FLYING Esperanza Spalding tried a new direction — and her audience went with her.
Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite things from among the people, CDs, and concerts I wrote about this year.
• DARCY JAMES ARGUE'S SECRET SOCIETY
Argue and his Society's Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam) made year-end lists in 2009, but this extraordinary big band — based in New York — didn't get to Boston for a live show until a Regattabar gig in February. For the first wave of press, Argue sold the band as steampunk, drawing on the idea that big bands themselves are an anachronism in 2010 and that he's using acoustic instruments to impersonate electronic studio effects like digital delay, filter sweeps, and phase shifting. If you weren't cued in to those references, you might just respond to the swirling texture of layered meters and to the sweeping harmonies and sunburst chords that are the legacy of Argue's New England Conservatory teacher Bob Brookmeyer. The band also played Newport in August.
• PHIL WILSON DOES MILES AND GIL
Speaking of jazz orchestras: Berklee big-band sage Phil Wilson conjured one of Argue's progenitors when he gathered a group of faculty and students to perform Gil Evans's landmark 1958 arrangement for Miles Davis of the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. A complex suite for 19-piece band (including tuba and three French horns), it doesn't get played live often. But here it was, from the first blasts of "Buzzard Song": the many layers of Evans's conception, where low brass could conjure a chorus of double basses or fill out beguiling harmonies behind the soloists. Trumpeter and singer Christine Fawson (of the group Syncopation) brought the idea to Wilson after performing the piece at a concert in Mexico. Here she was joined by Miles Evans (son of Gil) for the trumpet solos and also sang the opening "I Loves You Porgy." But the piece was the star.
• TAYLOR EIGSTI
At Scullers in July, he showed why he's a young star in the making: he has the chops and the imagination to cover a broad range of material — from Ellington and Mussorgsky to Coldplay and Mutemath — and an inventive flair as a composer. As a pianist, he doesn't seem to have a weak finger. His guest that night was singer-songwriter Becca Stevens. Together, and with a line-up that included the great drummer Kendrick Scott, they previewed his September release, Daylight at Midnight (Concord), which claims the likes of Chris Martin, Feist, Nick Drake, and Elliott Smith for the book of contemporary jazz standards. And "Midnight Afternoon" is a promising start to an Eigsti-Stevens songwriting partnership. Here's hoping they come back in 2011.
• RON GILL/JOHN STEIN
Singer Gill and guitarist Stein have been long-time teammates, and on Turn Up the Quiet (Whaling City Sounds), they show each other at their best. The only other musician on the CD is pianist Gilad Barkan (playing beautifully), and the scaled-back setting gives Gill's warm, conversational directness a chance to shine. An April show at Scullers was meant to showcase both Turn Up the Quiet and Stein's equally fine Raising the Roof (also on Whaling City) but Gill — a one-time fixture on the Boston scene as a musician and WGBH jazz announcer, now living in North Carolina — was felled by illness, and Stein's band went on alone. With any luck, Gill and Stein will perform together again in Boston in 2011.