Yes, readers, you heard me right: The top 40 jazz albums of 2012. This was a particularly fine year for jazz recordings, and this old man had trouble whittling it down to the Top Ten, or even Top Twenty. So, here we are with the top 40 albums of this past year. And, as a special bonus, we're going to look at them 10 at a time, making this a four-part series. And, we're going to go backwards from 40 on down to good old number one. Excited? Me, too. Let's get started:
40) Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet, "Hustlin' for a Gig" (Housekat) - You know, I miss groups like this. Manhattan Transfer, our own Rare Silk, tight harmony vocal groups with pizzazz. The UVJQ has it in spades (and that means double). Leader Ginny Carr wrote all the tunes except one, and scores big points with "He Was the Cat (A Tribute to Eddie Jefferson)."
39) Marc Johnson/Eliane Elias, "Swept Away" (ECM) - Bassist Johnson and pianist Elias are one of the more talented married couples in jazz. On this release, they are joined by saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Joey Baron. This is the kind of album ECM seems to be able to put out with a minimum of sweat, which doesn't mean it isn't brilliant.
38) Roni Ben-Hur/Santi Debriano, "Our Thing" (Motema) - Guitarist Ben-Hur and bassist Debriano invited drummer and percussionist Duduka Da Fonseca to play some South American-style jazz with bossa nova rhythms on their own compositions and a surprise, one of Thelonious Monk's lesser-known tunes, "Green Chimneys." They can cook and be mellow, whatever you like.
37) Lynne Arriale, "Solo" (Motema) - Every pianist must, eventually, record a solo album. Some do it just to get it out of the way. Others, like Lynne Arriale, do it to show off their chops, their intelligence, their touch, their skill in composing, and their taste in selecting other composers' work. In short, their genius. "Solo" shows that Lynne Arriale is a genius. As if you didn't already know.
36) Steve Lehman, "Dialect Fluorescent" (Pi) - Steve Lehman has mostly been known for his distinctive compositional style. On this album, he uses compositions by his influences, like John Coltrane, Duke Pearson, and Jackie McLean. He also plays a great version of the usually sickeningly sweet "Pure Imagination," from "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."
35) Kenny Garrett, "Seeds from the Underground" (Mack Avenue) - Garrett, funnily enough, also pays tribute to his influences on his 2012 release. With titles like "J. Mac," "Haynes Here," and "Ballad Jarrett," it's not very difficult to figure out who some of these influences are. But he also paid tribute to Marcus Belgrave and Christian Laviso.
34) Bobo Stenson/Anders Jormin/Jon Fait, "Indicum" (ECM) - Actually, this should probably rank higher. But, as you will soon notice, there's a boatload of piano trios on this list, and a lot of ECM albums, too. I don't suppose that's a very good reason to rank this great album down on the list, but you can put who you want where you want on your list.
33) Tia Fuller, "Angelic Warrior" (Mack Avenue) - All right! Our own Aurora-raised Tia Fuller hits the list. After two solo albums and appearing with Sean Jones on several albums, her light has been steadily getting brighter and brighter. This album shines very brightly, and as an added attraction, she has her sister Shamie Royston and Shamie's hubby Rudy Royston on keyboards and drums, respectively.
32) Halie Loren, "Heart First" (Justin Time) - Where has this siren been all my life? Well, for most of it, she hadn't been born yet, but for the last eight years or so, she's been making great vocal jazz albums. I finally caught up on "Heart First," a terrific blend of her own compositions and covers. You can bet I won't miss Ms. Loren's next album.
31) John Abercrombie Quartet, "Within a Song" (ECM) - As if Abercrombie needed it, he put together an all-star lineup for this one. Joe Lovano joins on tenor sax, Drew Gress is on bass, and Joey Baron is the drummer. Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman are two of the composers Abercrombie's band covers, along with John Coltrane and Bill Evans. Abercrombie is his usual, individualistic, and innovative self.
Believe it or not, that's the bottom ten of this list. Kind of makes you wonder what's ahead of this, huh? By the way, don't forget to pick up these recordings at Denver's best independent record store, Twist and Shout, or see them live at Denver's finest jazz club, Dazzle. More of the countdown is coming soon.