Best of 2014

 

BitW square avatarA 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 your music has got personality.  Extra points are 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 the 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.  It’s a matter of the scarcity of time vs. the overflow of music.  It’s also a matter of subjectivity.  I try to instill an objectivity into the affair, judging each album’s qualities without consideration for my own personal preferences… at least, as much as I am able.  I can say for certain, my Best of 2014 list looks different than my personal Favorites of 2014 list.  No attempt to encapsulate the 2014 jazz album landscape will be fully comprehensive, but I humbly offer up my list with a confidence that these albums represent the best that 2014 had to offer.  But it’s a list that’s likely to gain a few addendums with the passing of time.

What you’ll read below are not reviews.  They are simple thoughts, reminiscences, fragments of recollections, and brief opinions about how each album struck me both now and when I first heard it.  There is a link to a more formal write-up following each entry… 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.

Beginning on January 25th, I will be revealing 5 albums a day, with the 2014 Album of the Year announcement occurring on December 31st.  The posts will appear on the site’s main page.  This list will get updated 24 hours after each post.

So, with all that out of the way:  Let’s begin…

*****

 

1.  Fire! Orchestra – Enter

Fire! Orchestra - "Enter"Enter is a massive creative statement.  Everything Fire! Orchestra does is Big.  The rises and falls of intensity have an epic presence.  It also possesses an attention to detail, and no matter how big the sound becomes, it finds a way to reflect all the nuance and details of the varied musics that influence this thrilling album.  It is challenging music that cloaks itself in a pop music persona.  It’s why the clashes of dissonance and chaotic waves of intensity don’t detract from the album’s personable nature… not unlike how Tom Waits’ gravelly voice can sing perfectly of heartbreak, home, loneliness and love with more genuineness than any pop star.

No matter how many times the album is played, its impact is no less resonant or affecting.  The avant-garde big band Fire! Orchestra goes all-in on Enter, guided by an astute intelligence and powered by a huge heart.

The Bird is the Worm 2014 Album of the Year.

Released on Rune Grammofon.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

2.  Rob Mazurek & Black Cube SP – Return the Tides:  Ascension Suite & Holy Ghost

Rob Mazurek - "Return the Tides"Recorded in the aftermath of the sudden passing of Rob Mazurek‘s mother, Return the Tides is creativity as the vehicle for the outpouring of pure emotion.  The music influences are many of the usual suspects from Mazurek’s diverse, eclectic background… there’s the updated Tropicalia, there’s the space-y trip-rock, there’s the post-bop, there’s the avant-garde, there’s the electronica, the jazz-rock fusion, there’s the waves of improvisation, one after the other… and, really, all of that is secondary to the influence of personal loss, exposing all the raw emotions as one strives to heal and move on.  It’s these interludes of intensity and transition that can lead to a place where little difference between art and artist exists.  It’s from those moments of unity that the most sincere and honest creativity is generated, and this album is exactly that from first note to last.  This album wears its heart on its sleeve.  This is as powerful as music gets.

Released on Cuneiform Records.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

3.  Rafael Karlen – The Sweetness of Things Half-Remembered

Rafael Karlen - "The Sweetness of Things Half Remembered"In recent years, there’s been a huge uptick of musicians uniting their classical training and their jazz experience into the same expression.  Rafael Karlen’s sublime 2014 release is one of the best examples of this trend at its best.  On this chamber jazz session, the saxophonist is joined by pianist Steve Newcomb and a string quartet for an album so lovely it exists in a state of perfection.  Striking imagery is framed in vignettes of harmonic warmth, susurrant rhythms and melodies of a heavenly elegance and grace.  The flights of improvisation are just as strong as the compositional foundations they spring from.  There’s an alluring languorous pace to this music… one that abides even when the ensemble summons up brief animated flurries.  About as beautiful as an album can get.

