Monday, 10 December 2018

Ten best albums of 2018 (and a few more!)

  Unlike other years where I've done a top 15 albums of the year, I decided that a Top Ten would better reflect the width of material that gets played on The Edge of Jazz. It has made the selection even more difficult than it has in previous years, and at the last minute decided to add 5 albums that nearly made the cut. Three at the end of ten to six and two more at the end of five to one. Purely subjective, of course, and probably including a couple that probably will not make it anywhere else - but that's the joy of compiling your own top ten! Disagree if you must - but if you want to make it proactive. You can always voice your opinions @phonicjazz.

Ten:  John Scofield; " Combo 66"

Scofield is a long time favourite, and over his career has produced some belting albums, but recently, and particularly with the last couple of releases I began to wonder if he had anything new to say. This albums sees a real return to form. For the most part he's abandoned all the electronics and pedals that increasingly got in the way of what he was playing and just plugged the guitar straight into an amp. It helps that the trio behind him are so sympathetic, especially Bill Stewart on drums.. Difficult to pick favourite tracks, but "Can't dance" & "Uncle Southern" do it for me. A welcome return to form.

Nine:  Hugh Masakela; Masekela '66-76 

Somehow I've never really got into his later material but this triple CD set, recorded as the title suggests during a 'lost' decade is ample proof that he could not only play a mean horn, but also choose superb musicians to back him. It's a 3 CD set and contains the whole of two albums recorded in '73-'74 that have never made it onto CD before. It's joyous stuff that made me want to get up and dance a lot of the time (and that doesn't happen too often nowadays)

I didn't really think I could do anything else but cut and paste what I wrote in June about this 3 CD set, except to say that I've returned to it again and again and from each of the CD's I've found greater depths. Of course you could argue that this isn't a new release at all - and so it isn't but it presents music, the majority of which I'd never heard until 2018.

Eight: Wolfgang Muthspiel; "Where the river goes". 

A recurring factor in these lists, Wolfgang Muthspiel returned with an album with a luminary line up, a collection of varied tunes and some wonderful playing. The trumpet playing of Ambrose Akinmusere added a depth to what on any album would have been a dream team of Brad Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on double bass and Eric Harland on drums. As usual with ECM records its impeccably recorded, and though it's not music to dance to(!) it's a really satisfying album.

Seven: Joshua Redman; "Still dreaming"

It's not really a Joshua Redman album as all the artists get credit. I particulalrly like the Ron Miles contributions on cornet, but Scott Coley on bass and Brian Blade on drums add to the overall feeling. Apart from the Redman/Coley compositions there is also a Charlie Haden and an Ornette Coleman tune. The playing is great. I'm still trying to work out the enigmatic sleeve notes penned by Redman.

Six: Lionel Loueke; "The Journey".

He made an appearance in my Top Fifteen from 2017, but this album is a series of self written songs and recorded in Paris in January 2018. You really are advised to read the sleeve notes (in both French and English) to understand something of his frame of mind and the background to the tracks.. He records with both electric and acoustic guitars and the tunes are a West African fusion of Nigerian, Senegalese and Malian music. 'is it jazz?'. Read the sleeve-notes and you'll find the answer. The vinyl version is worth getting hold of too.

 The Three that didn't make the Top Ten;

Jessica Lauren; "Almeira"  I regret that Lauren is so sparing with her recordings. This is a nod to West African/Caribbean roots with a lovingly assembled band that includes Yazz Ahmed on flugelhorn. Uniquely different.

Camilla George; "The People could fly". A wonderful set of tracks based on childhood stories. George's saxophone sound is terrific, and I particularly like the keyboard work of Sarah Tandy (and chance of an album in 2019?) and the addition of Quentin Collins on trumpet.

Toshio Matsuura Group; " Loveplaydance"

Subtitled "8 scenes from the floor" it's the kind of fusion that makes it harder and harder to define jazz. . Another left field release from the increasingly ecelectic Brownswood Recordings - see also five to one!

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

All the normal sluggard excuses, but no escaping from the fact that this year has just flown by and I've been too busy to write the normal flow of observations, thoughts, reviews and general observations about what's been happening around the Edge of Jazz. Nonetheless in less than two weeks I have to produce my top ten albums of the years, several of which are unlikely to have been reviewed in the normal way as part of this blog. As has been the case over the last couple of years the choice has been incredibly difficult- the more so because it appears, as I have noted elsewhere, that British Jazz, or whatever label or guise or heading it appears under, is undergoing a huge revival of interest.
So, really this is just a warning that over the next two weeks, and starting next Tuesday 11th December I will produce Part 1 - Ten to Six - of my favourite albums of the year. It's an annual occurrence and I usually manage to include several albums that make people utter words like, "What!" "Why" and " I didn't rate that at all". In other words it a choice from the just over 1000 tracks that I've played on the show this year. (Actually there are slightly more than 1000, and Part 2 will include exactly how many for those who are complete-ists).
  I will add that the most played track, i.e. the one that I sneaked in more than once (5 times to date) is "Abusey Junction" by Kokoroko whom I'm delighted to say have signed a recording contract and will be producing a whole album of material in 2019.
  So, until next week...…..

