- Tomeka Reid — Tomeka Reid Quartet. A fresh, lively and generally fantastic recording that should have made it onto more best-of lists for 2015. The lineup of cello, guitar, bass, drums makes for a unique sound, particularly given that the guitarist is Mary Halvorson, hands-down the most interesting new guitarist of the early 21st century. But it’s not just an avant-garde workout: the compositions are strong and tuneful and the group is swinging. Highly recommended.
- Joe Lovano & Hank Jones — Kids. A 2006 duet session from two grand masters, whose subtle interplay is of the highest order. The title track, “Kids Are Pretty People,” is a particularly gorgeous highlight.
- Jason Moran — Soundtrack to Human Motion. The sound here is reminiscent of nothing so much as one of Andrew Hill’s classic 1960s sessions: the oblique compositions, the combination of piano and vibes. But that’s a great sound, and this 1999 session–Moran’s debut–is an impressive and enjoyable take on one of the more complex parts of the jazz tradition.
- Sidney Bechet — The Best of Sidney Bechet. The title is a bit misleading, as this is not a career-spanning overview but a selection of recordings on Blue Note. But the quality is indeed very high–Bechet has one of the great sounds in jazz, his huge tone is always modern, always unmistakable. I came back to these tracks after reading a nice interview with the Ben Goldberg where he singles out the track “Blue Horizon” as an early favorite: “I couldn’t believe the sound. It was as if he’d built the clarinet himself out of a big chunk of ebony that he’d split with an axe.”
- Kora Jazz Trio — Part Two. An old favorite that has popped up again on shuffle recently. The singing and kora playing of Djeli Moussa Diawara are the nominal highlight, but for me the group’s unique sound is really founded on the powerfully rhythmic piano playing of Abdoulaye Diabaté.
There is a live version of “I found a new baby” that one of my Chinese students (a clarinet player who I turned on to Bechet and who eventually became a fanatic) once played me that is the swingingest piece of music I’ve ever heard. I wish I could remember the recording but it blows out the track on this album. If you ever get a chance…