There has been a lot of good music issued over the past year. It’s almost like a rebound after the pandemic. My ‘short list’ had over forty albums, and it was tough to whittle it down to ten. Hence a sizeable appendix of other albums that I would not be without.
As always this is not a ‘Best Of’ listing, just a selection of music that appeals to me personally. Few appear on other lists, so you might find some hidden gems ‘in amongst’.
Mads la Cour’s Almugi - Stout (WhyPlayJazz).
I’ve always enjoyed art (visual and aural) that has a sense of mystery about it. Not totally abstract, but with a form that is sometimes difficult to resolve. Mads La Cour’s Almugi produces music that is intriguing. Music that repays repeat listening.
Almugi has featured before on my end of year list (Pete’s Pick of 2015). The ensemble comes in different sizes. Small, medium and large. Their new album Stout features a medium version, with Mads on flugelhorn, Cesar Joaniquet on tenor sax, Andreas Lang bass and Kasper Tom Christiansen drums.
Their music is a kind of free chamber jazz, often melancholic and with a folkish charm. And Mads’ focus on the flugelhorn adds a mellow hue to proceedings, reflected by the umber tones on the album cover. There’s also some nice unison playing from the front line, underpinned by the versatile rhythm duo of Andreas and Kasper.
Stout was recorded in Southern Denmark earlier this year and is well worth a listen. More than once.
Possible(s) Quartet & Sophia Domancich – No Work Songs (Z Production)
A little gem of an album, one that came my way late in the year. It’s only half an hour long, but packs in more emotion than some albums twice its length. The album title alludes to that time during the pandemic when there was little opportunity to perform. Only compose.
The quartet comprises Remi Gaudillat and Fred Roudet on trumpets, Loic Bachevillier trombone and Laurent Vichard bass clarinet. Together they create a wonderful sound with some tight harmonies, the bright trumpets contrasting with the dulcet tones of the trombone and bass clarinet. And the first four tracks on the album form a suite and add the piano of Sophia Domancich.
Check out the band’s website for some entertaining videos. And I must investigate the quartet’s previous outings, one of which revisits the music of David Bowie.
Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity – Elastic Wave (ECM)
This is the fourth release from the stellar Scandinavian trio, their first on ECM. Gard has been one of the go-to drummers on the Norwegian scene for many years, able to underpin big bands such as his Supersonic Orchestra and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, as well as smaller line-ups such as Team Hegdal (see below) and Cortex.
His bandmates are no slouches either, bassist Petter Eldh having performed with Django Bates, Kit Downes and Lucia Cadotsch, and reedsman Andre Roligheten with Team Hegdal, the duo Albatrosh and the quartet Friends and Neighbours.
On Elastic Wave they slip seamlessly from driving free-bop to off-kilter ballads. All three players contribute compositions, with each of the eleven tracks coming in under five minutes. A number of reviewers have expressed concern over their brevity, but for me, it ensures the musicians make concise and meaningful statements. And Andre Roligheten adds variety to their sound by switching between clarinet, tenor, soprano and bass saxophones.
Seven years (and four albums) on from their debut, it’s good to hear the tight trio still retain an exciting edge. Unity indeed.
Chuffdrone - Mosaik (ORF)
If I had to choose a European band that deserves wider recognition, it would probably be the quintet Chuffdrone. Their previous outing appeared on my Pick of 2020 and I’m glad to say their follow-up Mosaik is equally impressive.
They extend their repertoire with seven more fascinating pieces. The arrangements are almost theatrical at times, with all five musicians contributing compositions. And as on their previous two albums, there’s a coherence, as if they all came from the same pen.
Robert Schrock and Lisa Hofmaninger huff and puff on reeds and Jul Diller often ‘prepares’ his piano. Equal partners in building Chuffdone’s complex soundscapes are Judith Ferstl on bass and Judith Schwarz, drums.
There’s some interesting stuff coming out of Austria at present, with bands such as Shake Stew and Mario Rom’s Interzone beginning to make their mark outside of their homeland. Let’s hope Chuffdrone have similar success.
