Best of 2016

 

A Best Of album has to hit me right in my heart and provoke a strong emotional reaction. A Best Of album has to engage my head and elicit a cerebral connection. Give me some intrigue. Show me some personality. Extra points awarded for doing something different. I want to hear music that embraces the best qualities of creativity. Strong musicianship alone is not enough. Many excellent albums fall short of earning a slot on this list. It literally pains me when I see some of the albums that aren’t included on my Best Of lists. But I listen to a lot of music, and one of the rare downsides to encountering so much great Jazz is that some of it won’t receive the recognition it deserves. So there you have it.

No matter how diligent a listener is and no matter how thoroughly that person covers the music scene, there will always be albums that slip through the cracks. The equation of scarcity of time vs. the overflow of music always leaves a trail of victims in its wake. It’s also a matter of subjectivity. I do my best to make objectivity the guiding force of all my decisions, judging each album’s qualities without consideration for my own personal preferences… at least, as much as I am humanly able. I can say for certain, my Best of 2016 list has ended up much different than my personal Favorites of 2016 list. No attempt to encapsulate the 2016 jazz recordings landscape will be fully comprehensive, but I humbly offer up my list with the confidence that these albums represent the best that 2016 had to offer. But it’s a list that’s likely to gain some addenda with the passing of time. The process of discovery never truly ends.

As with any Best Of year, 2016 is more accurately represented by the date range of December 1st, 2015 to November 30th, 2016. This ain’t no damn pop music… there’s definitely the potential for love at first sight with these recordings, but for a Best Of list, there’s gotta be some time allowed to get to know the music, to acclimate to what they offer and see if it endures. So, December releases are considered to be released in the subsequent year of their actual.

What you’ll read below are not reviews. They are simple one-take thoughts, reminiscences, fragments of recollections, and brief opinions about how each album struck me both now and when I first heard it or anything I just felt like noting about the album as I quickly typed up these tiny synopses. I’ve provided a link to a more formal write-up following each entry, and that’s where you go to find out what’s what about each recording. Those write-ups are accompanied with embedded audio of an album track, as well as personnel and label information, links to artist, label, and retail sites, and anything else that seemed relevant at the time I wrote about the album. Follow those links. They might just lead to your next most favorite album ever.

Note: I am trying something new this year. I’m including an embedded album track with each synopsis on this list. But that means up to 30 audio embeds, which is potentially pretty damn cumbersome on page loads. If I sense some serious site lag on this list, don’t be surprised if the audio embed suddenly disappear. But remember, the audio remains in the individual posts and the write-ups linked to in each synopsis. Go listen to it all. It’s up to you to decide for yourself what’s truly the best, and that process of discovery never truly ends.

So, with all that out of the way…

Let’s begin.

 

Album of the Year: Taylor Ho Bynum – Enter the PlusTet (Firehouse 12 Records)

The very first reaction I had to this album was anger. And it was directed at Taylor Ho Bynum.

The moment it becomes feasible, I am going to buy a self-driving car. I love listening to music in the car. And when it’s music that I intend to write about, even better, because something about the sense of freedom that comes from driving, of a body in motion, it seems to free up my mind to write with more of the creativity and openness that typically only shakes free when I’m writing fiction. But in the car, I feel like I’m able to listen better, and, consequently, writing about music under those conditions becomes a more enjoyable and effective task. Countless times I’ve pulled over to the side of the road to scribble down a first draft of an album write-up because the inspiration hit me in the middle of traffic. For Bynum’s 2016 release Enter the PlusTet, I was just pulling into a parking lot when his album first drew my anger.

(READ MORE)

Released on Firehouse 12 Records.

Artist site | Listen | Available at: BandcampAmazon

Jazz from NYC.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK) and with my Best of Bandcamp Jazz column on The Bandcamp Daily (LINK).

