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.


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