Todd McComb - Favorite jazz Recordings

I've decided to collect a list of favorite recordings here. Regarding the format, these will be listed by the year of release, and in reverse chronological order by release. The latter might be a bit rough, since release dates can vary around the world. Also, if I subsequently add a recording to an earlier year, it's going to be listed by its release date, and not as something new. Similarly, I'll retroactively delete items here if they stop being favorites (although I might be slow to do that sometimes). For the most part, though, items will be added at or near the beginning.

I'm going to include the name of the album with a/the artist, with a link to the contents and catalog information, and also a sentence or two about the recording. Since these recordings can be very different, hopefully the latter will give some idea of what each is like. I've considered adding a rating, but am ambivalent so far, particularly because of the stylistic variety inherent to these genres. For more of my thoughts, I suggest searching for the album or artist in the main page or archives, where I might discuss an album multiple times. I'm sorry it's not super-convenient that way.

So hopefully this makes sense and will work out, and not need to be dramatically redone any time soon.

This list will continue to be tilted toward the most recent productions. I am not trying to cover the classics here.


The year is taking shape, seemingly aligning (more than ever) along distinct acoustic or electronic lines, and already with a healthy number of items....

Joe Morris: Instantiation - Paradoxical

The US guitarist performing the first part of his improvisatory compositional system-series based on his extensive, formal studies of free music — here with an otherwise young quartet.

Robert Dick: Solar Wind

The NYC flautist, instrument designer & educator with a strikingly innovative & energetic acoustic trio album.

Tom Jackson: Nauportus

The English clarinetist with a lyrical trio album from Slovenia, quietly simmering with rhythmic & polyphonic invention.

Miguel A. García: Sitsa

The Spanish electronics artist with a post-serial improvising, timbral sextet assembled in Basque Country.

Nathan Corder: Monopiece + Jaap Blonk

The young, Oakland-based Monopiece trio of electronics & deconstructed instrumental sounds "humanized" by Dutch vocalist Jaap Blonk.

Thanos Chrysakis: Music for Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinets & Electronics

The Greek-London-Belarus keyboardist & electronics player with a lyrically sculpted improvising quartet album featuring low reeds in extended technique.

Jürg Gasser: Espresso Galattico

An austere yet festive album from a long running improvising trio in Zürich, as fronted by the Swiss tenor player.

Philipp Wachsmann: Stellari String Quartet - Vulcan

The Ugandan-English violinist fronting an international string quartet of virtuoso improvisers in London.

Ben Bennett: Never

The exploratory & energetic US drummer in a densely detailed trio featuring experimentally free saxophonist Jack Wright.


The year has concluded, with some amazing variety below, building eventually to well over ten items.... It seemed that 2018 releases of note continued to appear for an especially long time into 2019, but perhaps this relatively long list is finally stable (for now).

Mazen Kerbaj: Sawt Out

The Lebanese extended trumpet player in a sonically aggressive trio of real-time music from Berlin.

Michael Foster: Bind the hand(s) That Feed

The New York saxophonist queering his horn articulations amid deconstructed bassoon & other electronic weirdness, live in Chicago.

Ernesto Rodrigues: Stratus

The always enterprising Portuguese violist with a landmark, ambient septet improvising light & color.

John Butcher: Common Objects - Skullmarks

The English saxophonist with a globally evocative composition (based on physical artifacts) for the electroacoustic improvising collective Common Objects, now a sextet.

Ian Brighton: Strings

The English guitarist reprising his "String Thing" ensemble in an extended, contemporary program of post-serial improvisation.

Marcello Magliocchi: Runcible Quintet - Four

The Italian drummer with the second album (from two different sets, one a quartet) in an otherwise very English quintet of fractured, acoustic, polyrhythmic improvised exchange.

David Birchall: Live at Ftarri

The Manchester guitarist with a UK trio visiting Japan, joining no-input master Toshimaru Nakamura to form an improvising quartet.

David Area: Colectivo maDam - Coluro

The Spanish electronics artist & his extended collective of assorted instrumentalists joined by Lisbon's Rodrigues & Mira for extended timbral explorations.

Joe Morris: Geometry of Caves

The prolific American guitarist in a quartet featuring quick & fractured exchanges around vocalist Kyoko Kitamura.