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

June marks a half way point in the year and I've only managed one post! Of course I have excuses - mainly to do with Phonic's 10th birthday celebrations - which was great! All day live music, storytelling, art work, drama and a special 'Music is Murder' workshop as well as a conference for local Community Radio Stations. Course it helped that the weather was just right, not too hot, but balmy enough to sit around and if you so chose, talk nonsense whilst drinking with like minded people who listen to the station. If you came - thanks! If you weren't there - well we're determined to do something similar (though obviously not 10th birthday related) soon.
  In the meantime lots of great stuff that will be vying for attention at the end of year listings.
I'll mention five here, in the hope that I can post again before the end of June with some more.

Jean Toussaint All-start 6tet; Brother Raymond. 

It all sounds so effortless, but of course, it isn't. Toussaint has been able to pick a crop of particularly empathetic musicians, including one of my favourites Dennis Rollins to record a tribute recording dedicated to his late Brother Raymond. It's a good idea of where British jazz is in 2018, assured and distinctly following its own eclectic development of some very British roots. Highly recommended.

Agnes Gosling; Cacador. 
(Sorry Agnes, still not got to grips with those cedillas) A listener suggested that I listen to this album, otherwise it would have passed me by. Good shout! Songs in English and Spanish from a lady who now resides in Rotterdam ( I think). It's a well chosen, beautifully sung, collection of songs that has insinuated itself into my consciousness. Highly recommended! [as well]

Hugh Masakela: Masekela '66-76 

Somehow I've never really got into his later material but this triple CD set, recorded as the title suggests during a 'lost' decade is ample proof that he could not only play a mean horn, but also choose superb musicians to back him. It's a 3 CD set and contains the whole of two albums recorded in '73-'74 that have never made it onto CD before. It's joyous stuff that made me want to get up and dance a lot of the time (and that doesn't happen too often nowadays)

Walter Smith III; Twio

An unexpected pleasure. Mostly a simple trio setting (except when Joshua Redman leaps in on tracks 3&9) with a guest bassist on some tracks I the form of Christian McBride and with Eric Harland on drums. Tunes from a mixture of sources (Thelonious Monk to Gigi Grice) but given an individual treatment on an album that continues to impress. Relatively simple stuff brilliantly done.

Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas; Scandal.

A quintet outing that gives up more with each listening. Douglas' trumpet playing is an amazing foil for Lovano's sax playing (he plays tenor and soprano saxes), but special mention for the rhythm section, especially pianist Lawrence Fields (new to me) who does an amazing job. It sounds as though the session was a thoroughly relaxed.

So those are the first five. Question is, will I manage to make good on my promise to ad more by the end of June. I have, at the time of writing just 10 days to do it!

Friday, 27 April 2018

Edge of Jazz Blog

Quite often there's a post Christmas lull as far as jazz releases are concerned, but not this year! Quite apart from that I've found myself caught up in playing tracks from albums that somehow escaped my attention in the latter part of 2017. It's also gratifying that a couple of them are recommendations from listeners that I'm sure that I'd otherwise have missed. Three that spring to mind are;

"Living in twilight" : Ariel Pocock.

I'd never heard of Pocock before a listener recommended my this album. It's not her first album that was "Touchstone" in 2015 ( I missed that one as well!). She's Canadian but now seems to live and work in the 'States'. This is a piano trio album that illustrates here strength both as a writer and a player and I'd thoroughly recommend having a listen.

"Life of sensitive creatures" : Tony Tixier.

This seems to have been released so close to Christmas that I completely missed it. It's another piano trio album, but the styling and the playing is completely different to the Aerial Pocock album I mentioned above. He includes a couple of standards as well as the majority being self compositions. Highly recommended.

"Bricks": Charles Pasi.

Blue Note France sneaked this one out. As a general rule Blue Note seem to be expanding their roster of artists to include those who are at the very "edge of jazz" (sorry!) Pasi is an American and quite how he got caught up by a French label I have no idea. He is a harmonica player as well as a piano player and singer, and the harp gives a sound that marks this out as a left of centre release.

