- Joe Lovano, “I’m All for You” (Blue Note) The tenor saxophonist’s ballad songbook with old pros Hank Jones, George Mraz, and Paul Motian is triumphantly melodic from start (Lovano’s title tune) to finish (a much-slowed-down read of John Coltrane’s “Countdown”).
- Branford Marsalis Quartet, “Eternal” (Marsalis Music) Proof that younger cats can handle ballads, too. Each band member contributes a new piece here, with three gloomy gems of yore added for good measure.
- Dave Douglas, “Strange Liberation” (RCA Victor) Trumpeter Douglas and saxophonist Chris Potter are a fearsome front line, Uri Caine makes Fender Rhodes worth hearing again, and the talented rhythm section of James Genus and Clarence Penn is augmented by guitar star Bill Frisell.
- Saxophone Summit, “Gathering of Spirits” (Telarc) This Coltrane-inspired three-way blowing session for Lovano, Michael Brecker, and Dave Liebman comes off brilliantly
- Bill Charlap Trio, “Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein” (Blue Note) Charlap’s disc with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington generate as much excitement via subtle artistry as the Bad Plus does with sound and fury.
- Andy Bey, “American Song” (Savoy) When Bey got around to singing standards, he became jazz’s most intriguing male vocalist. His breathy baritone caresses classics by Ellington, Strayhorn, and others.
- Enrico Pieranunzi, “Fellini Jazz” (Sunnyside) The Italian pianist assembles a crack lineup of all-stars – Kenny Wheeler, Chris Potter, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian – for an adaptations of music culled from Fellini film scores.
- Don Byron, “Ivey-Divey” (Blue Note) Another successful homage, this one inspired by a Lester Young trio album with Nat Cole and Buddy Rich.
- Patricia Barber, “A Fortnight in France” (Blue Note) Live albums rarely work out quite right, but this one does and then some. Barber’s noir-ish sensibility and singing get the most attention, but the lady can play piano, too, and her three sidemen mesh with her for a group sound all its own.
- Von Freeman, “The Great Divide” (Premonition) The 82-year-old Chicago tenor man leads a quartet through a mix of ballads, his own breakneck “Never Fear Jazz Is Here,” and nods to Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Parker.
Bill Beuttler writes the weekly Jazz Notes column for the Boston Globe
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