It’s that time of year again. The time when reviewers and DJs take it upon themselves to select the albums that have given them most pleasure over the past year. In my case, it’s a selection from 2015 and 2014. Last year, a spell in hospital prevented me from producing a list, so this year I’ve decided to cover both. All of the albums have featured on Jazz Today, and can be heard on my quarterly Mixcloud podcasts (Jazz Today Online).
As always I have only listened to a fraction of the new jazz that has been issued. So, with that caveat (and in no particular order) here is my top 15:
Team Hegdal – Vol 3 (Particular)
The album is titled simply Vol 3. It’s a change of label, Volumes 1 and 2 were released by Ora Fonogram. All three are worth checking out.
Slowfox – The Wood (Jazzwerkstatt)
This ‘wood’ harbours many shadows. Shadows given substance by the intriguing compositions of leader and bassist Sebastian Gramss, with titles taken from a poem by Robert FrostSlowfox is an international trio, with New Zealand born Hayden Chisholm on alto sax, and Austrian Philip Zoubek on piano. Hayden is probably best known for his work with Nils Wogram’s Root 70 and is fast turning into one of the premier saxophonists on today’s scene. Philip Zoubek is less well known, but his piano (sometimes prepared) slips comfortably into the chamber jazz mode of the trio.
It’s interesting to compare Slowfox with another of Sebastian’s bands, Fossile 3, with the inimitable Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet. Slowfox is less angular, but both bands are well worth tracking down.
Daniele D’Agaro, Aldo Mella & Elio Rivagli – Bangalore (Ninety and Nine)
The trio interrogate five originals plus numbers from Leadbelly, Charlie Mariano and Sean Bergin. A most enjoyable outing from a band that I’m sure would be great to see live.
Bart Maris & Lode Vercampt – Krommekeer (El Negocito)
Another album that could fall into the category of chamber jazz, this time from the duo of Bart Maris on trumpet and Lode Vercampt on cello. Bart Maris is an unsung master of his intrument and sadly someone we hear all too rarely in the UK. He is a member of the Flat Earth Society, the quintet Moker and the quartet 1000.Lode Vercampt is someone I’ve not encountered before, although looking online it seems he’s adept at a variety of styles. He dialogues nicely (using fingers and bow) with Bart on 17 short compositions by the trumpeter, together with 6 free improvisations.
The album is released on a small label based in Ghent, Belgium, a label that is releasing some fascinating and challenging music from the local scene.
Didier Levallet Quintet – Voix Croisees (Evidence)
France has no shortage of world class bass players; Henri Texier, Sebastien Boisseau, Renaud Garcia-Fons, and Helene Labarriere come to mind. Another master of the instrument is Didier Levallet. I remember seeing Didier performing with the late Harry Beckett in Mulhouse 20 years ago, and his playing on this new album show that his skills have not waned over the years.All the compositions on this album are written by Didier. The female front line of trumpet (Airelle Besson), flute (Sylvaine Helary) and saxophone (Celine Bonacina) create some interesting voicings, underpinned by Didier’s eloquent bass and the scampering drums of Francois Laizeau. Melodic jazz for the 21st century.
Joakim Berghall – Dialogues 1 (Boulder Music)
Joakim Berghall is a young saxophonist I met at the 2014 Jazzahead Festival in Bremen, where he kindly plied me a copy of his album Dialogues 1. It comprises ten duets, each with a different Finnish pianist. Some of the keyboard players are internationally known (such as Iro Haarla and Aki Rissanen), others less so. However all play their part and reflect the depth and quality of the Finnish scene.The only time I’ve encountered Joakim before was with the quintet Fredator. This is his first album as leader and an impressive debut it is. He composed all of the pieces, and splits his time between soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones.
Dialogues 1 was recorded near Helsinki in 2013 and is self-released. Dialogues 2 has just been released, features 10 duos with Finnish guitarists and is also worth investigation.
