Ten incredible releases in 2015 which ran the gamut from straight forward swing to electronic experimentation.
Charles Lloyd – Wild Man Dance: Live recording of Lloyd’s suite for his quartet plus politiki lyra, a bowed lute, and a Hungarian hammered dulcimer. Lloyd’s music has always had a seeking, spiritual side to it, and the extended band works well in that vein, lending a sense of mysticism on the contemplative tracks, while managing keep pace on a virtuosic burner like the track ‘River’.
Chris Potter – Imaginary Cities: While saxophone master Chris Potter’s album is billed to his ‘Underground Orchestra’, this amounts to a radical reimaging of his band Underground, his funk focused project with Craig Taborn on keys, Adam Rogers on guitar and Nate Smith on drums. The funk has been dialled back, Craig Taborn plays acoustic piano rather than Rhodes and the formerly bassless quartet has been augmented with not one, but two bass players in addition to Steve Nelson on vibraphone and a string quartet. The album is an exercise in long form composition and careful orchestration with considerable payoff. The closing track, ‘Sky’, is a landmark: tightly composed, building passion and incredible, virtuosic turns by Potter and Taborn. The greatest 12 minutes of music in recent memory.
Christian McBride – Live at the Village Vanguard: Bassist McBride leads a trio with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owen. A traditional swinger with a heavy emphasis on lightning fast virtuosity and deep grooves, the album excites throughout. Just listen to the burning, time bending rendition of ‘Cherokee’.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Stretch Music: ‘Stretch music’ wasn’t a term that trumpeter Christian Scott came up with himself, but a term used to describe his music that he has acknowledged and embraced; it represents an all encompassing attitude towards music, a willingness to incorporate elements from any musical tradition into the improvisational framework of his band. The result, on the album that bears the name Stretch Music, is a fabulous mosh of jazz, rock, New Orlenian groove and Latin beats. Christian is also a democratic band leader giving his sidemen time to shine. We owe thanks to Stretch Music for introducing us to flutist Elena Pinderhughes.
Dave Douglas – High Risk: Experimental quartet led by trumpeter Dave Douglas with Jonathan Maron on electric bass, Mark Giuliani on drums and electronic musician Shigeto on, well, electronics. The album is an interesting exercise in syncretism, combining psychedelic electronic loops, ambient sound effects and kinetic drums with a largely unprocessed and frequently rather mellow trumpet tone from Douglas. It’s the sort of unconventional setting that Douglas really excels in.
Bad Plus – With Joshua Redman: Collaboration between Joshua Redman and the Bad Plus yields fascinating results. Redman gives us a highly swinging solo on the classic Bad Plus tune ’Dirty Blond’ and forces the trio to expand into his composition ‘Friend or Foe’. New compositions from members of the trio, meanwhile, were clearly written with Redman in mind, displaying the sort of wry humor present in the best of their work, but with an added level of interplay. If you like the Bad Plus and you like Joshua Redman, you will not be disappointed by their coming together.
Lionel Loueke – Gaia: West African guitarist Lionel Loeke is a unique voice on the instrument and this album, a trio with bass and drums, displays the best aspects of his music. The gnarly, knotty and yet groovy lines of his improvised melodies, the effects laden textures of his accompaniment, the slightly off-kilter yet rock solid rhythms are brought into play on an album bursting with energy and joy.
Michael Gibbs – Play a Bill Frisell Set List: Composer and orchestrator Michael Gibbs puts together a collection of Bill Frisell compositions and favorites (the Monk tune ‘Mysterioso’, the Beatles’ ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’), performed by the NDR Big Band with Frisell himself prominently featured as the lead soloist. It’s no mean feat mixing Bill Frisell, a guitarist known for his tone and subtlety, into a big band setting, but Gibbs’ arrangements are the perfect vehicle for Frisell: textural and dynamic.
Terrell Stafford – Brotherlee Love: Trumpeter Terrell Stafford’s tribute to Lee Morgan was the best straight ahead jazz release of the year and there’s not much more to say than that.
Vijay Iyer – Break Stuff: Pianist Vijay Iyer’s trio has always been characterized by a tight cohesion between the members – Iyer has sometimes said that members of the band don’t necessarily do a lot of soloing, but that the band as a whole is characterized by ‘trioing’ as the whole unit works together. This release is no exception; the tightly interlocking grooves of ‘Hood’ (a tribute to Detroit electronic musician Robert Hood) is as satisfying a rhythmic conceit as any they’ve recorded. See also the elastic rendition of Coltrane’s ‘Countdown’.