Start 2012 With Five Must-Hear Jazz Albums

Larry Goldings – In My Room (BFM Jazz): It’s always a pleasure to hear a truly imaginative player like this keyboardist interpret standards or other familiar covers like The Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” The Beatles’ “Here There & Everywhere” or “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Whether Goldings teases the melody or plays it straight, he never fails to find nuances heretofore left undiscovered in other versions. And because thisartist informs his performances with as much of the formal atmosphere of a recital as the happy-go-lucky mood of playing just for fun, Goldings successfully fulfills the concept as much as he stretches his own talent.

John Escreet – The Age We Live in (Mythology Records): John Escreet’s is an aptly titled album because he merges traditional jazz approaches with a forward-thinking fusion mentality. In so doing he attempts, and largely succeeds, in redefining a genre stricken with stereotypes.Bold music that is dizzying at times in the speed of its changes,the quick contrasts of arrangement from track to track heighten that sensation: this is not music for the background, but for the discerning music lover who likes nothing more than sitting down for a serious listen to a serious musician.

Contact – Five on One (Pirouet): Given the names involved, it stands to reason this is a hard-hitting session. Billy Hart, John Abercrombie and Dave Liebman, well-rounded and musicianly personalities, know how to compromise as a means of furthering the cohesion of the band,here including pianist Marc Copland and bassist Drew Gress. The music the group creates is dense but not overly so, and substantial enough to reward repeated listenings to marvel at the way this quintet coalesces. It’s an object lesson in the whole being much greater even than the sum of its parts.

Denny Zeitlin – Precipice (Sunnyside): There’s a purity in Zeitlin’s playing here that transcends the overreaching usually associated with solo piano work. The abbreviated upbeat tracks (immediately followed by audience response) disrupt the almost religious atmosphere of the more extended pieces; the artist manages to explore deeply cerebral realms without forgetting how to swing. Thus, this is a rare record indeed, simultaneously (and equally) accessible and provocative.

George Cotsirilos Trio – Past Present (OA2 Records): Musicianship this tasteful usually isn’t so substantial, but the fluid Bay area guitarist and his comrades use their economic approach as a means to an end. Rather than just erect a platform for guitar heroism on the part of the leader, the musicians work as a tightly knit-unit to construct more complex performances than such a straightforward y might otherwise lead to. Instead of just blowing, they devise arrangements with sufficient intricacy to challenge themselves as they play and their listeners as they hear.

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