Well, 2013 is over, and it was again an amazing year in music – there was cool new pop by all kinds of artists, a rap album from Kanye West I actually liked, Daft Punk returned and more. But my area of interest is jazz … and there was TONS of great jazz! So I wanted to detail some of the best stuff I heard all year.
I have never been great at just doing a Top 10 list, so I didn’t! I worked on a list, eliminated and added things, and ended up with 15 recordings … well, 15 JAZZ albums, plus one each for Clasical, Rock, Rap and R&B. So let’s get right to it!
My Favorite Jazz of 2013
The amazing Wayne Shorter made his name as a Blue Note recording artist even before joining Miles Davis in 1964, where he became a key composer and celebrated improviser. He formed Weather Report and has continued to be active ever since.
This past year Shorter did an amazing thing – at 80 years old he released an album that ranks with some of the best work of his career, taken from live performances. This is not some ‘oldies revival tour’ – this is hardcore mainstream jazz played at a very high level!
Here is a video of him with the quartet live at Marciac in 2013:
Speaking of Miles Davis, Kenny Garrett was the final saxophone player for Davis and the best since Dave Liebman in the early 70s. Garrett is an incredible player, composer and bandleader. I have really enjoyed his last few releases, but this newest one is his best stuff to date.
Here is a live recording of his classic song ‘Happy People’
Dave Douglas is one of the most vibrant and exciting trumpet players and composers working, and will tackle just about anything – so why is his most straight-ahead effort the first one that hits my ‘best music’ list? Because it is excellent. The band has evolved and is more in touch than on last year’s ‘Be Still’, which elevates the proceedings.
Here is a video of an alternate take to the title track ‘Time Travel’
I will admit that one of my favorite things about the recent Gary Burton Quartet is guitarist Julian Lage. But then again, Pat Metheny was a featured player with Burton back in the 70s. This new group has matured since their first album, and just keeps getting better. This is mainstream jazz, I can’t wait for where they take us next.
Here is the band playing live in 2013:
From my review:
‘Tap’ is an amazingly adventurous work. It reminds me of the stellar classic Ornette Coleman collaboration ‘Song X’, in that both artists are fully engaged, and the results show clear impact from both but also a transcendant quality that was only possible by having both acting together seeking something more from the music than either alone could create.
Since he hasn’t performed Tap live, here is the album version of Tharsis.
I have loved Matthew Shipp for years now, and he has never failed to entertain and challenge listeners. When rumors had him retiring, this release was extra-sweet: it has classic melodies throughout but never follows a classic A-B-A structure, and yet never drifts into the free jazz tradition. It is full of surprises and rewards you every time you listen. Definitely the best solo piano all year.
Here is ‘Cosmic Shuffle’ from the album:
I reviewed this when it first came out:
Throughout the recording there are up and down tempo pieces, moments where there is more atmosphere than composition, times of intense group improvisation, and some gorgeous ballads. But while the album is clearly a concept piece, there is no particular order I found works best – I often listen straight through, but have also shuffled the songs and not had an issue. So while it is a concept album, more than that it is just a great jazz album.
Here is the band playing Nausikaa from 2012:
It was funny listening to this with my older son in the car, because every time he started to find the beat they would switch it up – it was frustrating. But that is the point, Berne and his group play with time expertly in this recording. The original Snakeoil album I found decent, but this one renews my love for Berne and his group. This is challenging listening, but also rewarding.
Here Berne discusses his newest recording:
From my review:
The remainder of the compositions are some of Halvorson’s best. What really concerned me initially was that in a septet setting her sense of intimacy would be lost amongst the harmonies and rhythmic counterpoint. Fortunately she manages the septet in much the same way as she handled the quintet – as an expanded trio. That sounds odd, but for me the key to her music is rhythmic and harmonic juxtaposition. That all comes from the guitar, bass and drums at the core – and the horns serve as larger extensions of those stations and add melody and timbre as well as further counterpoint.
From the album this is the song ‘Four Pages of Robots':
This album has a GROOVE – Coleman describes the beats as the interconnected systems of the body, which sounds better than all of the cardiac words in the song titles. But the greatest thing is how Coleman just keeps churning out great compositions, and the quartet keeps getting better and better! This is ‘modern jazz’ in how it has elements of funk and free jazz mixed in with more compositionally based music.
