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Once again we're back with this year's edition of our respective picks for top albums of the year. Inhabiting our three hours on Saturday nights we have been hearing a lot from the albums listed below, all of which should also prove attractive recordings to which we'll return over the years. Dispensing with all pretense of maintaining a rigorous limit in deference to this year's bountiful array of releases, here are a number of eminently worthy recordings:

Michael Dease – “Relentless” – Positone Records: My pick for the year's best album – a stunning recording that showcases Dease's skills as trombonist, composer and arranger in a big band setting. Full of superb solos from members of the band, “Relentless” is a tour de force, a standout, a real kick from beginning to end.

Greg Abate – “Motif” – Whaling City Sound: Although Abate has been recording for many years, this is perhaps his finest effort – a delightful quartet date that features a range of moods and delightful soloing from Abate, heard at the soprano, alto and baritone saxophones and flute, with pianist Tim Ray, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Mark Walker.

Steve Davis – “For Real” – Positone Records: The prolific trombonist is back this year with another enjoyable recording that features both his solid compositions and engaging playing with a group that features tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton, pianist Larry Willis, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Billy Williams.

Mike DiRubbo – “Threshold” – Ksanti Records - Firmly ensconced in the post-bop idiom, this smoking quintet session is full of captivating delights for the listener. DiRubbo's fiery alto saxophone work is accompanied by stimulating performances from trumpeter Josh Evans, pianist Brian Charette, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Rudy Royston.

Orrin Evans – “Liberation Blues” – Smoke Sessions: Recorded at the Smoke Jazz Club, pianist Evans reaffirms his status as a major creative spirit in jazz music. He's assisted by the tenor saxophone work of JD Allen and Sean Jones playing trumpet with Luques Curtis and Bill Stewart rounding out the rhythm section.

Louis Hayes and the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band – “Live at Cory Weeds' Cellar Jazz Club” – Cellar Live: Long live Cannonball in this fine program of material made famous by the jazz legend and performed here by a former member of Adderley's group and current jazz great, drummer Louis Hayes. The cutting-edge group features the Adderley-influenced alto saxophone playing of Vincent Herring, Jeremy Pelt at the trumpet, Rick Germanson playing piano and Dezron Douglas at the bass. Feel good music; pure but not so simple.

Dave Stryker – “Eight Track” – Strikezone: Stryker's latest project is a collection of numbers that became popular during the era of the eight track tape cartridge. His guitar work, a mellifluous blend of jazz and blues chops, is ably supported by the vibes playing of Stefon Harris, Jared Gold at the organ and McClenty Hunter playing drums. The group delivers substantive solos on numbers such as Pusherman/Superfly, Wichita Lineman, Superwoman and Never Can Say Goodbye.

Roseanna Vitro – “Clarity – The Music of Claire Fischer” – Random Act Records: In a follow-up to her fine tribute to Randy Newman, Vitro has taken compositions of one of the great names in Latin-influenced jazz and rendered another pleasing vocal session that benefits immensely from the arranging of keyboardist Mark Soskin and the violin playing of Sara Caswell.

B-3 CORNER: Fans of the Hammond organ were amply rewarded over the year with these releases:
Akiko - “Commencement” - AT Records: Akiko's “Commencement” is an engrossing session that fits right into the vibrant Hammond organ scene with an intuitive sense of groove and impressive style. Add guitarist John Hart's rich, soulful lines and the interactive drumming of Jeff Hamilton and one has a cooking trio that bristles with good vibes.    

Brian Charette – “The Question That Drives Us” – SteepleChase: Charette's name is evident as both leader and sideman on a surprising number of albums this year. In this session for the Danish SteepleChase label, Charette is at the Hammond organ leading a sextet featuring Mike DiRubbo, alto saxophone; Itai Kriss, flute; Joel Frahm, tenor saxophone; John Ellis, bass clarinet and Jochen Ruckert, drums. Comprised of Charette's intriguing compositions, the organ sextet offers rewarding solos from group members.

Everette DeVan – “For The Love of You” – Henry Records: Kansas City based DeVan specializes in good vibes at the Hammond B-3. With an enjoyable program of music including popular and jazz standards, whether it's playing pretty or cookin' up a groove, DeVan and his group get to the musical heart of the matter.

Tony Monaco – “Furry Slippers” – Chicken Coup Records: A delightful album featuring the impressive electric and classical guitar playing of Fareed Hague, Monaco evokes the Hammond organ style of Jimmy Smith with an ebullient sound of his own that is futile to resist.

DEEP VAULT GOODIE: Pat Martino/Gene Ludwig - “Young Guns” - High Note: The big surprise of the year – a recording from guitarist Martino's own vault capturing an on-the-road organ trio with Gene Ludwig playing the Hammond B-3 and Randy Gilespie at the drums. Recorded in Louisville, KY during 1968 and 1969, this album provides a thrilling insight into the raw energy of a high caliber band.

GROUP: Opus 5 – “Progression” – Criss Cross: A powerhouse quintet in their third session for the indispensable Dutch recording label, Opus 5 features the excellent trumpet and flugelhorn player Alex Sipiagin, the full-toned tenor work of Seamus Blake, the amazing pianist David Kikoski, Boris Kozlov's solid bass work and the drumset technique of Donald Edwards. In a program of original material from band members, Progression gets into cohesive yet edgy music that sets a high standard.

The horn duo of Alex Sipiagin and Seamus Blake also appear on two other significant 2014 releases: Pianist Misha Tsiganov, “The Artistry of the Standard” - Criss Cross; and pianist Olegario Diaz, “Basquiat By Night/Day” - SteepleChase Records.
Tsiganov's sublime release engages the skills of fellow Russian natives Sipiagin and Kozlov. The quintet is essentially Opus 5 with Tsiganov in the piano chair. Venezuelan native Olegario Diaz's album also features Sipiagin and Blake. These are both worthy outings with excellent arrangements and performances.

And the Criss Cross label scores again with a new arrival in our studio at deadline: Manuel Valera and New Cuban Express – “In Motion”. Seething and scintillating Afro Cuban rhythms abound in this fine release from the brilliant pianist in the company of alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry, guitarist Tom Guarna, bassist Hans Glawischnig, drummer Ludwig Alfonso, trumpeter  Alex Sipiagin and percussionist Mauricio Herrera.

Lengthier reviews of several of the aforementioned albums are on the Jazz Junction webpage, as well as a farewell to one of the legends in jazz who passed away this year, Horace Silver.