Top 20 Jazz Albums of 2017

Albums of the Year 2017

In another turbulent year of head-spinning change, much of it unwelcome, jazz has once again proved itself as resilient and inspirational as ever. Jazzwise’s prestigious Albums of the Year New Releases Top 20 poll represents the vibrant stylistic diversity running through the contemporary scene. Cécile McLorin Salvant, one of the most exciting jazz singers to emerge in years, has stormed to the top of the chart with her exceptional and adventurous double-album, Dreams and Daggers. Recorded for the most part live at New York’s hallowed Village Vanguard jazz club, Salvant delivers an electrifying performance that’s a perfect blend of old-time authenticity, innate virtuosity and heat of the moment invention. It’s also pertinent to see old masters honoured at positions two and three, with leading UK saxophonist Denys Baptiste’s thrilling and original tribute, The Late Trane, marking 50 years since Coltrane’s death with a forward-looking take on his music; while 87-year-old master pianist Ahmad Jamal returned with an impassioned and richly resonant homage to his home in France, simply and aptly titled, Marseille. Mike Flynn

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Cecile McLorin SalvantCécile McLorin Salvant

Dreams and Daggers

Mack Avenue

As she showed on her auspicious 2010 release WomanChild, the singer is really not one to shirk a challenge. In what is the defining moment of this impressive live performance spread over two discs she looks up at two of the towers of the Great American Songbook – Gershwin's 'My Man's Gone Now' and Berlin's 'Let's Face The Music And Dance' – and scales the heights set by some of her predecessors with a poise and self-possession beyond her 27 summers. Indeed, the impression of a wizened old soul in a young body is greatly reinforced by the wide range of emotional nuance, from desolation to resignation via irony and devil-may-care abandon, that Salvant conveys in her modulations of phrase, some of which are sober and some bold, like an arched eyebrow by way of her voice. That the recording took place at no less historic a venue than the Village Vanguard lends a certain gravitas to the occasion, and the inclusion of a string section on several complementary studio tracks simply dignifies proceedings further. Retaining the able acoustic trio led by pianist Aaron Diehl that graced her previous releases, Salvant negotiates a largely standards-based repertoire with none of the trying-too-hard emphasis that can blight young pretenders. She sometimes, slightly à la Billie, skims the slow pace of introspective spoken word, as if she understands the homoerotic sub-text of Noel Coward's 'Mad About The Boy' and its tragedy in an era of criminalised homosexuality, just as much as she sees the relevance of 'Si J'etais Blanche' ('If I Were White'), a song made famous in France by Josephine Baker in the 1930s, to a modern America bitterly divided along racial fault-lines. Salvant's ability to find such strong echoes of the present in the music of the past and invest each lyric with immense strength of character mark her out as an artist who has a grip on cultural history to match a talent rooted in the now. Kevin Le Gendre

 

BaptisteDenys Baptiste

The Late Trane 

Edition

I was fortunate enough to see the saxophonist perform this tribute to Coltrane at last year’s London Jazz Festival, and it was a five star night. The studio recording more than consolidates what was presented on stage, crucially retaining the spontaneity as well as the precision of the playing, and, courtesy of producer Jason Yarde’s careful mix, a sense of the ‘heaviness’ Baptiste is shooting for with an expanded ensemble. That was very necessary given the subject matter, which is an interpretation of the final phase of Ohnedaruth’s career, when his pursuit of music that evoked the infinite as well as the primeval took him to the outer fringes of sonic convention. Baptiste manages to create similar density with the doubling of instruments such as bass and tenor sax – from stellar guest Steve Williamson, who sounds quite glorious, his broad roar marking a fine contrast with Baptiste’s piercing cry – while retaining an accessible touch that reflects his own Caribbean and black British heritage. The slides into rumba and drum’n’bass don’t so much lighten a bulky sound as nudge it in a more danceable direction that in turn reminds us that the putative divide between avant-garde and pop culture was never unbridgeable for Trane. Baptiste leads this ensemble with great maturity, giving a sense of measure and focus to his improvisations, really capturing the lyricism of the source material all the while bringing his personality to bear on it. 2005’s Let Freedom Ring, his tribute to Martin Luther King, served notice of Baptiste’s imagination, and this laterally courageous take on Coltrane also underlines ambition to match a substantial talent. Kevin Le Gendre

