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Dan McClenaghan's Top Jazz Recordings of 2022


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The top jazz recordings of 2022, in no particular order.

Justin Morell—Exit Music For Intelligent Life On EarthJustin Morell
Exit Music For Intelligent Life On Earth
Sonic Frenzy Records

A provocative and beautiful guitar and drums album. Guitarist Justin Morell has teamed with drummer Mark Ferber (see postscript concerning Ferber at the end of this article) to construct an important set of sounds addressing climate change and global warming with a science fiction-like exit of the Earth to escape these problems. This concept goes hand-in-hand with author Kim Stanley Robinson's "Science In The Capitol" novels concerning climate change.

Satoko Fujii & Joe Fonda—Thread Of LightSatoko Fujii & Joe Fonda
Thread of Light
FSR Records

Pianist Satoko Fujii and bassist Joe Fonda have, over five album's worth of work, become a magical music-making pair. Both are ever-evolving artists. Thread Of Light is the duo's most compelling work to date, with their crafting of an approachable yet cerebral avant-garde sound.

Franco Ambrosetti —NoraFranco Amrosetti
Enja Records

Franco Ambrosetti's album is called simply Nora. Short and sweet, four letters, two syllables. But it could easily have been called "Franco Ambrosetti with Strings," as the Swiss flugelhornist & trumpeter follows the orchestral path of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and his groundbreaking Charlie Parker With Strings (Verve, 1950), trumpeter Chet Baker's Chet Baker with Strings (Columbia, 1953) or trumpeter Clifford Brown's Clifford Brown with String (Verve, 1955). Those early forays into orchestral jazz set the template of lush backdrops spread out to showcase the jazz chops of the artists who choose to go that way. The "With Strings" genre seems to have a Jovian gravitational pull for a good percentage of serious jazz players, Franco Ambrosetti being one of them.

Wadada Leo Smith—Emerald DuetsWadada Leo Smith
Emerald Duets
TUM Records

Emerald Duets is a five-CD set that features trumpeter Smith teamed with four different drummers—Pheeroan AkLaff, Andrew Cyrille, Han Bennink and—on two CDs—Jack DeJohnette. All are veterans of the avant-garde, with DeJohnette boasting a good deal more straight-ahead cred from his long tenure in Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio. All of these masters make the drums sing, and they can also make their percussion approaches pull the music in the direction of the cosmic. It is often said that a piano is a one-player orchestra. The same can be said for the drum set, especially on The Emerald Duets, with its spacious approach that lets nuance and subtlety take center stage.

Benjamin Lackner —Last DecadeBenjamin Lackner
Last Decade
ECM Records

In a 2006 interview for All About Jazz written by Joao Moriera dos Santos, pianist/keyboardist Benjamin Lackner was asked: "What label would you like to be on in the near future?" He said, simply, "ECM." In 2022 that happened, deservedly, with Last Decade, an excellent quartet outing featuring trumpeter Mathias Eick, drummer Manu Katche—both fellow ECM-ers—and longtime Lackner band bassist Jérôme Regard. Beautiful sounds. Here is hoping for more ECM sets from Lackner.

Gordon Grdina's Nomad Trio—Boiling PointGordon Grdina's Noma Trio
Boiling Point
Astral Spirits

Gordon Grdina has had a busy 2022. The year should be considered as the time when it all came together for the Vancouver-based guitarist/oud-ist. Oddly Enough: The Music Of Tim Berne, Night's Quietest Hour, and Pathways, all on Attaboygirl Records, were released in the first six months of 2022—a productive time. Add to that Boiling Point, the second outing by Gordon Grdina's Nomad Trio. Joined by pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Jim Black, the Nomad Trio crafts prickly, angular, uncompromising music. All of his 2022 efforts could fit nicely on this list, but we will limit him to one slot.