*****

#2: Jon Armstrong – Burnt Hibiscus (Orenda Records)

Burnt Hibiscus should probably be my album of the year. I always struggle with the decision. Typically it’s a toss-up between my top two albums, but this year, the real contenders are doubled. Even now, as I type this, I’m tempted to tinker with the order of things. The newest from multi-instrumentalist Jon Armstrong unites Indian classical music, chamber jazz and surrealist poetry into a potent work that is delightfully tuneful and seriously enchanting. The crux of this project is Armstong’s collaboration with Sheela Bringi, whose fluttering vocals bring the poetry to life. That she and Armstrong were able to mesh a 10-piece chamber jazz ensemble with traditional Indian ragas is impressive in its own right. But instead of complex music with an impenetrable core, Burnt Hibiscus is as easy to connect with as a children’s lullaby. Traditional instruments like clarinet, trombone and sax snap into place with harmonium, harp and bansuri flute. The melodies provoke a simple, crisp lyricism… a quality the ensemble exploits to launch into intricate rhythmic passages and harmonic excursions that stretch far out from the song’s opening moments. Massively creative at both conception and conclusion, and one of the very best albums to come out in 2016. Perhaps, the very best.

Artist site | Listen | Available at: BandcampAmazon

Jazz from Los Angeles, CA.

Read more about the album with my Best of Bandcamp Jazz column on The Bandcamp Daily (LINK).

*****

#3: Eric Hofbauer Quintet – Prehistoric Jazz Vol 3: Three Places in New England (Creative Nation Music)

Prehistoric Jazz Vol.3: Three Places in New England should probably be my album of the year. I always struggle with the decision. Typically it’s a toss-up between my top two albums, but this year, the real contenders are doubled. Even now, as I type this, I’m tempted to tinker with the order of things. Eric Hofbauer‘s reinterpretation of Charles Ives’ “Three Places in New England” has all the inventive melodic shaping, toying with tempo, and tonal shifts between edgy dissonance and cerebral post-bop that one would expect from a work crafted in the modern jazz environment. But Hofbauer’s quintet frames it in the context of the source material, and the whimsical bursts of martial candences, introspective takes on down-home folk, and classical music passages intentionally warped and blurred and deconstructed infuse the album with a dual personality that is seriously intriguing. What brings out the fullness of those two sides, uniting past and present, is that the blues informs every bit of motion and melody… even when it comes out sounding anything but traditional. It’s a seriously impressive feat to create cutting-edge music that puts its tangled roots front and center, but for Hofbauer’s quintet, this isn’t a new thing. The third installment of Hofbauer’s Prehistoric Jazz series is the most impressive yet… which is a considerable accomplishment when viewed in the context that the first two volumes were amazing in their own right. Joining the guitarist are trumpeter Jerry Sabatini, clarinetist Todd Brunel, cellist Junko Fujiwara, and drummer-percussionist Curt Newton.

Artist site | Listen | Available at: BandcampAmazon

Jazz from Boston, MA.

Read more about the album with my Best of Bandcamp Jazz column on The Bandcamp Daily (LINK).

*****

#4: Michael Blake – Fulfillment (Songlines)

Fulfillment should probably be my album of the year. I always struggle with the decision. Typically it’s a toss-up between my top two albums, but this year, the real contenders are doubled. Even now, as I type this, I’m tempted to tinker with the order of things. Saxophonist Michael Blake‘s 2016 release is astonishing, exploding with intricate details and unleashing one grand statement after the other. It seems none of its countless pieces snap into place… they all just huddle close together, in tight and moving en masse, with the grace and elegance of a kettle of hawks soaring overhead, with the raw power of rain drops slamming down upon the earth. Everything about this album indicates a sound and vision steps ahead of the music of today. For the better part of a year, I’ve been captivated by this album. It is pure enchantment. It’s getting the #4 slot on this year’s list, but in the grander scheme of things, of the music that matters and embodies the best qualities of creativity, Fulfillment sits atop a plateau all its own.

Jazz from Brooklyn, NY.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#5: Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense – Moving Still (Pi Recordings)

There’s a fascinating interplay between the motion of the individual parts of Moving Still and how they each relate to the overall flow of the recording. The pieces that comprise trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson‘s 2016 release rarely move in anything resembling a straight line, but the music’s perpetual forward momentum often gives that impression. Sometimes it’s because furtive rhythmic action creates an image blur that behaves as the rough approximation of lateral movement, and sometimes it’s a melodic abstraction that results in the sensation of cyclical patterns growing ever more concentrated. And then there’s the contextual bookends of the contemplative nature of “Between Moves” and the sudden sharp melodic focus of “Space And.” It all contributes to a series of captivating moments that seem to go on forever and then end too soon. Joining Finlayson is an all-star cast of pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist John Hébert, drummer Craig Weinrib and guitarist Miles Okazaki.

