END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF JAZZ IN 2017

This chart with the best 10 Jazz albums of 2017 is the perfect combination of a first group of albums which conquered and mainteined their positions in the top ten since the early months of the year, and a few “late” masterpieces that arrived after the summer and that – in a very short time – have literally twisted up the top positions of the final ranking.

Another general consideration that we can make on this top ten is that the artists with the most experience prevailed. Apart from some young promise that has managed to find a place in the lower parts of the ranking, the main positions are all assigned to musicians with a consolidated background. But beware, this does not mean that we are always facing the same old music. On the contrary, this year’s Jazz music scene shined for the absolutely brilliant way in which the most important artists have managed to combine a somewhat classic approach to their music with clear elements of innovation, replicating once again that magic thanks to which this musical genre, despite the criticisms of many, still manages to represent – much better than many other types of music – progress and growth.

There is nothing left to say that recommend going through this list of artists and their new albums: maybe you could have missed a few of these LPs and in this respect this article could be an opportunity to fill any gap in your Jazz discography for the year. And to better complement and accompany the reading of the chart, I’ve also prepared a special compilation with selected tracks from the most interesting LPs released in 2017. This mixtape includes also artists who have not reached the top ten chart and that aren’t mentioned in the article. In this respect, the mixtape is even a better way to revisit the state of contemporary Jazz through a fascinating journey through various musical sub-genres and different styles.

 


 

Number 10

LA DIVERSITE’ by Nicolas Kummert

NICOLAS KUMMERT - La Diversité - 800x800

La Diversité is the last album produced by the young Belgian jazz singer and tenor saxophonist Nicolas Kummert and it’s an LP which slowly but incessantly ascended in the Jazz music charts of this blog. It’s not bny chance, then, that it eventually consolidated its position within the Top Ten albums of the year.

La Diversité is a particular release which requires a few listens to be fully comprehended and appreciated. Kummert’s saxophone lines are in fact subtle and articulated and his style incorporates so many different influences that you may need some time to untangle the dissonant harmonies that permeate the album. This is not an album wnich you can just put in the background during your busy evenings; you need to listen it carefully in order to enjoy at the best all of its curious and inspired musical lines. Profound and full of suprires, that’s one of the most challenging but interesting albums of the year.

In most of the tracks Nicolas Kummert is is supported by a number of talented musicians who all participated actively with their single touches to the final result. The major contribution, however, comes from Benin-born guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke, who gave a special touch of Africanism to many of the songs of the album.


 

Number 9

FAR INTO THE STARS by Markus Stockhausen

MARKUS STOCKHAUSEN - Far Into The Stars - 800x800

One year after the release of beautiful and poetical album Alba, German trumpeter and composer Markus Stockhausen comes back with another ethereal release. Far into the Stars, the last of a long discography of albums, is a further testimony to the artist’s ability of creating delicate and fascinating atmsopheres where no sound is ever dissonant with the former one, and all the instruments works organically for the definition of engaging and emotional layers of melodies.

The style of Stockhausen is often tending towards the sonorities and musicality typical of classical music and this album does not deviate from this trend. The songs of the album are soft, gentle but still permeated by an underlying tension.

This is another precious gem in the collection of records released by a great representative of modern Jazz.


 

Number 8

GENTLE GIANTS by SLOWFOX

SLOWFOX - Gentle Giants - 800x800

Slowfox is a recent music project founded by German double bass virtuoso Sebastian Gramss. The project is basically a jazz & avant-garde trio featuring saxophonist Hayden Chisholm and pianist Philip Zoubek. The three skilled musicians have released on last May the second album under the moniker fo SLOWFOX, named Gentle Giants, which is an excellent testimony of the current status of contemporary chamber music.

The beauty of the album relies moslty in the exceptional balance between the beautiful harmonic improvisations and the melodic background that characterize all the songs of the disc. The music of Slowfox seems to float perpetually between these two domains: on one side boundless creativity, on the other reassuring melodies. The absence of the drums makes this sensation even stronger and creates an extravagant, intriguing and sometimes hypnotic effect.

The artistic concept that has guided the composition of the songs of the album is probably summarized by the quote that is obtained by reading one after the other the titles of the 15 songs: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” (probably to be accredited to Friedrich Nietzsche)


 

Number 7

TRANSPARENT WATER by Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita

OMAR SOSA & SECKOU KEITA - Transparent Water - 800x800

Cuban-born jazz pianist Omar Sosa has built a vast discography of works in which he plays with musicians from all around the globe, often travelling outside the standard of Jazz traditions. In his last album he joined the efforts with Senegalese drummer, vocalist and kora player Seckou Keita, who is today one of the most charismatic musicians from Africa.

The duo has released this year a beautiful album, named Transparent Water, which sees also collaborations with other musicians coming from the most disparate areas of the world, each one bringing his own influences and playing his characteristics musical instruments: we have Japanese koto player Mieko Miyazaki, Chinese sheng player Wu Tong, and Venezuelan percussionist and batá player Gustavo Ovalles, just to mention a few ones. But like a sort of magic, what could be imagined at first as a chaotic mix of sounds, influences and instruments, here is wonderfully transformed into a celebration of simplicity and – to some extent – it becomes an ode to the universality of music.

The experience of listening to this beautiful album is really a journey through ethnic sounds and enchanting melodies, with the different musical traditions which complement each other providing the listener with varied nuances of the same basic tune.


 

Number 6

PROVENANCE by Björn Meyer

BYORN MEYER - Provenance - 800x800

If last year I ended up completely conquered by the beauty and the particularity of Janek Gwizdala‘s American Elm, it may be understandable how it was possible for me to fall in love with Provenance, the new album by Swedish Jazz bassist Björn Meyer. This work, in fact, shares with Gwizdala’s one the same exact musical approach and provides the listener with a collection of fabulous solo pieces for electric bass and very few other contour elements.

