In this third of our four year-end lists, a wide range of jazz people – musicians, writers, promoters – named and proclaimed their recorded sounds of the year. You can add your own choices in the comments section. These 2017 contributions have been compiled by Peter Bacon:
Christine Tobin – Pelt (Trail Belle). Great voice with composing and arranging gifts beyond any notion of fair distribution. Guardian review. (Rob Adams – journalist)
Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan – Small Town (ECM). Recorded in a special place (the Village Vanguard) by a very special jazz guitarist and an increasingly special double bass player, this was for me the most interesting musical conversation I overheard all year. To borrow the title of the iconic Irving Penn photography book, Frisell and Morgan created whole worlds in this one small room. (Peter Bacon)
Francesco Diodati’s Yellow Squeeds – Flow, Home (Auand Label). This was released in 2015, but I didn’t hear it till after their gig at this year’s Südtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige. The music was as elemental as the mountain backdrop. Italian leader Diodati’s guitar lines are extrapolated into intricate, restless compositions: dense horn harmonies and stirring solos. (Alison Bentley)
Damon Brown – Han River Tales (WePlayJazz). Recorded in Seoul with a brilliant Korean rhythm section, Scottish pianist Paul Kirby and US tenor Andrew Lautenbarch, this is Damon Brown’s latest, with a beautiful blend of considered composition and arranging, and powerful blowing. (Brian Blain)
Samuel Rohrer – Range of Regularity (Arjunamusic). (Henning Bolte)
Nils Wülker – On (Warner Bros): Ever since the early ‘90s jazz musicians have spoken of (or against) the curious relationship between hip hop and bebop (or any other form of modern jazz). The German trumpeter found their common ground in a great sounding album that is also lots of fun to listen to. (Götz Bühler, editor Jazz thing (European Jazz Legends))
Jean-Michel Bernard – Plays Lalo Schifrin (Varèse Sarabande). My recording of the year because of its blend of old and new – beloved, classic music by a jazz-and-soundtrack god, reinterpreted with vigour, freshness and virtuosity by a supremely qualified young musician. The further cultural blend – Schifrin was born in Argentina and made his name in American music, while Bernard is French – only enhances the appeal of this superb CD.
Christian Sands – Reach (Mack Avenue). The pianist’s debut album as leader was classy, funky and hard swinging. With support from Yasushi Nakamura (bass) and Marcus Baylor (drums), Sands paid tribute to Bud Powell and Chick Corea, whilst pointing to fresh directions for the art of the piano trio. (Jon Carvell)
Denys Baptiste – Late Trane (Edition). Picking just one in any of these categories is hard, but this seems particularly hard – there’s been so much great stuff released. I am going for one I kept returning to. In a year of Coltrane tributes, live and recorded, the incredible playing, the great writing, the energy have kept me playing this one again and again. (Mike Collins)
Penny Rimbaud – What Passing Bells (The War Poems of Wilfred Owen) (One Little Indian). (live review) In the centenary of the First World War, Rimbaud’s sober readings of Wilfred Owen, with tough-minded improvised settings from pianist Liam Noble and cellist Kate Shortt, are an unflinching wake-up call for a world that refuses to learn the lessons of history. (AJ Dehany)
Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, Larry Goldings and John Scofield – Hudson (Motéma). There are many recordings, but this is one of the best. Pitchfork review (Ralf Dombrowski)
Chris Mapp’s Gonimoblast – Live (Stoney Lane). This album, which features Arve Henriksen and Maja Ratjke, shows how effective the combination of acoustic instruments and electronics can be. (Tony Dudley-Evans, Jazzlines Birmingham and Cheltenham Jazz Festival)
LaSharVu – Honey (LaSharVu EP). Ingrained in the London soul & funk scene for so long, it’s great to see these talented ladies bring out their own material of such wonderful artistry. The production quality is exceptional and features rich instrumental textures. The tracks Lifetime Love and Perfect By Design are absolute peaches. More, please! (Sebastian Fox)
Mike Westbrook – Paris (ASC). Familar with Westbrook’s work with big bands, this solo album was a revelation. He explores familiar tunes, reimagining them so they became barely recognisable, mere hints of their origin. I’ve played this a lot during the year, and there’s always something new to hear. (Patrick Hadfield)
Morten Schantz – Godspeed (Edition Records) with Marius Neset and Anton Eger.
