Friday, February 03, 2017

Fave Jazz Recordings of 2016

Below you'll find my picks of the best jazz recordings of 2016. A tad late, I'll concede, especially considering some publications seem to think the year ends in November. Then again, even those of us who write about music professionally come across gems that for whatever reason had slipped us by way into the following year and beyond. I'll also once again note that the past year was an eventful one for me personally speaking, so I did not get to play as much music as I normally would and will have to play catch-up on several notable and/or hyped releases for a while yet. Still, with a good few 2017 recordings having been moved to the front of the listening queue already, I felt this was as good a point as any to post a 2016 list. You may also want to have a look at my NPR Jazz Critics Poll ballot, which I posted in late December.

2016 may have been a rough year on several fronts, but musically there was a lot to be elated by, such as Steve Lehman's Sélébéyone, the powerful beyond jazz-and-hip hop meeting ground that more than any other project proved it is more fruitful to ignore boundaries than to build walls between them. Then there was veteran trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and his Golden Quintet who conjured up America's National parks in their vast expanse and minute details, with stirring bluesy undertones. Mary Halvorson took another step as a composer and set up intriguing interplay between her often angular guitar patterns with steel guitarist Susan Alcorn's gliding lines, plus long time compatriots John Hébert and Ches Smith returning by her side. And that's just three of the many intriguing jazz albums I heard last year. Here's the list (an asterisk denotes I've had a review of the recording published) 

The 15 best, more or less in order of preference:
  • Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone: Sélbéyone (Pi Rcordings) *
  • Wadada Leo Smith Golden Quintet: America's National Parks (Cuneiform)
  • Mary Halvorson Octet: Away With You (Firehouse 12)
  • Anna Högberg Attack: Anna Högberg Attack (Omlott)
  • Jane Ira Bloom: Early Americans (Outline) *
  • Roswell Rudd, Jamie Saft, Trevor Dunn, Balázs Pándi: Strength & Power (RareNoise)
  • Damana (Dag Magnus Narvesen Octet): Cornua Copiae (Clean Feed)
  • Steve Swell Quintet: Soul Travelers (Rogue Art) *
  • Michael Formanek Ensemble Kolossus: The Distance (ECM) *
  • James Brandon Lewis Trio: No Filter (BNS Sessions)
  • Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom: Otis Was a Polar Bear Roayl Potato Family)
  • Aruán Ortiz Trio: Hidden Voices (Intakt Records) *
  • Greg Ward & Ten Tongues: Touch My Beloved's Thought (Greenleaf Music) *
  • Murray, Allen, Carrington Power Trio: Perfection (Motema Music)
  • Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up: Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (Pi Recordings)
15 more on heavy rotation:
  • Peter Brötzmann, William Parker, Hamid Drake: Song Sentimentale (CD version, Otorku) *
  • Eric Revis Trio: Crowded Solitudes (Clean Feed) *
  • Jason Roebke Octet: Cineman Spiral (NoBusiness Records) *
  • Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio: Desire & Freedom (Not Two)
  • Jasmine Lovell-Smith's Towering Poppies: Yellow Red Blue (Paintbox)
  • Cortex: Live in New York (Clean Feed) *
  • Marylin Crispell, Gary Peacock, Richard Poole: In Motion (Intakt)
  • Gutbucket: Dance (Gut Records)
  • Bennett / Johnston/ Mezzacappa / Rosaly: Shipwreck 4 (NoBusiness Records) *
  • Nick Fraser Quartet: Starer (self-released)
  • Moskus: Ulv Ulv (Hubro) *
  • Tyshawn Sorey Double Trio: The Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi Recordings)
  • Julie Kjær 3: Dobbeltgænger (Clean Feed)
  • Rich Halley 5:  The Outlier (Pine Eagle Recordings)
  • Nate Wooley, Hugo Antunes, Jorge Queijo, Mário Costa, Chris Corsano: Purple Patio (NoBusiness Records)
Other notable recordings I thoroughly enjoyed:
  • Mark Dresser Seven: Sedimental You (Clean Feed)
  • JD Allen: Americana (Savant Records)
  • Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra: Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed)
  • Harald Lassen & LAB Trio: Rainbow Session (Hagen Recordings)
  • I.P.A.: I Just Did Say Something (Cuneiform) *
  • Rønnings Jazzmaskin: Jazzmaskin! (Losen Records)
  • Rudy Royston Trio: Rise of Orion (Greenleaf Music)
  • Kenny Barron Trio: Book of Intuition (Impulse/Universal) *
  • Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moving Still (Pi Recordings)
  • Momentum: Momentum (Clean Feed)
  • Festen: Festen (Clean Feed) *
  • No Project Trio: Vol. II (FMR Records)
  • Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Real Enemies (New Amsterdam)
  • Jeff Lederer's Brooklyn Blowhards: Brooklyn Blowhards (Little (i) Music)
  • Hanna Paulsberg Quartet: Eastern Smiles (Odin) *
  • Fail Better: OWT (NoBusiness Records)
  • Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (ECM) *
  • Nakama: Most Intimate (Nakama Records)
  • Thomas Borgmann, Max Johnson, Willi Kellers: One For Cisco (NoBusiness Records)
  • Matt Brewer: Unspoken (Criss Cross)
  • Mats Eilertsen: Rubicon (ECM)
  • David Helbock Trio: Into the Mystic (ACT)
  • Monkey Plot: Here I Sit, Knowing All of This (Hubro) *
  • Protean Reality: Protean Reality (Clean Feed) *
  • Avishai Cohen: Into the Silence (ECM)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The 2016 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll

