Tuesday we unveiled Nextbop’s Best Jazz Albums of 2019, which was compiled by our staff as a whole. Yesterday, we published Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris’ Favorite Jazz Albums of 2019. Today, we continue our Season of Lists with Staff Writer Brian Kiwanuka‘s Favorite Jazz Albums of 2019.
10. Brandee Younger – Soul Awakening (Self Release)
The harp is a spellbinding instrument and throughout Soul Awakening Brandee Younger is a sorceress. The harpist’s playing is never anything other than gorgeous and she has extremely strong chemistry with Ravi Coltrane (tenor saxophone), who is featured on “Soulris” and “Lover’s Prayer”. Younger is a versatile player, being just as good at covering soul tunes (Marvin Gaye’s “Save The Children”) as she is as at taking on spiritual jazz compositions (Alice Coltrane’s “Blue Nile”). This is a fine record that is sure to earn Younger more than a few new fans. Read my full album review here.
Stream Brandee Younger’s Soul Awakening album
9. Dave Douglas, Uri Caine & Andrew Cyrille – Devotion (Greenleaf)
Devotion is a fruitful collaboration between Dave Douglas (trumpet), Uri Caine (piano) and Andrew Cyrille (drums). Each of these musicians has been around the block more than once, however, their experience has not produced complacency. The three veterans combine to create a fine record of skillful, immediately accessible, playing that is aided greatly by the melodic strength of the Douglas compositions. Caine starts the album with bright and expressive piano playing with a Monk-ish bounce on “Curly”, an impressive drum and piano duet. The fat tone of Douglas’ trumpet takes center stage on “D’Andrea”, providing a catchy theme that is sure to draw listeners in. “Prefontaine” provides one of the record’s finest moments by way of Douglas’ pensive playing being well met by Caine’s pristine accompaniment in an entrancing spacious atmosphere. Whether one is coming for the melodies or the sheer technical ability of the players, it will be hard to be left disappointed by Devotion.
Stream Dave Douglas, Uri Caine & Andrew Cyrille’s Devotion album
8. Tyshawn Sorey & Marilyn Crispell – The Adornment of Time (Pi)
This is a magnificent example of what can happen when two stellar improvisers come together. Tyshawn Sorey (drums, percussion) and Marilyn Crispell (piano) are masters of ominous subtlety, space and dissonance. Sorey begins proceedings with the knock of hollow wooden percussion and then adds on thunder-like rumbling and light chimes to create a mesmerizing atmosphere. The crystalline tone of Crispell’s piano dances around the chimes, but as things go on, the pianist moves her tone to more foreboding territory. The dynamics of the duo are stunning throughout this completely improvised live set – especially in a reactive sense. The way they build tension is marvelous. For example, around the 8-minute mark, it’s hard not to be impressed when Sorey morphs his kit to evoke the sound of a stampede and Crispell follows suit. Even with all the dissonance, there are moments of otherworldly beauty. Near the 51-52 minute mark, gorgeous piano playing evocative of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” creates a lovely passage while Sorey compliments the pianist with delicate bells. Throughout the hour it’s astonishing how easily Sorey’s various techniques – whether stomping or whispering – can pull a listener into the duo’s vast dark environment. The Adornment of Time captures two established names of the avant-garde having an undeniably strong connection. Read fellow Staff Writer Rob Shepherd’s full album review here.
Watch Marilyn Crispell & Tyshawn Sorey live July 29, 2014, at The Stone
7. Taylor Ho Bynum – The Ambiguity Manifesto (Firehouse 12)
Cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum‘s previous album as a bandleader, Enter The Plus Tet, was a fantastic example of the heights that can be reached in an experimental big band. On The Ambiguity Manifesto Ho Bynum’s compositional brilliance shines again in a band mostly composed of members of his previous group: Ingrid Laubrock (tenor/soprano sax), Jim Hobbs (alto sax), Bill Lowe (trombone), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Tomeka Reid (cello), Ken Filiano (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums) and new addition Stomu Takeishi (electric bass). There is a duality to the record, with tracks like “enter ally” and “ally enter” and “real/unreal (for ursula k. le guin)” and “unreal/real (for old music)” being interesting distorted reflections of one another in more than just name. Ho Bynum’s cornet work is characterized by a distinctively nimble and scratchy approach, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to swing, as opener “neither when nor where” proves. The tune has a catchy five note theme and carefully balances soulful horns with the searching explorations of Halvorson and Reid. Later on, the mood of the band completely switches in the darkness of “real/unreal (for ursula k. le guin)”. Dexterous percussive work by Fujiwara is backed by eerie textures courtesy of Reid’s cello and the horn section. The song is a great example of how Ho Bynum skillfully evolves his pieces – it begins melancholic and ends in euphoria. This is followed by the cavernous electronic waves and raging horns of “(g)host(aa/ab)”, a track that closes out with incredible solos by Laubrock and Halvorson. The Ambiguity Manifesto is another success for Ho Bynum.
Stream Taylor Ho Bynum’s The Ambiguity Manifesto album
6. Kris Davis – Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic)
Those that only follow pianist Kris Davis’ studio work might be surprised at the personnel of Diatom Ribbons. Although artists like Ches Smith (vibraphone) and Marc Ribot (guitar) are often found in the experimental scene Davis often occupies, Esperanza Spalding (vocals) and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums), both usually operate in more straight-ahead settings. However, a look at Davis’ recent out of studio excursions gives the full picture – she played with both women in various stunning tributes to the late pianist Geri Allen. They are joined by Val Jeanty (turntable), Trevor Dunn (electric/acoustic bass), Tony Malaby (tenor sax), JD Allen (tenor sax) and Nels Cline (guitar). The guitarist stars in “Rhizomes”, a track with an atmospheric opening that is eventually driven into rocking territory by Carrington and Cline, who has a stunning extended solo. “The Very Thing” is another standout moment – the combination of Spalding’s gorgeous voice and Davis’ beautiful cascading piano works wonders. There is an immediate accessibility in “The Very Thing” and other parts of Diatom Ribbons that may draw in those who were not too keen on Davis’ past work. However, this is not to say that the pianist has held back or sacrificed her brilliance for the sake of immediacy – the strength of this album suggests exactly the opposite.
