So, cut me some slack, and get your credit cards ready.
Gato Libre: Forever (Libra): Unless you reside in Japan, you're forgiven if the band's name doesn't immediately ring a bell. This is one of the multitude of projects that pianist Satoko Fujii is a part of, a quartet co-led with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. Sadly, this album documents their final concert in their original lineup; bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu died just days after the performance. Even without that knowledge, there is a wistfulness that suffuses the music, accentuated by Tamura's Spanish-tinged playing. Fujii's spectral accordion work is a special delight here, as is Koreyasu's beautiful tone.
Vijay Iyer Trio: Accelerando (ACT): It's currently hip to knock journalists who give attention to Iyer (let alone give him an unprecedented number of DownBeat awards) rather than the dozen or so other youngish pianists who are incorporating multiple sonic elements and musical influences into their playing, but Accelerando is just too good to overlook. By now, it's a given that Iyer and his trio mates can dance cannily on variegated rhythmic streams. On Accelerando, they expand on the language, taking it to places that will have you returning again and again to hear their conversation.
Fred Ho and Quincy Saul: The Music of Cal Massey: A Tribute (Mutable Music): Cal Massey is not much known beyond his association with John Coltrane and other Philadelphia musicians, so plaudits to Fred Ho and Quincy Saul for showcasing his music, particularly the "Black Liberation Movement Suite" from 1969. Trombonist Frank Lacy is especially strong on the recording.
Henry Threadgill Zooid: Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp (Pi): Still staunchly individualistic, Henry Threadgill sounds like no one else, and an opportunity to explore his innovative sound world is always welcome. Threadgill's music has assumed a slightly more austere manner than in the days of his Sextett, but it is no less compelling.
Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin: Live (ECM): A compilation of concerts by Swiss pianist Nik Bärtsch's band, this set rocks and grooves in inviting and mysterious ways. Like Threadgill's, Bärtsch's vision is firm enough that his music sounds immune from changes in personnel.
Dave Douglas Quintet: Be Still (Greenleaf): Dave Douglas' recordings are frequently conceptual, but none have been more personal than this dedication to his late mother. Using primarily hymns selected by his mother for her memorial service, Douglas adds the plainspoken voice of Aoife O'Donovan to create a distinctive blend of old and contemporary Americana.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: XXI Century (5Passion): I have often found the Cuban pianist too rococo for my taste, but, here, his inclination to ornament every phrase pays dividends. With Matt Brewer and Marcus Gilmore as a thoroughly modern rhythm section, Rubalcaba's piano weaves in and out of focus. In my four-star DownBeat review, I called this "smart, adventurous fun that works well on several levels."
Frank Kimbrough Trio: Live At Kitano (Palmetto): Best known for his quiet-but-sturdy work within the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, Frank Kimbrough is an exceptional pianist with a rich imagination and a deep knowledge of jazz history that frequently colours his improvisations. But Kimbrough's not even the best thing here; that honour goes to drummer Matt Wilson, whose wit, ingenuity and daring are unparalleled.
John Abercrombie Quartet: Within A Song (ECM): Without apology, let me say that it's likely any recording guitarist John Abercrombie releases will find its way to my top 10 list, particularly when it includes drummer Joey Baron. While Abercrombie's recent albums have featured violinist Mark Feldman, here he teams with saxophonist Joe Lovano, and it's a toss-up who I prefer. The material—drawn mainly from iconic jazz artists of the '50s and '60s—is flawlessly executed.
Bill Laswell: Means Of Deliverance: Solo (Innerrhythmic): Laswell's projects are usually teeming with sonic complexity, so who knew what to expect from his first solo bass recording. Beautiful and resonant, this is a recording that sounds both timeless and genre-free.