All of the albums below have featured in my quarterly online podcasts which can be located HERE. I have included some that were released in 2015, but did not end up with me until 2016. So....with the caveat that I have heard only a fraction of the new releases available, here are my picks of 2016.
Pino Minafra – Minafric (Sud Music)
I’ve enjoyed the music of Pino Minafra for decades, ever since his early recordings for the Splasc(H) label. His fourteen-piece Minafric Orchestra features top names from the Italian scene, such as Roberto Ottaviano, Carlo Actis Dato and Beppe Caruso. The addition of the vocal quartet Faraualla adds a striking dimension to the music (and, if you see them live, a visual treat!). Flavours from North Africa and Latin America abound, particularly in the numbers from Pino’s son, pianist Livio Minafra.
On stage the energy and fun of the orchestra almost detract from their skill and musicianship. I defy you to listen to this music without posterior gyration. An hour of joy.
Many record labels are catching up with the astonishing jazz coming out of Scandinavia. Edition Records, for example, have recordings from the likes of Eyolf Dale, Daniel Herskedal and Per Oddvar Johannsen. The Lisbon-based Clean Feed label are also ‘in on the act’ with recent releases from the trio Momentum, the quartet Cortex, the quintet Friends and Neighbours and the sextet Motif. All of which deserve your attention. The album that most caught my ear however was the debut of the Dag Magnus Narvesen Octet (aka DaMaNa).
It’s an album I’ve been anticipating for some time, ever since i saw the band’s online videos a couple of years ago. And I’m not disappointed. The leader’s compositions allow the band the space to generate plenty of energy, but keep a sense of form, albeit loose at times. They shift from tradition to free, velvet to sandpaper, yet still retain coherence.
The octet comprises reedsmen Kristoffer Alberts , Jørgen Mathisen and André Roligheten trumpeter Hayden Powell trombonist Kristoffer Kompen pianist Øyvind Dale bassist Adrian Myhr and the man himself, Dag Magnus Narvesen, at the drums. Almost a who’s who of the current Norwegian scene. They must be great to see live.
I’m a sucker for the bass clarinet. Its ability to create an almost human cry makes it a most emotive instrument. On this album it’s handled by a master, Laurent Rochelle.
It’s good to have Laurent back on my radar. I’ve enjoyed his playing ever since his work with the Lilliput Orchestra a decade or so ago. He studied under French reedsman Thierry Maucci, and has worked in many areas, including theatre, dance, cinema, even puppetry!
This foursome (with Laurent on reeds, Frederic Schadoroff piano, Olivier Brousse bass and Eric Boccalini drums) falls squarely in the jazz tradition, albeit with occasional nods to Laurent’s interest in minimalist music. There is a bluesy feel throughout (exemplified by Laurent’s solo on Okidoki Blues). All ten compositions are by the leader, three with the added text and vocals of Anja Kowalski. One is even named after one of my favourite places, the Cevennes.
It’s the second release from this line-up. I must get hold of the first.
A sextet combining some of the finest musician from the Bay Area and New York; Ben Goldberg, clarinet, Kirk Knuffke, cornet, Jenny Scheinman, violin, Myra Melford piano, Todd Sickafoose bass and Allison Miller, drums. It’s the fourth recording for Boom Tic Boom, a band that appears to be growing in personnel with every outing. This is the first album to include Ben and Kirk
It’s dedicated to Allison’s newly-born daughter and all the compositions were written by the leader with the musicians in mind. They get funky at times and occasionally move into realm of free jazz. Yet all are imbued with a sense of fun.
And Otis? Well Otis is Allison’s dog. And surprisingly, not a particularly large one considering his apparent heritage.
An album that wins the award for ‘album title of the year’, and possibly ‘band name of the year’ as well. It was actually released in 2015, but did not reach my CD player until earlier this year. It was worth the wait. It’s released on the Petit imprint, an independent label based in Caen, associated with the Collectif Jazz Basse-Normandie and documenting the local scene.
The only member of the quartet I have encountered before is trumpeter Pierre Millet, a mainstay of another outfit with albums on Petit Records, Renza Bo. And there are similarities in their music; they both play an intriguing and spiky brand of post-bop.
As well as playing trumpet, Pierre also wields cornet and bugle, as well as sampling some vinyl. Completing the excellent quartet are saxophonist Fabrice Theuillon, bassist Mathieu Millet and drummer Emmanuel Penfeunteun.
Another album with a sense of joy (...and we could do with some joy after the past year) featuring two French veterans; Franck Tortiller, vibraphone and marimba and Francois Corneloup on baritone saxophone.
