Vijay Iyer Trio
1) On his second trio outing, Iyer connects with the rhythmic pulse of his repertoire. The disc is split evenly between the pianist’s own keen-angled originals and deconstructions of material by artists as diverse as Duke Ellington, Michael Jackson, Henry Threadgill and Heatwave.
2) The prolific saxophonist/composer makes his ECM debut with a new quartet. Berne somehow absorbs the notoriously ascetic label’s sound into his own sweepingly aggressive vision, ending up with an altered perspective rather than a changed identity.
Steve Lehman Trio
Dialect Fluorescent (Pi)
3) The cerebrally oriented altoist/composer veers in a surprising direction on his latest, tackling hard-bop standards in compelling arrangements that split the difference between the nightclub stage and the university classroom.
Jon Irabagon’s Outright!
4) Since winning the 2008 Thelonious Monk competition, saxophonist Irabagon has proved himself a jazz chameleon, blending into settings from straight-ahead to avant-garde to pranksterish takedowns. The second disc by his Outright! quintet captures as many of those facets as can be contained by a single album, thrilling while still managing to be cohesive.
John Abercrombie Quartet
Within a Song (ECM)
5) In another set focused on novel reimaginings of classic repertoire, guitarist Abercrombie assembles a stellar quartet featuring tenor giant Joe Lovano to tackle pieces by the leader’s formative influences. Their frontline tandem reflects on the collaboration between Jim Hall and Sonny Rollins, which becomes the spine of a gauzy, fluid collection.
Darius Jones Quartet
Book of Mae’bul (Another Kind of Sunrise) (AUM Fidelity)
6) The third chapter in Jones’ ongoing musical autobiography traces the saxophonist’s move to NYC, integrating his Southern-fried avant-honk with modern jazz complexity.
Matt Wilson’s Arts & Crafts
An Attitude for Gratitude (Palmetto)
7) One of music’s most joyous spirits recovers from a trying stretch with not darkness, but appreciation. His long-running quartet celebrates with an ebullient set only occasionally tinged with melancholy — ironically, most strongly on “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
Fred Hersch Trio
Alive at the Vanguard (Palmetto)
8) The lyrical piano great communes with his trio — bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson — on a stunning two-disc set recorded at the legendary Village Vanguard. Exploring originals, jazz standards and songbook classics, the trio is on a constant journey of elegant discovery.
Chick Corea / Eddie Gomez /
Further Explorations (Concord Jazz)
9) The late master drummer Paul Motian revisited his landmark stint with pianist Bill Evans alongside fellow alum Eddie Gomez and keyboard great Chick Corea at this 2010 Blue Note gig. The sprawling two-disc set is never an imitation, unsurprisingly, but keeps Evans’ sound and compositions as inspiration for just what the title suggests.
The Heavens: The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album (Yestereve)
10) Inspired by an eclectic gamut of thinkers from Stephen Hawking to Woody Allen to Yahweh, Garchik constructs a secular Hallelujah Chorus of brass in his Brooklyn studio.
Next Week: Mary Armstrong tabulates the Top 10 Roots albums of 2012. Banjos! Accordions! Weird drums! And of course we’re still rattling off our favorite songs of the year over at citypaper.net/criticalmass.