The results for the 2016 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll have just been posted online, won by Henry Threadgill's fascinating Ensemble Double Up album Old Locks and Irregular Verbs. A typically strong recording masterminded by an incomparable old master but one I nevertheless enjoyed a bit less than his Pulitzer Prizer winner In For a Penny, In For a Pound, and so it did not make my ballot. Still, out of the ten albums I voted for, four made the top 10, with a fifth in the top 15. None of the rest made the top 50. Individual ballots can be accessed here, but I've also put my own ballot is below. I will post more on these as well as a more comprehensive "jazz of 2016" list soon.

New releases


 1.  Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone: Sélbéyone (Pi Rcordings)

 2.  Wadada Leo Smith Golden Quintet: America's National Parks (Cuneiform)

 3.  Mary Halvorson Octet: Away With You (Firehouse 12)

 4.  Anna Högberg Attack: Anna Högberg Attack (Omlott)

 5.  Jane Ira Bloom: Early Americans (Outline)

 6.  Roswell Rudd, Jamie Saft, Trevor Dunn, Balázs Pándi: Strength & Power (RareNoise)

 7.  Damana (Dag Magnus Narvesen Octet): Cornua Copiae (Clean Feed)

 8.  Steve Swell Quintet: Soul Travelers (Rogue Art)

 9.  Michael Formanek Ensemble Kolossus: The Distance (ECM)

10. James Brandon Lewis Trio: No Filter (BNS Sessions)



Reissues / historical albums:


1.  Peter Brötzmann, Fred Hopkins, Rashied Ali: Songlines (Trost)

2.  Arthur Blythe: In the Tradition / Lennox Avenue Breakdown / Illusions / Blythe Spirit (BGO)

3.  Tom Prehn Quartet: Axiom (Rune Grammofon)



Vocal album:


· Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone: Sélbéyone (Pi Rcordings)



Debut album:


· Anna Högberg Attack: Anna Högberg Attack (Omlott)



Latin album:


· (no pick)

Friday, December 02, 2016

Listening Booth: belated round-up of published reviews, mid April through November, 2016

I'm smack in the middle of paternity leave, which has left and still leaves little to no time for writing. Add to that, I had a very busy summer -- much of it on the road -- and as for the rest, between doing renovation work on the house as well as my professional writing gigs I've not been able to update the blog much at all this year. Still, I thought I had to do something and for now, posting the usual list of music I've reviewed during this period (well, up until I entered the leave period at least) will have to do.

  • Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (ECM) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, April 11., 2016. Originally graded 4 out of 6.
  • The Coathangers: Nosebleed Weekend (Suicide Squeeze) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, April 18., 2016. Originally graded 5 out of 6.
  • Eric Revis Trio: Crowded Solitudes (Clean Feed) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, April 25., 2016. Originally graded 5 out of 6.
  • Kenny Barron Trio: Book of Intuition (Impulse!) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, April 25., 2016. Originally graded 4,5 out of 6.
  • Beyoncé: Lemonade (Parkwood/Columbia) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, May 2., 2016. Originally graded 5 out of 6.
  • Snarky Puppy: Culcha Vulcha (GroundUP Music/Decca) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, May 30., 2016. Originally graded 3 out of 6.
  • Jane Ira Bloom: Early Americans (Outline Records) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, June 13., 2016. Originally graded 5 out of 6.
  • Festen: Festen (Clean Feed) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, June 20., 2016. originally graded 4,5 out of 6.
  • Cortex: Live In New York (Clean Feed) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, August 8., 2016. Originally graded 5 out of 6.
  • Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone: Sélébéyone (Pi Recordings) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, August 29., 2016. Originally graded 6 out of 6.
  • Peter Brötzmann, William Parker, Hamid Drake: Song Sentimentale (CD version, Otoroku) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, September 19., 2016. Originally graded 5 out of 6.
  • Drive-By Truckers: American Band (ATO Records) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, October 3., 2016. Originally graded 5,5 out of 6.
  • Bennett, Johnston, Mezzacappa, Rosaly: Shipwreck 4 (NoBusiness) -- Reviewed for Jazznytt, #240
  • I.P.A.: I Just Did Say Something (Cuneiform Records) -- Reviewed for Jazznytt, #240
  • Jason Roebke Octet: Cinema Spiral (NoBusiness Records) -- Reviewed for Jazznytt, #240
  • Greg Ward & Ten Tongues: Touch my Beloved's Thought (Greenleaf Records) -- Reviewed for Jazznytt, #240
Additional published writing:
  • "Nasjonale natur-verk": interview with Wadada Leo Smith, published in Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, October 17., 2016.
As we're entering poll and year-end lists season, I'm currently revisiting a good deal of the music that has caught my attention throughout this past year, as well as stuff that for various reasons I have not had the time or opportunity to dig into at all. I hope to add a list of some of the most notable of these releases in the coming week, possibly with a comment or two on at least a couple of them.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Wadada Leo Smith interview teaser

This past summer, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with legendary trumpeter, composer and band leader Wadada Leo Smith. Our conversation covered among many other topics his experience with the AACM, his thoughts collaboration and some of the particulars around his writing and creative process, the blues, his then upcoming album America's National Parks (out today on Cuneiform), politics, and nature.

The resulting piece will be published in the Norwegian weekly music supplement Musikkmagasinet, but here's an audio teaser, with mr. Smith discussing the blues as free music, and including excerpts from to tracks off his new album, respectively "New Orleans: The National Culture Park USA 1718" and "The Mississippi River: Dark and Deep Dreams Flow the River - a National Memorial Park c.5000 BC."

Have a listen here!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Listening Booth: Reviews and noteworthy releases, 1st quarter 2016