 

JamalAhmad Jamal

Marseille

Jazz Village

A new album from Ahmad Jamal is always an event, as he has seldom stood still in his career, always looking for new settings, new ideas and new material. Although (between periods of semi-retirement) he has preferred a quartet format in recent years, there’s nothing settled about it. The rhythmic variety created by Herlin Riley’s drumming – showing an encyclopedic grasp of rhythm section playing – and Manolo Badrena’s percussion varies the texture beguilingly, while the interplay between Jamal and James Cammack’s bass is apparently casual, but actually deeply nuanced. For example, in the vamp out of which ‘Autumn Leaves’ gradually appears, disappears and returns again, a left hand piano figure becomes a bass ostinato, as Jamal superimposes a second repetitive figure over the bassline. He has always been a past master of building and releasing tension, of dynamic contrasts, and of juxtaposing alarmingly forceful piano figures with playing of such exquisite delicacy that the listener is seduced by the sheer beauty of his touch. On this album we also share the degree to which France, and its southern seaport of the title in particular, has seduced Jamal himself. The dreamy opening title track, where Jamal cunningly superimposes a lazy modal texture over the paradiddles and ratamacues of Riley’s snare drumming, brilliantly creates two moods at once, and this sense of dreaming while time passes relentlessly is recaptured in Al Malik’s declamatory reading of the lyrics, and Agossi’s sensuous singing of them. By weaving the other tracks, mainly new, but also containing two standards, into the spaces between the three versions of ‘Marseille’, means that the album is also conceived as an entity. Individual tracks, including a muscular version of ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’ repay separate listening, but the record rewards listening right through as a whole, in just the way a Jamal concert set unfolds, with a mixture of being self-referential and bravely exploring the new. Alyn Shipton

 

PhronesisPhronesis

The Behemoth

Edition

After a decade faithful to their beloved and classic trio format, Phronesis find themselves borne aloft upon the giant sound of the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. Given wings by the arrangements of Julian Argüelles, who knows the FRBB and Phronesis with some intimacy, the band’s back catalogue comes alive with a revisioning that yet remains true to the originals. It would have been ‘easy’ for Argüelles to reimagine the songs in his own image, reshaping them through the lens of his own experience of Loose Tubes and the European big band scene. There’s an element of that in the fresh chordings of ‘Untitled #1’. But in general Argüelles remains true to the band’s own arrangements, adding instead colourations, dynamic build and tectonic structures for the likes of Stefan Weber’s tenor to erupt on the urgent propulsion of ‘Stillness’ or for Christian Jaksjø’s unlikely bass trumpet to sing on ‘Charm Defensive’. By not attempting to get a big band to replicate the details and intricacies of the trio’s fleet-footed interplay, Argüelles has liberated both Phronesis and the orchestra to do what they each do best. You’ll gaze amazed as this dragon dances. Andy Robson

 

Charles LloydCharles Lloyd New Quartet

Passin’ Thru

Blue Note

Charles Lloyd formed his New Quartet in April 2007, and has toured and recorded with it whenever he has returned to the quartet format over the last decade. Surrounded by musicians half his age, he seems rejuvenated in their presence – certainly his playing does not betray the passing of years (he was born in 1938) but instead displays a rich, ripe maturity – while the younger men, aware they are under the wing of a master, willingly surrender individual ambition to collective endeavour. Certainly, there is a focus and intensity to Moran’s playing when with Lloyd that’s not so apparent on his own recordings. Lloyd reaches back into his distinguished past with a performance of ‘Dream Weaver’, the title track of his debut album on the Atlantic label that introduced his then new quartet with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette. Recorded at the Montreux Jazz festival on 30 June 2016, it’s a memorable performance, Lloyd commenting, “I bring many more years of experience that I did not have as an idealistic young man.” The remaining performances are drawn from a concert at The Lensic in Santa Fé, New Mexico on 29 July 2016, and include standout performances from both Lloyd and Moran on ‘Nu Blues’, ‘How Can I Tell You’ and ‘Passin’ Thru’. Stuart Nicholson

