Best of 2013, An Addendum: Beyond Jazz

January 2, 2014

 

BitW square avatarThere were a few albums that would’ve received a slot on my Best of 2013 list, had I not gotten a strong twinge of jazz purism at the last moment.  These three recordings are all quite wonderful, but as wide as I try to stretch my own subjective Jazz boundaries, I couldn’t extend them far out enough to bring these three albums into the fold.  Hell, in at least one instance, I don’t think even the musician considers it a jazz album (though I’d have to check my notes to be sure of that assertion).

In any event, here are three recordings by jazz musicians that weren’t really jazz albums.  They’re all quite wonderful, and despite my busy listening schedule, I always find time to listen to each frequently.

Let’s begin…

*****

 

RJ Miller – Ronald’s Rhythm

RJ Miller - "Ronald's Rhythm"Miller’s debut album is a blissful session of ambient minimalism, with brief infusions of Alice Coltrane-like space-y spiritual jazz.  Drummer Miller, who’s a mainstay of the New York scene, and who has appeared on albums by Jeremy Udden, Mike Baggetta, and Nancy Harms (all having received mention on this site), retreated to his home state of Maine and used the seclusion and beautiful landscapes as inspiration for this serene recording.  There is a peacefulness and a warmth to this music, and I listen to it often first thing in the morning… each time expecting to see snow drifting down when I look out the window.  Miller creates a wonderful ambiance with this music.  He made the album he wanted to make, and certainly wasn’t taking my definition of Jazz into account when creating it.  I just couldn’t justify including it in my Best Jazz of 2013 list, even though it is one of the thirty best albums I heard in 2013.

Released on Loyal Label.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

Christian Wallumrod Ensemble – Outstairs

Christian Wallumrod - "Outstairs"Wallumrod was only vaguely in the jazz realm earlier in his career, mostly getting slotted in the Nordic Jazz category.  But with each successive album, he’s become increasingly daring in his inventiveness and expressionism… bringing together Nordic jazz, folk musics, chamber music, modern classical, and anything else that floats his boat.  I find his music fascinating, and his newest Outstairs continues that trend.  Some moments of stunning beauty.  But this ain’t a jazz album, and it just didn’t seem right to include it in my Best Of 2013 list.  That aside, it deserves a mention as one of the best things to come out during the year.

Released on ECM Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

Chris Schlarb – Psychic Temple II

Chris Schlarb - "Psychic Temple II" (alt)Part two of Schlarb’s Psychic Temple project was no less profound than the first, but it was interesting to hear the latter’s focus on proper song structures… a different facet of the music, though entirely cohesive.  Schlarb had some background in the genre via his free jazz improvisation duo I Heart Lung, and he’s brings in a solid assortment of jazz artists to perform on his projects (Kris Tiner, Steuart Liebig, Dave Easley all come to mind immediately), but his music really transcends genre.  Ironically, in a perfect world, this would be pop music… catchy melodies couched with amicable percussion, music that could be listened to in a variety of settings and moods, possessing different facets that would appeal to a variety of people.  Of course, it’s not a perfect world, and pop music, instead, sounds like, well, don’t get me started.  Until the world wises up and becomes like I think it should be, music like Schlarb’s is more underground than music for the masses.  But all of that static is irrelevant in the face of the music itself, which is pretty damn amazing.  Listen to this one, and then go listen to the first Psychic Temple installment.  You can’t go wrong here, and 2013 was better because of it.

Released on Asthmatic Kitty.

A Bird is the Worm article (and interview) HERE.

*****


Bird is the Worm 2013 Album of the Year: Jaimeo Brown – “Transcendence”

December 31, 2013

 

Jaimeo Brown - "Transcendence"Jaimeo Brown‘s phenomenal debut Transcendence has both eyes aimed squarely at the Jazz of Today, while keeping both the past and future in his peripheral vision.  This is more than just a modern jazz recording.  With the use of emergent editing and recording techniques, Brown is thinking ahead.  By incorporating the gospel music of the Gee’s Bend Quilters, Brown has an ear attuned to the past.  And by embracing elements of other genres and fusing them into a modern post-bop session, Brown has himself planted firmly in the present day.

The power of this music is apparent right from the start.  The recording is a livewire of electricity, and yet has a self-contained fire that is all blues and all heart.  This album has a massive presence, and comports itself as such regardless of whether the song is a display of unrestrained dissonant fury or the softest touch of soulful melody.

