As one of our most exciting times of year (which we refer to as the Season of Lists), the Nextbop staff relishes the end of the year to declare our favorite releases from the last twelve months, noting a moment in time and reminding folks (out there reading and amongst ourselves in the staff) of what great music was out there and maybe to catch up on what you may have missed, taking special appreciation for congruence as well as dissent, and realizing all of this means there’s just so much music out there to enjoy (and seemingly more and more of it every year).
10. Quin Kirchner – The Other Side of Time (Astral Spirits)
Drummer Quin Kirchner’s debut as a bandleader is a double album full of quality post-bop. He is joined by Nick Broste (trombone), Nate Lepine (tenor saxophone, flute), Jason Stein (bass clarinet) and Matt Ulery (bass). The band goes through faithful, entertaining covers of past greats (Sun Ra’s “Brainville”, Charles Mingus’ “Self-Portrait in Three Colors”) and absolutely gorgeous originals (Kirchner’s “Wondrous Eyes”, “Together We Can Explore The Furthest Beyond”).
9. Anteloper – Kudu (International Anthem)
Anteloper is a duo between trumpeter Jaimie Branch and drummer Jason Nazary. By warping the trumpet and drums with effects and the addition of synths, Anteloper creates eerie atmospheres that are incredibly easily to immerse oneself in. This is music made for a trippy journey into outer space. Nazary’s drumming throughout is fantastic, reaching great heights in his intense performance throughout “Ohoneotree Suite.” Branch’s playing is patient and spacey, but at times, furious. She’s a perfect match for the ambiance here, especially on “Fossil Record.” Miles Davis would probably be proud.
8. Noah Preminger – Genuinity (Criss Cross)
Boston based tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger is joined by Jason Palmer (trumpet), Kim Cass (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums) for Genuinity, an album of Preminger originals. Palmer and Preminger, who frequently perform together, have an undeniable chemistry. On “Mad Town” over a dark atmosphere created by the rhythm section, the call and response between Palmer and Preminger is enthralling, each answering each other with impressive solos. “The Genuine One” has a different type of combination between the two, Palmer coming in to add to Preminger’s beautiful, melodic playing. The bass occasionally leaves its typical role and joins the collective fun, most notably on “TS and Her Spirit” and “Nashua”, where Cass has a great solo. The rest of the time, when Cass is typically working strictly rhythmically, he has a fine partner in Weiss, who sounds great throughout the record.
7. Jason Palmer – At Wally’s Vol. 2 (SteepleChase)
Trumpeter Jason Palmer, along with Noah Preminger (tenor saxophone), Max Light (guitar), Simon Wilson (bass), Lee Fish (drums) and Chris McCarthy (fender rhodes on “Cheas”), put
on a strong showing of what the Boston scene has to offer throughout At Wally’s Vol. 2. Although there are only five tracks (all Palmer originals), the majority are over ten minutes, leaving ample space for the musicians to show their impressive chops. This comes highly recommended to anyone with an interest in straight-ahead jazz. Highlights include “The Side Eye”, where the connection between Preminger and Palmer shines and “Sunny Rain”, which has blistering solos and a fantastic descending motif.
6. Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings (International Anthem)
Drummer Makaya McCraven has a distinctly modern approach. He records his live performances and then chops them up to create an interesting fusion of jazz and beat-based music. Universal Beings is his most grand project to date, spanning across four cities, 22 tracks and a large amount of talented musicians. At times a passage of notes may be cut in half and repeated to function rhythmically, and in others portions of the band may be looped while the others are improvising in real time. This is the type of record that could push a younger audience, one that does not have much experience with lengthy improvisation, into jazz. Universal Beings accessibility is one of its many strengths. McCraven frequently finds interesting ways to create and mix up stellar grooves and impressive improvisational phrases throughout the album. An appreciation for beat-tapes is likely enough to enjoy this. Highlights include “Tall Tales”, which is formed around Tomeka Reid’s gorgeous cello, “Prosperity’s Fear”, where Shabaka Hutchings’ tenor sax is explosive and “Suite Haus”, which features Nubya Garcia’s tenor sax lines transformed into an infectious beat that wouldn’t sound out of place at a house club.
