BEST JAZZ CDs FOR 2012

All styles, all of them great

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Miguel Zenon and Laurent Coq: "Rayuela" (Sunnyside Records). Puerto Rican saxophonist Zenon and French pianist Coq drew inspiration for "Rayuela" from Argentine writer Julio Cortazar's book of the same name, but this sublimely expressive recording achieves a poetry of its own. Zenon's searching, questing phrases on alto receive sometimes pensive, sometimes driving accompaniment from Coq, plus atmospheric contributions from Dana Leong on cello and trombone and Dan Weiss on percussion. A profound recording.

Matt Ulery: "By a Little Light" (Greenleaf Music). Bassist Ulery offers the most mysterious, haunting music of his young career. "By a Little Light" seamlessly weaves contemporary jazz composition and improvisation with elements of Eastern European folkloric music, classical minimalism and other far-flung sources. Magical.

Anat Cohen: "Claroscuro" (Anzic Records). Cohen – a lyrically inspired clarinetist – takes a wide view of the jazz repertoire, showing seemingly effortless mastery in everything from Brazilian repertoire to bracing original music, from European balladry to classic Artie Shaw. It's all unified by the warmth of Cohen's tone, the fluidity of her technique and the ebullience of her delivery.

Ravi Coltrane: "Spirit Fiction" (Blue Note). Saxophonist Coltrane leads two distinct bands on his Blue Note debut recording, his music as conceptually daring as it is introspective. The recording rewards repeated hearings.

Josh Berman & His Gang: "There Now" (Delmark Records). The past, present and future of jazz sometimes converge, sometimes collide in cornetist Berman's characteristically bold release, which re-examines music of the 1920s and '30s from an unblinking, 21st century perspective.

Esperanza Spalding: "Radio Music Society" (Heads Up International). Jazz technique, pop accessibility and an urgent social consciousness intertwine in Spalding's brilliant companion piece to her breakthrough "Chamber Music Society."

Don Byron, New Gospel Quintet: "Love, Peace, and Soul" (Savoy Jazz). Clarinetist Byron and his aptly named New Gospel Quintet shed welcome light on the landmark compositions of gospel pioneer Thomas A. Dorsey, capturing their church-based fervor with a jazz sensibility.

Fred Hersch Trio: "Alive at the Vanguard" (Palmetto Records). This stunning double album documents the quick-thinking, ultrasensitive give-and-take among pianist Hersch, bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson, live at the Village Vanguard. Jazz trio work doesn't come much more empathetic than this.

Zach Brock: "Almost Never Was" (Criss Cross Jazz). The next major jazz violinist acquits himself quite well as soloist, bandleader and composer, Brock showing beauty of tone, seriousness of purpose and depth of thought in his own compositions and those by Joe Henderson, Zbigniew Seifert and others.

The Fat Babies: "Chicago Hot" (Delmark Records). Few young musicians focus on pre-bebop jazz as intensely as the Fat Babies, and fewer still dispatch repertoire by Jelly Roll Morton, Joe "King" Oliver and other vintage masters with comparable tonal luster and knowledge of period style. "Chicago Hot" establishes the Fat Babies as important players in interpreting scores from the too-oft-forgotten early chapters of jazz history.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

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