Having just published our 2019 Top 50 List By Customer Orders, I started thinking about which albums from the year I found most amazing, and which I returned to multiple times during the year. The number listed is an odd one, 18, but they were the albums that came to mind as I considered this list, and really, what's in a number?
This list is substantially different from our sales list, but I suppose it represents my personal quirks and interests, that which fuels me as we plan our catalog for the year. In fact, more than a couple of these have been non-starters on the store, always a sad fate for a deserving album; I won't tell you which weren't as well received as I believed they should be. Nor will I tell you which were well received but might not have made the top 50. As I write the abstracts for each album as they're added to our Recently Released section, most of what needs to be known will be in the original listing. However, I will in most cases elaborate as an addendum my own personal interest in each.
Andersen, Arild / Clive Bell / Mark Wastell
Tales Of Hackney
World instrumentation of shakuhachi, thai flute, shinobue, thai mouth organ, and shruti box blends with western orchestration of double bass, percussion and electronics as Clive Bell, Arild Andersen, and Mark Wastell come together in the studio after their well-received concert at Cafe Oto in London to develop these beautifully lyrical improvisations.
addendum I found myself returning to this album repeatedly as I introduced the album to our store for two reasons: one, it insinuates itself to its listeners by appearing to be a more conventional jazz album and then envelops them in a dream-like world. Wastell never fails to mesmerize me, and with Clive Bell and Arild Andersen the three use their eclectic instrumentation to create something other-worldly, at times familiar, and at times as exotic as one could imagine.
Spontan In Granit
Berlin double bassist Mathias Bauer, a member of Unitedberlin, Asian Art, Junge Music and mosaik, and half of the duo Alchimia Organica, presents a series of 18 solid and diverse spontaneous improvisations, most averaging under 3 minutes, captivating the listener through articulate momentum, exceptional technique, and inventive narrative.
addendum: I have become quite interested in solo performance albums over the years, which are certainly the most daring of presentations, and the most naked. I'm also an enthusiast of concise statement, and Bauer gives his listeners a succinct set of unique recordings, taking the bass into unusual territory and revealing a curious and exploratory mind.
Rodrigues / Leblanc / Lopes
Named for the city in which it was recorded, the trio of Karoline Leblanc on harpsichord, Ernesto Rodrigues on viola, and Paulo J Ferreira Lopes on gongs & cymbals, is a mysterious and ritualistic album, Lopes' gongs slowly intoning as the strings use unusual techniques, much of the harpsichord played inside; a subtle and beautiful reflection of historic Montreal.
addendum: In 2003 I took a chance on a Portuguese label that had sent me several review CDs to consider: Creative Sources. I was under the spell of so-called lowercase or Onkyo music at the time, and found the work of violist Ernesto Rodrigues and his then small group of similar-minded colleagues exceptional. The label now has more than 600 titles, justifying my decision through an ever-evolving set of releases with an ever-expanding number of musicians, many of which would otherwise be unknown to me. All that aside, whenever Rodrigues, and now his son, cellist Guilherme Rodrigues, release an album that they perform on I'm eager and interested. Montreal did not disappoint, a perfect example of why I return to Rodrigues' work regularly. The album is a single 57 minute work, the trio using restraint, and subtle extended techniques and reverberant ambience to enfold the listener, with subtle field recordings extending the music. Having been to Montreal many times, I draw the sense of a quiet morning in the historic district, and each motion and gesture feels appropriate and focused. Turn the volume up and give the music your attention, the rewards are found in this trio's finesse.
London Experimental Ensemble
(Split Rock Records)
Drawn from 305 traditional ballads from England and Scotland alongside their American variants, anthologised by Francis James Child during the second half of the nineteenth century, are here sung by Ed Pettersen in the fascinating intersection of traditional lyrics and experimental interpretations of melodies, performed by the 11-piece London Experimental Ensemble.
addendum: The name of this album may be deceptive, as it refers to Francis James Child, and not to children's songs. Child anthologized traditional ballads, and the London Experimental Ensemble draws from these to create modern and, well, more experimental versions of those songs. I have returned to this album many times, spurred by the ensemble's exceptional Treatise album interpreting the music of Cornelius Cardew. I am also reminded of Lindsay Cooper's exceptional Rags album as I hear history reflected and morphed through modern ears and interpretations.
