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Year in Review

Geno Thackara's Best Releases of 2019


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Another year, another wealth of goodies, and as usual it seems unfair to narrow down so many fine offerings to only a dozen favorites. Also as usual, there were a couple late discoveries that would have deserved to be included here last year if I'd known about them at the time. Belated credit goes to the Counterfictionals' No Hay Banda and Siril Malmedal Hauge/Jacob Young's Last Things, which are both superb in vastly different ways.

Kevin Hays and Lionel Loueke
Edition Records

This one is the most understatedly beautiful kind of marvel: African rhythm, metropolitan cool and folky heart (and much more) all effortlessly held together by smarts and charm. It's continually impressive that so much sound and feeling comes from two instruments and voices without even any technology or effects.

Bruce Hornsby
Absolute Zero
Zappo Productions

While Hornsby's urge to explore remains as relentless as ever, he still somehow always sounds like himself, and the throughline about science here doesn't mean neglecting the touching human side.

Romain Collin
Tiny Lights...
Revive Music Group

Collin's smart piano work is put through a different context in seemingly each track here, with accompaniment from techno beats to orchestral strings. His picturesque score-with-no-film is a wild and fascinating ride, hard-driving, infectiously melodic and never nearly as simple as it sounds.

Yotam Silberstein
Future Memories
Jazz & People

It doesn't make a huge impression at first glance, but this proves to be a slow grower as subtle and evocative as its mysterious title hints. Silberstein's voice as guitarist and composer proves to be both approachable and fascinatingly worldly.

Lafayette Gilchrist
Dark Matter
Lafayette Music

In the same way that dark matter pervades the universe we know, Dark Matter is threaded with a wealth of stylistic elements spanning the whole world of music. Lafayette Gilchrist's exuberant solo recital offers a vast range of patterns to unravel, while the surface is always approachable and the groove is unstoppable.

Portico Quartet
Memory Streams
Gondwana Records

You don't quite listen to a Portico recording so much as immerse yourself in it, and that's more true than ever of this mesmeric trip into jazzy electro-ambient inner space—another natural step that shows them following their natural path and still sounding like nobody else.

Monty Alexander
Wareika Hill—Rasta-Monk Vibrations

Who knew Thelonious Monk's bop and stride had such deep roots in the southern and eastern hemispheres? If the connection wasn't clear before, Monty Alexander makes it unmistakable in a celebratory romp bursting with life, color and joy.

GoGo Penguin
Ocean in a Drop
Blue Note Records

In keeping with the poetic title theme, the brief space of an EP is enough for this ever-evolving trio to create sonic vistas as vast as any landscape. Smart and wonderfully compelling.

Florian Hoefner Trio
First Spring
Alma Records

The cheerful interplay and improvisation would belong in any jazz club out there, while the song selections and emotional tones are rooted in the worlds of folk and bluegrass. Florian Hoefner and friends strike gold with their appealing blend of smart and sweet.

Go: Organic Orchestra and Brooklyn Raga Massive
Ragmala—A Garland of Ragas
Meta Records

Even though world-spanning variety is a constant theme of this list, Adam Rudolph's delightful brainchild still leaves all the rest behind. With two top- notch ensembles and the globe's whole spectrum of instruments at his disposal, he realizes his vision of an organically grown "future music" in its most wide-ranging and unclassifiable form to date.

Klas Jervfors Turner
Suburban Dreams
Krokodill Records

The scope of this one goes far beyond the suburban, drifting between analog and electronic as easily as it travels from Scandinavia to South America. Swinging or catchy or groovy or experimental, it's never anything less than fascinating.

Mulo Francel and Chris Gall
GLM Music

This outing draws on old-world thought as much as influence from the modern-day rock world. Francel and Gall make key virtues out of patience and mantric simplicity here, making for a beautiful session often bordering on sublime.

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