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Dan McClenaghan's Best Releases Of 2018


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The music keeps moving forward, evolving to higher levels. My search for the best jazz recordings of 2018 led me to these marvelous CDs.

Satoko Fujii—Satoko Fujii SoloSatoko Fujii
Satoko Fujii Solo
Libra Records

A person's sixtieth birthday serves as a milestone, more so in Japan—where it is referred to as "Kanreki"—than elsewhere. Pianist/composer/bandleader Satoko Fujii celebrated her Kanreki in 2018, by releasing an album a month—no kicking back in the rocking chair for her. Satoko Fujii Solo, the January edition of her celebration, is an alone-with-the-piano outing, one of her most beautiful and accessible recordings.

Fred Hersch Trio—Live In EuropeFred Hersch Trio
Live In Europe
Palmetto Records

Pianist Fred Hersch is so consistently excellent with his recordings—mostly trio and solo sets—that it's getting scary. And he's prolific, offing up an album or two per years. He didn't slack off in 2018, releasing this terrific trio outing followed up by the archival Fred Hersch Trio '97 @ The Village Vanguard.

Dave Liebman/John Stowell—Petite Fleur: The Music Of Sidney BechetDave Liebman/John Stowell
Petite Fleur: The Music Of Sidney Bechet
Origin Records

It may not be considered hip to be into the music of Sidney Bechet—or any jazz artist who didn't transition into the bebop arena after alto saxophonist Charlie Parker hit the scene. Saxophonist Dave Liebman and guitarist John Stowell take a fresh look at the music of the pioneer Bechet.

Denny Zeitlin—Wishing On The MoonDenny Zeitlin
Wishing On The Moon
Sunnyside Records

This is pianist Denny Zeitlin at the top of his trio game with bassist Buster Williams and drummer Matt Wilson, on a live set brimming with energy, sprinkled with a nuanced and good humored audacity.

Henry Threadgill 14 Or 15 Kestra:Agg—Dirt...And More DirtHenry Threadgill 14 Or 15 Kestra:Agg
Dirt...And More Dirt
Pi Records

Pulitzer prize winner Henry Threadgill released two albums simultaneously in 2018. Both are worthy of "Best Of The Year" slots." The saxophonist/flutist/composer's focus of his unique vision has sharpened to a fine, gleaming edge..

Danny Green Trio Plus StringsDanny Green Trio Plus Strings
One Day It Will
QA2 Records

The Danny Green Trio stepped up to the top tier with After The Calm (OA2 Records, 2016), maintained that level of excellence on Altered Narratives (OA2 Records, 2017), and took another step up with One Day It Will, for the Danny Green Trio Plus Strings outing.

Thomas Marriott—Romance LanguageThomas Marriott
Romance Language
Origin Records

Trumpeter Thomas Marriott changes pace with this album, stepping away from freewheeling improvisation and robust blowing to immerse himself in "the simple beauty of a well-played melody." It is a change of pace—that pays off handsomely.

Kenny Werner—The SpaceKenny Werner
Pirouet Records

Pianist Kenny Werner has been making top notch jazz records for a very long time. He seems to have achieved a high plateau with his work for Pirouet Records—four releases since 2015. The Space is a solo piano installment, a minimalist, Zen poem of sound, as beautiful as anything Werner has created.

Hal Galper Quartet Featuring Jerry Bergonzi—CubistHal Galper Quartet featuring Jerry Bergonzi
Origin Records

Pianist Hal Galper has been in the process of rounding out a long career with a stint at Origin Records, with eight releases showcasing his rubato style of play, mostly in the piano tro format. For Cubist, saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi sits in—a perfect fit for Galper's artistic vision.

Pamela Hines Trio—The Music Of Richard WhitingPamela Hines Trio
The Music Of Richard Whiting
Katya Records

This late-in-the-year release by pianist Pamela Hines represents an elevation of her artistry to the highest level. A piano trio outing that sparkles with an energetic beauty.

Rich Halley 3—the LiteratureRich Halley 3
The Literature
Pine Eagle Records

Powerhouse saxophonist Rich Halley steps away from his freer blowing, highly improvised recordings with a disc featuring music that has influenced him. Tunes from Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus get the raging, roaring Halley treatment, and stand up beautifully.

Steffen Schorn & Zurich Jazz Orchestra—Three PicturesSteffen Schorn & Zurich Jazz Orchestra
Three Pictures
Mons Records

Multiple reedman Steffen Schorn carved out the best big band album of the year, a swooping, soaring, left of center, accessible outing features two very different, dynamic suites, and more.

Bobo Stenson Trio—Contra La IndecisionBobo Stenson Trio
Contra la Decision
ECM Records

Pianist Bobo Stenson is a master of the piano trio. This recording stands tall with the best of the year.

Nikita Rafaelov—Spirit Of GaiaNikita Rafaelov
Spirit of Gaia
Gotta Let it Out Records

And lastly, newcomer Nikita Rafaelov offers up an innovative take on the solo piano genre, inspired by "the circle of life and nature."

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