Best CDs of 2012 – Editor’s Picks

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    Papo Vazquez and the Mighty Pirates Troubadours: Oasis – Picaro Records

    Papo Vazquez is a most unusual trombonist and musician. He is a “deep” player. On this magnificent album, Oasis, the melodies are so beautifully crafted and even when they appear to be simple, they are actually so three dimensional that notes, lines and phrases appear to have a spherical feel as they roll and tumble out of his horn and out of the instruments of the other musicians who play here as Mighty Pirates. Read our full review.

    Chico Alvarez “El Montunero”: Country Roots/Urban Masters – Mafimba Records

    With extravagant musical arrangements directed by Edy Martinez, and vocals and lyric poetry recitations by Chico Alvarez Peraza , this album, El Montunero — Country Roots/Urban Masters with the Palomónte Afro-Cuban Big Band has all the makings of an epic one, which not only harks back to some of the finest Afro-Cuban/Latin Jazz albums ever made, but it is also one of the most memorable in this idiom… Read our full review.

    Clarice Assad: Home – Adventure Music

    Assad is like a musical dryad who seems to tip-toe on the ebony and ivory keys… She is quite simply a phenomenon who has streaked across the world’s musical landscape like one of those comets that appears just once in a lifetime… covering a musical topography that stretches from Brasil to the Europe of impressionist France through emotional and folksy Portugal; and best of all, Assad zigzags across the Mediterranean, from the Levant of her ancestors… all of this on her brilliant record, Home. Read our full review.

    Elio Villafranca & Arturo Stable: Dos y Más – Motéma Music

    Unusual maturity and erudition appear to flow through the music of this album and whether this is a result of the fact that each (Villafranca and Stable) is sensitive to the demands and characteristics of the other’s instrument is a moot point here. However, the rarity and exquisite nature of their collaboration shines through and makes this more than merely an outstanding feature of this album. This is, quite simply, craftsmanship at its finest and it goes beyond mere technique. Read our full review.

    San Juan Collective: Fuera de Control – Independent Release

    “Fuera de Control” is the first track of the new album by the power trío San Juan Collective. Special guest Paoli Mejías on congas adds the Latin touch, and saxophonist Norberto “Tiko” Ortíz’s flawless improvisations prove why he is considered one of the best sax players in Puerto Rico. “Fuera de Control” means “Out of Control” but do not let the album title fool you, these guys are in complete control of their music and this release solidifies San Juan Collective as one of the best jazz groups in Puerto Rico. Read our full review.

    Anat Cohen: Claroscuro – Sunnyside Records

    Anat Cohen is one of the most adventuresome clarinet players since Don Byron seemed to pick up from where Eric Dolphy left off on bass clarinet at least. Her playing gurgles and bubbles like a playful brook as it rushes onward, rhythmically leaping over stone and silt. Thus with path-breaking liquidity and rhythms that skip and leap, dally and dangle, Cohen continues to chart a course that is so thrilling that it is no coincidence that listening to her with body and soul the audiophile is often left breathless. Read our full review.

    Brazilian Trio: Constelação – Motéma Music

    The art of the Brazilian Trio is defined by the superlative musicality of the players that comprise it: by the delicate trellis work of pianist Helio Alves, the muscularity of bassist Nilson Matta’s “harmolodicism” and rhythmic intensity and the sensuality of Duduka da Fonseca’s percussion colors. However it is when the individualism of each artist is subsumed into the collective expression of the trio that the true beauty of the trio emerges. Read our full review.

    Manuel Valera: New Cuban Express – Mavo Records

    This album, New Cuban Express is Cuban-American pianist, Manuel Valera’s attempt to redefine his relationship with Cuban music including the classic Cuban son and bolero as well as the more popular danzón and rhumba. As a matter of fact, all the music that the pianist has composed for this performance is infused with the spectacular energy and emotion of those forms and is re-imagined in the rhythmic realm of more contemporary music. Read our full review.

    Greg Diamond – Conduit – Dot Time Records

    The guitarist displays increasing maturity and thoughtful musicality on a flawless record that includes several of his cohort from the previous album. Diamond shows, once again, that he is a composer of great maturity and genius. His melodies are sparkling and well-defined, yet they leave plenty of room for his stellar cast of musicians to express themselves. And no one disappoints here. Quite the contrary, all of the musicians in the ensemble play with extraordinary freedom and fire. Read our full review.

    Aguabella: Baker Gateway to Death Valley – Self Published

    Take away the soul from a body and there is nothing left of it. This could easily have been the way that Aguabella Latin Jazz Band went when its heart and soul, Francisco Aguabella died in 2010. Determined to pay him tribute the band released Nuestra Era, a rhapsodic album in 2011. They have followed that album with a glorious sophomore record, Baker-Gateway to Death Valley; here is where the voice of the band has begun to emerge without losing the edge that Francisco Aguabella left them with. Read our full review.