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.

And this list will continue to be tilted toward the most recent productions.... I'm not trying to cover the classics here. (And remember, these are "simply" in reverse chronological order, not ranked in any way.)


I've been slow to get some thoughts together this year so far, but this list is suddenly becoming very active....

Anthony Braxton: Sax QT (Lorraine) 2022

The US legend expanding upon his "Lorraine" system, "governing the sonic winds of breath," now featuring a saxophone quartet (with electronics).

El Pricto: Behenii

The Venezuela-born (horn then) synth player & darkly themed label operator with an astrology-inspired program from his long-running, but previously unrecorded Barcelona trio.

John Butcher: Fluid Fixations

The prolific English sax explorer leading a group of thirteen other dynamic improvisors in a series of partially graphic scores.


It seems that 2023 releases are over, and it ended up being a hectic year in my personal life, but hopefully for the best. (I'm still trying to get back to some better focus here though.) Anyway, a trend was clearly vocal albums, but more variety did also develop, albeit entirely from previously known sources....

Jack Wright: Wrest - Yaw

The octogenarian legend with his ongoing "classic sax trio" formation (Wrest, featuring younger musicians), recorded here live on tour in the US Southeast.

Daniel Thompson: Hunt at the Brook Again & with Neil Metcalfe

A double release of pre-pandemic material around the English acoustic guitarist, first revisiting the now-classic original "chamber trio" formation, then in quartet adding flute.

Maggie Nicols: On Dizziness

The distinguished Scottish vocalist, here using very few words, in extended trio with other vocalists — who also play instruments — for their second album together after twenty years.

Ute Wassermann: L'âge de l'oreille

The Berlin-based extended vocalist returns with a lively trio featuring strings, again with various naturalistic evocations, now involving spectral counterpoint.

Damon Smith: Rune Kitchen

The itinerant American bassist, now out of St. Louis, centered in a classic free trio featuring voice & drums in interactions evoking timeless humanity.

Ernesto Rodrigues: Dérive

The enterprising Portuguese violist returns again with inspiration from Situationist International, nine animated & intricate psycho-social (i.e. timbral...) journeys together with regular colleagues.


A pandemic-driven lull did seem (finally) to work its way through this space, but new items were appearing at a good pace again by late in the year. (And I'm generally feeling a need to hear actual "post"-pandemic music these days....) So this is a somewhat shorter list, but nonetheless with valuable items.

Tom Jackson: Dandelion

The English clarinetist in a rhythmic (sometimes becoming arrhythmic...) trio of taut interactions & shimmering acoustic colors.

Ernesto Rodrigues: Distilling Silence

The prolific Portuguese composer & violist addressing the post-Cage tradition, i.e. the ambient sculpting of time, in a quartet yielding an album with curiously strong presence of the everyday.

Carl Ludwig Hübsch: Metaculture - Rüt

The German tubaist with a revised "HMZ trio" bolstered by "soloists" to form a sextet, seeking musical figurations beneath idiom (or culture) per se.

Ernesto Rodrigues: Chiaroscuro

The Portuguese violist in a mixed quartet of naturalistic, spectral counterpoint, plays of light in continuous tapestry & relatively classical mood.


The year was a bit hot & cold, at least in terms of volume, with effects of the pandemic definitely being felt. But there're some very worthwhile items here, finally including a performance from after the pandemic started.... (And perhaps some of the big summations wouldn't have appeared yet otherwise.)

John Butcher: Induction

The English sax acoustician with an improvised "horn trio" revisiting Polwechsel, austere & concentrated expression.

Eli Wallace: Precepts

The American extended pianist with a work composed around pitch sets, featuring leading US string improvisers.

Joëlle Léandre: Play as you go

The French double bassist with two other improvising legends & long-time performing partners, in a trio album recorded in 2014 for Czech Radio.

Anthony Braxton: 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017

The US jazz legend with his latest technical synthesis, extended musical tapestries based on "gradient logics" — i.e. continuous change — here rendered by an acoustic chamber ensemble of six to nine players.

Magda Mayas: Filamental - Confluence

The Berlin extended pianist with a graphic score for octet, an "impersonal" work of extended continuity & fluid detail.

Evan Parker: Electro-Acoustic Ensemble - Warszawa 2019

The English saxophone legend with the latest iteration of his landmark Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, here a 10-tet featuring e.g. trumpet & gongs.


This was actually quite a productive year for releasing music, although these are all pre-pandemic performances. Nonetheless, it remains an especially potent collection (with some release activity surely having been accelerated into the year...).

Markus Eichenberger: Werckmeister - Musik

The Swiss composer & clarinetist convenes a quartet to improvise in the Baroque temperament, not in Baroque style, but in clustered waves of flowing lines.