The technique used by Meyer for his new album is very special: by playing his six-strings bass only in the highest regions of the instrument’s dynamics, the artist manages to produce a lighter sound, very similar to that of an electric guitar, but with a substance and a body which result definitely denser and more stratified. And with the addition of a few electrical touches and some effects like reverberation, the result is complete: in front of us magical worlds unfold thanks to the wise touch of this great musician.

Provenance is one of those albums that reject tags and labels. “Jazz” or “meditiative music” become simple attributes of a music that assumes mystical and universal contours. There is no need to wonder what kind of music you hearing when such a pure sound and these poetic melodies come before you. You just have to enjoy it, and be transported into the realms of magic.

As a side note, the album was recorded in an highly responsive auditorium in Lugano and according to the author this aspect had a big influence on the final result: “Even though the instrument is technically non-acoustic, the music is deeply influenced by the properties of the space where it is played. The many different ways in which acoustics affect my compositions and improvisations have always been sources of surprise and inspiration. There is definitely a second member in this solo project – the room!


 

Number 5

POSTDAMER PLATZ by Jan Lundgren

JAN LUNDGREN - Potsdamer Platz - 800x800

Potsdamer Platz is the last beautiful work by Jan Lundgren and it sees the Swedhish pianist and composer play together with a new quartet he assembled with Jukka Perko (alto & soprano sax), former E.S.T. Dan Berglund (bass), and Morten Lund (drums). For this LP the Scandinavian supergroup managed to craft and record a fantastic sequence of songs which someone could initally confuse for simple lounge-bar jazz tunes, but that in reality represent – each of them – a beautiful example of modern jazz, without too many superstructures and useless conceptual elements. It’s easy to proclame the willingness to balance tradition with enjoyability, but there are very few artitst that actually manage to achieve this goal without slipping into banality or the mere repetition of a model.

As reported on his biography, Lundgren is part of a remarkable and long tradition of innovative pianists from Sweden like Jan Johansson, Bobo Stenson and Esbjörn Svensson. He has the ability to integrate the most disparate musical influences into a fascinating whole. Whether its contemporary classical music, the northern folk tradition or the groove of jazz, Lundgren has a unique way of leading the listener on a voyage of discovery – sometimes relaxed, sometimes more passionate – through his magnificent musical soundscapes. An instant classic.


 

Number 4

FAR FROM OVER by Vijay Iyer Sextet

VIJAY IYER - Far From Over - 800x800

American pianist Vijay Iyer is one of the most influential figures of the current Jazz scene, and he’s also one of the most experimental and prolific composers of these days. After having achieved a remarkable success with two great albums released for the ACT label in 2009 (Historicity) and in 2013 (Accelerando), he’s been involved in wide range of heterogenous musical projects where he sometimes explored territories well beyond conventional Jazz.

Iyer’s last work, the beautiful Far From Over, apparently marks a sort of return to the more usual sounds and structure of Jazz music, but in reality it conceals an absolutely modern and courageous reading of the old canons of this musical genre. From a purely formal point of view, in fact, we find in this album a collection of compositions which correspond to the typical structures of hard bop, swing, funky-jazz or avant-garde. The approach to the music, however, is completely innovative and sees the artis and his five skilled bandmates taking corageous paths which unpredictably diverge from the convention.

In some songs of the album, partly because of the composition of the ensemble (two saxophones, one flugehorn, piano, bass and double drums) and partly because of the peculiar way of playing of the musicians, I felt sensations and emotions similar to those I had the first time I listened Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

That’s another milestone in the career of Vijay Iyer and it’s absolutely no surprise to find him reaching the top 5 in the final chart for Jazz music.


 

Number 3

JERSEY by Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet

MARK GUILIANA JAZZ QUARTET - Jersey - 800x800

There are artists who are so much driven by musical curiosity and the desire to explore different influences that they feel the pressure to produce adventurous works mixing together musical genres, always trying to find new languages for expressing their creativity. And it may defintely curious to see how, sometime, the best way these artists really manage to achieve their goal is to come back to the origin of their music. Evidently, it is just by going through the most well-known roads that you can travel the further.

Mark Guiliana, the talented and versatile drummer who gained the attention of fans and critics playing together with artists of the caliber of Brad Mehldau and Avishai Cohen, started a few years ago an exploration of electronic music, pop/rock and free-improvisation – sometimes with mixed results in my opinion. This year he has movedback to a more conventional lineup, a total analogue set-up, and he eventually released one of the most exciting records of his entire discography.

Working together with long-time supporting musicians such as tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby and bassist Chris Morrissey, and the the new addition of Fabian Almazan on piano, Mark Guiliana managed to record a compilation of songs wich are today the perfect synthesis of Conteporary Jazz and that showcase a perfec balance between the excellence of the individual musicians (often engaged in breathtaking solos) with an excellent harmonic cohesion.


 

Number 2

BODY AND SHADOW by Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band

BRIAN BLADE - Body and Shadow - 800x800

As a long-term fan of American jazz drummer Brian Blade, I’ve been waiting for this new record with great expectations and some trepidation. His last effort with his fellow companions, Landmarks, dated 2014. But although I was therefore ready to listen to a great album, I could not imagine falling in love with Blade’s new release from the real first notes of the first track of the record. Body and Shadow, the last work released by Blade with the Fellowship Band, it’s something so beautiful and unique that it literally takes your breath away. This is a music with no reference, no original model: it is pure poetry that the musicians play spontaneously, leaving aside technical those virtuosities and conceptualisms which in any case they would not have any problem to use given their pedigree.

