Monday 20 December 2021

Edge of Jazz Top Ten releases 2021: Five to One.

As I stress every year, this list is a series of personal choices. It's about albums tht I've enjoyed playing on the show, rather than thinking about the choices that have been made by other writers/bloggers and reviewers about what they have liked. Every year I can think of several albums that have been released to critical acclaim, but which, for one reason or another I have felt less than enthusiastic about. This year is no different!

5. "En attendant " - Marcin Wasilewski Trio.

There can be few trios that have been playing together as Marcin Wasilewski's. This album dras on a huge range of sources from Carla Bley to The Doors, from J.S. Bach to trio compositions and just one Wasilewski piece, "Glimmer of Hope". The result is a gloriously balanced programme from a trio who meld together to play a (largely) beautifully understated performance. There's a trio of tunes, spread out across the album entitled "In Motion"[1,2,& 3]. My favourite remains the Doors "Riders on the Storm" which dispenses with the urgency and drive of the original to produce something wonderfully 'other-wordly'. It helps that the whole set is so beautifully recorded by Manfred Eicher, in a French recording studio.   

4. "Wes reimagined" - Nigel Price Organ Trio.

Nigel Price has been a guest on the show. That's not the reason that this makes number 4 - that's because it's his best presented and most coherent album to date. It also contains a list of guests that lift it above the 'organ trio format'. Not that the other two members of the trio, Ross Stanley and Joel Barford aren't excellent - they are a great foil for Price's great guitar playing, but add Snowboy, Vasili  Xenopoulos, and especially Tony Kofi into the mix and the sound created lifts the opportunities to expand, especially as there's also  a 'smidge' of strings arranged by Callum Au. The versions of the Wes Montgomery tunes (and Monk, his brother) are lifted way beyond any crticisms of clones to a new height. 

3. "Close your eyes" - Lionel Loueke.

A very late arrival, and one that I'm not sure has much to do with 2021 - I read a review by Mike Hobart in the 'Financial Times' earlier this year which led me on a hunt for it. I eventually found it had been released by Sounderscore Records from New York, and the copyright is from 2021 - even though the album appears to have been recorded in 2018. I sent off to the address I was given and about four months afterwards it came through the post. This too is a trio guitar album, but the other contributors Reuben Rogers on Accoustic Bass and Eric Harland on drums are in complete sympathy with what Loueke does - namely revisit a set of 'standards' bothshow tunes and jazz classics. From Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael and on to Wayne Shorter, via two Thelonious Monk tracks and two John Coltrane tracks the playing is flawless, each of them adding something to the versions that I was previously familiar with. Try and find it, and listen to what I mean.

2. "Samara Joy" - Samara Joy.

Rumour has it that this album was originally self-funded, but picked up by Whirlwind Records in Britain. Whatever the truth behind the story she has an amazing voice, and was the winner of the 2019 Sarah Vaughan vocal competition. Producar Matt Pierson has assembled a really empathetic trio of musicians, the highlight of which is the equisite guitar playing of Pasquale Grasso, who lends a really vital contributon to the overall sound of the album. The tunes are mainly 'statndards', but each given a unique treatment. It's to be hoped that for a follow up album she might get to extend the range of song sources, but as a debut this is the best female vocalist album of 2021. In the meantime do have a listen to this great debut.

1.  "Future Stride" - Emmet Cohen.

With a nod to tunes by Duke Ellington and Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, and one in public domain,  seven of the tracks on this album are self-writtten. Add the undoubted virtuousity of Cohen and this has been the album that I've played the most during the course of this difficult year. It's full of great playing and unusual and unexpected turns. Backed by a trio of Russell Hall on bass and Kyle Poole on drums, but added to by Maquis Hall on trumpet and Melissa Aldana on sax, the emphasis is on Cohens tunes and playing. If you play "You already know" you'll get a taste of what the whole album is about, and you'll undoubtedly want to listen to the whole set. Mack Avenue Records from whence this came expect to release a follow up during 2022 - and I can't wait!

Two that could have/should have:

There are always several albums that stay in contention until the final decision has to be made, and these two, far from being 'the best of the rest' are an indication of how far "The Edge of Jazz" looks to find tracks/albums that haven't received much/any mainstream air time.