Le Rex – Wild Man (Cuneiform)
Le Rex is a Swiss quintet comprising Benedikt Reising on alto sax, Marc Stuckl, tenor sax, Andreas Tschopp, trombone, Marc Unternahrer, tuba and Rico Baumann drums. This is their third outing on CD; their first two appeared on the Swiss Unit Record Label. They’re effectively a mini brass band, but with jazz chops and a great sense of humour. They mix old school with the new, referencing everything from New Orleans to Chicago. In fact Wild Man was recorded in Chicago in September 2014 following a successful US tour,A band that must be great to hear live, the sort to get you dancing in the aisles
Angelika Niescier, Hilmar Jensson & Scott McLemore – Broken Cycle (Sunny Sky)
The debut release from the trio of drummer Scott McLemore, guitarist Hilmar Jensson and saxophonist Angelika Niescier.Scott McLemore was born in the US but moved to Iceland with his wife, pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs, where they set up Sunny Sky records to document their music. He first encountered German saxophonist Angelika Niescier at the Moers jazz festival in 2012 and went on to record this album the following year in Reykjavik together with ubiquitous Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jensson.
All three musicians contribute compositions, creating an intriguing, sometimes haunting release. It’s an album that rewards repeated listening. And hopefully it’s the first of many from this creative trio.
Meinrad Kneer Quintet – Oneirology (JazzHausMusik)
JazzHausMusic is a musician-run label that has been documenting the German scene for over three decades. It has many excellent releases in its catalogue, including this new outing from the Meinrad Kneer Quintet. The Berlin-based bass player first came to my attention in the 90’s with the quartet Dalgoo. Since then he has performed with the likes of Roscoe Mitchell, Han Bennink and Jon Rose.For his quintet he has pulled together a group of top European improvisers, namely trombonist Gerhard Gschlossl, saxophonist Peter Van Huffel, trumpeter Sebastian Piskorz and drummer Andreas Pichler. All nine compositions were written by Meinrad for this band and they challenge and bring out the best in his compatriots.
Leo Postolovsky Quinteto – Bajoflores (self-released)
Sadly we hear precious little from the Argentine jazz scene in the UK. And aside from Gato Barbieri, most would find it difficult to name an Argentinian improviser. However online research indicates Buenos Aires, at least, has a fertile jazz sceneBajoflores was recorded in the Argentine capital last year by a forward-looking band led by Leo Postolovsky. The 39-year old pianist has studied with local musicians Paula Shocron and Enrique Norris, as well as international heavyweights such as Tony Malaby. He has two previous releases to his name, and this new band, formed in 2014, appears more adventurous than its predecessors. Alongside Leo it features Juan Olivera on trumpet, Inti Saveb on clarinet, Santiago Rapaport on bass and Damian Allegreti on drums.
In fact the album title seems to have changed since I downloaded it from Bandcamp. Originally it was called Sincronia.....now it appears to be titled Bajoflores Regardless ...it’s a rewarding listen.
Mads La Cour’s Almugi – Quartet (WhyPlayJazz)
Apparently Almugi is an ancient Scandinavian word that means ‘free men of the kingdom who possess the ability of goodness’. It’s also a project devised by the Danish trumpeter / flugelhorn player Mads La Cour, a project featuring ‘men who possess the ability to improvise’!And Almugi comes in more than one size. The quartet version features Lars Greve on clarinet, Andreas Lang on bass and Kasper Tom Christiansen at the drums. They mix chamber jazz with freebop in an exciting way. Andreas and Kasper Tom have appeared before on record with Mads, but I think this is the first outing with Lars Greve, someone best known for his work with the band Girls in Airports.
It’s one of three new releases titled Almugi, the only one released on CD. The other two are download only, a duo with drummer Anders Mogensen and an 8-piece Large Ensemble. All three warrant investigation. They’re released on the always-interesting WhyPlayJazz imprint.