Steve Tibbetts— Hellbound Train—An AnthologySteve Tibbetts
Hellbound Train —An Anthology
ECM Records

In a recording career that began in 1976 and picked up traction with his ECM Records debut, Northern Song (1981), Steve Tibbetts has maintained a remarkably focused and cohesive vision. He has played in soothing acoustic modes, and he offers up some searing electricity, but always his music hypnotizes and pulses with an organic spiritual bliss. Pick an album, sit in a comfortable chair in a dim room, press "Play" and a vision might come to mind of a wall-mounted holographic television set from the future presenting amorphous shapes and striking alien landscapes opening an entrance into another dimension that offers an immersion into an utterly otherworldly soundtrack. A whole new world.

Hellbound Train—An Anthology, brings the word "minimalism" to mind. The instrumentation is spare, consisting mostly of Tibbetts' signature guitar work interwoven by percussion instruments (much from Tibbets' long-time cohort, Marc Anderson)- -a kalimba, steel drums, congas, gongs, hand pans, bongos and the occasional bass and cello, all of these together shaping an understated ambiance, with the occasional electric guitar squalling out of diaphanous backdrops.

Samo Salamon— Dolphyology: The Complete Eric Dolphy For Solo GuitarSamo Salamon
Dolphyology: The Complete Eric Dolphy For Solo Guitar
Samo Records

The solo guitar setting allows for a fresh review of the Eric Dolphy sound. Samo Salamon put the isolation caused by the Covid experience to good use by delving deep into the reedman's artistry, listening, transcribing, playing and recording Dolphy tunes in quarantine isolation, in his living room. The twenty-eight compositions presented here, on two CDs, break the Dolphy approach down to its essence. The music is treated reverently, with a good deal of highly inspired improvisation. .

Marc Copland— SomedayMarc Copland

Marc Copland is probably best known for his trio work. With the possible exception of Bill Evans, nobody has consistently worked the format with such finesse and success, with such a deft subtlety of touch and harmonic depth, and created such stunning beauty. But Copland's work with horn men should not be overlooked. Trumpeters Ralph Alessi, Randy Brecker and Tim Hagan, as well as saxophonists Greg Osby and Dave Liebman, have contributed their artistry to Copland's recordings. Now, with Someday, Copland enlists saxophonist Robin Verheyen, in a quartet outing that includes veteran bassist Drew Gress and drummer Mark Ferber. This lineup is perhaps less identifiable as an all-star affair than are many previous Copland albums. Drummer Ferber and saxophonist Verheyan do not have the high-end profiles of some of Copland's previous recording mates like bassist Gary Peacock or guitarist John Abercrombie or drummer Paul Motian. But both Ferber and Verheyen are locked into Copland's vision of how things should sound—the elasticity of melody, the fluid spontaneity, the zest for surprises and the embrace of beauty. The result: one of Copland's finest efforts, and certainly his best quartet outing to date.

Satoko Fujii_One Hundred DreamsSatoko Fujii
One Hundred Dreams
Libra Records

Fujii's discography runs from solo to big band outings and everything in between. Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams features a nonet that, under Fujii's leadership, crafts a distinctive 5-part suite which whispers and wails, swings and bops, ruminates and riots, and then noodles around with life-affirming, sometimes whimsical energy. Electronicist Ikue Mori layers in surreal backdrops; trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith and Natsuki Tamura inject, by turns, straight-ahead blowing and wildly avant-garde sounds. All of that sounds as if it would make a dense weave, but it does not. The music is spacious. It breathes. The ensemble is often broken into smaller groupings. The additions of two reedists—tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck—add soothing colors not usually encountered in a Fujii outing, outside of her big bands. Add to this a rhythm section of pianist Fujii, bassist Brandon Lopez and two drummers—Tom Rainey and Chris Corsano—and you have music which veers away somewhat from the sounds of other Fujii's outings, characteristically—each Fujii recording is another step forward.

Postscript: Drummer Mark Ferber appears on two of the albums on this list: Justin Morell's Exit Music For Intelligent Life On Earth And Marc Copland's Someday. An excellent drummer always finds ways to elevate the music.


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