We have a small, volunteer staff here at Nextbop. Folks who read us here contribute work, adding to the collective of voices that we so cherish here and giving additional perspective that Sebastien and I lack at times. It’s why, when it comes to end-of-year lists, our collective of voices is so important. It’s nice to see the overlaps in taste and to gain insights into albums that never even hit our radar. This frequently results in ties which, considering how many ties we have in our year-end lists, means we should probably make our lists alphabetical, but I’m just not ready to do that quite yet. There’s something nice in seeing the clear overlaps in taste, in ultimately assessing what our favorites are, in using the power of spreadsheets to see where we come together. There’s so much wrapped up in our favorites, for anyone and anything, and this is the time to celebrate all that entails.
11 tie. Somi – Petite Afrique (Okeh)
A highly accessible fusion of jazz and afrobeats that complements the album’s overall theme of blackness. From the outset Somi provides the theme of being an African immigrant in the hallowed area of Harlem, New York. Far from being cloyingly sentimental the songs take a look at being black and other in one of the most culturally relevant black areas in the U.S. This album is direct without being pushy or preachy, and in an environment where black art consciously contemplates blackness Petite Afrique is one of the best. With Liberty Ellman, Michael Olatuja, Nate Smith, and Toru Dodo.
11 tie. David Virelles – Gnosis (ECM)
David Virelles seems to be one of those musicians that can probably do anything. Whether he’s playing with Chris Potter, Henry Threadgill, or his own groups, his voice resonates clearly while completely supporting the music. Gnosis features a larger ensemble than his previous (and also fantastic) ECM release Ḿbọ̀kọ́, and Virelles makes wonderful use of that orchestrational room to breath. The musical world created feels like the natural meeting of the Afro-Cuban, avant-garde improvisation, and new music traditions. Somehow Morton Feldman-esque textures feel right at home next to the off-kilter grooves overlapping claves and the clear ritualistic history of the traditional percussion instruments. Suggesting you listen to this record doesn’t quite convey its unique qualities. David Virelles has created a space to spend time in, to visit at length and explore. I highly recommend you accept his invitation.
11 tie. Tomas Fujiwara – Triple Double (Firehouse 12)
Dark, abrasive and exciting are a couple words that one could use to sum up Fujiwara’s latest record. Triple Double, is an album that is made up of a sextet of two trios – two drummers (Fujiwara and Gerald Cleaver), two guitarists (Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook) and two horns (Taylor Ho Bynum on Cornet, Ralph Alessi on Trumpet). There are some fantastic exercises in tension (“Love and Protest”) and aggression (“Diving For Quarters”). “Pocket Pass” is fantastically organized chaos. Check out my NextBop review of the record here.
8 tie. Sarah Elizabeth Charles – Free of Form (Ropeadope/Stretch Music)
The underlying politics of the era are laid bare over music that can be generously labeled haunting to ephemeral but highly engaging. Despite the outward-looking motif, the album (with Jesse Elder, Burniss Earl Travis II, John Davis, and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah) sounds of the revolution made personal. You feel as though you are having a warm drink with a good friend talking about the last few years and ideas for the future. This is jazz for the quiet time in the eye of the storm.
8 tie. Brandon Seabrook – Die Trommel Fatale (New Atlantis)
I’m coming around to the idea that Brandon Seabrook is infallible. This record is phenomenal, literally. I’ve never heard anything like it and I don’t expect to again. The ensemble, which features Eivind Opsvik on bass, Chuck Bettis on ”throat/electronics,” Dave Treut and Sam Ospovat on drums, and Marika Hughes on cello, covers an incredible range of sonic territory, at times seeming to fall through wormhole after wormhole, arriving in alternate dimension after alternate dimension. Though there are many notable elements about this album, one I appreciated the most was Seabrook’s attention to timbre. There are so many subtleties in each textural area, and such a clear appreciation for the expressivity of noise, an element in which I find most new “jazz” releases to be rather lacking. Every choice, every destination, every interaction feels so wholly intentional and meaningful. I can’t recommend this record highly enough.