 

McLaughlinJohn McLaughlin & The Fourth Dimension

Live @ Ronnie Scott’s

Abstract Logix

Not that we’d ever unnecessarily blow our own trumpet, so to speak, but it’s worth mentioning that the CD sleeve text of this ‘live’ highlights compilation from the legendary jazz axe’s memorable two-nighter at Ronnie’s in March forgets to mention that these were also the opening gigs of Jazzwise’s 20th anniversary festival. More significantly, though, this is a recording that could be one of the 75-year-old guitarist’s last UK date, as he comes to the end of a farewell US tour in December with his 4th Dimension band. With this in mind, and the fact that Ronnie’s was such a special venue during his formative years, were probably significant factors in the incisive and soulfully intimate performances heard by sell-out audiences on both nights, a selection of which has transferred well onto CD. Thankfully eschewing a boring muscle-flexing, ego-led fusion workout, McLaughlin and company instead set about freshening up the original jazz-rock ensemble/ composition-focused template. It’s all about the tunes and this is a well-balanced and pretty diverse selection of Mahavishnu Orchestra classics and tracks mostly from 4th Dimension’s most recent 2015 CD Black Light. They announce themselves with a Mahavishnu epic ‘Meeting Of The Spirits’, that kicks in abruptly with crashing chords and percussion before McLaughlin’s lightning Indo-psych fretwork hooks up with Gary Husband’s intensely edge-of-the-seat Fender Rhodes, more of which occurs on ‘El Hombre Que Sabia’, McLaughlin’s otherworldly flamenco-infused tribute to old sparring partner Paco De Lucia. Other big moments include the ominous Led Zep-like chime on ‘Sanctuary’ lifted from Birds of Fire, McLaughlin’s tastefully understated blues references on ‘New Blues Old Bruise’ and bassist Etienne M’Bappe ability to turn jawdropping virtuosity into something shapely and eloquent on ‘Here Comes the Jiis’. Selwyn Harris

 

Jazzmeia HornJazzmeia Horn

A Social Call

Prestige

The Dallas-born, New York City-based vocalist Jazzmeia Horn was my one to watch for in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of Jazzwise. At the time, she was a semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Vocals Competition. She went on to win the competition, one of the results of which is this outstanding debut on the historic Prestige label. The traits which first impressed me about the singer – her incredible time feel, impressive range and consistently beautiful timbre – are everywhere in evidence here. One of her touchstones, Horn’s take on Betty Carter’s ‘Tight’ strikes freewheeling scat gold from the get-go, while the constant gear shifts of the Gigi Gryce-Jon Hendricks title track shows the tight rapport between Horn and her musicians. Whether breathing fresh new life into standards such as ‘East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)’, soaring spectacularly on a joyous ‘I’m Going Down’, phrasing ‘The Peacocks’ with an immaculate legato, or charting the narrative ebb and flow of ‘Medley’, A Social Call is one of the singularly most powerful debuts of recent times. Peter Quinn

 

DjangoDjango Bates with The Frankfurt Radio Big Band

Saluting Sgt. Pepper

Edition

A heady brew of Beatles, Bates and beefy big band, Saluting Sgt. Pepper could easily have been one seriously over-egged concoction. But though we are whisked away on a Wurlitzer of multi-tracked voices and instrumentation, Bates and the assembled masses have pulled off a master stroke of wit and imagination delivered with discipline. What holds it together is that Bates has remained loyal to the original album’s concept: the arrangements are essentially the same, as is the running order, preserving the flow of one song into another. Bates has also retained familiar musical coat hooks from the original that orient us throughout the project, like Ringo’s fills, that meat and potatoes piano, all the vocals (a heroic performance from Dahl). But around those loved elements, Bates interleaves colours and rhythmic reinventions that complement the songs while maintaining a deep respect, and, crucially, an even deeper affection for the music and the emotions it evokes. Somehow Bates finds musical equivalents for the studio effects (most obviously on that iconic close to ‘A Day In The Life’), sometimes he joyously builds on what’s already there (a choir of clarinets on ‘When I’m 64’), or he cheekily inserts, as with the extra beat in ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Because it’s so tightly visioned, there’s little room for the band to stretch out, except on the reprise of ‘Lonely Hearts Club Band’, which kicks in funky and dirty. But all that does is make you want to hear how special this could be live. Andy Robson

