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.