It's that time of year when critics and reviewers create their "Best-of" lists. I am no different but I look at this group of recordings as music that informs, changes, and enhances my life and teaching. Here is the group of albums from the past year that helped me through illnesses, sadness, joy, and much change.
Miguel Zenón - "Musica De las Américas" (Miel Music) – It's no secret how much I admire the music and work of Miguel Zenón. With his long-time ensemble, composed of Luis Perdomo (piano), drummer Henry Cole, and Hans Glawischnig (bass and truly the "glue" of the band). This new album celebrates the music of Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, showing how various elements have entered into the music of the United States (and beyond). Along with the latest album by rapper Bad Bunny ("Un Verano Sin Ti"), whose music celebrates the rhythms that inspire reggaeton, the album has deep grooves, evocative melodies, and the inventive musicianship one has come to expect from Señor Zenón and company. Percussionists Paoli Mejías, Victor Emmanueli, Daniel Díaz, and the five member Los Pleneros de La Cresta each appear on one track during the eight-song program.
Enjoy the fiery "Opresión y Revolución":
Wadada Leo Smith w/ Pheroan akLaff, Andrew Cyrille, Han Bennink, and Jack DeJohnette - "The Emerald Duets" (TUM Records) – Trumpeter, composer, conceptualist, historian, and philosopher Wadada Leo Smith celebrated his 80th birthday on December 18, 2021 (meaning he just turned 81 yesterday, as I write this). The Finnish-label TUM Records celebrated that momentous occasion by issuing two multi-disc box sets by Mr. Smith, the seven-CD "String Quartets: Nos. 1-12" and the five-CD "The Emerald Duets". Both are amazing but I expect it will take many more months to truly take in the scope of the string music. Whereas five albums with drummers captured me immediately. All the sessions stand out (this is the first time Mr. Smith played with Mr. Bennink) but the two CDs feature Mr. DeJohnette, a long-time musical compatriot. The drummer plays piano as well as percussion; it's not hard to fall under the spell of this music.
Marta Sanchez - "SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum") (Whirlwind Recordings) – Pianist and composer Sanchez had a tumultuous time during the Pandemic as her mother passed early on. She found time to write new music for her group – saxophonists Roman Filiu and Alex LoRe, bassist Rashaan Carter, and drummer Allen Mednard – and it's her most mature and realized program. The music sings throughout the album plus there are fine solos from all involved. Subtle, emotional, and intelligent, "SAAM" draws from myriad influences, is never imitative, and draws in the listener on the strength of the melodies. One track, "Marivi", features Ms Sanchez, Mr. Carter, and Mr. Mednard with Camilla Meza (vocal, guitar), Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), and Charlotte Greve (synths).
Listen to "Dear Worthiness":
Tyshawn Sorey Trio + 1 (with Greg Osby) - "The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism" (Pi Recordings) - Another impressive year for drummer, composer, and educator Sorey, filled with debuts, impressive gigs, and two great albums. This live three-album set of standards, jazz classics, and more, is a splendid exploration of melody, improvisation, and interplay featuring Mr. Sorey with the impressive pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Dana Hall, and the very welcome alto saxophonist Greg Osby. Three long sets (75 + minutes) yet the music never gets dull or stale because the musicians are free of any expectations other than play the melody, improvise, and follow your creative flow. The week before I wrote about the album, I listened to, at least, one set a day, especially on my daily walk. The addition of Mr. Osby, whose musicianship is impressive throughout, is such a delight!
Noam Lemish – "12" (TPR Records) – This album, from the pianist, composer, and educator Noam Lemish, was one of the more impressive releases of the last six weeks. The Israeli-born, American-educated, and Canadian resident, had recorded several albums with oudist Amos Hoffman, duets with percussionist (and one of his teachers) George Marsh, plus several solo piano explorations. Here, he leads a 12-piece ensemble comprised of many fine Canadian musicians, supplying them with fine, often episodic, pieces with impressive arrangements. There's humor, pathos, wit, and emotion throughout the album (one of the initial releases on Three Pines Records, a new Canadian label led by Amy and Ernesto Cervini). This album gets better each time I listen––give it a whirl!
