Ten albums that I have really enjoyed over the past twelve months. If there is a theme to my selection then it's music that is unafraid of incorporating the history of jazz into a forward looking approach. Unafraid of melody with the contrast of dissonance.
Tracks from all these albums can be heard on my 2019 podcasts.
Tobias Wiklund – Where The Spirits Eat (Stunt)
This is Tobias’ debut under his own name, and presents a quartet of two Swedes and two Danes. Tobias cornet, Simon Toldam piano, Daniel Fredriksson bass and Lasse Morck drums.
Although the leader is equally adept at trumpet, here he focusses on the cornet. And you don’t get many brass players spotlighting the cornet in contemporary jazz. Kirk Knuffke comes to mind, but not many more.
Tobias has recently performed as part of Snorre Kirk's band. And whereas that ensemble takes a retro stance, here Tobias covers the history from traditional to free, with ten originals plus two numbers by Louis Armstrong.
From the heartfelt opening to the sombre closure, this is an inventive album from an excellent quartet.
Paolo Botti & La Fabbrica dei Botti – Lomax Lives! (Caligola)
Paolo is clearly besotted with the work of the late ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax and this is not the first of Paolo’s albums to pay homage. 'Lomax Lives!' features folk songs from Ireland, Italy, Spain, America and Haiti together with originals and numbers from Jelly Roll Morton and Muddy Waters. Twelve tracks divided into four medleys.
And Paolo’s no stranger to Jazz Today, having appeared before in small group, big band and solo settings. His music always captures a mix of humour and pathos rarely found elsewhere.
Here he splits his time between viola, mandolin, dobro and bowed psaltery. And he is accompanied by a first class Italian band that he calls La Fabbrica dei Botti, with the likes of Tony Cattano, Dimitri Grechi Espinoza and Zeno de Rossi on board. A nonet that sometimes alludes to the Banda tradition of their Italian homeland.
Magic. A real 'box of chocolates'.
Bite The Gnatze – Good Bike Fair Wheel (Trytone)
Jazz from the Netherlands. An album featuring nine compositions from guitarist, banjo player Paul Pallesen, incorporating that typically quirky Dutch swing that I find so appealing. There are also touches of Ellington, contemporary classical and folk musics.
The band has been together (in one form or another) for over two decades and I believe this is their 5th outing on record. Alongside Paul, the current line-up harbours Michel Duijves and Steven Kamperman on reeds, Joost Buis trombone, Frank van Bommel, keyboards, Meinrad Kneer, bass and Alan Purves on percussion.
And it’s my second pick featuring banjo. Most definitely an instrument making a comeback.
Good Bike Fair Wheel is released by the Trytone collective and was recorded in 2017 and 2018 somewhere between Amsterdam and Utrecht. The perfect spot for a bit of cycling……
Dave Douglas, Uri Caine & Andrew Cyrille – Devotion (Greenleaf)
An album released last May featuring the stellar line-up of Dave Douglas trumpet, Uri Caine piano, and Andrew Cyrille, drums.
All bar one of the compositions were written by the trumpeter. His devotees include Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams, Carla Bley and the great Italian pianist Franco D’Andrea, a musician Dave has performed with on many occasions.
I’ve always enjoyed Dave’s work and to my ears this is possibly his best since the wonderful septet date 'In Our Lifetime'. The album harbours a soulful streak throughout with occasional nods to the Big Easy. It also occasionally borders on freedom creating a tension to proceedings. And, as is their nature, Uri and Andrew play their socks off!
Jeb Bishop Flex Quartet – Re-Collect (Not Two)
I first encountered Jeb Bishop in the late 90’s as part of Ken Vandermark’s influential band The Vandermark 5. Since then he has played significant roles with bands such as the Lucky 7’s, Mike Reed’s People Places and Things and Eric Hofbauer’s Five Agents (see below). He’s a world class trombonist adept at both mainstream jazz and free improv.
Here his Flex Quartet stake a claim in the middle ground, giving us 70+ minutes of stirring freebop, recorded live at The Hungry Brain in Chicago four years ago. On board are three of that city’s leading lights, trumpeter Russ Johnson, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly.
