One of the great pleasures of the holiday season is taking stock of the last 12 months, comparing notes with friends, investigating their recommendations and catching up with some of those releases that you never quite got round to. The falling cost of an independent release has meant that it is easier than ever for a musician to get their work out there, but probably the hardest it has been to get any meaningful attention from a fragmented media. All the more reason to support communities like All About Jazz, of course, but also to look at and reflect on those releases that for a variety of reasons I never got round to reviewing. The albums in the following divide roughly between those which were in the top rank which I didn't hear until too late and those which, while not quite at the same level, deserved to be noticed and recognised.
Andrew Cyrille Quartet The Declaration of Musical Independence ECM Records
ECM have a strong case for being the best jazz label of 2016. Not only did their releases include the stunning Vijay Iyer
and Wadada Leo Smith
collaboration, but also this spacious and engrossing collection from Andrew Cyrille
and his quartet. The high production values that we have come to expect from ECM are perfect for the soundscapes that Cyrille, Bill Frisell
, Richard Teitelbaum
and Ben Street
conjure up here. Highlights are many, but include the beautiful stillness of "Kaddish" or "Say," or the rhythmically shifting closer "Song for Andrew No.1." There are slight mis-steps with the overtly '70s guitar texture on album opener "Coltrane Time" and maybe "Herky Jerky" feels slight in this company, but this is for the most part an absorbing collection of music played with restraint, depth of feeling and musical purpose.
Christer FredriksenVit Losen Records
Norway's Losen Records is a broad church that can accommodate everything from singer songwriters like Gine Gaustad Anderssen, through two Scheen Jazzorkester releases to label boss' Andreas Loven
's "District Six" fusion of African music with jazz that made a few year-end lists. In a way Christer Fredriksen's "Vit" reflects this diverse approachan interesting if uneven (mostly) solo guitar record, recorded in single takes using only a loop pedal and 3 amplifiers. At its best on "Meditation for Tina" and "Underwater Birth," which mine a mid-1980s David Sylvian ambience, or "The Day I Lived" which should appeal to mid-1970s Pink Floyd fans, elsewhere Fredriksen occasionally lapses into a more conventional rock sound -but there is clearly talent there and much to enjoy on the collection as a whole.
John MartinThe Hidden Notes: The Spirit of Adventure F-IRE Records
As the title implies, there was no shortage of experimentation on this intriguing release from saxophonist John Martin on the UK's F-ire records from June 2016. The idea behind the collection was Martin's discovery of in his words "a fingering that produced several notes simultaneously. It was such a strong, rich sound that I could hardly believe what I was hearing." The best way to describe the results is that they provide an interesting texture and the collection looks to build 11 compositions (and 3 preludes) from the investigations that followed. It holds the attention throughout and at its best on tracks like "The Spirit of Adventure" or "Tick Tock" is very good indeed.
Jack DeJohnette In Movement ECM Records
This ECM collection is absolutely brilliant, crème de la crème, with a stellar trio featuring Ravi Coltrane
and Matthew Garrison
with Jack DeJohnette
. Coltrane initially catches the ear with his fantastic, soulful and wounded playing on opener "Alabama" but all contribute significantly. Garrison's electric bass on "Serpentine Fire," and DeJohnette's immense rhythms on "Rashied" being just two highlights of a superb collection. I missed this on release, but rank it among 2016's finest.
Esperanza Spalding Emily's D+Evolution Concord Music Group
Spalding made an ambitious, creative, leap forward on this lyrically dense and complex album that stepped beyond the jazz influenced nu-soul style of earlier records like Esperanza
or Radio Music Society
. It's achieved principally by the adoption of a more theatrical approach, the title's Emily being an alter ego using Spalding's middle name, but also by taking to heart Wayne Shorter
's wonderful definition of jazz: "I dare you." There's definitely something of the adventure of Joni Mitchell's late 1970s period in the lyrics and layered harmonies of tracks like "Unconditional Love" and "Judas," but also something of the sonic texture of say St. Vincent's recent albums. Add a touch of prime period Prince and the unrestrained, unpredictable, vocal twists of 1960s Laura Nyro and you have a very special sound indeed. With co-producer Tony Visconti, Spalding filters these diverse influences through a jazz sensibility to come up with a collection that, at its best, stood shoulder to shoulder with 2016's finest.
