In a year when disaster seemed only a tweet away, music seemed more precious than ever. Capable of both providing shelter and uniting us, the sounds on these jazz albums amplify voices, some new, some familiar.
Here are some the best of 2017:
Vijay Iyer Sextet, “Far From Over” (ECM)
The pianist and bandleader released perhaps his most immediate statement yet with this taut yet freewheeling celebration of rhythm and groove girded by an elastic horn section.
Ron Miles, “I Am a Man” (Enja/Yellowbird)
The cornetist has long been a reliable source for deft compositions and musical conversation with collaborators Bill Frisell and Brian Blade. Here he reaches to greater heights with bassist Thomas Morgan and pianist Jason Moran in a lushly drawn set inspired by civil rights history and social activism.
Kate Gentile, “Mannequins” (Skirl)
Built from tight corners and surprise twists of interlocking melodies and off-balance rhythms, this arresting debut from a drummer who has backed Anthony Braxton and John Zorn recalls both in spirit but carves its own winding path ahead.
Chris Speed Trio “Platinum on Tap” (Intakt)
While much of the best of modern jazz pushes against any ideas of its boundaries, this album carves out its own space squarely within the genre’s historic core. Working in the durable saxophone trio format, Speed’s tenor and a rhythm section of Chris Tordini and the Bad Plus’ Dave King joyfully push the tradition forward with melodies so immediate they sound like standards.
Nicole Mitchell, “Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds” (FPE)
This flutist-composer’s restless, politically charged 10-part suite imagines a future utopia in a sprawling mix that includes guitar, theremin and Japanese shakuhachi spiked with references to the dystopia of present day.
Jaimie Branch, “Fly Or Die” (International Anthem)
With a tone that ranges from a haunted growl to bright, fluttering arcs of far-reaching melody, the Chicago trumpeter teams with a band that includes cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Chad Taylor for a genre-spanning recording that’s as comfortable with far-out atmospheric adventures as expressive, off-kilter funk.
Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York, “Fukushima” (Libra)
The expressive avant-garde Japanese pianist released eight albums this year and promises to release 12 more in 2018. Wherever she goes next, it will be a challenge to top this one, a stormy response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster from a heavy-hitting ensemble.
Jason Moran, “BANGS” (Yes Records)
Moran has never been one to stay still long, and since his contract with Blue Note ended his SoundCloud page has yielded a treasure of self-released albums. This one, a hazy, electronics-dusted collaboration with Ron Miles and the slippery-toned guitarist Mary Halvorson, is similarly a moving target full of rich, melodic interplay.
Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times