Stream Kris Davis’ Diatom Ribbons album
5. Yazz Ahmed – Polyhymnia (Ropeadope)
Polyhymnia is Yazz Ahmed (trumpet, flugelhorn) building on the foundation of the critically acclaimed La Saboteuse by taking it into a much larger setting. Her striking combination of Arabic melodies and jazz fusion now features over 20 musicians. Each track is dedicated to iconic women throughout history, with standout tracks “Lahan al-Mansour” and “Ruby Bridges” dedicated to the first Saudi Arabian female film director and the first African-American child to desegregate William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana. While the former composition is more Arabic-influenced and the latter is more soulful, there is common ground between the two in that both have stellar horn arrangements. The solos, especially those by Ahmed and pianist Alcyona Mick, are top-notch. Read my full album review here.
Stream Yazz Ahmed’s Polyhymnia album
4. Tomeka Reid Quartet – Old New (Cuneiform)
Although this quartet’s rhythm section, which consists of Tomas Fujiwara (drums) and Jason Roebke (bass), is consistently strong, the main attraction is an exhilarating combination of strings. Cello and guitar are not typical partners in jazz, but it would be hard to find two players more up to the task than Tomeka Reid (cello) and Mary Halvorson (guitar). The clash and synergy between Halvorson’s warped eccentric approach and the harsh wooden sound of Reid’s cello is fascinating. The album wastes no time, with opener “Old New” being one of its best tracks. Featuring an extended battle between Reid and Halvorson that is full of wildly unpredictable improvisation, the tune is the perfect introduction to the band. The Tomeka Reid Quartet’s 2015 debut was a standout record of its year and Old New maintains that high standard. These are captivating Reid compositions that interestingly combine abrasive avant-garde improvisational styles and thematic passages that could fit in in more straight-ahead sessions.
Stream the Tomeka Reid Quartet’s Old New album
3. Jaimie Branch – FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise (International Anthem)
Two years ago trumpeter Jaimie Branch announced herself as a band leader with FLY or DIE, a great record defined by a unique compositional voice that found a healthy balance between more bopping elements and the avant-garde. bird dogs of paradise builds on the FLY or DIE style, again featuring a band built around the interaction between trumpet, cello (Lester St. Louis), double bass (Jason Ajemian) and drums (Chad Taylor). This time around Branch does not just confine her expression to her horn, her singing is key in the album’s finest moment, the political epic “prayer for amerikkka pt. 1 & 2”. The tune moves from a downtrodden bluesy space to almost being a rock tune, but maintains the jazz adventure that defines Branch’s work. The band’s knack for finding irresistible rhythms is in tact as well, with the seamless duo of “bird dogs of paradise” and “nuevo roquero estéreo” both having amazing grooves. bird dogs of paradise is the opposite of a sophomore slump – it’s confirmation that Branch is going to be a name to look out for in the jazz world for a long time.
Stream Jaimie Branch’s FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise album
2. Irreversible Entanglements & Pat Thomas- 5.4.18 (Cafe OTO)
Irreversible Entanglements is a band that stands firmly in one of the key aspects of of black american music – some of the best recordings have been political and confrontational. 5.4.18 is an extremely passionate live set wherein Camae Ayewa (poetry), Luke Stewart (bass), Tcheser Holmes (drums), Aquiles Navarro (trumpet) and Keir Neuringer (alto saxophone) continue to deliver the high quality free jazz poetry that captivated the avant-garde jazz world on their debut in 2017. The fierce playing here creates the perfect environment for Ayewa’s gripping spoken word, which snarls through the evils of racism, capitalism and imperialism. In the last portion of the session the group is joined by British pianist Pat Thomas, whose relentless approach takes them to the next level. Thomas’ strong performance is more than appropriate for a set that was dedicated to the legendary pianist Cecil Taylor, who sadly passed away on the same day. Read my full album review here.
Stream an excerpt of Irreversible Entanglements & Pat Thomas’ 5.4.18 album
1. Tomas Fujiwara – 7 Poets Trio (Rogueart)
A band consisting of only drums (Tomas Fujiwara), cello (Tomeka Reid) and vibraphone (Patricia Brennan) is not a traditional set up, but with how well this trio plays, one could be forgiven for thinking this combination is commonplace. Reid, Fujiwara and Brennan are exceptional throughout 7 Poets Trio, producing sounds that range from bouts of abstract improvisation to moments of sublime beauty. These compositions are Fujiwara at his best. “Blend / KP” begins the album with a surreal combination of bowed vibraphone and cello and ends with a powerful atmosphere with brilliant solos. The almost 19 minutes of “Blend / KP” alone are worth the price of admission, and the rest of the album is just as good. Read my full album review here.
Watch Tomas Fujiwara’s 7 Poets Trío live June 12, 2019, at the 24th Vision Festival
Brian Kiwanuka is a writer‚ attorney and music nerd but not in that order. He digs Armand Hammer‚ Alice Coltrane and Stevie Wonder and occasionally subjects his friends to detailed rants about music. You can check out more of his writing on 93 Million Miles Above.