John Sharpe's Best Releases Of 2017

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Here are ten new releases and two partial reissues, reviewed on All About Jazz, which stood out among the 200 or so discs that I heard this year.

Sylvie Courvoisier / Mary Halvorson
Crop Circles
(Relative Pitch Records)

Over the last fifteen years or more, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and guitarist Mary Halvorson have become two of the outstanding proponents on their instruments and consequently stalwarts of the NYC scene. On Crop Circles they present the product of their combined talents for the first time to dazzling effect. While both are stunning yet unpredictable improvisers, what gives this disc its singular flavor is the charts which serve as the basis for the inventive and playful extrapolation. There's a palpable chemistry between these two apparent on every track.

Eve Risser
En Corps Génération
(Dark Tree Records)

The eponymous debut En Corps (Dark Tree, 2012) by the French triumvirate of pianist Eve Risser, bassist Benjamin Duboc and drummer Edward Perraud made several year-end lists, and Génération belongs in the same category. Risser may be one of the most percussive of pianists, operating habitually with a palette which evokes variously a gamelan, marimba, xylophone, and music box. Perraud convinces as an ingenious purveyor of timbral diversity, but it's Duboc who keeps the show on the road ensuring that there's movement when needed and imaginative stasis when not. Many attempt to inhabit such terrain, but few can sustain it as well as these three.

William Parker
(Aum Fidelity Records)

Celebrated bassist William Parker showcases two distinct systems of music by different groups. Parker's Quartet takes a sideways look at the hard bop tradition, while In Order To Survive affords greater license to digress. Certainly the format plays to pianist Cooper-Moore's irrepressible energy. It often sounds as if he's constantly soloing and everyone feeds off that. The collection extends a timely bulletin on the condition of two of Parker's main outlets, and the conclusion must be that they are in the rudest of health.

Harris Eisenstadt
On Parade In Parede
(Clean Feed Records)

Usually a quintet (occasionally even an octet), Canada Day has provided an accomplished vehicle for drummer Harris Eisenstadt's small group compositional output. But stripped back to a foursome, the ensemble raises things up a notch further. Eisenstadt presides over a noteworthy collective excellence, illuminated by flashes of individual brilliance. Being leaner and meaner results in more space for trumpeter Nate Wooley and saxophonist Matt Bauder which they exploit to the full.

Matt Mitchell
(Screwgun Records)

In demand pianist Matt Mitchell's allure is only likely to grow following this unaccompanied date inspired by and formed from the playbook of Screwgun label boss saxophonist Tim Berne. While for those familiar with the originals there will be additional layers of intrigue, the set more than stands on its own merits. Mitchell forges something new by utilizing fragments of scores and mashing elements of separate compositions together. By restricting himself Mitchell discovers a world of possibility in his source material, and he displays an astonishing facility in executing it with plentiful contrapuntal smarts.

Wadada Leo Smith
Solo: Reflections And Meditations On Monk
(TUM Records)

In the hundredth anniversary year of Thelonious Monk's birth, there won't be many better or more heartfelt tributes than this solo recital by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. Superbly captured, the program is equally split between four Monk tunes and four from his own pen inspired by episodes in the pianist's life. Smith chooses two classics and two lesser known works from the Monk canon and makes them entirely his own. Smith brings his marvelous structural sense to bear on both the originals and the covers, conveying emotional weight through his mastery of dynamics and tone.

Eric Revis
Sing Me Some Cry
(Clean Feed Records)

Away from his tenure with Branford Marsalis, bassist Eric Revis continues in adventurous vein. A prime reason for the band's success is how well reedman Ken Vandermark and pianist Kris Davis connect. The saxophonist trades on a winning mix of R&B-inflected riffs and expressive textures which mesh well with Davis' penchant for sturdily reiterated figures. Add Revis' sprung rhythms and drummer Chad Taylor's ability to create a compelling thrust from unusual components and the excitement when they zero in on a staggered beat is rarely equalled.

Harris Eisenstadt
Recent Developments
(Songlines Records)

In spite of the prosaic name the performance by a stellar nine strong band more than matches the standard set by drummer Harris Eisenstadt's other larger works. While the descriptive titles telegraph a spare skeletal framework, the musical flesh they embody is rich and wide-ranging. Eisenstadt divides his main themes and variations with interludes for assorted permutations of his cast. As a consequence wayward outings by the likes of guitarist, but here banjoist, Brandon Seabrook and trumpeter Nate Wooley, rub shoulders with tight unisons, hocketed phrases and atmospheric ensemble improvs in a striking and thought provoking achievement.

Tomas Fujiwara
Triple Double
(Firehouse 12 Records)

Drummer Tomas Fujiwara's dynamite new outfit deploys the cream of the NYC scene in three instrumental pairings, a mini musical Noah's Ark if you will. Marching ahead are the trumpet and cornet of Ralph Alessi and Taylor Ho Bynum respectively, flanked by the twin guitars of Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook, with Fujiwara bringing up the rear in the company of fellow sticksman Gerald Cleaver. If the caliber of protagonists isn't enough to get the juices running, then the uses to which Fujiwara puts them surely is. Across ten cuts, the volatile twists of the leader's exploratory structures offer fertile opportunities to investigate the combinations inherent in the novel line up.

Mat Maneri
Sounding Tears
(Clean Feed Records)

In the wake of Evan Parker's residencies at New York's The Stone, a slew of tremendous recordings has emerged featuring the British saxophonist's encounters with downtown luminaries. But arguably, none of them has the impact of Sounding Tears, which marries the reedman with violist Mat Maneri and pianist Lucian Ban. In consort they mine a opulent seam of austere beauty. The overarching impression is of restrained passion, manifest particularly in Maneri's sighing and murmuring viola. By maintaining such a firm focus on a relatively narrow range of feeling, aptly summed up by the title, they have struck gold.

Howard Riley
Constant Change 1976-2016
(NoBusiness Records)

Howard Riley's discography contains at least 14 entries under solo piano. And that doesn't count the dates where he overdubbed himself two or three times. So listeners might legitimately ask the question: do we need any more? Well on this showing the answer is, unfortunately for sagging shelves, a resounding yes. The box set assembles together two CDs worth of concert and out of print selections recorded between 1976 and 1987, and supplements it with three CDs of newly minted material from 2014-2016. While the older vintage has its plus points, it's the newer crop which is deserving of the five stars and is essential.

Matthew Shipp
(Rogue Art Records)

Originally issued back in 1999, pianist Matthew Shipp's Magnetism (Bleu Regard), united him with long standing soul mates bassist William Parker and saxophonist Rob Brown. Like many of Shipp's albums of that period it comprises a sequence of short aphoristic pieces, fruitful and pithy. Now reissued, that studio session is paired with a live performance from The Stone by the same line up recorded 17 years later. The most significant change is the switch to long form improvisation, where peaks and troughs materialize spontaneously from the vibrant interchange. Considered in the round, the earlier disc shades it for its intensity and variety.

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