Franck is a musician equally happy in a classical environment as he is with jazz. He spent many years with the Vienna Art Orchestra and was leader of the prestigious Orchestra National de Jazz from 2005 to 2008. Francois Corneloup is probably best known for wielding the heavy metal in Henri Texier’s bands, most recently with the superb Hope Quartet.
They share composing duties on eleven short-ish numbers, with Franck’s use of marimba adding an African vibe to some of them. A duo I can see being snapped up by one of the more prominent labels. Until then, you can find the pair on Franck’s own MCO imprint.
I Am Three - Mingus, Mingus, Mingus (Leo)
The three are Silke Eberhard, alto saxophone, Nikolaus Neuser, trumpet and Christian Marian drums. They interpret a dozen compositions by Charles Mingus. In fact the band’s name itself alludes to a quote from Charles’ autobiography.
And whereas there are numerous tribute albums that give pedestrian renditions of Mingus’s music, this one captures his energy perfectly. A fiery trio that I’m sure the great man himself would have enjoyed listening to.
There appears to be a thriving jazz scene in Eastern Europe which is being documented by labels such as Hevhetia, ForTune and Budapest Music Center (BMC) Records. And the emotive nature of the regional musics lend themselves to jazz interpretation.
Mihaly Dresch is one of the premier saxophonists on the Hungarian scene with over 20 albums to his name. His long-standing quartet incorporate Hungarian folk music into their sound, made even more apparent by the use of the cimbalom (an instrument I cannot hear without thinking of Cold War spy films).
Guesting on this live date (recorded in Budapest in the spring of 2012) is US reedsman Chris Potter who utilises tenor saxophone and bass clarinet. The leader plays saxophone and fuhun, an instrument he designed himself.....a cross between a saxophone and a recorder.
Completing the band are Miklos Lukacs on cimbalom, Erno Hock on bass and Istvan Balo on drums. A band I would relish seeing live.
BassDrumBone – The Long Road (Auricle)
A two CD set from the trio BassDrumBone to celebrate the bands 40th Anniversary this year. Bass equals Mark Helias. Drum equals Gerry Hemingway. Bone equals trombone... equals Ray Anderson.
The trio started life in 1977 and, despite each member subsequently becoming a successful bandleader in his own right, the trio have stayed together and now have ten albums to their name.
This excellent tenth outing harbours eleven numbers recorded in a Brooklyn studio plus two recorded live in Lausanne, Switzerland (the country where Gerry Hemingway now resides). Three of the studio tracks add the piano of Jason Moran. A different three add the tenor saxophone of Joe Lovano. A band that shows no signs of running out of steam.
Ronnings Jazzmaskin - Jazzmaskin! (Losen)
Yet more good stuff from Norway, recorded near Trondheim in December 2014. Ronnings Jazzmaskin are a young quartet led by drummer Truls Ronning . They have been in existence for five years and were initially inspired by the music of Elvin Jones and his Jazz Machine. They operate in a similar fashion, with a touch of Ornette, and a more contemporary feel. Completing the tight quartet are Martin Myhre Olsen and Petter Kraft on saxophones and Egil Kalman on bass.
And Is it something they put in the water in Scandinavia ....spawning an endless supply of quality jazz musicians? Who knows. What I do know is that I’ll be keeping tabs on Ronnings Jazzmaskin and following their progress with great interest.
As always, some other 2016 releases I would hate to be without:
3/4 Peace – Rainy Days on the Common Land (El Negocito); Mosaic – Subterranea (Edition); Vanbinsbergen Playstation - Live (Buzz); Bojan Z & Nils Wogram – Housewarming (NWOG); Matt Wilson’s Big Happy Family – Beginning of a Memory (Palmetto); Eyolf Dale – Wolf Valley (Edition); Henri Texier – Dakota Mab (Intuition); Ray Anderson, Han Bennink, Ernst Glerum & Paul van Kemenade – Checking Out (KEMO); Achille Succi, Francesco Saiu & Giacomo Papetti - Three Branches (El Gallo Rojo); Duo Van Otterloo Van Veenendaal – No Trace (Brokken); Gold Age – Gold Age (Singlespeed Music); Miklos Lukacs, Larry Grenadier & Eric Harland – Cimbalom Unlimited (BMC); Harris Eisenstadt – Old Growth Forest (Clean Feed); Johnny Hunter Quartet – While We Still Can (Efpi); Piero Bittolo Bon’s Bread & Fox – Big Hell on Air (Auand / El Gallo Rojo); MAdHAs – MadHAs (Gateway); Adriano Clemente & Akashmani Ensemble - The Mingus Suite (Dodicilune)