 

WollnyParisien / Peirani / Schaerer / Wollny

Out of Land

ACT

Though this was the first performance by this intriguing line-up in Bern in 2016, it is already being hailed a supergroup. And with good reason. Between them, this hugely talented group of thirty-somethings have won 12 German ECHO awards – and let’s not kid ourselves here, the ECHO award given by the Deutsche Phono-Akademie, an association of recording companies, is to recognise outstanding achievement on record and is a big deal in Europe – placing them among the crème de la crème of European jazz musicians. Parisien and Peirani are leading exhibits on the Paris jazz scene, Schaerer from Switzerland is one of the great singing improvisers of our time while Michael Wollny’s shooting star career into the top ranks of European jazz has been a thing to behold. What is remarkable in the light of these performances is that neither Wollny or Schaerer had previously played together before three days of rehearsal prior to the concert. Yet what emerges is a series of five highly interactive, in-the-blink-of-an-eye give-and-take creations where each individual performer is charged with sustaining the creative moment in solo without upsetting the symmetry of the collective whole. In other words, they don’t go off in pursuit of their own creative muse that may or may not fit the context of what has been created collectively, but work within its parameters. During the course of these remarkable performances each musician seems intent in raising the bar of collective interaction so that what emerges is something that exceeds the sum of its component parts. Climaxed by ‘Ukuhamba’, an audacious 14-minute epic, it demands recognition for the triumph of spontaneously conceived jazz improvisation it is. Stuart Nicholson

 

DiasporaChristian Scott aTunde Adjuah

Diaspora

Ropeadope

Review of the first part of the trilogy, Ruler Rebel: Is this the future sound of black American jazz – an inclusive yet rhythmically complex groove based music that owes as a much to black urban culture – predominantly hip hop and trap music rhythms – as it does to jazz improv techniques and rhythms? It’s certainly interesting that similar elements swim through the music of Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington, who along with Scott are currently big box office, pulling-in substantial new audiences for their music. Ruler Rebel is the first album of a trilogy celebrating 100 years of recorded jazz, and will be followed by Diaspora and Emancipation Procrastination later in the year. At the heart of this music are polyrhythmic grooves that might come from jazz, New Orleans black Indian music, trap, Malian rhythm Kassa Soro and the interplay between an SPD drum machine and live drumming. Largely featuring Scott’s trumpet, the record introduces his articulate and frequently eloquent voice as the narrator of Ruler Rebel, much like the Persian Princess Scheherazade narrating her tales of the mysterious east to Sultan Shahriar over one thousand and one nights. A key track is ‘Encryption’, a summation of Scott’s direction of travel on the album. Here the running rhythm is derived from the New Orleansian Afro-Indian culture married with Malian Kassa Soro. This is in turn is layered with SPD-SX electronic drum machine and sampling machine played by Joe Dyson and Cory Fonsville that introduce rhythmic elements from trap and hip hop. Sounds complex? Well it is, but it works. Other highlights include ‘New Orleansian Love Song’ and ‘New Orleansian Love Song II’ and a celebration of Afro-Indian culture on ‘The Coronation of K. Atunde Adjuah’. Stuart Nicholson

 

Anouar BrahemAnouar Brahem

Blue Maqams

ECM

Those who took Tunisian oudist Brahem’s beautiful 1998 album Thimar to their hearts might show some love for this release that reunites him with that session’s featured bassist Dave Holland. While there is no sign of saxophonist John Surman, drummer Jack DeJohnette steps in to the breach alongside pianist Django Bates. All of which makes for an interesting blend of both sounds and CVs. Over the years Brahem’s musical world has been intimate, if not hushed, and largely devoid of the presence of snare and cymbal. So DeJohnette’s appearance is noteworthy, as is the decisive but unforced authority he brings to proceedings. Making very focused use of the kit, his astute prodding of the bass drum and skipping tom patterns create a groove that is airy rather than weighty. That said, the whole session has a tremulous, simmering intensity. The title refers to Arabic modes, the richness of which is grist to the mill of an imaginative composer-improviser such as Brahem, and he draws on them extensively, presenting compositions in which curled, careening melody enhances the strong ensemble voice. However, in the moments when the group breaks down to leave him unaccompanied he excels by way of phrasing that is majestically doleful, conveying moods that are then heightened by the gently brushed, mandolin-like yearnings of Bates’ right hand. For both the poise and restraint of the band as well as the beauty of the tonal palette and material this is a strong entry in Brahem’s discography. Kevin Le Gendre

 

TabornCraig Taborn

Daylight Ghosts

ECM

Daylight Ghosts is one of the most evocative and tantalising titles in recent memory, but, more to the point, it stands as a meaningful cousin to Taborn’s release Avenging Angel. Whether a comment on an increasingly dehumanised world or a cryptic claim that spirits, perhaps both good and evil, move among us when the sun is up rather than down, there is an intellectual and emotional substance in the pianist’s use of language that matches the creative core of his music. As has been the case since his emergence in the early 1990s, Taborn has a strong interest in group chemistry and Daylight Ghosts is an ensemble offering in the true sense of the term. In most songs it is the overlap and entwining of parts, the polymelodies as much as polyrhythms, that hold the attention, with head-solo-head strategies largely eschewed. Furthermore, Taborn excels at conjuring ambiences where chords don’t so much shift as melt in and out of focus, and the vapor trails of electronics and icy slivers of acoustic piano of ‘The Great Silence’ make for one of the finest soundscape pieces in his songbook to date. However, the carefully considered breathing space afforded these disparate elements and Taborn’s ability to blur the line between organic and synthetic timbres so that contemporary technology does not feel at all like a bolted-on element in the arrangements is no less impressive. Sprightly non-western rhythms, fluid time and bluesy backbeats simply enhance this beguiling hypnosis. Taborn’s compositional voice is one of distinction, capturing the chill winds that blow over the world today in shadowy laments and juddering grooves, anthems for the anxiety felt by those who see (more) trouble ahead. Or maybe he has written great songs of solace for people in sorrow. Kevin Le Gendre

 

StankoTomasz Stańko New York Quartet

December Avenue

ECM

Listening to the enigmatic Polish trumpet legend Tomasz Stańko is not something to be taken lightly. His mesmerising new album December Avenue by his so-called New York quartet, the follow up to 2013’s Wisława, illustrates this point perfectly. On the surface the darkly reflective character of the music is one that marks out all his recordings, though this particular group creates perhaps more of a balance than previously with the injection of more playful, urban jazz grooves. Underneath though lie deeper layers of meaning that require more focused listening. Moving between apartments in Warsaw and New York, Stańko has no doubt been reinvigorated of late by having a regular east coast line-up, the only new member since Wisława being Reuben Rogers, a compelling bass sideman for both Charles Lloyd and Joshua Redman among others. The contribution from both drummer Gerald Cleaver and pianist David Virelles is nothing less than sublime, the latter delicately drawing from classical music and jazz as well as his Cuban roots, but always organically and entirely at the service of the trumpeter’s compositions. Throughout the recording they manage to say more with less and, following Stańko’s example, attach as much symbolic significance to space as they do sound. From the wearily atmospheric vignette ‘Cloud’ through to the Miles’ free bop-intofusion era references on ‘Burning Hot’ and the title track, Stańko’s compositions are at a high standard with no shortage of ear-catching melodies. The band make a very welcome return to the London Jazz Festival in November. Selwyn Harris

 

HawkinsAlexander Hawkins

Unit[e]

Alexander Hawkins Music

His collaborations and sideman gigs, above all with the legendary Louis Moholo-Moholo, are notable, but Hawkins’ recordings under his own name have also been worthy of attention. This 2CD release is an impressive overview of the British pianist’s strength in both small group and orchestral formats, though there is some overlap in personnel between the sextet on the first disc and the 13-piece ensemble on the second. The tremendous vigour and momentum of the first band is writ large on the opening track, a reprise of Jerome Cooper’s ‘For The People’, in which the joyous hop-skip-jump theme is embellished with a series of taut, concise but memorable variations. Elsewhere there is a strong resonance of Prime Time’s low slung off-centre funk while the orchestral material has an architectural complexity that reflects Hawkins’ avowed interest in AACM aesthetics. While the quality of the collaborators across the two discs is consistently high the fine details really make a difference, be it the bittersweet sway of Otto Fischer’s voice, which is well juxtaposed with the croak of Shabaka Hutchings’ bass clarinet, or the way Matthew Wright’s electronics provide sly embers to the dusk fire of the horns. As absorbing a soloist as he is, with his slanted, elliptical lines, Hawkins is really a vital link in a long historical chain, and his ability to sculpt his own language from a deeply rooted creative bedrock is compelling. Kevin Le Gendre