Anthony Pateras: North of North

The second album from the pianist & collaborative Australian trio, bringing a new variety of musical influences to traditional instrumental virtuosity.

Dave Rempis: Spectral - Empty Castles

The prolific Chicago horn player with the third album from this Chicago-Bay Area all-horn trio, this time from a large & resonant WWII bunker.

Ernesto Rodrigues: Sîn

The Portuguese violist with a second album featuring this Berlin-Portugal "ambient," acoustic improvising quartet.


The year was slow at first, as so many seem to be, but there came to be a rich variety of material below. Most of what I list here continues to be acoustic, but more albums have been featuring electronics prominently as well.

Steve Noble: Ag

Live trio improvisation from experienced English performers, featuring rich acoustic technique amid a ritual mood.

Alexander Frangenheim: Trialectics

The German bassist in an abstract improvising trio with trumpet & electronics.

Frode Gjerstad: Tipple Live at Elastic Arts

The Norwegian reed player with the fourth & most aggressive album yet by this multi-hemisphere improvising trio.

Blaise Siwula: Lisbon String Trio - K'Ampokol Che K'Aay

The Detroit-NYC horn player, here on clarinet, joining the Lisbon String Trio for its live, improvised series of supple harmonies.

Ulrike Brand: Traintracks Roadsides Wastelands Debris

The German cellist in the middle of an intensely detailed & atmospheric trio improvisation inspired by industrial landscapes.

Vasco Trilla: Still now (if you still)

The Barcelona-based drummer leading a chamber-inspired, yet aggressive, "alternate" piano trio of impressive virtuosity from Serbia.


This was another big year & the list seems particularly impressive in its diverse creativity, particularly with musicians who had not been mentioned here previously (which is always a little more exciting). The year still seems pivotal for many current interests....

Isabelle Duthoit: Light air still gets dark

The French vocalist with a tour de force of quiet screams amid dark spaces & fractured motion.

Pierre-Yves Martel: Drought

The French Canadian violist & sound artist with an improvising, acoustic trio from Köln.

Sharif Sehnaoui: Nashaz

The Lebanese guitarist in an atmospheric quartet of distinguished Berlin improvisers.

João Camões: Nuova Camerata - Chant

The Portuguese violist with an abstract, but globally conscious string quartet adding marimba.

Pauline Oliveros: Nessuno

The octogenarian accordionist in an improvising quartet with three other legendary musicians.

Nicola Hein: Rotozaza - Zero

The German guitarist & sound artist with a high-energy, yet philosophical, improvising quartet.

Pascal Niggenkemper: Le 7ème Continent - Talking Trash

The French-German bassist leading a European double trio, or triple duo, in a suite inspired by the "island" of garbage in the Pacific.

Ernesto Rodrigues: New Dynamics

The Portuguese violist with an improvising chamber quartet, forging new modes of contrapuntal interaction.

Achim Kaufmann: Oblengths

The German pianist with the fifth album from this chamber music inspired European improvising trio.


The albums below include a variety of fascinating styles that, in turn, suggested (at least to me) even more possibilities. Despite the many negative turns in the music business, creative music itself seems more vibrant than ever.

Joëlle Léandre: MMM Quartet - Oakland / Lisboa

The French bassist in a second album with the international, Oakland-based quartet.

Richard Scott: Parak.eets - Natura Venomous

The English electronic improviser in an international, Berlin-based trio with exotic voice & percussion.

Veryan Weston: Tuning Out

The English pianist, playing historical mechanical organs in unusual tunings, in an improvising trio filled out by violin & cello.

Sandra Weiss: Ramble

The Swiss wind player leading a New York quintet in improvised, physically evocative process music.

Benedict Taylor: Hunt at the Brook

The English violist with a second polyphonic, conversational, improvised clarinet-viola-guitar trio album.

Henry Threadgill: In for a Penny, In for a Pound

A double album from the legendary Chicago-New York wind player, illustrating the continued development of his Zooid project.


Although this section has started to shrink, it also includes releases that continue to seem increasingly unique & unlikely to be displaced. In particular, the year featured landmark multi-disc albums from three American legends, plus some (other) fascinating vocal developments.