Artist site | Listen | Available at: BandcampAmazon

Jazz from NYC.

Read more about the album with my Best of Bandcamp Jazz column on The Bandcamp Daily (LINK).

*****

#6: Laurent Rochelle Okidoki Quartet – Si tu regardes (Linoleum Records)

The strange and beautiful lyricism of multi-instrumentalist Laurent Rochelle has a potent charisma. His talents at shaping melodies and setting them in motion posses a particular allure, magnetic even, and the resulting music would be described as dreamlike were it not for the crispness of the imagery. On this excellent session, Rochelle spends most of the time on bass clarinet, which in itself is a hell of treat. His expressions have a keen precision and provide a lovely counterbalance to the instrument’s soulful drawl. Joined by the OKIDOKI Quartet, they serve up a modern European-style jazz that Rochelle immediately begins to transform into something less swinging and more story-like. All of the albums that earn a slot in the Top Ten of any year’s Best Of list are going to be bursting with personality… Rochelle’s Si tu regardes is no different. What is notable, however, is just how distinctly he draws it out and how clearly he expresses it. As much as this album plays out like an epic tale, the clarity with which it’s delivered brings into focus its base elements, and leads to a greater appreciation of just how strange and beautiful the album truly is.

Jazz from the Toulouse, France scene.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#7: Moonbow – When The Sleeping Fish Turn Red And The Skies Start To Sing In C Major I Will Follow You Till The End (ILK Music)

This music is wildly over-the-top, and its exuberance is positively addictive. The debut from Moonbow has, at its core, a modern European jazz foundation. But that’s just the starting point. From there, the septet mixes in different influences, pushing the boundaries of what can conceivably be considered modern jazz before it has to be given a brand new name. And all of it, every euphoric shout and maniacal shaping of melody and combustion of rhythm is as crazily expressed as anything that came out in 2016. There’s plenty of ferocity in this music, but all of it is delivered with a joyfulness that is as thrilling as it is infectious. This is an album with a big heart, beating strong, and every single sound on this album is served up with an enthusiasm that holds nothing back. This is what unbounded creativity sounds like.

Jazz from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#8: Psychic Temple – Plays Music for Airports (Joyful Noise)

At first blush, it would seem like something out of the blue for a jazz ensemble to perform a rendition of Brian Eno’s classic ambient drone recording Music for Airports. But when that album originally came out four decades ago, Miles Davis was pushing boundaries along the jazz rock divide that led to the ambient music tranquility of In a Silent Way, so that Eno might become a focal point on the modern jazz scene isn’t completely inexplicable. That said, the Chris Schlarb ensemble Psychic Temple perform not one, but two inspired, distinct takes, and the way each honor the original while expanding the vision into modern jazz and a throwback jazz-rock fusion is a jaw-dropping accomplishment. In addition, Schlarb sandwiches those two renditions around a modern piece that behaves as an updated version of the Miles Davis fusion period when tranquility wasn’t the desired effect, and where funky grooves and joyful solos all had motion in mind. Psychic Temple consists of artists who travel music territories beyond those that demarcate the borders of jazz, and that ability to cross over to all kinds of expressions serves this music well. Everything about this album is seriously inspired, and it’s the kind of project that possesses a certain logic that can leave a person wondering how come it’s only now that someone thought to do it.

Jazz from Long Beach, CA.

Read more about the album at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#9: Ian Carey Quintet + 1 – Interview Music (Kabocha Records)

It’s notable how impressively trumpeter Ian Carey is able to keep Interview Music sounding unbound and free even within a meticulous framework of compositions, and how the ensemble doesn’t leave its fingerprints on the transitions between planned and improvisational sections. But what really elevates this session to something special is how much fun they have playing with a straight-ahead sound. It’s the suddenness of wind instruments exploding with the grace and speed of a murmuration of starlings, and how bass & drums attempt to break the sound barrier while trumpet patiently sighs out a melody, and how a sing-song melody snaps into place with harmony that is all about contemplation, and how the wind instruments take angles and bend curvatures that brush up against the expected change in direction without actually taking it. It’s all of these unexpected traits, accents and differentiations, that has the cumulative effect of transforming the album’s entire world.

Jazz from Oakland, CA.