 

MitchellNicole Mitchell

Mandoria Awakening II: Emerging Worlds

FPE

Mitchell’s work over the past decade has been of a consistently high standard, but she excels herself on this new offering. An improviser with both attention to detail and flourish, Mitchell also has an ear for astute combinations of instruments and an understanding of myriad cultural traditions that allow her to fashion vocabulary well beyond genre confines. Halfway in to the set there is a startling passage of solo vocal testifying by Avery R. Young and it stands as a fine centrepiece, shoring up the essential gospel foundation of the album. Yet the route taken to this epiphany is utterly unforeseen, for the preceding arrangements are an intriguing composite of spectral Japanese and European classical music, industrial guitar rock and back-o-yard blues. Mitchell’s scores are like shapeshifters that bring these disparate elements in and out of focus, but the backbone of the music has the requisite flexibility and clarity to make this possible. Wisely, there is percussion where one might expect a kit drum, and the additional space enables the many timbres to coalesce without any real clutter, much as they do in Afro-latin or indeed Middle Eastern music. Taut, often spare basslines only serve to centre the choral ornamentation. The net result is a real ensemble voice in which solos are contained rather than extended and the interplay of various woodwinds or strings – the overlapping of flute and shakuhachi or the weaving of guitar and cello – is very effective. Mitchell has crafted a structural canvas that is not top-heavy but has great depth, both sonically and emotionally. Mandorla, inspired by ‘the Great Mother’, is confirmation of a brilliant storyteller as well as composer-player in contemporary creative music. Kevin Le Gendre

 

Courtney PineCourtney Pine

Black Notes From The Deep

Freestyle

The headlines may be about the eye-catching collaboration with Omar, but more significantly Black Notes From The Deep finds Pine turning to the tenor for the first time in a decade, wrestling with his horn and the challenge that is about being black and British in our interesting times. As if given confidence by the no frills vibe of The Ballad Book, Pine has taken the intimacy of the classic quartet structure and assembled an album of ballads and blues pierced through with soul and sharp intelligence. The tone is set by the assertive but never aggressive ‘Rules’, with Omar declaiming, “Let’s state our rules… be in control of the main thing”. And control is the key to Black Notes: the tenor of course can be tough and terrifying, yet Pine keeps it proud and purposeful, never being seduced by anger, even on the chillingly titled ‘Rivers of Blood’. His achievement is to reflect on the current spirit of our age, filter it through references to past experience (check his ‘A Change Is Sure To Come’ or the noirish blues of ‘You Know Who You Are’) and then re-present it to us dark, blue and occasionally bible black, but always clear-eyed and courageous. Of his own admission, Pine sometimes writes essays to ‘explain’ his works, especially the epic scaled messages of House of Legends or Europa: but with Black Notes from The Deep, the jazz warrior has stiffened his tenor sinews and summoned the blood to let the music do the talking, and Omar do the singing. Andy Robson

 

AkinmusireAmbrose Akinmusire

A Rift In Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard

Blue Note

Trumpeter Akinmusire’s studio output has been steady since his 2008 album Prelude To Cora, and this double album recorded in performance at the storied New York venue is an assured milestone in his career to date. There are patented Ambrosisms both in terms of playing and writing – that almost flute-like swoon and smear of tone; brooding minor themes full of nonlinearity and melodic asides arriving unforeseen. When the trumpeter says that, although he and his ensemble play ‘a lot’, there is also a spare Chopin quality to what they do, he tells no lie. The shadowy, crepuscular character of much of the material is well to the fore, the result of which can be an intimacy that honours the memory of Booker Little and the living legacy of the great Ron Miles. The richness of Akinmusire’s timbre and phrasing is such that the absence of a reed is not really felt, and his quartet, in any case, is a highly accomplished small group in contemporary jazz. The players are capable of covering the excitingly wide spectrum of the elegiac and the energetic, and the various points of intersection between the two, facilitated in no small measure by drummer Justin Brown’s superlative variations of hard swing, percolating funk and cleverly stuttered march beats. A notable coming of age. Kevin Le Gendre

