Jazzwise Top 20 Jazz Albums of 2015

If a learned friend informed you a year ago, dear readers, that the album of 2015 might possibly be a triple concept album by a previously unknown artist who insisted on giving the whole shebang a title so toweringly grand and top heavy it would have had the Trade Descriptions Act office crawling all over it, you would have been on the phone immediately booking said learned friend into the Priory for a somewhat extended stay. Or maybe just wrote their blatherings off as another of Kanye West’s latest god-like delusions. But 12 months is a long time in the jazz game and yesterday’s flights of fancy can be today’s building blocks of the future. Welcome then to LA-based saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s debut triple album, The Epic: a gloriously expansive, sense-tickling spiritual jazz masterpiece encompassing three CDs, 17 tunes, a 10-piece band, a 32-piece orchestra, a 20-piece choir and 172 action packed minutes (count’em) that had writer Kevin Le Gendre awarding it a 4 star recommended accolade when he reviewed it in the May issue. And judging by the colossal amount of votes the album racked up in our critics poll, he wasn’t the only writer whose block was severely rocked. The Epic is that rare thing. A brand new, musically and conceptually rich work that arrived unheralded out of leftfield and grabbed the almost universal attention of the jazz world’s forward looking brethren. An album firmly rooted in jazz’s deepest traditions that scopes out the future with brio and brain. A hugely, heart-warmingly encouraging portent in this age of shrinking CD sales and diminishing attention spans, and yes, it’s available as a triple vinyl set too. Well, what are you waiting for… Jon Newey, Editor in Chief

kamasiKamasi Washington The Epic

Brainfeeder 

Moving from hard swing to funk to some of the digital age sensibilities scoped out by Thundercat, this is an album of progressive present day thinking that willfully acknowledges its debt to the past, as befits the ongoing relationship between the two. So if there is a sample of a Malcolm X speech it is relevant to the current political debate: There’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim. There is something very right about the premise and execution of this work. (Kevin Le Gendre)

 

schneiderMaria Schneider Orchestra The Thompson Fields 

Artist Share 

This album is both profound and memorable. Schneider, who delights in breaking open the rigid structure of cyclical forms in jazz with writing that explores theme, variation, development and recapitulation is also a master of shifting tonal densities – one glance at the doubles the reed section have to contend with, plus a brass section all doubling on flugel horns, means some of the tone colours she dreams up are breathtaking. (Stuart Nicholson) 

 

loosetubesLoose Tubes Arriving 

Lost Marble

Here’s the highly-anticipated third and final instalment in the ‘live’ trilogy of recordings from Loose Tubes’ farewell residency at Ronnie Scott’s in 1990. Following on from Dancing on Frith Street in 2010 and Säd Afrika in 2012, the new CD Arriving comes with a few unexpected bonus tracks that wouldn’t have figured in the series’ curator Django Bates’ initial plans for the set. It’s a very significant addition: they’re compositions commissioned by BBC Radio 3 from the already legendary Ronnie’s 30th anniversary comeback residency last year by the newly-resurrected Loose Tubes. Although they seem to mark the end of the reconciliation, the title Arriving suggests otherwise; Loose Tubes could, let’s hope, be around for a while yet. With eight further gems from the original Tubes repertoire, the band’s musical palette is as idiomatically broad as its musicians were diverse. If you’ve got the first two CDs then this one’s a no brainer. But listening to both 1990 and 2014 versions, it becomes clear that this is one reunion that isn’t just dependent on celebrating past glories. (Selwyn Harris) 

 

Charles LloydCharles Lloyd Wild Man Dance

Blue Note

This is a truly memorable album; perhaps the finest of Lloyd’s career and destined to become a classic. This remarkable sixpiece suite was commissioned by the Jazztopad Festival in Wrocław, Poland and was recorded at the piece’s premiere. It marks a memorable return to the Blue Note label for whom Lloyd last recorded in 1985. The addition of Sinopoulos and Lukács subtly alter the sonic ambience of the saxophone quartet, their presence adding mystery and gravitas, while Cleaver emerges as a superb colourist as well as time-keeper, perfectly framing Lloyd’s lyrical flights. (Stuart Nicholson)

 

RudreshRudresh Mahanthappa Bird Calls

ACT

Each piece represents an examination of Charlie Parker’s legacy in the here and now in a “detailed and holistic way”. Mahanthappa’s unselfconscious drawing on musical tradition of the Carnatic music of South India during his improvisations adds a degree of colour and the unexpected. This blend of the local and the global (yes, Parker’s music went global in the 1940s thanks to the gramophone record) is what makes this take on Parker wholly original and absorbing. (Stuart Nicholson)

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