First, let it be said there were many, many excellent jazz albums in 2012. And some of the recordings beloved by CBC Music’s jazz team include albums that are not on the top five list, music from all corners of jazz: Robert Glasper’s Black Radio, Peter Appleyard’s Sophisticated Ladies, Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society, Susie Arioli’s All the Way, Emilie-Claire Barlow’s Seule ce soir, Cory Weeds’s Up a Step and James Danderfer’s Hummingbird Brigade, just to name a few.
So we hope you use this top five as just a starting point. We also hope you will let us know which albums swung your socks off this past year, via the comments, below.
Meanwhile, here goes:
1. Brad Mehldau, Ode
You may think of Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett trios as listening to Ode, if only because of the stately, classic piano trio quality it has about it. But while it might seem something of a tribute to the great piano trios of yore, it isn’t derivative. Ode’s original compositions are literally tributes though, or as Mehldau says on his website, “odes, or poems that might be sung ... [except] it’s the singing only without all those pesky words.”
Among the lacking-in-pesky-words odes are compositions dedicated to musicians, for instance Michael Brecker (“M.B.”) and the guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel (“Kurt Vibe”). So why is Ode our number one? Because it is a world of beauty you can get lost in from beginning to end. And in an era when beauty is frequently overshadowed by less-than-beautiful occurrences, that’s no mean thing.
Listen to Mehldau with the title track from Ode.
2. Dave Douglas Quintet, Be Still
Be Still is all about grace, poetry and loss. Douglas took the hymns his late mother requested he play at her memorial service and arranged them for this album. His jazz-eye view of the material, along with vocals from Aoife O’Donovan of the bluegrass band Crooked Still, make this very special.
Watch Douglas, O'Donovan and band perform "Be Still."
3. Vijay Iyer Trio, Accelerando
Relentless, searching, inquisitive, risk-taking — all words that could be used to describe Accelerando. When Iyer took over the directorship of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music last year, he told CBC Music that he considered Banff a “crucible for creativity.” He certainly located his own crucible for creativity, recording this trio album with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore. It’s a beaut.
Watch Iyer present the music of Accelerando.
4. Ahmad Jamal, Blue Moon
Jamal released this at the age of 81, and it’s a delight. We turn to Ben Ratliff of The New York Times for a perfect description of Jamal’s powers: “The feeling — as with Miles Davis, as with Prince — is of a bandleader’s constant, watchful manipulation, tension and release for maximum thrills.”
Watch a behind-the-scenes video of the "making of" Blue Moon.
5. Elizabeth Shepherd, Rewind
Shepherd made her name (in part) by recording her own, original material. But Rewind turns primarily to standards. Even then, Shepherd makes them her own, in an understated, groove-laden way that makes this an album for any kind of discerning music fan, not “just” the jazz fan.
PLAYListen to "Lonely House" from Rewind.
Q&A: Elizabeth Shepherd on Rewind, jazz and motherhood
Miles Davis, Ahmad Jamal, show less is more
Vijay Iyer calls Banff jazz workshop ‘crucible for creativity'
Robert Glasper’s ‘what inspires me’ playlist
Susie Arioli sets a new standard with All The Way
Emilie-Claire Barlow's French immersion
Q&A: Peter Appleyard, The Lost 1974 Sessions
Watch jazz legend Peter Appleyard's Sophisticated Ladies session
on Dec 17, 2012