This Self-Produced album was released on Pinnacles Music.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

4.  John Ellis & Andy Bragen – MOBRO

John Ellis - "MOBRO"Saxophonist John Ellis and playwright Andy Bragen take the anecdotal story of a trash barge and turn it into an epic story.  This exhilarating interpretation of the pop culture curiosity, MOBRO 4000 is adapted as the framework for a through-composed large ensemble work about environmentalism, isolationism and society.  Loaded with wind instruments, guitars and vocalists, this piece originally meant for live performance loses none of its wild expressiveness on the recorded medium.  So over-the-top theatrical at times that it’s transformed into massive serious dialog, not unlike how the comedy in satire reveals grave, hidden truths.  A great story behind a great album, just overflowing with personality.  Of all the albums on the Best of 2014 list, this is the one you want as your drinking buddy.  This is pure, unabashed creativity here, reflecting the kind of vision we want all our artists to adopt.

Released on Parade Light Records.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

5.  Diego Barber – Tales

Diego Barber - "Tales"An amazing duo collaboration between guitarist Diego Barber and pianist Craig Taborn.  Based on prior work, both musicians rate at the top of the class on their respective instruments, and this 2014 session only adds to their bona fides.  Barber continues to expand on his inventive approach with classical guitar in a jazz setting.  These four pieces are simultaneously meditative and excitable.  Long interludes develop sequentially from the foundation of strong melodies, taking paths so far away from the opening sounds that it’s stunning when the duo return to the nest from which those melodies sprung.  It’s the breathless creativity that carries long distances like a proud river from one melodic fragment to the next that signifies this album’s remarkable display of musicianship.  Just outstanding.

Released on Sunnyside Records.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

Worth noting that I’ll be publishing an overview of Barber’s entire catalog in January 2015, which will include a write-up of Tales.  So, stay in touch.

*****

6.  Hans Feigenwinter ZINC – Whim of Fate

Hans Feigenwinter - "Whim of Fate"There is a lullaby beauty to Whim of Fate that is just as riveting as it is comforting. The trio of Hans Feigenwinter (piano), Andreas Tschopp (trombone) and Domenic Landolf (tenor & soprano saxes) adopt flight patterns that are locked in tight with one another, and it’s why melodies are thicker, rhythms livelier and harmonies warmer than they would be were each musician off doing their own thing with only a cursory thought toward cohesiveness.  It’s an album of songs, each presented with a soft touch and resounding sigh, and while a few tracks break the mold with a little bit of random combustibility, they only serve to enhance the abiding structure rather than detract from it.  There is something supremely satisfying about the beauty expressed by these (relatively) straight-forward tunes.  In large part, it’s a result of masterfully crafted melodies, and the way in which the trio adds ornamentation and tangential creative ideas to the melody, sometimes with a plan in mind and sometimes as an afterthought.  It’s a beauty that unfolds slowly and seems without end… until the trio returns to that opening statement and brings the song home, full circle.  Just a gorgeous album with the most appealingly languorous disposition.

Released on Unit Records.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

7.  Andrea Keller Quartet with Strings – Wave Rider

Andrea Keller Quartet - "Wave Rider"This is how to add strings to a jazz session.  Pianist Andrea Keller avoids the easy temptation to use a string quartet for some cheap harmonic thrills and instead incorporates them into the working ideas of her jazz quartet as if strings were part of the full-time plan.  The result is accentuating the nuances and making them resonate so much stronger and taking the big moments and letting them absolutely soar.  This is thrilling music one moment after the other, but it’s the way in which Keller insinuates passages of contemplation into the expansive sound that really cinches the deal.  The ebb and flow of intensity keeps the ear alert at all times, even when it’s drinking in one dreamy interlude after the other.

