Friday, December 14, 2018

These are a Lot of My Favorite Recordings of 2018

Like many critics/reviewers (I'm in the latter camp), I make a year-end list of my favorite recordings of the past 12 months.  Since I rarely, if ever, review an album I truly dislike (or even are lukewarm about), it's hard to keep that list at 10 or 20.  In June of this year, I remarked to a good friend that I could probably create a 2018 "Best of" list with all Big Band or large ensemble albums alone. Nonetheless, this year, I present you the entire list with spare comments. This list, unlike the one I created for the NPS Jazz Critics Poll (which was truly a Top 10 and will be published soon) is in no particular order.

Top Albums 2018

Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble – “The Lullaby Project (and Other Works for Large Ensemble)” (Tapestry Records) - Such brilliant section writing as well as memorable melodies
Jim McNeely & The Frankfurt Radio (HR) Big Band – “Barefoot Dances and Other Visions” (Planet Arts) - Same as above but with the Ellingtonian legacy of "knowing" who you re writing for
Kate McGarry, Keith Ganz, & Gary Versace – “The Subject Tonight is Love” (Binxtown Records) - The joy of intimate collaboration and emotionally strong material makes this collection something to listen over and over
Dafnis Prieto Big Band – “Back To The Sunset” (Dafnison Music) - Power and precision, melodies fired by rhythms led by an amazing drummer
Ambrose Akinmusire – “Origami Harvest” (Blue Note Records) - Mr. Akinmusire is really in a class by himself, moving in multiple directions without diluting his vision
Rudy Royston – “Flatbed Buggy” (Greenleaf Music) - Mr. Royston, known for his fiery and exuberant drumming, is maturing into a fine composer blending a variety of influences with a splendid ensemble of musical colleagues 
Kind Folk – “Why Not” – (Fresh Sound New Talent) - The spirit of the late Kenny Wheeler is celebrated here by four young musicians who gelled long before entering the studio
Andrew Rathbun Large Ensemble – “Atwood Suites” (Origin Records) - Mr. Rathbun takes a number of chances never missing his mark to bring Margaret Atwood's writing to a listing audience
Miguel Zenon & The Spektral Quartet – “Yo Soy La Tradicion”  (Miel Music) - Mr. Zenon with a string quartet playing traditional religious music and ore from his native land of Puerto Rico is chock-full of brilliant writing and playing
Edward Simon (w/ Afinidad and Imani Winds) – “Sorrows and Triumphs” (Sunnyside Records) - A subtly beautiful recording which sounds better with each listen
Thumbscrew -Ours” + “Theirs” – (Cuneiform Records) - Amazing musicality and interplay between three masterful musicians who often think as one
Mary Halvorson - "Code Girl" (Firehouse 12 Records) - A new quintet that utilizes her Thumbscrew mates plus the expressive trumpet of Ambrose Akinmusire and amazing voice of Amirtha Kidambi. Prog-rock roots (I hear the influence of Robert Fripp in the opening guitar sounds) plus much more
Miles Okazaki – “Work: The Complete Works of Thelonious Monk”  (self-released/Bandcamp) - Wow!  So much thought and vision in this project, giving the listener an even better understanding how Thelonious Monk continues inspire generations of musicians and music
Frank Kimbrough - "Monk's Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk” (Sunnyside Records - See above - Mr. Kimbrough shares the spotlight with three colleagues including the amazing multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson
Noah Preminger – “Genuinity” – (CrissCross Records) - Moving back to Boston has energized young Mr. Preminger as both a composer and saxophonist. The addition of Dan Weiss has lit a fire under his quartet (which already boasts the great bassist Kim Cass and trumpeter supreme Jason Palmer)
Cecile McLorin Salvant – “The Window” (Mack Avenue) - What a voice! What an actress, a composer, an interpreter, and judos as well to the versatile Sullivan Fortner
Benjamin Boone/Philip Levine – “The Poetry of Jazz”  (Origin Records) - The late Philip Levine is one of my favorite poets yet it took me nine months to dig into this amazing blend of the poet's voice and the intelligent compositions and arrangements of Mr. Boone
Jeff Baker – “Phrases”  (Oa2 Records) - Another album that took its way to burrow under my skin and in my ears. Baker's emotional delivery and a great band featuring pianist Darrell Grant and drummer Brian Blade
Lorraine Feather – “Math Camp” (Relarion Records) - Ms. Feather is such a delightfully intelligent and humorous lyricist, not to forget she sings nicely as well. With science at its core, this album sparkles
Tessa Souter – “Pictures In Black and White” – (self-released) - Heartfelt, honest, adventurous, smartly arranged set of songs that allows the listener into Ms. Souter's complicated life story and her triumphs
Darrell Katz and the JCA Orchestra – “Rats Live On No Evil Star” (JCA Records) - Mr. Katz utilizes his orchestra to tell stories that range from political satire to treatises on friendship. A good number of these musicians have appeared on previous Katz/JCA recordings and he writes knowing their voices. Also, the voice of Katz's late wife, poet Paula Tatarunis, is heard in the impressive vocal work of Rebecca Shrimpton
Henry Conerway III.  "With Pride For Dignity" (self-released) – Best Debut Recording! Such joy, gospel, blues, and jazz with life experience makes for a splendid album.  
Carn Davidson 9 – “Murphy” (self-released) - I love how this ensemble blends all its voices int such a delightful stew - special shout-out to drummer Ernesto Cervini for his powerhouse yet subtle drumming
Ingrid Jensen & Steve Treseler - “Invisible Sounds: For Kenny Wheeler” (Whirlwind Recordings) - A fine quintet of musicians including the four members of saxophonist Steve Treseler's quartet plus trumpeter Ingrid Jensen pay tribute to the late Kenny Wheeler with an excellent selection of his songs
NYSQ – "Seven Steps to Heaven” (Whirlwind Recordings) - Nothing standard about this "standards" and the New York Standard Quintet - they make this material fresh and new.
Owen Broder – “Heritage: The American Roots Project” (ArtistShare) - Intelligent arrangements! Great musicianship!  Music that speaks of today by going back and examining material that mines the American spirit
Benje Danneman’s SearchParty – “Light In The Darkness”  (Self-released) - Heartfelt & thoughtful project played an amazing quintet of musicians
Anne Mette Iversen & the Norrbotten Big Band – “Everything In Between” (Prophone) -Brilliant section writing and arranging - this band loves to play!
Marshall Gilkes & the WDR Big Band – “Always Forward” (Alternate Sides Records/WDR - see comment just above
Judy Niemack & the Danish Radio Big Band – “New York Stories” (Sunnyside Records) - More great work from Jim McNeely plus great lyrics to T Monk tunes from Ms. Niemack
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble – “All Can Work” (New Amsterdam) - Certainly one of the most intriguing group of arrangements
Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas: Sound Prints – Scandal” (Greenleaf Music) - Two masters and great young band plus such passionate material
Jon Irabagon Quartet (with Tim Hagans) – “Dr. Quixotic’s Traveling Exotics”  (Irabbagast Records) - Perhaps the most powerful performances on record this year
Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up – “Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus”  (Pi Recordings)
Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Egg – "Dirt….And More Dirt" (Pi Recordings) - Mr. Threadgill continues to grow, expanding his interests as well as his sonic palette.
Steve Coleman & Five Elements – “ Live at The Village Vanguard (The Embedded Sets)"  (Pi Recordings) - Intense music from start to finish, a great front line paired with an equally great rhythm section
Jonathan Finlayson – “3 Times Round” (Pi Recordings) - Mr. Finlayson continues to grow as a composer and performer
Walter Smith III – “Twio” (Whirlwind Recordings) - Music that is so filled with the joy of playing together
Michael Musilami Trio + 2 - "Life Anthem" (Playscape Recordings) - Guitarist and composer Musillami bounces back after a life-threatening brain tumor - the album features his long-time trio plus cornetist Kirk Knuffke and multi-reed player Jason Robinson. Like the composer/musician, the music is so filled with life!
Jamie Baum Septet + - “Bridges”  (Sunnyside Records) - Ms. Baum's music continues to expand as she challenges her musicians and the audiences
Andy Biskin - "16 Tons: Songs from the Alan Lomax Collection" (AnDorfin Music) - Modern American music has so many influences and Mr. Biskin on reeds with a four-trumpet choir manages to mash a whole bunch together!
Geoff Bradfield – “Yes, and...Music for Nine Improvisers”  (Delmark Records) - Mr. Bradfield is a true student of jazz eras, writers and soloists. His latest mines the various strains that have developed in Chicago
Art Hirahara – “Sunward Bound”  (Posi-Tone Records) - Great band, great pianist, great material!
Tom Tallitsch – "Self-titled" (Posi-Tone) - Another artist who continues to mature with every album
Adam O'Farrill - "El Maquech" (Biophilia Records) - Great young band led by a trumpeter who already has an identifiable sound