I wrote this in late February, and meant to post it then. So apologies if it makes little sense at the end of April. Normal(ish) posts should get under way in early May, though I don't know why I keep promising and not producing! There'll be an update to new releases, an appraisal of the new Arts Centre at Ashburton and more details about Phonic's 10th Anniversary party being held at the Phoenix in Exeter.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Eight to one - The Top 15 jazz album pick from "The Edge of Jazz".

Having ravenously consumed fifteen to nine in the last post this the list from eight to one, with the proviso that with the exception of number one they appear in no particular order. I'm happy to say that my list and the one published in the December  2017 "Jazzwise Magazine" carry only a couple of similarities, which is as it should be given that the show is called Edge of Jazz!

"Far from over" - Vijay Iyer Sextet.

I've tended to find that a lot of ECM recordings are recorded to sound very clinical. This recording of pianist Vijay Iyer is the human face of the label. Not only are there a variety of tempos and arrangements, but Iyer seems to appreciate that moving from the trio format with another three instruments requires that there is a fluidity that is available. It also helps that the 'sidesmen' are of the highest quality with Mark Shim the tenor sax player being outstanding and able to empasise well with the leader. Requires several plays!

"A social call" - Jazzmeia Horn.

I didn't pick up on this until it was pointed out by a listener. As a first album for a major label, and as an award winning singer I was inclined to be sceptical. However I've worked my way into it and although in places it sounds as if the producer wanted to cover all the soul/blues/jazz corners, her voice transcends it all, and the backing sextet perform admirably. A whole page of 'thank yous' perhaps indicate that the battle between what the record company want her to be, and what she is ( a potentially great jazz singer) has ways to go/

"Formidable" - Pat Martino.

An exciting return for the sometimes troubled guitar virtuoso is summed up quite accurately by the title. The basic trio on the album (great shout for organ player Pat Bianchi) are joined on a slection of the tracks by Adam Neiwood on tenor and Adam Norris on trumpet. But the real star is Martino playing on a selection of material that allows him to stretch out. There's even a new version of El Hombre. A delight.

"Common Spaces" - New Simplicity Trio.

It's often difficult to know what a piano led trio still has to offer, but New Simplicity Trio excel with set that has compositions from each of the members, with an additional Charlie Mingus composition. Each of the players has an individualistic approach to their instrument, none more so than nominal leader Antonio Fusco whose approach to a drum kit lies outside the normal. Add Henrik Jensen (Bass) and Bruno Heinen (Piano) and trio move outside the normal expected parameters of the format.

" Circle of  Chimes" - Marius Neset.

Not the normal jazz ensemble line-up, the group have a cello player and a flute and a piccolo player in addition to Ivo Neame on piano, Jim Hart on Vibes and another appearance for Lionel Loueke., as well as Bass and drums. Neset wrote and arranged all the tracks and as well as Sax also manages to play |Melodica on one track. The result is a series of expertly crafted soundscapes that demonstrates where jazz can go in the early 21st century. Every play will reveal fresh layers.

"Marseille" - Ahmad Jamal.

Jamal continues to astound. An octogenarian he has brought new ideas to a series of albums of which Marseille, a homage to the City of the same name, is 2017's. There are three very different versions of the central theme, one an instrumental, and the other two vocals with Abd Al Malik, and an entirely different take from Mina Agossi. Probably the best way into this classic is through the track "Pots en verre", but it's an album that reveals many facets of his work.

"Time for the dancers" - Russell Malone.

Saddled with what has to be the worst jazz album cover of the year the contents prove just what a brilliant guitarist Malone is. The band, as you might expect are tight like that, with pianist Rick Germanson proving a wonderful foil for Malone's fluid guitar style. There is a wide range of styles and an interesting comparison is possible between the trio version of "Pocket Watch" from the 'Triple play' album. Aspiring guitarist could do worse that listen to the album in full to pick up on some excellent techniques from a master technician.

"The Chase" - Leo Richardson Quartet.

Can't think of another album recently that I've sequentially played every track from, and that at the time of writing I'm working my way through again. Leo Richardson and his band have produced a stunning album aided and abetted on three tracks by Quentin Collins, and another by Alan Skidmore. Throughout the album there are nods to Horace Silver, but this is a hard-bop album that proves that a sax led quartet still has new things to say when it's played by such a tightly knit ensemble. If you are encouraged by these lists to buy only one album in the remainder of 2017 make it this one, For me, the #1 album of the year by a country mile in a year that gave it lots of competition.

Hope you enjoy the choices. It would be good to receive some feedback. Positive or negative!.  