Released on the Jazzhead label.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

8.  Angles 9 – Injuries

Angles 9 - "Injuries"The winning formula here is the way that saxophonist Martin Küchen‘s Angles ensemble lets each song bolt right up to the precipice of coming apart at the seams, just to then bring it all back together in a final act of cohesion.  This tension, added to all the wild euphoria his nonet generates over the course of seven avant-garde party-time tracks, makes for a terrifically thrilling album.  Heavy on the wind instruments and percussion, they develop a huge sound that comes off as so much bigger by way of the raw emotion and sense of fun imparted by each tune.  Küchen keeps adding members to his Angles project ensemble, and unsurprisingly, they become increasingly boisterous with each subsequent recording.

Released on Clean Feed Records.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

9.  Masaa – Afkar

Masaa - "Afkar"Forging a bond between modern European jazz and Lebanese vocals, Masaa is in the enviable position of pairing traits not so easily combined… of being both engagingly cerebral and possessing a beauty that is just plain heartbreaking.  Afkar is an album of sudden and thrilling changes in pace and emotion, and it’s pretty easy to get swept up in the process.  And though it is unconventional to encounter the pairing of Lebanese vocals in a jazz setting, it doesn’t prevent the music from presenting itself as pretty much a straight-ahead jazz album.  Even when faced with something different, the result is immutably familiar.

Released on Traumton Records.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

10.  Roberto Negro – Loving Suite pour Birdy So

Roberto Negro - "Loving Suite pour Birdy So"Every motion, every note from Roberto Negro‘s Loving Suite pour Birdy So is sheer poetry.  There are elements of jazz, folk, chamber and pop in this music, but it’s not a blend of influences so much as an entirely new language, a new form of creative expression that just happens to have similar qualities to the aforementioned genres.  A live wire electricity is balanced with an elegance and curious tunefulness that is positively arresting.  The more challenging tracks possess an inimitable charm that renders the complexities as easy to accept as a warm smile.  There isn’t a moment on this excellent album that doesn’t generate all kinds of intrigue.  There are moments when I reconsider not having slotted it higher up on the Best of 2014 list.  Great albums will have that kind of effect.

Released on La Curieuse.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

11.  Mark Feldman Quartet – Birdies for Lulu

Mark Feldman - "Birdies for Lulu"I am perpetually amazed at the way in which violinist Mark Feldman has created an album of such striking beauty by using clashes of dissonance, chaotic rhythms and thin melodic fragments as his ingredients.  Joined by long-time collaborator, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and a new rhythm section of drummer Billy Mintz and bassist Scott Colley, the quartet has constructed an avant-garde recording that is remarkably embraceable.  At times, the music is abrasive and curt and acerbic, and yet it’s a quality of a slowly unfolding beauty that most defines Birdies for Lulu.  A hell of an accomplishment to have made such a challenging, complex album so damn personable.

Released on Intakt Records.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

12.  Get the Blessing – Lope and Antilope

Get the Blessing - "Lope & Antilope"Arguably, Get the Blessing‘s 2014 release Lope and Antilope is the most addictive recording released in 2014.  Its thick grooves, its toothsome melodies, its blending of traditional instruments and live electronics & effects, and the seamless flow between resting place and wild improvisations… the quartet of saxophones, trumpet, bass and drums (plus guest guitarist) package it all up into tight bundles of positive energy, the kind of electricity that engages and excites and keeps the listener asking for more.  Their newest is a huge step up from past recordings, which used similar elements to build some solid albums, but never with the transformative effect seen here.  It’s a complex album built over four straight days of pure improvisation, and that they are able to incorporate the tight structure and accessibility of an indie-pop recording within that framework is damn impressive.  It’s also about as fun a listen as you’ll encounter.