Frank Gratkowski: Flatbosc & Cautery

The multi-faceted German horn master returns with a quartet, drummer Tony Buck joining his long-running chamber trio with Achim Kaufmann & Wilbert de Joode.

Weasel Walter: Ewen / Smith / Walter - Untitled

The frenetic drummer & record producer with a third album by this innovative North American guitar trio of extended techniques & rhythmic invention.

Frode Gjerstad: Tales From

The distinguished Norwegian horn player with a boisterous Brooklyn quartet of simultaneous melodic invention & interplay.

Pierre-Yves Martel: HMZ - Ize

The French Canadian multi-instrumentalist with the fourth album from this improvising, post-Cage trio — an incisive work of slowly shifting moods.

Joe Morris: Instantiation - Switches

The singular US guitarist in another part of his evolving improvisatory compositional system-series, here with a leisurely trio album of intricate dialog & (sometimes) extended technique.

Dirk Serries: SETT - First and Second

The Belgian guitarist in an "alternative" string quartet with noted English improvisers of the current generation, forging an ecology of naturalist abstraction.

Jack Wright: Never - Not Nothing

The US free improvising legend, back with the Never trio in another intricate (live) tapestry of extended calls & shifting rhythms.

Don Malfon: Mutations

The Spanish sax player in a trio with senior European improvisers, exploring resonance patterns amid rattling industrial simultaneity.

Achim Kaufmann: Trokaan Project - 13 Asperities

The German pianist forging a multidimensional octet "extended" from Skein, oriented around spoken poetry of Gabriele Guenter.

Gino Robair: Compassion & Evidence

The Bay Area percussionist, here on electronics, in an electroacoustic quartet of new sound worlds & twisted timbral perceptions.


This year continues to seem relatively substantial, featuring some notable musical summaries. (This was also the year that I started orienting more on computer-based listening.)

Christopher Dell: DLW - Grammar II

The German vibes player in a trio of long-term collaborators, deliberately articulating a broad (serial) tapestry of honed interactions.

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.

Miguel A. García: Sitsa

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

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.


It seemed that 2018 recordings of note continued to appear for an especially long time into 2019, and that the year ended up producing an amazing variety.... Slowly it declines, but there are still some significant releases here.

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.

Joe Morris: Geometry of Caves

The prolific American guitarist in an all-star 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.


The year was slow at first, as so many seem to be, but there came to be a good variety of material below — albeit confined to only two labels. Most of what I list here also continues to be acoustic, but more albums have been featuring electronics as well....

Steve Noble: Ag

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

Nikolaus Neuser: Trialectics

The Berlin trumpet player fronting an abstract improvising trio with bass & electronics, forging newly contrasting modes of interaction.

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 felt like an especially big year & the list does continue to impress with its diverse creativity, particularly from musicians who had not been mentioned here previously (which is always a little more exciting). So 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: HMZ - Drought

The French Canadian violist & sound artist in an improvising, acoustic trio from Köln, evocative & bent.

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.

Roland Ramanan: New Dynamics

The UK-Indian trumpet player with an improvising chamber quartet out of Lisbon, forging new modes of conversational contrapuntal interaction.

Achim Kaufmann: Oblengths

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


The year featured a variety of fascinating styles that, in turn, continue to suggest further possibilities.... Despite the many negative turns in the music business, creative music itself continued to seem more vibrant than ever.

Joëlle Léandre: MMM Quartet - Oakland / Lisboa

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

Ute Wassermann: Parak.eets - Natura Venomous

The German extended vocalist with an international, Berlin-based trio of exotic sonorities & improvised electronics.

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.


Among other great albums (including some fascinating vocal developments), this section features landmark multi-disc releases from three American legends, and so is very likely to remain strong.

Frank Gratkowski: Skein

The German reed player in a dynamic 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.

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 this section was one of the first to become curiously short (although now with a newly added item too...).

Magda Mayas: Great Waitress - Flock

The German pianist in trio with two Australians, their second album of austere (but brightly colored) sound sculptures.

Jon Rose: Colophony

The Australian violinist in a free trio with electronics, titled (in Latin) 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 of open forms & textures.


This seems to have been a pivotal year for me personally, in terms of formulating general preferences in this space, and that continues to be reflected in my (perhaps idiosyncratic) 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. The result is an eccentric set of recordings, but all — perhaps, in part, coincidentally — made a significant early impression on this project.... (And I've also tried not to extend this list farther into the past.)

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 Cage, Feldman & Tenney pages.

To early music lists & recent world music additions.

Back to Jazz Thoughts.

Todd M. McComb
Created: 10 December 2011
Most recent addition: 28 March 2024