- Kenny Barron Quintet Concentric Circles (Blue Note)
In 2018 there were many records like Concentric Circles: modern mainstream small-ensemble sessions containing originals plus de rigueur items like a Monk, a Brazilian piece, and a ballad. Almost none was as good. Kenny Barron’s musical assets include taste, elegance, proportion, wholeness, and the confidence to choose sidemen (Dayna Stephens, Mike Rodriguez) who will push the boundaries of that wholeness. Monk’s “Reflections” is a solo piano life summation, poignant, joyful, and wise. T.C.
- Cécile McLorin Salvant The Window (Mack Avenue)
A collection of quiet yet buoyant duo recordings—some in-studio, some live—with the ace pianist Sullivan Fortner, including love songs by Stevie Wonder, Richard Rodgers, and Stephen Sondheim. Deeply affecting, almost eerie in its intimacy, The Window is often reminiscent of Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake’s outsider-ish 1962 duo album The Newest Sound Around. In other words, Salvant, 29, isn’t trying to make you comfy. M.K.
- Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley, Brian Blade Still Dreaming (Nonesuch)
Still Dreaming’s name and instrumentation clearly refer to Old and New Dreams—led by Redman’s late father Dewey—which was itself a kind of continuation of Ornette Coleman’s classic quartet. That’s a potentially heavy historical burden for any band to carry, so it’s remarkable that this debut is characterized more than anything by its lightness. The music has a permanent spring in its step; even when it slows down, it continues to dance. M.R.
- Bill Frisell Music IS (Okeh/Sony Masterworks)
The first solo release from the Friz in 18 years is, given his intense use of looping devices, not what one would usually consider “solo.” But he’s become such a master at playing with effects units that whatever he does with them sounds natural—unless, of course, he doesn’t want it to. Perhaps the best classification for this album is ambient, not in the aural-wallpaper sense but in the so-drenched-with-atmosphere-you-almost-can’t-believe-it’s-real sense. M.R.
- Brad Mehldau Trio Seymour Reads the Constitution! (Nonesuch)
Mehldau’s awe-inspiring ability to think in two speeds at the same time demands a deeply rooted rhythm section; longtime compadres Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard provide that as usual. But it helps even more that the pianist’s dazzling technique is always backed by elegant melodic logic. And his knack for finding new standards displays itself yet again on a reading of Brian Wilson’s “Friends” that cannot be resisted. M.R.
- Sons of Kemet Your Queen Is a Reptile (Impulse!)
A Brit by birth, with ancestral roots in Barbados, multi-reeds player Shabaka Hutchings finds his inspiration in acid jazz, hip-hop, and house as much as the usual bebop and funk. All of those lines are blurred, however, in the relentless, piled-on drums and thunderous blasts of tuba that provide Hutchings with a rock-solid foundation and give this exciting, forward-charging band both its muscle and hypnotic, surreal allure. J.T.