The adjectives that comes to mind thinking of the jazz played by the musicians on this record are “soft” and “sweet“. In fact the music proceeds in this album without angularities: we have sounds, melodies, and harmonies played with care and with delicacy, melodies that manage to touch the most intimate strings of the soul. But be aware, delicacy and softness here do not mean lack of emotions. Instead, this is a clear manifestation of musical leadership and a group of musicians who have played together for years and years. They show an impressive capacity to self-synchronize their sounds and a level of self-awareness that makes all the ensemble tuned and compact. And what has been said at the overall level is also true for the drumming of Brian Blade. His touch is never heavy or above the other instruments.


 

Number 1

AN ANCIENT OBSERVER by Tigran Hamasyan

TIGRAN HAMASYAN - An Ancient Observer - 800x800

After so many times this album has been mentioned in this blog, it was extremely difficult that another record could remove it from the top of the chart. And in the end, as easily predictable, An Ancient Observer by Armenian composer Tigran Hamasyan won the award of best Jazz album of the year.

Differently from Tigran’s productions of the last few years, An Ancient Observer sees the artist focused primarily on the piano and the simplicity of the arrangements is totally in favour of Tigran’s inspirations. In all of the songs of the album we can appreciate the beautiful balance that he managed to achieve between Armenian folk music (which is based on a different tonal system with respect to the European one) and those more conventional – and for us familiar – musical structures.

The melodies in Tigran’s songs are always suspended on this unstable equilibrium between two worlds and two cultures, and this dynamic contrast creates a fascinating and magical atmosphere. Listening to the album, however, we appreciate how this is today the result of years and years of work and persistent refinement rather than just a circumscribed musical experiment. As a matter of fact, we’re speaking of a musician that is incorporating local folk melodies into jazz-form improvisations since his teens.

Sometimes, even if quite rarely, there are songs that can hit you deep in your emotions. Songs where the beauty of the melodies is combined with a great expressiveness of the interpretation. An Ancient Observer is full of these kind of songs. This is with no doubts a musical work that will leave a mark for a long time. Not to be missed, absolutely.

Many readers of the blog already had the opportunity to enjoy the Spotify playlist that was assembled to celebrate the greatness and the ingenuity of Tigran. This is available from the following widget, and collects both new and past pieces of music from our beloved pianist.


 

Best of Jazz in 2017, the Top Ten Albums (updated)

Jazz music is maybe one of the musical genres that is more subject to personal interpretation and if we exclude a few of the new albums that gather universal consensus, you will always find a great disparity of opinions from critics and listeners over the majority of recent Jazz publications, especially when it comes to debuting musicians. As a matter of fact, if you compare three of four Jazz charts it will be a real challenge to find the same artist appearing in all of them.

Said this, here you can find my personal Top Ten list with the best Jazz albums which I’ve heard this year so far. There are a few well known and acclaimed artists but also a number of new musicians that are shaping the future of Jazz through many interesting influences coming from other kinds of music.

We have now entered the last quarter of 2017, there is still so much to hear from now to the end of the year but many of the artists that appear in this edition of the list are expected to maintain their positions. Enjoy the chart and we’ll see together what will happen in the forthcoming months.


 

#1) An Ancient Observer by Tigran Hamasyan

 

TIGRAN HAMASYAN - An Ancient Observer - 800x800.jpg

After many months since the release of Ancient Observer by Armenian composer Tigran Hamasyan it is now difficult to predict that another record will remove this masterpiece from the top of the chart. And as the readers of the blog may confirm, I stated since the beginning that the LP was going to be one of the major releases of the year, across all genres.

Differently from Tigran’s productions of the last few years, An Ancient Observer sees the artist focused primarily on the piano and the simplicity of the arrangements is totally in favour of Tigran’s inspirations. In all of the songs of the album we can appreciate the beautiful balance that he managed to achieve between Armenian folk music (which is based on a different tonal system with respect to the European one) and those more conventional – and for us familiar – musical structures.

The melodies in Tigran’s songs are always suspended on this unstable equilibrium between two worlds and two cultures, and this dynamic contrast creates a fascinating and magical atmosphere. Listening to the album, however, we appreciate how this is today the result of years and years of work and persistent refinement rather than just a circumscribed musical experiment. As a matter of fact, we’re speaking of a musician that is incorporating local folk melodies into jazz-form improvisations since his teens.

Sometimes, even if quite rarely, there are songs that can hit you deep in your emotions. Songs where the beauty of the melodies is combined with a great expressiveness of the interpretation. An Ancient Observer is full of these kind of songs. This is with no doubts a musical work that will leave a mark for a long time. Not to be missed, absolutely.

…and today I’m really excited because I will see him live here in Roma on next November!

It’s a special kind of magic when a musician and his instrument of choice seem to merge into one entity, one voice, one force of musical creation. Few musicians have achieved this almost symbiotic relationship with their instrument in the last decade, and Tigran Hamasyan is one of them, handling the piano like an extension of his very essence in his jazz/classical/world music-informed compositions (Itdjents)


 

#2) Far From Over by Vijay Iyer Sextet

 

VIJAY IYER - Far From Over - 800x800

One of the most influential figures of the current Jazz scene, American pianist Vijay Iyer is also one of the most experimental and prolific composers of these days. After having achieved a remarkable success with the two great – and relatively “standard” – albums released for the ACT label in 2009 (Historicity) and in 2013 (Accelerando), he’s been involved in wide range of heterogenous musical projects where he sometimes explored territories well beyond conventional Jazz.

Iyer’s last work, the beautiful Far From Over, apparently marks a sort of return to the more usual sounds and structure of Jazz music, but in reality it conceals an absolutely modern and courageous reading of the old canons of this musical genre. From a purely formal point of view, in fact, we find in this album a collection of compositions which correspond to the typical structures of hard bop, swing, funky-jazz or avant-garde. The approach to the music, however, is completely innovative and sees the artis and his five skilled bandmates taking corageous paths which unpredictably diverge from the convention. In some songs of the album, partly because of the composition of the ensemble (two saxophones, one flugehorn, piano, bass and double drums) and partly because of the peculiar way of playing of the musicians, I felt sensations and emotions similar to those I had the first time I listened Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

That’s another milestone for Jazz, another great album by Vijay Iyer, and it’s no surprise to find him reaching quickly the top positions of the chart.

Along with bassist Stephan Crump, both Lehman and Sorey have worked extensively in some of Iyer’s previous groups. It makes sense that they’d sound comfortable in the composer’s dense and memorable pieces, though this ensemble’s compatibility isn’t an end in itself. The union of players and material inspires a new synthesis: the sound of Iyer consolidating strengths and discovering some new ones as he settles into the vibe created by his most potent band yet. (Pitchfork)


 

#3) Potsdamer Platz by Jan Lundgren

 

JAN LUNDGREN - Potsdamer Platz - 800x800

Potsdamer Platz is the last beautiful work by Jan Lundgren and it sees the Swedhish pianist and composer play together with a new quartet he assembled with Jukka Perko (alto & soprano sax), former E.S.T. Dan Berglund (bass), and Morten Lund (drums).

For this LP the Scandinavian supergroup managed to craft and record a fantastic sequence of songs which someone could initally confuse for simple lounge-bar jazz tunes, but that in reality represent – each of them – a beautiful example of modern jazz, without too many superstructures and useless conceptual elements. It’s easy to proclame the willingness to balance tradition with enjoyability, but there are very few artitst that actually manage to achieve this goal without slipping into banality or the mere repetition of a model.

As reported on his biography, Lundgren is part of a remarkable and long tradition of innovative pianists from Sweden like Jan Johansson, Bobo Stenson and Esbjörn Svensson. He has the ability to integrate the most disparate musical influences into a fascinating whole. Whether its contemporary classical music, the northern folk tradition or the groove of jazz, Lundgren has a unique way of leading the listener on a voyage of discovery – sometimes relaxed, sometimes more passionate – through his magnificent musical soundscapes. An instant classic.

Lundgren’s intuitions about when to do more with less make him an ideal accompanist, he has the most polished of keyboard touches, and a songwriter’s ear for melodies that sound simultaneously conventional and new (The Guardian)


 

#4) Transparent Water by Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita

 

OMAR SOSA & SECKOU KEITA - Transparent Water - 800x800.jpg

Cuban-born jazz pianist Omar Sosa has built a vast discography of works in which he plays with musicians from all around the globe, often travelling outside the standard of Jazz traditions. In his last album he joined the efforts with Senegalese drummer, vocalist and kora player Seckou Keita, who is today one of the most charismatic musicians from Africa.

The duo has released this year a beautiful album, named Transparent Water, which sees also collaborations with other musicians coming from the most disparate areas of the world, each one bringing his own influences and playing his characteristics musical instruments: we have Japanese koto player Mieko Miyazaki, Chinese sheng player Wu Tong, and Venezuelan percussionist and batá player Gustavo Ovalles, just to mention a few ones. But like a sort of magic, what could be imagined at first as a chaotic mix of sounds, influences and instruments, here is wonderfully transformed into a celebration of simplicity and – to some extent – it becomes an ode to the universality of music.

The experience of listening to this beautiful album is really a journey through ethnic sounds and enchanting melodies, with the different musical traditions which complement each other providing the listener with varied nuances of the same basic tune. Wonderful.

Those keen on analysis will be tempted to try to break this music down to its component parts, disentangle instruments, and assign strict definitions to what’s happening here. That’s not advised. Part of the magic in Sosa’s music has always been his ability to operate behind the curtain, working the seam where music and magic coexist. His brand of sorcery remains one of his greatest gifts, and it continues to hold sway over every person and project he gets involved with. (All About Jazz)


 

#5) Gentle Giants by Slowfox

 

SLOWFOX - Gentle Giants - 800x800

Slowfox is the recent jazz project founded by German double bass virtuoso Sebastian Gramss. The project is basically a jazz / avant-garde trio featuring saxophonist Hayden Chisholm and pianist Philip Zoubek. The three skilled musicians have released on last May the second album of the project, named Gentle Giants, which is an excellent testimony of the current status of contemporary chamber music.

The beauty of the album relies moslty in the exceptional balance between the beautiful harmonic improvisations and the melodic background that characterize all the songs of the disc. The music of Slowfox seems to float perpetually between these two domains, that boundless creativity and the reassuring melodies. The absence of the drums makes this sensation even stronger, and creates an extravagant, intriguing and sometimes hypnotic effect.

The artistic concept that has guided the composition of the songs of the album is probably summarized by the quote that is obtained by reading one after the other the titles of the 15 songs: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” (probably to be accredited to Friedrich Nietzsche)

The complete abandonment of percussion instruments does not appear to be a disadvantage in this context, but rather condenses the essence of the vibrations into a web created by these anarchic and spiritualized avant-garde musicians. This album can be described without any exaggeration as a very successful blend of fluttering compositional threads spanning in many directions, and free improvisations that surf on these threads and have their joy in it. (BetreutesProggen, english translation)


 

#6) Times Of Change by Amit Baumgarten Quartet

 

AMIT BAUMGARTEN QUARTET - Times of Change - 800x800.jpg

Times of Change, the debut album by this young guitarist from Israel, is another of those modern albums where traditional Jazz is influenced, altered and sometimes completely distorted by the influences and the musical styles that the musicians enjoyed during their musical growth. And you can easily recognize that Amit Baumgartener, in addition to being a talented musician and composer, is basically a young guy who has grown to large doses of alernative rock and metal.

