LJN YEAR-END LISTS (1): Musician/Band of the Year 2018

Yazz Ahmed, Helena Kay and Tori Freestone
with Interchange at the Parabola, Cheltenham
Photo credit: © John Watson/
The first of our three annual lists consists of nominations by LJN writers and other friends in the industry for musician or band of the year: 

Iain Ballamy Quartet. A very personal choice, unrecorded (so far), sporadically gigging, a regular line-up has taken shape at small venues around Bristol, Bath and Frome. With Jason Rebello on keys, Percy Pursglove, bass and Mark Whitlam on drums this quartet has been thrilling, sublime and genre defying at every appearance. They start 2019 at a pop-up mini-festival in Bath, and I’m hoping they end it no longer unrecorded or sporadic when it comes to gigs. (Mike Collins)

Issie Barratt’s Interchange. With ten different composers, the music was stylistically varied – but the quality was high, the message was consistent and the impact was important. (Peter Slavid)

Dave Burrell
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved
Dave Burrell. Probably one of the greatest jazz pianists you’ve never heard of. I admit I hadn’t – but, luckily, Cafe Oto’s tempting promo hooked me in. Burrell’s range, energy, technical strength and compositional skills elicited amazement in the room. What came out of the keyboard was extraordinary. He’s been around, played with the greats of the left field – Ayler, Shepp, Rivers, Sanders – and has the history of jazz coursing through his veins. A revelation. (Geoff Winston)

Pete Churchill/ London Vocal Project. I know, in a sense, that the Jon Hendricks Miles Ahead as a story is “so last year,” a 2017 story. But it is in the performances that have followed the New York premiere that the heft and scale of what has been achieved is starting to emerge, as the performers dig deeper into the work, and trust themselves and each other more. It is all jaw-droppingly impressive, the story of how it came about is incredibly moving, and now it just gets better and better. (Sebastian Scotney)

Graham Costello’s STRATA. It was a keenness to see pianist Fergus McCreadie that drew me to STRATA. What I hadn’t appreciated was that there would be five more equally talented young musicians. Drummer Graham Costello writes the music, an impressive feat in itself. An intense experience combining jazz, prog, improvisation and classical minimalism, they have an album and tour of Scotland coming in February. (Patrick Hadfield)

Sylvie Courvoisier. Sylvie Courvoisier is at the top of her game. Her trio record renews the classic piano trio. And: In the speech-image-music project with the writer Teju Cole, the drummer Julian Sartorius and the trumpeter Tom Arthurs at the Zurich unerhört-Festival, she was bubbling over with musical ideas. And the recently recorded duo album with Mark Feldman (release: June 2019) will take your breath away. (Patrik Landolt, Intakt Records, Zurich)

Eyolf Dale. His recordings deliver impressive candour and beauty, and his stock is inexorably rising (Rob Mallows)

Paul Dunmall. I could vote for Paul every year, one of the greatest improvising saxophonists in the world! But this year, in particular, it’s great to see him win the Paul Hamlyn award, as well as releasing several fantastic albums and re-uniting with Alan Skidmore. (Olie Brice)

Empirical. A beautiful combination of instruments – saxophone (Nathaniel Facey), vibraphone (Lewis Wright), bass (Tom Farmer) and drums (Shaney Forbes) – is brilliantly deployed on a range of original material that seems, to me, to touch all the jazz bases. They achieve an almost perfect balance between lyrical, reflective playing on the one hand and the and the high octane delivery of their thrilling, fast tempo pieces. And it is not often that it can be said that some of the best live jazz of the year was performed in November in the unpromising surroundings of Old Street underground station, where Empirical set up shop during the London Jazz Festival. (Graham Roberts)

Rosie Frater-Taylor. At 19 she has just brought out a first album which sounds fresh and engaging on all levels. (Sarah Chaplin)

Melody Gardot. The sophisticated, sardonic, astonishing singer-songwriter continues to delight. (Andrew Cartmel)

