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 on 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 recordings. I am not trying to cover the classics here.


At this point, I am not specifically expecting anything else from 2014, but it's possible something else could still appear in this space. Releases of interest seemed to appear slowly early last year, and I felt some frustration with that for a while, but in the end, this is a substantial list with many amazing albums. Creative music continues apace!

Carlo Costa: Sediment

The Italian drummer with his first quartet album, abstract process-music inducing stillness.

Damon Smith: Spill Plus

The Houston-based bassist in a trio album from his days in Oakland, joining the prolific Berlin-Australia piano-drums duo "Spill."

Wade Matthews: Primary Envelopment

The dual-laptop improviser in a quartet with Creative Sources label director Ernesto Rodrigues, from his studio in Madrid.

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 an anthology of (mostly) trio improvisations.

Jeremiah Cymerman: World of Objects

The New York clarinetist & post-production master in a trio with two other famous wind players.

Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut: The Music of Everything

The New York artist & multi-instrumentalist's latest live recordings of cooperative group improvisation.

Joachim Badenhorst: Baloni - Belleke

The second album by the abstract European trio including the Belgian horn player.

Steve Lehman: Mise en Abîme

The New York saxophonist with his second octet realization of spectral harmonies in jazz.

Blaise Siwula: Tesla Coils

The New York-based saxophone player melodically fronting a trio featuring electric distortion & electronic manipulation.

Damon Smith: North of Blanco

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

Roscoe Mitchell: Conversations

The legendary American improviser with a trio in an extended, two-disc performance.

Andreas Backer: Hot Four - Eye of the Moose

The Norwegian/Swedish vocalist fronting an improvised quartet of young musicians.

Kris Davis: Waiting For You To Grow

The Canadian-New York pianist with her second trio album, crystallizing a variety of influences.


It appears that this section has taken on a relatively stable shape, that is until releases in later years affect my opinions & priorities. This was perhaps the most stimulating year yet for me, in terms of developing my own musical thoughts. Hopefully that is reflected in the many worthwhile selections below.

Jean Luc Cappozzo: Grey Matter

The French trumpeter with his "Second Stage" improvisatory trio in a live album.

Théo Ceccaldi: Can you smile?

The French violinist's second album with his string trio, augmented by Joëlle Léandre.

Harold Rubin: 3 on a Thin Line

The South African-Israeli clarinetist in a trio with other unique international improvisers.

John Butcher: The Apophonics On Air

The English experimental saxophonist leading an electroacoustic trio of experienced improvisers for a BBC broadcast.

Andreas Willers: Grid Mesh - Live in Madrid

Berlin-based electroacoustic improvisers with their first quartet album, after two previous trio albums featuring the core guitar & sax duo.

Nicola Negrini: Scoolptures - Please Drive-By Carefully

The Italian electroacoustic improvising quartet returns with a double album inspired by street artist Banksy.

Samuel Blaser: A Mirror to Machaut

The Swiss trombonist in his second album based on or inspired by early music, this one a quintet devoted to medieval material.

Frode Gjerstad: Live Tipple

The Norwegian reed player in an improvised trio from Connecticut.

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.

Josh Sinton: Anomonous

The New York low reeds player in an experimental electroacoustic improvising trio.

Chris Dadge: The Unrepeatable Quartet - Calgary 2012

The Calgary drummer leading an improvising quartet featuring legendary free improviser Jack Wright.

Kris Davis: Capricorn Climber

The Canadian-New York pianist returns with a new quintet of influential New York-based performers.

Steve Coleman: Functional Arrhythmias

The ambitious & acclaimed US jazz alto player with a quartet/quintet album inspired by rhythmic layers in the body.


There were many notable & thought-provoking albums in 2012. The list below includes a broad stylistic range, and this continued to be a very stimulating year of development for me personally.