"Stepping up" - Simply this Quintet.

A first. A listener recommendation led me to this!  Recorded by a group of students from the University of Illinois, a double sax led band that play their way through a set of self-written material. Eventually tracked down through Bandcamp, it came highly recommended from a listener in Chacago (who I'm certain had nothing to do with the band.). It really is a joyful listen, and I'm keeping an eye of their media channels to hope that it's not simply a one-off. Worth chcking out (and then buying!)

"Secret Night Gang" - Secret Night Gang.

Kate Gamm, who does a show that precedes mine on the first Tuesday of the month", and I exchanged ideas about who this Manchester based band sounded like. We traded names like 'Earth Wind & Fire' , 'The Ohio Players' and early Kool and the Gang, and then decided that they sounded particularly British!
It's a splendid example of how far the Edge of Jazz stretches, as it's undoubtedly funky, but with a sound that stretches into jazz territory. If you have't heard them yet, do try to. All things being equal (why should they be?) I'll catch up with them in Manchester in the early months of 2022.

Monday 13 December 2021

Edge of Jazz Top Ten Releases 2021. 

Eventually this turned out to be just as difficult as in any 'normal' year! 2021 wasn't/hasn't been by any stretch of the imagination ordinary in any way, with release dates being announced, changed and often withdrawn. So there are a couple of releases that probably would have made it onto this list, but in the case of two of them they're pencilled in for February 2022. Watch next years list!

 10. "The News" - Andrew Cyrille Quartet:

Andrew Cyrille is the drummer on this set. He's probably one of the least 'showy' drummers working today, and this album showcases what he does best, sitting in with a first class band, recorded, brilliantly  by Rick Kwan in New York City. Cyrille contributes three of the tracks, but he's backed by an-star band with Bill Frissell on guitar, David Virelles on piano and synthesizer and Ben Street on Double Bass. Frizzel contributes three songs, Virelles two and the other is the Steve Colson tune 'Leaving East of Java'.
The result is a beautifully laid back set in which all the participants get to contribute to the sum of the whole. This is not a 'showy' album, but rather beutifully session that demands repeated attention.

9. "It's all your fault" - Mike LeDonne Big Band & Groover Quartet.

Entirely new to me - though not to several people that I spoke to who had been to see him in New York. As far as I can tell his last recording was in 2006, so this came to me out of the blue and highly recommded, and it's a lttle gem. It's split into three Groover Quartet tracks and five Big Band tracks.The Quartet is Eric Alexander on Tenor Sax, Joe Farnsworth on drums & Peter Bernstein on guitar, all of whom play in the Big Band. LeDonne himself on (probably) B3 is the sort or organ player who sits back, rather than sitting in front of the mix. It's an album that I confess I'd never have found myself, but it's really grown on me, and although I started with the quartet tracks, the Big band tracks have a lot to give.
Give it a listen!

8. "Squint" - Julian Lage.

You can't go on being a youthful prodigy for ever, and this album sees Lage coming of age with a new label (Blue Note) and a much more defined sound as a leader than some of his previous outings.It's a trio outing, and fairly laid back for the most part. Dave King plays drums and Jorge Roeder plays bass, but it's Lage who is the front man, having written all the tracks bar one - "Emily". It's the sort of album that requires several listens before it starts to reveal its layered depths. Don't expect guitar histrionics - because Lage isn't that sort of guitarist, but it's really satisfying and has been late night listening since its release.

7. "Night Owl" - Nick Hempton Quartet.

I feel slightly guilty about this, and a couple of the other albums that appear on this years list, in the same way as I used to feel bad about playing white label pre-releases sent to me by companies during the 70's and 80's, however that's all the apology you'll get, because like those this album deserves wider recognition. You can get a copy from He's a hard blowing tenor sax player from New York, sometime habituee of "Small's Jazz Club" who has released a slew of albums over the last few years - all self promoted - but this is the best. It's a Hammond based quartet with the advantage of Peter Bernstein on guitar, and a mixture of standard and self written material. If you doubt that the word "groove" still applies to jazz today - this is the antidote.

