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Year in Review

Dan McClenaghan's Best Releases of 2015


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My search for the best jazz recordings of 2015 led me to these marvelous CDs.

Yelena Eckemoff—LionsYelena Eckemoff
L&H Productions

Pianist Yelena Eckemoff, originally from Russia, and originally a classical player, has driven deep into her quest to create first rate jazz. This ambitious two disc set, featuring Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen and American drum legend Billy Hart, is an exceptional example of the art of the piano trio.

Juhani Aaltonen & Iro Haarla—KirkastusJuhani Aaltonen & Iro Haarla
Tum Records

This is pure beauty. Finnish jazz artists Juhani Aaltonen, on tenor sax and flutes, and pianist Iro Haarla combine their considerable instrumental talents, freer-end-of-the-spectrum approaches and Haarla's deft, spiritually influenced compositions in a set of deep and intricate conversations.

Ran Blake—Ghost TonesRan Blake
Ghost Tones
A-Side Records Records

Pianist/composer/teacher/band leader Ran Blake paid tribute to one his his mentors, the innovative trombonist George Russell, a father of the Third Stream movement, with this subtle and ofttimes surreal mishmash of styles and sounds. This highly-cerebral-yet-highly-engaging and approachable work is absolutely sublime, and filled with dozens of small, gorgeous surprises.

Denny Zeitlin/George Marsh—Riding the MomentDenny Zeitlin/George Marsh
Riding the Moment
Sunnyside Records

Sometime it's not the young lions who are putting out the most innovative of sounds. Sometimes it's the seasoned veterans. Denny Zeitlin is better known for his piano solo and trio outings, dating back to the early sixties for Columbia Records, but he has a history with electronic explorations, notably on his masterful soundtrack to the 1978 science fiction movie Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. He teams with the virtuosic drummer George Marsh here for a set of spontaneous compositions featuring acoustic piano, in-the-moment electronics and inspired percussion modes, pushing things forward, always.

Geof Bradfield Quintet—Our Roots Geof Bradfield Quintet
Our Roots
Origin Records

Saxophonist/band leader/conceptualist Geof Bradfield looked backward and pushed forward at the same time. Taking his inspiration from sax man Clifford Jordan's 1965 Atlantic Records tribute to bluesman Huddie (Lead Belly) Ledbetter, These Are My Roots: The Music of Lead Belly, Bradfield and his cohorts deconstruct and reconstruct the old, the traditional and the original tribute, for a dynamic, gutsy, blues-based and fun-to-listen-to set of sounds.

Kenny Werner—the Melody Kenny Werner
The Melody
Pirouet Records

The title says it. Piano jazz veteran Kenny Werner treats the melodies well—a couple of standards, a Coltrane and five of his own distinctive tunes. One of the year's most enchanting piano trio sets.

Stefano Battaglia Trio—In The MorningStefano Battaglia Trio
In the Morning: Music of Alex Wilder
ECM Records

Italian pianist Stefano Battaglia and his trio mates delve into the music of Amercan composer Alec Wilder, who is no easy target to pin down, with a resume in classical music, film music, opera, and even jazz. Another gorgeous addition to ECM Records' long tradition of top notch piano trio recordings.

Maria Schneider Orchestra—The Thompson FieldsMaria Schneider Orchestra
The Thompson Fields
ArtisShare Records

Maria Schneider and her orchestra are magnificent yet again. This grand tribute to her childhood environs, the northern prairies, is majestic, expansive, tender and gorgeous from beginning to end.

Rich Halley 4—Creating StructuresRich Halley 4
Creating Structures
Pine Eagle Records

Nobody does the "free" chord-less quartet better the the Rich Halley 4. These are "late Coltrane wild" sounds, with more of a foundation, more discernible structures. Exhilarating stuff for those with open ears.

Yelena Eckemoff—EverblueYelena Eckemoff
L & H Production

The list begins with Yelena Eckemoff, and it will end there. The Russian-born pianist uses a Norwegian contingent—bassist Arild Andersen, saxophonist Tore Brunborg, and drummer Jon Christensen—to craft this beautiful, diaphonous quartet outing.

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