So without further ado, here's my list. (Your mileage may vary, of course, and you're welcome to put your own thoughts in the comments.)
- 10. The eponymous debut by the Dafnis Prieto Proverb Trio (Dafnison Music). Cuban-born drummer is joined by keyboardist Jason Lindner and singeresbjorn/rapper Kokayi fuse together a wide variety of styles into something that's truly unique.
- 9. Christian Scott, Christian aTunde Adjuah (Concord Records). Ambitious double-length release from New Orleans-born trumpeter who constantly pushes the boundaries of his music into adventurous new places.
- 8. Donny McCaslin, Casting for Gravity (Greenleaf Records). Prolific tenorman who would be a household name in a perfect world scores with a new release that blends electronics with more traditional sounds and includes a great cover of a Boards of Canada song.
- 7. Esbjörn Svensson Trio, 301 (ACT Music). The late Swedish pianist had not one, but two albums' worth of music in the can at the time of his untimely passing. The first one, Leukocyte, had a much darker air about it than any of the trio's earlier releases; the remaining material, found here, is overall a return to the more uplifting mood that one came to expect from e.s.t. Overall, a fitting coda to a remarkable body of work.
- 6. Neil Cowley Trio, The Face of Mount Molehill (Naim Label). I've really been getting into a lot of European piano trios who have been doing some very interesting and creative things with that format, and this UK threesome's latest release is loaded with memorable tunes that keep me coming back again and again.
- 5. Snarky Puppy, groundUP (groundUP). The Pups celebrate their own imprint under the Rope-a-Dope umbrella with their second "live in the studio" effort. As always, it's full of win--memorable tunes, funky grooves and virtuosic musicianship. These guys have done their hometown of Denton proud, though their repidly-expanding tours mean they don't get to come home as much these days.
- 4. Kenny Garrett, Seeds From the Underground (Mack Avenue Records). Perhaps the finest altoist of his generation (and certainly, outside of Bird and Cannonball, the most-imitated by younger players), Garrett returns with his first album of all originals in a while, and to these ears, it's his best work since the classic Songbook album.
- 3. Gwilym Simcock/Tim Garland/Asaf Sirkis, Lighthouse (ACT Music). The Lighthouse Trio has appeared on a couple of previous albums under the leadership of saxophonist Garland (and primarily featuring his compositions). But with their ACT debut, the trio has moved towards being more of a true collective, with everyone contributing to the songwriting and the musicianship of young British pianist Simcock coming more toward the forefront. The tunes are catchy, the musicianship is superb, and the combination of textures (Garland often puts the sax aside in favor of bass clarinet, and Sirkis' unconventional drum kit is made up of all kinds of things) is always enjoyable.
- 2. The eponymous debut by the Pat Metheny Unity Band (Nonesuch Records). The highly-anticipated meeting of the eminent guitarist with reedman Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams and Metheny's longtime drummer Antonio Sanchez more than lives up to expectations; it truly is a unified whole, rather than just another "supergroup," and the collaboration translated to an equally impressive live show.
- 1. Jacob Karlzon 3, More (ACT Music). The Swedish pianist, joined by cohorts Hans Andersson on bass and Jonas Holgersson on drums, was not unfamiliar to me, as I already owned two of his prior releases, but when this new release was announced on Karlzon's Facebook page, the audio samples and teaser video grabbed me and never let go. It's as though Karlzon is taking the work of his late countryman Svensson to interesting new places, with a strong Metheny vibe thrown in (especially on the opener, "Running"). There are a lot of styles represented here (he covers Nik Kershaw and Korn on this album), and of all the recordings that made it into my CD player or laptop this year, this is the one that had the biggest emotional hold on me and kept me coming back for, well, More.
Also, you may notice that three of the albums on the list come from Germany's ACT Music, which has easily emerged as one of my favorite labels this year. I finally got a couple of actual CDs from them (the Lighthouse recording, and one by the Yaron Herman Trio), and I love the packaging and liner notes as well. I'd buy all of their stuff in hard-copy form if the imports weren't so pricey.
And coming up in 2013, the most anticipated new release of this month ahead has to be Chris Potter's ECM debut, Sirens, with Craig Taborn, David Virelles, Larry Grenadier and Eric Harland. It drops in just four weeks!