Los Angeles' Thundercat and Philly's Derrick Hodge have two very different techniques for seduction: Hodge ironed his high thread count sheets and chilled the wine the day before, while Thundercat is fumbling on the couch while cartoons blast from the TV screen. Apocalypse is a dark display of electric bass pyrotechnics that dilate the pupils and shred the mind. Live Today is a smoother gem with jutting horns and a cameo by Common. Both provide compelling arguments for putting the bassist front and center.
4. Geri Allen Grand River Crossings
Solo discs are the true test of a pianist. This is Detroit pianist Geri Allen's third work of her planned trilogy and here she digs into the music of her hometown, with an emphasis on Motown and a brief trip to Liverpool. The album swings delicately and benefits from a few appearances by trumpeter Marcus Belgrave. Allen succeeds in creating an engaging spin through familiar tunes, expertly showing off why she is considered a master of the piano.
3. (Tie) Charles Lloyd/Jason MoranHagar's Song Ben Wendel/Dan TepferSmall Constructions
On paper, these two albums are similar in concept: A hornman and a pianist get together in a studio and see what they can make. Longtime California-based saxophonist Charles Lloyd imbues his album with a rich sadness, taking Houston-born pianist Jason Moran wherever the wind blows. LA's own Wendel and Paris-raised Tepfer are aiming to control the wind, employing studio trickery and extensive breathing techniques to reach a very different destination. Both accomplish their missions, with Lloyd and Moran creating a contemplative pillow for reflection while Wendel and Tepfer manage a knotted maze of 21st century chamber magic.
2. Albert "Tootie" Heath Tootie's Tempo
Drummer Tootie Heath made his recording debut with John Coltrane during the Eisenhower administration. He's been thumping his kit ever since, ensuring his legacy as a first-call jazz drummer before he was 30. Now in his late 70s, Heath is joined by pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Ben Street, relative young guns, for a smiling swing through nearly a dozen standards, resulting in an album heavy on cross-generational reverence and the assurance that the roots of jazz will outlast us all.
1. Vijay Iyer/Mike Ladd Holding It Down: The Veterans' Dreams Project
A furious MC. Crunchy guitar riffs. Intergalactic keyboards. Screaming cello. Pummeling drums. This is not background music. Holding It Down: The Veterans' Dreams Project is an assertive statement. New York-raised pianist Vijay Iyer and MC Mike Ladd explore the experiences of recent veterans of color and their haunted lives following service. The performances are raw, angry and impossible to forget.