Jack Garner's top 10 jazz albums of 2012

05:00 AM, Jan 03, 2013


Jazz, the great American music, continued to energize and entertain me in 2012, whether it was at Rochester’s premier cultural event — the Xerox Rocheser International Jazz Festival in June — or at local Exodus-to-Jazz concert events, Kilbourn Hall shows, local club dates, and on Jazz 90.1 radio. I feel blessed to live in what I consider a good jazz town.

It was also an impressive year in recorded jazz music, with a former Rochesterian, pianist Vijay Iyer, at or near the top of jazz polls (including a victory in the annual DownBeat Critics’ Poll that put him on the cover of jazz’s most prestigious magazine.)

Here are my top 10 jazz albums, in order, for 2012 — a nice mix of new visions, refreshing looks to the past, and bridges to all sorts of music.

1 INTERPRETATIONS OF CURTIS MAYFIELD by Jazz Soul Seven (a studio aggregation organized by veteran guitarist Phil Upchurch, and featuring drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, bassist Bob Hurst, trumpeter Wallace Roney, saxophonist Ernie Watts, keyboardist Russ Ferrante, and percussionist Henry Gibson). The group reinterprets the great soul songs of the late Mayfield, like “Freddie’s Dead,” “Gypsy Woman,” and “We’re a Winner,” as fabulous, beautifully played jazz. It’s a joy for someone like me who’s always loved Mayfield’s music and jazz.

2 ACCELERANDO by Vijay Iyer Trio. This is the wildly inventive (but highly listenable) album that finally made Iyer a star in the jazz spectrum. A mix of originals, songs by such diverse folks as Michael Jackson and Duke Ellington, and other material, this album is brilliantly conceived and brilliantly played. He returned home for the 2004 jazz fest; here’s an urging for a return appearance in the main spotlight.

3 TAUREY BUTLER by Taurey Butler. This is a prime example of our jazz festival introducing music to me. Butler is a gifted newcomer, a pianist from Montreal who seems destined to follow in the stylistic footsteps of a Montreal legend, the late Oscar Peterson.

4 LIVE AT ART D’LUGOFF’S TOP OF THE GATE by Bill Evans. Newly discovered music by the Chopin of jazz — even 32 years after his death — is always welcome. These two club sets from Greenwich Village on Oct. 23, 1968, feature superb performances from the Evans-Eddie Gomez-Marty Morell edition of the trio.

5 FURTHER EXPLORATIONS by Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez and Paul Motian. Speaking of Evans, here’s one great pianist reinterpreting the music of another, even greater pianist, and working with two Evans veterans, bassist Gomez and drummer Motian.

6 NUMBER FIVE by Tom Harrell. Once again, I thank the jazz festival for opening my ears to this magnificent trumpeter. His latest album is another gem of composition and improvisation from his primary recording and touring group.

7 SILVER STREAMS by The Joe La Barbera Quintet, a tasty, straight-ahead set, propelled by the crisp and inventive drumming of the leader (a Mount Morris native). He’s joined here by talented veterans (including some with Eastman School ties — Clay Jenkins, Bob Sheppard, Bill Cunliffe and Tom Warrington).

8 SVENSKA KAPUTT by Svenska Kaputt. This a self-titled disc from yet another band featuring one of the favorites of jazz festival fans — Swedish saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar. Kullhammar is joined by bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg from Kullhammar’s regular quartet, along with drummer Johan Holmegård and guitarist Reine Fiske. The music includes dreamscape fusion, psychedelic jazz and bluesy slow bop, dominated by fine Kullhammar improvisations.

9 CENTENNIAL: NEWLY DISCOVERED WORKS OF GIL EVANS by Ryan Truesdell. This impressive project — the recording of new or rediscovered music by the great arranger Gil Evans — was developed with the help of Eastman School students and faculty. The result are an impressive new reminder of Evans’ peculiar genius

10 SPIRIT FICTION by Ravi Coltrane. You figure that the son of the great John Coltrane (who even plays the same instrument) would have an uphill battle establishing his own musical identity. But he has, and never as firmly as he does on this superb collection of first-class originals and a few stunning covers of modern-day jazz standards.

A final note: Reissues are an important part of the jazz music scene, and Sony’s Legacy label continues to lead the way. The last few months have brought key and complete collections of the essential early Columbia and RCA material by Louis Armstrong, the Columbia and RCA work of Charles Mingus, and the complete Columbia studio recordings of the late, great Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk (two boxes of essential recordings).