Maybe I’ve just been lucky in what I’ve listened to, but I reckon 2012 has been a well above average year for new jazz on record. As always, when making my year end list of my favourites, I have to point out that there’s a lot I simply haven’t got round to hearing yet. Among those I’d like to have heard are, from Scotland, Tom Gibb’s album Fear of Flying, which has been getting some excellent reviews; from elsewhere in the UK albums by, among many others, Nikki Iles, Christine Tobin, Django Bates, Andy Sheppard and Kenny Wheeler; and from the rest of the world, albums by Dave Douglas, Wadada Leo Smith, Nik Bartsch, Fred Hersch and Neneh Cherry with the Thing to name but a few.

Two things strike me looking back at the year:

  1. I’m slightly surprised how little European jazz has made an impression on me this year. I’m not sure if this is because it’s been a poor year for jazz on the continent or if for some reason it’s currently getting less publicity on this side of the channel. I’ve only just discovered that the great German saxophonist Gerd Dudek released a new album earlier this year, which is one that will definitely be going on my shopping list.
  2. The other surprise is the number of decent releases featuring jazz musicians with strings: Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson’s New Focus, Dave Stapleton’s Flight and Laura Jurd’s Landing Ground all come to mind. If you’d told me at the beginning of the year that some of the best jazz of the year would be on records featuring string quartets, I wouldn’t have believed you.

As far as the local scene goes, the biggest achievement has probably been the number of musicians getting releases on UK and international labels – with the benefits that brings in terms of distribution and publicity – rather than having to issue their own CDs. The quality certainly justified it: albums by Tom Bancroft (on his own Interrupto label) and Euan Burton (on Whirlwind) narrowly missed out making it into my 2012 Top Ten. Biggest disappointment of the year is the continuing lack of anything new from Brian Kellock.

I found it easy enough to draw up a list of my ten favourite jazz CDs of 2012, but what was much more difficult was to split that into a top five and five runners-up. I’ll post details of the chosen five later, but in the meantime, here’s the five which made it onto the list but didn’t make the final cut. They’re all well worth a listen to in their own right, though.

In alphabetical order:

  • Arild Andersen and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Celebration (ECM).
  • Cloudmakers Trio with Ralph Alessi: Live at the Pizza Express(Whirlwind Recordings).
    Jim Hart (vibes), Michael Janisch (bass) and Dave Smith (drums) with guest trumpeter Alessi.
  • Marc Johnson and Eliane Elias: Swept Away (ECM).
    Husband-and-wife bass and piano duo with Joey Baron on drums and (on about half the tracks) Joe Lovano on tenor.
  • Neon Quartet: Subjekt (Edition).
    Stan Sulzmann (sax), Kit Downes (keyboards), Jim Hart (vibes) and Tim Giles (drums).
  • Matt Wilson’s Arts and Crafts: An Attitude for Gratitude (Palmetto).
    Terrell Stafford (trumpet), Gary Versace (piano and organ), Martin Wind (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums).
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