Welcome to the Burning Ambulance end-of-year countdown. Here’s how this is gonna work: Two lists will be published simultaneously—one covering the 25 best jazz albums of 2013, and one covering the 25 best rock/metal albums of 2013. Five albums from each list per day. Let’s get started!
Best Jazz Albums of 2013, Part 1
25. Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble, Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto (Independent/Self-Released)
Violinist/erhu player Meg Okura reworks Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s compositions (from his solo albums, movie scores, and the Yellow Magic Orchestra discography) quite radically at times on this disc. Asking a traditional-ish jazz ensemble—flute, piano, bass and drums—to interpret and re-create music that might originally have been a symphonic score, or a piece of highly polished, electronic techno-pop, requires not only technical facility but creative flexibility. Fortunately, everyone’s up to the challenge, and the results are extremely enjoyable, blending classical flourishes, rock-steady rhythms, quirky melodies and subtle but potent solos.
Stream “Riot in Lagos”:
24. Tim Warfield, Eye of the Beholder (Criss Cross Jazz)
This is one of two albums Pennsylvania-based saxophonist Tim Warfield released in 2013; he discussed both in an interview in May. The players have all known each other, and worked together, for years, and the tunes are a mix of hard bop and blues. Warfield is an old-school player, reminiscent of 1960s titans like Dexter Gordon and Hank Mobley; he might occasionally get slightly harsh in his blowing (as on “The Undaunted”), but he always brings it back down to earth and stays rooted in the groove and the tune. His muscular saxophone is perfectly complemented by Nicholas Payton‘s rich, full trumpet sound, and the band behind them—particularly pianist Cyrus Chestnut—fills the music with energy, even at slower tempos.
Stream it on Spotify:
23. Tarbaby, Ballad of Sam Langford (Hipnotic)
Tarbaby is the trio of pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits; this is their third album, and the first one to feature all original material. (Previous releases included versions of tunes by Don Cherry, Paul Motian, and the Bad Brains, among others.) Two guests come to the party: alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, who’s appeared on all three of their records, and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, who’s new. Named for a turn-of-the-last-century boxer known as the “Boston Tar Baby,” Ballad of Sam Langford isn’t a concept album or a suite, but it holds together even as the pieces confidently traverse the blues, aggressive free playing, and whatever other territory suits the members in the moment.
Stream it on Spotify:
22. Chris Potter, The Sirens (ECM)
Veteran tenor saxophonist Potter’s ECM debut features pianists Craig Taborn and David Virelles (who plays prepared piano, celeste, and harmonium), bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland; it’s a concept album of sorts based on The Odyssey (sample track titles: “Wine Dark Sea,” “Wayfinder,” “Penelope,” “Stranger at the Gate”). The pieces are more atmospheric, and less built around powerhouse grooves, than earlier work with his Underground group; still, there’s plenty of vitality here—this isn’t mood music by any means. Taborn and Virelles play off each other deftly and subtly, and Grenadier and Harland make a killer rhythm section, with the drums in particular sounding fantastic. The recording quality on this album is phenomenal. The music on The Sirens reflects a compositional and improvisational maturity, as though Potter’s long and wide-ranging career to date had led up to this statement. (Read our full review.)
There’s no music from The Sirens streaming anywhere. Here’s a live performance of “Wine Dark Sea” from this past spring:
21. Jeremy Pelt, Water and Earth (HighNote)
Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt broke up one of the best acoustic bands in America following the release of his 2012 album Soul. Fortunately, his new music, as heard on this album, seems as strong and creative as what came before. Joined by saxophonist Roxy Coss and two keyboardists, David Bryant and Frank LoCrasto, and backed by bassist Burniss Earl Travis, drummer Dana Hawkins and percussionist Jeffery Haynes, with a trio of female vocalists (Ra-Re Valverde, Angela Roberts, and Fabiana Masili) popping up here and there, the pieces are meditative and sometimes almost ambient in feel, while still finding space for beats that edge close to the post-hip-hop territory of DJ Krush at times, and an overall loose, exploratory, fusion-derived sound that may remind some of pre-Jaco Pastorius Weather Report. As great as the Jeremy Pelt Quintet was, this is a very rewarding new direction for him. (Read our full review.)
Stream “Prior Convictions”: