Sunday, December 25, 2016

Best of 2016 (4)

I do get carried away with writing about music that moves me; that is why a "Best Of" list is so dangerous. What starts as 10 for the NPR Critics Poll (see here) ends up being 40 on this blog. I'm not very good at picking more than 5 really great albums but find that, as I listen back, my opinion usually deepens, gets stronger, from finding and hearing more delightful moments.  Click on the links and listen - enjoy!  Thanks for reading. 2016 was quite a crazy year for all sorts of reasons and 2017 has a great possibility of surpassing the madness of the past 12 months.  Music is often the savior for many of us and will continue to do that eternally.

Again, this list is in no particular order:

Frank Kimbrough - Solstice (Palmetto) - Here's what I wrote about this delightful recording:

Stephan Crump - Rhombal (Papillon Sounds) - I wrote in August "(Y)ou will listen to this album for the impressive interactions of Crump (bass and compositions), Tyshawn Sorey (drums), Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone), and Adam O'Farrill (trumpet).  Pay attention to how the solos grow out of the melodies, how the quartet mix their distinctive styles to the composer's vision of the music, and the clarity of the sound."  

Fred Hersch Trio - Sunday Night at The Vanguard (Palmetto) - Few groups in the world more magical than pianist Hersch, bassist John Hébert, and drummer Eric McPherson. They are great in the studio and even better in person.

Thumbscrew - Convallaria (Cuneiform) - Thumbscrew makes thoughtful music, songs and sounds that both challenges the listener and rewards him or her.  It is easy to discern the comfort level that Mary HalvorsonMichael Formanek, and Tomas Fujiwara have each other, that they can be "themselves" in a cooperative trio while creating a "group" sound. 

Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You (Firehouse 12 Records) - This is one of several albums on the list that I have yet to review.  From start to finish, it's a great album.  Ms. Halvorson, arguably one of the more original contemporary guitarists, continues to grow as a composer and arranger, finding ways to make a large ensemble sound both bigger than its parts and as intimate as a conversation between friends. This is quite a group - Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (alto saxophone), Ingrid Laubrock, (tenor saxophone), Jacob Garchik, (trombone), John Hébert (bass), Ches Smith (drums), and Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar) - and they can be exuberant. 

Allison Miller BoomTic Boom - Otis Was a Polar Bear (Royal Potato Family) - Another recording I did not review but I did see this great ensemble live.  Drummer and composer Miller assembled quite a band  Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Jenny Scheinman (violin, vocals), Myra Melford (piano), and Todd Sickafoose (bass) -  and they went on tour in the Spring of 2016, showing up at Firehouse 12 the first weekend in May.  This is another group that can play any style of music and play well - check out the video from a gig in Philadelphia a week after the New Haven show, it's such a treat! Then, go find the CD.

Ted Nash Big Band - Presidential Suite: Eight Variations on Freedom (Motema Music) - The week before the United States 2016 election, I wrote ""Presidential Suite" will mean many things to different people but the words plus the music remind us that America can be great when our leaders work to unite citizens.  Even when this country's (and the others represented on this album) problems are front-and-center, we have had leaders step up to inspire us.  This music, with many songs based on the rhythms and words of African Americans, fills one with hope even in treacherous times.  Ted Nash has done listeners a great service with this music, illustrating that words and music can have a positive effect on us all.  Please listen."  Now, this music and these words resonate even louder and stronger, much fuller than any Tweet.

Tom Tallitsch - Gratitude (Posi-Tone Records) - What a band tenor player and composer Tallitsch assemble for this recording -  pianist Jon Davis, bassist Peter Brendler, and drummer Rudy Royston (with organist Brian Charette on 2 tracks - watch the video and you get a feeling for the intelligent music and the splendid interactions.  Tallitsch gives the rhythm section its freedom and they respond by providing him with such great support and the freedom to move around the music with abandon and, often, grace.
If you have the time (make the time), watch all the video for this Quartet from this live date.  

Larry Young - In Paris: The ORTF Recordings (Resonance Records) - The final recording on the list that I did not review is this impressive reissue from Resonance Records. Organist Larry Young (1940 - 1978) moved to France in 1964 to join the Nathan Davis Quintet and, while living there, made several recordings as a sideman and as the leader of a piano trio.  He had already made his Blue Note Records debut (1964's "Into Something") after several recordings for the Prestige label.  One gets several different views on Young's work but can already hear how his organ style is moving away from the blues-soaked sounds of Jimmy Smith, Johnny "Hammond" Smith", and Jimmy McGriff.  Amazing how much of this music sounds fresh today.

photo by David McLister
I should  tell you how much I enjoyed the return of singer-songwriter William Bell ("This is Where I Live" on Stax Records) and just how great he sounded on NPR's "Tiny Desk Concerts."  I grew listening to his songs recorded by himself and various Stax/Volt recording artists (Albert King's version of "Born Under a Bad Sign" still sends chills down my spine plus there's the wonderful version of "You Don't Miss Your Water" by Otis Redding).  Mr. Bell's going strong at 77 and his album is a pure delight.  He's had a busy career but this new album has brought a new and wider audience.

Dig the video and the preponderance of yellow:

Then, there's Paul Simon and "Stranger to Stranger" (Concord Music). The music refers back to the songwriter's long career, his journeys to South Africa and South America and into the heartland of the US plus his folk roots plus his love of 50's doo-wop and more. There's lots been written about this album - some say Simon just might retire - and the more "experimental sounds" might turn some fans off but it's certainly his most "fun" album in quite a while.

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