Monday 15 December 2014

End of year thoughts

The 2014 Top Ten Album list:

Having decided that I'm not going to include box sets in this list the time has come to compile the final list of "10 Edge of Jazz albums for 2014". It makes an interesting comparison with the mid year list, because having thought that it was going to look pretty much the same as the list I compiled then, several late November and early December albums have made it to the final list. So here, in no order whatsoever, are my favourites of 2014:

Jacob Young - "Forever Young".

If push came to shove this is my favourite from this year. It helps that his 'backing band' are so luminary in their own right, but this is a sumptuous blend of players all at the height of their powers and willing to allow each other space to solo, come together in ensemble. You'll find two thirds of the group on another album on this list.They create some stunning music in a wide range of styles. It really is a "play anytime" album.

Samuel Eagles - "Next beginning".

Not only does Samuel write some fine melodies and tunes, but he's a very expressive alto sax player.
In addition to this the band lend some excellent support, and it's an unusual combo in that in a quartet the 'other' soloist is Ralph Wyle on vibes, though Fergus Ireland (b) and Eric Ford (dr) complete a really excellent début album. It's exciting and promises more. Another "all day" album that I've a played  a lot.

Slowly Rolling Camera- "Slowly Rolling Camera".

Playing out of Cardiff I caught them at the 2014 "Love Supreme" Festival and they were as electric live as they were on this début album. They have a follow up E.P. which is due out in early January 2015 which I've already played a lot, and it's to be hoped that there's a follow-up album later in the year. It's difficult to explain or locate their exact style, which is partly why they've fitted so well on "The Edge of Jazz".

James Farm - "City Folk".

Four luminary players who make what they do sound so easy it could easily be overlooked. The combination of Joshua Redman on sax and Aaron Parks on piano would be a fascinating duo, but together with Matt Penman (b) and Eric Harland (dr), not only do they share writing duties, but have also assembled a thoroughly convincing album which continues to give up new pleasures at every play. Their first album was worth checking out - but this is even better and more varied.

Andrew McCormack - "First Light".

What a cracking album this is! As diverse a collection of self-penned songs as you'd have found on any piano based album this year. It's to be hoped that there is a follow up album during 2015 and that he gets to tour more extensively. Everything that I said in the half-year report about this album still holds.

Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet- "21st Century Trad Band"

Yes he is the youngest sibling of the Marsalis clan and the album hasn't really got a distributor in this country - but is available as an import (at a price, natch!). However, what you get is a rattling great take on a vibes based theme, all coloured with a New Orleans musical backdrop. It's a fascinating attempt to move the vibes based genre further forward, and into new territory. However, be warned "BP shakedown" is a blatant piece of political propaganda that seems rather out of step with the rest of this excellent album.

Marcin Wasilewski Trio with Joakin Milder - " Spark of life"

Having made a great album with Jacob Young, I wondered whether the promise of a trio (or quartet) album could match that output. It does. Joakim Milder doesn't appear on all the tracks, so in effect this is both a trio and quartet album. The trio pieces are (to say the least) an eclectic selection with some self written material as well as tracks written by Sting and Herbie Hancock, as well as some more classically orientated material. Where Milder appears he adds to the ensemble without overpowering what is happening. A thoroughly excellent album that I've played a great deal.

Bobby Hutcheson - "Enjoy the view".

How strange to have three vibes players in my 2014 list! This album, as I intimated on the mid-summer list, has all the contributors at the top of their game. Hutcheson is as masterful as ever, and the support he receives from all the other musicians, but especially Joey de Francesco is absolutely amazing. It's also a pleasure to be able to name-check a producer, because Don Was did an absolutely amazing job on this collection. Is there more to come in 2015?

Euan Burton - "Too much love".

This arrived late in the year and is a welcome addition to his output "Occurrences" from last year. He composed all the tracks, and gave them all titles this time round (the last album was 1-7). It's unusual to have a bass player compose so much good material, but it has to be said that he's aided by the rest of the band, especially Tom Gibbs on piano (another album from him in 2015 perhaps?). If I have a quibble it's that it's rather short on playing time - but the playing is majestic.

Guti- "Rompe Carazones".

Was this just a one-off from a guy who is better known as a producer. The original sampler was filled out on the eventual release with all sorts of surprises, which lifted it above the run of the mill. It is, perhaps, left field, but my enthusiasm for it remained undiminished at the end of the year, and if you haven't heard this, please be persuaded to take a listen!

That's it! I'll talk in the new year about a few more that nearly made the final cut, but for one reason and another didn't. I'll also finish by noting how much of this list isn't American. European jazz is going in interesting directions, and how great to note that " small" British labels like Edition, F-I-R-E and Whirlwind are encouraging new talents.



Sunday 14 December 2014

Post summer ramblings

Broad Street Jazz:

Whilst putting together my Edge of Jazz Top 10 albums of the year I was informed that one of my favourite places for browsing and getting informed opinion whilst listening to a variety of tracks is closing on 24th December this year.  Broad Street Jazz in Bath has been a real beacon for those of us who like jazz and live in the south-west. I'll miss them, and regret that my visits in recent years have been fewer and fewer, mainly I guess through sheer laziness. It might also be a sign of the economic times that outside large conurbations it's increasingly difficult to support what is, after all, a niche market. So thanks for all the advice and the great sounds you've introduced me to over the years.
Publication of the Top 10 is imminent!