Reissues and Historical
John Coltrane – “Both Directions At Once – The Lost Album” (Impulse) - Coltrane was always in transition and this is a fascinating example of a band in its prime
Wes Montgomery - "Wes Montgomery In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording” (Resonance Records) - What a treat to hear Wes let loose!
Fred Hersch Trio - “Heartsongs” (Sunnyside Records) - His first trio record, a unspoken tribute to several of his major influences as well as a reminder that Mr. Hersch's trios have been collaborative from the beginning
Sonny Rollins – “Way Out West (Deluxe Edition)” (Craft Recordings) - A favorite since forever, a one-shot trio that made history. 

Beyond Category
Yo-Yo Ma – “Six Evolutions – Bach: Cello Suites” (Sony Music) - Third time is a charm for Yo-Yo Ma in his life-long quest to plumb the depths of these amazing dance pieces - one could argue that one and second times through the music are also pretty great.
Tyshawn Sorey - "Pillars" (Firehouse 12 Records) - 21st Century Creative music with subtle influences from around the world doesn't do justice to the sounds that Mr. Sorey (drums, trombone, dungchen - low Tibetan horn, percussion, conductor) and his seven collaborators create on this trio of 75-minute + pieces

Label of the Year

Hard to choose - let's congratulate Pi Recordings, Sunnyside Records (a perennial favorite), Greenleaf Music, Whirlwind Recordings, and Resonance Records for their continuing excellence!

Best News of the Year!

Jason Crane and The Jazz Session has returned - it's still a joy to listen to.  I am so jealous of his interviewing skills and his continuing good taste (and not just because he chose to interview, really, I've written that before).


No comments:

Post a Comment