Told you. We're going to wind up the first half (technically, the second half) of our Top 40 jazz albums of 2012 with numbers 30 through 21. There's a couple of surprises. I know I was surprised. But soft! Leave us continue the countdown:
30) Gregory Porter, "Be Good" (Motema) - This album snuck up on this poor writer. I really didn't expect this singer/songwriter to knock my head back like he did. Songs like the title cut (with the subtitle "Lion's Song") and "The Way You Want to Live" shook up my brain and heart unlike any other singer in quite a while. Also surprising was the fact that sometimes, Porter sounds like Kurt Elling. Wow.
29) Bill Evans, "Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Gate" (Resonance) - This takes the prize for "Longest Name for a Venue". Seriously, folks, I wanna tell you: This surprising find from Evans' 1968 trio, including Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morell on drums, shows off the pianist's chops more than the usual Bill Evans recording. Gomez and Morell aren't too bad, either.
28) Hafez Modirzadeh, "Post-Chromodal Out!" (Pi) - All Modirzadeh did this year was show us how Persian and Iranian modes could be made into enjoyable jazz. Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar and pianist Vijay Iyer are strong as "sidemen." I once shook hands with this album's bassist, Ken Filiano, and I'm still waiting for the feeling to come back to my hand seven years later.
27) Donny McCaslin, "Casting for Gravity" (Greenleaf) - Saxophonist McCaslin is accustomed to making this list as a sideman for trumpeter Dave Douglas, but this time he makes it on his own as the leader of the first of three Greenleaf albums on this part of the list. It's a blast, too.
26) Magico (Jan Garbarek/Egberto Gismonti/Charlie Haden), "Carta de Amor" (ECM) - ECM is doing a wonderful job of checking their vaults for great music, like this previously unreleased two-disc 1981 live date from one of their finest groups. The beauty comes from the melodic talents of reedman Garbarek, pianist/guitarist Gismonti, and Haden. Does it get any better? Apparently so, since this is only number 26.
25) Esperanza Spalding, "Radio Music Society (Deluxe Edition)" (Heads Up/Concord) - This is fun, positive, and beautiful music. I can't believe why I recommend the Deluxe Edition: It's got a DVD with videos for each of Spalding's songs. Videos? I thought I was a jazz snob, but the videos Spalding stars in on this DVD are wonderful. And they actually have something to do with the music!
24) Ahmad Jamal, "Blue Moon" (Jazzbook) - Every year, it seems, Ahmad Jamal puts out another album that further positions himself near the top of Piano Triodom, if there is indeed such a place. And, please don't tell me for the thousandth time that Jamal's style influenced Miles Davis' use of space. It's true, but we all know. Just enjoy Jamal for who he is.
23) Dave Douglas Quintet, "Be Still" (Greenleaf) - This is beautiful, serious, light, and lovely music. Using vocalist Aoife O'Donovan (of Crooked Still), Douglas has put together an entrancing melange of Gaelic-cum-Appalachian hymns and folksongs. Another highlight is the appearance of our own Rudy Royston, who's popping up everywhere, or so it seems. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
22) Matt Ulery, "By a Little Light" (Greenleaf) - For those of you wondering if Greenleaf is taking over the world, it's possible. Putting out albums like this one could do it. Composer/bassist Ulery has put together a two-disc album that goes from trio to ten-piece chamber group without losing the thread of compositional unity.
21) Avishai Cohen, "Triveni II" (Anzic) - It's easy to get an album made when your sister (ANat + MuZIC = ANZIC = Cool, no?) runs the label. It's made easier when you're a genius trumpet player who's putting out a sequel to a great album called "Introducing Triveni." These are the leftovers from that session. Sometimes, a great meal comes from "leftovers," like here. The Cohen family includes Avishai (trumpet), Anat (reeds), and Yuval (reeds).
OK, we're halfway home. There will be a lot of surprises over the next couple of lists, but toward the beginning, they'll be more...how shall I put it? Logical? Less fantastical? But don't forget to pick these albums up at Denver's best independent record store, Twist and Shout, or see these artists live where I'd rather be than any other place in the world, Dazzle. As Casey Kasem used to say, "On with the countdown."