15. Nick Hempton, Catch And Release
Australian alto player Nick Hempton, who made last year’s best jazz album, embarked on a noble experiment in 2015, recording one tune every six weeks and selling them individually online. This is the year-end roundup of all that parceled-out creativity—eight tracks full of lilting swing, hummable melodies, and genially skillful solos from all involved. He’s joined by bassist Dave Baron and drummer Dan Aran, as well as (depending on the track) pianists Jeremy Manasia, Rossano Sportiello, and Tadataka Unno; guitarist Peter Bernstein; tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon; and trumpeter Bruce Harris. Some pieces are more “out” than others, most notably “Catch Up,” but even that becomes a swinging blues groove by the end.
14. Terell Stafford, Brotherlee Love
Tribute albums rarely inspire much from a listener beyond wishing to hear the original artist’s work instead. But trumpeter Terell Stafford, joined by saxophonist Tim Warfield, pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Dana Hall, salutes hard bop titan Lee Morgan here, with a well-chosen selection of cuts from his own albums and those he made with Art Blakey, and the results are impressive. The tunes aren’t obvious choices (no “Sidewinder” here), and the performances blaze. Stafford and Warfield are a powerhouse front line, but everyone’s in high gear throughout, maintaining a simmering intensity even on the ballads. Far more than pandering to nostalgia; highly recommended.
13. Eddie Henderson, Collective Portrait
Trumpeter Eddie Henderson is one of jazz’s great unsung figures. On this album, he’s joined by saxophonist Gary Bartz, keyboardist George Cables, bassist Doug Weiss, and drummer Carl Allen for a set of tunes that nod to his own past while also paying tribute to other great trumpeters. It includes versions of “Sunburst,” from that 1975 Blue Note album, and “Morning Song” and “Beyond Forever,” from 1977’s Coming Through. Other tracks include Freddie Hubbard’s “First Light,” “Ginger Bread Boy” (from Miles Davis’s Miles Smiles), and Woody Shaw’s “Zoltan,” all performed in stellar fashion. The entire band is in top form throughout.
12. David Chesky/Jazz In The New Harmonic, Primal Scream
The second album by pianist/composer David Chesky’s quintet Jazz In The New Harmonic has a late ’50s/early ’60s feel; the compositions feature artful harmonies from trumpeter Jeremy Pelt (mostly playing through a mute) and tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson, layered atop throbbing, rock-steady rhythms from bassist Peter Washington and drummer Billy Drummond. (The latter man takes a terrific, slow-burning solo on the title track.) Chesky’s playing—not just his note and chord choices, but the actual sound of the instrument—can be deeply reminiscent of Bill Evans on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, but Primal Scream as a whole sounds just as much like a tribute to Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth.
11. Mette Henriette, Mette Henriette
An assured and impressive debut from a Norwegian saxophonist, this two-CD set starts out closer to post-Webern chamber music than jazz. Sixteen of the 35 pieces are less than two minutes long, and all the music is about the space between the notes, the hanging silences between instruments like people in a room wondering what to say to each other. The first disc is arranged for saxophone, piano and cello; on the second, those same players are joined by 10 others, adding jazz instruments (trumpet, trombone, upright bass), a string quartet, and some oddities, like bandoneon and musical saw. Cool, and starkly beautiful to start, it becomes lush and romantic in its second half.