Released on Naim Label.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

13.  The Westerlies – Wish the Children Would Come On Home: The Music of Wayne Horvitz

The Westerlies - "Wish the Children Would Come On Home"No matter whether it’s big band jazz, free improvisation and avant-garde, traditional blues, down-home folk, chamber music or jazz electronica, the curious music of composer Wayne Horvitz has a singular sound unlike no other.  It is seriously vivid music that is not so easy to synthesize down to bare elements… the music just sort of exists by its own set of rules.  And so it’s an impressive challenge taken on by The Westerlies to embrace Horvitz’s varied songbook and interpret it for brass quartet.  They score extra points for the difficulty of the endeavor, but ultimately it’s their performance that wins the day.  They manage to channel the varied, distinct personalities of Horvitz’s music (the folk has a back porch languor, the chamber has warmth & elegance, the jazz electronica period is provided all its inherent quirkiness, and Horvitz’s more undefinable works are endowed with their cinematic sense of mystery and strange, emanating warmth) while binding it all together with their own personal view of Horvitz’s music.  It is, perhaps, The Westerlies’ ability to capture the personality of the Horvitz originals in the same breath that they express the compositions with their own creative voice that is the album’s mark of excellence… but it one compelling aspect of a very compelling debut.

Released on Songlines Recordings.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK) and even more (LINK).

In addition, there’s gonna be a rather long write-up about the album publishing in mid-January, so stay in touch.

*****

14.  Gonzalo Levin Octeto – Gonzalo Levin Octeto

Gonzalo Levin Octeto - "Gonzalo Levin Octeto"Saxophonist Gonzalo Levin‘s self-titled debut lives a little in the present and a little in the past.  There’s some swing and bop that speaks to an earlier era of jazz and there’s some melodic and rhythmic expansiveness that reflects the looser, less defined expression of jazz today.  But the thing that binds this excellent recording together is the simple formula of tight, beautifully interwoven ensemble play interspersed by lively, dynamic solos.  Every time I hear this album, I marvel at its grace and fluid motion and the way its low center of gravity realizes an evocative punch from seemingly innocuous passages.  The album is built upon a foundation of strong melodies, lively rhythms, and harmonic sections that can be seriously uplifting when they’re not taking lovely meditative turns.  Considering that five of eight slots are filled by wind instruments, it would’ve been so easy for Levin to lay the harmonies on thick, but by instead working the nuances and details to great effect, his light touch gains so much more.  This is straight-ahead jazz even when it stretches that definition to its breaking point… the kind of jazz likely to appeal to both old-school and new-school fans alike.  It’s a seriously promising debut.

Released on Whatabout Music.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

15.  Thomas Savy – Bleu Archipel 2

Thomas Savy - "Bleu Archipel 2"It’s so refreshing to hear a bass clarinet-led album that displays the instrument’s potential for profound lyricism, while developing a nice flow without tempering the instrument’s attractive edginess.  This result, in the instance of Thomas Savy‘s 2014 release, is an album that is both moody and combustible.  Modern all the way, though the music switches between variations of that tag throughout, sometimes charting a post-bop course, other times a space-y jazz fusion groove (especially when piano is switched out for Rhodes), while on other tracks the quintet takes an unusual approach to older jazz forms, notably an intriguing rendition of Monk’s “Misterioso.”  But, in the end, it all comes down to Savy’s bass clarinet, front and center, and the mesmerizing spell it casts over the entire affair.

Released on Plus Loin Music.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

16.  Sylvain Rifflet & Jon Irabagon – Perpetual Motion: A Celebration of Moondog

Sylvain Rifflet & Jon Irabagon - "Perpetual Motion"The brilliant re-imagining of the music of eccentric composer, musician and poet, Louis Thomas Hardin (aka Moondog) by the saxophone duo of Sylvain Rifflet and Jon Irabagon possesses an intelligence exceeded only by its delirious sense of fun and adventure… qualities embodied by the music of the original composer himself.  This is unconventional avant-garde music made supremely approachable… a sneaky kind of challenging music.  And that they are able to take Moondog’s compositions and shape them both into things familiar and vastly different from the original reflects the thoughtfulness that lies beneath all the delirious fun.