About as powerful a statement as an artist could make for their debut.  Outstanding.  The Bird is the Worm 2013 Album of the Year.

Released on Motema Records.

Here is a reprint of the album review I wrote earlier this year…

*****

 

Jaimeo Brown - "Transcendence"This is music with an old soul and eyes to the future. Transcendence, the stunning debut album by drummer Jaimeo Brown, brings in a daring mix of jazz, spirituals, electronics & effects, East-Indian music, and the most important element, the blues. It’s why this album ultimately culminates in a successful concoction of disparate ingredients. The ever-present Blues are always there to offer a stabilizing hand as the tumult of influences swirl about, providing a perspective from which to absorb the varied musics calmly, unabashedly, and in the fullness of its expansive vision.

Your album personnel: Jaimeo Brown (drums), JD Allen (tenor sax), Chris Sholar (guitar, electronics), and guests: Geri Allen (piano), Dartanyan Brown (bass), Marcia Miget (flute), Kelvin Sholar (keyboards), Andrew Shantz (harmonium), Gee’s Bend Quilters, Marisha Brown, Selah Brown, Falu (vocals).

This is a trio at its core. With Brown’s drums, the tenor sax of JD Allen, and the guitar and electronics of Chris Sholar, the trio adds guests when needed, and enmeshes their live interplay with the recorded voices and sounds of music of the past, transporting the voices of Gee’s Bend Quilters from the previous century into an environment that fully embraces the technological advances of the present and its associated music approaches.

And, thus, you have “Mean World,” where the soulful voice of a spiritual comes together with a tumultuous display of ferocity via sax, drums, and effects, and the quavering presence of “Somebody’s Knocking,” with a soaring East-Indian chant, a guitar like the sea, a sax like rocking waves, and the crash of cymbals battering the shore… which leads right into “Patience”… a lumbering bass line, a spry sax, the rustle of percussion, and a guitar that begins as a murmur and ends as an electrical live wire.

The guitar ferocity continues on “You Can’t Hide,” but again, it’s the blues that dominate, with soulful vocals belted out in collaboration with JD Allen’s equally expressive, equally soulful saxophone accompaniment. As they do throughout the album, Brown’s drums illustrate the music’s willingness to fight for life, to grab it and not let go. More evidence of this is on “Accra,” a torrential drum solo enhanced by some subtle electronics from Sholar.

Sholar’s deft hand at instilling the music with ambiance and soundscapes can’t be overlooked. The ethereal presence of “Be Free” carries the individual instruments on its back, elevates it up to something lofty, a heavenly expression that goes beyond “song.” This type of contribution to the production of a music piece is the water that fills in the seams and makes a perfect whole of what might otherwise seem fragmented and incomplete.

Also not to be overlooked is the fluid lyricism provided by JD Allen on sax. Whether displaying the combustible side of his instrument, like on “Baby Miesh” or the instrument’s comforting nature, like on “I Said,” Allen shapes his notes in a way that allows emotions to fully manifest without ever getting swept away by them. Like any good storyteller worth lending an ear to, Allen spends more time showing imagery than just talking about it.

“Power of God” is another lovely spiritual, though even this is eclipsed by the even lovelier playing of pianist Geri Allen, who first provides an undercurrent of evocative accompaniment, and then, when everything else drops away and it’s just Allen’s piano, a remarkable expansion of the hauntingly beautiful presence set by the Gee’s Bend Singers… voices from the past, composed of the eternal creative substance with which to improvise to in the present day.

And that is what defines the entirety of this exceptional recording. It’s not an easy thing to bring together past and present, while simultaneously maintaining a forward-thinking attitude. But on this thoroughly entertaining, supremely engaging album, Brown has done just that. It’s a remarkable accomplishment.

Released on Motema Records.

Jazz from NYC.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CDMP3


Bird is the Worm Best of 2013: Albums 2-5

December 30, 2013

 

Today’s post reveals the 2nd through the 5th Bird is the Worm albums of the year.

*****

BitW square avatarFor each album considered for inclusion, I was looking for it to hit me right in my heart, provoke a strong emotional reaction.  I was also looking for it to engage my brain, provide some intrigue or fascination with the music being presented.  Extra points were awarded for doing Something Different or building on a premise that embraced the best qualities of creativity.  Strong musicianship alone is not enough.  Many solid albums didn’t make the list.  It literally pains me when I see some of the albums that weren’t included.  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.

