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Best Jazz Albums of 2009

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Listed below (in no particular order) are my favorite jazz albums of 2009.

1. Kurt Rosenwinkel - 'Standards Trio: Reflections'

Kurt Rosenwinkel Standards Trio Reflections
Courtesy of Wommusic
On Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Reflections, the innovative and iconic guitarist isn’t playing any tricks. The melodic phrases are even and tuneful, the harmonies are familiar, and the rhythmic underpinnings and formal architecture are simple and subtle. But, despite a barefaced lack of complexity, Reflections is one of the most exciting albums of the year.

2. Ben Allison - 'Think Free'

Ben Allison Jazz Album Think Free
Courtesy of Palmetto Records
Bassist and composer Ben Allison’s Think Free is a rock album at its core, wrapped in the unexpected textures of Shane Endsley’s trumpet and Jenny Scheinman’s violin. On each of the tracks, Allison doles out equal parts subtlety and simplicity. The result is widely accessible, and leaves room for repeated listening.

3. Miguel Zenón - 'Esta Plena'

Miguel Zenon Jazz Saxophone Esta Plena Album
Courtesy of Marsalis Music
Miguel Zenón’s Esta Plena is filled with exuberant melodies and voluble phrases that float above knotty rhythmic terrain. The music is fitted around traditional Puerto Rican plena music, and the rhythms of the panderos, add extra thrust to the furious tempos and frenetic counterpoints.

4. Vijay Iyer Trio - 'Historicity'

Vijay Iyer Piano Trio Album Historicity
Courtesy of ACT Music
Searching for new sounds by way of crushing dissonances and dexterous rhythmic underpinnings, pianist Vijay Iyer has become a progressive jazz luminary. On his Historicity, Iyer’s music maintains its otherworldliness, but is familiar and relatable in a way it hasn’t been previously.

5. Myron Walden - 'Momentum'

Myron Walden Jazz Saxophone Momentum Album
Courtesy of Demi Sound Recordings
The music on saxophonist Myron Walden's Momentum is inspired by 1960s Miles Davis, but bound with more rhythmic cohesion, and with a heartier helping of soul. To loquacious lines that reflect the current trend of saxophonists bubbling over with harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic ideas, Walden brings a wise, patient, and homespun approach.

6. Linda Oh - 'Entry'

Linda Oh Jazz Bass Album Entry
Courtesy of Fully Altered Media
Bassist Linda Oh is a relative newcomer to the scene, but Entry, her debut album, resonates with a precocious depth. Ambrose Akinmusire and Obed Calvaire join Oh on Entry, which features mostly original compositions. The trumpet/drums/bass trio makes for a surprisingly spicy sound, and Oh's compositions combine groove with searching, reflective moods.

7. Darcy James Argue's Secret Society - 'Infernal Machines'

Darcy James Argue Secret Society Infernal Machines
Courtesy of New Amsterdam Records
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, his "steampunk big band," plays guitar-heavy music tinged with rock and classical styles. Argue's pieces are haunting and eruptive, and his dextrous band is capable of thrilling maneuvers. Infernal Machines, along with John Hollenbeck's Eternal Interlude (see below), made 2009 a good year for the jazz large ensemble.

8. John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble - 'Eternal Interlude'

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble Eternal Interlude
Courtesy of Sunny Side Records
Parts of John Hollenbeck's Eternal Interlude sound like moments from an opera or scenes straight out of the Ballet Russes. The textures, inspired by minimalism and free jazz, among many other styles, have a strong sense of either character or landscape. The range of moods and sonic planes that Hollenbeck's compositions access make it easy to forget that you are listening to a big band.

Read James Hall's review of Eternal Interlude

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