Friedrich Kunzmann's Best Releases Of 2017: Ethno-Jazz on the rise

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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2017 brought us much innovation and accomplishment in jazz. While many releases are certainly noteworthy and deserving of high critical acclaim, for me, only a handful truly stood out and prevailed in last year's maze of sharps, flats, and scales. Considering myself an enthusiast of pretty much all things jazz (no specific sub-genre receiving special treatment), I was surprised to find such a narrow selection of albums composing my last year's Top 5. Narrow, because three out of the five releases are strongly ethno-jazz influenced, immediately creating the link to last year favorite Aziza.

Even though many cultures have been thoroughly explored musically—especially in jazz—the existing potential seems inexhaustible—even growing. Lionel Loueke is my personal protagonist in this story and once again tops the list with his contribution on Australian quartet The Vampires' latest...

The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke. An extensive recap of my opinion on this album was already published in late 2017 and my view on it hasn't changed. It is gold all over. Original, melodically minimal compositions with hidden details scattered in every corner you look—covering nearly every topographic musical element and framed in a cohesive whole. The virtuosity lies within the sum of the flawless, exciting production and the unmatchable chemistry between the players, supported by instrumental and compositional prowess.

Organist Brian Charette broke genre-boundaries with Kürrent. Sidemen Ben Monder and Jordan Young helped him craft a candid and versatile record that incorporates a multitude of different approaches in composition and instrumentation. Practices such as looping, sampling and synthesizer sequencing are found minimally applied across the album, expanding the already wide-ranging and gaily colored collection of songs that, juggling between jazz and progressive rock, demonstrate a challenging edge.

On his self-produced Agrima, Rudresh Mahanthappa rounds up the 2008 founded Indo-Pak coalition comprised of Rez Abbasi, Dan Weiss and himself, for a second attempt at fusing South Asian musical elements with western jazz tradition. Essentially, this recording amounts to a throbbing rock record. The three clearly had fun recording the eight intriguing and highly focused pieces, performed with a rock n' roll edge rarely found in jazz these days. Weiss' dynamic drumming in combination with both Mahanthappa and Abbasi's restless experimentation with different effects enhance this already blissful listening experience.

Released only shortly after the above mentioned recording came Rez Abbasi's third installment of South Asian explorations with quartet Invocation, likewise featuring Dan Weiss and Rudresh Mahanthappa. Like Agrima, Unfiltered Universe explores the fusion of western jazz traditions with South Asian music, though more concentrated on Carnatic composition, leading to more intricate structures. The compositions are complex and the improvisation highly virtuoso, making for a challenging effort -seamlessly blending two musical cultures without the use of traditional Indian instruments.

Last but not least I find myself ever so often returning to John McLean & Clark Sommers' early May release Parts Unknown. The Quartet presents original and highly melodic compositions that radiate a thriving drive—emanating not only from unequaled chemistry but also a fittingly warm production. The record flows seamlessly and exhibits poignant solos by McLean and vibe-adept Joe Locke, ultimately culminating in a fun mainstream-jazz record.

Honorable Mentions:

  1. Carlos Bica & Azul: More Than This
  2. Johannes Luley: Qitara
  3. Kurt Rosenwinkel: Caipi
  4. Anouar Brahem: Blue Maqams
  5. Tom Guarna: The Wishing Stones
  6. Blue Note Allstars: Our Point Of View
  7. Lionel Loueke & Kyle Shepherd: SWR New Jazz Meeting
  8. John Abercrombie Quartet: Up & Coming
  9. Aaron Parks: Find The Way
  10. Jeff Dingler: Observations

Beyond Jazz:

  1. Wobbler: From Silence To Somewhere
  2. Rikard Sjöbloms Gungfly: On Her Journey To The Sun
  3. Arto Lindsay: Cuidado Madame
  4. Spoon: Hot Thoughts
  5. Big Big Train: Grimspound
  6. Juana Molina: Halo
  7. Kaipa DaCapo: Kaipa DaCapo Live
  8. The Tangent: The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery
  9. Benjamin Clementine: I Tell A Fly
  10. Grizzly Bear: Painted Ruins

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