From the 200 or so discs that I heard in 2022, here are eleven new issues (in roughly the order I came across them), which gave me the most pleasure. As ever I find it particularly invidious to pick and choose between honest artistic endeavours. So perhaps it's better to view these selections as a chance to pick up on something that you might otherwise have missed. As a fan I always look forward to the annual year end lists for precisely that reason. If you share my taste (that's the key bit), then something here might just be for you!
John DikemanVolume 1
For those worried about soaring energy bills, the inflammatory foursome of tenor saxophonist John Dikeman
, pianist Pat Thomas
, bassist John Edwards
and drummer Steve Noble
certainly offers one solution. They must have truly warmed the room at London's Cafe Oto on a cold February evening in 2019, on the evidence of the forty minute program presented on Volume 1
. It's hard to think of a more potent set of practitioners of the free jazz vernacular than this particular agglomeration, all at the top of their game, drawing on years of experience.
Michael FormanekWere We Where We Were
During the pandemic, bassist Michael Formanek
acquired a fascination with musical palindromes, leading to the three pieces here which contain parts that can be performed exactly the same left to right as right to left. Although he has only three voices in his Drome Trio at his disposal, Formanek brings an orchestral sensibility to the organization of different settings, accompaniments and emotional pacing. Canadian reedman Chet Doxas
brings a lyrical tendency to his improvising, as he murmurs, slides and corkscrews through Formanek's charts, using twists and slurs to convey nuance. Vinnie Sperrazza
proves a tuneful drummer, crisp, conversational and tasteful in a good way where everything he plays lands just right.
Rodrigo AmadoWe Are Electric
Not Two Records
Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado
hits the jackpot with the debut by his Northern Liberties quartet. He's found gifted collaborators in the Norwegian triumvirate of trumpeter Thomas Johansson
, drummer Gard Nilssen
and bassist Jon Rune Strøm
. Amado's preferred domain is muscular free jazz. Spontaneous orchestration based around simple extemporized figures and off-the-cuff counterpoint avoids the default blowing session vibe, while textural interludes link the varying flavors of give and take as moods speed by, transitioning on to the next almost before they've had chance to register.
Michael BisioThe Flow of Everything
Bassist Michael Bisio
and pianist Matthew Shipp
have enjoyed a near symbiotic relationship, ever since the former joined the latter's trio in 2009. The Flow Of Everything
constitutes their third recording as a duet and maintains the preternaturally high standards they have set in the interim. Unsurprising as the pair represent two of the supreme stylists on their respective instruments, united by a go-anywhere attitude and a commitment to the magic of the moment. In nine cuts rammed with absorbing micro-detail, the jostling contrapuntal interplay creates a constant flux of tension and resolution.
Myra MelfordFor The Love Of Fire And Water
Inspired by artist Cy Twombly, pianist Myra Melford
has produced a superb album which combines notated signposts with unbridled interweavings. She's helped by an all star squad comprising some of New York's most accomplished instrumentalists: guitarist Mary Halvorson
, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock
, cellist Tomeka Reid
and drummer Susie Ibarra
. It's the dazzling and distinctive improvising which elevates this set above the norm.
Tony MalabyThe Cave Of Winds
Saxophonist Tony Malaby
connects with a crew of long standing partners on The Cave Of Winds by Sabino, an outfit resurrected from his 2002 debut, with guitarist Ben Monder
replacing Marc Ducret the only change. Joining them are the seasoned rhythm team of bassist Michael Formanek
and drummer Tom Rainey
. The level of trust and knowledge which stems from the foursome's long associations allows Malaby to follow a favored strategy whereby the compositional elements, themselves often derived from improvisations, can be so internalized that they often emerge seemingly organically during freeflowing exchanges. It's a delicious and compelling effect.
Brandon Lopez / Ingrid Laubrock / Tom RaineyNo Es La Playa
The addition of bassist Brandon Lopez
to the recognized duo of saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock
and drummer Tom Rainey
provides proof once more, though maybe not in the manner Aristotle envisaged, that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. The liners allude to the success of the threesome's first gig at Park Slope's Barbes in 2017, and the reasons for their satisfaction can be heard all over the outstanding, unpredictable and empathetic interchange across the six studio improvs contained on No Es La Playa
Kirk KnuffkeGravity without Airs
Having enlisted two master improvisers in bassist Michael Bisio
and pianistMatthew Shipp
, cornetist Kirk Knuffke
wisely gives them free rein to do what they do best. Consequently it's the interaction between them which is paramount. Knuffke's lyricism -he's tuneful even when there isn't a tune -remains uncompromised, perfectly balanced by Bisio and Shipp's often oblique contributions. And when there is a tune, the result can be killing, as Knuffke layers some beautiful melodies over sensitive but not reverential backing.
David MurraySeriana Promethea
While David Murray
releases have become less prolific over the decades he remains restlessly active and Seriana Promethea
by his Brave New World Trio ranks alongside his best. The eight cuts, seven by Murray and one cover, comprise material honed on tour and subsequently captured in the studio in November 2021. Each is based around accessible song form, handled with aplomb by bassist Brad Jones
and drummer Hamid Drake
, who furnish a rock solid bottom end and a buoyant swing which backs the leader to go as far out as he wishes, but packs enough sass to grip tight when needed. Classic jazz, but what sets it apart is that it is done so well with absolute conviction.
John Butcher La Pierre Tachée
Ni Vu Ni Connu
On La Pierre Tachée
saxophonist John Butcher
reunites with French pianist Sophie Agnel
, whose widescreen conception and varied palette often contradicts the actual numbers engaged. She's developed an wholly singular approach fusing: conventional notes; percussive flinty raps, spectral shimmer, muffled clangs, and resonant clunks from various preparations under the bonnet; and also doggedly non idiomatic tones which totally belie their source. Atmospheres come and go, variously mysterious, meditative, anxious and intense, but always seemingly governed by a mutually agreed but unforeseen logic. The dialogue implies a real time appreciation of shape and structure. Their's is a perfectly poised communion. And it's worth noting that this is one of 5 LPs released simultaneously in a series celebrating Butcher, all of which are exceptional.
Kaja DrakslerZurich Concert
Over the course of the five years since its inception, Punkt. Vrt. Plastik, the trio of Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler
, Swedish bassist Petter Eldh
and German drummer Christian Lillinger
, has become one of the premier bands on the European circuit. Definitive proof arrives courtesy of Zurich Concert
, the unit's third album, recorded at the 2021 unerhört!-Festival in the titular Swiss city. Although all but one of the selections appear on the outfit's first two releases, they present differently here, their reimaginings injected with new life, recontextualized in mini-suites imbued with volatility, surprise and skew-whiff brilliance.