5. The Carla Bley Big Band's Appearing Nightly(Watt/ECM) meshes modern with retro, as the pianist-composer leads her 16-piece band through sumptuous arrangements,
equal parts Gershwin, Ives, and the circus: It's alternately, sometimes all at once, blistering, lyrical, blooming, and wry.
6. Paul Bley's About Time (Justin Time) is another in a series of the pioneering pianist's solo improvisations, this one riffing off cascading streams of consciousness—snippets of romantic themes, spontaneous eruptions, and bebop melodies that their originators wouldn't recognize but that they would probably find intriguing, even enchanting. Sorry, there's no 30-second sound bite that captures what he's doing; it's all in the progression … well, OK, here's a sample,
but only because I have to.
7. David Murray and Mal Waldron's Silence(Justin Time) offers an odd combination: Murray, a soaring, swooning improviser on tenor sax and bass clarinet who expands the laws of harmonic gravity with derring-do, pitted in duet with Waldron, a sonorous pianist who ekes orchestral colors from 88 keys yet lays down the law on rhythmic structure. Recorded in 2001 (Waldron died the following year), it's a duet of tension and resolution followed by more tension and resolution. On some tracks, it's a grind; on others, a glory; in some cases, a bit of both: