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Friday, January 03, 2020

Jazz Selections for 2019

My selections for those jazz albums that were released in 2019 and deserve attention appear below.

Matthew Halsall, Oneness. This new album contains tracks recorded in 2008, a year before Matthew Halsall released Colour Yes. The same meditative quality found on "Together" and "I’ve Been Here Before," two tracks that appear on Colour Yes, is present in this previously unreleased material. A similarity can also be found in "Samatha," a track appearing on the album On the Go, which was released in 2011. The track "Oneness" seems to characterize the album because it opens on a quiet note, with Matthew Halsall’s trumpet most prominent at first before he is accompanied by Rachel Gladwin on harp and Gavin Barras on bass. Once Gaz Hughes’ drums appear at 4:07, and Nat Birchall’s saxophone appears at 4:15, the track adopts a much more upbeat tone up until 6:57 when the piano becomes the dominant voice, with the trumpet returning at 10:14 to bring the track to completion. Both "Life," the first track, and "Stan’s Harp," the third track, exemplify this quieter tone. One thing I like about "Life" is Rachel Gladwin’s harp solo starting at 7:27. Gavin Barras’ bass becomes more prominent, beginning with "Loving Kindness," the fourth track. I especially like Birchall’s saxophone and Stan Ambrose’s harp on "Loving Kindness" and "Distant Land," the fifth track. The rhythm section composed of Gavin Barras and Chris Davies on tabla are particularly noteworthy on "Stories from India," the sixth track. Also of note about "Stories from India" is the interplay between Halsall’s trumpet and Mohamed Assani’s sitar. Assani’s solo at 5:50 serves as the copestone to that track. This album strikes me as one of the best of the year. Sometimes when I’m listening to this music while driving, I have to remind myself to pay attention to my driving because I become so enamored with the music.

Bagland, Cirkel. Cirkel contains many of the same musicians who appeared on Jakob Sorensen’s Bagland, which was released in 2015, that is, Alex Jonsson on guitar, Mathias Jaeger on piano/synthesizer, Frederik Sakham on double bass, Frej Lesner on drums, and Jakob Sorensen on trumpet. Sorensen’s Nomad album hinted at good things to come and was featured in my list of the best releases for 2016. Sorensen in his description of Cirkel says that it “features a new pallet of sounds including distorted drums, synthesizer and spacey guitar and trumpet effects leading to curious interplay and a more modern sound.”  The “trumpet effects” are most noticeable in the tracks "Cirkel," "Ageposten," and "Bryllup" while the “spacey guitar…effects” are most noticeable in the tracks "Open end Pt. 1," "Steps," "Cirkel," and "Ageposten." Sorensen in his description of the album adds that “the melodies are lyrical, and the music contains both hope and happiness, longing and melancholia.” The entire album, in fact, is influenced by the Skagen painters, who were active in the town of Skagen, at the northernmost tip of Jutland (Denmark), during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like the previous albums Bagland and Nomad, there remains a group dynamic and more of an emphasis on the melody than on any one instrument. For someone approaching this album for the first time, I recommend the tracks "Cirkel" and "Drapeau Blanc."  For me, the entire album captures my attention.

Soren Bebe Trio. Echoes. Soren Bebe released Echoes, his most recent trio album, in 2019. It had been three years since he released Home. Like the previous album by Soren Bebe’s trio, Echoes asks to be enjoyed at those quieter times of day so as to fully appreciate the nuances found in the music. The album Echoes differs slightly because it reveals Soren Bebe giving more space to his trio and emphasizing his sense of place. That sense of place is revealed in his interpretations of two traditional Danish songs--"Kærlighedstræet" and "Jeg er træt og går til ro." Kasper Tagel’s bass is noticeable on many of the tracks, such as "Echoes," "Waltz for Steve," "Alone," "New Beginning," and "Sospiri, Op.70."  Anders Mogensen’s drumming presents a sense of closure to "Homeward" and becomes more evident in "New Beginning," which foreshadows what might be forthcoming in subsequent albums. Rightly so, Soren Bebe says that he is “super proud of this album.” Echoes is Soren Bebe’s best album to date and gets my recommendation as an album of the year.

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