Sunday, 11 December 2016

It's been a good, if strange year in trying to pick the whole of the Top Ten Jazz albums for 2016. It's also notable for the fact that there's hardly a saxophonist in sight! I've also cheated by including two more albums that were in the list right up until the last moment, but deserve honourable mentions!  So, in rising order I chose;

4. "Something Gold, Something Blue" -Tom Harrell

I've liked all of Harrell's recent albums  and played "Colors of a dream" a lot. This is even better, possibly because he's chose Ambrose Akinmusire as a foil for his own trumpet playing. Add in Bass, Guitar and drums to the mix (and an oud on one track) and the album deliver a delicious mixture of styles and some great trumpet playing. Recorded in just two days it's a stunning piece of improvisation and technique.

3. "Convergence"- Warren Wolf

With a band that consists of Christian McBride, Brad Mehldau, John Scofield and Jeff Watts provided the tunes were judiciously chosen and executed with aplomb what's not to like? In fact this third outing shows Wolf at his best, restrained when he need to be and prepared to allow the sides-men full freedom to express themselves. This is the sort of album you can safely put on 'repeat' and hear something different every time.

2. "Secular Hymns" - Madeleine Peyroux

Having left Rounder records Peyroux has hitched up with Impulse and produced an album that she should have produced several years ago. The Rounder years were often lost between trying to find a radio friendly 'hit' and a style that melded together all the genres she can do with consummate ease. Here, she's settled for a stripped down sound within a trio format, recorded mainly live in a Church with the most eclectic mix of material that she so obviously feels at ease with. Thankfully (to my ears) she's abandoned the quasi country kick and just settled down with a what is comfortable. Just try and persuade me that this isn't jazz - you won't!

1. " Rising Grace" - Wolfgang Muthspiel.

Interestingly Brad Mehldau has featured in several of the chosen Top 10, and here he appears as a sides-man on another. Ambrose Akinmusire also makes another appearance and with a rhythm section that includes Brian Blade and Larry Grenadier, Muthspiel is free to express himself, stretching out where he needs to and sitting back where he wants to. The result is an album that delivers something new with every play. It's also the first vinyl album that I have gone out an bought in about eight years, as I think it's that good. The recording of this ECM album is a real credit to Manfred Eicher, and is my album of the year.

Honourable mentions;

"Alex Munk's Flying Machine"- Alex Munk

I interviewed Alex on the show and he explained the process by which this album's material was written and produced. That it was made at all is down to a mixture of self-belief and gritty determination. Extensive (and prolonged) listens to the album reveals a range of layers and depth.

"The Darkening Blue" - Andre Canniere 

An attempt to produce an album that incorporates Canniere's great trumpet playing together with poems by Rilke and music inspired by Bukowski. It helps that the band are so empathetic to what he's trying to achieve and in Brigitte Beraha has a vocalist who draws all the nuances out of the writing. It's not easy listening on the first play, but with repeated plays gives great depth and satisfaction. An attempt to produce something different, that really works.

I'll be back in 2017 almost certainly bemoaning the fact that I left something really obvious out of the 2016 selection. However, what is certain is that it threatens to be a year with just as much good recorded jazz as 2016 has been.

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year make it enjoyable.

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