I had love and specific passion this year. I felt more detached, as many of my dispatches have noted over the last year but particularly in this week of assessment. I felt a listlessness about even completing this list, yet the need to communicate was still there. The need for completeness (in a task that can never be completed) still gnaws at me. I still had to express my voice since oddly enough some people were still wondering. I still also had to make known in list form what could probably have been surmised from week after week of Line-Up playlists. It’s the Season of Lists and much like the rest of the holidays, the obligations just couldn’t be ignored any longer. Also much like the holidays, once the obligation wears off, one can gleam some of the nice attributes of it all (or find someone to complain about it all with later). The holiday season and lists are all about appreciation and finding mutual complaints.
10. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – Real Enemies (New Amsterdam)
There’s a gift in being accessibly smart, in being charmingly weird, in being engrossingly multifaceted, in being organically collaborative as an artist and as an artwork. Every time Argue releases a major work with his Secret Society, these attributes always shine in new, fascinating ways. Through these musicians expressing themselves purely, they still manage to encompass themes of suspicion and nefariousness all around is that’s never an actual downer to hear, unless that was their plan all along.
9. Mast – Love and War_ (Alpha Pup)
What Tim Conley does is jostle. He’s an multifaceted electronic musician with a wonderful sense of arrangement, but it’s in how he can jostle into action numerous musicians into an impeccable curveball that one cannot ignore that really impresses. Taylor McFerrin is on this album; so is Tim Lefebvre, the Fresh Cut Orchestra, Louis Cole, Makaya McCraven, and numerous other musicians who share that same ability to jostle. What Tim Conley has managed to do in Love and War_ is make a three disc album with an unspoken character in its title that isn’t at all bloated and over insistant. That’s an accomplishment in itself. That’s such a brilliant electronic jazz album says even more.
8. Ben Wendel – What We Bring (Motéma)
Ben Wendel plays in circles. That’s always been how I described him in my head. I say the same thing about Steve Lehman; however, while both saxophonists’ circular nature convey a sense of completion, Lehman makes me want to mosh while Wendel makes me want to dance in one of the various impish fashions from A Charlie Brown Christmas and feel guilty about it because it’s worthy of concert halls. That rift is here in What We Bring, a sense of play in the midst of perfect expression. It’s no holds barred but only because of the expert piloting to ensure safety. Yes, it’s actually too good.
7. Corey King – Lashes (Ropeadope)
It’s difficult to describe Corey King’s Lashes. We’ve done it before here and we love the album. We can talk about how it makes you move. We can talk about its international dancehall influences. We can talk about how nice it is to hear King on vocals. There are so many things ot talk about in relation to Lashes but it’s hard to consolidate it into some single attribute to describe how it works so well, why it’s so compelling, why it seems to function outside of the constraints of genre yet still seem to require some form of classification to convey why exactly it works. It begs so much in so many directions. That could be why it works so well.
6. Logan Richardson – Shift (Blue Note)
Sometimes a group comes together and it seemingly cannot fail. The group on saxophonist Logan Richardson’s album Shift features guitarist Pat Metheny, pianist Jason Moran, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Nasheet Waits and no, they do not fail. Richardson’s compositions and arrangements exhibit a sweetness and a smoothness as well as a dirtiness and a heaviness when the times are right, yet it’s this group who brings everything over the edge. Pat Metheny appeared prominently on at least three albums this year, and this one may possibly be the best of them.
5. Jeff Parker – The New Breed (International Anthem)
Jeff Parker was the secret weapon of Makaya McCraven’s album of last year, I the Moment, and album made up of an arsenal of secret weapons (and that I managed to sneak into singing its praises once again a full year after I called it my favorite album of last year). Jeff Parker is a secret weapon for a lot of different groups and configurations. However, the man is out in front on his latest, The New Breed, and it’s clear that when Parker is in front, he leads whoever he’s with to a heavy groove. It’s remarkable how easy this music sounds when it’s going through so many contortions. It’s futuristic music from the past, or archival music of the future. It’s a trip on a phase shift.
4. Phronesis – Parallax (Edition)
There aren’t many piano trios out there today who can beat Phronesis. With each successive album, Ivo Neame, Anton Eger, and Jasper Hoiby make explosive, captivating music that never fails to impress. Their latest, Parallax, has a sound like it should be performed live but isn’t. Three guys making this together has more than enough energy to fuel this brilliance.
3. Grégoire Maret – Wanted (Sunnyside)
Grégoire Maret’s second album is produced by Terri Lyne Carrington. It sounds like an R&B album or a smooth jazz album that knows better. It’s an album of charm ans wisdom from a producer with a certain sensibility supporting a musician who has been featured forever but can stand out with great aplomb. Maret has only been a leader on an album twice despite such a glowing career, Wanted is a clear sign of why he’s so frequently on call for his harmonica playing and why he should be out in front much more often.
2. Jaimeo Brown Transcendence – Work Songs (Motéma)
This isn’t a Ken Burns documentary. This isn’t eating vegetables. It’s not some hokey appropriation of the past. Percussionist Jaimeo Brown looked at the past and found common elements in rhythm across time and across cultures and showed up through art and music how labor is eternal and easier to endure with music. He showed up show to endure through the endurance of others. He showed up show things build through collaboration. His last album began this idea but Work Songs goes even further to create something truly magnificent.
1. Stephan Crump – Rhombal (Papillion Sounds)
Stephan Crump always seems to sound like my sadness. Sure, the bassist always seems like he’s having a ball when he’s performing, with an extremely expressive face for someone playing the upright. Yet his own albums always seem to be softened by snowfall and wintry contemplation, even in the summer. His music captures the fullness and roundness of sadness, even in its chirpier moments. This feels even more true with his latest release with his group Rhombal featuring trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. The collection of songs written while and after Crump’s brother passed away due to cancer has not only a solemnity but also a fire. It’s an album of vibrancy and breath and this group is able to soar, lack of a chordal instrument be damned (which is rather the point). It’s an utterly beautiful album, kind of like sadness in the right light.
Jeremy Pelt – #JiveCulture
Greg Ward & 10 Tongues – Touch My Beloved’s Thought
Psychic Temple Plays Music for Airports
Pat Metheny Unity Band – The Unity Sessions
Robert Glasper Experiment – ArtScience
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.