Jazz isn’t discussed enough on The Afterword. I doubt much of it will appear in the end of year list when it is put together. However, as a genre, it is flourishing. There are oodles of great practitioners and fabulous bands making music that is as lively, inventive, challenging and current as jazz has ever been.
Here’s my top ten of 2015:
1. The Bad Plus Joseph Redman
The Bad Plus are a trio from Minnesota, Reid Anderson bass, Ethan Iverson piano and David King on drums. They are willing to try anything. Last year, they recorded a jazz version of The Rite Of Spring. In 2007, they released an album called Prog. They ought to be The Afterword’s house band. On this album, the trio are so empathetic, they sound like a single unit topped by Redman’s expressive, yet gentle, improvisations. It is a beautifully paced and balanced set of original compositions.
2. José James – Yesterday I Had The Blues – The Music Of Billie Holiday
Jazz is a tricky business. Creative challenge doesn’t sell much. When a record label wants to make money from a jazz artist they ask them to record a tribute album. What could be safer than have a velvety smooth singer cover Billie Holiday? Yet, this is gorgeous. The songs are approached with dignity and grace. Jason Moran’s piano arrangements find subtle seams allowing James to imbue them with a deep blues.
3. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
This is huge. Three hours that cover all jazz styles from big band to delicate trios, from standards to full-on skronk. Anyone with any love of jazz is bound find something to thrill them. However, for all the affection for jazz’s past, The Epic is thoroughly modern. These are youngsters brought up listening to all kinds of music, soul, funk, hip-hop and they bring the street and the party to jazz. It is incredibly uplifting.
4. Melody Gardot – Currency Of Man
Melody has a smoky, feline voice capable of singing anything. Currency Of Man features her back with old friends, writing and playing songs of greater ambition and scope. There are swampy blues, string-swept slowies and punchy soul. She brings a tingle to my lower spine.
5. Jack DeJohnette – Made In Chicago
Jack, now 73, is probably the most musical and free-flowing drummer that has ever lived. Here, he is reunited by his old school mates from five decades ago to play a concert in their home town. There is no question of them slowing down. They bop hard, they are full of beans and ready for the fight. There is no compromise for the listener. Made In Chicago is the most challenging album of the year.
6. Joyce Elaine Yuille – Welcome To My World
Another velvety smooth singer on the R&B edge of jazz, this time backed by a big band complete with lashings of strings. The album would glide serenely by if not for Timo Lassy’s sax sparks. Yuille’s world is poised and perfect but with enough jazz grit to enthral.
7. Vijay Iyer Trio – Break Stuff
The basic jazz trio of piano, bass, drums has been in existence for the best part of a century but Vijay hasn’t run out of ways of keeping it fresh. Sometimes, it’s as though they throw the rhythm up into the air and allow it to smash into pieces when it lands. At others, all three seem to be playing different tunes. Break Stuff is bewildering and bewitching at the same time.
8. Cécile McLorin Salvant – For One To Love
Salvant is idiosyncratic and theatrical. Her backing trio do well to keep as she swoops, squeals and explodes with colour. For One To Love is one hell of a show.
9. Marius Neset – Pinball
Neset wields his sax like a young gunslinger. He crackles with adrenaline, the expectation of doom in the air. Pinball is right on the edge, playing fast and loose with rhythm, melody and form.
10. Any Suggestions, Afterworders?
Beauty Has It Hard