Thursday 20 December 2018

Ten best albums of 2018; Part 2.

There's a very good reason why this is appearing late, not just my tardiness, but also the inability of BT to provide service at some crucial times this December. However, here it is, in all it's splendour,the five to one of albums rated by Edge of Jazz in 2018.

Five: Tony Kofi; "Point blank"

Pretty straightforward blowing, but what blowing! Toni Kofi, backed by 'The Organisation" worked their way through a whole bunch of jazz standards. Kofi plays both alto and baritone sax on the album, but it's all driven along by a really tight band, with Pete Whittaker the organist propelling the whole delightful album along. I played every track on the album in one show or another and you can expect to hear it again in 2019.

Four: Jakob Bro; " Bay of Rainbows"

It always felt wrong playing tracks from this album between two and four in the afternoon. This is a real "late night listen". Bro is, to say the least, sparse in his approach and there are some solo and some group tracks on this album that was (and at times you forget this) recorded live in New York with Thomas Morgan on Bass and Joey Baron on drums. It's recorded with all the clarity you expect from ECM recordings, and this is a belting album that gives more with every listen.

Three: Various Artists; " We out there"

London continues to be melting pot of music and particularly jazz, and this album demonstrates everything that is good about the emerging scene that's been developing. It says a lot for the varied music on here that several of the bands have subsequently recorded albums, whilst others (like Kokoroko!!) are going to produce albums during 2019. What makes it especially creditable is that although the sleeve says "recorded over three days in London" you'd never have guessed with most of the tracks that there were any time constraints at all. There are errors and wrong notes but it all adds to the refreshing gust of wind blowing through British jazz.

Two: Cecile McLorin Salvant; "The Window"

After two encouraging Mack Avenue albums Cecile decided to record both in the studio and live in front of audiences an album on which she's accompanied only by a piano and organ played by Sullivan Fortner (one track has a tenor sax as well). The strength and inventiveness of what was done is staggering in its depth, choice of material and performance. She manages to perform all the songs in such a way that it's often difficult to remember that the backing is so sparse and that its only one persons voice. It's the sort of album that refreshes belief in what a solo human voice can do.

One: Jean Toussaint All Star 6tet; "Brother Raymond"

The album blew me away and then I saw the band perform it, once as a sixtet and the next time as a quintet (that was Ashburton at the start of November). The album was recorded by an ever changing rhythm section, but a constant frontline of Dennis Rollins on trombone, Byron Wallen on trumpet and Jean Toussaint on tenor sax. They are going to re-record parts of the programme as a live album, which will include new material that isn't on this album. The sense of togetherness that the band bring to the album is audible, and the ability to reproduce the sound live (even without Rollins at Ashburton) is amazing. I have a short interview with Jean, but aim to catch up with them in 2019 to turn it into a programme feature. A terrific album that you ought to own! 

Two that nearly made the top ten.

Madeleine Peyroux; "Anthem"

Madeleine Peyroux given a full band major recording label makeover. Somehow Peyroux doesn't get swamped by what is an all start band fronted by Larry Klein on keyboards, but also featuring Dean Parks and a luminary group of other Hollywood musicians. The material is strong, and so are the performances. Highly recommended.

Gwyneth Herbert; "Letters I haven't written".

I'm clearly biased as I contributed to the crowd funding that brought this album into being in mid November. It's a collection of songs that is based on the premise that everybody has letters that they could/should/would have written, but didn't. Part of the attraction of Gwyneth is that the performance is an important part of the story that the album has to tell. I believe (and hope) that she's going to tour this a bit more in 2019 and getting to a performance will enhance the strength of what is on offer in the album.

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...…..