Released on Jazz Village Music.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

17.  Alexander Hawkins Ensemble – Step Wide, Step Deep

Alexander Hawkins - "Step Wide Step Deep"There isn’t a moment of Alexander Hawkins‘ 2014 release that doesn’t demand the listener’s attention.  Avant-garde music that doesn’t turn its back on the traditional forms of music… blues, jazz, folk… that led to the point where music can evolve and reshape and re-imagine itself to take the form of Step Wide, Step Deep.  The clash and fray of dissonance occasionally subsides and allows a passage of down-home blues or post-bop melodicism to appear.  These bursts of tunefulness amidst the ramshackle chaos are the moments that define the distinct personality of this album in all its phases and goes a long way to illustrating why this album is so fascinating.

Released on Babel Label.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

18.  Steve Lehman Octet – Mise en Abîme

Steve Lehman - "Mise en Abime"This is perhaps the most cryptic album on the Best of 2014 list.  Steve Lehman‘s newest possesses a slippery kind of dialog, one where the entire context of the song can change depending on whether the prevailing motion of woodwinds or the rhythm section is the dominant attribute at any one particular time.  But these aren’t opposing forces… they work in tandem even as they seem to exhibit different perspectives on what’s what.  It’s one of those recordings where there’s really nothing pretty about it, but it’s so damn compelling that it’s difficult to look away.  Undoubtedly, you’re going to encounter Best Of lists that has Mise en Abîme slotted as the album of the year.  It’s a scenario unlikely to draw much controversy.  This album has the qualities you look for in a champ.

Released on Pi Recordings.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

19.  Lo-Res – La Sortie

Lo-Res - "La Sortie"This melodically charged album utilizes its ethereal presence and forms its own rules of engagement.  The music of Lo-Res hangs like clouds heavy with rain and lightning and thunder, and just the mere insinuation of the potential for elemental violence is enough to provide the intensity to these lovely, drifting tunes led out by the airy lightness of Belinda Woods‘ flute.  The infusions of folk and pop music provide a personable quality to this music, balancing out its strongly meditative tendencies.  That huge presence and the album’s potent melodicism secure it a spot among 2014’s best.

This album is Self-Produced.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

20.  Bob Stewart – Connections: Mind the Gap

Bob Stewart - "Connections- Mind the Gap"Jazz veteran Bob Stewart has lent his tuba to a number of straight-ahead and avant-garde projects over the course of his career, and so it’s no wonder that he’s able assimilate the qualities of both into this fascinating panoramic of jazz, both old and new.  That he’s also able to seamlessly incorporate a string quartet into a tightly woven fabric only makes the feat that much more impressive, not to mention, the music that much more substantive.  Everything about this music is challenging, and yet it’s also so damn alluring that it negates any potential difficulty to connect with it.  Complex music made simple, creative depth so light one could float upon it.  Strange & beautiful music is a phrase that is occasionally overused, but in this instance, it is wholly applicable.

Released on Sunnyside Records.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

21.  Copenhagen Art Ensemble – Reuterswärd

Copenhagen Art Ensemble - "Reutersward"The premise of this recording is the work of multi-medium artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd.  The Copenhagen Art Ensemble embraces his work both in the spirit of the expressions but also by incorporating his poems and writings into the fabric of the music.  This bit of meta experimentalism is all kinds of intriguing, but, ultimately, it’s the spirit of the project that leads to the greatest rewards on Reuterswärd.  The free improvisations, the orchestral jazz passages, the beer hall hymns and the European jazz constructs all blend seamlessly together like sections of a dream, building an inexplicable cohesiveness between songs that is as comforting as a lullaby before a restful night of sleep… sections that scatter freely into cryptic patterns of dissonance and those that coalesce into the lovely, succinct expressions of heartbreak and humor.  The Ensemble makes the work of Reuterswärd intimately familiar even if this album is the first time a listener has encountered his name.  It’s a hell of an achievement to take on the lofty goal of encapsulating the many art forms of a particular artist with the result being music that is challenging yet so endearing that a connection is simple to forge between instrument and ear.  Intelligent, whimsical, and undeniably beautiful.