8 tie. Cecile McClorin Salvant – Dreams and Daggers (Mack Avenue)
Regardless of the level of talent involved, a double album is a difficult test for any artist. Thankfully, Salvant, one of the best modern jazz vocalists, has passed this test with flying colors. On Dreams and Daggers the singer gives new life to old material – a standout being her expressive rendition of “Somehow I Never Could Believe” – and inserts string filled originals (“More”). Recorded live at the Village Vanguard with the Aaron Diehl Trio, after this record, there should be no doubt of the power and range of the singer’s voice. Check out my NextBop review of the record here.
5 tie. Matt Mitchell – A Pouting Grimace (Pi Recordings)
Simply put, listening to Matt Mitchell is a blast. On his fifth outing as a leader, the pianist has created, along with producer David Torn, an otherworldly musical ecosystem through a uniquely orchestrated large ensemble and seemingly endless rhythmic, melodic, and textural invention. To my ears, Matt Mitchell’s playing and compositions have always managed to feel disorienting and unfamiliar, while simultaneously totally natural. This record is no exception.
5 tie. Gerald Clayton – Tributary Tales (Motema)
On Tributary Tales, Clayton, with a slightly different band, continues the large ensemble explorations that he started with Life Forum. This is my favorite jazz album of the year – Life Forum is one of my favorite modern jazz albums and here Clayton has managed to meet that high standard again. Highlights include the hectic opener “Unforeseen” and “Lovers Reviere”, which has great poetic features from Aja Monet and Carl Hancock Rux. Check out my NextBop review of the record here.
5 tie. Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band – Body and Shadow (Blue Note)
Marking 20 years together as a group, Body and Shadow is another brilliant collection by Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band. This record aims to be a meditation on lightness/darkness, and Blade relies heavily on creating a unique contemplative ambience that effectuates this goal. As usual, Blade creates some of the most interesting chord progressions in jazz today. With Blade’s knack for composition and The Fellowship Band’s unwavering ability to groove in the most unforced manner, Body and Shadow stands as some of the most affecting music of Blade’s storied career.
4. Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far From Over (ECM)
Ever the recognizable voice, Iyer is fascinating not only as a pianist (which would be obvious) but as a composer and craftsman. His style, his many steps, are present in his compositions, this is more apparent with his work with his sextet with a larger sound, that same complexly-infectious rhythm, and Iyer’s all-too-welcome occasional foray into electric keys. Vijay Iyer albums never disappoint, and this one fits expectations twice over.
2 tie. Rotem Sivan Trio – Antidote (Aima Records)
Rotem Sivan is pure magic. He plays the guitar with speed and efficiency. He makes great runs. He’s a smart composer. Particularly notable is the interplay he has with his trio of bassist Haggai Cohen Milo and drummer Colin Stranahan (who has been a welcome adjustment of Sivan’s trio for the last couple albums). Together, their sound is spectacular, evoking multiple listens, and ensuring that Sivan’s guitar trio albums are some of the best in the game, likely to last the test of time, like we’re going to be talking about Antidote thirty years from now in the same lineage as Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life.
2 tie. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Centennial Trilogy (Ropeadope Records)
Favoring atmosphere over bombast, the Centennial Trilogy (Ruler Rebel, Diaspora, and The Emancipation Procrastination) is a project that Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah was born to create. An exploration and extension of Scott’s concept of “Stretch Music”, this project was intended to honor the 100-year anniversary of the song often considered the first jazz recording. While Ruler Rebel and Diaspora clearly show that Scott prefers emotion over emoting, Emancipation Procrastination sees him opening up and experimenting more musically, which is a perfect conclusion to the trilogy. Masterfully paced and subtle in all the right ways, this collection is proof that Scott’s feverish love of jazz is sure to push the genre in the most exciting of directions.
1. Linda May Han Oh – Walk Against Wind (Biophilia Records)
Walk Against Wind is the spiritual sequel of Oh’s previous album, 2013’s Sun Pictures. The songs are just as infectious. Saxophonist Ben Wendel is still very much going there. Justin Brown on the drums kills as usual. Linda May Han Oh is a great player and even greater writer, which every successive album she releases proves time and again. “Lucid Lullaby” is indeed a haunting tune that lingers on the brain for months on end. “Speech Impediment” bounds about as much as it loops. “Ikan Bilis” is a spectacular slow build until it reaches its own looping hymn. So much of the album is in such a groove, it’s hard to escape. This is what Linda May Han Oh has always done in her work, which makes Walk Against Wind another addition to such an exceptional career that continues to build while making some of the finest music in the scene.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.