Here's the delightful "Beethoven's 7th Visit to Romania":
PUBLIQuartet – "What Is American" (Bright Shiny Things) – I don't write about classical music very much but this album (plus the Johnny Gandelsman album in Part 2) truly caught my attention. The PUBLIQs––violinists Curtis Stewart and Janina Norpoth, violist Nick Revel, and cellist Hamilton Berry––often blend European and American classical music but also have a expressive modernist bent. One of the group's ongoing projects, dubbed "Mind| The| Gap|", features arrangements of music by Nina Simone, Ornette Coleman, Tina Turner, Ida Cox, Alice Coltrane, and others into stew that really alters the way you listen to a string quartet. This album features music by Antonin Dvorák, Vijay Iyer, Roscoe Mitchell, Rhiannon Giddens, and others––it certainly does make you think about "what is American"!
Give a listen to "Improvisations on "Law Years" and "Street Woman" (composed by Ornette Coleman):
Trish Clowes – "A View With a Room" (Greenleaf Music) – Composer and saxophonist (tenor and soprano) Trish Clowes signed with Dave Douglas's Greenleaf Music this year and gifted listeners with "A View With a Room". Featuring her long-time band My Iris––guitarist Chris Montague, pianist and organist Ross Stanley, and drummer James Maddren––the music may, at times, remind you a bit of the quieter music of Jimmy Guiffre but, to this listener, Ms. Clowes has really created her own sound. The band interaction is impressive and the music makes you want to return to the album often. They have not toured the US yet––if they do, I would recommend you spend a night in their company.
Here's the delightful "Amber":
Somi – Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba (Salon Africana) – The vocalist and composer Somi has truly blossomed into a world-class artist, celebrating the sound of the African continent even as she updates it. Here, she pays tribute to the great Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), creating one of the most uplifting programs you will ever hear. In fact, Somi also created a play, "Dreaming Zenzile", around Ms. Makeba that debuted off-Broadway earlier in 2022. The album sounds so good, with such delicious rhythms, attractive vocals, and an impressive guest list including Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Angelique Kidjo, amd Gregory Porter (listen below) plus others. World music at its best–give a listen.
Here's the sensuous "Strawberries" featuring Gregory Porter:
Kate Wyatt – "Artifact" (Self-released) – The Montreal, Canada-based pianist Kate Wyatt, a native of British Columbia, has been active on the creative music in her native country for over two decades. "Artifact" is her debut recording as a leader and well worth the wait. Featuring drummer Jim Doxas, bassist Adrian Vedady (her husband), and trumpeter Lex French (on the Music Faculty of McGill University) the quartet explores this music with vigor, sensitivity, and emotional depth. Ms. Wyatt is a fine player but always makes sure you hear the other members of the group. One can hear a nod in the direction of the Kenny Wheeler, as much in the "open" sound and wit in the composition as well as in Dr. French's trumpet work. Impressive debut and one hopes there's more coming soon.
Listen to the lovely "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing":
Sachal Vasandani with Romain Collin – "Still Life" (Edition Records) - This is the second collaboration for the vocalist with pianist Collin––like its 2021 predecessor "Midnight Shelter" (also on Edition Records), these performances are intimate, often spare, quiet, yet with an emotional intensity that draws in the listener from the beginning and does not let go until the last note fades. In fact, each time I listened, I played the album all the way through. When I spoke to the duo this past summer, they said that Mr. Vasandani stood right next to the piano during the recording session––the intimacy of the recording process translate to the music. Such a smart selection of tunes, from folk music to jazz standards to "pop" tunes to originals. Late night or early morning, this music is a comforting friend..
Listen to the emotional and heartbreaking "(I) Can't Make You Love Me":
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