Music Feature: Top Jazz Albums of 2015

How does one keep a big band together long enough to make such brilliantly evocative sessions as that by Maria Schneider and the others listed here?

By Michael Ullman

It has been a rich year in improvised music. I have chosen the sessions below because of their sense of adventure and high level of accomplishment. There’s an expansive range of textures and of approaches here, from the minimalism of Milford Graves and the sometimes eerie solo guitar of Mary Halvorson to the post-bop of Mahanthappa and of Terence Blanchard and the rich big band sounds of Mark Harvey and the others.

What particularly impressed me is the thoughtfulness of these new big-band sessions, some of which had been planned for years, as well as the dedication of the musicians who conceived and executed them. How does one keep a big band together long enough to make such brilliantly evocative sessions as that by Maria Schneider and the others listed here? These artists are masters at leading and planning. I have chosen Maria Schneider’s disc as the record of the year because its pastoral opening number, “Walking by Flashlight,” has haunted me since I first heard it. The reissues are equally exciting, including the six discs, mostly of previously unheard music, from Sonny Rollins and the late Don Cherry.

Maria Schneider Orchestra - The Thompson Fields

Jazz Record of the Year: Maria Schneider Orchestra, The Thompson Fields, (ArtistsShare)

Other Notable Records of the Year:

Bad Plus Joshua Redman (Nonesuch)
Terence Blanchard, Breathless (Blue Note)
Jack DeJohnette Made in Chicago (ECM)
Milford Graves/ Bill Laswell, Space/Time Redemption (TUM)
Mary Halvorson Meltframe (Firehouse 12)
Fred Hersch, Solo (Palmetto)
Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls (ACT)
Myra Melford, Snowy Egret (Enja),
Matthew Shipp, The Conduct of Jazz (Thirsty Ear)
Henry Threadgill, In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi Recordings)

Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet, 10 (Zoho 201509)

Sullivan Fortner Aria (Apple)

Katie Bull, All Hot Bodies Radiate (Ashoken)


Sonny Rollins Quartet with Don Cherry: Complete Live at the Village Gate 1962 (Solar)
Gonzalo Rubalcaba-Charlie Haden. Tokyo Adagio (Impulse)
Weather Report, The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981 (Legacy)

Big Band:
Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, Richard Nelson, Deep River (Heliotrope)
Mike Gibbs, The NDR Big Band Play Bill Frisell (Cunieform)
Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble, Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland (Planet Arts)
Ryan Truesdell, Lines of Color (ArtistsShare)

Michael Ullman studied classical clarinet and was educated at Harvard, the University of Chicago, and the U. of Michigan, from which he received a PhD in English. The author or co-author of two books on jazz, he has written on jazz and classical music for The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, High Fidelity, Stereophile, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, and other venues. His articles on Dickens, Joyce, Kipling, and others have appeared in academic journals. For over 20 years, he has written a bi-monthly jazz column for Fanfare Magazine, for which he also reviews classical music. At Tufts University, he teaches mostly modernist writers in the English Department and jazz and blues history in the Music Department. He plays piano badly.

Posted in , , ,

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts