• Joshua Redman
The great young saxophonist brought out his "double-trio" CD Compass (Nonesuch) last January, with bassists Larry Grenadier and Reuben Rogers and drummers Brian Blade and Gregory Hutchinson. What could have been a blowin'-session stunt combined the best of Redman's out-there and in-the-tradition impulses, mixing funky bop themes with looser, free-form meditations, sometimes within the same tune. The live shows (I caught Berklee and Newport) proved this to be one of Redman's best bands.
• Garrison Fewell
Call what Garrison Fewell does composition or simply strategies for improvisation. Whatever, the guitarist formerly known as one of Boston's most eloquent inside players has become one of its leading experimenters. On this year's Variable Density Sound Orchestra (Creative Nation Music), Fewell gathered some superb improvisers — among them frequent guitar-duo partner (and CNM honcho) Eric Hofbauer, New York trumpeter Roy Campbell, and Italian bass-clarinettist Achille Succi — and they, following his spare instructions and often graphic scores, created a suite of "variable density" and unforced lyricism, all with compositional integrity.
The cooperative trio Fly attracted attention for at least one wrong reason — after recording their ECM debut, Sky & Country, saxophonist Mark Turner injured his left hand in a power-saw accident. But that doesn't diminish the band's achievement — the airy transparency of this music combined with a three-way balance of voices that continually blurs foreground and background is a rare thing indeed. And Turner, by all reports, is playing better than ever. He, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Jeff Ballard performed at the Regattabar last April shortly after the CD's release; they return January 13.
• Darius Jones Trio
Alto-saxophonist Jones, 31, now lives in Brooklyn (natch), but he hails from rural Virginia, and he likes churchy old blues, boogie-woogie, and the kind of folkish tunes that Albert Ayler used to write. On Man'ish Boy (AUM Fidelity), his music sounds older than old — ancient, in fact — but also completely up to the minute. Working with Boston drummer Bob Moses and New Yorker Cooper-Moore (who plays piano and his homemade diddley bow), Jones delivers forceful melodies with a just-discovered freshness. The trio's show at Outpost 186 in October was a standout.
• John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble
Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside) is the second album from composer/percussionist Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble, and it establishes once and for all his mastery of epic-scale orchestral jazz, from his "recomposition" of Thelonious Monk's skittery "Four in One" as "Foreign One" (now both skittery and meditative) to "Perseverance," his sprawling concerto for three saxophones (Tony Malaby, Dan Willis, and Ellery Eskelin). Hollenbeck has always been a rigorous writer, but here the deployment of color, dynamics, and his all-important rhythmic devices create narratives of unprecedented drama and warmth. He brings his Claudia Quintet +1 to a First Night concert at First Church on Marlborough Street.