Mary Halvorson – Amaryllis (Nonesuch)
At the intro to my selection, I said that few of my choices appeared on other listings. Here’s the exception, an album that features widely elsewhere. In fact, over the years Mary has topped numerous polls and I suspect 2022 will not be any different.
On Amaryllis her extraordinary stringwork cajoles and teases a top rung sextet on six originals. Her band features Jacob Garchik on trombone, Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Patricia Brennan on vibes, Nick Dunston bass and Tomas Fujiwara drums.
And on 3 of the tracks, the band is augmented with the strings of the The Mivos quartet. Amaryllis is one of 2 recent releases from Mary on Nonesuch. The other, Belladonna, features just Mary and the string quartet.
Both albums give a glimpse into the world of an influential musician who, like many of her contemporaries, is unafraid to mix genre’s. And a special word for Tomas Fujiwara, who underpins Mary’s work here, and with the trio Thumbscrew (see below), with power and finesse.
Heidi Bayer - Korsh (Tangible Music)
I first encountered German trumpeter Heidi Bayer last year, with the eponymous debut of her quartet Virtual Leak, an album I enjoyed very much. I’m glad to say she’s now returned, this time leading a quintet called Korsh.
Their name is derived using the letters of the musicians first names. And what names! Most being major players on the creative German scene. Alongside Heidi on trumpet and flugel are Sven Decker on reeds, Kalle Moberg on accordion, Robert Landferman bass and Oliver Steidle on drums.
Heidi began her musical career on clarinet but switched to trumpet in her late teens, Kenny Wheeler being one of her early hero’s. She’s now based in Cologne where this album was recorded last April.
All of the compositions on Korsh are by the leader. They are cleverly structured, but still allow space for her band members to get stuck in. And the presence of accordion adds an interesting twist to their sound.
Team Hegdal – Vol 5 (Particular Recordings).
Bands led by Eirik Hegdal are a common feature on my end-of-year lists. Team Hegdal currently comprises Eirik and Andre Roligheten on saxophones and clarinets, Ole Morten Vagan on bass and Gard Nilssen drums. It’s a band that has incorporated various guests over its thirteen years of existence. However, on Vol 5 it’s the basic quartet.
The musicians are all products of that breeding ground of Scandinavian jazz, the Trondheim Music Conservatory. They get stuck into eight diverting originals from Eirik, with the reedsmen adding extra layers at times, creating a velvety ensemble sound. Especially when the leader picks up his baritone sax. Listen to the wonderful romp titled Rolihlahla. And as with all of Eirik’s projects, there’s often an underlying jollity.
All of Team Hegdal’s albums are recommended. The first two were released on Odin Records, Volumes 3, 4 and 5 on Particular Recordings.
Liran Donin & Idris Rahman - Earth and Bones (self-released)
An album recorded in St Marys Church, Walthamstow in 2021. The London-based pair converse on ten originals, the music reflecting their mixed heritage.
It’s a wonderfully lyrical and blues ridden date, with shades of Mingus and the Middle East throughout. The two musicians are masters of their respective instruments. Idris preaches on clarinets and tenor sax, Liran plucks, slaps and bows his double bass.
An emotional rollercoaster. Such a shame that it is not being released on a major label.
Here’s To Us - Kaukasus (Hoob)
On Jazz Today in 2019 I featured the debut release from the Swedish / Portuguese quartet Here’s To Us with the line-up of Susana Santos Silva, trumpet, Lisen Rylander Love saxophone, Nils Berg, bass clarinet and Josef Kellerdahl, double bass. At the time I was impressed by their unique chamber jazz sound and intriguing harmonies.
Well I’m glad to say they’re back. On record at least. This time they’ve turned to Georgia for inspiration, a country whose music has long fascinated Josef Kellerdahl, particularly their choral tradition. Here the band have used traditional Georgian themes as a framework for improvisation, resulting in a mix of old and new.
