1.) Don Byron “Love, Peace, And Soul (Savoy Jazz)
Don Byron always thinks outside the box. On this album, Byron performed some deep research into the work of gospel legend Thomas A. Dorsey. Once Byron selected the cuts for this album he picked vocalist DK Dyson to pour her gorgeous voice over each cut. The result is the greatest gospel jazz album in recent memory.
2.) Ravi Coltrane “Spirit Fiction” (Blue Note Records)
Coltrane’s dad saxophone God John Coltrane would be proud of Ravi’s latest album. Ravi has an impressive discography to date, but this album, his first for Blue Note, is Ravi’s opus. Every component works from hiring Joe Lovano to produce it to having pianist Geri Allen to bless it. Ravi is not a natural swinger. His hallmark is story telling.
3.) Branford Marsalis “Four MF’s Playin Tunes (Marsalis Music)
If nothing else, Marsalis can come up with a catchy title for an album. In the past, there’s been titles such as “Crazy People Music” and “I Heard You Twice the First Time”. Marsalis is by all accounts the leading saxophonist of today, and since opening Marsalis Music, he’s put out one outstanding album after the next. “Four Motherfuckers Playing Tunes” is Marsalis’ finest album for the label thus far. Plus, the album is the proper outlet to showcase the newest member of Marsalis’ band drummer Justin Faulkner—who took Jeff “Tain” Watts’ spot. Faulkner proves to be a suitable replacement, and it’s fun listening to the other longstanding band-mates break in the youngster.
4.) Eric Alexander & Vincent Herring “Friendly Fire” (High Note) This album recorded live and Smoke is the second blowing session for two of jazz’s upper tier saxophonists, and the high level of swing is on par with the classic blowing sessions Eddie “lockjaw” Davis and Johnny Griffin made. Be careful with this album. It will burn up your ear drums.
5.) Cyrus Chestnut “The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet” (WJ3) Chestnut is the kind of pianist who can let his inner swinger go at will. That’s particularly true when he’s leading his trio. When playing with his quartet, Cyrus likes to give his sidemen the lion share of the spotlight. On this album, Chestnut’s best in years, he ask saxophonist Stacy Dillard to shoulder most of the workload, and Dillard does so magnificently.
6.) The Cookers “Believe” (Motema)
Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, David Weiss, Craig Handy, George Cables, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart. It's not difficult at all to make a smoking hot jazz album when those all-star jazz musicians are in the same band. Of course, this project could’ve turned into an ego fest. There’s some strong personalities in the band, but each swinger understood this all-star project wasn’t about individuality. The project worked on paper and it worked in reality.
7.) JD Allen “The Matador and The Bull (Savant) Saxophonist JD Allen is a thinking man’s saxophonist as evident on all 12 cuts on his latest album. Like Branford Marsalis, there’s substance behind every note that Allen plays. He never swings for the sake of swinging.
8.) Christian Scott “Christian Atunde Adjuah” (Concord Records) Early in his career it was obvious Christian Scott wasn’t going to be happy as a run-of-the-mill jazz trumpeter. So Scott—who recently changed his name to Atunde Adjuah—has been experimenting since day one, and finally all his hard work has come to fruition with this remarkable double album, a bulletproof representation that Scott has come up with a winning formula.
9.) Orrin Evans “Flip the Script (Posi-tone) For years now, pianist Orrin Evans has been quietly making wonderful trio jazz albums, but Evans for whatever reason hasn’t garnered the press or praise given his peers. However, Evans carries on unfazed. Here Evan plays blues, pop, and a lot of bop beautifully.
10.) Halie Loren “heart first” (Justin Time) She is not a household name yet, but who cares this woman can sing. The cut “Waiting in Vain” will make an attack dog cry. Loren loaded up this album with 14 songs, which is a good thing because the time you spend with her delicious voice never feels rushed.