The music may suffer plenty of economic slings and arrows these days, but it's still full of thrills galore. As usual, it's looking outside of its orthodoxy for invigorating ideas. Here are titles you truly need.
VIJAY IYER TRIO | HISTORICITY | ACT
You could say it's the repertory move that defines the pianist's best disc yet but, while applauding a program that stretches from M.I.A. to Leonard Bernstein to Andrew Hill's indelible "Smoke Stack," you'd be overlooking the fierce interplay generated by the Iyer threesome. That's what's really happening here. Their jittery maneuvers have been folded into the melodies, and their pliability has been honed to near-perfection. It's a joy to hear 'em mop up each other's spills.
JOHN HOLLENBECK LARGE ENSEMBLE | ETERNAL INTERLUDE | SUNNYSIDE
It's a string of designs for a big band that prides itself on employing as wide a palette as possible, but gets over on the power of focus. Hollenbeck has distilled several strong ideas here; as the record progresses there are flashbacks to swing-based classicism and allusions to pulse-driven experimentation. Not exactly groundbreaking, but boasting a breadth that encompasses lots of originality.
BEN ALLISON | THINK FREE | PALMETTO
The celebrated bassist has kept his aesthetic door open for years, inviting all sorts of influences to come play. Elements of rock mark this suite of catchy tunes, but the novel way they present themselves doesn't preclude a lithe ensemble vibe from fulfilling the jaunty business of swing.
STEVE LEHMAN OCTET | TRAVAIL, TRANSFORMATION, AND FLOW | PI
Itchy future-bop fueled by M-BASE tactics and scientific principles — you'll forgive it a certain algebraic vibe while applauding its clarity, ingenuity, and daring, right? Saxophonist Lehman flitters around while his ensemble (make that rhythmically-obsessed ensemble) winds its way through the phattest minimalism you've ever heard.
DARCY JAMES ARGUE'S SECRET SOCIETY | INFERNAL MACHINES | NEW AMSTERDAM
The composer-arranger has an artistic GPS system built into his chest. The way his seven extended pieces flow from one passage to another is deeply inspired, and the methods behind his integration of electric guitar storms and a gaggle of horns are sage. Best part: the big band constantly throws its listeners curve after curve without sounding fractured or episodic.
KEITH JARRETT | PARIS/LONDON: TESTAMENT | ECM
Always a tad precious, the pianist nevertheless comes up with two discs of ornate ruminations eloquent enough to tickle zealots while hushing doubters. Employing a smidgen more dissonance these days, he has brought some orneriness to his rapture. Maybe that makes the music a bit more candid, too.
J.D. ALLEN | SHINE! | SUNNYSIDE
There were several terrific tenor trio discs this year (don't miss Marcus Strickland's Idiosyncrasies and Fly's Sky & Country), but Allen's boasted the kind of aggression that didn't hide the lyricism he has been nurturing for a decade. The concept — finding profundity in pithiness — helped distinguish the sometimes sweet, sometimes roiling music as well. Almost all these tunes are fit for whistling.
JOHN HEBERT | BYZANTINE MONKEY | FIREHOUSE 12
One of the era's most gripping bassists puts reeds and flutes up front for a freebop session that stretches from ancient Cajun artifacts to abstract ballads lyrical enough to have fallen from Don Cherry's pen. What the pieces lack in compositional distinction, they make up for in textural richness. And atmosphere — mood means a lot to Hebert.