Hayden Powell – Circadian Rhythm and Blues (Periskop)
The third release from trumpeter Hayden Powell. It’s a double album. The first disc features Hayden with Eyolf Dale on piano and Jo Skaansar on bass. The second presents the trumpeter in isolation, sometimes with overdubs.Hayden was born in the UK, but moved to Norway as a child. He studied at the prestigious Trondheim Conservatory and later at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. Like Eirik Hegdal (see above) he performs with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. Eyolf Dale is probably best known for his work with the duo Albatrosh with reedsman Andre Roligheten (check out their recent release Night Owl on Rune Grammafon). Jo Skansaar is possibly less well known, although he has performed with the likes of Froy Aagre and is a key member of this trio.
It was difficult to choose between this and Hayden’s previous release, Roots and Stems....also on Periskop. Why not give them both a listen?
Roberto Ottaviano – Forgotten Matches: The Worlds of Steve Lacy (Dodicilune)
Another double album. The first disc features the stellar quartet of Roberto on soprano saxophone, Glenn Ferris trombone, Giovanni Maier bass and Cristiano Calcagnile at the drums, the second features Roberto in duet with our very own Alexander Hawkins.Clearly Roberto is passionate about this project. He spends his time on soprano saxophone throughout, but doesn’t try to copy his dedicatee; the soprano has always been Roberto’s instrument of choice, and he has his own characteristic style. And trombonist Glenn Ferris performed and recorded with Steve Lacy, so it’s great to hear him revisiting this quirky music.
On the second disc, pianist Alexander Hawkins dovetails perfectly with the Italian veteran, providing a nice contrast to the quartet outing.
Partikel – String Theory (Whirlwind)
Partikel comprise Duncan Eagles on saxophone, Max Luthert, bass and Eric Ford drums. On this 2015 release they are accompanied by the string quartet of Benet McLean, David Le Page, Carmen Flores and Matthew Sharp.It’s their third outing on record, their first with strings. And the strings are not there just for decoration. As with the recent recording from Jason Yarde and Andrew McCormack with the Elysian Quartet, they are fully integrated into the performance and add a different dimension to the trio's work. The intriguing violin solos of Benet McLean are worthy of special mention.
The album was recorded at the Real World Studios in Wiltshire and released on Michael Janisch’s prolific Whirlwind Label.
Wojtczak NYConnection – Folk Five (Fortune)
Polish reedsman Irek Wojtczak has utilised a readymade line-up to form his NYConnection. And I say readymade, as the US foursome of trumpeter Herb Robertson, pianist Michael Stevens, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Harvey Sorgen have been performing together as a quartet for many years. Irek has an extensive discography, and has performed with the likes of Dave Douglas, Klaus Kugel and Chris Speed. He has also recorded before with the Fonda / Stevens group.The quintet gives a freebop interpretation of 8 traditional Polish themes including polkas and mazurkas. It was recorded in Warsaw in 2014.
Plus some other albums I wouldn’t be without.....
Karol Beffa & Raphael Imbert - Libres (Jazz Village); Kristoffer Kompen – Agdergata 1 (Kompis); Oddjob – Folk (Caprice); Grencso Open Collective with Rudi Mahall – Marginal Music (BMC); Misha Mullov-Abbado – New Ansonia (Edition); Eric Vloeimans – Oliver’s Cinema (Buzz); Giovanni Maier, Luca Calabrese, Lauro Rossi & Emanuele Parrini – Azure (Palomar); Verneri Pohjola - Bullhorn (Edition); Mediums – Mediums (Label la Buissonne); Fulvio Sigurta - The Oldest Living Thing (CAM Jazz); Viktor Toth Arura Trio - The Present (BMC); Admiral Awesome - Makeout Music for Modern Lovers! (Gateway); Vertigo Trombone Quartet - Developing Good Habits (NWOG); Adam Baldych & Yaron Herman - The New Tradition (ACT); McCormack & Yarde Duo (feat. Elysian Quartet) – Juntos (Joy & Ears); Snorre Kirk - Blues Modernism (Calibrated Music); Drye & Drye - Open Letter (NCM East); Albatrosh - Night Owl (Rune Grammofon); Mario Rom’s Interzone - Everything is Permitted (Traumton).