Ten albums that have given me a great deal of enjoyment over the past year, together with a few thoughts on each. As before, I prefer to highlight new artists and minor labels that might not otherwise get exposure.
Suga Dairo plays Shibusashirazu (CooL FooL)
Suga Dairo is little known this side of Nagasaki, but has a fair few albums under his belt; solo and with groups such as Jazz Samurai and Blacksheep. He has also played with the large ensemble Shibusashirazu, and on this album he covers tunes written by their leader Daisuke Fuwa. Suga is a ferociously percussive pianist (you wouldn't want to risk your favourite Steinway), yet he also has a gentle side. The album features him in solo, trio and quintet settings, with Fuwa himself appearing on four of the tracks. Well worth searching out if you're interested in contemporary jazz piano.
Fattigfolket: Park (Ozella Music)
A sedate exploration of eleven open spaces by a Scandinavian quartet of trumpet, reed, bass and drums. No chordal instrument, but the harmonies of the front line (signposted by the bass of Putte Johander) paint captivating and melodic pictures of the different Parks. Struth, just listening to it is making me wax lyrical. It's their third outing.....and their best.
Tomas Ulrich's TransAtlantic Quartet: Clear Horizons (Gligg)
The instrumentation of Tomas's Transatlantic foursome (trombone, mandolin, cello and percussion), make for a unique sound. Not your traditional jazz line-up! All the compositions are written by the leader, and the music moves from folksy to free, often within a single piece. In fact the track Oblique Departures comes across as a free hoe-down! Sample my Autumn online cloudcast for an extract. And check out the Gligg website for more interesting releases from this small German label.
Nels Cline: Angelica (Enja)
I rarely put re-issues on my end-of-year list, but this is an undersung classic. Recorded in '87, it features a quintet that contained musicians from different points on the jazz spectrum, from the more mainstream (Stacy Rowles and Eric von Essen) to the more experimental (Tim Berne, and the Cline brothers). The end result is a collection of haunting compositions played beautifully, tunes that will stay with you. Sadly Stacy and Eric are no longer with us, which makes this re-issue even more poignant.
Admiral Awesome feat. Fredrik Ljungkvist (Gateway Music)
Reedsman Fredrik Ljungkvist has long been a favourite of mine, ever since his early work with Per 'Texas' Johansson and his own quartet. Here he is guesting alongside a Danish trio with a wonderfully modest moniker. But they're no slouches, with saxophonist Jacob Danielsen jousting with Fredrik on some craggy freebop, ably supported by the bass of Christian Windfeld and the drums of Thomas Sejthen. A band to watch.
Arun Ghosh: Primal Odyssey (Camoci)
I often find that jazz and enthic music can be temperamental bedfellows. However on his new (and 2nd) CD, Arun Ghosh succesfully blends the rhythms of the Indian subcontinent with jazz. The front line of Arun, Shabaka Hutchings and Idris Rahman generate a warm and earthy feel to the compositions, with unison passages of clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor sax interspersed with fiery solos. Powerful stuff.
Ulrich Drechsler Cello Quartet: Concinnity (Enja Yellowbird)
There's something very human about the sound of a bass clarinet. Here we have Austrian Ulrich Drechsler wielding the beast in a chamber setting supported by cellos and percussion. There's a classical slant to some of the compositions, but the music always retains an edge, aided by the fact that the cellos are frequently played pizzicato. Ulrich's playing is top notch throughout, and occasionally reminds me of Gianluigi Trovesi (which is no bad thing!).
Print: Live - Nordic & Baltic Tour (Great Winds)
Fusk: Fusk (WhyPlayJazz)
Two more pianoless European quartets.... (it must be a phase I'm going through). Nevertheless, there's a lot to commend these two releases, both on fledgling labels.
This is the fifth outing for the French quartet Print, and with the exception of the cellist/bassist, the line-up has remained the same throughout the past 14 years. It's good to hear them in a live setting, and the addition of electric bassist Jean-Luc Lehr adds a different dimension (and drive) to the band. As with everything Sylvain Cathala turns his hand to, its well worth you attention.
In contrast, I think this is the first release from the quartet Fusk, although the band members have all been about a bit (so to speak!). The German reed pairing of Rudi Mahall and Philipp Gropper are ably supported by the Danish rhythm of Andreas Lang and Kasper Tom Christiansen. It's interesting to compare Rudi's quirky approach to the bass clarinet with that of Ulrich Drechsler (see above). And if you like Rudi's work with Die Enttauschung and Alex von Schlippenbach, then this album should be right up your street! Good stuff.
Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet: Smells Like Tape Spirit (Mystic)
It has to be a really good album from Poland to get me to play it on Jazz Today, 'cos my pronunciation of Polish names is terrible. Unfortunately (and fortunately), there's a lot of excellent albums emanating from that country of late (....check the Polish Jazz blog). Here's one that I obtained early this year that is still revealing it's secrets. An acoustic set from a musician who appears to have his fingers in many pies. The playing is good, but it's the compositions (by the leader and pianist Joanna Duda) that make this a memorable album.
As always, choosing just ten was difficult. On another day, and with Venus rising, one or more of the following might have been in amongst: Dimami: Shadow of a Cloud (Morvin), Francois Corneloup: Noir Lumiere (Innacor), Paul Van Kemenade: Who Is In Charge? (Kemo), Kairos 4tet: Statement of Intent (Edition), Fred Hess Big Band: Into the Open (Alison), Vein: Meets Glenn Ferris (self-released), Giovanni Guidi: We Don't Live Here Anymore (CAM Jazz), Nils Wogram: Listen to Your Woman (NWog), Rich Halley: Requiem for a Pit Viper (Pine Eagle), Musikverein Heillijewald: Call Me Cake (Gligg), Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky: Pieces for String Trio and Trumpet(Leo), Nate Wooley Quintet: (Put Your) Hands Together (Clean Feed).....
Hmmm. Maybe I should start again.....