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ICON Picks: Top Jazz Releases of 2013

Etienne Charles' CREOLE SOUL is No. 7 on Nick Bewsey's list for the top 12 jazz releases of 2013. It was also a WRTI listener favorite in the Jazz Hot 11 Countdown this year.

Powerhouse records were released in 2013 from some of the most respected jazz musicians (Wayne Shorter, Tomasz Stanko and Chucho Valdes could take the top spots on an alternate list), but my choices for top jazz releases in 2013 were shaped by newer voices and rising stars, all of them uniquely notable for their artistry and leadership.
1. Terri Lyne Carrington, Money Jungle: Provocative In Blue (Concord Jazz)
This is Carrington’s most satisfying record, its unifying themes shaped by the drummer’s self-assurance as much as her astounding rhythm team that’s profoundly in sync with the material. Carrington takes a risk and brilliantly re-imagines the classic Ellington/Mingus/Roach recording, adding killer arrangements and infectious grooves to protest current social ills.

2. Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope, Mirage (Blueland Records)
Landrus’ voice on the baritone saxophone recalls the poetic sound of Gerry Mulligan. On this highly addictive all-original program he assembles a first-rate band and adds a string section conducted by Ryan Truesdell. While there are honorable swathes of R&B, soul and contemporary jazz folded into the mix, Landrus has an uncanny ability to weave serene and gorgeous straight-ahead melodies together that make an ultimate connection directly to the heart of the listener.


 3. John Escreet, Sabotage and Celebration (Whirlwind Records)
Pianist John Escreet is on the ascent and has an affecting playing style developed from all kinds of inspiration (Glenn Gould, Andrew Hill, Ligeti.) Approaching 30, he describes his creative process as being driven by making new music, so you listen to his records with an ear tilted for the unexpected that Escreet confidently delivers on a sweeping listening experience that’s boldly communicative. His four previous albums were excellent; Sabotage is driven by genuine purpose and it’s his best yet.

 4. Cecile McLorin Salvant, WomanChild (Mack Avenue)
Accompanied by label mate (and arranger) pianist Aaron Diehl, jazz singer Salvant’s powerful debut presents beautifully crafted tunes that will make you think of singers like Ella and Sarah Vaughan, not stylistically, but in terms of originality and poise. Her version of “I Didn’t Know What Times It Was” is infused with a vitality that bursts out of your speakers. Not in a long while have you heard as captivating a voice or performance that brings groove and grace together so effectively.

 5. Christian McBride Trio, Out Here (Mack Avenue)
McBride makes his most seriously entertaining and musically affecting trio record. They tip their hat to the great Oscar Peterson and leap off from there with fresh renditions of “My Favorite Things” and a stunningly crafted original “I Guess I’ll Have To Forget” that showcases the expressive and mature style of pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. whose contributions throughout are especially rewarding.

 6. Jamie Baum, In This Life (Sunnyside)
As satisfying as it is heartfelt, flutist Baum and her ace band vividly evoke many moods with tunes inspired by her trip and experiences in India and Asia. By turns breathtaking -- she’s a masterful composer of dramatic harmonies for brass -- Baum sets herself free from the constraints of straight-ahead jazz, incorporating a range of subtle world-music styles that ultimately gives In This Life its altogether different and welcome contours.

7. Etienne Charles, Creole Soul (Culture Shock Music)
Creole Soul flaunts a polished groove, heavy on the beats and the bass that dares you to try to sit still. Trinidad-born trumpeter Etienne Charles is the man behind the positive sound, a uniquely fired up combination of calypso and modern jazz that reflects his musical upbringing. Pianist Kris Bowers, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Obed Calvaire help fuel the fire.

 8. Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit (Blue Note)
Singer and songwriter Gregory Porter's baritone is one the most captivating instruments in jazz. Liquid Spirit keeps Porter’s strong production team and musicians in place from his previous albums and adds original compositions that freely merge jazz with soul, gospel and R&B that’s beautifully exercised on the title cut -- a gospel-tinged tune fueled by hand-claps and a punchy Les McCann style piano break.

 9. Stan Killian, Evoke (Sunnyside)
You can trace saxophonist Stan Killian’s sound back to the glory days of 1960’s Blue Note and the exuberant records by Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon, but his tenor is firmly planted in the now. It’s easy to lean on hyperbole to describe Killian whose keen ear and strength as a leader is evident throughout -- He brings refreshing originality and deft swing to this winning date.

10. Kendrick Scott Oracle, Conviction (Concord Jazz)
An exhilarating exploration of contemporary jazz, Scott lets straight-ahead beats collide with the modern architecture of contemporary sounds, bringing both a sharp focus and disciplined craftsmanship to this artful recording - along with some tight grooves that sonically endure. With Joe Sanders, Mike Moreno, Taylor Eigsti, John Ellis and Alan Hampton on vocals.

11. Dave Holland, Prism (Dare2 Records)
Bassist Dave Holland has been in the jazz business for 40 years, forever looking forward as an artist and musician. Since releasing five acclaimed albums on his own label since 2005, Holland shifts gears and personnel for Prism, a groove-centric, hyper-fresh collection of tunes featuring guitarist Kevin Eubanks, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland. Hard-hitting rhythms collide with edgy harmonies and plugged in electronics to prove that Holland remains one of the most vital and important voices in jazz.

12. Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette, Somewhere (ECM)
Recorded live in July 2009 in Switzerland, Somewhere captures the trio (together 30 years) at the height of their talents. The live gig weaves rapturous improvisation with straight-ahead swing. Indeed, the title track, coupled with Leonard Bernstein’s “Tonight,” gives the concert its center with a tender reading that bypasses sentiment and manages to open a deeper emotional vein.

Honorable mentions:
Alexis Cuadrado, A Lorca Soundscape (BJU Records)

John Abercrombie, 39 Steps (ECM)

Chucho Valdes & The Afro-Cuban Messengers, Border-Free (Jazz Village)

Tomasz Stanko, Wislawa (ECM)

Antonio Sanchez, New Life (CAMJazz)

Aaron Diehl, The Bespoke Man’s Narrative (Mack Avenue)

Noah Preminger, Haymaker (Palmetto)

Giacomo Gates, Miles Tones (Savant)

Tierney Sutton, After Blue (BFM)

Bob James and David Sanborn, Quartette Humaine (Okeh Records)

Rene Marie, I Wanna Be Evil (Motema)

Ahmad Jamal, Saturday Morning (Jazz Village)

Patricia Barber, Smash (Concord Jazz)

Best Reissues:
Tommy Flanagan, Giant Steps (Enja Jazz Classics)

Miles Davis, The Original Mono Recording (Columbia/Legacy)

Sarah Vaughan, Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection (Pablo)

This article is from the December 2013 edition of ICON Magazine, the only publication in the Greater Delaware Valley and beyond solely devoted to coverage of music, fine and performing arts, pop culture, and entertainment. More Information.