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Year in Review

Troy Collins' Best Releases of 2014


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Considering the quantity of recordings released in a year's time, attempting to compile an end of the year list mentioning every first-rate session would be difficult at best. The ten titles included below are among the most exceptional new jazz albums I've heard in 2014.

Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack
...Awaits Silent Tristero's Empire
(Singlespeed Music)

Oboist Kyle Bruckmann based this pan-stylistic "musical phantasmagoria" on Thomas Pynchon's early novels, juxtaposing genres with a mercurial glee that parallels the author's referential literary gamesmanship. Bruckmann has demonstrated a penchant for stylistic diversity before, but never with the sort of slyly sophisticated sense of humor and accessibility presented here.

Marty Ehrlich Large Ensemble
A Trumpet in the Morning
(New World Records)

The first release from composer and multi-instrumentalist Marty Ehrlich dedicated solely to his orchestral music also features him as conductor. Despite his absence as a soloist, Ehrlich's soulful lyricism is well represented in the stellar performances of these complex multihued works, which are among the most captivating of his generation.

Jason Roebke Octet
(Delmark Records)

Bassist Jason Roebke's urbane themes and unconventional arrangements test his sidemen's mettle and exploit the group's close-knit chemistry on the recording debut of his Octet, leading to freewheeling interludes that convey what Whitney Balliett coined "the sound of surprise" and brilliantly encapsulate all that Chicago's contemporary jazz scene has to offer.

Wadada Leo Smith
The Great Lakes Suites
(TUM Records)

Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, in the midst of a late career renaissance, has recently bolstered an already impressive discography with a series of ambitious projects. Conceptually based on the awe-inspiring beauty of the Great Lakes, this majestic opus features an all-star quartet interpreting Smith's spare, episodic suites with poetic expressiveness.

Medeski, Martin & Wood + Nels Cline
Woodstock Sessions, Vol.2
(Woodstock Sessions)

Medeski Martin & Wood surpassed the promise of their early efforts long ago, transcending groove-laden excursions with bold, exploratory experiments in form and structure. Although collaborations with artists like John Scofield have been engaging, this spontaneous, free-form summit meeting with guitarist Nels Cline finds the venerable trio at its most adventurous.

Vinnie Sperrazza
(Loyal Label)

Rarely are debut albums as auspicious as the first release from Brooklyn-based drummer Vinnie Sperrazza under his own name. Sperrazza has contributed to a number of recordings in the last few years—but none of his prior collaborations sound quite as singular as this unique session, which ranges from languid to feverish.

Matthew Shipp Trio
Root of Things
(Relative Pitch Records)

The third recording by pianist Matthew Shipp's working trio confirms bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey as two of his most sympathetic collaborators. Emboldened by liberal arrangements that highlight their conversational interplay, Shipp's sidemen expand upon the rhythm section's role in this venerable format, reimagining the tradition in the process.

(Cuneiform Records)

Balancing sophisticated writing with adroit interplay, this intriguing session documents the harmonious chemistry shared by guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. Improvisational detours abound, but Thumbscrew's underlying focus on pre-conceived compositions instills a sense of stylistic cohesiveness to the trio's self-titled debut.

Chicago Underground Duo
(Northern Spy)

On their seventh recording as the Chicago Underground Duo, Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor delve further into disparate traditions than ever before, embracing the futuristic innovations of electronica and the primordial allure of ethnic folk forms in equal measure, demonstrating there are ample sound worlds left for the Duo to explore.

The Cookers
Time and Time Again
(Motema Music)

Although swinging post-bop is the forte of these elder statesmen, their avant-garde credentials lend a bold, modernistic edge to even the most straightforward tunes. The Cookers' spirited performances convey the informality of an old school blowing session, tempered by an awareness of song-craft that summarizes the entire spectrum of the jazz continuum.

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