Bob James. Bob returned to his jazz trio routes and released an album that was as close to perfection as you can get. (Nick Davies)

Laura Jurd. Whether as bandleader, featured soloist, composer or teacher, the trumpeter is continuing to fulfil most impressively indeed our expectations of what the all-round jazz musician should aspire to in the 21st century. (Peter Bacon)

Kansas Smitty’s House Band
Photo Credit: Jesaja Hizkia
Kansas Smitty’s House Band:  2018 has been a particularly prolific year for Kansas Smitty’s, with EPs every quarter, an extending range in both musical and geographical terms, rising acclaim and exposure at top-line venues and festivals. And while staying in a classic jazz vein, they’re still continuing to strongly feature their own material! (Mark McKergow)

Nominated twice: Femi Koleoso in action at the Church of Sound
Photo credit and © Mochles Simawi
Femi Koleoso (i)/Ezra Collective. Leader, drummer, evangelist and philosopher Femi Koleoso is a one-of-a-kind in so many ways. I could praise his brilliant work with Ezra Collective, Nubya Garcia, Jorja Smith and his contributions to Camilla George. However, what makes this guy even more special is his spiritual soul…whether it’s assisting a disabled individual to attend one of his shows or preaching on Facebook about how we can help young people to have a better life. Pure inspiration. (Martin Hummel)

Femi Koleoso (ii). For being one of the driving forces behind the excitement coming out of London right now. His part in Ezra Collective and with Nubya Garcia at Love Supreme was something else – I look forward to seeing him play in New York in January on Gilles Peterson’s British Jazz Showcase (Dan Bergsagel)

John Law. He takes this accolade for his amazing output this year: Sacre, his project with David Gordon for two grand pianos; his solo work; his Goldberg project; Re-Creations, his quartet playing other people’s tunes and making them sound even better, and his Congregation with James Mainwaring, Ashley John Long and Billy Weir who took India by storm in February, including an open air concert complete with flying foxes. (Mary James – booking agent for John Law)

LBT. I think one of the best bands I heard in 2018 was one from the Munich region called LBT (Leo Betzl on keyboards, Sebastian Wolfgruber on drums and Maximilian Hirning on bass) not because they are the finest musicians of the world, but because they were doing something different, something I really hadn’t heard until now. It is a young piano trio that combines techno rhythms and structures with improvisation in a way that is really convincing. (Ralf Dombrowski, Munich, Germany)

Christian Lillinger. Almost everytime he appeared on stage in 2018, the result was something that could be called a re-organising of free jazz. (Michael Rüsenberg,, Cologne)

Gareth Lockrane Big Band. This unruly big band changes pace, mood and direction faster than a big band has any right to, and the players enjoy their mischief, as well. The bandleader is like an out-of-control teenager doing handbrake turns in a stolen warship. It shouldn’t be possible, shouldn’t be allowed, but he loves doing it and won’t stop, and it’s strangely addictive to watch. (Matt Pannell)

The Mingus Big Band with Wayne Escoffery. No matter how often this band appears, the variations in personnel and the richness of Mingus’s music never fail to inspire. (Peter Vacher)

Allison Neale. In an increasingly modal world, it’s refreshing that Allison, with her superb good taste and brilliant technical ability, can remind an enthusiastic audience of the intricate beauty and drive of bebop. (Leonard Weinreich)

Eddie Parker (R) with Alcyona Mick and Brigitte Beraha
Photo credit: Evan Dawson 
Eddie Parker’s Debussy Mirrored Ensemble. This group is a unique collaboration of some the UK’s most virtuosic jazz and classical musicians, performing traditional and contemporary instruments, unified by the extraordinary orchestrations and compositions of Eddie Parker. It has taken years for him to form this group and create the music. The performance I saw was electrifying, discomforting at times and deeply moving. (Evan Dawson)

