Bird is the Worm Best of 2014: Albums 11-15


Today’s post reveals the 11th through the 15th Bird is the Worm Top 30 jazz albums 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…



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).



Tomorrow’s post reveals the 2014 Bird is the Worm #6#10 albums of the year.