Jazzwise Top 20 Jazz Albums of 2015

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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)


Ahmad JamalAhmad Jamal Live in Marciac August 5th 2014

Jazz Village

As Keith Shadwick observed, Jamal ‘used space in preference to bustle, and melodic and harmonic lucidity rather than jumble’. Recorded by the octogenarian pianist and his wonderfully lithe rhythm section in France last year. There can be few more coolly groovy jazz minimalists than Jamal, whose remarkable defining sense of relaxed-yet-taut ensemble dynamics remains undiminished by the passing years. It’s a magnificent, life-affirming performance, also captured on film. (Robert Shore)

 

Cecile McLorin SalvantCécile McLorin Salvant For One to Love

Mack Avenue

For One to Love sees Cécile McLorin Salvant take her audience on another engrossing journey of discovery. If her critically acclaimed WomanChild deliberately eschewed songs about love, this follow-up basks in it. Penning five of the album’s 12 songs, McLorin Salvant’s album opener ‘Fog’ seems almost painterly, and hearing the singer’s endlessly sustained opening words (‘Love appeared’) you’re struck anew by the timbral richness of her voice. (Peter Quinn)

 

Michael GibbsMichael Gibbs and the NDR Big Band Play A Bill Frisell Set List

Cuneiform Rune

Every song bar Gil Evans’ ‘Las Vegas Tango’ is out of Frisell’s playlist, but Gibbs re-pitches them in new contexts. Gibbs’ ability to arrange in precise detail yet create great plains of space sets Frisell off dramatically on a sumptuous ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’, but it’s ‘On The Lookout/Faraway’ with its surging sea drifts of brass rising and falling against Frisell’s meditative voicings that we know we are in the midst of something unique. (Andy Robson)

 

polar bearPolar Bear Same As You

The Leaf Label

Polar Bear’s sixth album is the most emotionally engaging music I’ve heard from them. Though recorded in London, Seb Rochford’s relocation to the Mojave Desert to mix surely added to its haunting ambience. ‘Unrelenting Unconditional’ begins a ritual climax, in which a sax pans past like a freight-train in the night, the instrument’s siren-calls elsewhere become high-register screams, and a wild dog barks. The effect is meditative, dislocating and gripping all at once. (Nick Hasted)

 

Nat BirchallNat Birchall Invocations

Jazzman

A tweak of the personnel in Birchall’s latest ensemble brings a subtle but resonant shift in his fertile seam of late Coltrane-inspired spiritual jazz. Pianist Adam Fairhall is present once again, providing questing solos that frequently occupy the first post-head slot, setting a serious-as-your-life mood for Birchall to delve into. Birchall is playing with more elegance than ever, offering wide, hollering outpourings of emotion and delicately controlled overblowing that bespeaks a fragile yearning. (Daniel Spicer)


Matana RobertsMatana Roberts Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Thee

Constellation

Roberts’ great artistic triumph here is the enormous coherence with which the disparate elements – her stories and the lived experiences of others; modern and ancestral sounds – flow into one entity. Deep pain, poignancy, resilience and rapture permeate a work of ambition and enormous attention to detail. Very possibly career-defining. (Kevin Le Gendre)

 

Blinker and MosesBinker And Moses Dem Ones

Gearbox

Each particular facet of the black diasporan musical culture into which the duo taps is rechanneled with sufficient maturity and imagination to make the point that the players don’t see their harmonically denuded context solely as an outlet by which to further the great Trane-Rashied Ali legacy. (Kevin Le Gendre)

 

TigranTigran Hamasayan Mockroot

Nonesuch

There’s a strong element of rock opera about proceedings throughout: ‘The Roads That Bring Me Closer To You’ has a keening pomp-prog element. It’s hugely ambitious in scope – bombastically so in places, even – and ultimately hard to resist. Tigran is an original and should be cherished as such. (Robert Shore)

 

Colin TownsColin Towns Mask Orchestra Drama

Provocateur

Drama by name but epic in form with over 140 minutes of music, this double CD captures much of Towns’ fiercely committed theatre work. Towns has crafted the material into a dynamically programmed release that more than stands alone whether you know the production or not. (Andy Robson)

 

 

Liane CarrollLiane Carroll Seaside

Linn Records

 

Liane Carroll brings the entire spectrum of her artistry to bear on this 10-track love letter to her hometown of Hastings. For anyone who had the pleasure of hearing her perform the Joe Stilgoe-penned title track earlier this year at the Old Vic, Evan Jolly’s widescreen, brass-rich arrangement on the album takes the song to completely new levels of gorgeousness. (Peter Quinn)


Ryan TruesdellRyan Truesdell and the Gil Evans Project Lines of Color

Blue Note/Artist Share

Recorded at the Jazz Standard in New York City in May 2014, Lines of Color consists of six recently discovered Evans works (including 'Avalon Town', 'Just One Of Those Things', and 'Can't We Talk It Over'), some new arrangements, and three classics: 'Time of the Barracudas', 'Concorde' and 'Greensleeves'.

 

Kenny WheelerKenny Wheeler Songs For Quintet

ECM

There’s nothing sombre, nothing melancholic about this release. Each cut sings with the breath of life. Like the lark ascending, Wheeler’s solos, still graced with that easeful elegance where each note seems inevitable, rise and distill to an airy nothingness that takes our breath away even as his gently fades. (Andy Robson)

 

 

Alexander HawkinsAlexander Hawkins Trio Alexander Hawkins Trio

AH Music

Throughout, the trio’s compact raw sound and close chemistry is exhilarating, as Neil Charles’ bass strings buzz with a visceral energy yet understated groove and Tom Skinner’s drums clatter with biting propulsion, always moving together as one unit. (Selwyn Harris)

 

Sons of KemetSons of Kemet Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do

NAIM Jazz

Shabaka Hutchings’ double drum-sax-tuba quartet isn’t your typical jazz group, anyone who’s seen them live especially will have experienced the band’s intensely sensual and exhilarating combo of rhythm and melody – we can perhaps see a loose parallel on a larger scale in the US with the positive reaction to the debut of LA based saxophonist Kamasi Washington. (Selwyn Harris)

 

 

TroykaTroyka Ornithophobia

NAIM Jazz

While Josh Blackmore experiments in real time with some tasteful beats from both contemporary electronica and jazz-rock, Kit Downes and Chris Montague artfully open up their instrumental resources to create some mesmerising arrangements.It’s both gripping and highly imaginative new music. (Selwyn Harris)