Released on ILK Music.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

22.  Danilo Perez – Panama 500

Danilo Perez - "Panama 500"When you boil it all down, it’s simply a beautiful album.  However, there’s nothing particularly simple about Danilo Perez’s expansive take on the history of his native Panama.  The pianist tackles the subject from a music standpoint as well as from factual and metaphorical perspectives.  But the wide lens doesn’t preclude his ensemble from drawing gorgeous tones from the details and expanding nuance into profound statements.  Indigenous musics come together with later Panamanian musics as well as those from Cuba, Africa, Europe and NYC.  The concept is a fascinating one, but it’s not required reading in order to enjoy this thoroughly engaging… and beautiful… album.

Released on Mack Avenue Records.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

23.  Friensemblet – El Aaiun: Across the Border

Mathilde Grooss Viddal - "El Aaiun Across the Border"I’m still quite taken with this live performance from Friensemblet, the large ensemble led by Mathilde Grooss Viddal.  A nifty mix of old-school ECM folk-jazz and 1970s Alice Coltrane soul-on-the-sleeve spiritual adventurism, Viddal’s ensemble cycles through a spinning mix of free improv fervor, spiritual jazz drift-and-groove, minimalist drone, Indian raga and Nordic folk… and, undoubtedly, a few other things in the mix.  It’s a thrilling performance that deftly balances the qualities of a serious intellect and a fun disposition.  There aren’t a lot of ensembles that set out to build just such a construct, and there are even fewer doing it this well.

Released on Viddal’s Giraffa Records.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

24.  Otis Brown III – The Thought of You

Otis Brown III - "The Thought of You"This album is a classic Blue Note 1960s hard bop recording, set to swing with an abundance of warmth.  This album is a modern post-bop session, loaded with melodic excursions, cross-genre rhythmic approaches and electronic flourishes.  Otis Brown III‘s debut are all of those things, but they are only elements to something much more individualistic.  It’s not uncommon for jazz musicians to borrow from old and new, but it is rare for it to lead to something greater than those individual influences, of an algebra where past+present=one step ahead into the future.  The Thought of You is a singular expression, a statement of vision that recognizes the roots of the music without allowing it to define where that music ultimately ends up.  It’s why the electronics and sampling sounds right at home with the straight-ahead bop and the modern infusions of post-bop and gospel and blues.  And putting all those considerations to the side, what matters most is that this album is full of warmth and genial energy and very easy to embrace… even as it crafts something very new from the materials of past and present.

Released on Blue Note Records and Revive Music.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

25.  Hans Lüdemann Trio Ivoire – Timbuktu

Hans Ludemann Trio Ivoire - "Timbuktu"There’s something intriguingly straight-ahead about Hans Lüdemann‘s trio of piano, balaphon and percussion.  He doesn’t attempt to blend European Jazz and West African folk; he’s just seeking out the points of connectivity and launching off from that point… like a chef that doesn’t necessarily have a finished meal in mind as he carefully picks the ingredients that stoke his creativity.  The communication between piano, drums, and balaphon is remarkably unhindered, as if these instruments had been collaborating as a jazz trio for decades.  It’s inspired music, and that he’s able to synthesize it down to relatively straight-forward, seemingly simple tunes is a hell of an accomplishment.  It’s an album capable of creating an environment conducive to just kicking back and drifting off.  It’s an album capable of engaging the listener in a cerebral exercise.  Heart and head are both targets for this lovely, charming album.

Released on Intuition Music.

