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.

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