These are the jazz albums of 2022, according to Bret Saunders


So, 2022.

There was a mountain of exceptional jazz-based expression released in the past year, and while I’ve heard a good deal of it, of course I didn’t absorb it all. And there are artists I admire whose music deserves to be heard, all of it, by as many “friendly experiencers” (to lift a phrase from the mighty Anthony Braxton) as possible. But some of these creatives release so much sound that it’s challenging to keep up.

There are relentlessly brilliant musicians like saxophonist Ivo Perlman, whose new digital release, “Reed Rapture,” presents multiple hours of saxophone duets without a rhythm section. Is it compelling? You bet. Will I get a chance to listen to the whole shebang attentively before the end of this year? Not likely.

These are the albums I actively enjoyed and returned to in 2022. But this thought hangs above my head as I write: This was the year Denver (and the rest of the world) lost trumpeter-educator-bandleader-excellent-human Ron Miles, an irreplaceable presence.

  • For the Love of Fire and Water (Rogueart)

    Myra Melford’s Fire And Water Quintet, “For the Love of Fire And Water” (Rogue Art): This is nothing short of a successful convergence of individuals who can communicate on a very high level indeed. Every member of Melford’s project is someone to remember: the pianist-bandleader whose name is above the title, Tomeka Reid, Ingrid Laubrock, Mary Halvorson and Susie Ibarra. They’re all distinctive, but particularly effective when diving into Melford’s fine compositions.

  • Tyshawn Sorey, “The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism” (Pi Recordings): Drummer and composer Sorey can create mesmerizing waves of noisy euphoria, but here he presents forward-thinking takes on numerous standards, abetted by saxophonist Greg Osby, an artist worthy of your attention once again.
  • Nduduzo Makhatini, “In The Spirit Of Ntu” (Blue Note): The South African pianist presents another superior collection of rousing, life-affirming statements.
  • The Emerald Duets by Wadada Leo Smith (TUM Records)
    The Emerald Duets by Wadada Leo Smith (TUM Records)

    Wadada Leo Smith, “The Emerald Duets” (TUM): Smith has been releasing so much glorious material in recent years, he’s easy to take for granted. But this boxed set of duets between the trumpeter and a handful of veteran drummers showcases his strengths as a thoughtful improviser to the extent that he further cements his place as one of the great living jazz artists.

  • Kirk Knuffke Trio, “Gravity Without Airs” (Tao Forms): The cornetist and former Coloradan released his most accomplished set to date this year: searching, cerebral interactions with pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist Michael Bisio. It’s all so engaging, you won’t even miss the drummer.
  • Sun Ra Arkestra directed By Marshall Allen, “Living Sky” (Omni): I didn’t particularly like this group’s previous, Grammy-nominated offering. It sounded too much like a repertory group trying to recreate something (or someone) who was long gone. That’s not an issue here: Saxophonist Marshall Allen, at 99 years old, and his Arkestra capture the late Sun Ra’s freewheeling spirit by exploring their own path, which alternates between sublime beauty and menace. My favorite big band album of 2022.
  • David Murray, Brad Jones, Hamid Drake, “Seriana Promethea” (Intakt Records): There was a time when saxophonist Murray released so many albums, I doubt even he managed to keep a copy of each one in his own collection. Now that his output has slowed, we can savor the virtuosity, excitement and accomplishment of every masterful track presented here.
  • Avram Fefer Quartet, “Juba Lee” (Clean Feed): This band does something I didn’t think possible: intentionally or not, they capture the camaraderie of the late Sonny Sharrock’s 1991 quartet date “Ask The Ages,” with saxophonist Fefer filling the part of Pharoah Sanders (RIP) and Marc Ribot flailing and stunning like Sharrock himself on guitar. A late 2022 entry, but one I’ve had on replay for weeks.
  • Matthew Shipp Trio (Esp Disk Ltd.)
    Matthew Shipp Trio (Esp Disk Ltd.)

    Matthew Shipp Trio, “World Construct” (ESP): When it comes to establishing a mood, assembling brilliantly hypnotic patterns and interacting with his contemporaries, this is the prolific pianist’s best 2022 effort, and that’s saying something.

  • Jeff Parker, “Mondays At The Enfield Tennis Academy” (Eremite): Recorded over the course of a couple of years, this represents some of guitarist Parker’s most laid-back work – four slowly-unfolding tracks with a dedicated group, producing some of the most sublime chill-out music I’ve heard this year. It’s as effective in the foreground as it is in the background, which is rarely the case with good jazz.

Here are my favorite reissues and vault discoveries of the year:

  • William Parker, “Universal Tonality” (Centering Records)
  • Albert Ayler, “Revelations” (Elemental)
  • Various Artists, “Classic Black & White Jazz Sessions” (Mosaic)
  • Elvin Jones, “Revival: Live at Pookies Pub” (Blue Note)
  • Ahmad Jamal, “Emerald City Nights: Live At The Penthouse 1965-66” (Jazz Detective)

And playing locally this month:

Harry Connick Jr. appears at Denver’s Buell Theatre on Dec. 6. … The Camilla Vaitaitis Quartet plays Denver’s Nocturne Jazz and Supper Club Dec. 18 … The Annie Booth Trio presents “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at Dazzle Dec. 19-24.

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