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
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 High/Red/Center
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
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 Apocryphal
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 yearsbut 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.
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 Locus
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
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.