These 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 review following each entry… that’s where you go to find out what’s what about each recording.  Most reviews are accompanied with embedded audio so you can hear some of the music, 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 the review.

Let’s begin…

*****

 

2.  Emilio Teubal – Música Para un Dragon Dormido

Emilio Teubal - "Musica Para un Dragon Dormido"This music has a boundless energy, and it grabs me each time I hit the play button.  Teubal brings both modern jazz and Argentinean music to the table, but infuses it with other influences to where it’s not so easy to draw a clear lineage.  Apparently this was Teubal’s intention, and it clearly worked.  A stunning album of immaculate beauty.  It’s about as near perfect as an album could be, and I still find it hard to believe it didn’t end up as my Album of the Year.  On saxophones, Sam Sadigursky puts out some of the best moments on a jazz album in 2013.  Cellist Erik Friedlander had a quietly massive 2013, putting out a beautiful album under his own name, and also performing on some of 2013′s top recordings in a supporting role.  On the fourth and fifth tracks, “El Acrobata” and “Un Dragon Dormido,” which could be considered the same composition, Friedlander interacts with other ensemble members to create some heavenly sonic expressions, of a supreme elegance and stately beauty.  Jazz is more diverse than ever, and the internet age has opened up new avenues for jazz artists to record and produce their own music, thus making it tougher for the general public to decipher what they should be listening to… but when someone asks you what will be considered the classic albums of this modern jazz age in fifty years time, you should point to this recording as one of them.  As near to perfection as you can get.

Released on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

3.  Arun Ghosh – A South Asian Suite

Arun Ghosh - "A South Asian Suite"Clarinettist Ghosh has one of the more original sounds on the modern jazz scene.  His style of Indo-Jazz is both eccentric and amicable, diverse and complex, yet so easy to connect with.  I was taken with his previous recordings quite a bit, but on his newest recording, he brings an even fuller sound to the table, one more rounded out and self-assured.  Melodies that strike to the heart of the matter and rhythmic architectures that offer up plenty of ornamentation and structural fireworks.  Or said differently, this album sounds like it has a lot going on, and it does, and yet by crafting rich, beautiful melodies, Ghosh makes this gregarious album so easy, and enjoyable, to spend time with.  His mix of modern jazz approaches with that of regional musics from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka spin a breathless weave of influences, all which abide comfortably under the same roof of one album, and which import a sense of excitement as the sound shifts from scene to scene.  Just an outstanding album.

Released on Camoci Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

4.  Ben Goldberg – Unfold Ordinary Mind

Ben Goldberg - "Unfold Ordinary Mind"Goldberg opened 2013 with two strong recordings, released simultaneously at the outset of the year.  Unfold Ordinary Mind was the stronger of the two (though Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues was certainly no slouch), courtesy of how Goldberg’s ensemble managed to create challenging music cloaked in catchy melodies and intermittent grooves.  It’s not unlike an avant-garde rendition of a Motown recording session.  Goldberg has always been an innovative sort, delving into projects that probably shouldn’t work, but producing engaging, often very listenable music despite the odds.  He does that here, too, and the result is no less impressive or fascinating with many many subsequent listens.  An outstanding achievement in a career marked by them, and a fun album, to boot.

Released on BAG Production Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

5.  Nicolas Moreaux – Fall Somewhere

Nicolas Moreaux - "Fall Somewhere"This is an album of beautiful melodies.  The melodies aren’t stated… they’re slowly exhaled.  Tenor sax man Bill McHenry is the perfect musician for this type of album, with songs of a languorous demeanor, even when they’re moving at a brisk pace.  His big sound is delivered with a peaceful ease, and matches well with Moreaux’s ensemble, which utilizes a dynamic percussive approach that serves more as an undercurrent of crackling electricity, and allows the melodies to serve up the heavy voltage.  Bassist Moreaux has been collaborating with jazz-folk saxophonist Jeremy Udden, and this album clearly illustrates that those two are peas of the same pod… they both have that eminently peaceful sound, of a warmth that provides sufficient heat to prevent the music from ever getting terribly sleepy.  This is a strong album that, unfortunately, seems to have flown a bit under the radar.  Hopefully this will kick-start some interest.  It should, because this is a gorgeous recording.

Released on Fresh Sound New Talent.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

 

Tomorrow’s post reveals the Bird is the Worm 2013 Album of the Year.

Cheers.


Bird is the Worm Best of 2013: Albums 6-10

December 29, 2013

 

Today’s post reveals the 6th through the 10th Bird is the Worm albums of the year.