Read more at Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

26. Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski – Gathering Call

Matt Wilson - "Gathering Call"This album is all heart.  It swings and it’s best friends with the blues.  Every melody has a personality and the rhythm is an engaging conversation each time one is struck up.  This is the kind of thing Matt Wilson has a history of doing.  He doesn’t swing because it’s on a list of procedures for writing a jazz song or because it just seems like the thing to do… you can hear and feel his enthusiasm with each song.  His crack line-up is comprised of musicians (Jeff Lederer, Kirk Knuffke and Chris Lightcap) who have a track record of deconstructing the old into something new, and Wilson gives them some space to do just that, at times, while still sticking to a straight-ahead jazz path.  John Medeski sits in on this session, and the enthusiasm he brings to his own MM&W project is a perfect fit for Wilson’s positive attitude.  How do you not smile just listening to this music?  If someone ever says they don’t make jazz today like they used to, point them in this direction.

Released on Palmetto Records.

Read more on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

27. Tineke Postma & Greg Osby – Sonic Halo

Greg Osby and Tineke Postma - "Sonic Halo"The duo saxophone attack of Tineke Postma and Greg Osby is captivating in any number of ways.  There’s the weaving of melodic fragments into an offshoot of even more beauty.  There’s the dialog between saxophone voices that celebrates the similarities and the differences with equal enthusiasm.  And then, perhaps, there’s the directional patterns and shape of the motion that is most captivating.  A quintet session that features an excellent line-up of bassist Linda Oh, drummer Dan Weiss and pianist Matt Mitchell, and the way they are able to express their individuality and remain essential parts of the group dynamic is no small reason for the album’s success.  Tunes are put into play and the activity and motion resulting from how each musician helps guide the song from first note to last results in an album that is seriously compelling.

Released on Challenge Records.

Read more on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

28. Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band – Mother’s Touch

Orrin Evans - "Mother's Touch"There is a “Kind of Blue” perfection to this album that’s not immediately evident.  I’m not claiming that Mother’s Touch is one of the all-time great jazz recordings, but Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band makes all the profound complexities and statements, both nuanced and glaring, seem almost effortless.  That’s indicative of a certain mastery of the craft, and it’s why it might be easy to overlook the accomplishment that Mother’s Touch truly is.  There are some flirtations with different influences here, but mostly it’s clear sailing straight ahead… the kind of jazz that is just as likely to appeal to new-school fans as it will old-schoolers.

Released on Posi-Tone Records.

Read more on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

29. Joris Roelofs – Aliens Deliberating

Joris Roelofs - "Aliens Deliberating"What is best about this album is how every motion from this trio is an awkward one, even when they swing, and yet they remain so crazily tuneful as to deny that they were ever awkward in the first place.  There’s the sense that, at any moment, any one of these musicians (Joris Roelofs on bass clarinet, Ted Poor on drums and Matt Penman on bass) could suddenly peel off and careen wildly into the paths of the others, and yet they all stick to some vague flight pattern, which is mesmerizing to see develop in its way.  Besides, it’s great to hear another example of bass clarinet’s range.  Too often it’s used, either, as the soulful voice in a melodic soup or the lighter-fluid for a free jazz conflagration.  On Aliens Deliberating, it’s about a song voice, a storyteller’s disposition, and a melody that is given no less care by bass clarinet than that of a more traditional wind instrument.  And most of all, this album is about creating seriously compelling music that is strange, unconventional and positively alluring.

Released on Pirouet Records.

Read more on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

30. Brigaden – Om Alberto och Några Andra Gubbar

Brigaden - "Om Alberto Och Nagra Andra Gubbar"An album with a huge heart.  All of Brigaden‘s expressions are Big, even when the quintet (plus a bunch of guests) pours out a love song.  The Swedish folk influence is strong, and there’s a pop music sensibility to the music that is terrifically arresting.  The Spanish influence plays more than just a supporting role, and it’s a wrinkle that adds to this album’s already distinct personality.  The album’s boisterous enthusiasm and unguarded earnestness are the qualities that get this album a Best of 2014 slot, but that the music is innately tuneful is the clincher.

Released on Havtorn Records.

Read more on Bird is the Worm (LINK).

*****

But truly, the Best of 2014 list will never end.

Cheers.

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