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Dan McClenaghan's Best Releases of 2017

Dan McClenaghan By

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The music keeps moving forward, evolving to higher levels. My search for the best jazz recordings of 2017 led me to these marvelous CDs.

Wadada Leo Smith—NajwaWadada Leo Smith
Tum Records

Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith offers up a "guitar" album, and the quality of musicianship, the concept and originality rise to the highest levels. There may never have been a late career surge of creative output as strong, prolific and compelling as Smith's, from Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform Records, 2012), to The Great Lakes Suite (TUM Records, 2014), to America's National Parks (Cuneiform Records, 2016, to Najwa.

Marc Copland—NightfallMarc Copland
Inner Voice Jazz

Pianist Marc Copland is almost peerless in his ability to craft stunningly beautiful, exploratory piano music. He goes solo on Nightfall. It is a sparkling jewel of the genre.

Fred Hersch—Open BookFred Hersch
Open Book
Palmetto Records

Another stop-time-in-its-tracks solo piano record. Fred Hersch's artistic approach has become more flexible, freer, more organic in the years after his recovery from serious illness. Pure beauty is always a factor in his music. His best? Perhaps.

Gary Peacock Trio—TangentsGary Peacock Trio
ECM Records

Widely known for his work in Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio—which may, sadly, be finished—bassist Gary Peacock has his own trio, and it is as top tier as they get: pianist Marc Copland (see second review on this list) and drummer Joey Baron sitting in with Peacock. Distinctively gorgeous and abstract, approachably cerebral and always searching.

Matt Mitchell—ForageMatt Mitchell
Screwgun Records

Pianist Matt Mitchell's profile rose on his work in alto saxophonist Tim Berne's group Snakeoil. With Forage, Mitchell, alone at the piano, goes deep into Berne's compositions—which seemed impossible for solo piano treatments, too dense and free flying. Mitchell proved that untrue, bigly.

Stefano Battaglia—PelagosStefano Battaglia
ECM Records

Spare, introspective, carrying the stamp of pianist Stefano Battaglia's classical training, this two-disc solo piano set—with prepared piano giving the sound a subtle spicing—explores serenity and deep inward musings.

Oded Tzur—Translator's NoteOded Tzur
Translator's Note
Enja Yellowbird Records

After John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins made their marks, shaping an original sound with a saxophone-led quartet has became a challenge. Saxophonist Oded Tzur was up to it. His Translator's Note explores mysterious and luminescent soundscapes unlike any others.

Billy Mintz—Ugly BeautifulBilly Mintz
Ugly Beautiful
Thirteenth Note Records

Like pianist Thelonious Monk or drummer Paul Motian, drummer Billy Mintz is an original. He makes music like no other artist out there. Inside? Outside? I don't know, and it doesn't matter. His vision is quirky and singular. He and his two saxophone and a rhythm section quintet make some of the most authentic music you'll find, on this two CD set of Mintz originals.

Matthew Shipp—Invisible Touch At Taktlos ZurichMatthew Shipp
Invisible Touch At Takltlos Zurich
Hatology Records

The prolific, idiosyncratic and free-spirited Matthew Shipp has fit in with the top tier of jazz pianists for a decade now, but 2016's Cactus (Northern Spy Records), with drummer Bobby Kapp, and 2017's Piano Songs, (Thirsty Ear Recordings), along with this freewheeling solo piano set, Invisible Touch At Taktlos Zurich, moves him up near the top of this exclusive grouping.

Satoko Fujii Orhestra New York—FukushimaSatoko Fujii Orchestra New York
Libra Records

Japanese pianist/bandleader/composer created one of her finest big band records with her New York Orchestra, on Fukushima. Stunningly "out there,' this reflection on the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power plant in Japan is a powerful and stunningly poignant work of art.

Jamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte—Loneliness Road Jamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte
Loneliness Road
Rare Noise Records Records

A terrific piano trio offering, with Iggy Pop—formerly of The Stooges—sitting in on three tunes, as a vocalist and co-writer, sounding like a voice of deep wisdom.

Rebecca Hennessy' FOG Brass Band —Two Calls Rebecca Hennessy's Fog BrassBand
Two Calls
Self Produced

Trumpeter/bandleader Rebecca Hennessy takes the brass band format places it's never gone before, on this dynamic and stimulating inside/outside set.

Jason Rigby: Detroit-Cleveland Trio—One Jason Rigby
Fresh Sound New Talent

Saxophonist Jason Rigby offers up a sax/bass/drums sound that is both nuanced and powerful—busting with guts, brimming with brains.

Dan Dean—Songs Without WordsDan Dean
Songs Without Words
Origin Classical

And lastly—something not jazz: Bassist Dan Dean has created a set of sounds as innovative, in its way, as the 1968's Moog synthesizer-driven Switched-On Bach (Columbia Masterworks, 1968), from the forward thinking Walter (Now Wendy) Carlos. Crafting a polar opposite of sorts of the legendary Carlos set, Dean—with just his bass and his overdubbed voice—shapes a gorgeous, soaring, ephemeral sound, drawing from Bach, Vivaldi and more from the classical world.


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