Read more about the album at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#10: Stijn Demuynck – Pouance (Self-Produced)

The debut album from drummer Stijn Demuynck is a very specific vision, a solitary image captured in time that hints at the existence of a multitude of details below the surface. With only the comforting chatter of drums, the murmur of woodwinds and bass, and the occasional harmony of a choir, Pouancé exists in a state of serenity, and the only transformations that occur are those that reflect its different facets. There is the impression of a snow globe. Within it, a city skyline. It exists in an entirely different world. And even from the turbulence of being shaken, that city and all of its hidden inhabitants, remain unmoved, a tranquil presence as the water grows more still and the snow falls down upon it. That is how I’ve viewed Pouancé for the better part of the year I’ve been listening to it. It remains one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard in 2016.

Jazz from Cologne, Germany.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#11: Dan Weiss – Sixteen: Drummers Suite (Pi Recordings)

Using rhythmic phrases of legendary jazz drummers as conversation starters, Dan Weiss launches off into an innovative jazz orchestration project that echoes the experimental works of Archie Shepp’s 1970s spiritual jazz-protest music hybrid and the spiritual jazz work of Alice Coltrane, where the use of electronics and non-traditional jazz instrumentation fit like a glove. Nothing about Sixteen: Drummers Suite sounds normal. The electronic blips trading jabs with piano and percussion, the wind instruments that apply a strange geometry to the shape of the melodies, the dreamlike chorus of voices that shift between serenity and nightmare, and the tempos that often possess the same ephemeral nature. Yet even with all of those odd characteristics, Weiss maintains a flow throughout, a forward momentum that streamlines the unconventional qualities and, much the same way passing scenery begins to bleed imagery the higher the rate of speed, so, too, does Weiss play with the senses. A work this wildly experimental that is also friendly and approachable, that’s something pretty damn special.

Jazz from Brooklyn, NY.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#12: Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom – Otis Was A Polar Bear (Royal Potato Family)

Well, if Bird is the Worm were to name an annual Musician of the Year as part of the year-end wrap-up, Allison Miller would likely earn the title for 2016. The drummer put out an excellent new album with her Honey Ear Trio (go read about it) and an even better album with her trio Lean (go read about it). And then there’s Otis Was A Polar Bear, the outstanding new release from her Boom Tic Boom sextet. This is an album that possesses a lyricism straight out of a fairy tale, where wondrous imagery and a storybook delivery both reflect the imaginative vision that drives this session. At times, the music is deviously whimsical and at others, the music enters a state of melodicism that is undeniably enchanting. The sextet generates a sound that suggests an ensemble greater than just six, yet the music retains an intimate quality. One of the very best things to come out in 2016, and one of the very best things that Miller has created to date.

Jazz from Brooklyn, NY.

Read more about the album at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#13: Jasper Hoiby – Fellow Creatures (Edition Records)

There’s something incredibly rewarding about following an artist, in any medium, and witnessing their creative development through snapshots of events and projects and finished pieces. Jasper Høiby is one of the premier bassists on the scene. He and his trio Phronesis have earned their accolades as being one of the most exciting things in modern jazz. And over the last fifteen years, Høiby’s contributions to the trio project Malija, the Kairos 4tet, and Rory Simmons’ insanely good Fringe Magnetic ensemble are just some of the high points. It leads one to the conclusion that remarkable work is something to be expected of him, always. But even in that context, his fantastic new Fellow Creatures shows that even high expectations fall short of the plateau he’s capable of achieving. In how the compositions shine individually and as interlocking facets of a singular whole, Høiby displays a clarity of vision and a grand confidence to shape the album that is jaw-dropping impressive. These are songs that reflect an intelligence that values the abstract, and these are also songs that transmit their message with a directness that keeps the introspection in check.

Creative intent is easily and often subjugated to the wild and untamed whims of unleashed imagination, and for an artist to wield those forces in such a way that brings them into a state of unison, that’s the kind of thing to aspire to. And in this instance, it also means an outstanding album is just waiting to get scooped up by fans. P.S. Another positive signal emitting from this album is how three generations of jazz musicians are reflected in the personnel, proving that the strength of the modern jazz scene is nothing to worry about, and based on the range of saxophonist Mark Lockheart, bassist Jasper Høiby, pianist Will Barry, drummer Corrie Dick and trumpeter Laura Jurd, there was no reason to worry before, now or later.