Below is a list of my published reviews from January of this year through to, and counting, the first week of April. Additionally, 30 noteworthy releases from the year so far, ordered alphabetically. It's not much, I'll grant, but the number will likely improve as I catch up with recent and upcoming releases, and revisit others during the 2nd quarter.
  • Aruán Ortiz Trio: Hidden Voices (Intakt Records) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, February 1st, 2016. Original grade 5 out of 6.
  • Michael Formanek Ensemble Kolossus: The Distance (ECM Records) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, February 29th, 2016. Original grade 5,5 out of 6.
  • Hanna Paulsberg Concept: Eastern Smiles (ODIN) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, February 29th, 2016. Original grade 4,5 out of 6.
  • Moskus: Ulv Ulv (Hubro) -- Reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, April 4th, 2016. Original grade 5 out of 6.
  • Bathysphere: Bathysphere (Driff Records) -- Reviewed for Jaznytt #238, 2016. Originally not graded.
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Make the Magic Happen EP and Bring Their 'A' Game EP (Hot Cup Records) -- Reviewed for Jazznytt #238, 2016. Originally not graded.
  • Protean Reality: Protean Reality (Clean Feed) -- Reviewed for Jazznytt #238, 2016. Originally not graded.
Aditional published material:
  • "Pianistenes Pianist," my Paul Bley obitiuary for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, January 11th, 2016.
  • "Et jazza omland," highlights from Jazzland Records' output on the occasion of its 20 year anniversary, for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen March 14th, 2016.
Heavy Rotation, 1st quarter 2016:
  • Kenny Barron: Book of Intuition (Impulse)
  • Bent Shapes: Wolves of Want (Slumberland Records)
  • Big Ups: Before a Million Universes (Tough Love Records)
  • BJ the Chicago Kid: In My Mind (Universal)
  • Bombino: Azel (Partisan Records)
  • Thomas Borgmann, Max Johnson, Willis Kellers: One For Cisco (NoBusiness)
  • Cobalt: Slow Forever (Profound Lore)
  • Empirical: Connections (Cuneiform Records)
  • Field Music: Commontime (Memphis Industries)
  • Michael Formanek Ensemble Kolossus: The Distance (ECM Records)
  • Robbie Fulks: Upland Stories (Bloodshot Records)
  • Charles Gayle Trio: Live at Jazzwerkstatt Peitz (Jazzwerkstatt)
  • Gutbucket: Dance (Gut Records) 
  • William Hooker: LIGHT. The Early Years 1975-1989 (NoBusiness)
  • Anna Högberg Attack: Anna Högberg Attack (Omlott)
  • Kamaiyah: A Good Night in the Ghetto (self released)
  • Julie Kjær 3: Dobbeltgænger (Clean Feed)
  • Large Unit: Ana (PNL)
  • Jeff Lederer Brooklyn Blowhards: Brooklyn Blowhards (little(i)music)
  • Moskus: Ulv Ulv (Hubro)
  • Bob Mould: Patch the Sky (Merge)
  • Willie Nelson: Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin (Columbia/Legacy)
  • Aruán Ortiz Trio: Hidden Voices (Intakt Records)
  • Parquet Courts: Human Performance (Rough Trade)
  • Hanna Paulsberg Concept: Eastern Smiles (ODIN) 
  • Roswell Rudd, Jamie Saft, Trevor Dunn, Balasc Pandi: Strength & Power (RareNoiseRecords)
  • Rønnings Jazzmaskin: Jazzmaskin! (Losen Records)
  • Henry Threadgill Ensembel Double Up: Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (Pi Recordings) 
  • White Denim: Stiff (Downtown Records)
  • Wussy: Forever Sounds (Damnably) 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

More fave jazz albums of 2015

There's a Norwegian Christmas song that proclaims Christmas lasts until Easter. Although that silly ditty refutes said rather ludicrous claim in the following line, I'm going to run with it and use it as an excuse to post a woefully belated follow-up to my 10 fave jazz albums of 2015. Blame the delay on me recently becoming a father; the preparations for that seismic event in my life more or less turned my daily schedule upside down, leading in turn to me lagging somewhat behind on several releases from the year that was. Some of these, particularly the exciting debuts from Chris Pitsiokos Trio and Tomeka Reid Quartet, might even have affected my votes in the npr Jazz Critics Poll and El Intruso's international critics poll.

I did not post any Listening Booth/"records reviewed" updates during the latter half of 2015 nor during the first months of this year, but a few of the records that would've been included in one of those posts are listed below, with the relevant outlet listed in parentheses. I'm certain there still are a few 2015 releases that might deserve another spin or two, to be fair, and still a couple more I haven't really gotten to yet (notably Allen Lowe's In the Diaspora of the Diaspora releases). However, I'm confident in saying that the records below, in addition to my previously posted top ten (see link above), represent the cream of the crop of the new jazz albums that caught my ear over the past 12 plus months. Which, lest I be misunderstood, doesn't mean I think there weren't other noteworthy releases in 2015. Although these are listed roughly in order of, eh..., preference, I've decided to sort them into three tiers rather than making any attempt to properly rank them. I've also added 5 significant reissues/vault releases from the year that was below.

