There was a big field in 2010, with lots of titles vying to jump into the winner's circle. Here are the 10 jazz discs I truly wouldn't want to do without.
GERI ALLEN | FLYING TOWARD THE SOUND | MOTEMA
It was Vijay Iyer's solo disc that copped all the critical attention this year, and its merits were many. But this high-flying recital — inspired by the work of Tyner, Taylor, and Hancock — was the most lyrical, fluid, and engaging of Allen's career, and its fanciful attack, palpable passion, and deep blues resonance became more addictive as the months passed.
FRED HERSCH | WHIRL | PALMETTO
A rather dapper blend of agility and touch turns this trio affair into something a cut above the pianist's already high norm. In a mix of standards and originals, Hersch makes every phrase sing like never before. His riffing on the original melodies tries to come up with motifs that are equally inspired, a tactic that makes the music shimmer, even in the most abstract moments.
THE NELS CLINE SINGERS | INITIATE | CRYPTOGRAMOPHONE
He earns lots of applause for his guitar freakouts — expressionistic escapades are his stock in trade — but there are several devastating moments on this double disc set that blossom when things turn intimate. Having a deeply simpatico rhythm section doesn't hurt; neither does that limitless textural pallete or expertise at intricacy. And yeah, there is a least one freakout here that trumps all the other tracks.
CHRIS LIGHTCAP'S BIGMOUTH | DELUXE | CLEAN FEED
There's a sense of majesty in the swooping themes the bassist has given to his band and, to a man, the musicians assure that the melodies get all the respect they deserve. The front line is a two- (and sometimes three-) reed team that matches Tony Malaby's itchy excursions with Chris Cheek's investigatory flights. With R&B nuances guiding the grooves, there's a gorgeous balance of calm and kinetics afoot.
BILL CARROTHERS | JOY SPRING | PIROUET
Clifford Brown had a way of attacking his tunes. Pianist Carrothers, who should be better known than he is, rounds out that brashness while celebrating the iconic trumpeter's book. From "Powell's Prances" to "Gerkin For Perkin," this trio date is about the thrust that comes from glide. Even when he's injecting a storm of notes into a phrase, there's a graceful brio rising from the feisty interplay.
MARY HALVORSON | SATURN SINGS | FIREHOUSE 12
Trusting the logic behind the fractured phrases that drive most of her solos and several of her tunes, the guitarist found a way to connect the free jazz lingo with comparatively trad designs. With her working trio augmented by sax and trumpet, it's an appealing confluence. Thematic shards connect unexpectedly, gnarled phrases are beveled by the blend of horns. Everyone's precision — especially that of bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith — bolsters the eloquence.
TARBABY | THE END OF FEAR | POSI-TONE
Pianist Orrin Evans began the year on a strong note with the rippling trio disc Faith In Action. But in the fall the collective outfit he shares with drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Eric Revis clobbered listeners with this tilt-a-whirl program, an aggressively playful affair that smooches sentiment, squeezes the blues, and sanctions a series of engaging eruptions. If you want to talk scope, not many jazz outfits fit the Bad Brains next to Fats Waller. This disc's pastiche atmosphere allowed such juxtapositions, as well as making guests like Oliver Lake, J.D. Allen, and Nicholas Payton seem like longstanding band members.