Artist site | Listen | Available at: BandcampAmazoneMusic

Jazz from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Read more about the album from my interview with Høiby on The Bandcamp Daily (LINK).

*****

#14: Moker – Ladder (El Negocito Records)

Of all the albums to land on this year’s Best Of list, it’s the 2016 release from the quintet Moker that reflects the wildest personality. That personality, multifaceted and unpredictable, manifests as free improv pieces that send notes scattering like marbles at the epicenter of an earthquake, whimsical post-bop conversations that serve as a precursor to ultra-serious ambient jazz reveries, detours into rustic folk-jazz tranquility, and ominous ballads that speak to the heartbreak hanging over every love story and jazz-rock passages that imitate that same heart shattering into a thousand pieces. And more. So much more. The quintet of guitarist (and alto horn player) Mathias Van de Wiele, multi-reedist Jordi Grognard, trumpeter Bart Maris, bassist Lieven Van Pee, and drummer Giovanni Barcella are now five albums into their Moker collaboration, and this fascinating, fun session shows they’re nowhere close to peaking anytime soon.

Artist site | Listen | Available at: BandcampAmazon

Jazz from Ghent, Belgium.

Read more about the album with my Best of Bandcamp Jazz column on The Bandcamp Daily (LINK).

*****

#15: Natsuko Sugao Group – La Danza de una Luz (Underpool)

Just combining the music influences of modern post-bop, Japanese traditional and classical is an intriguing proposition. And this isn’t the first time trumpeter Natsuko Sugao has undertaken this kind of project. Her 2014 release Sakura brought those same elements together, but rather than blend them in with one another, she allowed the music forms to collide, and then exploited those points of impact for opportunities for melodic development. On her 2016 release La Danza de una Luz, she unites those elements into the same breath, and the result is music with a larger presence and greater cohesion. The music sings with greater resonance as a united force. The best insight into her modified approach is how the dissonant introduction to “Magic Natchan” bleeds right into the Japanese folk before dropping off into a bass solo improvisation. The entirety of the passage is completely seamless, sounding like a long exhalation. What might’ve been a jarring sensation for another band, another project, comes off perfectly fluid here. It’s one amazing moment among many on this excellent recording. Joining Sugao are Jordi Santanach on tenor sax, Enric Peinado on guitar, Marc Cuevas on double bass, Iván González on horn, and Josema Martín on drums.

Artist site | Listen | Available at: BandcampeMusic

Jazz from Barcelona, Spain.

Read more about the album with my Best of Bandcamp Jazz column on The Bandcamp Daily (LINK).

*****

#16: Cyro Baptista – BlueFly (Tzadik)

What began as an impromptu recording session between percussionist extraordinaire Cyro Baptista, cellist Vincent Segal, bassist Ira Coleman and percussionist Tim Keiper eventually grew into the expansive BlueFly, an album that includes upwards of twenty guest musicians and instruments as diverse as shahi baaja, Fender Rhodes, surdos, samples, clarinet, Kamale ngoni, mandolin, cello and laptop. That initial recording session, which happened during a tour stopover, became the core of the album. From that starting point, Baptista sent out requests to musicians to perform something with the initial pieces. Baptista added and edited and made his collage of music contributions. This process, in combination with his nature to incorporate folk musics from around the world and let them bleed into a jazz framework led to this fascinating, unclassifiable 2016 release. Percussion is always going to be where Baptista is going to lay the groundwork for a project, but the crafting of melodies on BlueFly and how they flow into the dialog of the rhythm is what leads to many of the jaw-dropping moments of beauty.

Jazz from NYC.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#17: Alexis Cuadrado – POÈTICA (Sunnyside Records)

The Alexis Cuadrado project POÈTICA is brilliant on many levels. The bassist’s ensemble brings together multilingual poetry, Flamenco and both modern straight-ahead and Latin Jazz for glimpses into the challenges of immigrants new to America. I’ve written about this fantastic recording quite recently (go read it), so I’ve no additional insight to provide here… except this: The changes in tone, both emotionally and musically, infuse things with a story arc feel. It echoes the imagery of movies telling the immigrant’s story from their perspective. And the subjects of cultural dislocation and societal apprehension, fear even, they radiate a sense of immediacy that echoes the events and perspectives of today. The timeliness and relevancy of this project provides a level of clarity of no less importance than how damn amazing the music is.