Wooley, Nate (Wooley / Sawyer / Halvorson / Alcorn)
With two guitarists--Mary Halvorson and Susan Alcorn on pedal steel--and Ryan Sawyer on drums, New York trumpeter explores the Rocky Mountains Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, through sophisticated compositions and superbly illustrative sound, an exceptional album of improvisation and intention from four modern masters.
addendum: There are three albums with trumpeter Nate Wooley in this list, and there's no doubt I'm a dedicated fan of his work. What I find most interesting is how unpredictable each release from him is, from creative modern improvisation (jazz) to conceptual experimental works, to work with sounds, or driven by twisted theory. His accomplices in this work are extraordinary players of our time, and he brings out the best in his performers as they seem to do to him. Columbia Icefield is a perfect example of what I find fascinating in his work, as his quartet with guitarists Mary Halvorson and Susan Alcorn, and drummer Ryan Sawyer, interpret a massive Canadian icefield in sound. If that sounds "cold", you'll be surprised at how well the concept brings that sense of vast area to life, over three long-form compositions using electronics in specific ways that complement the otherwise acoustic orchestration. "Seven in the Woods" brings the album together for me, in beautiful solos and group interaction that surprises in approach, as the piece shifts focus while maintaining location.
Dark Star Safari (Rohrer / Bang / Honore / Aarse)
Dark Star Safari
Percussionist Samuel Rohrer invited Jan Bang and Eivind Aarset to his Berlin studio to record the 10 improvisations that create the basis for these haunting songs, the band taking that material to enhance and shape resulting compositions, inspiring Jan Bang to develop the lyrics reminiscent of David Sylvian's recent work, resulting in this darkly impressive album.
addendum: The description in my abstract might say enough about this wonderfully dark and compelling album. I had no idea Jan Bang had this aspect of expressive lyricism and vocal skill, which has drawn me back to this album many times.
I Am Three & Me (Nicols, Maggie / Silke Eberhard / Nikolaus Neuser / Christian Marien)
Mingus' Sounds Of Love
Following their 2016 album "I Am Three, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus", the German trio of Silke Eberhard on alto saxophone, Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet, and Christian Marien on drums invited British improvising vocalist Maggie Nicols to further explore the works of jazz legend Charles Mingus in song and spoken word in a thoroughly enjoyable and worthy tribute to his work.
addendum: I feel like all I should have to write is "Mingus" to explain this release, but no doubt there's a tremendous amount of his work interpreted already. What distinguishes this for me is Maggie Nicols, who joins saxophonist Silke Eberhard, trumpeter Nikolaus Neuser, and drummer Christian Marien, as they take a really quirky and loving take on the late composer and bassist's music. This is the 2nd release for the trio, the first four years prior, and the compatibility and seamlessness of their playing is remarkable. I get a kick out of the trio being bass-less, but somehow that's fitting for their approach to his music. Great tracks include "Weird Nightmare", "Haitian Fight Song" and "The Clown", the last read superbly by Nicols. And the strangest is Mingus' description of how to toilet train a cat. Quirky probably doesn't do justice to the album and the way the music and voice work together, but through irreverence the band shows reverence to one of the greatest jazz composers of the last century.
Fictive Five, The (Ochs / Wooley / Filiano / Niggenkemper / Eisenstadt)
Anything Is Possible
A tour-de-force of modern creative jazz from the quintet of Larry Ochs on tenor & sopranino saxophones, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Ken Filiano on bass & effects, Pascal Niggenkemper on bass & effects, and Harris Eisenstadt on drums, the familiar history of the musicians and the staggering skill of each bearing out the album's title, in 2 collective and 3 Ochs compositions.