Heavy rotation:
  • Almeida / van Duynhoven / Klein: Vibrate in Sympathy (Clean Feed, reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, Nov. 2nd 2015)
  • Rodrigo Amado: This Is Our Language (NotTwo Records)
  • Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity: Firehouse (Clean Feed)
  • Team Hegdal: Vol. 3 (Particular Recordings)
  • Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook-Up: After All Is Said (482 Music, reviewed for Jazznytt #236 2015) 
  • Chris Pitsiokos Trio: Gordian Twine (New Atlantis)
  • Made to Break: Before the Code (Trost)
  • Mikko Innanen with William Parker and Andrew Cyrille: Song For a New Decade (TUM Records)
  • Rob Mazurek / Exploding Star Orchestra: Galactic Parables: Volume 1 (Cuniform Records)
  • Sant'Anna Arresi Quintet by Evan Parker: Filu 'E Ferru (self-released)
Thoroughly enjoyed:
  • Lionel Loueke: GAÏA (Blue Note)
  • Ben Goldberg: Orphic Machine (Royal Potato Family)
  • Steve Coleman & the Council of Balance: Synovial Joints (Pi Recordings)
  • Satoko Fujii Tobira: Yamiyo Ni Karasau (Libra)
  • Tomeka Reid Quartet: Tomeka Reid Quartet (Thirsty Ear)
  • Jeremy Pelt: Tales, Musings and Other Reveries (High Note)
  • Steel Bridge Trio: Different Clocks (Relay Recordings) 
  • Rempis Percussion Quartet: Cash and Carry (Aerophonic Records) 
  • Susana Santos Silva: Impermanence (Carimba Porta-Jazz)
  • Snik: Metasediment Rock (Clean Feed, reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, Sept. 28th 2015)
  • Mario Pavone: Blue Dialect (Clean Feed, reviewed for Jazznytt #235 2015) 
  • Rich Halley 4: Creating Structure (Pine Eagle Records, reviewed for Jazznytt #235 2015)
  • Nate Wooley Quintet: (Dance to) the Early Music (Clean Feed, reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen, Dec. 14th 2015)
  • Jackson / Berman / Strøm / Østvang: Southern Sun (Stone Floor Records)
  • Barry Altschul & 3dom Factor: Tales of the Unforseen (TUM)
  • Dave Douglas Quintet: Brazen Heart (Greenleaf Music)
  • Mark Lomax II and Eddie Bayard: #BLACKLIVESMATTER (self-released, reviewed for Musikkmagasinet/Klassekampen ...) 
  • Ran Blake: Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell (A-side Records)
  • William Parker: For Those Who Are, Still (3CD box set, AUM Fidelity)
  • Jacob Garchik: Ye Olde (Yestereve Records)
A further 20 notable recordings: 
  • Jónsson & More: No Way Out (Sunny Sky Records)
  • Bathysphere: Bathysphere (Driff Records, reviewed for Jazznytt #238 2016)
  • Wooley/Rempis/Niggenkemper/Corsano: From Wolves to Whales (Aerophonic Records, reviewed for Jazznytt #234 2015)
  • Matthew Shipp Quartet Declared Enemy: Our Lady of the Flowers (RogueArt)
  • ObLik: order disorder (Ormo Records. originally released in 2014, reviewed for Jazznytt #234 2015) 
  • Myra Melford: Snowy Egret (Enja) 
  • Will Mason Ensemble: Beams of the Huge Night (Amsterdam)
  • Mette Henriette: Mette Henriette (ECM) 
  • Adegoke Steve Colson: Tones For
  • Makaya McCraven: In the Moment (International Anthem)
  • Michael McNeill Trio: Flight (self-released)
  • Erik Friedlander: Oscalypso (Skipstone Records)
  • J.D. Allen Trio: Graffiti (Savant Records)
  • Matt Mitchell: Vista Accumulation (Pi Recordings) 
  • Ghost Train Orchestra:Hot Town (Accurate Records)
  • Michael Oien: And Now (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Amir ElSaffar: Crisis (Pi Recordings)
  • Matthew Shipp Trio: To Duke (RogueArt)
  • Devin Gray: RelativE ResonancE (Skirl)
  • The Turbine!: Entropy/Enthalpy (RougueArt)
 Vault/reissues:
  • Sonny Sharrock: Ask the Ages (M.O.D. Technologies) 
  • Detail: First Detail (Rune Grammofon, reviewed for Jazz #234 2015)
  • John Carter & Bobby Bradford: Self Determination Music (Flying Dutchman/BNG)
  • Ornette Coleman: Science Fiction (Columbia/ORG)
  • Anthony Braxton: Trio & Duet (Delmark/Sackville)
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