Freedom and Form
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 Kraków—true grit from the hardest-working man in avant-jazz.