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Top 10 Records of 2015: Richard Sanford

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by Richard Sanford on December 14, 2015

One of my favorite corny traditions of this time of year is Year End lists. Part of it’s my love of the ritualistic nature of taking stock (and a deep breath) as another year comes into view but most of it’s revisiting things I loved throughout the year and seeing what everyone else loved.

It’s an honor to be kicking off the party on JazzColumbus this year. It’s been an honor and a delight to be part of the team this year and our fearless leader Andrew Patton and I have a lot of ideas going into 2016. To reinforce his call, let us know if there’s anything you want to see. A more personal call, I’m disappointed in myself I didn’t hear many local records this year, Andrew does a much better job of that. I’m going to try to redress this situation in 2016 and on but if there’s something you think I should know about, I’m all ears. This was edited after posting because an earlier edit accidentally removed blurbs about some of the records.

1. Mary Halvorson, Meltframe – This was a needle of pure, surging light shot right into my heart. Like any great writer or improviser, Halvorson seems to be in a constant state of both expanding and chipping away. This solo guitar record entirely of others’ compositions is not a curio and it’s not a diversion. Within seconds of the crunching churn of opener “Cascades,” I was hooked and Meltframe grabbed me by the collar and never let me go. Roscoe Mitchell’s gorgeous ballad “Leola” is infused with woozy string-bending and Derek Bailey slashes that seem to stop time. Ornette Coleman’s “Sadness” is atomized into sea foam and negative space, lush and disorienting. Carla Bley’s “Ida Lupino” keeps its righteous rage but turns the flame down to a grim simmer. Even a standard as perfect and often-done as Ellington’s unassailable “Solitude” gets a freshness without sacrificing any of what made it great. Complicated, thorny, sensual pleasures that go on and on.

2. JD Allen, Graffiti – Allen’s streak continues by going back from the slightly larger groups of his last couple records to reform his classic trio with the great Rudy Royston on drums and Greg Allen on bass. That time away, and their work in other configurations, means everyone on this album attacks the juicy material with gusto and intensity. Throughout, especially on “Naked” and the title track, Allen and trio play with the tension between laid-back and furious tempos melding into a cohesive whole that never lets the listener quite get comfortable. An obvious reverence for history and other greats doesn’t mean they have to see anything as off-limits or they need to see the giants who came before them as anything other than where they’re headed.

3. Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls – In a world where so much music (not just jazz though it gets a hard rap for it) feels like lusty birds gnawing through the corpses of giants for carrion, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear one of our finest alto players and composers work with the past in this way. Mahanthappa with his blazing quintet of Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, François Moutin on bass, Matt Mitchell on piano and Rudy Royston on drums (Royston is on three discs of my top ten and Mitchell appears on my top shows list and would be on several records if I’d gone out to 20) takes apart the clockwork magic of Charlie Parker’s work and rebuilds it in fresh, invigorating ways. Music you can nod your head to, that wriggles out of your grasp, that breaks into a million pieces and puts itself back together into something even more beautiful. This band is coming to the Wexner Center on February 27. A full preview will appear on this site but let me say now, your attendance is highly, highly recommended.

4. Ingrid Laubrock, Roulette of the Cradle – Laubrock’s Anti-House Sextet is loaded with musicians at the top of their game. This includes Mary Halvorson, she of my record of the year, Kris Davis on piano who made several records that could have very easily made the list this year, periodic Columbus visitor (most recently I believe with Fred Hersch) John Hébert on bass, Oscar Noriega on clarinet who enriched many great records this year, and virtuoso Tom Rainey on drums. The meshing of Laubrock’s tenor and soprano with her sumptuous tone you could pick out at 100 paces, her writing full of unexpected turns and twists, and the complete confidence everyone has in each other to add just enough, makes for a record I’m still learning from and getting refreshed by. Roulette of the Cradle is at times moody, meditative, and blazing but always rich and always surprising.

5. Matana Roberts, Coin Coin Vol. 3: river run thee – Matana Roberts’ Coin Coin series gets denser, richer, and deeper with every installment. This solo record of gorgeous, sometimes heartbreaking looped collages is a textbook example of how amazing work can be when an artist goes as deep as they can into their own language and history and trusts the audience to do the work to meet them.

6. Jack DeJohnette, Made in Chicago –  – A working over of the raw material of history that doesn’t need a conceptual underpinning. Collaborators for decades back in the city whose crucible forged them. Hearing Henry Threadgill and Roscoe Mitchell’s reeds soar around one another and set the air on fire with Muhal Richard Abrams piano like a center of gravity and the deep, simpatico rhythms of Larry Gray’s bass and the leader’s drums is jaw-dropping. The kind of playing you only get with that experience and that attention to the world.

7. Duchess, Duchess – This jazz vocal supergroup of Melissa Stylianou, Amy Cervini, and Hilary Gardner backed by a crack band including Matt Wilson on drums and Jeff Lederer on reeds is one of my favorite shows in New York. Any time they’re playing the 55 Bar when I’m in town, I try to rearrange my schedule to make that happen. I’m happy to report that effervescent joy translated to record beautifully. Their debut album is full of fresh takes on classics like “Que Sera, Sera,” “There Ain’t No Sweet Man Worth the Salt of My Tears,” “Love Being Here With You,” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.”  Duchess conjures the same feelings as having a perfectly cold French 75 balancing on those axes of sweet and tart and fizzy set on a copper bar glistening with condensation and promise.

8. Makaya McCraven, In the Moment – McCraven, one of the finest drummers in the always fertile scene made this record by cutting up and recreating improvisations in a way that didn’t diminish any of their freshness. With great players like bassist Junius Paul, guitarist Jeff Parker, tenor player Tony Barba, and trumpeter Marquis Hill, this was a survey of the always fertile Chicago scene, a call to arms, and a sharp, funky dance party.

9. Brian Charette Trio, Alphabet City – Charette with guitarist Will Bernard and drummer Rudy Royston made my favorite organ trio in many years. Without much care for overarching concepts, this is the work of players breathing through their instruments to such a high degree the breath takes shapes and acts out stories. An easy but propulsive swagger, this record feels like walking through NYC to me.

10. Oliver Lake and William Parker, To Roy –  Two of my favorite players, William Parker who was a gateway drug in my love of free jazz and Oliver Lake whose saxophone playing scoured and shaped my ears, pay tribute to frequent collaborator and fallen comrade Roy Campbell. This duo record is music for a long homegoing journey into the light, melodic and firey and complicated. But always beautiful.

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