Friday 21 December 2018

Best of 2018 (pt3): sweet sweet jazz

This is the third and final part of our series celebrating the music releases of 2018, and in this episode we look at the incredible jazz music we were gifted with.  The accompanying radio show aired Thursday 20th December which you can catch at the foot of this article for more music from Meshell Ndegeocello, The Rongetz Foundation, Stefon Harris & Blackout, Miles Davis, Kadhja Bonet...

'Chris Dave & The Drumhedz' by Chris Dave & The Drumhedz [Blue Note Records]
It's with great excitement that 2018 - and Blue Note Records - delivered the debut full-length album from drummer Chris "Daddy" Dave and his expansive collective of incredible musicians known as the Drumhedz.  Dave's credentials over nearly 30 years of making music have earned him a legion of die-hard fans: a former member of the Robert Glasper Trio and the Robert Glasper Experiment, Dave's brilliance can also be heard on projects by Maxwell ('BLACKsummer'snight'), D'Angelo ('Black Messiah'), Adele ('21') and Meshell Ndegeocello ('Comfort Woman') amongst many others.  Chris Dave's collaborations have always demonstrated his versatility and his ability to flit between genres and styles but he has long confessed to holding jazz as his closest influence; it's his cosmic and otherwordly take on the genre where he is at his most engaging with song titles here like 'Universal Language' and 'Cosmic Intercourse' which again follow on from the themes laid out through his two previous mixtapes.

'LOVEPLAYDANCE' by Toshio Matsuura Group [Brownswood Recordings]
A huge coup for Brownswood - among many for them this year! - was the release of DJ and producer Toshio Matsuura's new project.  Consisting of eight reimagined dance floor tracks including pieces by Flying Lotus, Carl Craig and Rotary Connection (the latter of which features a dream guest vocal by Dayme Arocena tackling 'I Am The Black Gold of The Sun'), the album boasts an exciting array of UK jazz musicians, like Nubya Garcia, Yazz Ahmed, Mansur Brown and Yussef Dayes appearing throughout.  If this album isn't in your collection yet then it really should be.

'Let Your Light Shine On' by Nicola Conte & Spiritual Galaxy [MPS Records]
Spiritual Galaxy is such an apt name for the Nicola Conte-helmed collective as the concept of spiritual and afro-jazz, along with the music of John Coltrane and Sun-Ra, is very much the focus of Conte's vision on 'Let Your Light Shine On'.  Although many of the elements and styles embraced throughout this project are in no way new to Conte's repertoire, you can almost envisage this being a project that he would have wanted to realise for some time - and to have the album released on the rejuvenated MPS label?  Well, the stars couldn't have been more aligned.

'Song in My Heart' by Stephanie McKay [Ropeadope Records]
A musician, producer, dancer, writer, Stephanie McKay has the skill and unique ability to have her voice sound at home over an acoustic guitar, the harmonies of a jazz trio, the fiery onslaught of a funk track or the otherworldly beats of a soulful house number.  Having amassed an incredible body of work and past collaborations with Soulive, DJ Spinna and Amp Fiddler, this EP, released through Ropeadope Records, was an excellent treat for 2018 and we couldn't scream about the project loudly enough.

'Collagically Speaking' by R+R=Now [Blue Note Records]
There are super-groups and then there are just-too-good-to-be-true-pinch-yourself-line-ups.  In the case of the debut project from R+R=Now, 'Collagically Speaking', this collection of musicians certainly places this project in the latter 'too good to be true' category.  The tirelessly prolific Robert Glasper appears alongside the equally inexhaustible producer and musician Terrace Martin, trumpeter Christian Scott, electronic producer Taylor McFerrin, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Justin Tyson.  Some of these genuinely offer mouth-watering combinations and the results pay off in a big way.

'Starting Today' by Joe Armon-Jones [Brownswood Recordings]
The debut album from the pianist and composer, Joe Armon-Jones, stands confidently tall as one of the year's strongest releases.  With an A-class band of musicians assembled for the project, including Moses Boyd on drums and Nubya Garcia on saxophone, Jones's style of jazz draws from a pool of influences from soul, hip-hop and dub - resulting in something incredibly exciting.  When people talk about the emergence of artists and albums within the UK jazz scene, it's albums like this that they're referring to.

'Palmares Fantasy' by Sean Khan [Far Out Recordings]
'Palmares Fantasy' marks the third solo outing from UK saxophonist, Sean Khan, pairing him with the iconic Brazilian composer and improviser, Hermeto Pascoal.  Released through Far Out Recordings, the former member of the 1990's broken beat/nu-jazz collective known as the SK Radicals continues to further cement his legacy as one of the finest jazz musicians of his generation.  Sean Khan very much wears his intentions on his sleeve - a progressive, innovative and forward-thinking musician, heavily inspired by Latin jazz and an artist who continually pays tribute to a classic jazz aesthetic and its pioneers:  At the risk of sounding paternalistic, and certainly in no way to diminish the excellent work of his past offerings, but this could very well be the album Sean Khan has always wanted to make.

'Means to the Ends' by Bright Dog Red [Ropeadope Records]
Marking the debut full-length project from Bright Dog Red, now aptly aligned with Philadelphia's Ropeadope Records, the improv band from Albany, New York, present their spirited and inspired form of jazz that skilfully weaves in additional elements of electronica and hip-hop.  We were thrilled to have been able to connect with the band's leader and drummer, Joe Pignato, for an exclusive chat about the new album and to have Joe guest on an episode of Blue-in-Green Sessions playing songs from the project.

'There Is A Place' by Maisha [Brownswood Recordings]
Maisha's debut full-length project, helmed by band leader, drummer and composer, Jake Long, has been hotly anticipated since their free-to-download EP 'Welcome To A New Welcome' was released through Jazz Re:freshed in 2016.  Now aligned with Brownswood Recordings, 'There Is A Place' demands your attention as a stunning and ambitious piece of work reminiscent of spiritual jazz icons like Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane.  Elevated by sublime strings and the incredibly skilled musicians that comprise Maisha (Long, Nubya Garcia, Shirley Tetteh, Amane Suganami, Twm Dylan, Tim Doyle and Yahael Camara-Onono), this is a record to cherish.

'Life' by Vivian Sessoms [Ropeadope Records]
Harlem-born singer, writer and producer, Vivian Sessoms, delivers a standout project with 'Life'.  Produced with Chris Parks, the duo have assembled a dream team-like line-up of musicians including trumpeter Keyonn Harrold, harpist Brandee Younger and saxophonist Donny McCaslin; Amp Fiddler also appears on the cover of The Stylistics 'People Make The World Go Round' and Casey Benjamin's glorious vocoder enriches the album highlight 'No Greater Love'.  'Life' is a creative and eclectic album: rich in elegant vocals, fantastic musicians and versatile production and we love it!

'Light of Love' by Kaveh Rastegar [Ropeadope Records]
'Light of Love' marks the debut solo offering bassist, songwriter and producer, Kaveh Rastegar, released through the indelible Ropeadope Records.  Perhaps best-known for his contributions as bass player for the jazz-fusion five-piece, Kneebody, the multi-faceted artist's talents extend far beyond the band's multiple releases with Rastegar having chalked up session work, live performances and production for a diverse array of artists including Beck, Anthony Hamilton, De La Soul, Meshell Ndegeocello, Sia, John Legend and Ledisi.  It's a staggering collection of styles and influences, all of these years of dynamic collaborations culminate with 'Light of Love' - a project that thrives on that same level of partnership and teamwork throughout.

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