Friday 15 December 2023

Five to one - The Edge of Jazz Top 10 albums on 2023 - Part 2

5. Duncan Eagles: Narrations.

This has nagged away at my listening ears during the course of the year. Released on the Ropeadope label it's a basic quartet format that steps beyond the ordinary because of the strength of the compositions, the tightness of the unit, and some outstanding playing from Tomasz Bura on piano and synth and Duncan Eagles on Saxophone, who steps out  of his former role as excellent British musician to move towards new highs of performance.The two tracks that really drew me in are 'Surbiton' (it manages to draw up some completely erroneous ideas about what it's like as a place!) and 'Grove Park'. I'm already loooking forward to the next stage in his growth.

4. Alfredo Rodriguez: Coral Way.

Long term listeners to the show will know that I've been playing a lot of Latin/Caribbean/ Dominican type music this year. This is probably the best of a wide field. It's a quintet/sextet format with lots of percussion, several different vocalists and Rodriguez leading from the front on piano. Above all, in these rather bleak times it's joyous. There is a mix of composers, with Rodriguez himself responsible for the majority, though I fancy that Ludwig Van Beethoven might have been suprised by his contribution. Mack Avenue has produced some belting output this year, and this is amongst the best.

3. Veronica Swift; Veronica Swift.

The difficult third album? I think not. Another Mack Avenue release, Swift is backed by a wonderfully tight octet. However, what is most amazing to me (especially given the previous two albums on the same label) is the choice of material. It's almost as if she sat down, wrote a number of different styles that she'd like to attempt, chose the songs, went into the studio and produced something entirely to her own satisfaction. The selection is eclectic, bizarre and wide ranging, from Duke Ellington to Antonio Carlos Jobim and Brian May.  Did I use the word 'joyous' talking about Rodriguez (above), can't really think of a better word for this, either.

2. Jacob Young: Eventually.

ECM have several guitar players on their roster, they're usually skilled technicians, who appear in various formats. Jacob Young is amongst the most consistent, and as I noted earlier in the years review is not given to embellishment for the sake of it. This is in the trio format with Mats Eilertson on Bass and Audun Klieve on drums - but the real star is Young and his laid-back, contemplative playing. The other two are unostentatious in their support, and are never overwhelming. As I also observed earlier this is a 'sit down of an evening with a glass of wine (or other beverage of your choice)' kind of album, which has yielded more very time that I've listened to it. I've drunk a lot of wine.

1. Billy Valentine: and the Universal truth.

Completely out of the blue Acid Jazz released this earlier in the year. It's pretty much been on rotation ever since in the house (and on-air). It's a joyous, robust reworking of songs from a wide and ecelectic range of sources, from Prince and Curtis Mayfield to Pharoah Saunders and Stevie Wonder. The backing is from many different sizes of combo from trio to octet, but the reworkings whilst reminding you of the originals adds something in the luxurious smoky vocals. My own two favourites are Stevie Wonders 'You haven't done nothin'' and another take on War's 'The World is a ghetto'. If you haven't caught up with it yet you're in for a treat, ut for me, having played every track on it at least twice on the show it remains the best example of 2023 from The Edge of Jazz.

That's it for 2023. You'll note that there are no 'nearly made it's ' this year. Jazz, well my jazz anyway, continues to expand and mutate in several new directions at once as more and more influences get added to the pot-pourri. I'm really looking forward to jazz in 2024, and I hope to see you there.

Sunday 10 December 2023

Late as usual!

Despite promising that my Ten to Six of this years favourite Edge of Jazz would appear on Friday, I apologise for it being delayed by current favourite excuse 'things'. Nonetheless, here are those vital (!) first five.

10. Bebel Gilberto: Joao

In lots of ways its basic simplicity is its charm. It's Bebel Gilberto backed by a really empathetic small group playing a group of Portuguese /Brazilian tunes that are hand picked. A couple of teh trtacks are self written, but the range is wide with Antonio Carlos Jobim co writing 3 and the rest from an array of well know (and not so well known) writeers in the genre like Gilberto Gil and Newton Ferreira de Mendonca. It really is one of those albums that it's bett to play than to try and write about.

9. Wolgang Muthspiel: Dance of the Elders.

Long time listeners to the show will know my liking for Wolfgang Muthspiel as a guitar player.. This album has the same line up as his 2020 album 'Angular Blues' with Scott Coley on Double bass and Brian Blade on drums, The main difference is that this is much more, ahem. laid back, with Muthspiel playing nylon stringed guitar on several tracks. It might be possible to say that it's so laid back that it almost falls over, but letting it wash over you lets you realise how complex the playing is, and how empathetic the other players are about wat's going on. Not one to rave to, but a considerable achievement.

8. Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loeke: Lean in.

 Still finding things in this album that I like. Loueke seems to range across a whole gamut of material, and Gretchen Parlato initially seemed like an odd choice for duo material -  but a duo  fleshed out in places with sparse bass and percussion and  featuring a wide spectrum of material, mainly self written either alone or together, but also including the Dave Grohl song 'Walking after you'. Louke really is an impressive player in so many styles, and the combination of voice, guitar  and some sparse support made this really enjoyable.

7. Jonathan Blake: Passage.

I think the output from Blue Note this year has been very variable, but thought this album was an excelent example of what the label does best, which is putting its emergent talent together on each others albums. Thus Blake, the drummer is given strong support from Joel Ross on vibes, and Immanuel Wilkins on Alto sax., together with David Virelles on keyboards and Dezron Douglas on acoustic bass. The majority of the tunes are Blakes, but it contains other strong material,one of which is my favourite on the album, Virelle's 'Tiempos'. It's a great place to start on an excellent album.

6. Billy Childs: Winds of change.

Half of the backing group on this album appear in my ninth choice. Thus Scott Coley and Brian Blad e are joined by Ambrose Akinmusere on Trumpet and completed by Billy Childs on Piano. Recorded in California it emerged on the excellent Mack Avenue label (from which there is more to come on this list!) It's possible to describe it as a piano led jazz album, but it's far more than that its a series of really dtrong tunes, all written By Childs, but filled out in a totally unbusy way by the other performers. If you're looking for a track to start with, try 'The Great Western Loop' which gives an excellent sample of what follows.

Five to ten will follow next week - honest. I'd be grateful for any feedback (use and if you haven't guessed this was put together in three different locations ,on three different machines, which possibly accounts for the different typefaces. Overall I'd say its been a good year for jazz, and the diversity of what you can call jazz continues to explode in a multitude of different forms.