Here are my top ten Albums of the year.
10. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Samdhi . ACT
Rudresh was voted as Alto Sax player of the year in the International critics poll in Downbeat magazine. He is one of the many musicians to have been influenced by Steve Coleman and he has recorded in duets and groups with Vijay Iyer. This album, under his own name, mixes music from his Indian ancestry, Jazz and other influences. It has been much played in my house this year and I recommend it strongly along with the many other recordings Rudresh features on.
9. Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter One. Constellation.
Matana Roberts is a Chicago born sax player and improviser who has been involved with the AACM. This is her third album release and was recorded in Montreal where she spends time and works with a group of local musicians. This is the first part of a work that probes her African-American Ancestral heritage going back as to the1700’s and thus the subject of slavery plays a large part. Twelve parts are planned eventually. Roberts vocalises and sings as well as plays sax. This isn’t easy listening but it is very powerful and repays careful listening. Matana Roberts is definitely a name to watch out for.
8. Archie Shepp and Joachim Kuhn: Wo!man. Coati Mundi.
Archie Shepp is described in the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD as “one of the major intellectuals of modern jazz.” He first made his name in the 60’s and played on Coltrane’s Ascension. Joachim Kuhn is a German pianist who’s now in his 60’s and who has previously recorded a live duet album with Ornette Coleman amongst many other releases. Kuhn and Shepp play really well together and this is a really enjoyable album which features a great version of Ornette’s “Lonely Woman.”
7. Sam Rivers and the Rivbea Orchestra. Trilogy. Mosaic Select.
This is an album that I agonised over including in this list. Not because I couldn’t decide whether or not I liked it but because Mosaic Select box sets are normally a release of archive material or stuff that’s been released before. However this fabulous triple CD box set features all new material that hasn’t been previously released and that was all recorded live and in the studio during 2008 and 2009. Because of this I decided that this release was legitimately a new release from 2011. Rivers is well into his 80’s now and has lived in Orlando, Florida since 1992. He now has a big band made up mainly of local musicians which features 14 horns and two rhythm players (bass and drums). His writing for this band is not like anyone else’s but it sounds amazing to me. I’ve not seen this Box Set reviewed much but it’s well worth searching out.
6. Gregory Porter: Water. Motema
This album from singer Gregory Porter was Jazzwise magazines album of the year and has been nominated for a Grammy. Porter first came to attention in this country after an appearance on Later with Jools Holland. He’s returned to the UK a few times since and appeared in an amazing gig at the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham back in October. Porter has a great voice and draws on soul as well as Jazz influences. His music has elements of social commentary to it as you hear when listening to 1960 What? Every track on this album is great and it has been much played this year in the Escritt household.
5. Marius Neset: Golden Explosion. Edition.
Marius Neset was seen in Birmingham playing in Django Bates’ band stoRMChaser in 2008. That band was made up of students from Copenhagen who Django taught. His first recording under his own name “Golden Explosion” burst onto the scene early this year to rave reviews all round. Django Bates says of Marius on the Edition Records website: “Marius is an astonishing saxophonist. I love to hear him perform because he digests all the numerical games that drummers and bassists concoct and throws them straight back with harmony and melody attached. Performing in a band with Marius is like being on a bobsleigh team; his energy, speed of reflex, and superb technique enable him to keep changing up a gear, way beyond what one imagines humanly possible.”
4. Vijay Iyer, Prasanna, Nitin Mitta: Tirtha. ACT.
Over the last decade there have been many new pianists making a name for themselves. Vijay Iyer is one of my absolute favourites. Like saxophonist, Rudresh Mahanthappa who he often plays with, Iyer draws on his Indian cultural background and mixes this in with Jazz and other influences. Over the last ten years he has recorded in a number of different settings and won numerous awards as well as a Grammy nomination in 2010 for Best Instrumental Jazz Album for his recording “Historicity”. Tirtha is a trio recording with Guitarist/composer Prasanna and tabla player Nitin Mitta. The All about Music Guide says of it: Tirtha is a triumph; it is a high water mark in hearing the constantly evolving discussion between Jazz and Indian Music.” If you’ve not heard this or any of Iyer’s music then don’t wait any longer.
3. The Impossible Gentlemen: The Impossible Gentlemen. Basho.
The Impossible Gentlemen are a sort of Jazz supergroup with British Musicians Gwilym Simcock on piano and Mike Walker on Guitar and Americans Steve Swallow on bass and Adam Nussbaum on Drums. They played a wonderful gig in Birmingham back in May 2010 and then went on to record and to tour again to great acclaim last year. The album, when it came out, was just as good as I remembered the gig being. All four musicians contribute a lot to the group sound but guitarist Mike Walker really demonstrates just how under-rated he is. All About Jazz says of this album: ”This shimmering jewel of style and substance is jazz at its most exalted, and simply has to be heard. Here’s a crude and approximate map reference, but one that gets close to the buried treasure. Imagine guitarist Pat Metheny’s trio masterpiece, Day Trip (Nonesuch, 2007), add a pianist of commensurate genius, and you are banging on the disc’s front door. It is that good”.
2. Ambrose Akinmusire: When the heart emerges glistening. Blue Note.
Ambrose Akinmusire was born in California and now lives in New York. He has performed with Vijat Iyer, Jason Moran and Esperanza Spalding amongst others. He played in Birmingham with the John Escreet Project back in July 2008. This album, which is co-produced by Jason Moran, is his second and his first on Blue Note. Bruce Lundvall of Blue Note writes in the sleeve notes of the album: “You will be a very big part of the future of this art form that we call jazz.” The All About Jazz review of the album says: “The session exudes a hearty romanticism, with Akinmusire’s seasoned quintet delivering soulful melodies and rich harmonies that unflinchingly embrace the emotive fervor of free jazz. Blending sultry R&B motifs and driving hard bop riffs with tortuous post bop themes, their efforts are adventurous yet accessible, conveying bold expressionism tempered by dulcet beauty.”
1. David S. Ware/Cooper-Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali: Planetary Unknown. AUM Fidelity
David S. Ware has long been one of my favourite tenor players. For many years he led a group which featured Mathew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass and either Suzie Ibarra, Guillermo E. Brown or Hamid Drake on drums. This is the first recording by a new quartet which keeps Parker on bass but has Cooper-Moore on piano and Muhammad Ali (brother of Rashied Ali) on drums. The four musicians had never worked together as a group when they arrived in the studio to record this album. The album’s sleeve notes say: “All four men are quick to stress that the seven pieces on Planetary Unknown were a consequence of time, place, feeling, and were brought into the world without any note-specific pre-planning. “The last 100 years of Jazz, there was our rehearsal,” Ware explains.” All About Jazz’s review said: “the program has the air of 21st Century classic about it.” It’s not easy listening but pay attention and it really does reward it.
Gigs of the Year
My favourite gigs of the year were:
I’m looking forward to 2012 and to hearing more new music and photographing more Jazz artists in and around Birmingham.
Have a good Festive break.