I don't know why I should feel I need to preface my list with the following, but what the hell: My top pick this year is by a fellow Canadian. It's not there because he's Canadian; it's not even in the top 10 because it's by a Canadian. It's there because it is an exceptionally entertaining and well played recording that I hope a lot of people get to hear. I gave it 41/2 stars in DownBeat; it only missed getting the full 5 because it's only 47 minutes long, and I have a policy that to get the status of "classic" recording you have to give the consumer full value and be able to compete toe to toe with other recordings that are in the 60-75 minute range. Hey, I'm funny that way.
So, with that stated, here is the top 10. My full list, which includes historical recordings of the year, best debut, best vocal and best Latin recording will be published on npr.org before the end of the year.
Michael Blake – Tiddy Boom (Sunnyside)
In my DownBeat review, I wrote that: "With composition titles that allude to both Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, saxophonist Michael Blake signals that he is reaching back six decades and more for inspiration on Tiddy Boom, while the presence of fellow modernists — and members of the Jazz Composers Collective — Frank Kimbrough and Ben Allison lets listeners know this will not be a mere nostalgia trip. Instead, it is more like a quick spin on a fun house ride, with Blake’s tenor burbling and barking out references to past masters while remaining firmly planted in the present."
Alfredo Rodriguez – The Invasion Parade (Mack Avenue)
Again, from my DownBeat review: "On his second recording since moving to the United States in 2009, pianist Alfredo Rodriguez dips his hands into as much (of Cuba's rich and varied musical culture) as he can—the French and Haitian influence of Santiago de Cuba, the folkloric styles of the countryside and the relentless polyrhythms of Afro-Cuban music—and creates a highly personal pastiche."
Mark Turner Quartet – Lathe Of Heaven (ECM)
Smart, thoroughly contemporary jazz by everyone's favourite saxophone sideman. Mark Turner does not often front his own bands (this is his first album as sole leader since 2001) but he constantly displays his intelligence and taste when he does, and his bandmates—trumpeter Avishai Cohen, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Marcus Gilmore—are among the best young players on the scene.
Ambrose Akinmusire – The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint (Blue Note)
The young trumpeter's third album finds him continuing to develop a highly distinctive voice and making socially relevant music.
Vijay Iyer – Mutations (ECM)
On his ECM—and major label—debut, Vijay Iyer reaches back to his childhood love of the violin and chamber music and creates a stunning combination of string quartet, improvised piano and electronics. In essence, Iyer uses the string quartet as a laptop, pulling from it patterns and motifs that collide with and build on the other elements.
Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio – Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio (Concord Jazz)
Not since James Carter has a young saxophonist crashed onto the scene like Chilean newcomer Melissa Aldana, who won the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Her major label debut is as audacious and self-confident as you might expect.
Oran Etkin – Gathering Light (Motéma)
This was another recording that scored very high in my DownBeat review, where I noted the "seemingly effortless chemistry among (Etkin, Curtis Fowlkes, Lionel Loueke, Ben Allison and Nasheet Waits) and their relationship to compositions that span several continents without making much fuss about creating truly global music."
Dave Douglas & Uri Caine – Present Joys (Greenleaf)
At its essence, jazz is about interaction and improvised dialogue, and I never tire of hearing trumpeter Dave Douglas and his longtime collaborator, pianist Uri Caine, exchange ideas.
Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden – Last Dance (ECM)
Speaking of which, Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden shared a special chemistry that spanned several decades, and this beautiful final meeting is almost too heartbreaking to endure. RIP Mr. Haden.
Marianne Trudel – La Vie Commence Ici (Justin Time)
A second Canadian (and Quebec native) on my top 10—pianist Marianne Trudel deserves to be much more widely known for her gorgeous compositions. In fellow Canadian Ingrid Jensen, Trudel has found the ideal voice for her spirited and uplifting music. This is one of Jensen's best recent performances, which is saying a lot given how great she always sounds.