If the list is heavy on jazz, it may be partly because jazz has occupied more of my listening hours from January to July than any other type of music, but also because in my opinion there have been some very good jazz albums so far this year.
Having a soft spot for sax/bass/drum combos, I picked up and Washington, DC based tenor man Brian Settles and his fine loose, spirited and bluesy postbop record Folk (Engine Studios) early in the year. Even better was James Brandon Lewis' Divine Travels (OKeh/Sony); weaving gospel tinged melodies in loose knit avant-bop frameworks, the album is full of warmth in its stormy moments, and commitment in its quiet ones. Supported and colored by the soulful and authoritative bass of William Parker and the drumming of Gerlad Cleaver. A late discovery in the S/B/D trio format is Berlin based Canadian Peter Van Huffel's Boom Crane (Fresh Sound New Talent), who together with bassist Michael Bates and drummer Jeff Davies whips up some very exctiting freewheeling and booming yet catchy and at times even funky postbop that has hardly left my stereo in week.
In the "other trios" category, bassist and composer Max Johnson, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke and drummer Ziv Ravitz has ceated some highly absorbing, shape shifting and pulsating music on Invisible Trio (Fresh Sound New Talent), making it one of the stand out releases this spring. For piano trios, I've enjoyed both Kris Davis Trio's Waiting For You to Grow (Clean Feed), Danny Fox Trio's Wide Eyed (Hot Cup Records) and Fred Hersch Trio's lyrical Floating (Palmetto Records), yet no album regardless of genre has grabbed me as much as Moskus' lovely little Mestertyven (Hubro), brimful of playful, brisk, eruptive and elliptical music.
Other jazz albums of note are Steve Lehman Octet's intriguing, multifaceted and groovy Mise en Abime (Pi Recordings), Sarah Manning's nature and folk inspired Harmonious Creature (Posi-Tone Records), Microscopic Septet's Manhattan Moonrise, and Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek and Thomas Fujiwara's heavy, almost progish Thumbscrew (both Cuneiform Records). There have been other notables too, of course, and I'm still not finished sifting through some promising 2014 realeases.
For pop rock, Dagens Ungdom's sophisticated lyrical wit may not easily translate into English, but their melodies should to anyone attuned to preppy and jangly British or Kiwi guitarpop from the 80's. Paul Heaton, himself a veteran of the 80's, has returned rather triumphantly with Jacqui Abbott. On the rock side of things, Wussy has followed up the great Strawberry with what might be an even better album with the quiet majesty of Attica!. Withered Hand finally won me over with New Gods, and Bob Mould has made his best Sugar record since, well, Sugar with Beauty and Ruin. Post-punk veterans Nightingales grins and snarls on the witty vinyl only For Fucks' Sake, and while I prefer their jumpier previous effort, Sunbathing Animal still showcases Parquet Courts as probably the smartest songwriters currently active in "indie" rock. And Miranda Lambert's rocks as much as all of those on Platinum, which sounds more and more like a winner with each spin.
I do wish I'd heard and connected with more hip hop releases, 'though, but the year's not over yet, and hopefully the summer will give me time to not only catch up, but discover new releases too. Without further ado, the list as of now:
- Moskus: Mestertyven (Hubro)
- Wussy: Attica! (Damnably)
- Max Johnson Trio: The Invisible Trio (Fresh Sound New Talent)
- Miranda Lambert: Platinum (RCA Nashville)
- Peter Van Huffel, Michael Bates & Jeff Davis: BOOM CRANE (Fresh Sound New Talent)
- Withered Hand: New Gods (Foruna Pop!)
- Steve Lehman Octet: Mise en Abime (Pi Recordings)
- Dagens Ungdom: Dagens Ungdom (Metronomicon Audio)
- Bob Mould: Beauty and Ruin (Merge Records)
- James Brandon Lewis: Divine Travels (OKeh Records)
- Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: What Have We Become (Virgin EMI)
- Neneh Cherry: Blank Project (Smalltown Supersounds)
- Kris Davis Trio: Waiting For You to Grow (Clean Feed)
- Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What's Your Rupture?)
- The Nightingales: For Fuck's Sake (self-released)
- Microscopic Septet: Manhattane Moonrise (Cuneiform)
- Leo Welch: Sabougla Voices (Big Legal Mess)
- Toni Braxton & Babyface: Love, Marriage & Divorce (Motown)
- Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask:Bite My Blues (Clean Feed)
- Big Ups: Eighteen Hours of Static (Tough Love / Dead Labour)
- Made to Break: Cherchez La Femme (Trost)
- Danny Fox Trio: Wide Eyed (Hot Cup Records)
- Sarah Manning: Harmonious Creature (Posi-Tone Records)
- Brian Setles Trio: Folk (Engine Studios)
- Fred Hersch Trio: Floating (Palmetto Records)
- Matt Bauder and Day in Pictures: Nightshades (Clean Feed)
- Lydia Loveless: Somewhere Else (Bloodshot Records)
- Max Johnson: The Prisoner (No Business Records)
- Jon Langford & Skull Orchard: Here Be Monsters (In De Goot Recordings)
- Against Me: Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble Music)
- Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, Thomas Fujiwara: Thumbscrew (Cuneiform Records)
- Afghan Whigs: Do the Beast (Sub Pop Records)
- Young Thug & Bloody Jay: Black Portland (mixtape)
- Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Liverevil (Hot Cup Records)
- Rich Halley 4: The Wisdom of Rocks (Pine Eagle Records)