After a number of years spent shaping his style through experiences abroad and a few collaborations with Israeli musicians, he eventually assembled this Jazz quartet with Avri Borochov on bass, Tom Oren on piano and Alon Benjamini on drums.

I’ve been honestly impressed by the freshness of the style of this young musician: you can feel how the energy and innovation manage to give life to the standard constructs of Jazz music but at the same time still maintaining an attitude of respect towards those evident influences of the past which can be crearly recognized in his music. The most beautiful parts of the album, in my opinion, are those when the rhythmic session takes a boost and seems to stimulate the young guitarist to lose some control and to participate passionately to the groove of the song.

That’s a very nice debut, which landed almost directly among the best LPs of the year. Let’s see now if the album will withstand the passing of time and it will be still here after these few months which separate us from the end of 2017.

This is an eclectic album, that goes a long way from the post-bop tune “Rain Coffee” , to the prog-rockish “Urban Adventure” and even a surprising homage to the Seattle grunge bands with the tune “90’s”. All blended together in a unique and elegant way that creates a special sound and atmosphere. (Bandcamp)


 

#7) Far into the Stars by Markus Stockhausen

 

MARKUS STOCKHAUSEN - Far Into The Stars - 800x800

One year after the release of beautiful and poetical album Alba, German trumpeter and composer Markus Stockhausen comes back with another ethereal release. Far into the Stars, the last of a long discography of albums, is a further testimony to the artist’s ability of creating delicate and fascinating atmsopheres where no sound is ever dissonant with the former one, and all the instruments works organically for the definition of engaging and emotional layers of melodies.

The style of Stockhausen is often tending towards the sonorities and musicality typical of classical music and this album does not deviate from this trend. The songs of the album are soft, gentle but still permeated by an underlying tension.

This is another precious gem in the collection of records released by a great representative of modern Jazz.

His music sounds gentle, familiar, quasi-classical. Stockhausen avoids dissonances, at least those which are immediately noticeable. However, if you listen to Far Into The Stars more closely, fascinating details emerge. There a mood of the clear beauty shifts almost imperceptibly into the tension of harmonic opposites and dissolves them again (Amazon.de, translated)


 

#8) La Diversite by Nicolas Kummert

 

NICOLAS KUMMERT - La Diversité - 800x800

La Diversité by young Belgian jazz singer and tenor saxophonist Nicolas Kummert is an album which slowly but steadily ascended in the music charts of this blog, where it eventually consolidated its position within the best Jazz albums of the year. As a matter of fact, some musical works need a longer time to be fully comprehended and appreciated. Kummert’s saxophone lines are subtle and articulated and his style incorporates so many different influences that initially you may find yourself somewhat lost among the dissonant harmonies that permeate the album.

In what emerged at the end as one of the most interesting Jazz releases of 2017, this young artist is supported by a number of talented musicians. The major contribution, however, comes from Benin-born guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke, who gave a special touch of Africanism to many of the songs of the album.

This is not an album wnich you can just put in the background during your busy evenings and leave it there for its nice soundscapes; you need to listen it carefully in order to enjoy its curious and inspired musical lines. Profound and full of suprires, that’s one of the most challenging but interesting albums of the year.

A longtime student of west African music, Kummert’s alliance with acclaimed Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke is an ongoing, free-flowing conversation that skirts past the usual cliches of jazz-meets-Africa, so La Diversité is not some hyphenated mutant genre, but a distillation of collective experience and influences into something personal and open (The Irish Time)


 

#9) Titok by Ferenc Snetberger

 

FERENC SNETBERGER - Titok - 800x800

Titok, by Hungarian artist Ferenc Snétberger, is an ode to guitar.

Snétberger is playing this instrument since almost 50 years (his biography states that he had classical guitar lessons from 1970) and throughout his career he has been exploring many different styles and influences (from the ‘hot‘ jazz guitar of “Django” Reinhardt to Latin American musics, passing through US jazz and European classical traditions). Well, what we hear in this record seems to be a point of arrival for all these different experiences he had so far and the album certainly represents an important chapter in the artist’s career.

In this record Snétberger plays together with Swedish bassist Anders Jormin and US drummer Joey Baron. The album contains some old Snétberger’s tunes that are reinterpreted (magistrally) by the trio, along with new compositions where the three musicians are more oriented towards improvisation. The atmospheres created by the guitarist and his comrades are typically warm and gentle, and everything seems made with the precise will to enhance the poetic sound of Snétberger’s guitar.

That’s a very good Jazz release, for both lovers of jazz guitar and also those causal listeners who simply want to enjoy a beautiful collection of nice songs.

Snétberger has a precise touch, flowing improvisational mind, and imparts each piece with a generous heart, a grace fully embraced by his sensitive fellows. (London Jazz News)


 

#10) Precious Time by Anthony Jambon Group

 

ANTHONY JAMBON GROUP - Precious Time - 800x800 by default

Another debut album achieved a position in the Top Ten of Jazz for 2017 and it’s the surprising LP named Precious Time released by French guitarist Anthony Jambon, who’s supported by four additional young Jazz musicians (Joran Cariou, Camille Passeri, Swaéli Mbappe and Martin Wangermée).

This album is great in the particular way it manages to keep a delicate balance between simplicity of his melodies and complexity of the rythimc sessions. The eight songs of the album are definitely accessible and easy to enjoy also by less experienced listeners, but the apparent simplicity of the musical constructs looks definitely as a precise stylistic choice rather than a limitation in curiosity of the author towards musical exploration and improvisation.

