Head turners: Jazz acts of 2012

By JON GARELICK  |  December 18, 2012


In a year in which WGBH-FM gutted its jazz programming and the Atlantic took the predictable broadside swipe at the health of the genre, there were signs of vibrant life everywhere. Here's a chronological sampling.

Ed Reed :: The then 82-year-old Bay Area singer, ex-con, and drug counselor came to Scullers in January after the release of his latest disc, Born to Be Blue (Blue Shorts Records). He sang every lyric as though he was living it — as he once was.

Jason Moran, "In My Mind" :: The pianist and composer's reflection on Thelonious Monk's historic 1959 Town Hall concert is a 90-minute multimedia extravaganza that possibly suffers from conceptual overload, but at Jordan Hall in February, with Moran's trio, the Bandwagon, and an NEC horn section, what emerged was a moving double portrait of Moran and Monk.

Robert Pinsky and Laurence Hobgood'sPoemJazz:: I'm always made apprehensive by the corny post-beatnik proposition "jazz poetry," but former US poet laureate Robert Pinsky and pianist Hobgood (musical director for Kurt Elling) made it work both on disc and at the Regattabar back in February.

Robert Glasper :: Pianist-composer Glasper's highly touted Black Radio (Blue Note) sounded to me like middle-of-the-road contemporary R&B (with the requisite guest-star vocalists), but his show at the Regattabar in March was another thing entirely: a sick mingling of the rhythms of the late J Dilla with a terrific electric-jazz band that included saxophonist/vocalist Casey Benjamin, bassist Derrick Hodge, and drummer Mark Colenburg (in for Chris Dave).

The Fringe :: Boston's great free-jazz trio, saxophonist George Garzone, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Bob Gullotti, celebrated 40 years as a working band — with only one change of personnel (they gave a shout-out to original bassist Rich Appleman). The show at the Boston Conservatory Theater in May was yet another demonstration of their mastery and daring.

Mary Halvorson :: Probably no one is getting more mysterious, exciting sounds out of a guitar than the Brookline-raised Halvorson. She and her quintet released Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12) and played the Lily Pad at the beginning of June (on a bill with her mentor, Joe Morris). She returned with Taylor Ho Bynum's sextet to Johnny D's in September.

Theo Bleckmann :: The German-born visionary singer took on the daunting task of reinterpreting Kate Bush with his album Hello Earth! (Winter & Winter) and played a great show at the Regattabar in June (with apologies to those expecting faithful covers). Would Kate have had it any other way?

Kat Edmonson :: Edmonson's gamine appearance and small, Blossom Dearie–like voice are deceptive — on Way Down Low (MRI) and in her appearance at Scullers in July, she showed how big and deep her music really is.

Michael Formanek Quartet:: The go-to New York bassist released a new album, Small Places (ECM), and played a show with his band (alto saxophonist Tim Berne, pianist Craig Taborn, and drummer Gerald Cleaver) at the Regattabar in October that offered a profound take on the balance between exquisitely written "open" compositions and hell-for-leather free blowing.

Rabbit Rabbit :: The duo of Tin Hat–violinist/singer/composer Carla Kihlstedt (now at New England Conservatory) and multi-instrumentalist and singer Matthias Bossi crossed all kinds of lines — jazz, folk, world — in a thrilling show at the Regattabar in October with the help of their friend Jon Evans on bass and guitars.

Related: The Asteroids Galaxy Tour | Out of Frequency, Ten under the radar: Music overlooked in 2012, It’s Adam And Eve, Not Adam And Scumbag Steve, More more >
  Topics: Jazz , Robert Glasper, jazz, 2012,  More more >
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