*****

BitW square avatarFor each album considered for inclusion, I was looking for it to hit me right in my heart, provoke a strong emotional reaction.  I was also looking for it to engage my brain, provide some intrigue or fascination with the music being presented.  Extra points were awarded for doing Something Different or building on a premise that embraced the best qualities of creativity.  Strong musicianship alone is not enough.  Many solid albums didn’t make the list.  It literally pains me when I see some of the albums that weren’t included.  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.

These 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 review following each entry… that’s where you go to find out what’s what about each recording.  Most reviews are accompanied with embedded audio so you can hear some of the music, 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 the review.

Let’s begin…

*****

 

6.  Tim Horner – The Head of the Circle 

Tim Horner - "The Head of the Circle"This album just keeps getting better with each listen.  A sextet built upon one excellent melody after the next, and possessing a sound of such fullness as to suggest that it’s more than just six musicians at work.  The quality I most love about this recording is the anticipation it builds for the next firework display of melody in the subsequent song, even as the current one is still working its way through to its conclusion.  In that way, I find it somewhat reminiscent of a 2012 album released by Horner’s label mate Florian Hoefner, Songs Without Words.  Horner has vibraphonist Joe Locke sitting in on this session, and that turned out to be a very wise decision.  An album that engages the listener in concise, fascinating conversations.

Released on Origin Arts.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

7.  Reijseger / Fraanje / Sylla – Down Deep

Ernst Reijseger - "Deep Down"This trio recording of piano, cello, percussion and chant harks back to the Codona trio recordings of Don Cherry, Collin Walcott and Nana Vasconcelos.  In this instance, cellist Ernst Reijseger, pianist Harmen Fraanje, and percussionist Mola Sylla bring their own expression of jazz and folk music.  Like the Codona recordings, Down Deep leans far heavier to the folk music side of that equation, but like the Codona recordings, the music is just too damn beautiful for it to really matter what genre the album belongs to more.  Peaceful seaside music that ambles patiently from note to note, a rustic kind of serenity that can fill the space of a lazy Sunday afternoon with sublime music that sparks with life and drifts like dreams.  A stunning album built on nuance and grace.

Released on Winter & Winter.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

8.  Anna Webber – Percussive Mechanics

Anna Webber - "Percussive Mechanics"I love how all the moving parts on this complex album just seem to fall into place at exactly the right time.  An album that made a terrific first impression, then went through a series of slow reveals of additional interesting facets as the first blush faded and the real work of getting to know an album got underway.  The rhythmic action is this album’s bread and butter, but it’s the way melodies coalesce from within a percussive fog that elevates this recording up a notch or three.  Not easy to make a challenging album so damn simple to connect with, but Webber pulls that feat off.  No end to this album’s ability to fascinate.

Released on Pirouet Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

9.  John Zorn – The Mysteries

John Zorn - "The Mysteries"A trio recording of guitarist Bill Frisell, harpist Carol Emanuel, and Kenny Wollesen on vibes (and bells), performing the compositions of John Zorn, following up on last year’s Gnostic Preludes, and mining the same themes.  It’s a sea of rhythmic eddies and curls and ripples, and the melodies are glimpses of fish darting beneath its surface.  Those fish are what the eye is drawn to, but the reason for the magic in the first place is the environment created by the rhythmic approach.  It’s also why, despite the album’s heavy melodic presence, these songs speak more to tapping the foot and bobbing the head than they do humming along to the music.  A mesmerizing album, one that a listener can just immerse themselves in.  Each time it ends, I feel like something has been taken away from me, and often feel compelled to hit that play button again and start over from the beginning.

Released on the Tzadik label.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

10.  Nicole Mitchell’s Ice Crystal – Aquarius

Nicole Mitchell - "Aquarius"I kept expecting this album’s mesmerizing quality to shatter.  Its haunting presence, its dissonant personality, its sharp angles and edgy demeanor… all of these things should be sufficient to keep the listener at a safe distance, but the music’s abiding warmth makes it safe to get right up close, and its why once eye contact is made with this recording, it won’t let go.  There’s something almost hypnotic about this music.  That is possesses this characteristic while presenting challenging music… that’s an accomplishment that can’t be esteemed too greatly.  Mitchell keeps making music that’s a little bit different every time, yet retains a signature sound that translates to each successive project.  I’m amazed at how amazing this music continues to be.