Fresh, vibrant and genuine, this is one of the happy surprises of the year, and Jambon is for sure an artist that we shall follow to see his future steps into the realms of Jazz.

Jambon’s music gives space to both precise writing and improvisation, transcendental melodies and rhythmic complexity. Each of the 8 long tracks tells its own story and the listener is invited to travel through time and space, led by the band’s heightened sensitivity and communicative emotion. (Klarthe)


 

 

SMOKY NIGHTS – A Selection of the Best Jazz of the last few months, Volume 02 (September 2017).

The second volume of my SMOKY NIGHTS series of mixtapes features a selection of tracks from a few incredible Jazz albums published this year, and you’ll find both acclaimed and wordly respected artists but also a few minor gems that didn’t reach yet the same fame. The compilation I’ve assembled for this volume is actually an ode to jazz improvisation and the fantastic capacity of crafting dissonant and articulated harmonies that only the great ensembles succeed in doing. The selection for the second volume includes songs taken from the recent albums by SLOWFOX and the incredible supergroup featuring DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield. The mix is completed by other great pieces by “The Stone House” (Wingfield, Reuter, Stavi, Sirkis), Hadouk and the wonderful duo Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita. I really hope you enjoy it. Listen to the mixtape and, as usual, you can read some additional info after the widget.


 

SLOWFOX is the avant-garde jazz trio founded by German double bass virtuoso Sebastian Gramss with saxophonist Hayden Chisholm and pianist Philip Zoubek. The song appearing in the mixtape, Seen Dancing, is taken from their recent album, Gentle Giants, which is the second they have published so far. The beauty of the album – which is captured by the song selected for the mix – relies moslty in the exceptional balance between the beautiful harmonic improvisations and the reassuring melodies that lie in the background. This is one of the best LP I’ve listened in the recent times. I couldn’t open the new mixtape without them!

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Guitarist John Scofield, drummer Jack DeJohnette, keyboardist John Medeski and bassist Larry Grenadier are four legends of modern jazz and their quartet undoubtedly deserves the caption of a “supergroup”. Their recent album, named Hudson, is an incredible example of what these masters of jazz improvisation may create together and the title track features interesting electronic and groovy elements that further enrich the musical landscape they’ve created.

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Third song of the mixtape is taken from The Stone House, the interesting album recorded live in the studio – withouth any overdub – by British guitarist Mark Wingfield, German touch guitarist Markus Reuter, bassist Yaron Stavi, and drummer Asaf Sirkisby. All of the music, including the hypnotic and fascinating track Tarasque, was completely improvised with no music written down or rehearsed.

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With Hadouk and its last album Le Cinquieme Fruit we enter into the last part of the mixtapes, where we abandon the intriguing and sometimes dissonant sounds of  improvisation to tackle another theme, which is the search for distant and lost sonorities. The music crafted by this incredible quartet is in fact an ecstatic journey through different cultures and their sounds, and the track selected for the mixtape, Valse au pays du tendreby, is a particulary poetic and dreamlike tune which sets the tone for this final section of the compilation.

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The last piece of the mixtape comes from Transparent Water, the album released by the incredible duo featuring Cuban-born pianist Omar Sosa and Senegalese drummer, vocalist and kora player Seckou Keita. This record has been indicated many times here in this blog as one of the best jazz albums of 2017. The album is in fact a magic and wonderful mix of sounds and influences from the most disparate areas of the world. The song selected for the compilation, Another Prayer, features additional artist such as Japanese koto player Mieko Miyazaki and Chinese sheng master Wu Tong. The track is a spiritual and deeply emotional song that fully represents the spirit of this incredible collaboration.

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Previous edition of the mixtape serie: SMOKY NIGHTS – Volume 01 (June 2017), featuring Avishai Cohen, Verneri Pohjola, Aaron Parks, Ben Street, Billy Hart, Anthony Jambon and Ferenc Snetberger.


 

Mid-Year Verdicts: TOP TEN JAZZ ALBUMS IN 2017

EDIT: if you arrived to this page with a search engine, please be informed that there are updated charts with the best Jazz albums of 2017. You can easily discover these from the Jazz section of the blog.


 

After the publication of the top ten chart for Electronic music, let’s see now which are the best ten albums for the Jazz category. This list takes into consideration the releases occurred within the first six months of 2017. The interesting thing which emerges from a quick view of the chart is that there are a lot of relatively young musicians and two debut albums, meaning that we’re living in a special period of jazz renewal.

The new artists who are entering the Jazz scene evidently transfer into their music the experiences and the typical feelings of those generations which are today between 30 and 40 years old, with all the different musical influences that they have been exposed to. And it is no coincidence that contemporary Jazz language is increasingly embracing the dynamics and timbres of other musical genres, even those which are apparently quite far from the classical paradigms of Jazz: folk, rock, noise, and metal. If this may bother the purists of the genre, it seems to me a truly exceptional thing and it’s probably one of the elements that keeps this fantastic musical genre alive.

Before starting with the list of albums, let me give you a small reminder about the new series of Jazz compilations that I’ve just started to publish in this blog. This series, named Smoky Nights, collects the most recent and valuable songs appearing on the recent albums. Here is the first volume of the series, which will be followed by periodical updates.

And let’s start now with the Top Ten chart.

 

#1) An Ancient Observer by Tigran Hamasyan

I spoke about the wonderful new album by Tigran Hamasyan in many recent post of this blog, and it’s definitely no surprise that this work is still solidly at the top of the rankings. From the very first opportunities I had to listen to An Ancient Observer, I immediately understood that it was going to be a major release for the current year, across all genres.

