John Sharpe's Best Releases of 2013

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Here are twelve new releases which stood out from those I heard this year, in no special order.

Mostly Other People Do the Killing
Slippery Rock
(Hot Cup Records)

Leader and bassist Moppa Elliott
Moppa Elliott
Moppa Elliott
b.1978
bass
's songwriting talents haven't deserted him: his charts, named after small Pennsylvania towns, are bursting at the seams with nagging melodies and rhythmic gear changes. Also present and correct are the affectionate nods to older forms and sources, this time particularly the smooth jazz of the 1980s, played simultaneously straight and with a devil-may-care abandon. For those who find the group's full on sound claustrophobic, nothing has changed here. These guys play a lot! Like peacocks strutting in their finery, they are as gaudy as the primary hued suits on the sleeve, making their first few albums seem almost tame in comparison.

Roscoe Mitchell
Roscoe Mitchell
Roscoe Mitchell
b.1940
reeds

Three Compositions
(Rogue Art)

Veteran Chicago saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell
Roscoe Mitchell
Roscoe Mitchell
b.1940
reeds
's scores are interpreted by an established grouping with an AACM lineage—his namesake, flutist Nicole Mitchell
Nicole Mitchell
Nicole Mitchell
b.1967
flute
's Black Earth Ensemble. This performance was one of three by the flutist's band at the 2009 edition of the Sant' Anna Arresi jazz festival in Sardinia, and is captured here in sparkling clarity. Mitchell's subtle but richly detailed scores, often involving subsets of musicians, are brought vibrantly into focus by the Black Earth Ensemble, both collectively and as individuals. Kudos should go to the Paris-based Rogue Art label, long a supporter of both Mitchells, for ensuring that this fine music has reached the wider public it deserves.

Thomas Borgmann
Thomas Borgmann
Thomas Borgmann
b.1955
reeds

Nasty & Sweet
(No Business)

From the first few notes, it's apparent that something special is happening on Nasty & Sweet. Perhaps it's the way bassist Wilber Morris
Wilber Morris
Wilber Morris
b.1937
and drummer Reggie Nicholson sound so assured in their realization of the merest splashes of color. Completely unafraid to take their time, creating a powerful tension which isn't released even when German reedman Thomas Borgmann
Thomas Borgmann
Thomas Borgmann
b.1955
reeds
joins with his breathily majestic tenor saxophone smears. Sadly when Morris, brother of the recently deceased cornetist and conductionist Laurence Butch Morris, died in 2002, that signaled the end of the BMN Trio, making this unexpected resurrection all the more worth celebrating.

Ingrid Laubrock
Ingrid Laubrock
Ingrid Laubrock
b.1970
saxophone

Strong Place
(Intakt)

New York-based German saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock
Ingrid Laubrock
Ingrid Laubrock
b.1970
saxophone
moves one step further in cementing her place at the heart of the Big Apple's fertile Brooklyn scene. Already on a roll with her plangent contributions to pianist Kris Davis
Kris Davis
Kris Davis

piano
' Capricorn Climber (Clean Feed, 2013), Laubrock lives up to the high standard she set herself with Anti-house's eponymous debut (Intakt, 2010). In that, she's aided by the same cast, but with Canadian pianist Davis now integrated full-time into the ensemble. Every nook and cranny on this wonderful record demands in depth appreciation and amply rewards the time spent.

Motion Trio with Jeb Bishop
The Flame Alphabet
(Not Two)

The Flame Alphabet mirrors the quartet's debut—Burning Live (Jazz Ao Centro, 2012)—but in spite of being a studio session, manages to retain energy and drive of the concert situation. At the core of the disc's success lies the quick-witted interplay between the horns as reedman Rodgrigo Amado and trombonist Jeb Bishop prove well-matched in their joint proclivity for spinning honeyed tales. In that they are aided by Miguel Mira's sprightly cello, played pizzicato almost throughout in the bass role and Gabriel Ferrandini's superlative drumming, full of air and ingenuity. A disc that captivates with its blend of accomplished execution and responsive evolving narrative.

Satoko Fujii
Satoko Fujii
Satoko Fujii
b.1958
piano

Time Stands Still
(Not Two)

When asked why she has lead or co-lead so many different projects (23 at last count), pianist Satoko Fujii
Satoko Fujii
Satoko Fujii
b.1958
piano
replied "It's like food. I don't like just Japanese food, but also Italian food, French food and so on, and I would soon get tired if I just ate Japanese food." If her ma-do quartet were to have a culinary equivalent it would certainly be tasty: something spicy with rich complex flavors. It's almost as if Fujii has so many ideas that she has to jam as many as possible into every composition. Each cut screeches into handbrake turns of clashing incongruity which the band somehow make sound unforced and natural.

