San Diego jazz musicians made some excellent recordings in 2014, several of which could easily make an argument for the No. 1 position on this “best-of” compilation. I always agonize on how to rate them, and ultimately, it’s never an easy decision. In the end, I’ve got to go with what floored me the hardest. In that respect, I’m comfortable with the Top 2 in that order, and I could probably vacillate on the relative placement of the others until 2015. Oh, wait -- I already did that! So here are my favorite San Diego jazz recordings of last year.
"Kinetic Conversations," by Keith Humble/Bert Turetzky: This was recorded at UCSD in 1985 and is finally available to the public. Turetzky sounds like a monster strumming a mountain, and I was literally blown away by this disc.
"Notes From the Underground," by Anthony Davis: Davis may well be San Diego’s best-kept secret, and this stunning collaboration with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project indicates how powerful and evocative his music remains. A true local treasure who can be experienced live on Jan. 21, at UCSD (with composer/trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith)
"Encinitas and Everything After," Nathan Hubbard: This sprawling, five-volume document was the surprise winner at the 2014 San Diego Music Awards. Hubbard has an unbelievably broad imagination that is well-represented on these discs, and his recognition is long overdue.
"Low Life: The Alto Flute Project," by Holly Hofmann: Hofmann has a sound that could peel a grape, melt a heart and make you moan. That’s what I was doing while listening to this excellent collection of beautiful tunes from master players.
"I’ll Fly Away," by Jeff Denson/Joshua White: Bay Area bassist Denson teams with San Diego powerhouse pianist White on an amazing collection of music culled from the gospel tradition. You don’t have to be a believer to find this praise-worthy.
"Entangled," by Kronomorphic: UCSD professor David Borgo writes dense, intricate tunes with unsettling resolutions and weblike structures, and this disc features some of the finest players from the Southern California avant-garde. This is uncompromising music, but it has a haunting appeal that is hard to deny.
"The Way on Up," by the Applebrown Jazz Ensemble: Baritone-saxophone master Gabriel Sundy took his time before making his first album, but the music on "The Way on Up" is glorious, funky and, at times, completely out there. In short, definitely worth waiting for.
"After the Calm," by the Danny Green Trio: When it comes to straight-up, balls-out virtuosity, the Green Trio is hard to beat. This album is a must for folks who dig supertight interplay. Bassist Justin Grinnell and drummer Julien Cantelm are a monster rhythm section.
"Hejira Live," by Robin Adler & Mutts of the Planet: The husband-and-wife team of Adler and Dave Blackburn form the nucleus of Mutts of the Planet, who deliver the music of Joni Mitchell better than anyone else I’ve ever heard try. This is a must-have for Joni fans.