It started with a 64 second teaser from Edition Records. I was stopped in my tracks – the energy and joy, life flying by at a million miles an hour, you never want it to end! Then the full album surpassed these expectations. Interview (Mary James)
Joy Ellis – Life On Land (F-IRE). There were several stirring vocal albums this year – Zara McFarlane, Tina May, Carmen Lundy, Eliane Elias, Cecile McLorin Salvant and Dwight Trible all released outstanding work – but in the end singer/pianist Joy Ellis gets the nod from me for the sheer emotion, lyricism and originality of her album Life on Land. Interview (Peter Jones)
Marius Neset – Circle of Chimes (ACT). I cant stop playing it. (Barb Jungr)
John Abercrombie Quartet – Up And Coming (ECM). One of this year’s big losses. (Hans Koller)
Various – Live At The Spotted Dog (Stoney Lane). The two trio tracks Extralogical Railman and The JJ I Know from John O’Gallagher (alto saxophone), Michael Janisch (double bass) and Andrew Bain (drums) on the forthcoming Live At The Spotted Dog compilation – 20 minutes of out-yet-in bluesy rootsy all-in-it-together creativity that demand a full CD sometime soon! (Mark McKergow)
Ellen Andrea Wang – Blank Out (Jazzland). This sophomore album confirmed her status as a coming force in jazz and jazz-pop-indie crossover. Building on the success of Pixel, her charming vocal intonation and simple, but rambunctious bass playing worked well with a dancier groove to create a bunch of top notch, fun and charming songs. Guardian review (Rob Mallows)
Andy Stamatakis-Brown – Cottonopolis (YouTube). Pulsating new tribute to Madchester – an mjf highlight currently available only on YouTube… (Steve Mead)
Georgia Mancio & Alan Broadbent – Songbook (Roomspin Records). A sense of musical excellence, and an hour standing still, was delivered in Songbook – a wondrous collaboration between vocalist Georgia Mancio and pianist Alan Broadbent, with bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Dave Ohm. When original words and music touch your soul so directly that the eyes involuntarily well up, one knows that it’s something special; and this collection of 12 beautiful songs certainly has ‘timeless classic’ at its heart. (Adrian Pallant)
Manasonics – Foley (DStream). A trio with Bernoit Delbecq, Steve Argüelles and Foleyman Nicolas Becker in an excursion into the waters between jazz and electro-acoustic music. Bandcamp link (Michael Rüsenberg, Köln)
Kit Downes – Fifty-Two New Pieces For Right Hand (Kit Downes). Necessity can be the mother of invention and unleash an unforeseeable spark of creativity. When Kit Downes was deprived of the use of his left hand he took on the daily task of writing a video-ing a piece for right hand alone. And by the end their were fifty-two of them. I interviewed him about it once he was back with the full use of both hands. Interview (Sebastian Scotney)
Miklós Lukács, Larry Grenadier, Eric Harland – Cimbalom Unlimited (BMC). The Cimbalom isn’t an instrument I’d normally associate with jazz, or if at all, I’d have put it in with gypsy jazz rather than with modern jazz and improvisation, but this CD from the adventurous BMC label changed my opinion. The astonishing virtuosity of Miklós Lukács is applied here with a quality American rhythm section to create a sound that’s fresh and exciting (Peter Slavid)
Christine Tobin – Pelt (Trail Belle). Released last Christmas but I’m still listening to Pelt, a dream teaming of peerless interpreter of modern song Christine Tobin and Paul Muldoon, one of the greatest poets alive, who is also an unusually good songwriter. I reckon this is the best collaboration in this vein since Annie Ross and Christopher Logue half a century ago. Stand by for UK tour in 2018. (Jon Turney)
Danilo Perez – Panamonk (Impulse!). In Monk’s centenary year there were plenty of tributes, reissues and rediscoveries, but one album that’s given me huge listening pleasure is Danilo Perez’s 1996 tribute. Produced by the great Tommy LiPuma (who died in March), Panamonk mixes intelligent readings of tunes such as Evidence and Bright Mississippi with Perez’s Monk-inspired originals. I chanced upon the CD for £1 in a Dalston charity shop, which also makes it the Bargain of the Year. (John L Walters)
17 November 2017 – ECM streams the whole its back catalogue of nearly 2,500 albums covering 50 years of jazz and near jazz. Some we have known and loved for years, some immediate gems enticing, some with names as puzzling as a bad hand at scrabble, but all worth a listen. I’m taking it slowly – I don’t want to overindulge at Christmas. (Dominic Williams)
Camae Ayewa a.k.a. Moor Mother released two incredible LPs this year. In The Motionless Present (Vinyl Factory) from March, she utilises layered sound collage extraordinarily imaginatively. Yet, I’ll pick out her December release, Irreversible Entanglements (International Anthem/Don Giovanni), as a perfect amalgam of jazz and poetry, where Aweya’s readings of her poems are articulated brilliantly by the dynamic grouping of Keir Nueringer (saxophone), Aquiles Navarro (trumpet), Luke Stewart (bass) and Tcheser Holmes (drums). (Geoff Winston)
Just a quick comment about ECM streaming its entire back catalog – that's not entirely true. There remain a number of albums (last count, around 70) that have never made it into the digital age in ny format, such as Adelhard Roidinger's overlooked Schattseite. These have not yet been made available. What ECM has made available are all albums that have been made available in the digital domain – whether CD or download. But to say 2,500 titles? That's a bit of an overreach. Beyond that, I have to say that the label's concession – which was clearly noted, in its press release, as a response to piracy – is a sad one. ECM has always been noted for its sonics and its packaging. Most streaming services will not offer its catalog in cd quality, and so another sad day where sound quality takes a hit.
I welcome comments from someone who evidently knows and cares a lot about ECM and I share the sense of sadness about the end of an era but as the label said “Although ECM's preferred mediums remain the CD and L.P., the first priority is the the music should be heard”. The good news is that audiophiles can still enjoy ECM albums on CD L.P. or high quality streaming services.