6. "Friends with Monsters" - Nishla Smith.

Part of a thriving Manchester based scene, that also brought me Emma Johnson's Gravy Boat and Silent Night Gang. this album is as left field a vocal album as I've come across this year, and was a late arrival from Whirlwind Records. The songs are all self -writtenn, apart from "It might as well be Spring" and the band, also mostly Manchester based are suitably esoteric in their backing of her songs. Perhaps seeing her live might allow her to unravel some of the content of the songs, but they are marvellously diverse in approach and subject. Watch out for some of the trumpet playing of Aaron Wood, but mostly revel in a performer and songwiter who isn't copying anybody elses style and providing some wonderfully diverting listening. 

The top five and two that nearly made it will appear next week!

Friday 10 December 2021

2021 - A new category!

This year has been extraordinary for re-releases, and having received (or purchased) quite a lot of material that hasn't been available for a long time, either on CD or vinyl I thought it only appropriate to start new category. Given the enormous out-pouring of revived material from Blue Note Records in particular I've though long an hard about how many to choose, and I decided, because this is a new category that this year I'd limit it to three. This made it very difficult - and in the end excluded some of the recordings that, perhaps, in another year would have made it. The Blue Note material that came closest to inclusion were Dexter Gordan's "One flight up" which originally came out in 1964 and McCoy Tyner's "Expansions" from 1968, but in the end neither made it - though some of the releases promised for 2022 must be in line to make the cut at the end of the year.
   Incidentally I've wondered along the way how much some of the material they've re-released was ever bought in the UK - probably, I guess, only by collectors and avid Blue Note philes!
  Finally, before I list the chosen three a word for "John Coltrane - Live in Seattle", which I found extremely disappointing, badly mixed and with ambient crowd noise, with McCoy Tyner on top form, but too little Coltrane - go back to the original!

3. "Merci Miles-live at Vienne" - Miles Davis.

A good indication of where Miles Davis was heading in 1991. Some extended tracks especially 'Hannibal', written by Marcus Miller, and a couple of Prince written tracks, all driven along by a two bass player band with Kenny Garrett on sax and Deron Johnson on keyboards, fluently led by some wonderful improvisation by Miles Davis. Yes, it's rough round the edges on some tracks, but for the most part it swaggers, and it picks up where the Warner studio albums might have been headed if the band had been given the space to expand into the space they find here. I guess, it's a 'marmite' album, and not what early and middle period Miles fans will want to hear, but for me a really great re-release (if any of it was ever released by a major label before!).

2. "Groovin' at Small's Paradise" - Jimmy Smith.

My original (second hand) copy of Volume 2 on vinyl has just about expired as a useful album to play, and I never owned Volume 1. How wonderful, therefore to find almost all of both volumes on  CD - it actually omits "Imagination" because of the limitations of the single CD format. Nonetheless it's really rewarding to sit down nad hear and soak up the atmosphere that was created by the trio. Eddie McFadden on guitar and Donald Bailey on drums, are an integral part of the overall ambience, but it's Smith and his B3 who burn throughout this 1957 session. Congraulations to Jazz Image Records (Spanish based, I think) for the repackaging and the information provided by the packaging. It's an album that I've say down and listened to in its entireity several times and the only word I can use to describe it is 'burning'.

1. "The Montreux Years" - Nina Simone.

Given what I've written elsewhere not, I would imagine, a great surprise!  Parts of this have been released on the French Barclay label, but nothing as much as this wonderful BMG compilation two CD set. CD 2 is given over to a fairly seamless concert, one in which Simone built the audience from relative apathy to a heightened climax - there are even tracks omitted from this 1968 recording that appear on CD1. CD 1 also has tracks from her appearances at the 1976, 1981,1987 and 1990 performances. Probably the 1976 tracks are the finest, but given the relative poverty of some of the recent Nina Simine re-releases, this one eclipses them all. The set is copiously annotated and together they give a great impression of an artist working hard with an audeince, and in places with versions that somehow exceed the best of other studio based recordings.
Essential listening!

For details of what has made my Top 10 albums of 2021, come back here soon - they'll be revealed 5 at a time!