– As we bid adieu to 2017, it is time for our annual list of the Best Jazz Albums of the Year, with the usual disclaimer that we don’t get to hear everything, but we do still get quite a few jazz albums, and there always seems to be plenty of worthy contenders to choose from.

We’re lucky in the Boston area, where the Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory have so many musicians–whether students, grads or professors–turning out new music all the time. And in the past few years a few local record companies have added to the bounty. 2017 was a particularly good year for Whaling City Sound (actually based in North Dartmouth, Mass.), which has grown from a cool regional outfit into an oasis for fine music from around the country, so a special round of kudos is due to Whaling City owner Neal Weiss and his people–we could have probably picked a top ten of all Whaling City titles and it would not have been a case of backyard parochialism.

Here are the Best Jazz Albums from the past year, in our opinion, and in no special order.

“PATHWAYS” by THE YOKO MIWA TRIO (Ocean Blue Tear Music) Miwa hails from Kobe, Japan but she arrived at Berklee College of Music in 1997 on a full scholarship, and has been based in Boston ever since. She is now a professor at Berklee, turning out superb albums with regularity. Her seventh album has four originals among the eight tunes, and all of them go for six-and-half minutes or more, stretching out into some inspired directions and never having a boring second. Enjoy the postbop gallop “Lickety Split,” or the buoyant “The Goalkeeper,” and revel in the interplay with her rhythm section on the midtempo exploration, “After You.” Miwa manages to make the 12-minute “Lantern Light” both lyrical and intense. And how about her cover of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” where block chords and funky rhythms evolve into faster tempos, with little stops and starts, yet still examine fascinating nuances in the melody.

“GRATITUDE: by DAYNA STEPHENS (Contagious Music) Saxophonist Stephens is a Berklee grad whose touring was limited until he had a kidney transplant in October 2015. On this record he’s part of a quintet including Brad Mehldau on piano, Julian Lage on guitar, Larry Grenadier on bass and Eric Harland on drums, and it is a delectable group effort. The midtempo rumination “Emilie” is subtly potent, while Lage’s composition “Woodside Waltz” is delicately beautiful. “Amber is Falling (Red and Yellow) features some of Stephens’ most vibrant sax excursions, and the cover of Pat Metheny’s “We Had A Sister” works off sizzling interplay between the guitar and sax. Stephens’ own “The Timbre of Gratitude” is soulful and riveting. The album ends with the band artfully melding two different songs, both titled “Clouds,” into one hybrid whole.

“TONES” by JOHN STEIN (Whaling City Music) This album finds guitarist Stein leading a quintet that includes Phil Grendaier on trumpet and flugelhorn, Fernando Brandao on flutes, John Lockwood on bass and Ze Eduardo Nazario on drums. The album was recorded at PBS Studios in Westwood, Ma. Stein is such a fine bandleader it is hard to tell this is his album, as Grenadier’s trumpet is the focal point on “The Commons,” and Brandao’s flute drives “Angel Eyes” until the smart guitar solo that ends it. The band’s unison playing is marvelous on the choruses to “Jo Ann,” and all ten of the originals here (with “Angel Eyes the lone cover) are wonderfully melodic. “Four Corners” adds a bit of Latin flavor to what is a thoroughly enjoyable hour of music.

“SLEIGHT OF HAND” by NYSQ (Whirlwind Recordings) The monicker for this group might come from New York Standards Quartet, but the songs they play are not what you’d expect, with covers here including tunes from Thelonious Monk, Hank Mobley, and Jules Styne. The quartet includes saxophonist Tim Armacost, with David Berkman on piano, Gene Jackson on drums, and Daiki Yasukagawa on bass. This record comes from a live date in Japan, but the group’s precision makes that hard to believe. NYSQ turns Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” into an invigorating strut, and then takes an easy roll through Monk’s “Ask Me Now.” The title cut works off a dazzling series of playful arpeggios, and Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” becomes an ethereal journey, with wisps of melody floating about.

