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.

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