Jazz from Brooklyn, New York.

Read more about the album at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#18: Skadedyr – Culturen (Hubro Music)

The 12-piece band Skadedyr is out doing its own thing, and there’s really nobody else that comes close to sounding like them. That said, they’re not all alone. Arguably, they could be considered the Nordic counterparts to the jazz inventiveness of NYC musicians Todd Sickafoose and Chris Lightcap. On the wildly expressive Culturen, Skadedyr mixes in psychedelic pop music, ambient electronica, indie-rock, Nordic folk and anything else that seemed like a good ingredient at the time. But the point isn’t so much the ingredients as it is the determined process of using whatever tools available to forge a raw tunefulness out of misshapen melodies. The grumble and growl of “Bie” leads into a raucous chorus bordering on euphoria. “Datavirus” wobbles between states of post-bop and post-jazz. Or how about the way that “Trålertrall” transforms from an acerbic dissonance to waves of gorgeous harmonies. There’s nothing conventional about the means or the methods employed by the ensemble, and yet it’s made to coalesce in kaleidoscopic imagery that almost seems logical.

Jazz from Oslo, Norway.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#19: AfroFree – Carpathia (For-Tune)

The large ensemble AfroFree tethers Carpathia to the folk music traditions of Central Europe, and by incorporating Afro-Jazz rhythms and modern jazz improvisations, it results in music that is strangely hypnotic and immensely tuneful. A large regiment of wind instruments opens up all kinds of harmonic possibilities, and the ensemble takes advantage of every single one of them. Potent melodies run throughout the session, and the way that AfroFree uses them as launching points for some lovely harmonic passages is just one of this album’s winning characteristics. The casual way trombonist Tomasz Ożóg is able to dance a melody through a talkative rhythmic landscape and break from the abiding melodic direction is emblematic of how open and free this music behaves in the complex environment the ensemble set for itself. There are some moments of stunning beauty here.

Jazz from Tarnów, Poland.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#20: Greg Ward & 10 Tongues – Touch My Beloved’s Thought (Greenleaf Music)

Last year, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa earned one of the top slots on the Best of 2015 list with his excellent recording Bird Calls. His concept for that session was to utilize fragments of Charlie Parker songs as seeds for his own explorations. With Touch My Beloved’s Thought, alto saxophonist Greg Ward takes a similar approach in a new direction with the 1963 Charles Mingus recording The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Using the Mingus recording as both concept and launching point for his own live performance project, Ward sets up shop at that sweet spot where avant-garde musings, the motion of dance and a reverence for the blues all resonate equally in the same breath. This also is an album where past and present converge, where the source of inspiration presents no obstacle to creativity with a modern vision as the guide, and where forward-thinking creativity doesn’t mean forgetting the music’s origins. To carry this out, Ward enlists a strong ensemble, with Tim Haldeman and Keefe Jackson on saxophones, Norman Palm and Christopher Davis on trombones, Ben LaMar Gay on cornet, Russ Johnson on trumpet, Dennis Luxion at the piano, Jason Roebke on bass and Marcus Evans on drums. And just like his counterpart Mahanthappa did last year, Ward and his ensemble 10 Tongues earn a place among this year’s best.

Artist site | Listen | Available at: BandcampAmazoneMusic

Jazz from Chicago, IL.

Read more about the album with my Best of Bandcamp Jazz column on The Bandcamp Daily (LINK).

*****

#21: Edward Simon – Latin American Songbook (Sunnyside Records)

Latin American Songbook are the memories from Edward Simon‘s childhood. The pianist grew up listening to these songs in his native Venezuela, and now, much older and living in New York City, he performs his own renditions, bringing together the nostalgia from the memories and the reality of how he hears these pieces in the present day. The result is a mix of faithful renditions and inventive recreations. Simon has always displayed a nifty talent for developing an active chatter on piano while also being patiently expressive, and that quality is in full display on his 2016 release. Bassist Joe Martin and drummer Adam Cruz round on the trio on this excellent session.

Artist site | Listen | Available at: BandcampAmazoneMusic

Jazz from NYC.

Read more about the album with my Best of Bandcamp Jazz column on The Bandcamp Daily (LINK).

