Tuesday 17 December 2019

Five to one - The best of 2019 (on the Edge of Jazz)

As I've written before, this list has nothing to do with sales, plays or bungs from record companies. It's based on tracks that I've played on the show and those that I've probably carried around for too long in the car or say in front of the sound system ingesting by listening. I've also included another two at the end of the list that in any normal year would have been there, or thereabouts. 2019 has definitely been special for jazz!

5. Nguyen Le: Overseas

Another album where it's possible to ask "Yes, but is it jazz?" The sleeve notes say it all. In France where he now lives he is ' Viet Kieu' a Frenchman from Vietnam.  and he sets out to answer the question "Am I Vietnamese?"  All the musicians are, one way or another, but they too share the experience of living somewhere else, or as the album title would have it 'overseas'. It wasn't recorded in one place, though mainly it was in Paris, but some of the musicians added their input in studio elsewhere. It's pointless me trying to explain what the music is like. It's an album that you need to listen to many times before it starts to seep into your consciousness, but thereafter it opens a new door on what is happening. An unexpected delight.

4. Julia Hulsmann Quartet: Not far from here.

Possibly having the seen the trio perform live in 2019 gave this album a boost, but it's such a well recorded, cohesive album that it's been a constant on my turntable (the CD version, as with all ECM recording is excellent but the vinyl is astounding). The fourth member of the group is Uli Kempendorff and as with all Hulsmann's side persons he is not intrusive, but weaves his way into he tunes as if  he were a normal member of the trio. All the compositions except two are Hulsmann's, with Marc Muellbauer (bass player) contributing one and there's a version of  'This is not America' that surely David Bowie would have owned up to and approved of. Classic, and very European!

3. Leo Richardson Quartet: Move.

Ubuntu, the record label, seem to have an issue with distribution. I had no idea that this album was available until I spoke to Leo at the Ashburton Arts Centre. It's a follow on from last years 'The Chase' and is e4xactly the same kind of sound with some excellent hard blowing from Richardson, who also allows space for Rick Simpson, the pianist to add some interesting counterpoints. Alex Garnett is a guest on track eight, the excellent 'Second wind'. All the tracks were written by Richardson, except for the title track for which Rick Simpson and Tim Thornton (the bass player) wrote. It's an album that repays endless playing- which it got on the show this year.

2. Quentin Collins Sextet: 'Road Warrior'.

A close run thing!  The album is all that was promised at their gig at Ashburton (although the band had a different line-up there). Leo Richardson (see above) is excellent on Tenor Sax, and Jean Toussaint sits in on a couple of the tracks. Composition duties are split between Collins and Tom Harrison, with one 'standard to round off the set. The playing is excellent throughout as is the recording standard. I wrote at the time of reviewing, "Bound to be there, or thereabouts come the listings." I'd just reiterate that British Jazz has had a great year, and I've been to some marvellous gigs, of which the one at Ashburton Arts Centre, noted above, was the one that I enjoyed the most this year. It gets my vote as venue of the year for intimacy and sheer breadth of programming (Thanks, Andy!)

1. Dave O'Higgins & Rob Luft:Play Monk and Trane.

If you look at what I've written about the distribution of  Leo Richardson's album (see 3 above) the same applies to this record on the same label. Notionally, at the time of writing it's available, but on Amazon it's a hefty 25 quid, and available as an import. They toured to promote the album, but unless you bought on at a gig it's still really difficult to obtain. Perhaps it's choice is compounded by the disappointment of the 'new' John Coltrane album released this year, which in my opinion only had one track that stood up to scrutiny as essential Coltrane. However this re-assessment of the work of the two players in question is an absolute belter of an album. It gives scope for O'Higgins (Sax) and Luft (guitar) to reinterpret, spread out and bring something new to the party. They're much helped (but never overwhelmed) by the support of Scott Flanigan on organ and US drummer Rod Youngs. The more I've listened to it the more I've liked it, and it's been on pretty much continuous play in the car. A worthy number one!

Two that nearly made the ten (and would have made a fifteen!)

Tonbruket: Masters of fog.

They've been together for ten years and most of the previous albums have had a theme. This one they described as 'genre bending' and it's all that. Martin Hederos (the keyboard, synth and violin player) and Andreas Werlin have lives outside the band, the former as a guitarist in a rock band, the latter with the former as part of a jazz/psychedelic duo. The album is not easy to get into, but gradually unfolds with repeated listens. Highly recommended.

Erik Truffaz: Lune Rouge.

Still relatively unknown in the U.K., and out on yet another label Truffaz is a trumpet/horn player who mixes straight ahead jazz with fusions and electronics.This record, like several recent ones, emanate from French labels (in this case Warner's France) and although there's an English translation of the notes, the credits are all in French. There are two guest vocalists Andrina Bollinger and Jose James. I'm fortunate enough to have seen Truffaz live, but if you are looking for an artist to explore, and with a long back catalogue, you might like his work.