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Fifteen to nine - The Edge of Jazz Top 15 albums 2017 (Part One)

These albums aren't in any particular order (although the #1 is an outstanding disc)

"Together as one" - Dinosaur.

Amazing even the band themselves,this became a Mercury Prize nomination. Although  Laura Jurd's previous work has been outstanding, this band seems to have finally given her a context in which to frame  her trumpet playing. This is not to detract from the other members of the band who play an integral part of what they set out to do. Infused with sometimes unexpected electronica this laid down a direction for what happens next.

"Meet Lionel Loueke" - Vampires.

Having been aware of what the Vampires had done in the past the band had given no indication that given the eclectic support of Lionel Loueke they would be able to produce anything so satisfying. The album fuses their antipodean roots to Loueke's African inspired playing. The result was a pot pouri of a broad series of styles and influences, and an obvious delight in each others playing. You'd never guess that this was a one-off album that you can only hope gets repeated in another outing sometime in the future.

"Isang" - Camilla George Quartet.

There seems to have been quite a number of fusion albums this year where there has bee a coming together of a whole series of different cultural reference points and some excellent composing. This is one of the best of the genre. Not only because of Camilla George's Sax playing but  also because it's
performed by a band who have bonded together to become more than the sum of their parts, especially the outstanding piano playing of Sarah Tandy.

"Stretch Music" - Christian Scott.

The re-appearance on the vinyl album. 2017 had the unexpected bonus of record companies starting to provide 12" slabs of black vinyl again. This is one of two albums that will appear in this category. It's not really clear when Scott recorded this magnificent set, but remarkable because of his delightful trumpet playing set against a range of different musical genres. I saw him play this year (jaw dropping and nothing like the Miles Davis sound-alike tag that he undeservedly picked up). A magnificent treat - especially when played loud!

"Up and coming" - John Abercrombie.

It's difficult to describe Abercrombie's style of playing, laid back hardly nails it. What marks this set out as being so good is the comfort of the group work. I can't remember whether this is the first set with Marc Copeland on piano but he adds a counterpoint to where Abercrombie wants to go. The whole album is great, but I especially like the great reading of Miles Davis's "Nardis"

"Landed in Brooklyn" - Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr.

Whoever decided to record the brothers in the US with an all star backing band provided an album that I've played an awful lot. They provide trumpet (Julian) and piano (Roman) and all the tunes, but get stellar help from their US support - especially Donny McCaslin who turned up on all sorts of albums during the course of the year (including his own solo effort). It's a rich fusion of their German roots and the influence of being in America. Some really strong tracks ( try SNCF)

"Aytche" - Joseph Shabason.

I know nothing much about Shabason - whose name I have mercilessly mis-spelt during the year. The album is a jazz ambient fusion. However, describing it thus barely does it justice. I would guess that it's minimalist sound has as much to do with scarcity of resources as anything else but its flow and nuance makes it highly listenable. In fact, now that I've sat down to write about it I can do no better than put it on the turntable and play it again. Left field and highly recommended.

The remaining eight will follow next week!

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

So suddenly it's November;

As a result I'm faced with putting together my Top 10 albums of the year. always an intimidating task to which I'll return later in this blog. However it would be remiss of me not to mention developments that are taking place 20 minutes down the road from where I live, in Ashburton. Over the last three years I've been to some of the best jazz gigs that I've ever been to at St Lawrence's Chapel. It's a small but acoustically pleasing venue that, at a pinch. could probably accommodate 80 people (quite a lot of them uncomfortably!). Now, the Town has a potentially far bigger venue in the shape of an embryonic Arts Centre. It's the old Methodist Chapel. There's a lot of work still to be done, especially with regard to complying with fire regulations, but the new owners aim to have it up and running as a serviceable venue by early 2018.

  I visited it last week and have to say that it's a beautiful and quite well maintained building with an enormous potential to support all sorts of arts events and workshops. Ashburton Arts faced a huge challenge to raise money and bid successfully at the recent auction but it's a great example of what communities pulling together can achieve and I'm certain that there'll lots more mentions of it next year in this blog (and perhaps some more photos and details)

Those albums!

As is often the case there's been a late flurry of excellent albums during November and it's added to the difficulty of choosing a Top Ten albums of the year, so I may well extend it to a Top 15. Recent albums that I've played endlessly are The Leo Richardson Quartet album "The Chase" the Pat Martino album "Formidable" (it is!) Django bates first ECM album "The study of touch" and a particular favourite "Shadow work" by Mammal Hands. However, as I write albums for consideration are still arriving on a daily basis. I'm aiming to get the full fifteen up in two parts in mid-December ( I try, I try!).