Compiling a top ten list for an entire year can be a difficult task, mostly because of the omissions one must make. For KMHD’s top ten list, I polled key members of the KMHD staff that play new releases on their programs. I also took into account our JazzWeek charts from the past year, to identify albums that received the most airplay on the station. Finally, I looked for records that were diverse, well-thought out, and listenable the whole way through. We sincerely hope that you’ll take time to seek out and listen to some of these special records – and that you’ll support the artists who put work into creating and producing these stellar new releases.
-Matt Fleeger, Program Director
Ahmad Jamal – Blue Moon: the New York Sessions
A wonderful album from this Jazz master, who only seems to get better/more refined with age (he’s now 81). Jamal’s trio (Herlin Riley, Reggie Veal) Is augmented with the latin percussion of Manolo Badrena, making for a wonderfully dense rhythmic back-end to the sparse playing and carefully chosen notes of one of Jazz’s living legends. The material here will be familiar to fans of post-war Jazz standards, including wonderful interpretations of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie tunes.
Esperanza Spalding – Radio Music Society
Esperanza Spalding’s “Radio Music Society” (her fourth CD as a leader) is the most fully-realized vision of crossover Jazz that I’ve heard all year. Each song on the record could stand alone as a radio single, and perhaps that was the intent from this young musical genius. Spalding’s voice and bass-playing are in top form throughout the disc – and she brings friends from her musical upbringing (in Portland and beyond) along for the ride. The deluxe package includes a DVD with well-executed videos for each of the 12 songs, making this a particularly ambitious project.
3 Cohens – Family
The 3 Cohen siblings (Yuval, Anat, Avishai) showcase their abilities for songwriting, playing and passionate improvisation on this swinging, hard-driving release. Guest vocalist Jon Hendricks joins the band for a couple of tunes – making this album a diverse, and solid, listen the whole way through. There’s something special about listening to three musicians who have spent their entire lives playing together – and the three Cohens demonstrate that familial bond perfectly on this release.
Rob Mazurek’s Pulsar Quartet – Stellar Pulsations
Rob Mazurek’s cornet produces a cool, sophisticated sound and wonderful melodic lyricism on the newest effort from his pulsar quartet. Deep, subdued textures abound here – with bright flourishes from the Chicagoan’s horn. The album evokes the feeling of late 50′s cool jazz, but not in a dated manner. This record sounds as fresh and “now” as anything out there today. Here, the listener is taken on a journey of other-worldly moods reminiscent of late period John Coltrane or “Kind of Blue” era Miles Davis.
Trio Subtonic – I’ll Meet You There Tomorrow
Portland’s own Trio Subtonic (Galen Clark, Bill Athens, Jesse Brooke) released their second effort as a band this past winter. Here, the listener will find funky, groove-oriented sounds, acoustic ballads, and gospel-tinged instrumentals. Trio Subtonic’s “populist” take on Jazz means that just about everybody digs what they’re doing. Best of all, this record is “designed” well, making for a diverse listening experience from beginning till end. Trio Subtonic is just one of the many Portland Jazz groups that makes this city a special place to live.
Henry Cole and The Afrobeat Collective – Roots Before Branches
Latin rhythms meet the sounds of Afrobeat on this latest release from Puerto Rican drummer Henry Cole. Call it a new form of Latin-fusion, or as Cole puts it: “If I had been a Puerto Rican musician playing a few centuries ago, I would have the same kinds of influences: African, indigenous, European.” Whatever the description, the music contained within Roots Before Branches is upbeat, fresh and, most of all, very fun.
Christian Scott – Christian Atunde Adjuah
Trumpeter Christian Scott put out his most personal (and lengthy) recording to date when he released Christian Atunde Adjuah – a double disc set on Concord Records earlier this year. The sound of Scott’s quartet: brooding, dark, and angular – provides a perfect platform for his introspective songwriting. Much of the inspiration here comes from events in Scott’s life, his childhood growing up in New Orleans factors heavily here.
Neil Cowley Trio – The Face of Mount Molehill
London based piano player Neil Cowley brings the pop-centric sounds of the UK Jazz scene to fast-paced instrumentals and well-orchestrated tunes augmented with string ensemble. You could describe the sound here as “indie-Jazz” but there are classical influences at work as well. And, while parts of the record have the feeling of “film music” but not in the repetitive, boring sense – this is a very well conceived effort, from start to finish.
Bela Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio – Across the Imaginary Divide
A terrific collaboration here between a wonderful piano trio and the banjo player who has forged new boundaries for an instrument that has been returning to favor as of late. The blue sounds of Across the Imaginary Divide are at times quiet, melodic and simple. Fleck stays out of the way of this accomplished piano player’s sound, complimenting it, and adding rhythm and melody to a phenomenal CD.
Matt Ulery – By a Little Light
2012 has been the year of the double disc. Bassist Matt Ulery’s By A Little Light melds Jazz with classical, americana, folk and post-rock, bringing forth a wholly unique sound. The moods change seamlessly, moving between somber, reflective pieces, balladry and bright melody. There are instrumentals, haunting vocals, and textural soundscapes that beg for repeated listens on this wonderfully creative new album.