Point vrt. Plastic (Kaja Draksler – Petter Eldh – Christian Lillinger). An intensive exchange between three outstanding musicians. And never a superfluous note ! (Anja Illmaier, Intakt Records, Zurich)

Alison Rayner. She has been an in-demand bassist since the 1970s, and her band ARQ (Alison Rayner Quintet) has achieved so much since their first album in 2014. They’ve been touring their sparky original music constantly, and also won the 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Award for Jazz Ensemble of the Year. Quite right too. (Alison Bentley)

Cath Roberts. Composer, baritone sax boss and bandleader of quintet Sloth Racket and the ten-piece Favourite Animals. Co-convenor of the BRÅK free improv night in Brockley where her one-off duo with Alex Ward was a live highlight of the year. Author of head-spinning graphical charts bringing together memorable compositional chops and daring improvisational fluidity. If there is a golden compass to lead us into the future of free composition, Cath Roberts is the one pointing the needle. (AJ Dehany)

Mark Sanders. The drummer is my musician of the year. He always provides a really stimulating contribution to any group or player he performs with. (Tony Dudley-Evans)

Christian Sands. The pianist’s show during the London Jazz Festival was one of my favourites of 2018. He’s a real virtuoso. Fantastic technique but warm and soulful at the same time. (Ciro Romano)

Martin Speake. …whom I heard live with three different bands. In each of them – a long-standing trio with Jeff Williams and Mike Outram, a quartet with Ethan Iverson, and the rhythm-focussed quartet Charukesi – his gorgeous alto lines stimulate the mind and lift the spirit. (Jon Turney)

Christine Tassan/Les Imposteures. Christine Tassan is one of Quebec’s most accomplished gypsy jazz guitarists. I cannot say enough about her sound and talent. Ca me renverse, comme on dit! She hails from Paris and has been in Montreal since 1993. Her acclaimed group Les Imposteurs have been together for 15 years and have brought their special brand of jazz manouche to many stages around the world. (Sienna Dahlen, vocalist, Montreal, Quebec)

Huw Warren. Huw Warren’s 2018 solo piano release, Nocturnes and Visions, and an intimate performance at St Ann’s Church, Manchester (for this year’s ‘mjf’), pulled into sharp focus his emotive subtlety and thunderous dynamism across the keyboard. Contrasting the Brazilian hues and rhythms of Hermeto Pascoal and Baden Powell with the charm of his own, elegant writing, including an affectionate Perfect Houseplants nod to Sir Edward Elgar, Warren’s work endlessly and affectingly captivates. (Adrian Pallant)

Mike and Kate Westbrook. This year the phenomenal Mike and Kate Westbrook took five different shows on the road: lovely musical Paintbox Jane; choral Blake work Glad Day; rock song cycle Granite; reimagined opera Rossini Re-Loaded; and greatest hits show Pure Gold. They released five CDs – three new works, one re-release from 1968, and a rediscovered live recording from 1992. And, Mike received an Honorary Fellowship from Plymouth College of Art, and painter Kate had a major art exhibition. (Jane Mann)

Categories: News

3 replies »

  1. Interesting that Bob James and Eric Dophy both appear on this list. What is probably less well known is that Eric Dolphy made two remarkable recordings with a Bob James Trio and counter tenor, David Schwarz, in March 1964 at the Once Festival at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, of a highly adventurous composition by Bob James. Initially entitled 'Jim Crow' when its first discovered recording was released on 'Eric Dolphy: Other Aspects' (Blue Note), 'A Personal Statement' is the title subsequently attributed to the piece and applied to its only other recording, recently discovered and just released on 'Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet' (reviewed above) where it is accompanied by an essay which explains the composition's genesis and Dolphy's involvement in its performance. It is an extraordinary piece of avant-garde, 'new' music, composed while James was in post-student mode and an admirer of Dolphy, with whom he had become acquainted while living in New York. It is far from the 'smooth jazz' on which James built his career.

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