As I mentioned recently, recommending music is something I typically over-think, for a variety of reasons. For this list I’ve crossed borders, of genre and geography, to come up some recent albums that have established themselves on my playlists. I don’t claim these are “the best” albums of the past few years – just a […]
As I mentioned recently, recommending music is something I typically over-think, for a variety of reasons. For this list I’ve crossed borders, of genre and geography, to come up some recent albums that have established themselves on my playlists. I don’t claim these are “the best” albums of the past few years – just a few personal favourites I’d like to pass on for your consideration.
Mama Rosa by Brian Blade – This was my favourite album of 2009. Blade is mostly known as a jazz drummer, but this vocal-oriented album steps into different and very original territory. It might best be described as post-gospel, this moody, haunting and wonderfully atmospheric album (produced by Daniel Lanlois) lingers in the memory and demands repeat immersions.
Standout track – After The Revival
Carnaval So Ano Que Vem by Qrquestra Imperial – Inventive and original are not the epithets we normally associate with a Hotel houseband, but Orquestra Imperial are unusual in a lot of ways. This dynamic, fun and inventive set invokes not just the classic sounds of Brasillian big bands, but also the way their music was referenced in a lot of North American popular and film music.
Standout track – Me Deixa Em Paz
Monk by Peter Bernstein – One of the freshest and most highly respected Jazz guitarists around, Bernstein is also solid improviser and recorded this album with the minimum of digital interference and enhancement. Astute and luminous playing from one of the compelling improvisers in modern Jazz.
Standout track – Pannonica
Careful What You Wish For by Jonatha Brooke – Everything that makes me a fan of Jonatha Brooke’s rock/pop singer-songwriting is on show in this album. Insightful lyrics, solid arrangements and consistently engaging vocals.
Standout track – Keep The River On Your Right
Emergence by the Roy Hargrove Big Band – Hargrove is an extraordinary player but his albums haven’t always reflected his talent. However, he shines in this release fronting a big band with some wonderful arrangements.
Standout track – Mambo For Roy
Get Lucky by Mark Knopfler – Not the best album of 2009 but easily one of the best sounding. Knopfler has built a studio full of classic and collectable recording equipment and, not surprisingly, this album contains some of the best guitar sounds I have heard, ever. Also, thankfully, Knopfler gives us some of the most clever and well constructed songs he has written since disbanding Dire Straits.
Standout track – Cleaning My Gun
Disfarmer by Bill Frisell – At his best, Frisell is one of the most expansive and original jazz guitarists playing today. This album sees him back in “Americana” mode, where he works themes from traditional and folk music into his compositions. Mysterious, filmic and slightly nostalgic this is unsettling but rewarding music.
Standout track – Little Girl
The Fall by Norah Jones – For her second album Jones has taken a edgier, earthier direction and the result is what may well end up being my favourite pop album of the year. There are some great players and solid production helping compliment Jones’ clever song-writing.
Standout track – I Wouldn’t Need You
Piety Street by John Scofield – When he decided to make a blues album, rather than revisit familiar material, Scofield chose instead to mine the Gospel Blues heritage. Here he channels everything from Jimmy Smith style jazz-blues, to Staples Singers’ vocal gospel through to contemporary jazz-blues like Robben Ford and the Yellowjackets.
Standout track – His Eye Is On The Sparrow
Aocana by Ojos de Brujo – Their recent performance in Hong Kong just confirmed for me how hot, dynamic and original Ojos are. This album is full of energy and verve and, quite simply, lifts my spirits every time I hear it.
Standout track – Donde Te Has Metido
Mar Dulce by Bajofondo – Gotan Project are better known, for fusing tango with electronica. But, I turn more often to this album, the music is more diverse, orchestral and less geared towards “club” sounds. Helped along with vocal performances including Elvis Costello, Nelly Furtado and Santullo on the standout track.
Standout track – Ya No Duele
Kinsmen by Rudresh Mahanthappa – The phrase Fusion Jazz often sends shivers down my spine. Often what gets fused are the worst and most ponderous sides of the genres in question. So, perhaps it is better to call this a Jazz album with an Indian accent, than a fusion album. It’s also a good idea to call it one of the best and most original recent Jazz sets from an up and coming star player.
Standout track – Longing
Funked Up by Candy Dulfer – To be honest, I hadn’t heard Candy play for a long time, before seeing her, in 2002 playing alongside Maceo Parker with Prince. I was floored by her stage presence and energy. Right now her playing is hot, funky and very unencumbered. Funked Up is my favourite Candy album. Lots of fun.
Standout track – CD101.9
Maldito Tango by Melingo – Some of my favourite Tango tracks feature a vocalist backed by a small quartet and this is the format that dominates this album. When other instruments appear they are sometimes expected, piano, vibraphone or percussion and sometimes surprising, fuzzy basses and guitars. This is moody, prickly urban music that is reassuringly distant from the cliched versions of the Tango genre.
Standout track – A Lo Magdalena
City That Care Forgot by Dr John – I don’t much like the phrase “living-legend” but it is an apt description for Dr John. A prodigious musician’s musician Dr John is also an embodiment of the musical spirit of New Orleans and this album finds him lamenting that city’s fate after hurricane Katrina. This is a nostalgic, expansive and at time vituperative album.
Standout track – We Gettin There
En Este Momento by Claudia Acuña – Chilean jazz vocalist, Claudia Acuña here focussed on a more distinctly LAtin American selection of songs. In particular, she pays homage to the late, great folk singer Victor Jara
Standout track – El Cigarrito
Joy by Phish – On the one hand, I constantly meet people who have never heard of Phish. On the other hand, their concerts sell out almost instantly, they front enormous summer festivals and have a huge community of fans who share and debate their music online. For me, this is their most solid studio album and a great place to start if you are wondering what Phish is all about.
Standout track – Ocelot
La Radiolina by Manu Chao – grittier and more rock oriented that Chao’s earlier albums, this disc has a solid groove and vibe helped, in part by the reuse of ideas, themes and motifs. This is entertaining, sunny, pan-Latin American music with a sense of humour.
Standout track – La Vida Tombola