The first five months of 2017 have seen quite a good number of valuable publications in Jazz, with a few masterpieces that are among the best albums of the year across all genres (as Tigran‘s Ancient Observer, which is one of the most beautiful discs you will hear this year). There are some interesting musical collaborations (Omar Sosa with Seckou Keita, Nguyen Le with Ngo Hong Quang, and Chris Thile with Brad Mehldau), a few publications by jazz masters (Ralph Towner, Matthew Shipp and John Abercrombie), but also a number of musicians who have the potential to become the future references in the jazz music scene, such as Nicolas Kummert and Cameron Graves.
I recommend here the best 20 albums that I encountered in this five-months travel into the realms of jazz, in strict alphabetical order.
Anne Quillier Sextet, Dusty Shelters
Dusty Shelters is the second album from the young French pianist and music writer Anne Quillier, featuring Pierre Horckmans on bass clarinets, Aurélien Joly on trumpet and flugelhorn, Grégory Sallet on saxophones, Michel Molines on double bass, and Guillaume Bertrand on drums. The style of Anne Quillier and her bandmates is particular: they alternate lovely and delicate tunes with more conceptual (sometimes “mathematical“) and sophisticated harmonic constructs. The result is definitely enjoyable and, to some extent, vigorous.
Anthony Jambon Group, Precious Time
Precious Time is the debut album by the ecletic guitarist Anthony Jambon and his four supporting skilled jazz musicians (Joran Cariou, Camille Passeri, Swaéli Mbappe and Martin Wangermée). It’s one of the suprises of the year and I must admit that was quite impressed by the simplicity and elegance of their music.
Avishai Cohen, Cross My Palm With Silver
Having the opportunity to watch him playing live last summer in Italy, where he executed the entire album Into the Silence, I had the direct chance to see the transformation that the Israeli native / New York based trumpeter Avishai Cohen made in the last few years. From the straight jazz and free-bop of his “Triveni” phase, he entered into a new phase of impressionistic and emotional jazz, which culminated with the release of his most recent album, Cross My Palm With Silver.
Benedikt Jahnel Trio, The Invariant
The trio with Spanish bassist Antonio Miguel and Canadian drummer Owen Howard has been an “invariant” in the life of Canadian native but Berlin based pianist Benedikt Jahnel. Hence the album title: The Invariant. The album was issued as the three musicians started a celebrating tour for the tenth anniversary of the trio as a working unit.
Benoît Lugué, Cycles
Cycles is the new experimental album from the French bassist Benoît Lugué and his sextet, which features Matthis Pascaud on guitar, Martin Wangermée on drums, Denis Guivarc’h on saxophone, Johan Blanc on trombone, and Olivier Laisney on trumpet. The album includes a number of outstanding experimental compositions which reflect lots of different inspirations from areas that are far from conventional jazz (math-rock, noise, drone music). One of the most original albums of the year, withou any doubt.
Cameron Graves, Planetary Prince
Planetary Prince is the exaggerated and exuberant solo album by Cameron Graves, who is mostly known for being the pianist of Kamasi Washington’s jazz ensemble. Cameron Graves has been able to record a phenomenal and quite refreshing collection of songs which remind us about the tunes of the past but with the addition of a healthy dose of madness. Kamasi Washington said Abou the album: “it is an amazing and almost unbelievable combination of modal jazz, romantic era European classical music, and mathematical death metal. A style so cool that it deserves its own genre”
Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau (S/T)
Early 2017 has been signed by the long awaited collaborative project by American mandolinist virtuoso and vocalist Chris Thile with award-winning American pianist Brad Mehldau. The album includes a mix of covers and original songs. The most beautiful moments, in my opinion, are reached when Tile is singing with his very peculiar voice and Mehldau fills the background with his fine music.
Colin Vallon Trio, Danse
Danse is the third album that Swizz jazz pianist Colin Vallon published with his Trio which features Patrice Moret on bass and Julian Sartorius on drums and percussions. Colin Vallon’s music is mostly based on the idea of exploring basic melodies or elementary harmonies with nuanced motifs or disjointed and dissonant counterpoints.
Ferenc Snétberger, Titok
Hungarian guitarist Ferenc Snétberger released a beautiful album filled with melodic acoustic guitar improvisations, named Titok. The album shows Snétberger’s trio in a clear peak of inspiration and demonstrates the special link that the three musicians achieved by playing together in many concerts. Snétberger’s trio for Titok features Swedish bassist Anders Jormin and US drummer Joey Baron, who’s been John Abercrombie’s drummer of choice for almost two decades and appears on another album of this list, i.e. the Abercrombie Quartet’s newest release Up and Coming.