Differently from Tigran’s most recent productions, An Ancient Observer sees the young Armenian composer focused 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 is based on a different tonal system with respect to the European one) and those more conventional – and for us familiar – musical structures. The melodies in Tigran’s songs are always suspended on this unstable equilibrium between two worlds and two cultures, and this dynamic contrast creates a fascinating and magical atmosphere. Listening to the album, however, we appreciate how this is today the result of years and years of work and persistent refinement rather than just a circumscribed musical experiment. As a matter of fact, we’re speaking of a musician that is incorporating local folk melodies into jazz-form improvisations since his teens.

Sometimes, even if quite rarely, there are songs that can hit you deep in your emotions. Songs where the beauty of the melodies is combined with a great expressiveness of the interpretation. An Ancient Observer is full of these kind of songs. This is with no doubts a musical work that will leave a mark for a long time. Not to be missed, absolutely.

 

#2) Transparent Water by Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita

Cuban-born jazz pianist Omar Sosa has built a vast discography of works in which he plays with musicians from all around the globe, often travelling outside the standard of jazz traditions. In his last album 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 duo has released a beautiful album, Transparent Water, which sees contributions from other musicians from the most disparate areas of the world with their characteristics musical instruments: we have Japanese koto player Mieko Miyazaki, Chinese sheng player Wu Tong, and Venezuelan percussionist and batá player Gustavo Ovalles, just to mention a few ones.

But like a sort of magic, what could be imagined at first as a chaotic mix of sounds, influences and instruments, here is wonderfully transformed into a celebration of simplicity and – to some extent – it becomes an ode to the universality of music. The experience of listening to this beautiful album is really a journey through ethnic sounds and enchanting melodies, with the different musical traditions which complement each other providing the listener with varied nuances of the same basic tune. Wonderful.

 

#3) Potsdamer Platz by Jan Lundgren

Potsdamer Platz is the last work by Jan Lundgren and it’s actually the first “conventional” Jazz album we find in this chart if we want to stick to the common idea that most people have of a Jazz ensemble.

Postdamer Plaz sees the Swedhish pianist and composer play together with a new quartet he assembled with Jukka Perko (alto & soprano sax), former E.S.T. Dan Berglund (bass), and Morten Lund (drums). This all-Scandinavian band has managed to craft and record a fantastic sequence of songs, which initially may appear as simple lounge-bar jazz tunes but that in reality show how it’s possible to balance enjoyability with tradition, something that it’s easy to proclame but very difficult to implement in reality.

As reported on his biography, Lundgren is part of a remarkable and long tradition of innovative pianists from Sweden like Jan Johansson, Bobo Stenson and Esbjörn Svensson. He has the ability to integrate the most disparate musical influences into a fascinating whole. Whether its contemporary classical music, the northern folk tradition or the groove of jazz, Lundgren has a unique way of leading the listener on a voyage of discovery – sometimes relaxed, sometimes more passionate – through his magnificent musical soundscapes. An instant classic.

 

#4) Precious Time by Anthony Jambon Group

At place 4 of the chart we encounter the best Jazz debut of the year (or at least of the first six months of 2017). This is the surprising album named Precious Time released by French guitarist Anthony Jambon, who’s supported here by four additional young Jazz musicians (Joran Cariou, Camille Passeri, Swaéli Mbappe and Martin Wangermée).

I really enjoyed this work, in particular for the delicate balance that Jambon has managed to achieve between simplicity of his melodies and complexity of the rythimc sessions. The eight songs of the album are definitely accessible and easy to enjoy also by less experienced listeners, but the apparent simplicity of the musical constructs looks definitely as a precise stylistic choice and certainly not a limitation in curiosity of the author towards musical exploration and improvisation. This is one of the happy surprises of the year, and Jambon is for sure an artist that we shall follow to see his future steps into the realms of Jazz. Fresh and vibrant.

 

#5) La Diversité by Nicolas Kummert

The album which we find today at 5th place of my chart is slowly but steadily ascending on most of the charts that I periodically write in this blog, not only when I speak about Jazz, and this is because some musical works need a longer time to be fully comprehended and appreciated. And we can’t even rule out that its growth hasn’t stopped here. The album that I’m talking about is La Diversité, produced by the young Belgian jazz singer and tenor saxophonist Nicolas Kummert with major support from Benin-born guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke.

Differently to the two albums which precede this one on the chart (i.e. Potsdamer Platz and Precious Time) here we are in front of a less immediate kind of Jazz. Kummert’s saxophone lines are subtle and articulated, his style incorporates so many different influences that it’s today incredibly eclectic, vibrant and surprising. In addition to that, Lionel Loueke 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 and leave it there for its nice soundscapes; you need to listen it carefully in order to enjoy its curious and inspired musical lines. And as I said at the beginning, this is an album that I’m appreciating more and more everytime I put it once again in my music player. Profound and full of suprires, one of the most challenging but interesting albums of the year.

 

#6) Titok by Ferenc Snétberger

Titok, by Hungarian artist Ferenc Snétberger, is an ode to guitar. Snétberger is playing this instrument since almost 50 years (his biography states that he had classical guitar lessons from 1970) and throughout his career he has been exploring many different styles and influences (from the ‘hot‘ jazz guitar of “Django” Reinhardt to Latin American musics, passing through US jazz and European classical traditions). Well, what we hear in this record seems to be a point of arrival for all these different experiences he had so far and the album certainly represents an important chapter in the artist’s career.

In this record Snétberger plays together with Swedish bassist Anders Jormin and US drummer Joey Baron. The album contains some old Snétberger’s tunes that are reinterpreted (magistrally) by the trio, along with new compositions where the three musicians are more oriented towards improvisation. The atmospheres created by the guitarist and his comrades are typically warm and gentle, and everything seems made with the precise will to enhance the poetic sound of Snétberger’s guitar. That’s a very good Jazz release, for both lovers of jazz guitar and also those causal listeners who simply want to enjoy a beautiful collection of nice songs.

