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Jerome Wilson's Best Releases of 2019


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The human voice was the first musical instrument and many of my favorite releases of the past year show how powerful the voice can be, whether the singer is in a choir, part of an instrumental ensemble or leading the band. Of course there were also many purely instrumental releases that were outstanding as well.

Fire Orchestra
Rune Grammofon

This Scandanavian ensemble is pared down from 28 to 14 members here, but their ability to create an unearthly swirling wonderland of jazz, soul and noise out of strings, voices and horns is undimmed. Sun Ra would have been proud of them.

Steve Haines
And The Third Floor Orchestra
Justin Time

Bassist Haines arranges a gorgeous suite of folk, pop and classical pieces for string orchestra that features solo work by Chad Eby on soprano saxophone, Joey Calderazzo on piano and Becca Stevens doing the finest singing of her career.

Wadada Leo Smith
Rosa Parks: Pure Love

Smith continues his creative hot streak with this oratorio dedicated to Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks. It combines small units of trumpets, percussion, strings, voices, samples of Smith's old musical colleagues and Parks' own words into abstract but eerily beautiful music. The piece has a very strong cumulative power.

Eric Dolphy
Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions

This is the sum total of Dolphy's varied and challenging 1963 recordings including some pieces previously unreleased. It includes dazzling small and large ensemble jazz, experimental classical works and sublime duets with bassist Richard Davis.

James Brandon Lewis
An Unruly Manifesto
Relative Pitch

As the title suggests, this is an ill-behaved and unpredictable mashup of rock, soul and jazz improvisation put together by Lewis and other relatively fresh players like Anthony Pirog and Jaimie Branch.

The Art Ensemble of Chicago
We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration
Pi Recordings

Roscoe Mitchell and Famoudou Don Moye bring together a greatly expanded version of the Art Ensemble for its 50th anniversary. The resulting music encompasses unfettered jazz blowing, poetry, art song and tireless grooves, all continuing the AEC's formidable legacy.

The OGJB Quartet

Four avant-jazz veterans, Oliver Lake, Graham Haynes, Joe Fonda and Barry Altschul get together for the first time and have just the sort of muscular, free-blowing romp you would expect.

Eric Hofbauer's Five Agents
Book Of Water
Creative Nation Music

Guitarist Hofbauer leads a spellbinding live recording where his spidery and intricate lines weave in and out of the bracing free-to-funk blowing of an able group of musicians.

Bria Skonberg
Nothing Never Happens
Self Produced

This is Bria Skonberg's coming of age. The trumpeter and vocalist surpasses all her previous recordings, showing a new grit and maturity in her performances, while expanding her stylistic range to take in modern jazz, soul and country.

Sara Gazarek
Thirsty Ghost
Self Produced

This is a heartfelt set by singer Gazarek born out of personal trial and reflection. The songs come from sources ranging from Hoagy Carmichael to Dolly Parton but Gazarek interprets them all with deep emotional feeling.

Taylor Ho Bynum 9-tette
The Ambiguity Manifesto
Firehouse 12

Bynum assembles a bunch of his colleagues from the New York/New Haven scene, such as Ingrid Laubrock and Mary Halvorson, for a lively journey that starts with swanky blues and moves through prickly free improvisation and freakish electronic noise before resolving into slow and graceful group harmonics.

Eri Yamamoto Trio & Choral Chameleon
Goshu Ondo Suite
AUM Fidelity

Pianist Yamamoto builds an impressive choral work out of a Japanese traditional circle dance song which is brought to life by the choir, Choral Chameleon, and her long-standing trio. The infectious joy of the choir's massed voices and the slinky roll of the trio mesh beautifully.


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