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The Best Albums of 2017 by New York Times

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    Posted: 07 Dec 2017 at 3:13am
1. NICOLE MITCHELL’S BLACK EARTH ENSEMBLE “Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds” (FPE)

Ms. Mitchell, a flutist, recorded a couple of outstanding albums this year (the other was “Liberation Narratives,” with the poet Haki Madhubuti). On this one, her eight-piece Black Earth Ensemble draws inspiration from an Afrofuturist concept, creating freely improvised music that’s wide open, deeply rooted and utterly cooperative.

2. WADADA LEO SMITH “Najwa” (TUM)

Mr. Smith’s trumpet is all the things that electrified music ostensibly isn’t: slow, shapely, somatic, preverbal. But the five tracks on this album — full of bubble and clang and spilling electric guitars — take on the understated demeanor of his playing, while pressing their case.

3. TYSHAWN SOREY “Verisimilitude” (Pi)

Mr. Sorey, a drummer (among many other things), leads his trio into some turbid and haunted places. Across “Verisimilitude,” he creates a feeling that the parachute is tight and you’re gliding — then the dream changes, you look up, and there’s nothing above you. Gravity wins. [Read the interview]

4. JAIMIE BRANCH “Fly or Die” (International Anthem)

Sometimes charging forth, sometimes rerouting, the debut album from Ms. Branch is always on the move. A formidable solo performer, she could get by on extended technique alone. Instead she’s enlisted a wonderfully unorthodox band (Tomeka Reid on cello, Jason Ajemian on bass and Chad Taylor on drums), and created a work of hardscrabble imagination.

5. ROSCOE MITCHELL “Bells for the South Side” (ECM)

A magnum opus from one of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians’ most vital elders, this two-CD suite is full of open space — bell tones and scattered piano and staccato saxophone — but it hardly lacks form. The bigness invites you in, asks you to hear your way into the room where the album’s nine musicians convened.

6. LIZZ WRIGHT “Grace” (Concord)

This is Ms. Wright’s ode to the South — a generous bestowal from one of today’s great voices. It’s the sound of a woman claiming ownership of a regional repertoire (“Southern Nights,” “Stars Fell on Alabama,” “Seems I’m Never Tired of Lovin’ You”) and a troubled memory bank, forgiving where she can’t forget. [Read the interview]

7. MATT MITCHELL “Forage” (Screwgun)

Mr. Mitchell is a pianist of dynamic sensitivity and dauntless energy. He’d already mastered many of the saxophonist Tim Berne’s scattered, mischievous compositions before the two met; now they’re musical confidants. So this one’s only logical: a lush solo piano album consisting entirely of Mr. Berne’s tunes.

8. DAVID VIRELLES “Gnosis” (ECM)

Mr. Virelles here plays pianist, bandleader, scholar and student. Surrounded by a dozen musicians (many, like him, Cuban-born), he travels with his band into various zones of disquiet. Rhythmic patterns become uneasy pacts, open spaces shudder with dark energy.

9. TUNE RECREATION COMMITTEE “Voices of Our Vision” (self-released)

Led by the trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni, this alliance of young South African musicians delves into the country’s syncretic cultural heritage — then ventures beyond. You hear Balkan folk, American funk, West African high life, South African free jazz. Most of all, you hear five bristling improvisers dancing together, modeling a kind of thoughtful communion.

10. VIJAY IYER SEXTET “Far From Over” (ECM)

Mr. Iyer’s best asset remains his propulsive, fortified pianism. But with a sextet, he builds arrangements that have a stubborn, towering new power. [Read the critic’s notebook]

11. KATE GENTILE “Mannequins” (Skirl)

Ms. Gentile, a drummer and vibraphonist, deals in commingled motion and variegated textures. On this searing debut, recorded with a quartet, her key sparring partner is Mr. Mitchell, who doubles on piano and electronics.

12. RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA’S INDO-PAK COALITION“Agrima” (self-released)

Mr. Mahanthappa, an alto saxophonist, writes along the divide between contemporary jazz and South Asian classical, always with a sense of acute direction and well-hewn architecture. But it’s his trio’s synergy that gives “Agrima” what it needs: possibility, irony, tenderness.

13. MAKAYA MCCRAVEN “Highly Rare” (International Anthem)

Days after the 2016 presidential election, Mr. McCraven, a drummer, convened a one-off quartet at a Chicago dive to play what must have been a body-shaker of a show. What you hear here — the inky throb of the bass, the rattling kick drum, the sibilant tape — is not what that audience heard. Mr. McCraven recorded the gig to a four-track, then set about mincing and splicing and augmenting the sounds, until he had this.

14. THUNDERCAT “Drunk” (Brainfeeder)

Angsty young adult wants to revel in his inordinate bass chops, mess around with friends (Kendrick Lamar, Michael McDonald) and occasionally meow into the mic. What, were you about to stop him? [Read the preview]

15. IRÈNE SCHWEIZER AND JOEY BARON “Live!” (Intakt)

Ms. Schweizer — a veteran Swiss pianist with a vast vocabulary — teams up for the first time with the drummer Mr. Baron. Together they’re rambunctious, comic, openhearted.

16. AVISHAI COHEN QUARTET “Cross My Palm With Silver” (ECM)

There’s still room in jazz for an acoustic quartet playing thorough, pensive, slowly mounting music. And for the voice of a starkly affecting trumpeter.

17. BETSAYDA MACHADO Y LA PARRANDA EL CLAVO “Loe Loa: Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree” (Odelia)

La Parranda El Clavo has been playing Afro-Venezuelan folk songs for 30 years. Much of this declamatory, infectious music comes from deep in the past; all of it feels both venerable and vibrant.

18. CRAIG TABORN “Daylight Ghosts” (ECM)

On his first quartet album, Mr. Taborn’s piano can dance and nearly catch fire without ever losing its poise.

19. JEN SHYU “Song of Silver Geese” (Pi)

Ms. Shyu says each of these nine songs — sung in eight languages, and played on an array of instruments — is a “door.” Into what? Memories that never formed, maybe, and new visions.

20. RON MILES “I Am a Man” (Yellowbird)

Leading a powerful quintet, Mr. Miles — an underappreciated talent, as both cornetist and composer — uses these eight tunes to meditate on experiences of disappointment, discrimination and transcendence. He and the band sound loose and warm and free, as if unburdened by the reckoning.

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