Released on Delmark Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

 

Tomorrow’s post reveals the Bird is the Worm numbers 2-5 2013 albums of the year.

Cheers.


Bird is the Worm Best of 2013: Albums 11-15

December 28, 2013

 

Today’s post reveals the 11th through the 15th Bird is the Worm albums of the year.

*****

BitW square avatarFor each album considered for inclusion, I was looking for it to hit me right in my heart, provoke a strong emotional reaction.  I was also looking for it to engage my brain, provide some intrigue or fascination with the music being presented.  Extra points were awarded for doing Something Different or building on a premise that embraced the best qualities of creativity.  Strong musicianship alone is not enough.  Many solid albums didn’t make the list.  It literally pains me when I see some of the albums that weren’t included.  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.

These 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 review following each entry… that’s where you go to find out what’s what about each recording.  Most reviews are accompanied with embedded audio so you can hear some of the music, 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 the review.

Let’s begin…

*****

 

11.  Ches Smith & These Arches – Hammered

Ches Smith - "Hammered"Released near the start of 2013, my fascination with this recording hasn’t much waned.  The music has an electric blanket warmth courtesy of Andrea Parkins’ accordion and electronic effects, and even this alone elevates the album from being just another typically strong Clean Feed Records release.  But add to this the twisting saxophone vines of Malaby and Berne, Halvorson’s woozy guitar twangs, and Smith’s rock ‘n roll barrage on drums, and now you’ve got an album overflowing with personality.  Plenty of dissonance, but the way catchy riffs emerge and disappear into that dissonance afford plenty of surprises on this inviting album.

Released on Clean Feed Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

12.  Pablo Ablanedo Octet(o) – ReContraDoble

Pablo Ablanedo Octet - "Recontradoble"Ablanedo’s blend of Jazz and Argentinian music possesses both an intimate warmth and a noble grandeur.  The pianist deftly builds up from a solid melodic foundation, revisiting and reforming fragments of the melody over and over, creating a stream of variations, all the meanwhile adding texture via percussion, and eventually that little melody sounds Big.  I was pretty taken with his previous release Alegria, but his newest ups the ante with a fullness of sound that the previous release hinted at.

Released on Creative Nation Music.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

13.  Nilson Matta – Black Orpheus

Nilson Matta - "Black Orpheus"I find this album no less personable than when first I gave it a listen.  Matta’s interpretation of de Moraes and Jobim’s respective takes on the story of Orpheus & Eurydice has an abounding warmth, a succinct lyricism, and a stately elegance… characteristics which, in combination, present an album with a storyteller’s heart.  Not an album that creates a big splash, but with each successive surge of tides, it eventually becomes apparent that this is a recording so easy to just immerse oneself in for hours.  To say this album grew on me would be understating things.  Wonderful music.

Released on Motema Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

14.  Dan Tepfer & Ben Wendel – Small Constructions

Tepfer-Wendell - "Small Constructions"I’m just taken with this album.  This duo collaboration of Wendel (on wind instruments) and Tepfer (on various keys) is bursting with personality and spontaneity.  Some originals, some covers, some improvisation, some nifty editing techniques, but ultimately it’s all about the conversation.  Anytime it’s a duo session, there’s the challenge of keeping things simple and exciting, both, and the way this album twitters with life even as it obsesses over a pretty melody, these musicians strike the perfect balance.  Several songs on this album I find myself humming, often forgetting where the songs come from until I’m reminded upon playing this album again.  Music that digs deep like that into a listener’s memory isn’t something that happens all that often, and it sure ain’t something to take for granted.  A sublime outing.

Released on Sunnyside Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

15.  Mary Halvorson Septet – Illusionary Sea

Mary Halvorson - "Illusionary Sea"Halvorson has carved out her own sound on guitar.  It ain’t always pretty.  It’s handy to employ the signifier ‘avant-garde’ in reference to her music.  However, the addition of trombonist Garchik and the tenor sax of Ingrid Laubrock adds some softer textures to hard-edged music, and it really allows the melodies more room to breathe.  As a result, this album’s potent dissonance provides plenty of handholds to grasp the music and go along for the ride.  An album of a strange geometry, of melodies with a warped beauty and harmonies of an essential warmth, bringing a fuzzy hospitality to chaotic, unfettered music.

Released on Firehouse 12 Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.

*****

 

Tomorrow’s post reveals the Bird is the Worm numbers 6-10 2013 albums of the year.

Cheers.