10. Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah, Stretch Music
New Orleans trumpeter Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah left longtime label Concord after four albums, and this disc is his weirdest to date. Swathed in synthesizers that recall Miles Davis’s 1980s work, the music can be diffuse, but the snapping, thumping beats underpinning it all (there are two drummers, plus programming) keep it anchored, and electric guitar gives pieces like “West of the West” real sting. Scott seems to want to turn the album title into a genre, defining it as jazz with room for funk, R&B, hip-hop, etc., but that feels like an unnecessary gesture in 2015. Music this strong stands on its own.
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9. Duane Eubanks, Things Of That Particular Nature
Trumpeter Duane Eubanks hasn’t made an album as a leader in well over a decade. He’s joined by tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton, keyboardist (piano and Fender Rhodes) Marc Cary, bassist Dezron Douglas, drummer Eric McPherson, and on two tracks, vibraphonist Steve Nelson. Nearly all the compositions are strongly focused on melody, and structured like songs rather than formal or technical exercises. Eubanks’ solos are heavily lyrical, with a vibrant energy, particularly on ballads. In some ways, his playing—and the overall sound of the group—recalls Woody Shaw’s albums of the late 1970s and early 1980s: high-level music with a muscular, contagious energy.
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8. Tom Tallitsch, All Together Now
Each of saxophonist Tom Tallitsch’s three albums for the Posi-Tone label have been easygoing, melodic journeys that swing, but also offer unexpected sonic detours at times. On this one, he’s joined by alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo and trombonist Michael Dease, and backed up by organist Brian Charette, bassist Peter Brendler and drummer Mark Ferber—a crack band capable of slow-walking blues as well as trickier melodies, toggling back and forth between hard bop and soul jazz with side trips into rock (the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” Frank Zappa’s “Uncle Remus”) and always making sure to serve the song and the casual listener. Jazz as entertainment? What a concept!
7. James Brandon Lewis, Days Of FreeMan
Tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis is accompanied on his third album by bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Rudy Royston. Days of FreeMan takes inspiration from late ’80s/early ’90s hip-hop, but avoids programmed beats and samples—this isn’t a crossover album in the spirit of Us3 or 3-D Lifestyles/Black Book-era Greg Osby. Instead, Lewis seems to be primarily channeling the head-nodding feel and thoughtful lyricism of A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers, without consciously imitating their sound. As the bass and drums loop and lope, he ducks sideways, finding places to wander and explore, floating atop the groove like a golden-age MC.
6. Matthew Shipp Trio, The Conduct Of Jazz
The latest incarnation of pianist Matthew Shipp’s trio features bassist Michael Bisio, who’s been with him since 2011’s double live disc The Art of the Improviser, and new drummer Newman Taylor Baker, replacing Whit Dickey. Baker has previously worked with Henry Threadgill, Billy Bang, and Leroy Jenkins, among many others, and helps drive the band’s music in a more traditional, swinging direction. The title piece borrows a phrase from Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts,” and throughout the disc, melody and swing are present in a way they haven’t been since Shipp’s second album for the Thirsty Ear label, 2000’s Pastoral Composure.