*****

#22: Julian Shore – Which Way Now? (Tone Rogue Records)

Julian Shore provides an endless supply of distractions on Which Way Now? The rhythmic pitter-patter trade of nuance between piano and drums, the soft whispers of cymbals blending in with the hush of saxophone harmonies, the swirling piano lines circling the soaring contrails of saxophone solos, the deep voice of bass sometimes as an undercurrent of piano’s melodic incursions and sometimes as the driving force of guitar’s lyrical expansions… all of it contributes to this album’s kaleidoscopic beauty. And much like the kaleidoscope, there’s a clockwork precision in play here, evidence that the unfolding beauty is the result of fluid logic and planning. Shore complements his core sextet with guest musicians on instruments as diverse as pedal steel and dobro, bass clarinet and a string section, adding more textures to an album drowning in ’em.

Jazz from Brooklyn, NY.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#23: Giovanni Guidi – Ida Lupino (ECM Records)

There’s an undeniable magic to the way pianist Giovanni Guidi and trombonist Gianluca Petrella shape the melodies of Ida Lupino before launching their afterimages deep into improvisations. This quartet date with clarinetist Louis Sclavis and drummer Gerald Cleaver brings out one beautiful tune after the next… and they maintain a sense of song throughout, even though they go about exploring the different avenues and detours each composition affords them. Both Guidi and Petrella can sink their teeth into a melody, but it’s how their complementary approaches provide a fullness to the expression that’s particularly rewarding. Guidi works a melody like the breeze creating ripples on the water’s surface, seeking to use motion to accentuate the sparkle and shine of sunlight beaming down upon it. Petrella’s motion is more direct, and his lyricism has a strong gravitational pull as his trombone displays an innate lyricism… sometimes in a booming voice, sometimes as a peaceful cooing. And all of it is magical.

Jazz from Foligno, Italy.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#24: Joakim Berghall – Dialogues II (Eclipse Music)

This series of duo collaborations is seriously absorbing. Saxophonist Joakim Berghäll has embarked on a four-part series of duets with his Finnish counterparts. The first installment centered on the pianists. The second, and current, project recording, Dialogues II, has him matched up with guitarists. As one might imagine, duets with ten different musicians is going to result in ten different conversations. What isn’t so likely to see coming is how fascinating each and every one of them are, and, inexplicably, that they all come together with something resembling album cohesion. The range of expressions are all over the map, from a jazz-rock edge to serene minimalism to avant-garde clashes of dissonance to Frisellian looping effects and over to a Finnish folk music influence. To enhance the range of possible expressions, Berghäll brings his alto, soprano, tenor & baritone saxophones and a bass clarinet, to boot. The imagery is strong and the diversity of sound expansive, but the nature of the duet invokes a sense of intimacy, and it’s why all of these dialogues present themselves with a certain disarming warmth… no matter how lovely and strange the music may get.

Jazz from (all over) Finland.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#25: Rob Clearfield – Islands (Ears & Eyes Records)

Islands is all about the imagery. The first image a song presents is never the last, and the transformations that occur over the duration of one song, and over the length of the recording, is never the same picture and it never takes the same path twice. But it always begins with the melody. Pianist Rob Clearfield is just as deft shaping a crisp melody as he is building up to a composite from individual facets, and on this trio session, both methods lead to a myriad of results. The winding trail of “With and Without” is fraught with cutbacks and sudden detours, while at the other end of that spectrum, “Ralph Towner” dives into the details of a melodic fragment and doesn’t come up for air until the final vision is complete. Even the tunefulness and warmth of the title-track is deceptively simple, which becomes increasingly apparent with each melodic turn of phrase. The formation of patterns here and there help provide a sense of album, but this recording eschews cohesiveness for a massively immersive experience, one that occurs moment to moment… which is exactly how the album should be enjoyed.

Jazz from Chicago, IL.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#26: Brandee Younger – Wax & Wane (Self-Produced)

It’s not an everyday occurrence to encounter harp in a jazz setting. It’s pretty damn infrequent, actually. So, aside from being an incredibly strong album reflecting a seriously creative perspective, what’s most impressive about Wax & Wane is how much this very different sound connects like everyday people music. Brandee Younger locks in with the lineage of jazz harp by including compositions by bop-era harpist Dorothy Ashby and spiritual jazz harpist Alice Coltrane. And she connects with the modern day scene with an electro-acoustic sound where melody and groove hold hands every step of the way. The echoes of the past bounce off the walls of Wax & Wane, but always in the context of music that breathes the air of today. It just can’t be overstated how much respect Younger earns for overcoming the difficulty for a harpist to find her place on the modern jazz scene while simultaneously carving out of a piece of it that only she occupies, just Younger, her harp and her unique sound.

