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Year in Review

Phil Barnes' Favourite Albums of 2014


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The sheer volume of great records that I have managed to hear, and the knowledge that there are many more that I haven't, means that I make no pretence of presenting a list of the definitive albums of the year. Instead, this is a snapshot list of the ten records that I have enjoyed the most that were released in 2014 and which I have reviewed for All About Jazz.

There are several that have just missed the cut including great records from the likes of GoGo Penguin, Paragon and Partisans. Similarly some records by Louis Sclavis and Melanie De Biasio were ruled out on account of my having only reviewed them elsewhere. If this gives you the impression that the contents of the list were somewhat fluid then you'd be right, but all of these are great albums that have stayed in my memory and on my stereo for an extended period. As such they are unreservedly recommended, but are not presented in any order of merit or preference.

Matthew Halsall
When the World Was One
(Gondwana Records)

The Gondwana stable produced several great albums this year, such as those by Mammal Hands and GoGo Penguin, but this from label boss Halsall was my favourite of the lot. I called it "one of the finest British jazz records of the modern era" in May and stand by that.

Nat Birchall
Live in Larissa
(Sound Soul And Spirit)

Birchall is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Matthew Halsall, indeed he appears on When the World Was One (above). These days however, he has his own Sound, Soul & Spirit label on which this fantastic double vinyl LP or sonically excellent 24 bit lossless download were released. The album documents a fantastic live appearance at the Duende Jazz Bar in Larissa that took the Coltrane and spiritual jazz influences further in an inspired, memorable and very, very beautiful performance.

Zara McFarlane
If You Knew Her
(Brownswood Recordings)

I was disappointed with a lot of the vocal jazz I heard in 2014 but not this absolute belter from Zara McFarlane. Other vocal records I enjoyed, like the albums by Melanie De Biasio, Janette Monae and Alice Zawadzki I either didn't review at all or not here. Ms McFarlane was, indisputably, the pick of the bunch blending fabulous jazz covers of reggae classics like Junior Murvin & Lee Perry's "Police and Thieves" or Nora Dean & Duke Reid's "Angie La La" with originals such as "Woman in the Olive Groves" or "Her Eyes." Pure class.

Dylan Howe
Subterranean (New Designs on Bowie's Berlin)
(Motorik Recordings)

The tribute album is rarely better than mediocre and several that I heard this year were, frankly, appalling. Dylan Howe's Subterranean, however, showed that with a bit of imagination, a great band and a lot of talent it could not only be successful but be a triumph. As a long term Bowie fan, I had low expectations of this release but instead stumbled into a clear album of the year that I expect to be enjoying for many years to come.

Alexander Hawkins
Step Wide, Step Deep
(Babel Label)

British pianist Alexander Hawkins seemed able to effortlessly jump between improv and jazz on this fantastic Babel records album from the Spring—he also cut a mean solo piano work for the same label Song Singular (not reviewed) which is also worthy of investigation.

Simon Purcell
Red Circle
(Whirlwind Recordings Ltd)

Purcell took something like 30 years to produce this debut album, released on London's Whirlwind records. Assembling an excellent band, that included Partisans Gene Calderazzo and Julian Siegel, he proved that good things come to he who waits—here's hoping that the follow up arrives while I possess enough of my faculties to appreciate it...

David Sylvian
There's a Light That Enters Houses With No Other House in Sight

Then right at the end of the year Sylvian dropped this gem of a surprise collaboration with Pulitzer prize winning poet Franz Wright. Completely unexpected brilliance and all the better for it.

The Bell Garden
(Self Produced)

Melodic and emotional this piano trio was the sound of musician friends reunited—and in "Jerusalem State of Mind" one of the tracks of the year.

Mammal Hands
(Gondwana Records)

Just edging out label mates GoGo Penguin with its placid beauty, for no other reason than that it was what I needed this year...

Tori Freestone
In the Chop House
(Whirlwind Recordings Ltd)

Whirlwind had a great year that included Simon Purcell (see above) and also albums as good as Partisans Swamp, plus the Andy Milne & Dapp Theory and Marko Churnchetz collections. This debut by Tori Freestone just pipped the latter three on account of its self-contained, hypnotic, sound world that made it a pleasure to revisit over an extended period.

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