Long hailed as the “Birthplace of Jazz, ” New Orleans today looks more like the ever-renewing fountainhead of a grand, improvisational art form. That’s certainly how it appeared as we chose the genre’s 10 best recordings from 2013. Among our most-played favorites were five discs by artists from New Orleans: saxophonist Kidd Jordan, pianist Nick Sanders, trombonist Jeff Albert and trumpeter Nicholas Payton (who accounts for two).
Those locals share the 2013 top 10 list with some pretty heady company: reed masters Wayne Shorter, Joe Lovano, Paquito D’Rivera and Charles Lloyd (who performs in a duet with the pianist Jason Moran). The late Miles Davis caps the list with an archival recording of one of his 1960s quintets.
Jeff Albert, “The Tree on the Mound” (Rogue Art)
This muscular quartet of free improvisers proves the wisdom of Albert’s ongoing effort to mix New Orleans talent (Kidd Jordan) with Chicago stars (Hamid Drake, Joshua Abrams). No surprise that the savvy trombonist/composer also won honors in the latest DownBeat Critics Poll.
Miles Davis, "Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe 1969” (Columbia/Legacy)
Davis was in top form during these 1969 European gigs, pushed to the heights by the young rhythm section of Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette and urged toward free improvisation by a totally unbuttoned Wayne Shorter on soprano and tenor saxophones.
Paquito D'Rivera, "Song for Maura” (Paquito Records/Sunnyside)
Kidd Jordan, “A Night in November: Kidd Jordan | Hamid Drake Live in New Orleans” (Valid Records)
When the New Orleans saxophone titan met Chicago drummer Hamid Drake for this 2011 concert recording, the resulting fireworks reminded us “why both men are revered internationally: Each has found a distinctive, personal way to channel the volcanic, spiritual energy unleashed by John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and other icons of the 1960s vanguard.”
Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran, “Hagar’s Song” (ECM)
One of our greatest wind players reaches across generations for this gentle, elegiac duo program with Moran, a pianist and composer who puts his own, contemporary stamp on the tradition.
Joe Lovano, “Cross Culture” (Blue Note)
Lovano has kept things fresh in a long career by wrapping his warm sax sound and edgy harmonic ideas in provocative settings. In this case he works with two light-handed drummers, a virtuosic African guitarist, a smart pianist and the celebrated bassist Esperanza Spalding.
Nicholas Payton, "#BAM: Live at Bohemian Caverns” (BMF Records)
Payton doubles on trumpet and Fender Rhodes, delivering in-the-moment thrills, savvy harmonies, and a mega dose of soul with strong support from bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Lenny White
Nicholas Payton, “Sketches of Spain” (BMF Records)
The New Orleans trumpeter picks up the gauntlet — and triumphs — with this singular, utterly personal account of an orchestral work that Miles Davis first recorded in the 1950s.
When this young pianist brought his New York band home to New Orleans in July, he looked beyond simple virtuosity, forging “a true, three-way partnership: one in which the solos occur simultaneously, with every player at the service of the music — and the moment.” The record is just as good.