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.

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