“SERIOUS PLAY” by LASZLO GARDONY (Sunnyside Communications) Hungarian pianist Gardony came to Boston 25 years ago as a student at berklee, never left, and now is a professor there. His 12th album is a solo piano outing featuring mostly improvisational tunes,with a few covers beginning and ending the record. Gardony’s lush and soulful take on “Georgia on My Mind” is worth the price of the CD, and the way he caresses the melody to John Coltrane’s “Naima” before improvising off it, in a thoughtful search that resolves into great calm, is superb. “Truth to Power” offers some jarring upper register ruminations. The concluding “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is slow and pensive, perhaps a bit melancholy before ending in hopeful light. (Gardony appears January 27 at the James Library in Norwell, and February 24 at the Spire Center in Plymouth.)

“JERSEY” by THE MARK GUILIANA JAZZ QUARTET (Motema Music) Young New Jersey drummer Mark Guiliana features a quartet including Jason Rigby on saxes, Fabian Almanzan on piano, and Chris Morrissey on bass, with Guiliana penning five of the nine tunes here and Morrissey adding two more. It’s a lively, inventive group, and the title cut’s subtlety as it builds intensity is one prime example, but the syncopated drive behind Morrissey’s “Our Lady” is another gem. The foursome manages to make “September” both urgent and yet delightfully melodic. But the album’s eight-and-a-half minute concluding song is absolutely terrific, a stately and beautifully arranged take on David Bowie’s “Where Are We Now?” that is both homage and re-invention at its best.

“92 YEARS YOUNG: JAMMIN’ AT THE GIBBS HOUSE” by TERRY GIBBS (Whaling City Sound) Nonagenarian jazz vibist Terry Gibbs still likes to keep his hand in, so his son, drummer Gerry Gibbs, brought over pianist John Campbell and bassist Mike Gurrola for a jam session in his dad’s living room. The 14 songs (11 covers) here are a testament to the elder Gibbs’ versatility and still-potent technique, and the bracing run through “Back Home In Indiana” proves he’s still a vibes powerhouse. The rhythm section drives the quartet throughout, and pianist Campbell is a superb foil for Terry Gibbs to work with, either with rhythmic support or contrasting lead lines. Ellington’s “Take the A Train” swings joyfully here, and Terry Gibbs’ own “Blues for Hamp” displays his own gift for composition in a vehicle that lets everybody stretch out.

“WEATHER OR NOT” by GERRY GIBBS & THRASHER PEOPLE (Whaling City Music) Drummer Gerry Gibbs, whose albums with his Thrasher Dream Trio (jazz legends Kenny Barron and Ron Carter) put Whaling City on the map, is back with a new project, a trio with pianist Alex Collins and bassist Hans Glawischnig. This two CD-set includes one CD devoted to re-imaginings of music from jazz giants Weather Report, and one CD of Gerry Gibbs’s music. Anything involving Weather Report has to account for keyboard icon Joe Zawinul, and Collins is up to the task, as he shows on his sprint through “Teen Town.” The acoustic format doesn’t make “Mr. Gone” any less surreal, and the trio’s take on “A Remark You Made” is truly transcendent. “Black Market” is an intoxicating blend of sounds and rhythms. Gibbs’ own music tends towards the fun and inventive on the second disc, and “Kojak,” for instance, could well be a nod to 1970s tv detective noir that goes down some dark alleys. “Road Trip” is a head-spinning feast of melody and rhythms, and “Only in Dreams” rides the sort of creative fire that made Weather Report so compelling.

“ONE OF A KIND” by BENNY BENACK III (BB3 Productions) Deciding whether Benny Benack III (that’s right, the third Benny Benack, all musicians) is a better singer or trumpeter is a riddle. Vocally he fits nicely in the Harry Connick Jr./Frank Sinatra mode, and has a really appealing baritone with a great sense of phrasing. But his trumpet work really shines too, with numbers like “Guh Guh Guh” on his solo debut. Benack, 26, a Pittsburgh native now based in New York City, plays here in a sextet with saxophonist Joel Frahm, Yotam Silberstein on guitar, Alex Claffy on bass, the inventive Ulysses Owens Jr. on drums and Emmet Cohen on piano. Benack wrote eight of the 12 tunes here, and Cohen added another and the songwriting is crisp and to the point. Benack’s version of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic “Close to You” is creative both vocally and musically, but the instrumental ballad “When Midnight Comes” really showcases his prodigious trumpet skills. Benack is a real double-threat to watch in coming years, and we could listen to Emmet Cohen play piano for hours on end.

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By Jay Miller