 

PeltJeremy Pelt

Make Noise

HighNote

With every new Jeremy Pelt album, there’s always something different to look forward to. This is the follow-up to the recently reviewed Jiveculture which featured Ron Carter. This time around he uses Victor Gould on piano, whose leader debut CD on FSNT made this writer’s ‘Best of…’ list for 2016; Vincente Archer, one of New York’s major bassists; Jonathan Barber, a highly rhythmic drummer, whom Pelt used for European dates (very loud in person!), whose feature number is ‘Evolution’, probably the most adventurous of the originals; and, as an additional stimulant, his young percussionist discovery Jacquelene Acevado, who kicks off the record with a prologue for the melodically exciting title tune. Another big difference to Jiveculture is that Jeremy wrote all the tunes, with the exception of ‘Digression’ (Archer’s feature), which is by a Pelt associate, pianist Simona Premazzi, and one of the album’s high-spots. But it’s Jeremy’s record, with arguably his best trumpet playing to date. For once, no fluegelhorn. His sound is robustly flawless – very pure and, of course, there’s a lovely ballad ‘Your First Touch…’, which has some equally tender Gould piano. Two of the most satisfying tracks are saved until the end – the ultramellow, conga-backed ‘Chateau d’Eau’ and the closing hard-hitting belter, ‘Bodega Social’. There are some really terrific trumpet records around at the moment, like the Roney, Weiss and Harrell/ Akinmusire. Here’s another corker! If you can, try and buy them all! Tony Hall

 

VijayVijay Iyer Sextet

Far From Over

ECM

Far From Over arrests on so many levels that at times the energy and varying emotional pulses seem nearly uncontainable. As the pianist fronts this formidable sextet on such compositions as the volatile ‘Down to the Wire’, the whiplashing ‘Good on the Ground’ and the charging title-track, he impels shifting rhythmic beds with serrated melodies and improvisations, while the dynamic frontline horns concoct writhing parallel lines that often bloom into intense strains of laser-sharp passages. In turn, the disc offers moments of glowing introspection – the best of which are the elegiac, piano-bass-drums treatment of ‘For Amiri Baraka’, the spectral ‘End of the Tunnel’, which finds Iyer’s Fender Rhodes chords glimmering alongside Graham Haynes’ lamenting wails, and the pensive ‘Threnody’. Here Iyer slowly unravels a suspenseful melody underneath Stephan Crump’s economical bass counterpoint and Tyshawn Sorey’s delicate cymbal and tom rhythms before the song’s balladry gives way to more foreboding intensity once Haynes, alto saxophonist Steve Lehman, and tenor saxophonist Mark Shim enter the fray.

 

BinkerBinker & Moses

Journey To The Mountain of Forever

Gearbox

Following the critical acclaim lavished on their 2015 debut Dem Ones, Binker and Moses consolidate and expand, both in ideas and personnel. This ambitious double album comprises one session in which the drummer and saxophonist deliver another potent duologue and a second in which they are joined by stellar guests drawn from different generations and backgrounds. Needless to say the format highlights a strong contrast, and not just between music made from small and large resources. B&M’s strength as composers and improvisers, or co-composers in a setting of considerable spontaneity, comes well to the fore. While a piece such as the ‘Fete By The River’ is a compelling example of how a timeless West Indian rhythm such as calypso provides much stimulus for players who can tune into its essence while avoiding soft-option clichés, the more introspective investigations of the ensemble work are no less gripping, primarily because of the careful balance that is struck between the numerous voices at play. They nestle into an open assembly that shifts beguilingly through all manner of tone poetry with a spiky sub-text. A bold statement of intent from two artists who have stayed focused while taking risks. Kevin Le Gendre

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