Ravi Coltrane Tops Slate’s Best Jazz Albums of 2012

It’s been a solid year for jazz recordings: no truly great new albums (I doubt that any of them will make the decade’s top 10 list at the end of 2019), but all of the ones below are very good.

1. Ravi Coltrane, Spirit Fiction (Blue Note).

If your father was John Coltrane, it’s a nervy thing to take up the tenor sax, but that’s what Ravi Coltrane’s been doing for a living the past quarter-century and now, at 46, he’s found his own voice, even achieved a certain mastery. Spirit Fiction reveals a restless drive but also a craftsman’s precision, an art for shaping a song from the most elusive structure, as well as a full-bodied tone. The two bands he plays with are top notch, but he is clearly the leader here.

2.Vijay Iyer Trio, Accelerando (ACT).

The pianist Vijay Iyer’s previous albums struck me as a bit mannered, but on Accelerando he’s not only technically impressive, he’s bristling with rhythmic drive and a lilting lyricism. This is head-spinning music, mostly of his own composition.

But there are also transfixing covers of Ellington, Heatwave, and Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”

3. Fred Hersch Trio, Alive at the Vanguard (Palmetto).

This is Fred Hersch’s strongest piano-trio album in a decade, 15 tracks—spread out across two discs—from a week’s worth of sets at the Village Vanguard: ballads, bop, blues, show tunes, covers, originals. No living jazz pianist is so adept at stretching and compressing the pace of a musical passage or at immersing himself, and us, into a song so fully.

4. Ted Nash, The Creep (Plastic Sax).

Very much in the tradition of Ornette Coleman’s piano-less quartet (the opening tune begins with a bass dirge reminiscent of “Lonely Woman”), the album is both dissonant and jaunty, mind-twisting and accessibly, even dance-ably exuberant.

5. Chick Corea / Eddie Gomez / Paul Motian, Further Explorations (Concord).

This two-disc set, taken from two weeks of live sessions at the Blue Note club in New York, is billed as a Bill Evans tribute. Gomez and Motian played in different incarnations of Evans’ trio…

Read more: Fred Kaplan, Slate


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