Thursday 11 December 2014

2014 albums: honourable mentions

Yes friends, it's that time again!  As we slowly prepare our top 5 albums of the year - particularly dificult list to compile this year - here is our list of honourable mentions: albums that were released which were outstanding in their own right and very much require your ears but unfortunately just narrowly missed out on the coveted top 5.

'While You Were Sleeping' by Jose James [Blue Note Records]

Calling this release 'bold' would surely be an understatement - Jose James's follow-up to last year's 'No Beginning No End' saw him undertake an entirely new direction in his music.  Citing his affection for Nirvana, amongst others, as his inspiration, people may have possibly been thrown by the album's lead single 'Every Little Thing' but the album continues to showcase James's diversity and skill, and continually make us ask, "What's he going to do next?"

'Free Souls' by Nicola Conte [Schema Records]
From one of my absolute favourite producers ever, Italian musician, Nicola Conte, returns with an excellent album, armed with a typically diverse and always gloriously-sounding array of guest vocalists, including Jose James, Bridgette Amofah and Melanie Charles, Nicola Conte once again ushers in his own brand of bossa nova-infused jazz but ever so gently this time turning the needle towards blues with excellent results.

'Hear To See' by Seravince [MOOVMNT Records]
From Holland, keyboardist and producer, Vincent Helbers (aka Seravince) unveils his debut album of jazz-funk numbers which was an excellent find for 2014.  Featuring drumming throughout by Richard Spaven, Renee Neufville also appears as a vocalist on three tracks, along with Sharlene Hector on a further three.  Interestingly, Helbers cited the 2000 sophomore release, 'Voodoo', by D'Angelo as his chief inspriation for this project - notably within the old-school techniques of recording whole takes to tape, which was a technique mirrored within this recording process as well.  Do all you can to get your hands on this!  (Hardcopies are available direct from the label's Bandcamp page:

'The Brazil Connection' by Studio Rio [Sony Music]
Helmed by the Berman Brothers, the musicians comprising Studio Rio (Marcos Valle, Roberto Menescali) revisit classic recordings by Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, The Isley Brothers, Sly & The Family Stone and Sarah Vaughan injecting them with exquisite Latin rhythms pinned againt the original vocals - some of the songs have such a perfect end-result, you almost have to remind yourself that the vocals in some cases over 50 years ago.  The Studio Rio revisiting of Aretha Franklin's 'Walk On By' is fantastic and worth the cost of the entire album by itself.  An impassioned and sentimental producers’ notes section in the inlay booklet – prepared by the Berman Brothers themselves – describes more intricate details of how the project came together along with stories of the recording sessions, which is really worth a read.  It also discloses that 20 songs were recorded in total so hopefully the remainder can see the light of day some time.

'Rising Son' by Takuya Kuroda [Blue Note Records]
Trumpeter Takuya Kuroda marks his debut Blue Note Records release with an excellent project, produced by long-time friend, collaborator and label-mate, Jose James.  Boasting a number of great songs throughout including the album's title track, 'Afro Blues' and 'Mala' serve as standouts, along with James himself who appears as a guest vocalist on the Roy Ayers cover, 'Everybody Loves the Sunshine'.  Now, granted, many of you may feel it's potentially time to draw a line under further covers of the Ayers classic but I would emplore you to listen to thsi version before doing so.  Musicians throughout consist of Kris Bowers (keys), Solomon Dorsey (bass) and Nate Smith (drums).

'Give The People What They Want' by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings [Daptone Records]
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings... <swoon>.  I'm so in love with this team and they can really do no wrong in my eyes.  Delayed by about 6 months as Sharon Jones underwent treatment for cancer, her recovery (her recovery was the best news by the way!) - this album delivered the atypical sweet soul numbers the band have become famed for.  Instant standouts on this for me are: 'Stranger to My Happiness', 'Making Up and Breaking Up' and 'People Don't Get What They Deserve'.

'Whole Other*' by Richard Spaven [Fine Line Records]
We've discussed it above but let's put it all together here: drummer Richard Spaven's work this year includes drumming throughout Seravince's jazz-funk effort, 'Hear To See' and Jose James's eclectic, 'While You Were Sleeping'.  All of this clearly marks 2014 as an incredible year for Richard Spaven and must surely whet appetites for his own release.  Comfortably - and skillfully - straddling that line between jazz and drum'n'bass, 'Whole Other*' genuinely displays the talents of a master at work within production as much as his own playing throughout.

'Say Yes (Evolved)' by Iyeoka [Underground]
Very possibly the album that would have secured sixth place in our best of the year list, much like David Murray's 'Be My Monster Love' from last year.  Nigerian-American vocalist and poet, Iyeoka, delivers a fresh and assured album through a brilliant fusion of R&B, soul and jazz with just the right amount of pop sensibilities to make this an excitingly infectious release.  Songs to wrap your ears around come in the form of 'This Time Around', 'Breakdown Mode' and 'Simply Falling'. 

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