My Top 5 Jazz Albums Of 2018

2018 wasn’t a particularly exciting year for me in Jazz. I wasn’t too much impressed with Cecile McLorin Salvant’s and Shai Maestro’s releases this year, so I didn’t even bother to review then. And overall, this was probably the year of my lowest number of Jazz album reviews since I started this blog.

I also checked out the Top 2018 lists of many other reviewers, and didn’t see anything standing out there (except for the latest Wayne Shorter which I still have to check out).

Nevertheless, here are my 5 favorite Jazz albums of the year. Note a big victory for ECM with 3 out of my 5 albums coming from their great label.

You may also want to check out my Top 5 Jazz albums from 2017, 2016, and 2015, as well as my Top 5 Classical albums of 2018.

Melody Gardot Live in Europe

Melody Gardot Live In Europe (24/48) 2018 Decca

My favorite live album of the year. And no, I didn’t just pick this for the cover. Check it out, Melody is at her best here. See my original review here.

Marcin Wasilewski Trio – Live

Marcin Wasilewski Trio Live ECM 2018 24 96

A lot of live albums this year. 3 out of 5. I completely forgot to review this. Marcin Wasilewski plays what regular readers by now understood to be my favorite trio style: intimate with beautiful melodies.

You can find it here (Qobuz)

Keith Jarrett Trio – After The Fall

Keith Jarrett Gary Peacock Jack DeJohnette After The Fall ECM 2018 24 44

Not really a new recording, just a new release. But one really worth having. See my original review here. The only downside is the recording quality which is not on par with the regular ECM pristine sound.

Tord Gustavsen – The Other Side

Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Other Side (24/96) ECM 2018

Good to see that Gustavsen is back in trio format. This reminds me very much of The Ground, my favorite Gustavsen album. You’ll find my original review here.

Joey Alexander Christmas

A Joey Alexander Christmas Motema 2018

Joey Alexander is my discovery of the year. Hence the mention of this short EP, which I reviewed here.

You’ll find the download links to the albums in the respective original reviews.

Christmas Time Is Here – Two More Beautiful Christmas Jazz Compilations

Christmas Jazz

I’ve already written about my 5 favourite Christmas Jazz albums here, not to mention the recent post about Joey Alexander’s Beautiful Christmas Jazz EP.

But some of my readers complained (rightfully so) that I’ve neglected the Jazz genre a bit on this blog. So just a handful of day before Christmas, let me point you to two beautiful Christmas Jazz compilations by two great labels.

A Concord Jazz Christmas

A Concord Jazz Christmas The Gene Harris Quartet Charlie Byrd

Concord Jazz is a great label that unfortunately has a bit disappeared from the map. Nevertheless, this best of Christmas Jazz is really worth it.

My favorite titles are Scott Hamilton’s Christmas Love Song, and obviously, being a great Gene Harris fan, I’ll Be Home For Christmas. But overall, the album avoids the overly cheesy territory and rather stays on the swinging side. Note that Concord also released a V2 of this album later, which I find much less appealing (even if it has some beautiful tracks)

Verve Presents: The Very Best of Christmas Jazz

Verve Presents: The Very Best of Christmas Jazz Ella Fitzgerald, Kenny Burrell, Bill Evans, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Smith, Oscar Peterson

The legendary Verve label obviously has released a number of Christmas albums over the years. However, this must be one of the best.

Look at the list: Ella Fitzgerald (obviously), but also Kenny Burrell, Shirley Horn, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, Oscar Peterson. Kind of the Verve All Stars.

You get a beautiful version of A Child Is Born with Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans Playing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, and even a great Jingle Bells by Jimmy Smith. And yes, it also includes Rudolph, The Rednose Reindeer, Ella’s Christmas classic.

Again, an album that while giving you a nice Christmas feel, avoids the sugary overkill of some more contemporary collections.

Both are highly recommended.

My rating: 4 stars

Wishing all of you some relaxing Christmas days, or whatever other holiday you’re celebrating this year end!

You can find the albums here (Concord) and here (Verve)

Wishing you a Merry Christmas with Joey Alexander

Christmas Music

I was hesitating a moment to call whether I should call this thread “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, as I’ve no idea what religion my dear readers are following (if at all). 

I then decided against it, for several reasons. A) I’m personally not religious at all, but grew up in Europe where Christmas is the most important holiday and B) I hope that if you’re following any other religion and don’t particularly care for Christmas, you either just skip this post or, even better, still check out the album below, as it is actually really nice.