Jan Lundgren, Potsdamer Platz
Potsdamer Platz is the last work by Swedish pianist and composer Jan Lundgren, and it’s definitely one of the best jazz works I heard in these first months of the year. Lundgren is part of a remarkable and long tradition of innovative pianists from Sweden like Jan Johansson, Bobo Stenson and Esbjörn Svensson. In this album he shows an undeniable ability to integrate the most disparate musical influences into a fascinating whole.
John Abercrombie Quartet, Up And Coming
Up and Coming is the second album that the jazz-rock pioneer John Abercrombie recorded by with the quartet featuring Marc Copland on piano, Drew Gress on double bass, and Joey Baron on drums. Seven of the eight tracks of the album are original pieces, mostly composed by the duo Abercrombie & Copland, one song is a cover of Miles Davis’ Nardis (1958).
Matthew Shipp Trio, Piano Song
Prolyfic American pianist and band leader Matthew Shipp released in 2017 what was initially declared as his last record on Peter Gordon’s influential label (Thirty Ear), which he supported since many years as both artist and curator. Piano Song sees Shipp’s piano leading a complex dialogue with bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker, and features a dense selection of articulated and exploratory tracks.
MEM3 is a relatively young and cosmopolitan jazz trio consisting of pianist Michael Cabe from Seattle, bassist Mark Lau from Sydney and drummer Ernesto Cervini from Toronto. The trio has released so far two very enjoyable and elegant jazz albums, the last one named Circles and published in the first months of 2017. In their albums they play mostly original compositions from all three musicians as well as a few traditional hymns. This is one of the new discoveries I made this year and I’m really happy for that!
Nguyên Lê & Ngô Hồng Quang, Hà Nội Duo
Nguyên Lê and Ngô Hồng Quang are two Vietnamese musicians who joined their efforts in this beautiful album, Hà Nội Duo, where they mange to integrate oriental and ancient traditions with contemporary music and arrangements. The beauty of the album lies mostly on such extreme juxtaposition between tradition and modernity, and the dynamic encounter of these two worlds generates moments of pure transcendence and musical passion.
Nicolas Kummert, La Diversité
On his last record, named La Diversité, young Belgian jazz singer and tenor saxophonist Nicolas Kummert is accompanied by Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke, who gave a very significant contribution to the entire album and a special touch of Africanism to many songs in this record. This is not an album wnich you can just put in the background during your busy evenings; you need to listen carefully in order to enjoy its curious and inspired musical lines. This is also an album that I’m appreciating more and more evrytime I put it once again in my music player. Definitely recommended: that’s one of the most interesting discs of the year.
Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita, Transparent Water
Cuban-born jazz pianist Omar Sosa has already played on various projects with world musicians from all around the globe, often travelling outside the borders of “coventional” jazz. In Transparent Water, he joined the efforts with the Senegalese drummer, vocalist and kora player Seckou Keita, who is today one of the most charismatic musicians from Africa. The result is magnificient.
Omer Klein, Sleepwalkers
Sleepwalkers is the seventh album by the Israeli-born pianist Omer Klein, recorded with his world-touring trio featuring Haggai Cohen-Milo on bass and Amir Bresler on drums. Klein’s musical style is a magical fusion between introspection and energy, and this album is no exception.
Ralph Towner, My Foolish Heart
After critically-lauded projects with trumpeter Paolo Fresu (Chiaroscuro) and with fellow guitarists Wolfgang Muthspiel and Slava Grigoryan (Travel Guide), living legend Ralph Towner returns to solo guitar with this new release for ECM, My Foolish Heart. Towner has been on the scene for years but it seems he’s always capable to explore new territories with his magical guitar and instantly recognizable style.
Tigran Hamasyan, An Ancient Observer
Differently from Tigran’s most recent productions, An Ancient Observer sees the young Armenian composer focusing primarily on the piano. The simplicity of the arrangements in this case is in favour of Tigran’s music since we can fully appreciate the beautiful balance that he managed to achieve between Armenian folk music (which uses a different tonal system with respect to the European one) and more conventional – and for us familiar – musical structures,
Wingfield, Reuter, Stavi and Sirkis, The Stone House
The Stone House is an incredible album recorded live in the studio with no overdubs: everything you hear in the album was completely improvised with no music written down or rehearsed before the recording started. That’s a controversial but illuminating work featuring British guitarist Mark Wingfield, German touch guitarist Markus Reuter, bassist Yaron Stavi, and drummer Asaf Sirkis. The video below captures the recording of one of the tracks of the album, which – for what we wrote above – it’s actually the same music we have on the album.