The best music of 2012: Jazz


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The Independent Culture

Forty years in the making, four CDs and 260 minutes long, Mississippi-born trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith's Ten Freedom Summers proved hard to beat for strength and depth.

Inspired by the Civil Rights struggle, with Smith's jazz quartet or quintet augmented by the ensemble of Southwest Chamber Music, its serious yet soulful meditations can suggest Miles Davis improvising on Gyorky Ligeti.

Sly old pianist Ahmad Jamal returned to his Chess/Argo pomp with Blue Moon, while the Brad Mehldau Trio made Nick Drake, Elvis Costello, bebop and bossa nova sound all of a piece on Where Do You Start. The UK's Dave Stapleton on Flight, a lyrical suite with strings, and Nat Birchall, on the marvellously intense World Without Form, produced their best work yet. Great vocal albums you can return to again and again came from Gregory Porter, with Be Good, and Vinicius Cantuaria with Indio de Apartamento, while the most satisfying blast from the past was Keith Jarrett's Sleeper, a previously unreleased live recording from 1979.

As usual, Ace Records curated a stream of essential oldies, with Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios, particularly praiseworthy. Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia nailed that difficult crossover between samba, funk and religious mania.