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 productions. I am not trying to cover the classics here.


The year is taking on something of a personality at this point, but there is surely much more to come, particularly since releases dated "2018" are likely to continue to appear for months into 2019... (not that it's time for 2019 yet!).

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.

Carlos Zíngaro: Lisbon String Trio - Theia

The legendary Portuguese improviser joining the Lisbon String Trio for their 8th album to form a string quartet.

David Area: Colectivo maDam - Coluro

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

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.

Mazen Kerbaj: AAMM

The Lebanese extended trumpet player & his "A" Trio join legendary English duo AMM in Berlin for a disquieting, yet lyrical, tapestry.

Joe Morris: Geometry of Caves

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

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. (The year appears to be closed now.) That said, most of what I list here continues to be acoustic, but some albums feature 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.

Ian Brighton: Kontakte Trio

The septuagenarian guitarist & English colleagues in wide ranging post-serial improvisation.

Frode Gjerstad: Tipple Live at Elastic Arts

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

Nate Wooley: Knknighgh

The experimental trumpeter leading his quartet in a new, non-minimal language of minimalism.

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.

Thanos Chrysakis: Skiagraphía

The Greek electronics artist & keyboardist with a dual-laptop improvising quartet of intensely shifting atmospheric music from Moscow.

Tony Malaby: New Artifacts

The New York saxophonist improvising with the microtonal string duo of Mat Maneri & Daniel Levin.

Jack Wright: Roughhousing - You Haven't Heard This

The experimentally free saxophonist with a touring trio based out of his home in Philadelphia.


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). I'm not sure how else to sum up at this point, but there continues to be a lot to like below.

Isabelle Duthoit: Light air still gets dark

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

Thanos Chrysakis: Carved Water

The Greek electronic artist & label director leading a pan-European, improvising sound installation quartet.

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 in an environmentally- & (contemporary) classically-inflected improvising quintet.

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 interaction.

Anthony Braxton: Quartet at Sesc Pompeia

The legendary composer & saxophonist performing Diamond Curtain Wall Music in Brazil in a seasoned quartet of associates.

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.

Joe Hertenstein: HNH

The German drummer with his second HNH trio album, eclectic & sophisticated musical conversation.

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.


Releases of interest seemed to arrive slowly early in the year, and I felt some frustration with that for a while, but in the end, this became a substantial list with many amazing albums.

João Camões: Earnear

Portuguese improvising "piano trio," in what seems to have been the album debut for the violist.

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.

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.

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 was one of the first to become curiously short.

John Butcher: The Apophonics On Air

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

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 very influential, particularly those where the main performers have not released anything comparable since. Although I started writing in 2010, and only heard some of these albums subsequently, I have tried not to extend this list farther into the past....

Joachim Badenhorst: Baloni - Fremdenzimmer

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

Joëlle Léandre: Stone Quartet - Live at Vision Festival

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

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.

Catherine Jauniaux: Birds Abide

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

Henry Threadgill: This brings us to

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

Bill Dixon: Tapestries for small orchestra

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

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: 8 October 2018