 

#7) Circles by MEM3

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 to this date 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.

The particularity of this trio is that you really feel how each single member of the group was equally important for the development of the album. In everyone of the songs of the album you can clearly recognize who’s the leading player for that tune, this is typically the composer of the piece, but he’s always skilfully supported by the other musicians of the band. The alternation of the leader role for the various pieces guarantees in itself a good variety in the songs of the album. Additionally, tthe delicate and just perceptible contrast among the three different music styles gives the album a further element of interest.

From a musical point of view, the trio is clearly influenced by a few masters of Contemporay Jazz such as Peter Erskine, The Bad Plus and the Esbjorn Svensson Trio. Their music is kind, elegant but never trivial, and the album benefits of excellent recording and production that allow you to listen even to the most subtle nuances of the sounds produced by their instruments. There are a few delicate electronic inserts that do not disturb at all, rather they enrich the songs and make even more intense some of the beautiful atmospheres produced by the three musicians. A small gem in the landscape of modern jazz.

 

#8) Planetary Prince by Cameron Graves

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. This is the second debut album in the chart and another confirmation of what I was writing at the beginning of the post about the transformation that these new artists are producing on conventional Jazz, something that is particularly evident here given the mind-expanding inventions that mark all of Cameron Grave’s work.

The progressive Jazz pianist from Los Angeles wrote for this LP 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

Cameron Graves is also a founding member of the West Coast Get Down collective, a collaborative group of musicians born and raised in Los Angeles. The members of the collective (which includes also Kamasi Washington, Miles Mosley, Tony Austin, Ryan Porter, Ronald Bruner Jr. and Brandon Coleman) are united by their common will to innovate music. Graves, on his part, gave an important contribution by trying to reimagine the modern jazz with main influences from progressive rock and cosmology.  Terrific and energetic, Planetary Prince is an incredible collection of explosive and vibrant songs.

 

#9) Sleepwalkers by Omer Klein

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. The album follows his successful 2015’s LP Fearless Friday, which gave him increased popularity.

Omer Klein grew up in Israel, a Country which gave so many talented Jazz musicians in the last decade, but his Jazz formation happened in the U.S. where he became a notable member of the NYC jazz scene. Today he lives in Germany, and the move to Europe gave Klein a notable further improvements in compositional style and also additional influences for improvisations.

The music in Sleepwalkers is a magical fusion between introspection and energy, something that’s today a characteristic feature of Klein’s style, and the album definitely increases the number of rewarding piano trio releases we had the opportunity to enjoy this year.

 

#10) Danse by Colin Vallon Trio

The final entry of this Top Ten chart for Jazz is occupied by Colin Vallon and his last album Danse, which sees the Swiss pianist playing with Patrice Moret on bass and Julian Sartorius on drums and percussions. This also the third release for ECM after publication of Le Vent in 2014 and Rruga in 2011.

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. And one the most beautiful aspects of the music in this album is that sense of dangerous instability that exists between classical musical forms and a restless spirit of experimentation that ultimately explodes in all the songs.

Colin Vallon is another valid representative of that young generation of Jazz musicians who are deliberately transforming the conventional canons of the genre through the use of inspirations from distant worlds, in this case we clearly recognize both the obsessive rhythms of György Ligeti and the melodic melodic developments of melodic rock, like those of the early Radiohead. 

 

Five months of Jazz, the best albums

EDIT: if you arrived to this page with a search engine, please be informed that there are updated charts with the best Jazz albums of 2017. You can easily discover these from the Jazz section of the blog.


 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”

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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.

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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.

COLIN VALLON - 1280x300

 

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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MEM3, Circles

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

SOSA & KEITA - 1280x300

 

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.

OMER KLEIN - 1280x300

 

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.

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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,

tigran-short

 

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.

STONE HOUSE - 1280x300.jpg

March 2017, Best Jazz Album: Transparent Water by Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita

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Cuban-born jazz pianist Omar Sosa has already played on various projects with world musicians from all around the globe, often travelling outside the standard of jazz traditions. In his last album 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 .

SECKOU KEITA - 1280x300

The duo has released a beautiful album, Transparent Water, which sees contributions from other musicians from the most disparate areas of the world with their characteristics musical instruments: we have among the Others the Japanese koto player Mieko Miyazaki, the Chinese sheng player Wu Tong, and Venezuelan percussionist and batá player  Gustavo Ovalles. But like magic, what may seem at first a chaotic mix of sounds, influences and instruments, is here transformed into a celebration of simplicity and an ode to the very essence of music. The experience of listening to this beautiful album is really a journey through sounds and enchanting melodies, with the different musical traditions which manage to complement each other providing the listener with varied nuances of the same basic tune.

Each of these very different artists come from deep traditions that border more on classical music than folk, which might account for the rather compositional feel of the work. There’s little emphasis on the improvisation or syncopation you’d expect from Sosa or Keita. Instead everyone is focused on fitting together seamlessly around a melody, often a gentle, sung refrain (Paste)

Those keen on analysis will be tempted to try to break this music down to its component parts, disentangle instruments, and assign strict definitions to what’s happening here. That’s not advised. Part of the magic in Sosa’s music has always been his ability to operate behind the curtain, working the seam where music and magic coexist (All About Jazz)

Guerino’s rating: 8 / 10.

 

 

Thank God it’s Jazz – Brand New Contemporary Jazz Songs – TGIJ #03 (Best of Jazz in March 2017, the playlist)

The best of modern contemporary Jazz. That’s the third release of Guerino’s serie of monthly Jazz selections and it covers the best albums released in the first weeks of March 2017. The current issue features works by Jan Lundgren, Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita, Hadouk and Chano Dominguez.