Best of 2016 #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).