Melanie De Biasio Blackened Cities Pias Recordings
Another singer who successfully defied expectations in 2016 was De Biasio with this single 25 minute track that owed as much to Spirit of Eden
-era Talk Talk, or early incarnations of the Doors, as High Priestess of Soul
. So while De Biasio's vocals were less centre stage than on previous album No Deal
, the more sparing interventions from that
voice somehow pulled things back to jazz. De Biasio once described her group's music "C'est pas vraiment du jazz, mais c'est aussi du jazz"roughly 'it's not really jazz, but it is also jazz,' and this is perhaps the best illustration of this statement that the band have achieved to date. It should also be said that this was wonderful, expressive and immersive music that will hopefully be followed by more in 2017.
Nik Bartsch's Mobile Continuum ECM Records
The last featured release is yet another top draw album from ECM. This was Bartsch's first recording since 2012's classic Live
album by his Ronin band, but crucially with an all acoustic "Mobile" line up. While there are similarities to "Ronin," the instrumentation shifts the emphasis to the modern classical side of Bartsch's music, over what he called the "Zen-funk" of Ronin. Some found this made Continuum
harder to get along with than Live
, but personally I found both exceptional. Bartsch's music is spacious and atmospheric, communicating emotion through small changes to repetitive patterns that require a strong empathy and trust between the players to succeed . "Continuum" was an album that I returned to regularly following its release in late Spring 2016surely the test of a great piece of music.
Tracks and Personnel The Declaration of Musical Independence
Tracks: Coltrane Time; Kaddish; Sanctuary; Say; Dazzling (Percchordally Yours); Herky Jerky; Begin; Manfred; Song For Andrew No. 1.
Personnel: Andrew Cyrille: drums, percussion; Bill Frisell: guitar; Richard Teitelbaum: synthesizer, piano; Ben Street: double-bass. Vit
Tracks: Preludium; The Day I Lived; Five Drops of Love; Go With the Grain; Underwater Birth; Flow; I Did Nothing; Raindancer; Meditation for Tina.
Personnel: Christer Fredriksen: guitar; Kenneth Silden: keyboards (tracks 4 & 6); Jan Erik Pettersen: percussion samples (track 4). The Hidden Notes: The Spirit of Adventure
Tracks: Pentacision (part 1); Pentacision (part 2); Heptopia; Prelude; Spirit of Adventure; Prelude; Tick Tock; The Optimistic Pessimist; Prelude; Folklore; Whisper; Giant's Stomp; Eddies; Unity.
Personnel: John Martin: tenor sax; Ralph Wyld: vibraphone; Rob Updegraff: guitar; Tim Fairhall: double bass;Tim Giles: drums. In Movement
Tracks: Alabama; In Movement; Two Jimmys; Blue In Green; Serpentine Fire; Lydia; Rashied; Soulful Ballad.
Personnel: Jack DeJohnette: drums, piano, electronic percussion; Ravi Coltrane: tenor, soprano and sopranino saxophones; Matthew Garrison: electric bass, electronics. Emily's D+Evolution
Tracks: Good Lava; Unconditional Love; Judas; Earth To Heaven; One; Rest In Pleasure; Ebony And Ivy; Noble Nobles; Farewell Dolly; Elevate Or Operate; Funk The Fear; I Want It Now.
Personnel: Esperanza Spalding: bass, composer, piano, primary artist, producer, synthesizer bass, vocals; Matthew Stevens: guitar; Justin Tyson: drums; Karriem Riggins: drums, percussion; Celeste Butler: vocals (background); Emily Elbert: vocals (background); Fred Martin: vocals (background); Katriz Trinidad: vocals (background); Nadia Washington: vocals (background). Blackened Cities
Tracks: Blackened Cities.
Personnel: Melanie De Biasio: chant, flute; Pascal Mohy: piano; Pascal Paulus: vintage synths, backings; Sam Gerstmans: double bass; Dre Pallemaerts: drums; Bart Vincent: backings. Continuum
Tracks: Modul 29_14; Modul 12; Modul 18; Modul 5; Modul 60; Modul 4; Modul 44; Modul 8_11.
Personnel: Nik Bärtsch: piano; Sha: bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Kaspar Rast: drums, percussion; Nicolas Stocker: drums, tuned percussion; Etienne Abelin: violin (3, 4, 7); Ola Sendeckl: violin (3, 4, 7); David Schnee: viola (3, 4, 7); Solme Hong: cello (3, 4, 7); Ambrosius Huber: cello (3, 4, 7).