Convergence Quartet
Slow And Steady
(No Business)

It might just be that the third record from the Transatlantic Convergence Quartet is their best yet. Recorded live at north London's Vortex at the conclusion of a short British tour, the band was firing on all cylinders. Comprising four strong composers who are also talented improvisers, a group identity has gradually become manifest: calling on both the jazz heritage and the free improv tradition, they combine lushness and austerity in slyly knowing conceptual gambits delivered with openness, wit and imagination.

Trio 3 + Jason Moran
Refraction—Breakin' Glass
(Intakt)

If ever there was a threesome that hankered after being a quartet, it's Trio 3. Jason Moran
Jason Moran
Jason Moran
b.1975
piano
fills the piano stool on Refraction—Breakin' Glass, adding to an already heady brew. It's a collective effort. No-one rests on their laurels. Each contributes tunes, which cover a wide stylistic spectrum, creating a winning mix of free form abstraction, kinetic riffs, and inventive interchange, studded with biting solos. Part of the joy of Trio 3 lies in the way even the relatively straightforward numbers feel on the edge of falling apart in a welter of delicious dissonance and arhythmic clatter, but never quite do.

Evan Parker/ Matthew Shipp
Rex, Wrecks & XXX
(Rogue Art)

Rex, Wrecks & XXX, containing two discs, one recorded in the studio and the other live (at London's Vortex) the following day, documents a spontaneous dialogue of the highest order. Deep listening underpins the congruency of pacing and dynamics, and even sometimes phrasing, resulting in a more harmonious pairing than the avant-garde reputations might suggest. Both Matthew Shipp
Matthew Shipp
Matthew Shipp
b.1960
piano
and Evan Parker
Evan Parker
Evan Parker
b.1944
sax, tenor
work in a syntax of repeated motifs and sonic cells, which themselves prompt further rejoinders in a process of continual calibration.

Lotte Anker/ Rodrigo Pinheiro/Hernani/ Faustino
Birthmark
(Clean Feed)

Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker
Lotte Anker
Lotte Anker
b.1958
saxophone
relishes the slow burn. For confirmation, just lend an ear to records like Live At The Loft (Ilk, 2008) or Floating Islands (Ilk, 2009) by her trio with Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
b.1970
keyboard
and Gerald Cleaver to hear how she builds a soaring edifice from humble foundations. It's a trait she shares with Portugal's RED Trio who, in two acclaimed outings with saxophonist John Butcher
John Butcher
John Butcher

saxophone
and trumpeter Nate Wooley
Nate Wooley
Nate Wooley
b.1974
trumpet
, demonstrate how they can absorb a radical stylist into their idiosyncratic group conception. Birthmark should appeal to fans of both outfits and make new converts besides, combining as it does Anker's fluent husky musings with the spare but astute sound placement of the Portuguese pair of pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro and bassist Hernani Faustino.

Eric Revis
Eric Revis
Eric Revis
b.1967
bass

City Of Asylum
(Clean Feed)

Bassist Eric Revis
Eric Revis
Eric Revis
b.1967
bass
helms a stellar trio exhibiting a telepathic rapport which translates into emphatic and playful syncopated intricacy. The threesome forges waves of dazzling crescendos, alternating tension and occasional release. Pianist Kris Davis
Kris Davis
Kris Davis

piano
draws her inspiration as much from minimalism as Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
b.1929
piano
, often maintaining a percussive ringing tremolo while chording strongly with her left hand. Revis revels in a nimble-fingered authority, while Andrew Cyrille
Andrew Cyrille
Andrew Cyrille
b.1939
drums
is both elegant and imperious.

Barry Guy's New Orchestra
Mad Dogs
(Not Two)

Selected from performances by some of the smaller groupings contained within the Barry Guy
Barry Guy
Barry Guy
b.1947
bass
New Orchestra, this five disc compendium recorded in Krakow in November 2010, would be notable if it only featured the splendid sets by the Tarfala Trio and the Evan Parker
Evan Parker
Evan Parker
b.1944
sax, tenor
/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton triumvirate. But there is much more to savor, ranging from the muscular encounter between iconclastic saxophonist Mats Gustafsson
Mats Gustafsson
Mats Gustafsson
b.1964
reeds
and the adventurous pianist Agusti Fernandez at one extreme, to the starkly beautiful duet between violinist Maya Homburger and drummer Lytton at the other.

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