Ian Patterson's Best Releases of 2017


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I'm always conscious of the fact that no matter how much new music you listen to in a given year it represents but a handful of stars in a teeming galaxy. These are a few of the brightest stars to have illuminated my 2017.

The Firebirds
Aladdin's Dream
ILK Music

The Firebirds, the Danish trio of drummer Stefan Pasborg, saxophonist/clarinetist Anders Banke and keyboardist Anders Filipsen recorded a brilliant tribute to the music of Igor Stravinsky and Aram Khatjaturjan in 2015 and follow it up here with a striking tribute to eminent Danish classical composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931). Respectful yet innovative, The Firebirds' hommage to Nielsen captures the folkloric colors of his music and filters it through a jazz prism by way of The Doors. A one-of-a-kind jazz trio.

Bruno Raberg
Triloka:Music For Strings And Soloists
Orbis Music

In a radical departure from his usual habitat, Bruno Råberg leads a large string ensemble through composed/improvised terrain, with influences ranging from contemporary classical, folk music—particularly that of India—and jazz. The writing and playing are both utterly compelling, with the leader's bass a sublime improvisational beacon.

Nguyen Le/Ngô Hồng Quang
Ha Noi Duo
ACT Music

The brilliant Vietnamese-French guitarist Nguyên Lê never makes the same record twice in a row, although he has often returned to the music of Vietnam for inspiration. Joined by multi-instrumentalist and singer extraordinaire Ngô Hồng Quang, Vietnamese tradition is just one of the pan-Asian colors given the jazz-rock, jazz-fusion treatment on an album that is visceral and haunting in turn.

Izabella Effenberg
Unit Records

A sure sign of the strength of the second release from Polish vibraphonist Izabella Effenberg is that it commands the attention for the full extent of its seventy- minute running time. The duality of Effenberg's classical/jazz training is evident throughout on music that is always elegant and, when she unleashes her virtuosity, frequently exciting.

Meilana Gillard
Dream Within A Dream
Lyte Records

Ohio-born though Belfast based, saxophonist/composer Meilana Gillard's first release in eight years was worth the wait. Straight ahead might mean few surprises but the warmth, sincerity and technical command in Gillard's playing permeates these mostly original compositions. Backed by two of the finest musicians in Ireland in drummer David Lyttle and bassist Neil Ó Loclainn, Gillard shines on an impressive set of blues, balladry and boppish fire.

Rain Sultanov
Inspired By Nature
Ozella Music

Not for the first time veteran Azerbaijani saxophonist/composer Rain Sultanov draws inspiration from his country's nature and dramatic landscapes. Achingly lyrical at one extreme and highly charged at the other, Sultanov exhibits the soul of a poet and the heart of a free-jazz lion on this suite-like homage to Azerbaijan, recorded at Oslo's famed Rainbow Studio.

Tohpati Ethnomission
Mata Hati
Moonjune Records

Indonesia is blessed with a wealth of musical talent and when it comes to the electric guitar there are none better that Tohpati -for over two decades an integral part of Indonesia gamelan/jazz-fusion legends simakDialog. Gamelan rhythms underpin Tohpati's six-string fireworks, while the appearance of the Czech Symphony Orchestra on one track attests to his compositional ambition. Yet it's a fairly futile task trying to hang a label on the music. If Robert Fripp had been born and reared in Jakarta then King Crimson might just have sounded something like Tohpati Ethnomission. Exhilarating stuff.

Atom String Quartet
Zbigniew Seifert Foundation

Atom String Quartet's homage to the music of the great Polish jazz violinist Zbigniew Seifert is proof positive that instrumentation does not define jazz. For violinists Dawid Lubowicz and Mateusz Smoczyński, violist Michal Zaborski and cellist Krzysztof Lenczowski, collectively, form that rarest of beasts—a jazz string quartet. Nor is this shoe-gazing chamber jazz, for Seifert is a rhythmically bouyant, helter-skelter ride of jaw-dropping virtuosity, and a roller coaster of emotion. Genres aside, with Seifert Atom String Quartet makes some elbow room alongside Arditti Quartet and JACK Quartet as one of the most daring of contemporary string ensembles.

Marius Neset
Circle of Chimes
ACT Music

Norwegian saxophonist/composer Marius Neset's Circle of Chimes is the thirty-two year old's most ambitious work to date. Surrounded by long- standing collaborators, with Lionel Loueke adding new colors to Neset's palette, the eight musicians sound like an orchestra -their dazzlingly intricate ensemble passages quite breath-taking. There is also, however, great lyricism and breathing space in Neset's music. Makes the case for Neset as one of contemporary music's most brilliant composers.

Maciej Obara

Though he's played with Tomasz Stanko and recorded a number of notable albums over the past fifteen years, Polish alto saxophonist/composer Maciej Obara steps up a league with the ECM released Unloved -his first on a major label. Ruminative, deeply lyrical and impassioned, Unloved is the calling card of a significant musician whose star is on the rise.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Izabella Wlosy

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