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Year in Review

Troy Collins' Best Releases of 2017


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Considering the quantity of recordings released in a year's time, attempting to compile a comprehensive end of the year list mentioning every first-rate session would be difficult at best. The ten titles listed below represent a fertile cross-section of some of the most compelling modern jazz heard in 2017.

William Parker Quartets
(AUM Fidelity)

The common thread running through both sets of this diverse double-album is the camaraderie William Parker enjoys with his bandmates; their zealous interactions border on the clairvoyant, whether playing inside or outside the changes. Beguiling melodies, polyphonic harmonies, and elastic grooves are the core elements of Parker's work, all heard to great effect in this extensive collection.

The Jazz Passengers
Still Life With Trouble
(Thirsty Ear Recordings)

Veterans of the original Downtown scene, The Jazz Passengers continue to deliver exploratory post-bop and harmonious crooning with irrepressible charm and droll humor. Their stylistic eclecticism yields a medley of inspired originals and unexpected covers, performed with tangible enthusiasm. Three decades on, the group's irreverent blend of absurdity and virtuosity still sounds as mercurial as ever.

Mike Reed
Flesh & Bone
(482 Music)

Mike Reed's sober examination of a racist incident experienced on a 2009 European tour summarizes his manifold talents as a composer, improviser, and bandleader. Meticulously arranged, this well-crafted but deliberately ambiguous work juxtaposes driving swing and serene balladry with compelling readings of poetry that coalesce into one of the most fully-realized efforts in Reed's burgeoning discography.

Vijay Iyer Sextet
Far From Over
(ECM Records)

Vijay Iyer's intricate arrangements for his powerhouse sextet boast a sophisticated rhythmic sensibility that imbues engaging themes with an unpredictable foundation, reflecting his early days in the M-Base collective. Balancing high-minded conceptualism with heartfelt conviction, Iyer's equitable worldview draws inspiration from disparate genres, blending diverse source material into a cohesive and thrilling listening experience.

Mark Dresser Seven
Sedimental You
(Clean Feed Records)

Inspired in part by recent events, Mark Dresser's multi-faceted compositions expand on large-scale concepts, balancing freedom and form with a melancholy lyricism that evokes optimism, despite its downcast subject matter. Bolstered by his sidemen's mettle, Dresser's abilities as a composer, arranger and bandleader are amply demonstrated throughout one of the most ambitious efforts in his expansive discography.

Ben Allison
Layers of the City
(Sonic Camera Records)

Looking beyond traditional jazz for inspiration, Ben Allison continues to embrace populist tenets, weaving anthemic pop melodies, lush harmonies, and subtle rock music flourishes into an evocative sonic tapestry teeming with opulent Milesian lyricism. Accessible, but subtly adventurous, Allison's second release on his own label is a prime example of his continuing growth as a composer.

Tomas Fujiwara
Triple Double
(Firehouse 12 Records)

Tomas Fujiwara's unorthodox compositions feature an assortment of oblique structural gambits, enabling each member of this hybrid sextet to demonstrate their interpretive prowess, including Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook, whose fervent interplay elevates some of Fujiwara's most intense writing. Shifting between moods, episodic numbers reward repeated listens, confirming Fujiwara's rising presence as an artist of note.

Harriet Tubman
(Sunnyside Records)

Joined by ubiquitous veteran Wadada Leo Smith, the longstanding Downtown power trio Harriet Tubman assimilates various styles, drawing upon jazz, rock, funk, dub, and electronica for collectively improvised excursions that veer from thunderous grooves to atmospheric meditations. By turns assertive and beautiful, this futuristic effort surpasses even Smith's recent solo investigations into the Dark Prince's amplified innovations.

Matthew Shipp Trio
Piano Song
(Thirsty Ear Recordings)

Emphasizing open-ended arrangements that highlight their conversational rapport, Matthew Shipp's working group with Michael Bisio and Newman Taylor Baker offers a unique take on the venerable piano trio tradition. Transcending the formulaic limitations of both the mainstream and avant-garde, Shipp's final release for Thirsty Ear stands tall as one of the finest moments in his vast oeuvre.

Pat Martino
(HighNote Records)

Pat Martino's first studio album as a bandleader in over a decade reveals an enduring commitment to swing that recalls the guitarist's formative years in funky organ combos. Expanding his soulful trio into a quintet with horns, this alluring effort captures the ensemble's camaraderie and carefree exchanges, hearkening back to the relaxed blowing sessions of days past.

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