Saturday 17 December 2022

        Top Ten Albums 2022 - Five to One (and a few more that should've made it) 

I'll try an make a few less blunders in the spelling and grammar in this one. Rushing to post 10 to 6, I seem to have omitted words and made random spelling mistakes - for which I apologise!
 To reiterate, this list has nothing to do with sales, chart positions or indeed any other considerations that might affect or be affected by other people. It's what I have enjoyed the most from this years releases, and I'm already suprised that at least one of the albums in the previous post has appeared in a couple of other favourite albums list compiled elsewhere.

5. Claudia Acuna: Duo.

Simplicity itself, but done beuatifully. The clue is the title, a series of guests performing with Acuna, but not just a random set of guests,each bringing a different facet of performance to the voice, which is absolutely peerless. There are even  a couple of solo tracks, but the ones that stand out are duets with Russel Malone, Regina Carter and Kenny Barron, but the other guests all complement both her style and her choice of material. A  good starting point for listening might be her version of Chick Corea's "Crystal Silence"

4. Julian Lage: View with a room.

It's his second outing on Blue Note, and in my view much more rounded than "Squint" his first. Perhaps this is because on several tracks the trio is enlarged to a quartet by the guest appearance of Bill Frisell, who seems to encourage Lage to sit back and expand. The othe two members of the trio are no less impressive Dave King on drums and Jorge Roeder on bass. . Nearly all the tracks are self written, except "Echo" where he shares the credits with the bass player. Overall its a fluid display of virtuosity and it'll be interesting to see him live when he plays the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2023.

3. Emmet Cohen: Uptown in orbit.

Can't help but feel that this might be the final appearance on the Mack Avenue label for Cohen, who like I opined about Samara Joy two years ago, must surely be in line for a big label deal. This album displays all the qualities that made his first album so good, and extends his writing credits across a dazzling display of piano playing, helped out by the trio that seems to have taken to the road during 2022 - and is due to visit Europe in 2023. His choice of other peoples material is equally splendid ranging from Willie 'The Lion' Smith , Gerry Mulligan and the track that you might like to start with by Duke Ellington " Braggin' in brass"

2. Nimbus Sextet: Forward Thinker.

Wouldn't have found this for myself. Thanks to the grapevine of people who correspond with each other and make suggestions about jazz nuggets they may have missed, I got turned on to this. The band work out of Glaasgow and are a brass heavy set of jazzers who put this album together over a number of sessions that stretched across Glasgow, London and Amsterdam. The album appears on the Acid Jazz label which seem to have resurrected itself and produced some stunning, if unlikely, albums that belied its name. This is an album that I have sat down and listened to in its entierity, and I'd recommend "Search for Solace" and "From the shadows" as a starting point. I sincerely hope there's going to be another album next year.

1. Camilla George: Ibio-Ibio.

If you thought 'concept' albums were a mirage from the 70's here's one that brings together all the disparate facets of jazz in Britain today. The album is dedicated to the Ibibio people of soutj east Nigeria, and is an exploration of their beliefs and customs. The fact is that George's sax playing is at the top of her game, and she's gathered around her a luminary group of ,mainly London based, jazz players who are empathetic and lend depth to her compositions. The basis of the band is a quartet, with a special mention for Sarah Tandy's piano playing throughout. It's got great depth and is an album that I'm sure I'll return to again and again. 

and then were three (that nearly made it)

O'Higgins and Luft: Pluto.

A follow up to last year's belting "Play Monk and Trane" , which contains only one eaach of compositions by the above. The rest are 5 compositions by Dave O'Higgins and two by Rob Luft. The band are really tight, and it's good to hear Ross Stanley playing only piano. Possibly, if it had arrived earlier, it would have tipped into the ten - highly recommended.

Soul Revivers: On the groove.

Another unexpected release on the revived Acid Jazz label. About the group/remixers/provenance I know nothing. It contains a number of reworked reggae tracks , including two Ernest Ranglin tracks and  two attributed to 'Ms Maurice' of Kokoroko ( and also Camilla Goerge see #1 above). I'd like to think that there'll a follow up, but even as a stand alone project this is pretty fine.

Could we be more: Kokoroko

They are peerless live. I was eagerly anticipating this album (Abusey Junction by the band is the most played track on the show over nearly 15 years - recently overtaking 'Idle Moments' by Grant Green.)
There are some belting track on this album, but it doesn't really sustain the quality throughout and its to be hoped that for the follow up they create an album's worth of really strong material, because even on disc, when they burn, it's hot. Still a great album.

