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.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Top Ten of 2016 10-5

Ooh! It's that difficult time of year when I have to try and condense a whole year's worth of new releases into a top  10. 2016 is perhaps more difficult than it's been in the past because of the plethora of new releases that have surged into the in-box at Phonic.FM. Like previous years I'm going to cheat and add a 'bubbling under' album for each of the two posts I make, but unlike other years I'm going to maker it a 10 to 1 choice. Get ready to quibble!

10. "Evidential" - Mike Hobart.

I often wonder when new albums arrive whether they'll live up to the 'blurb' that publicists so often use to hype up the product. This album exceeds anything that I had expected, and is a  good example of how 'new' British jazz is going through such a good phase. There are no histrionics, just straight ahead playing with strong material and great arrangements. The album was produced by Derek Nash who made it onto my "albums of 2015" list, and is well worth seeking out to listen to. Continued listening hasn't diminished its power.

9. "Heritage" - Richard Bona.

Multi-instrumentalist Bona has brought together an Afro-Cuban band of great power and versatility and written some great material which bounces along with a strong horn section and three percussion players which include Bona himself. The album melds the African roots with a definite Cuban sensibility with the whole album looking towards the 'heritage' that is the title. This could be the antidote to post-Christmas lethargy.

 8. " Blues and Ballads" - Brad Mehldau Trio.

Brad Mehldau is a prolific recorder of material and he's graced several albums as a sides-man during 2016, but in a trio format with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums he's left to extemporise across a range of different tunes which originally appeared in a variety of musical styles. He tackles Lennon and McCartney (And I love her) Charlie Parker (Cheryl) and my favourite, Buddy Johnson's "Since I fell for you". This is not a get up and grab you by the throat album, but one that gradually gives more and more with repeated listenings.

7. "Blackwater" - Henrik Jensen's followed by Thirteen.

Probably my favourite gig on the year was this band in Ashburton. It helps that bass player Jensen was able to gather together the band that is on the album and gets luminary help from Esben Tjalve on piano ( his first solo album is expected in early 2017) Andre Canniere on trumpet and flugelhorn (of which more later!) and the extraordinary Antonio Fusco on drums. The compositions range across a number of different styles, but the playing and togetherness of the band is quite notable. If you haven't yet caught up with this Jellymould release it's a situation you ought to rectify quickly.

6. "All about melody" - Russell Malone.

Anyone who listens to the show must know that Russell Malone is one of my favourite guitar players and this album, on High Note is an excellent example of what he does well, that is to say play some consummate guitar backed by a band that are familiar with his work and style and back him superbly. The material is from a wide range of sources from Sonny Rollins "Nice lady" Freddie Hubbard's "One the real side" and Bob Brookmeyer's "Jive Hoot" as well as just one self composition and the traditional "He's gone away" Listened to a lot since its release.

5. "Out of the Sky" - John Etheridge & Vimala Rowe

 The simplest of concepts. A man who plays the guitar and a woman who sings. This, however, transcends all of that because John Etheridge is an ethereal guitar stylist who I think is vastly under-represented in recorded form and a lady whose voice is an excellent foil to what Etheridge does. This is not to belittle Vimala Rowe, who if the publicity is to be believed simply asked Etheridge of perform with her (or was it the other way round?). However it happened, this is just superb.

One that missed the cut:

Crimson: Delta Saxophone Quartet -

I love this album.  Gwilym Simcock  arranged a set of King Crimson originals for a saxophone quartet, and adds his own edge to an eclectic choice of Crimso originals, with two from my favourite album "Starless and Bible Black". It's not recorded what Robert Fripp thought of this, but I hope he's delighted by what they've done. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do next and I'm only sorry that this missed the top 10 at the last moment.

So there are albums ten to five. Four to one, and two more 'near misses' are the subject of the blog I'll post next week.