Mark Sullivan’s Best Releases of 2019

Mark Sullivan BY

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Another year, another diverse group of releases. There were an unusual percentage of albums outside of jazz for me this year, for whatever reason. Although I opted not to review any albums by pianist/composer Satoko Fujii, she released five diverse projects—even after her 2018 marathon of an album a month to celebrate her 60th birthday—so I would like to acknowledge her remarkable productivity and stylistic range. This is a chronological list, not a ranking.

Stephan Thelen
Fractal Guitar
MoonJune Records

Sonar's Swiss guitarist/composer Stephan Thelen's experimental guitar extravaganza, featuring David Torn & Markus Reuter. A feast for guitar fans.

Mats Eilertsen
And Then Comes The Night
ECM Records

Bassist Mats Eilertsen's trio with pianist Harmen Fraanje & drummer Thomas Stronen. A gem!

David Torn
Sun of Goldfinger
ECM Records

Sun Of Goldfinger (David Torn, Tim Berne & Ches Smith): a wild mostly-improvised ride, a standout even among the many remarkable recent ECM releases.

Beat Circus
These Wicked Things
Innova Recordings

Beat Circus' long delayed conclusion to their Weird American Gothic trilogy: worth the wait!

Avishai Darash
A. MA Records

Israeli pianist-composer Avishai Darash made a deliberate effort to combine his Middle Eastern heritage with western influences, with great success.

Michele Rabbia
Lost River
ECM Records

Enchanting improvisational ECM trio: percussionist Michele Rabbia, trombonist Gianluca Petrella & guitarist Eivind Aarset. One of ECM's most genre-defying releases.

John Luther Adams
Become Desert

Cantaloupe Music
Composer John Luther Adams' stunning orchestral piece Become Desert, the final part of a trilogy he never planned to create.

David Helbock
Playing John Williams
ACT Music

Austrian jazz pianist David Helbock's amazing solo piano interpretations of music by film composer John Williams.

Ola Onabule
Point Less
Rugged Ram Records

British-Nigerian singer/songwriter Ola Onabule: a powerful, expressive singer & striking songwriter, with incisive things to say about contemporary society (+ a great band).

Kronos Quartet
Sun Rings
Nonesuch Records

Terry Riley's inspiring composition Sun Rings performed by Kronos Quartet (w/the choir Volti + electronic sounds).

Bill Frisell
Nonesuch Records

Guitarist Bill Frisell's gorgeous vocal Americana project (guitar by Frisell, vocals by the rest of the band).

Penguin Cafe
Handfuls Of Night
Erased Tapes Records Ltd.

Another winner from this group, with Jeffes and company mixing minimalism, folk music and classical string writing into a charming combination. However familiar the musical components may be, Penguin Cafe blends them into something all their own.

Nat King Cole
Hittin' The Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943)
Resonance Records

A massive set of Nat "King" Cole's seminal trio recordings: a hot, jiving swing machine in action!

Adam Rudolph
Ragmala: A Garland Of Ragas
Meta Records

Remarkable, deep World Music + improvisation: "the music goes from strength to strength, a testament to Rudolph's improvisational conducting technique and to this wonderful group of musicians: the "organic" part of the name is very well earned."

Asaf Sirkis
Our New Earth
MoonJune Records

The Sirkis/Bialas International Quartet's long-awaited 2nd album. Full of energy and joy in music making together, and a contemporary jazz sound drawing from broad European, American and Middle Eastern musical influences, it establishes Sirkis/Bialas IQ as a band to watch.

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