Frank Gratkowski: Skein

The German reed player leading an international sextet, augmented from the Kaufmann / Gratkowski / de Joode trio.

Pauline Oliveros: Triple Point - Phase/transitions

The electronic music pioneer & accordionist with a broad & intense anthology of (mostly) trio improvisations.

Anthony Braxton: 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012

The legendary composer & saxophonist in a monumental series of Diamond Curtain Wall Music sets, interacting with voice, violin & bassoon in turn, alongside the electronic Supercollider software.

Anthony Braxton: Trio (New Haven) 2013

The American original in another sophisticated, contemporary synthesis of his musical universe, this time in a series of sets "between" two drummers & without electronics.

Damon Smith: North of Blanco

The Houston-based double bassist leading an all-improvised quartet featuring Dutch vocalist Jaap Blonk.

Roscoe Mitchell: Conversations

The legendary American improviser with a trans-Pacific trio in an extended, two-disc meeting (from which multiple subsequent productions eventually emerged).

Ståle Liavik Solberg: Hot Four - Eye of the Moose

The Norwegian percussionist with an international improvising quartet fronted by Swedish vocalist Andreas Backer.


This had felt like a particularly stimulating year for me personally, but I guess they all do.... Perhaps that had more to do with getting back into theoretical writing, since the listing here was one of the first to become curiously short.

Jon Rose: Colophony

The Australian violinist in a free trio with electronics, titled after rosin.

Wade Matthews: Growing carrots in a concrete floor

The Madrid-based American dual-laptop improviser with two string players in a wide-ranging sound exploration from Israel.

Jack Wright: The Unrepeatable Quartet - Calgary 2012

The "free music" legend in a one-off improvising quartet from Canada.


There were many notable & thought-provoking albums in 2012. The list below continues to include a fairly broad range, and this was a very stimulating year of development for me personally. (Saying something about these intervening years seems increasingly awkward, but this is a remark I had made at the time.) Increasingly, this seems to have been a pivotal year in terms of formulating my general preferences in this space, and that continues to be reflected in my regard for the recordings below.

Joëlle Léandre: Sudo Quartet - Live at Banlieue Bleue

More from the French improvising bassist, this time with an all European quartet.

Jeff Shurdut: Yad

The prolific New York City multi-instrumentalist with an octet improvising strongly environmentally-conditioned urban music.

Carlos Zingaro: Live at Total Meeting

A European improvising quartet led by the Portuguese violinist.

Joëlle Léandre: MMM Quartet - Live at the Metz' Arsenal

Legendary French bassist in an improvising quartet mostly based on collaborations formed at Mills College.

Sandy Ewen: Ewen / Smith / Walter

The Houston-based experimental guitarist in a wide-ranging trio with other free improvisers.

2011 & prior

I started writing here in late 2010, and it really only got to the point where I had something to say in 2011, so this seems like a good point at which to collapse previous years into a single listing — particularly as older parts of the list slowly shrink. There are items here that I continue to find influential, particularly those where the main performers haven't released anything comparable since. Although I started writing in 2010, and so only heard some of these albums subsequently, I've tried not to extend this list farther into the past....

Catherine Jauniaux: Birds Abide

Dramatic voice-violin-bass trio featuring extended technique from the Belgian "avant garde" singer.

Joëlle Léandre: Stone Quartet - Live at Vision Festival

Live improvisation by a drummerless quartet formed by the French "new music" bassist.

Joachim Badenhorst: Baloni - Fremdenzimmer

Drummerless abstract trio including the Belgian horn player. Alien atmosphere evoked by unmeasured music, microtones & extended techniques.

Joe Hertenstein: Polylemma

Abstract European quartet led by the German drummer. Includes a range of avant garde ideas in conversational format.

Tom Rainey: Pool School

The creative Santa Barbara drummer's first disc as a leader; features novel trio soundscapes & gestures.

Henry Threadgill: This brings us to

The landmark (then) new quintet synthesis by the influential jazz composer, arranger & performer.

To Scelsi, Feldman & Xenakis pages.

To early music lists & recent world music additions.

Back to Jazz Thoughts.

Todd M. McComb
Created: 10 December 2011
Last addition: 3 November 2019