Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Jazz Favorites for 2014

My jazz selections for 2014 appear below.  This year has been one in which I have primarily supported independent musicians, that is, those musicians who choose to make their music available on Bandcamp.  I am sure that there are many more albums deserving of attention and released by the major labels.  These recordings are the ones that caught my ear in 2014. 

Erik Friedlander, Nighthawks Cellist Erik Friedlander created the songs that make up this recording after Hurricane Sandy had knocked out the electricity in New York, and he uses the work of Edward Hopper to emphasize our relationship with the night in an urban environment, that is, an environment characterized indoors by nostalgia and melancholy and outside by hustles and lonely encounters with strangers.  Friedlander is joined by Doug Wamble on guitar, Trevor Dunn on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums.  Friedlander and Wamble had previously explored together an excellent interpretation of Miles Davis’ ballad "Blue in Green."  Nighthawks is an example of an independent musician exploring the metaphors inherent in other art forms. 

Asa Trio, Craning (Sunny Sky Records) This second recording of the Asa Trio contains all original material, with Agnar Mar Magnusson (organ), Andres Thor (guitar), and Scott McLemore (drums) each contributing several songs.  The trio soars on this recording.  Known for his percussion work on Sunna Gunnlaugs’ albums and on his quintet recording, Remote Location, Scott McLemore makes his own unique contribution to Craning and sheds his “quietest drummer” label.  Listen to McLemore’s drumming on “On Pluto.”  All of the songs are worth one’s attention.  Listen to the interplay between organ and guitar on “Something to Make You Change Your Mind” or the emphasis on guitar on “Green Door.” 
Andres Thor, Nordic Quartet (Nordic Notes) Andres Thor has altered the makeup of his quartet for this second album as a leader.  For this album, he has recruited three members from Scandinavia, that is, Anders Lonne Gronseth (Norway) on saxophone, Andreas Dreier (Denmark) on bass, and Erik Nylander (Sweden) on drums, and recorded the album in Norway as well.  Anders Lonne Gronseth is most impressive on the ballad “Komodo.”  Andres Thor’s guitar explores the sonic reaches of a melody on “Squiek.”  Although I quibble with the addition of a drum machine, I think the album as a whole is quite impressive and deserving of attention.

Christian Vuust, Urban Hymn (Aero Music)  Christian Vuust, a Danish saxophonist, is joined on this recording by three Americans—Aaron Parks on piano, Ben Street on bass, and Jeff Ballard on drums.  This recording was made in New York after Christian Vuust had immersed himself in the milieu of the urban environment and created nine new songs from this experience.  These songs are characterized by Vuust’s long melodic lines on saxophone.  Though understated, this recording reveals its gems with repeated listenings.  Jeff Ballard makes his presence most known on “Biking the Big Apple” while Aaron Parks solos on many occasions in these songs.
Bebe/Buchanan/Tagel Featuring Helge Andreas Norbakken & Julian Arguelles, Gone 
Playing compositions written by Jakob Buchanan (fugelhorn and trumpet), Kasper Tagel (bass), and Soren Bebe (piano), this Danish quintet also features the work of Julian Arguelles on saxophone and Helge Andreas Norbakken on drums.  Buchanan and Arguelles make up the frontline of this quintet and are backed by a particularly strong rhythm section.  Each musician, nonetheless, gets the chance to solo, but the emphasis is placed on melody instead of a series of solos within any one song.  We are enriched by the funding provided to jazz musicians in Northern Europe, and it is unfortunate that this album has not seen wider coverage outside of Bandcamp except for a review at AllAboutJazz.

Tord Gustavsen Quartet, Extended Circle (ECM) Tord Gustavsen has probably created his best album yet with this quartet. Tore Brunborg appears on about half of the album, making a significant contribution to “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg,” “Staying There,” “Entrance (Variation),” “Devotion,” “The Embrace,” and “Glow.”  Perhaps Tord Gustavsen will keep this quartet together for at least another album.

Hess/AC/Hess, Spacelab (Gateway Music) Nikolaj Hess on piano is joined by Anders Christensen on bass and Mikkel Hess on drums in this selection of music suitable for late night listening.  This recording highlights the contribution of each instrument although the piano clearly remains the lead instrument.  “Jamil,” “Super 8,” “Altona,” “Sunday Grace,” and “Lu Bird” are particularly memorable.

Trio Johannes Groene, Chasse-Croise  This debut recording of Johannes Groene on saxophone and clarinet and leading a trio composed of Christian Proteau on bass and Claude Lavergne on drums contains some excellent work, with two tracks in particular, “La Grasse Matinee” and “Rostrot,” containing examples of where this trio might go in upcoming recordings.  At other times, such as “Generations,” Johannes Groene plays with a phrase before he takes it apart, exploring where it might lead, while accompanied by this strong and impressive rhythm section.

Kvartett, Vekk This EP of approximately twenty-seven minutes marks the official debut of this quartet that was created in 2013 and is led by the Belgian saxophonist Erik Bogaerts.  It also features the Belgians Lionel Beuvens on drums and Axel Gilain on bass and the Finn Alexi Tuomarila on piano, all of whom are leaders of their own groups.  Of particular note is the bass intro on “Vekk” and the interaction between saxophone and piano on “Masar.”  Let’s hope that we hear from this quartet again in the near future.

Jakob Lind Lauritsen, Shadowing (Gateway Music)  While only a twenty-minute EP, this recording deserves attention because it shows how the traditional piano trio can be expanded with the addition of electronics or what Jakob Lind Lauritsen refers to as “audio art.”  Jakob Lind Lauritsen also plays bass and is joined by Nicolai Majland on piano and Morten Haesum on drums.  As I mentioned in a brief review, the electronics used here serve as an additional instrument.  This EP serves as a snapshot of what we can expect in the future from this trio.