez
Antonio Sanchez
Antonio Sanchez
b.1971
drums

New Life
(CamJazz)

Debuting as a leader can make longtime sidemen try to "prove themselves" by doing too much, and usually the results are not pretty. Antonio Sanchez shows he's learned from his various past leaders by ramrodding this simple quintet—as if anything David Binney
David Binney
David Binney
b.1961
saxophone
, Donny McCaslin
Donny McCaslin
Donny McCaslin
b.1966
saxophone
and John Escreet
John Escreet
John Escreet
b.1984
piano
does is simple—in spectacular style. But Sanchez doesn't stop there, composing eight monstrous originals that make the brain bubble without boiling over. Drummers have been leading this genre's creative charge for decades, and Sanchez looks like he's ready to add his name to that list.

8...

Linda Oh
Linda Oh
Linda Oh

bass

Sun Pictures
(Greenleaf Music)

Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
b.1963
trumpet
deserves big love for using his label Greenleaf Music as a launch pad for bright young players like Oh, whose second Greenleaf release tells Sophomore Slump to take a flying leap. The Douglas Quintet bassist both tightens and sharpens her sound by recruiting Kneebody saxman Ben Wendel
Ben Wendel
Ben Wendel

saxophone
and trading Fabian Almazan
Fabian Almazan
Fabian Almazan
b.1984
piano
's lyrical keyboards for James Muller
James Muller
b.1974
guitar
's taut guitar. The result is a razor-sharp set of originals crafted entirely from carbon fiber: Light enough to make any creative move Oh demands, but strong enough to handle the boundary- stretching heights Oh visits on each exemplary piece. Sophomore Slump? PAH!!

7...

Arturo O'Farrill and the Chico O'Farrill
Chico O'Farrill
Chico O'Farrill
1921 - 2001
composer/conductor
Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra
Final Night at Birdland
(Zoho Music)

Some traditions should be kept up, and that's what Arturo O'Farrill did by maintaining the weekly Birdland residency of his father Chico's big band. The bad news is all good things must come to an end; the good news is, on the night THIS good thing ended in 2011, Arturo was rolling tape. There's an undeniable majesty to the multi- chapter Chico pieces "Tanga Suite"—co-written with the legendary Mario Bauza
Mario Bauza
Mario Bauza
1911 - 1993
trumpet
—and "Three Afro Cuban Jazz Moods," while the only thing blue in "Havana Blues" is the title. Arturo's expansive love letter "Fathers and Sons, From Havana to New York and Back Again" combines past and present to put a terrific cap on both the residency and this release.

6...

Dave Holland
Dave Holland
Dave Holland
b.1946
bass

Prism
(Dare2)

With the volcanic fusion opener "The Watcher," Holland delivers a LeBron James-quality head fake: It gives the impression that Prism is just an all-star reboot of Holland's days with the post-Bitches Brew Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
. As it turns out, Prism offers sterling modern jazz in both electric and acoustic, as well as an honest-to-Miles "band" with a watertight sense of unity and purpose. The writing credits are as evenly distributed as the solos, and Kevin Eubanks
Kevin Eubanks
Kevin Eubanks
b.1957
guitar
cooks up more of the startling chops he served on his 2013 Mack Avenue disc The Messenger. Hopefully, Prism bucks the trend of outings like this turning out to be one-off affairs.

5...

Ryan Cohan
Ryan Cohan
Ryan Cohan
b.1971
piano

The River
(Motema)

Before the internet or the telephone, the river was how people connected with each other— and in some countries, it's still done that way today. Cohan's State Department- sponsored tour of East Africa inspired a riveting "song cycle" that mixes regional rhythms and musical styles with Cohan's uncompromising writing and arranging skills. The excited "Arrival," the awe-struck "Domboshava" and the celebratory "Last Night at the Mannenberg" communicate a real sense of the region without co-opting it. Ryan Cohan needs to be in the mix when the discussion turns to this generation's great composers—and besides, he's a great tour guide!

4...

New Gary Burton Quartet
Guided Tour
(Mack Avenue)

"The New Gary Burton Quartet": Why add the qualifier? Why not pull a Brubeck and bring back the old band name? To Gary Burton
Gary Burton
Gary Burton
b.1943
vibraphone
's credit, the "New" designation acknowledges the septuagenarian mallet master has joined forces with members of a new generation. And "joined" is the proper term, because Guided Tour has a unity and direction that their first release Common Ground (Mack Avenue, 2011) sadly lacked. What's more, tracks like "The Lookout," "Jackalope" and "Sunday's Uncle" are muscular head-snappers that show the ghosts of quartets past do not trouble the NGBQ.

3...

Chris Potter
Chris Potter
Chris Potter
b.1971
reeds

The Sirens
(ECM)

Fairly or unfairly, ECM is best known for crystalline releases that emphasize studied introspection over unbridled passion. If there's anyone who could bridge that gap, Chris Potter is the guy: It's a big ask to find a tenor player in the current generation with sharper technique than this former disciple of Red Rodney
Red Rodney
Red Rodney
1927 - 1994
trumpet
; contrarywise, jazz' best ambassador to the jam-band universe is the formidable Chris Potter Underground. Potter transports the fire from the Underground to an acoustic format that showcases the expressive side of keyboardist Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
b.1970
keyboard
. Throw in a Hall of Fame rhythm section like Eric Harland
Eric Harland
Eric Harland
b.1976
drums
and Larry Grenadier
Larry Grenadier
Larry Grenadier
b.1966
bass
, and The Sirens closes all gaps with a resounding SLAM!

2...

Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
b.1962
trumpet

Magnetic
(Blue Note)

While Blanchard can make revolutionary music anywhere, the redoubtable trumpeter's best moments in this century have come on Blue Note. Magnetic is more than just a return to the iconic label after an eight-year hejira; it's also something of a family reunion, as former Blanchard sidemen Brice Winston and Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
b.1973
guitar
help make the best free-standing work Blanchard's done since 2005's Flow. Keyboardist Fabian Almazan
Fabian Almazan
Fabian Almazan
b.1984
piano
is truly blossoming as both player and composer, while Kendrick Scott
Kendrick Scott
Kendrick Scott
b.1980
drums
remains one of the most inspiring drummers in the genre today. Blanchard is back, and Blue Note's got him. HUZZAH!

1...

Rudresh Mahanthappa
Rudresh Mahanthappa
Rudresh Mahanthappa
b.1971
sax, alto

Gamak
(ACT)

While Mahanthappa has worked with death-defying guitarists like David Gilmore
David Gilmore
David Gilmore

guitar
and Rez Abbasi
Rez Abbasi
Rez Abbasi

guitar
, David Fiuczynski
David Fiuczynski
David Fiuczynski
b.1964
guitar
is a totally different animal—with an emphasis on "animal"! Pairing these two dominant soloists up should have been a disaster of Hindenburg proportions. Happily, Fuze's Monk-with-a- Stratocaster attack dovetails perfectly with the altoist' Eastern approach to Western music. Pieces like "Abhogi," "Lots of Interest" and "Majesty of the Blues" jump with a turbo-charged funk that sends Mahanthappa's next-level compositions right into orbit. The only answer to this head- spinning assault is, "More, please!"

It's both easy and understandable to worry about the future of jazz, what with the economy taking a hammer to the festival scene and the shrinkage of media outlets willing to give the genre a regular home. But these releases—and the many others that missed the cut, even though they were outstanding in their own right—show the last thing that needs to be worried about is the music itself. Here's to that, and here's to the future!

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