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Ten to six ( Top albums of 2019 )

In the eleven years that the Edge of Jazz has been air I can't remember a more satisfying or diverse set of albums to choose from than what's been released in 2019. I did think about extending the ten to fifteen, which I have done in the past, but I've settled for ten with four that are 'near misses' and in a less extraordinary year would be in the top ten. Some have appeared in the blog during the year, but some haven't, either because they have only recently arrived or they have seeped into my consciousness over after playing them in the car or at home. I'd reiterate that this is a personal selection and they have nothing to do with any sales chart, radio plays, steaming downloads or any other form of electronic reproduction.

10:  Kit Downes : Dreamlife of debris.

As ever, it's possible to ask the question "Is it jazz?" Is it, indeed a group effort? What does a cello player bring to the party? It's an immensely assured recording done in a couple of locations and with several different line-ups (if that's what you can call them). Downes contributes six tunes. The ones which have an organ (and understand it's a pipe organ) were recorded in Huddersfield and the rest at Snape. It doesn't swing, but as ever with ECM recordings, the recording quality is astounding. You can find out elsewhere on this website what equipment I use at home and this is best heard on the best system you can muster. It's taken multiple playing's (usually late at night) for it to start exposing itself as a work, but I would thoroughly recommend trying to listen to it in its entity.

9:  Jeff Ballard: Fairgrounds.

 I wrote about this early in the year. It a work n which drummer Ballard gathered together some excellent musicians (including guitarist Lionel Loueke) and taken them out on the road, recording as they went along. There's a mixture of both self-penned and other people's material, and the band included a couple of guest appearances by Chris Cheek and Mark Lockheart (both Tenor Sax players). Since writing about it, I've played it a lot more and come to appreciate the quality of both the writing and the arrangements. I don't want to overplay this aspect, but it's available on vinyl and gives of its best in that format.

8: Nerija: 'Blume'.

My opinion remains that other than the wonderful KoKoRoko (who spasmodically produced tracks during the year but no album yet)  very few of the emergent British/London Jazz scene artists have produced material on disc that approaches the work that they perform live, In part, I suggest that this is because they've been anxious to release any material.  I think Nerija are the exception, and though some might consider this a tad horn heavy the range of artists and their instruments and backgrounds shine through. It's a considerable improvement on their initial EP and indicates that as a band they are progressing along a very unique pathway.  In lots of ways this was the opposite of cerebral, but a great invitation to get up and move about to jazz. 

7: Patricia Barber: Higher.

Not even sure that this has been released in this Country. My copy came from a friend who saw it in Angers (France) and bought it for me. It's on the label of an artists share programme. Whatever! It's all you'd expect from a Patricia Barber album, and then some. There's a section called "Angels, birds and I" and then some covers of songs/tunes that are part of the current live set. Recorded in Chicago the production is impeccable as are the backing group. There are love songs to an un-named female, errant husbands and even some opera (a trick repeated in track 14 which is the same song sung by Katherine Webiansky). Barber really is a one-off, both in composition and performance, and this is an album that you should hear (somehow!).

6. Carmen Souza:  The Silver Messenger.

When you really like an artist it's sometime difficult to think of anybody 'tinkering' with the tunes, arrangements or settings. Horace Silver is a perennial on the Edge of Jazz, not just for his Blue Note output but for others too (Jazz has a sense of humour is a favourite) so having someone take the material and make it their own is some achievement. Souza has recorded several albums in Portuguese, but this, as far as I know, is her first in English. It helps that the arrangements don't try to ape the Silver style too much, but they emerge as something completely fresh and yet teasingly familiar. Have a listen to the version of Senor blues, and then listen to the whole album. An excellent album.

Two that were real contenders:

As I wrote elsewhere this was a superb year for new releases. Two that just missed the cut here are:

Wendy Kirkland: The music's in me.

Loved the album and she was great to interview (you can find the interview on the Edge of Jazz Mixcloud page on 5th December). The album was a great follow up to 2017's 'Piano Diva's' and in many ways more diverse. It's a great set and she had a couple of marvellous guests to supplement the work of her excellent Quartet. She's a wonderful keyboard player and the choice of material is great, especially where she's added her own lyrics to other peoples tunes. In another year this would have been in the ten. However, you should certainly listen to it (better still buy it!) because the music is great and the ethos of running your own label (Blue Quaver) is the antidote to large labels and heavy unconvincing PR campaigns.

Tom Syson: Different Coloured days.

He's a brilliant trumpet player with a band that amply reflects his technique and skill as well as hisd composing ability. Like the Wendy Kirkland this received only a very limited distribution, which is a shame because its another testimony to what is good about the diversity of the current British jazz scene Recorded at Peter Gabriel's studio it really is an under-rated (and poorly distributed) piece of magic. Stunning.