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J Hunter's Best Releases of 2010

J Hunter By

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Counting down the best releases of 2010:

Allison Miller
Boom Tic Boom


Anyone with job references as diverse as organ icon Dr. Lonnie Smith and indie singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco must have something interesting to say, and drummer Allison Miller proves that out. Boom Tic Boom is a square-peggish gumbo that flirts with the chaotic but never loses its way. Avant-garde pianist Myra Melford adds thrilling depth and boundless thought, and Jenny Scheinman's quicksilver violin makes a delightful cameo on one of the best small-label releases of 2010.

Luis Bonilla

Don't be fooled by the disc title or the cover photo; Twilight is not a smooth jazz crossover, or an alternate soundtrack to a teen vampire film. Trombonist Luis Bonilla's latest effort may not have the "Hulk smash!" attitude of I Talking Now (PlanetArts, 2009), but trading raw power for richer colors was a very smart move. Bonilla's band also makes some hot compositional contributions, adding a terrific sense of unity to this outstanding sophomore effort

Night of the Cookers
Jazz Legacy Productions

The seemingly-impossible has happened: A jazz disc has something in common with a Bruce Willis film! Willis' recent release Red is about a group of retired spies who make fools of the modern intelligence community. Drummer Billy Hart, multi-instrumentalist Craig Handy, trumpeter Eddie Henderson and saxophonist Billy Harper aren't retired, but they are part of a group of veteran players who show today's jazzers how it's done. And unlike Red, a sequel to Warriors is coming in 2011!

Frank Vignola
100 Years of Django


Guitarist Frank Vignola reminds us that a big band isn't necessary for music to swing, that music doesn't have to be low and slow in order to be intimate, and—in the right hands—an accordion can be just as hot as a Hammond B3. 100 is the best portrait ever drawn of Django Reinhardt, as Vignola concentrates on the painstaking detail the legendary gypsy guitarist put into the timeless standards that remains popular fodder for performance and reinterpretation.

Sunny Jain
Brooklyn Jazz Underground

Sexual orientation, gender identity, and violence against women may be hot topics elsewhere, but in the South Asian community, they're not even acknowledged, let alone discussed. Taboo is an explosive blast across that community's bow from one of its own. Guitarist Nir Felder, keyboardist Marc Cary, and vocalist Sachal Vasandani join Jain in this thunderous fusion of jazz and South Asian idioms to declare that prejudice and injustice can no longer be tolerated.

Avishai Cohen - Trumpet
Introducing Triveni

The "Anat Cohen's brother" sign needs to come off Avishai the Trumpeter's back ASAP, because this electrifying set of acoustic trio jazz really brings him into his own. Free of the concept album heaviness of Flood (Anzic, 2008), Triveni is a group thing in the best sense of the phrase. Cohen's chemistry with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits is completely hypnotic, and while the band's originals are undeniably great, their vivid takes on Don Cherry and Duke Ellington are even better.

You Can Have Your Moment

Winter & Winter

Separately, these players put any doubts to rest about whether this generation of jazzers can carry the weight of this genre's future; together, Kneebody grabs fusion by the scruff of the neck and flings it headlong into the future... for its own good, of course. Kneebody's music is light-years from the fusion of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, although their legendary DNA can be easily detected. Moment is jazz for the 21st century, with insightful writing, Avatar-quality special effects, and a group dynamic that could stun a team of oxen in its tracks.

John Ellis
Puppet Mischief

Ellis' twisted take on 21st-century New Orleans just can't (and shouldn't) be stopped. Double Wide is now officially a sextet, but that's not subtraction by addition, since most of the players on this disc appeared on Dance like There's No Tomorrow (Hyena, 2009). Sousaphone has never sounded funkier, and neither has drum-Godzilla Jason Marsalis, who is the turbocharged engine Puppet Mischief needs to go this fast, fly this high, and be this much fun. Les bon ton roulez... into the future!

Christian Scott
Yesterday You Said Tomorrow
Concord Music Group

Trumpeter Christian Scott's always had the chops, but his ability to compose powerful, personal statements is now officially off the charts. Yesterday is blistering political commentary at its best, with this son of New Orleans (and nephew of Donald Harrison) taking on everything from his hometown police department to the campaign to defeat Proposition 8. None of Yesterday is pretty, but all of it is glorious, and it contains the kind of piercing insight this genre sorely needs.

Mostly Other People Do the Killing
Forty Fort

Hot Cup

Purists were fervently hoping This is Our Moosic (Hot Cup, 2008) was one of those nightmares that's usually the penalty for eating too many deep-fried jalapeno poppers before bedtime. No such luck! The Pennsylvania provocateurs are back, with their singular mix of Ornette Coleman aesthetic and soul-jazz delivery... and this time, it's personal! MOPDTK picks up where The Bad Plus leaves off, and they don't need to cover Black Sabbath or Burt Bacharach to shock the system. They're not going away, either—so duck and cover, or learn to love it!

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