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Jakob Baekgaard's Best Releases Of 2016


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The world seems more uncertain than ever before, but in times of uncertainty, music provides comfort and a hope that it is actually possible to communicate across borders, whether they be physical or psychological.

Among the releases that caught my attention this year, the one that meant most to me by far is not on this list, and it was not even reviewed on All About Jazz, not by me or any other writer. Bassist, composer and poet, William Parker's Stan's Hat Flapping in the Wind is a record that is special in many ways. Parker is not even on it and yet his spirit lingered all over the album in the words and music. It is an intimate chamber record with pianist Cooper-Moore and singer Lisa Sokolov, who interpret Parker's poetic songs in the most profound way. It is only in art we can encounter words about "The Death of Death," an impossible paradox, and experience the words of a "Soul in Heaven" being lifted into eternal, heavenly beauty, filled with light, sadness and forgiveness.

Stan's Hat Flapping in the Wind is a keen reminder that the real masterpieces are sometimes outside lists like these. Some music waits to be found, a secret that hides in the shadow, waiting for its particular listener. On the other hand, lists are fun to read and make. So here we go, eleven records from the year gone by that deserve to be heard.

Eri Yamamoto
Aum Fidelity

Why should you check it out? Eri Yamamoto is one of the unsung poets of the piano and her trio with bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Ikuo Takeuchi is consistenly brilliant. Life is the latest highlight in her discography. Admirers of pianist Bill Evans will find much to like about this trio.

Chris Cheek
Saturday Songs
(Sunnyside Records)

Why should you check this out? Few jazz saxophonists dare to include a pedal steel player on their record, but Cheek did so successfully on his wonderful Saturday Songs. An accessible saxophonist who is not afraid of pop, country or rock, but has the intellectual edge of an avant-gardist. This is just what jazz needs today.

Jeff Parker
The New Breed
(International Athem)

Why should you check this out? Words such as "talented" do not suffice anymore to describe guitarist Jeff Parker. By now, he is a leader in every way, paving the way for a new sound in contemporary guitar jazz. The New Breed was just one of three noteworthy Parker-releases in 2016, the others being the solo effort Slight Freedom (Eremite) and a duo record with trumpeter Rob Mazurek, Some Jellyfish Never Die (Rogue Art).

Hailu Mergia
Wede Harer Guzo
(Awesome Tapes from Africa )

Why should you check this out? The uncrowned king of ethio-jazz, Hailu Mergia, returned with another gem from his archives: Wede Harer Guzo. The tight, funky bass groove, arabesque organ riffs and choir on the opener "Embuwa Bey Lamitu" set the record straight from the beginning. Mergia still rules!

Arthur Blythe
Lenox Avenue Breakdown / In The Tradition / Illusions / Blythe Spirit
BGO Records

Why should you check it out? Some reissues are more necessary than others. The re-release of four Columbia albums from saxophonist Arthur Blythe: Lenox Avenue Breakdown, In The Tradition, Illusions, and Blythe Spirit confirms Blythe as a superb stylist who is able to combine funk, bop and avant-garde.

Various Artists
Celestial Blues: Cosmic, Political And Spiritual Jazz 1970 To 1974

Why should you check it out? It is hard to think of a better compendium of cosmic funk jazz than this compilation from BGP. saxophonist Kamasi Washington did not come out of nowhere. This is the tradition he takes to new heights today.

Live at 5e
(ILK Music)

Why should you check it out? Saxophonist Jesper Zeuthen has been compared to Albert Ayler, but he has his own thing going and the official live bootleg-release from the group ZAKS shows him in full flight. Raw and spiritual. Lightning caught in a bottle.

Rune Klakegg & Scheen Jazzorkester
(Losen Records)

Why should you check it out? The zen-like sounds of pianist Rune Klakegg's Scheen Jazzorkester captures the Nordic sound at its most beautiful in a sophisticated big band setting.

Jeremy Cunningham
Re: Dawn (From Far)
(ears&eyes Records)

Why should you check it out? ears&eyes is a promising label from Chicago. They released this excellent debut from drummer Jeremy Cunningham. High quality writing throughout and a contemporary jazz sound. Guitarist Jeff Parker's presence is an added bonus.

Jacob Anderskov
(Stunt Records)

Why should you check it out? Anyone who thinks third stream is dead should listen to pianist Jacob Anderskov's album Resonance. It is possible to combine jazz and violins, romanticism and avant-garde.

Tomasz Dabrowski
S-O-L-O: 30th Birthday/30 Concerts/30 Cities
(Barefoot Records)

Why should you check it out? A Polish trumpeter named Tomasz, but not Stanko. Right now, Dabrowski is the one to watch and his poetic journey into the inner workings of his instrument was both a bold experiment and emotionally engaging.



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