If you want more Christmas music, be it Jazz or Classical music, I suggest you also check out my Top 5 Christmas Jazz post, my Favorite Seasonal Music, my recommendations for the Messiah, and obviously, the Christmas Oratorio.

A Joey Alexander Christmas (Motema 2018)

A Joey Alexander Christmas (Motema 2018)

This “EP” (a concept really a bit outdated in the world of streaming and downloads) of only 4 tracks features some outstanding musicians.

I haven’t mentioned Joey Alexander yet. A big mistake. It’s actually an amazing story. He comes from the Jazz hotspot of Bali (sorry, cheap pun), and played at the Lincoln centre at the age of 10, and started recording music at the age of 11!!!! Now he still is at the tender age of 15, and if you wouldn’t see it in the video below, you’d have now way of knowing.

He’s playing here both solo and trio. On the trio tracks we get Larry Grenadier of Brad Mehldau fame, on bass, and Eric Harland, who’s played with a lot of Jazz celebrities (MyCoy Tyner, Dave Holland, etc.).

This EP features two seasonally inspired tracks, O Come All Ye Faithful (see the Youtube clip below), and What A Friend We Have In Jesus.

As an add on, we get remastered versions of My Favorite Things, a duo with Larry Grenadier, recorded in 2015 (I’ll let you do the math of Alexander’s age at the time, but its just unbelievable), as well as a solo version of A Wonderful World. Both are just fantastic.

A truly enjoyable album that  you shouldn’t limit only to the Christmas season!

My rating: 4 stars 

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (several others)

Tord Gustavsen’s The Other Side – Delightful

Tord Gustavsen

I’ve previously written about the rich Jazz scene in Scandinavia, and particularly about Tord Gustavsen, reviewing his album The Ground here.

Gustavsen’s trio has a very particular style, minimal, melodic, and fascinating.

So I was very excited when I saw that Gustavsen’s latest album was just released, and thanks to ECM finally allowing streaming, I could sample it immediately.

Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Other Side (ECM 2018)

Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Other Side (24/96) ECM 2018

I wasn’t a universal  fan of some of the albums Gustavsen released in the last years, but with his latest album, I’m fully back on board!

The first thing you notice is the cover art, while still in the typical ECM abstract art style, they’ve changed from the dark blue tones of most of the former albums to a bright orange. Does this mean the music is more orange as well?

Well, actually not. This is very typical Gustavsen style, very much reminding me of what I liked so much about The Ground.  Let’s take as an example urack 3 of the album, Re-Melt. It starts with a syncopated rhythm by Jarle Vespestad on drums, and Sigurd Hole on bass. Gustavsen joins a bit later, weaving a beautiful, subdued melody over the rhythm. None of the music on this album is ever over the top, but it will always be one thing: very atmospheric. It always just unfolds slowly, over time.

Recording quality, as usual on ECM, is very good, actually in this particular case it is again quite spectacular.

Check out this album. It may not be for everyone, but if you like this minimalist Nordics style, you really should not hold back!

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters)

 

Michael Wollny Trio Live: Wartburg – Not A Review

Michael Wollny

I’ve written about Wollny several times already (e.g. here and here), and I stand by my statement that Wollny is one of our most talented Jazz pianists of our times.

So, why has it taken me so long to write about a new album?

Michael Wollny Trio Live – Wartburg (Emile Parisien) (ACT 2018)

 

Michael Wollny Trio Live Wartburg Emile Parisien ACT 2018 24 96

Well, simply because this album doesn’t move me at all, I keep trying it, and it doesn’t “stick”. No idea why.

That’s why this “review” is going to be super short, as I really can’t put my finger on it. But the playing overall feels a bit random.

Emile Parisien appears on some tracks, but nothing really improves at least to my ear.

Maybe it is just a bit to “free” for me, after all, my simple musical brain needs some melodies.

I still suggest that you check out this album to see if you like it. After all, Wollny truly is a genius.

But I just wanted to share that I’ll rather stick to one of his many other live concert recordings.

Please let me know what you think, I’d especially like to hear if you disagree with my assessment.

My rating: 3 stars

P.S. if this is the first time you’re ever seeing my blog, the above isn’t my “typical” review. I usually try to explain a bit more what I like or don’t like about this album.

