The San Diego jazz scene is deep, and it seems to get deeper with each passing year. 2016 was a very good year in terms of local recording artists, many of whom have earned national reputations. There were some records cut on the local scene that I didn’t have the opportunity to evaluate -- which is, of course, regrettable -- but one can only comment on what one hears. That being said, here are 10 of my favorites from San Diego.
1. Nathan Hubbard Skeleton Key Orchestra, “Furiously Dreaming”: Nathan Hubbard’s huge, sprawling epic is perhaps the only record I’ve ever heard that brought both Joni Mitchell and Anthony Braxton to mind. In the uber creative Hubbard mindscape, all things are possible. Wild and wonderfully ambitious, this large orchestral project is a winner.
2. Peter Kuhn, “No Coming, No Going”: This Lithuanian label’s re-issue of Kuhn’s 1970’s output repackages the previously released “Livin’ Right” with a long lost duo concert with the criminally underrated drummer Denis Charles. The duo is absolutely breathtaking, in the tradition of the Coltrane/Ali and Braxton/ Roach reed and drum hook-ups.
3. Lori Bell, “Brooklyn Dreaming”: Bell decided to release this album on her own, and the result has been the most successful San Diego disc in some time. Tremendous reviews in Downbeat Magazine and the Huffington Post are just the tip of Bell’s critical iceberg, so to speak.
4. Ian Tordella, “The Lost Weekend”: This album stayed in my iPod for months. Tordella wrote a terrific bunch of tunes, and the supporting cast of Jeff Miles on guitar, Ed Kornhauser on keyboards, Rob Thorsen on bass and Charles Weller on drums is uniformly excellent.
5. Allison Adams Tucker, “Wanderlust”: Tucker’s voice swoops and soars in this wonderful collection of tunes where Tucker fronts a jazz supergroup including saxophonist Chris Potter and Pat Metheny drummer Antonio Sanchez. Like Bell’s effort, this disc has gotten some amazing reviews in national publications.
6. Danny Green Trio, “Altered Narrative”: Another local artist who is making a global impact is piano virtuoso Green, whose super tight trio with bassist Justin Grinnell and drummer Julien Cantelm get significant assistance from a wonderfully arranged string quartet.
7. Forrest Westbrook, “The Remarkable Forrest Westbrook”: Remarkable is an understatement for this superlative session circa 1960 from the amazing and unsung pianist Westbrook, who spent his golden years in San Diego. He stretches out on this session, especially on the one cut featuring Gary Peacock.
8. Rob Thorsen, “Bass is the Space”: Thorsen is perhaps the busiest bassist in town, no doubt due to his versatility. This collection of bass solos and select duos with Joshua White, Steph Johnson, Marshall Hawkins and Gilbert Castellanos illustrate Thorsen’s command of sound and groove.
9. Steph Johnson, “Music is Art”: Sultry songbird Johnson collaborated with the Grammy Award-winning Kamau Kenyatta to produce her most satisfying album to date, deeply infused with a soul-jazz sensibility. Johnson has a humanity that shines through everything she does.
10. Matt Smith Neu Jazz Trio, “Retrograde”: Smith’s trio features the next generation of San Diego heavyweights, including Ed Kornhauser on piano and Mackenzie Leighton on bass. The album has the feel of a Bad Plus kind of experience with a touch of ECM piano trio on the side.