Jeb provides them with six compositions to get their teeth into (and fingers, lungs and limbs), allowing plenty of space for extended improvisation. A fiery set, with the elegant ballad 'Sometimes' providing a peaceful oasis. Stirring stuff.
Eirik Hegdal – Musical Balloon (Particular)
As I’m prone to repeating, some of the most exciting and creative jazz over the past couple of decades has come from Scandinavia. One musician who has done his bit is Norwegian saxophonist Eirik Hegdal. Not only has he led the prestigious Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, but he also fronts Team Hegdal, a band that has turned up on previous Pete’s Pick listings.
His latest offering Musical Balloon was commissioned by, and recorded live at the Vossa Jazz Festival in Norway last year. And it must have been a fun occasion.
The sextet comes across as a mini version of the TJO, retaining the energy of that larger ensemble and retaining some of its members. Alongside Eirik are Eivind Lonning on trumpet, Mattias Stahl on vibes, Nils-Olav Johansen on guitar, banjo (!) and jaunty vocals, Ole Morten Vagen on bass and Jon Falt drums.
Contemporary jazz with a touch of the circus. Clowns, daredevils, jugglers, balloons….. they’re all here.
Eric Hofbauer – Book of Water (Creative Nation Music)
Boston-based Eric Hofbauer is a musician who encompasses the history of jazz guitar in his playing. He references everything from early blues to Derek Bailey, yet makes it his own. Check out his back catalogue, particularly his work with drummer Dylan Jack. He also has a penchant for sizeable projects such as his four album 'Prehistoric Jazz' series that he recorded with his quintet.
His recent album Book of Water is the first part of a multi-ensemble project addressing global issues. The album title alludes to the problem of climate change with composition titles taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem 'Water'. A duo album Book of Fire (sadly a major issue as I write this) is scheduled for release in early 2020.
The music on Book of Water comprises a suite recorded live in Massachusetts in the spring of 2018, performed by a top rung US band going by the name Five Agents; Jeb Bishop trombone, Jerry Sabatini, trumpet, Seth Meicht, tenor sax, Nate McBride, bass, and Curt Newton, drums. They produce music that is sometimes demanding but also has moments of swing and joyous polyphony. Serious issues reflected in serious music (…..even though the CD cover shows the leader being doused in the wet stuff!).
Monk Spent Youth – Monk Spent Youth (F-IRE)
An album that kicks off with a Thelonious Monk composition played on toy piano! There have been many takes on the music of TS Monk. Here’s one full of charm.
It comprises sixteen short tracks, featuring music written by, or inspired by the pianist, from a trio going by the wonderful name, Monk Spent Youth. It comprises multi-instrumentalist Zac Gvirtzman, cellist Ben Davis and percussionist, Fred Thomas.
Zac splits his time between various keyboards and bass clarinet, sometimes performing solo. And the music retains the wonderful quirkiness of Monk’s compositions.
Colourful stuff. Monk refracted through a prism (rather than a Sphere?). The whole was recorded, mixed and mastered by Alex Bonney. I wonder how you mic up a toy piano?
Federica Michisanti Horn Trio – Silent Rides (Filibusta)
It’s always exciting when you chance upon a new talent. In this case, bass player Federica Michisanti, and a band she calls her Horn Trio. And the horns concerned are top reedsman Francesco Bigoni and trumpeter Francesco Lento.
Federica hails from Rome, where she was classically trained and this is her 3rd release as leader. So although I say ‘chance upon a new talent’, I’m clearly behind the times. In fact Federica won second place in the New Talent Poll last year in the prestigious Musica Jazz journal.
The sparse instrumentation on Silent Rides allows plenty of space for the musicians to have their say. Often, it’s as if you’re overhearing a conversation between colleagues. A conversation that sometimes turns to heated discussion.
An album released at the end of 2018, but didn’t come my way until January. Not easy to locate, but worth searching out. Chamber jazz that incorporates free improv and reveals its secrets over time.
Petera Sextet – Flashover (Requiem – Lydian Series)