One Man’s Jazz’ Favourite Recordings for 2019

Dec. 31, 2019

Nineteen recordings that stood out for me in a year filled with great music. I could easily stretch this list to three or four times the size. Note there are seven bass player-led recordings here (not the first time I’ve chosen a number of bassists) and six of these albums are from women. (Listed by artist/album title/label/artist’s country)

Carlos Bica – I Am The Escaped One (Clean Feed) – Portugal
scintillating concept, amazing bass-playing from Bica, perfectly fitting saxophone from Daniel Erdmann, and DJ Illvibe is a magician of the highest order. Outside the box, unique, and highly recommended.

Kris Davis – Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic) – Canada
Canadian ex-pat pianist/composer Davis is highly regarded for her avant garde, but she has put together a very unexpected surprise, that goes in so many different directions. A joy to listen to. Highly recommended.

Hot Heros – Days After The Rodeo (Eclipse Music) – Finland
Another phenomenal saxophone-bass-drums power trio from Finland that brings wit, style and irreverence to their music. I’d love to see these guys live. Don’t pass this one up. It will take you beyond any rodeo.

Russ Lossing Trio – Ways (Ezz-thetics) – USA
From first note to last, I was hooked on pianist Lossing, bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz. They are so in sync as they explore varied moods and tempos. If you like piano trios, don’t hesitate.

Miles Perkin Quartet – The Point In Question (Clean Feed) – Canada
Ever-evolving bassist Miles Perkin from Manitoba, now in Berlin, continues to write music with grace, power, and flow for his excellent quartet of Tom Arthurs trumpet, Benoit Delbecq keys, and Jim Black drums. A rising star.

Torbjorn Zetterberg – The Great Question (Corbett vs. Dempsey) – Sweden
Yes, another bassist! Zetterberg assembled six of the finest musicians in Sweden for this one to show off his compositional chops as well as his renowned skill on the bass. Hard-charging live session to keep you jumping.

Lisa Hoppe’s Third Reality – The Mighty Unlikely (Jazzhausmusik) – Germany
I had no idea before I opened the envelope. I knew Lisa Hoppe was a bassist and I had played something with her in the band. What a wonderful surprise! With David Leon, alto sax and Tal Yahalom guitar, she creates a series of stunning soundtrack-like stories and vignettes.

Yusef Komunyakaa, David Cieri & Mike Brown – Dark Furniture (Ropeadope) – USA
Yes, I do love poetry combined with improvised music. I rated this trio’s previous recording very highly, and this release is equally brilliant. Komunyakaa’s deep basso and striking words float over thoughtful and striking music from Cieri and Brown.

New York Free Quartet – In Between Gigs…Can You Dig? (Fourth Stream) – USA
There’s poetry in this one too, from bassist Larry Roland, but the whole quartet is something to behold. Four seasoned and talented NYC musicians who deserve much more recognition for their music.

OGJB – Bamako (Tum Records) – USA
I called the musicians in OGJB “warriors” recently. Oliver Lake, Graham Hayes, Joe Fonda and Barry Altschul are among the finest players in the world. This debut album shows why – power, respect and joy, plus Lake’s poetry on the title track.

Jaimie Branch – Fly Or Die II – Bird Dogs of Paradise (International Anthem) – USA
The trumpeter takes no prisoners on this one. She soars and sears as she takes a huge strip out of racism and current political climates. There’s no fear here. The protest music of the 1960’s has never left.

Angelika Niescier – New York Trio (Intakt) – Germany
I’ve become quite enamored with the crisp and hard-edged sound of her alto saxophone over her last few recordings. Her compositions bring out the best of her fine trio with Chris Tordini on bass and Gérald Cleaver on drums. Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson is on some tracks.

Alexandra Grimal – Nāga (Ovni) – France
Thanks to a Facebook user who tracked me down and sent me this mis-addressed album, I might have never had the opportunity to be mystified and entranced by the music of this excellent saxophonist and composer. A pretty unique recording.

Matt Mitchell – Phalanx Ambassadors (Pi Recordings) – USA
No one does it like Matt. He’s unpredictable and chameleon-like, but you can rest assured you’re hearing some of the most original and complicated music being written these days.

Anna Webber – Clockwise (Pi Recordings) – Canada
Wisely, the saxophonist and flautist from BC, who has become a highly in-demand player on the NY scene, has drawn on the talents of Matt Mitchell for this recording and for her trio. She’s writing and playing some of the most arresting and challenging music these days.

Mark Dresser – Aint’ Nothin’ But A Cyber Coup And You (Clean Feed) – USA
Intelligent, political, topical. Dresser is unafraid to speak out about something he perceives as unfair or wrong. His music is dense and powerful. His playing is equally great. Has anyone every made a comparison to Charlie Haden’s global view? Let me.

Nick Fraser, Kris Davis & Tony Malaby – Zoning (Astral Spirits) – Canada
Uncompromising music from three uncompromising players. This is their second release as a trio while Fraser and Malaby have played together frequently. Their connection is evident.

William Parker & In Order To Survive – Live/Shapeshifter (Aum Fidelity) – USA
An amazing set of live music performed by four master musicians. Bassist Parker reformed his first quartet a few years back and time has not affected the playing of Parker with Rob Brown alto, Cooper-Moore piano and Hamid Drake drums. A vital album.

Pat Thomas, Dominic Lash & Tony Orrell – Bley School (577 Records) – England
Three of the British avant garde/free jazz scene team up to interpret and honor the music of pianist and composer Paul Bley. It’s a starting point for some very free-wheeling improvisation and trio-speak.