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters)

Esbjörn Svensson Trio – Live in London – A Review

Esbjörn Svensson Trio

What – a new album of the famous E.S.T.? Well, obviously not a NEW album by the trio after Svensson passed away way to early in 2008 in a diving accident.

But at least a not yet released album, from a live concert at the Barbican Theatre in London, recorded in 2005, was just released on ACT.

I’ve written previously about their album Live in Hamburg , giving it a 5 star rating. To me, E.S.T. was one of the founding fathers of the modern piano jazz trio, picking up from the tradition of a Bill Evans, that was picked up again by Keith Jarrett, but bringing it into  the 21st century. Many of today’s trios (GoGoPengiun, etc.) wouldn’t sound the same without E.S.T.

Live in London (ACT 2018)

Esbjörn Svensson Trio E.S.T. live in London ACT 2018 24/48

So, we obviously feature the Esbjörn Svensson Trio here, with Svensson himself on piano, as usual quite clearly in charge, Dan Berglund on bass, and Magnus Öström on drums.

Did I say Svensson dominates? Well, this is clearly quite piano driven, with Svensson getting a lot of solo time, but E.S.T. wouldn’t be E.S.T. without the complex rhythms driven by Öström.

And this being E.S.T. at their best time, you’re getting the usual dose of electronic effects, electro-inspired rhythms, and quite long tracks (the longest goes on for 17:32, making this a nice double album for those who still buy CDs) that are characteristic for the trio.

My favourite song probably is Eighty-Eight Days In My Veins from Viaticum, but there really isn’t a single bad track on this album.

While to me, this album doesn’t have the amazing power and refinement of Live In Hamburg that was recorded about two years later, this album is still highly recommended. If you’re into E.S.T. this is a must have, if you like piano trio in general, you should really check it out as well.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Highresaudio)

 

Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack De Johnette – After The Fall – A Review

The Keith Jarrett Trio

Having Keith Jarrett in the sub-title of my blog, I obviously had to get excited.

Wow, a new recording of the legendary Keith Jarrett Trio?

Well, “new” is relative, we’re actually talking about a live recording from 1998 in New Jersey, that slept in some drawer for now about 20 years.

1998 wasn’t a bad time for Jarrett’s legendary combo, with Gary Peacock on bass and Jack De Johnette on drums. Standards in Norway, one of my favorite live albums ever, was recorded just a year later, so, musically, my expectations were high.

This was also an important moment for Jarrett himself, as he just recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which stopped him from playing for nearly two years in 1996-1998. In the liner notes, Jarrett calls this concert a “scary experiment”, as it was his first live appearance since the Italian solo concerts (that were also just recently released as A Multitude Of Angels, see my review here).

 

Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette – After The Fall (ECM 2018)

 

Keith Jarrett Gary Peacock Jack DeJohnette After The Fall ECM 2018 24 44

And to make it clear, musically, this album is all you could ask for. The tracks on average 8-9 min longs, which is very enjoyable, as the musicians really get to develop the material and interplay.

This is a “double album” (a term that feels a bit silly in the days of downloads and streaming, but in reality it means you get a total of 1h45 of music and pay about the price of two regular albums should you decide to purchase it, so still has some form of meaning).

To mention some individual songs, Scrapple from the Apple is a very groovy bop track. Old Folks is beautiful ballad. And we get standards like Autumn Leaves with very enjoyable solos (unfortunately, like in so many concerts, Jarrett cannot stop himself from “singing” along. If any digital company could ever invent the AI-driven Keith Jarrett/Glenn Gould humming filter, i’d be extremely grateful).

So, where is the but?

Well, very similar to his recently released solo album A Multitude Of Angels, this album wasn’t professionally recorded, but was basically using Jarretts own DAT (Digital Audio Tape recorder).

And as much as I didn’t mind the shoe-box sound created by this recording set-up for Angels, for a trio where you need to better capture the nuances and interplay of three instruments, I find the sound quality a bit off-putting (and this in spite of the fact that this was remastered at the legendary Rainbow Studios in Oslo).

So, in conclusion, as a hard-core Jarrett fan, this is a must have. If you don’t mind the poor sound quality, I can recommend it as well.

However, if you don’t yet own most of his catalogue, there are many other live albums that benefit from the outstanding sound quality that ECM normally is famous for, like Standards in Norway, or Live At Blue Note from 1994 (one of my 25 Essential Jazz Albums), that you may want to check out first.

My rating: 4 stars (1 star taken off for sound quality)

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (Highresaudio)