Quartet (New Haven) 2014, by Anthony Braxton
Four hours of rousing interaction between one of our most imaginative saxophonist-composers, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, and drummer Greg Saunier. Complex, masterful, noisy and often flat-out fun.
Old New, by Tomeka Reid Quartet
Reid’s cello is showing up in a lot of high-profile places lately, including The Art Ensemble of Chicago. Here, she and guitarist Mary Halvorson engage in joyfully dissonant swing, unlike anything I’ve heard since their last terrific quartet record together.
Live/Shapeshifter, by William Parker and In Order to Survive
Bassist Parker is as prolific as they come, and this band may be his most engrossing project. There’s a lot of life force and wisdom in this one.
Clockwise, by Anna Webber
Webber’s introspective compositions draw you in to experience her dazzling arsenal of woodwinds.
Engage, by Dave Douglas
Douglas, the open-minded trumpeter, puts together a band of the finest artists in improvised music (a couple mentioned elsewhere on this list) for something like a state of the state of current jazz. Verdict: The music is currently in very good hands.
Live From Newport Jazz, by James Carter Organ Trio
Sometimes virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake is something to get excited about, particularly in the case of this saxophonist, who sails and squeaks with an encyclopedic knowledge of the music’s history.
400: An Afrikan Epic, by Mark Lomax
This eight-hour collection of recordings from the ingenious drummer Mark Lomax details the 400th anniversary of the slave trade and features a mind-blowing amount of impassioned music, lovingly performed. It’s only available digitally (as far as I know) and truly worth seeking out.
The People I Love, by Steve Lehman Trio & Craig Taborn
Steve Lehman Trio is a powerful alto saxophonist, brimming with chops and compositions. This matchup with pianist Taborn is sharp and exciting.
Sun Of Goldfinger David Torn, by Tim Berne and Ches Smith
There were a lot of buzzes about 50 years of ECM Records in 2019, and the label released some beautiful music this year. This isn’t beautiful, really. It’s a stunning jazz-rock blowout from three sonic explorers who aren’t afraid to push the limits (and volume controls) until you arrive in a place to lose yourself.
Columbia Icefield, by Nate Wooley
The former Denver-area trumpeter guides a brave group of artists through his twisting, evocative compositions.