5. Cécile McLorin Salvant – The Window (MackAvenue)
The Window is an intimate album of duo recordings with vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant and pianist Sullivan Fortner that features both studio recordings and live performances at the Village Vanguard. Salvant has a voice that is almost impossible to do justice to with mere words and the sparsity of the duo setting suits her well, with Fortner’s delicate touch providing great foil for the singer. The album opens with a haunting cover of the Stevie Wonder classic “Visions” where the duo manage to transform the song into their own. Other standout moments include Buddy Johnson’s “Ever Since The One I Love’s Been Gone”, which features Salvant at her most passionate and a brilliant solo from Fortner.
4. Thumbscrew – Ours (Cuneiform)
Mary Halvorson (guitar), Michael Formanek (bass) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums) record under the moniker Thumbscrew and Ours is easily their best record to date. Entirely made up of original compositions, three from each band member, there is a good amount of stylistic variety throughout the records’ 56 minutes. Highlights include the surprisingly catchy “Snarling Joys” (Halvorson), the atmospheric “Saturn Way” (Fujiwara) and the heavy “Cruel Heartless Bastards” (Formanek). The trio also released Theirs this year, a fine record of covers.
3. Jonathan Finlayson – 3 Times Round (Pi)
The interaction between the horns is often key in the formidable sextet that trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson has assembled for 3 Times Round. The second half of “Feints” has Finlayson, Steve Lehman (alto saxophone) and Brian Settles (tenor saxophone) in an engaging call of response of short, imaginative solos. The horns blend beautifully during the opening minute of “Grass” before Lehman and Settles begin rapidly exchanging the spotlight. Finlayson’s comes in after the dust settles, at times more interested in space and elongated notes, giving a nice juxtaposition to the pace of the saxes. It’s not only the horns that are brilliant though, the whole band is top quality. Drummer Craig Weinrib and bassist John Hebert combine to create an interesting off kilter groove on the relatively brief “Refined Strut.” Matt Mitchell’s piano playing, whether he is comping or soloing, is spellbinding throughout the entire album. The ominous rumbling of the piano, combined with the Hebert’s arco and Finlayson’s dirge-like notes, makes “A Stone, a Pond, a Thought” a captivating piece.
2. Binker and Moses – Alive in The East? (Gearbox)
Alive in The East? is a live recording that showcases musicians who are among the best of the vibrant London jazz scene. It’s a record that can build bridges with its interesting connection of the more abstract notions of jazz to those that are more based in groove. The duo of Binker Golding (tenor sax) and Moses Boyd (drums) is joined by Yussef Dayes (drums), Tori Handsley (harp), Byron Wallen (trumpet) and Evan Parker (tenor and soprano sax). With performances as strong as “Children of The Ultra Blacks” and “How Land Learnt To Be”, hopefully Binker and Moses will be able to come stateside soon.
1. Mary Halvorson – Code Girl (Firehouse 12)
Code Girl stands out in jazz in general and in the Mary Halvorson discography. The album presented a unique challenge to the guitarist, who started working on the compositions after having written lyrics for each of the tunes. Aided by the versatile vocals of Amirtha Kidambi and the rest of the band, which includes Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Michael Formanek (bass) and Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Halvorson has created a double album that is frequently brilliant and occasionally makes genre classifications useless. “Pretty Mountain” and “The Unexpected Natural Phenomenon” are great examples of the chaotic beauty found in Halvorson’s unique style.
Brian Kiwanuka is a writer‚ attorney and music nerd but not in that order. He digs Armand Hammer‚ Alice Coltrane and Stevie Wonder and occasionally subjects his friends to detailed rants about music. You can check out more of his writing on 93 Million Miles Above.