Thursday 8 December 2022

Edge of Jazz Top 10 releases 2022 - Ten to Six.

It's been a strange year. A lot of delayed releases, some still to appear, and a lot of material written during the lockdown(s) and only now coming to the market. In some cases albums compiled without the musicians ever being together by electronic means. That probably means that there are esoteric items that will barely trouble other compilers, but that I've really enjoyed. As ever, therefore, this top ten has nothing to do with sales, chart placings, other peoples opinions, just my own music that I've enjoyed during the course of the year. As has been the case in the past there are a few albums (four at the time of compilation) that didn't make it into the list and I've added as 'spares' to be listened to if you have the time and/or the inclination;

10: Here and there; Kibrom Bihane.

None more esoteric than this release from an Ethiopian keyboard player on a small US label that, as far as I know hasn't has a UK release. It's fusion at its very best with influences from right across what I would describe as 'The middle east'. Sitting on top of most of the compositions is a horn section that varies in size and contribution but drives it along quite wonderfully. Whether there will ever be a follow up is  unknown, but the more I've listened to this album subsequent to obtaining it, the more I've enjoyed it.

9: Last Decade: Benjamin Lackner.

There has been a flurry of piano led recordings on ECM this year, amongst them Julia Hulsmann with an album that narrowly avoided the cut. Lackner works out of New York, but the album recorded in France and engineered by Gerard de Haro has all the hallmark attention to detail with a perfectly captured timbre and a sound that Manfred Eicher seems to capture so easily. All the tracks, but one are Lackner compositions (Jerome Regard the bass player wrote Emile) but the band complement Lackner's piano playing beautifully with some equisite trumpet playing from Mathias Eick, the unexpected drum fills by Manu Latche and Regard who locks it all together. I've really enjoyed this album a lot and there's more being revealed with every listen.

8. Linger awhile: Samara Joy.

Look at last years list. Having made #2 I hoped that her follow up album would move her a little further forward. Moving forward in this case means moving to a larger label (Verve) and having a budget that allowed the employment of a wider range of musicians, although, in the main, still sticking with the standards that made her first album so successful, and allowing her voice to be mixed well forward.
Her phrasing is amazing, and listening to "Guess who I saw today" ( I remember a Julie London version and a great one by Laura Lee) she makes it her own. Mostly it's slower standards - but she seems equally at home with a more uptempo 'Social Call'. Really enjoyable, but I'll repeat my wish that for the next album they allow her to stretch out across a few more 'contemporary' songs.

7. King Phoenix: Jazz Defenders.

What continues to shine throuhout this album is joyousness. There's an exuberance that certainly manifested itself in their gig here in Exeter earlier in 2022, and the creative juices are evident throughout this their second album. George Cooper's tunes are redolent of a certain Blue Note period of jazz, and the horn arrangements certainly enhance that suggestion. New on this second album are a couple of vocal tracks. It's a delight to be able to recommend an album by a band that can recreate live what they put down in a studio, and I look forward to another release in 2023.

6. Hearts full of grace: Al Swaingers Pointless Beauty.

"An album about states of mind, written in strange and unusual times" writes Al Swainger in the sleeve notes of the album that he brought out  in 2022. He's Bass Player, with strong local connections to Exeter through his work as part of the House Band at the Blue Vanguard Jazz Club. This is so much more than an  album by a good bass player, and he assembled an excelllent band to support him including one George Cooper (See #7 above). Ant Law on guitar, Jon Clarke on drums, an, ethereally
throughout some stunning trumpet/flugel by Gary Alesbrook. Swainger further describes this as " an oveture to nothing". It's so much more!

..and those that didn't quite make it (but that I thoroughly recommend). Just one here, and three to come next time;

Only a Year: Alex Clarke Quartet.

Had this arrived earlier in the year it might well have figured in the 10. As has so often been the case this year  (see also #10 above) this was recommended by one of the small coterie of people that I correspond with who seek out jazz that think deserves a wider audience. This album has a luminary  [a word I overuse] band; David Newton on piano, Dave Green on Double Bass and Clarke Tracey on drums. It belong the Alex about whom I know little (she hasn't yet answered my e mail to her website) but she plays beautifully on alto and tenor sax on an album of mainly standards, with two of her own compositions, the title track, and the wonderfully titled "Betroots Burn". The label in Stray Horn Records and it well worth seeeking out.