And a successful fusion it turns out to be. The majority of the pieces are slow to moderate in pace, yet they allow for some wonderful unison work with plenty of space for extemporisation. Even bordering on freedom at times.
I look forward to hearing where they head next.
Iiro Rantala – Potsdam (ACT)
An astonishing live performance from Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala, recorded in November 2021 at Nicolaisaal in Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin. A solo recital that strides from rhapsodic to ragtime. And almost always with a sense of humour. It harbours six originals from Iiro plus one from John Lennon and two from Leonard Bernstein.
I first encountered the classically trained pianist back in the 90’s when he was part of Trio Toykeat. He’s worked in almost all spheres where music has a role, including film, dance and opera. Check his webpage for the lowdown.
And after listening to this new album I looked up the word ebullient. Just to check it was the right word to use. It was. The word maverick came to mind as well. See him live if you get the chance. If not, hear this album.
....and finally, an appendix of albums from 2022 that I have also enjoyed:
Thumbscrew: Multicolored Midnight (Cuneiform) Laura Jurd: Big Friendly Album (Big Friendly Records) Perssons Sexa: Vol III (Havtorn) Rene Lussier: Au Diable Vert (Circum-Disc) Roberto Ottaviano & Alexander Hawkins: Charlie’s Blue Skylight (Dodicilune) David Chevalier, Laurent Blondiau, Sebastien Boisseau & Christophe Lavergne: Curiosity (Yolk) Erik Friedlander: A Queens’ Firefly (Skipstone) Emile Parisien: Louise (ACT) Steve Cardenas, Ben Allison & Ted Nash: Healing Power (Sunnyside) Aufmessers Schneide: Stereo Friction (Jazzwerkstatt) Manuel Hermia: Freetet (Igloo) Le Trio Voyageur: Furinkazan (Circum-Disc) Robert Jukic 4: Izza (RTV Slo) Trish Clowes: A View With a Room (Greenleaf) Nils Wogram & Joe Sachse: Freies Geroll (nWog) Tobias Wicklund: Silver Needle (Stunt) Quentin Ghomari: Otrium (Neuklang) Sylvain Rifflet with Verneri Pohjola: Cake Walk From a Spaceship (Eclipse Music) Kontrasax: Die Kunst des Reisens (Jazzhausmusik) Carl Wittig’s Aurora Octett: Perspective Suite (nWog) Joy Ellis: Losing from Peaceful Place (Oti-O) Bliss Quintet: Dramaqueen (Jazzland) Max Nagl Ensemble: Live at Porgy & Bess Vienna Vol 4 (Rude Noises) Bevort 3: Live 2020-2021 (Gateway Music) Undercurrent Orchestra: Everything Seems Different (ZenneZ) Adan Mizrahi: Dissident (Ears & Eyes) Angelika Niescier, Hilmar Jensson & Scott McLemore: Broken Cycle 2 (Sunny Sky) Nils Wogram: Muse (NWog) Adam Fairhall & Johnny Hunter: Winifred Atwell Revisited (Efpi) Eric Van Der Westen: The Crown & Lobster Trilogy Part III: New Quadrant (EWM) Dine Doneff: Lost Anthropology (neRED) Fussyduck: Maybe That’s All We Get (Double Moon) The Source: ...but swinging doesn’t bend them down (Odin) Ernesto Jodos: Donde el Mundo Ocurre (Ears & Eyes) Reverso: Harmonic Alchemy (Out Here) Paul Van Kemenade: Lockdown The End (KEMO) John Pope & John Garner: Water Music (New Jazz and Improvised Music) Bill Frisell: Four (Blue Note) Agnas/Flaten/Stahl/Texas: All Slow Dream Gone (Moserobie) Wako: Ut Av Det Nye (Ora Fonogram) Maridalen: Bortenfor (Jazzland) Julie Campiche Quartet: You Matter (Enja) Fusk: Absurd Enthusiasm (WhyPlayJazz)