Here is a recording of the group playing live in Paris in 2013:
From my review:
The other thing I love is the use of space – and I don’t just mean playing around silence. For me the interesting use of space involves overfilling it as well as leaving it wide open. There are some extremely dense moments on Chants, and others where there is very little being said overtly – and each one is handled deftly by all three musicians. This speaks to the high level of musicianship and the communication between the artists.
Here is the EPK for the album:
I first heard Terence Blanchard on his own with Donald Harrison in the mid-80s as one of the ‘young lions’, and have enjoyed his development through the years. But recently he has been tied up with so much other stuff that it seems like forever since he released a good ole’ jazz album. And this one reminds us why it was worth the wait!
Here the group plays some of the title track from Magnetic:
I have been a fan of David Sanborn for decades, and this album shows the amazing evolution of Sanborn and James through all of the years since they first collaborated. They each add great contributions in terms of playing, arraning and composing, and the improvisations are deep and poignant and exciting. I wasn’t a big fan of ‘Double Vision’, their first collaboration from 1986 as it was really just ‘smooth jazz’, but this is something I loved much more than I expected.
Here James and Sanborn explain the making of the recording:
Argue’s ‘steampunk big band’ amazed everyone on ‘Infernal Machines’, now he is back with more depth, breadth and scope. This is atmospheric, cinematic, moody, dark, bright, intimate and pretty much every other adjective I could toss in. Darcy James Argue has become one of the great composers and bandleaders in all of jazz with just two albums … I can’t wait to see what comes next!
Here is a portion of the composition live from 2013:
With a name like “Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues”, do you expect seriousness? No – you get loads of playful, fun, funky jazz. But that doesn’t mean these aren’t serious compositions played by top-level musicians. I hadn’t heard Ben Goldberg before, but he released TWO great albums in 2013 alone! Definitely one of my favorites, as he weaves a path through mainstream and free jazz that neither bores nor alienates.
Here is ‘The Because Of’ from the album:
More Great Jazz
Kris Davis – Capricorn Climber
Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House – Strong Place
Ches Smith and These Arches – Hammered
Dave Holland – Prism
Ben Goldberg – Unfold Ordinary Mind
Jonathan Finlayson – Moment and the Message
Am I cheating? Who knows … Maria Schneider is nominally a ‘jazz’ composer, but this music falls more into classical based on a survey of those I forced to listen (i.e. my family). For most people, the intervallic leaps and ebb and flow of the structure will be off-putting, but there is amazing stuff going on that reminds us why Maria Schneider is such a treasure.
Here is a great video from the official site:
With his last album my review basically said “great music ruined when Kanye opens his mouth”. On this album Daft Punk sets a stage with the opening songs that Kanye actually makes work well. There are a few clunkers, and some of the usual garbage lyrics, but there is a raw energy and a ‘realness’ to the music that really surprised me.
I actually did a review of this along with Jay-Z’s boring album:
For ‘Yeezus’, let me offer a similar summary: this album is so good that Kanye can’t mess it up when he opens his mouth! In fact, on many songs, he intensity and the ferocious growl of his voice adds to the urgency and dark thematic material.
Here is the song ‘I am a god’ from the album, because everything I found recorded live sounded like garbage:
Since ‘Black Radio’ won the Grammy for R&B I figured I could put it here without being accused of cheating (true confession: I’m cheating!). Just like on the original there are great songs, great musicianship and tight production. I definitely prefer the original to the new album, but this is a solid release with some very good music.
Here is the music video for ‘Calls’ featuring Jill Scott:
ROCK / FUSION
In my review I said:
One of the cool things about the album is that it feels like a collaboration throughout – ‘Descent’ is very bass-heavy, but Minneman is all over the beat and Rudess provides essential lightness to the heavy proceedings. And you really need to check out the video below for ‘Scrod’. The closing song ‘Service Engine’ is long and winding and a really great closing journey for this epic record.
And this remains on my regular rotation on iTunes. The energy and musicianship is just amazing, and there is a rewarding depth.
Here is the song Scrod:
So what music did YOU love in 2013?