Let's just go ahead, call 2010 the year robots took over jazz and welcome our new jazz robot overlords. Skynet — er, the jazz-bots — became self-aware in late 2009 with an improvising vibes-bot named Shimon, and now Pat Metheny has an entire robotic army at his command. Are we doomed?
We are not doomed. While Metheny's Orchestrion is one of the most curious jazz records of 2010 so far, a number of non-robot sides have caught the ears of our regular Take Five contributors from WBGO, Jazz24 and WDUQ; you can hear a few of them below.
What's your favorite new jazz album in 2010 so far? Tell us in the comments below.
The Best New Jazz Of 2010 (So Far)
Spirit Of The Air
Song: Spirit Of The Air
On Orchestrion, Pat Metheny designed a way to put dozens of sensor-controlled acoustic instruments at his fingertips. The compositions, musical arrangements and overall production of this disc are reminiscent of a Pat Metheny Group recording, but the reality is that this is solo Metheny all the way; he makes every instrument an extension of his guitar skills, technical knowledge and sheer artistic willpower. If you think this sounds extraordinary, see the live performance sometime. He's reviving the tour this fall on the East Coast. -- Nick Francis, Jazz24
Any survey of jazz recordings in early 2010 ought to grapple with pianist Geri Allen, who's issued two stunning new releases prior to mid-June. One is the debut recording from Timeline, a sparkling new band which features a tap dancer; the other is Flying Toward the Sound, a remarkable solo recording. The title track is dedicated to pianist McCoy Tyner, whose signature percussive style is refracted toward introspection and beauty. There's a dense, dreamy lyricism to the whole thing; allow it to reveal itself, and it'll prove as satisfying as anything in Allen's catalog. -- Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR Music's A Blog Supreme
Highway Rider is a departure from the quartet and trio recordings Brad Mehldau has released most recently. There are no standards and no jazz takes on pop music (though this song is dedicated to the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith). With producer Jon Brion lending a hand, Mehldau has put forth a double album of entirely original music that shows how much he's grown as a composer, and not just a renowned pianist. A chamber orchestra appears on some songs, which and are absolutely integral and not layered for effect. Other compositions are for a quartet. Saxophonist Joshua Redman is prominently featured, too, in an auditory journey worth taking. -- Shaunna Morrison Machosky, WDUQ
It's almost a chore to keep up with the prolific Clean Feed. The Portuguese record label regularly releases albums in batches of 10, features a simple design aesthetic that both alludes to and looks past classic Blue Note covers, and mixes up the roster with well-knowns as well as obscure jazz musicians (often from the label's native Lisbon). The draw for me on Paradoxical Frog was drummer Tyshawn Sorey, whose quiet Morton Feldman-like compositions are like raindrops falling into oblong ponds. But the discovery here is his two fellow players, pianist Kris Davis and tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock. All three share a similar approach to abstract jazz composition and execution: loose and unfolding like a flowering tea, yet full of unexpected color. -- Lars Gotrich, NPR Music
Bassist Stephan Crump, a member of the critically acclaimed Vijay Iyer Trio, released Reclamation this year. It's the second recording of his chamber-jazz ensemble, Rosetta Trio, an all-string band of bass and two guitars. They play Crump's original music, and they do it well. Rosetta Trio comes on like a quiet power trio, one that presents melodic material with aural elegance and no artifice. In "Memphis," we hear Crump's ode to his hometown, dipped in a country batter, deep fried with intellect and set to a leisurely pace by three New Yorkers. There's beauty in "Memphis," from its gently lilting melody to the fact that Stephan Crump and Rosetta Trio deliver it with an undercurrent as strong as the Mississippi. --Josh Jackson, WBGO's The Checkout