Jazz from NYC.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#27: Arthur Vint & Associates – Through the Badlands (Ropeadope)

Through the Badlands is an authoritative statement on the range that the unified influences of jazz, country and rock can aspire to. This isn’t the first example of a musician getting the sway of country and the edge of rock and swing of jazz to snap cleanly into place. What’s particularly notable about the debut of drummer Arthur Vint is that he creates a seamless blend of the three influences, thus making one attribute almost indistinguishable from the next. Yes, there are passages where one music influence pokes its head out and makes its presence known. The strong impression given by the melody of “Devil’s Dictionary” is one of verse-chorus, nice and easy and all in good time. “Maski” is a slow waltz in the countryside, moonlight above and a summer breeze below. And then there’s the bit of irony that a rendition of Neil Young’s “There’s a World” bubbles up with a hard bop warmth and urgency. But those are rare instances. Besides, the real intelligence of the album is found in tracks like “Through the Badlands,” where some twang and some swing and a loud growl are all part of the same breath, the same expression, a singular vision. This is also where to find the album’s genuine charm.

Jazz from Tucson, Arizona and NYC.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#28: Jeremy Cunningham Quartet – re: dawn (from afar) (Ears & Eyes Records)

In a current jazz environment where an emphasis is placed on explicit compositions and complex presentations, it’s refreshing to encounter a recording that builds around catchy melodic hooks and foot-tapping cadences. There’s plenty on drummer Jeremy Cunningham‘s debut re: dawn (from afar) that makes available an immediate cerebral connection, but this is a recording that’s all about its feel. It’s got modern grooves with old-school tones. A melody gets served up with action at heart, and it could be anything from a drive through the city to the cheerful electricity of a backyard party to the slow motion of late night moonlight and all the romance that comes along with it. Joined by guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Matt Ulery, and alto saxophonist Josh Johnson, Cunningham’s quartet is something old breathed out like something new, not unlike a soundtrack for returning to the old neighborhood for the first time.

Artist site | Listen | Available at: BandcampAmazoneMusic

Jazz from Chicago.

Read more about the album with my Best of Bandcamp Jazz column on The Bandcamp Daily (LINK).

*****

#29: Sawa – Sawa (Two Rivers Records)

The self-titled album from the trio Sawa challenges the perception of what gets defined as unconventional. The first obstacle it overcomes is the presumption that something different will be difficult to connect with. And yet the Arabic vocals of Alya Al-Sultani matched with the European jazz of pianist Clemens Christian Poetzsch and the chamber music of cellist Shirley Smart presents itself with a simplicity that rivals its stunning beauty. Al-Sultani’s vocals lend equal care to provide both melodic intent and rhythmic support. Poetzsch employs the rare fluid piano on many tracks, and its ability to shift out of standard tuning adds a dimension to the music that ratchets up the textures exponentially. And Smart’s role on cello isn’t some vanilla harmonic device… instead, she often shadows the piano’s rhythmic approach before suddenly coalescing into Al-Sultani’s melodic path. This ain’t your normal jazz trio session, but that Sawa comes pretty damn close to being just as easy to embrace is yet one more impressive quality of this impressive album.

Jazz from London, UK.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

#30: Paraskevas Kitsos – Polemos (Self-Produced)

Considering that Polemos is built on a foundation of improvisation, it’s remarkable that the range of lyricism attained by the sextet of bassist Paraskevas Kitsos falls cohesively into place. Whether they bring a moody intensity or a wild explosiveness, each song radiates its own unique personality while finding its particular role in the development of the overarching vision. Key to this approach is having tracks like “Prologos” incorporate both the beauty of “Fovos” and the violence of “Via,” thus serving as a binding agent of seemingly incongruous perspectives. This way, everything is ridiculously evocative no matter how crazily the tone fluctuates from song to song. It’s an album that flew way under the radar; Be sure it lands on yours.

Jazz from Athens, Greece.

Read more about the album on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

And remember, this list never truly ends