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Year in Review

Mark F. Turner's Best of 2013


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Jazz keeps growing and evolving through all of its permutations and 2013 was another stellar year of music. It's always difficult to pick the best from a host of outstanding releases yet the task is a labor of admiration. Another cool thing about "Year End" lists is discovering something new. Here are just a few of my favorites and hopefully something yet to be discovered for those unfamiliar with these fine releases.

Wayne Shorter Quartet
Without a Net
(Blue Note)

At 80 years young, the esteemed jazz patriarch continues to perform at a level of freedom and ingenuity that's well beyond peers and others who are much younger. His quartet for the past decade operate on a symbiotic level that is indeed remarkable as captured in a live recording that breathes with spontaneity and verve.

Rudresh Mahanthappa
With thick elements of South Indian music, Western influences that include country music and progressive rock, this release defies compartmentalization. With the help of a smoldering ensemble that includes the masterful idiosyncrasies of guitarist David Fiuczynski, jazz saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa creates a unique language that is both cerebral and enjoyable.

Cecile McLorin Salvant
(Mack Avenue)
To be young, gifted, and boldly confident, singer Cecile McLorin Salvant has the poise of jazz matriarchs in the lineage of Abbey Lincoln and Billie Holiday, yet exudes a new freshness that is modern and relevant. Salvant's debut on Mack Avenue remembers the past but moves forward with her own voice.

Jaimeo Brown
(Motema Music)
One of the most fascinating releases of 2013 channels inspiration from the descendants of African American slaves in Gee's Bend Alabama—women quilters whose vibrant artwork is a testament of ongoing creativity and endurance. Drummer Jaimeo Brown adds his own patterns to their fabric in a recording colored with the blues, rock, gospel music, and modernism. \

Dawn of Midi
(Thirsty Ear Recordings)
46 minutes of hypnotic machine-like precision is brought to you by the New York based piano trio with such artistic focus and execution that might easily be mistaken as electronically programmed. But this acoustic band is not just mimicking plugged-in music but expounding on the possibilities of how patterns and sound coalesce.

Matana Roberts
COIN COIN Chapter Two:Mississippi Moonchile
(Constellation Records)
A personal journey that is part music, genealogy, and ethnomusicology, saxophonist Matana Roberts continues to conjure the rich history of her roots through her Coin Coin series. Chapter Two is softer, heartfelt, and filled with fire.

RJ Miller
Ronald's Rhythm
(Loyal Label)
Electronic music comes in all sounds, colors, and textures, but drummer Ron Miller exploits the ambient side with chilled themes and moody soundscapes. The soul in the machine lies in the way Miller expertly juxtaposes his drum kit with piano, keyboards, and analog synthesizers through infectious melodies that move and groove.

(Melanine Harmonique Recordings)
Germinated from the seeds of a French American Jazz Exchange grant, the talented trio collective of drummer Guillermo E. Brown, bassist Keith Witty, and saxophonist Christophe Panzani produce an eclectic project of soulful, spaced-out music through voice, electronics, and acoustic instruments.

Vijay Iyer / Mike Ladd
Holding It Down: The Veterans' Dreams Project
(Pi Recordings)
Pianist Vijay Iyer and poet/emcee Mike Ladd continue their longtime collaboration through progressive music and spoken word. This time they explore the recorded experiences of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the medium of their dreams in a project that is compelling, disturbing, and thoroughly thought-provoking.

Yeahwon Shin
Lua Ya
(ECM Records)
South Korean singer Yeahwon Shin's debut on ECM is filled with innocent wonder and tenderness. The ambiance of Mechanics Hall, where the project was recorded; the intuitive playing from Shin's trio mates pianist Aaron Parks and accordionist Rubo Curto, and the singer's lovely voice are all factors in this beautiful release.

Emmanuel Bex / Mike Ladd / Nico Morelli
B2BILL: A modern tribute to Bill Evans
(Bonsai Music)
Add this the list of inventive trios with the collaboration of French musicians organist Emmanuel Bex and pianist Nico Morelli, joining forces with New York spoken word artist Mike Ladd. They spin and reinterpret covers and original tunes from the great Bill Evans served up with plenty of panache that's totally hip.

Valerie June
Pushin' Against A Stone
(Sunday Best Recordings)
Straight out of blues and roots music, by way of Tennessee, singer/guitarist Valerie June brings an unpretentious authenticity as she mixes rural, gospel, and folk music with lyrics laced with tenderness at one moment and hard life realities the next.

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