By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
1. WILLIAM PARKER QUARTET: Sound Unity (AUM Fidelity) Balance and teamwork distinguish every album on this list, but only a great bassist can hold your attention up against this much firepower on trumpet, sax, and drums.
2. ANTHONY BRAXTON: 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (Leo) Spread out over four discs, the set structures provide a playpen for Kevin O'Neil's cool guitar and the leader's lofty sax.
3. TOMMY SMITH & BRIAN KELLOCK: Symbiosis (Spartacus) Duets, tenor sax and piano, standard stuff exquisitely rendered.
4. CRAIG HARRIS: Souls Within the Veil (Aquastra) Heavy with history and horns, sprightly with African percussion, sublime resistance against the oppression of black souls.
5. FME: Cuts (Okka Disk) Stands for Free Music Ensemble, but it's really Ken Vandermark's post-punk power trio, where freedom reverts to form.
6. PARAPHRASE: Pre-Emptive Denial (Screwgun) Another sax trio, with Tim Berne in the catbird seat, tethered for his own good by Drew Gress and Tom Rainey.
7. DENNIS GONZÁ SPIRIT MERIDIAN: Idle Wild (Clean Feed) Loquacious Oliver Lake fleshes out this quartet's healing music for distressing times.
8. FIELDWORK: Simulated Progress (Pi) Vijay Iyer's robust piano leads Steve Lehman's skinny alto sax, which is the idea.
9. SIRONE BANG ENSEMBLE: Configuration (Silkheart) Less ambitious than Vietnam but more fun, a stripped-down string section with Charles Gayle in the backseat.
10. THE VANDERMARK 5: Alchemia (Not Two) Twelve discs from one week in Krakówtrue grit from the hardest-working man in avant-jazz.