Achim Kaufmann: Geäder

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

Samuel Blaser: As The Sea

The latest live quartet album from the Swiss trombonist. Features a more compositional focus, albeit with rather abstract music.

Joëlle Léandre: Sudo Quartet - Live at Banlieue Bleue

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

Jeffrey Hayden 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.

Thomas Heberer: Clarino - Cookbook

The German quarter-tone trumpet player's second album with his drumless trio. Features original notation concept and open style.

Joe Hertenstein: Future Drone

The German drummer with his fourth leader album, mostly free improvisation with an inside-outside trio.

Henry Threadgill: Tomorrow Sunny / The Revelry

The latest album from the legendary composer, his Zooid ensemble incremented to a sextet.

Sandy Ewen: Ewen / Smith / Walter

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

Jan Klare: 1000 - Shoe

Four-nationality quartet improvising & performing music by the German reed player, inspired by a millennium of music.

Tom Rainey: Camino Cielo Echo

The New York drummer and his trio return with a second album of creative soundscapes & original instrumental textures.


This was the year during which I felt I was reasonably up to date with a goodly number of the currents & styles used in these idioms, so it was a significant year for me personally in that regard. There is quite an interesting range of items here, a rather lengthy list at this point. I've been mainly prioritizing original kinds of ensemble interactions.

Jeff Arnal: Pail Bug

Germany-New York improvising quartet featuring heavily prepared piano, two basses, and the epic dance inspired drummer.

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.

Samuel Blaser: Boundless

Abstract quartet music from the fast-developing discography of the young Swiss trombonist. Live album extracted from three different sets in Switzerland.

Joe Hertenstein: Polylemma

Abstract European quartet led by the German drummer. Includes a range of avant garde ideas in coherent, compact form.

Nicola Negrini: Scoolptures - White Sickness

Improvising quartet formed by the Italian bassist, featuring original researched musical vocabulary with live electronics.

Samuel Blaser: Consort in Motion

Blaser's creative take on the early Italian Baroque, with a quartet featuring late drummer Paul Motian.

Joëlle Léandre: Trio live at the Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon

The French double bassist with a minimalist trio, improvised live the night after her landmark tentet composition was premiered.

Daniel Levin: Organic Modernism

Studio recording from the cellist's drummerless improvising quartet, including composed pieces and free improvisations. The group's 6th album.

2010 & prior

I started the writing here in late 2010, so this seems like a good point at which to collapse previous years into a single listing, as the older parts of the list slowly shrink. There are items here that I continue to find very influential, particularly those where the main performers have not released anything comparable since. Although I started writing in 2010, I only heard most of these items subsequently. I have tried not to extend this list further into the past, however.

Barre Phillips: Birds Abide

Intriguing bass-voice-violin trio live from Victoriaville, featuring the unique bassist.

Steve Coleman: Harvesting Semblances and Affinities

Triumphant return to US airwaves by the iconoclastic Chicago saxophone player and M-base pioneer.

Tom Rainey: Pool School

The creative Santa Barbara drummer's first disc as a leader. Features radical trio soundscapes.

Bill Dixon: Tapestries for small orchestra

Final studio recording of the legendary trumpet player in a lavish production.

Henry Threadgill: This brings us to

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

Steve Lehman: Travail, Transformation, and Flow

The New York saxophonist with his groundbreaking octet realization of spectral music in jazz.

Denman Maroney: Udentity

Sophisticated synthesis of Partch undertone style into a jazz quintet context by the hyperpianist.

Milford Graves: Beyond Quantum

The legendary American drummer in his most recent recording, a trio with two other epochal American improvisers.

Cecil Taylor: Taylor / Dixon / Oxley

The legendary American pianist in a live trio from Victoriaville; currently the earliest recording on this list.

To Scelsi, Feldman & Xenakis pages.

To early music favorites by year and genre.

Back to Jazz Thoughts.

Todd M. McComb
Created: 10 December 2011
Last addition: 27 February 2015