TEAM VIBE: Best of 2017 – Andy Hazell

1. Salim Washington – Sankofa (Private Press)
2. Nduduzo Makhathini – Ikhambi (Universal South Africa)
3. Denys Baptiste – Late Trane (Edition)
4. Joy Ellis – Life On Land (F-IRE)
5. Josiah Woodson – Suite Elemental (Rewax)
6. Dwight Trible – Inspirations (Gondwana)
7. Jazzmeia Horn – A Social Call (Prestige/Concord/Universal)
8. Linda Sikhakhane – Two Sides, One Mirror (Private Press)
9. Sisonke Xonti – Iyonde (Private Press)
10. Carmen Lundy – Code Noir (Afrasia)
11. Jamie Saft Trio – Loneliness Road (Rarenoise)
12. Sibusile Xaba – Open Letter to Adoniah/Unlearning (Mushroom Hour)
13. Binker & Moses – Journey to the Mountain of Forever (Gearbox)
14. Rob Luft – Riser (Edition)
15. Nubya Garcia – Nubya’s 5ive (Jazz Re:freshed)
16. Web Web – Oracle (Compost)
17. Nicole Mitchell & Haki R. Madhubuti – Liberation Narratives (Third World Press)
18. Ludere – Retratos (Blaxtream)
19. Ahmad Jamal – Marseille (Jazz Village/PIAS)
20. Collocutor – The Search (On The Corner)

TEAM VIBE: Best of 2017 – Mike Gates

1. Shahin Novrasli – Emanation (Jazz Village)
2. Angles 9 – Disappeared Behind The Sun (Clean Feed)
3. Khaled Kurbeh And Raman Khalef Ensemble – Aphorisms (Between Buttons)
4. Uri Gurvich – Kinship (Jazz Family)
5. Rob Luft – Riser (Edition)
6. Terje Rypdal – Bleak House [2017 Reissue] (Round 2)
7. Anouar Brahem – Blue Maquams (ECM)
8. Nitin Sawhney – Live at Ronnie Scott’s (Gearbox)
9. Robert Mitchell – A Vigil For Justice, A Vigil For Peace (Depth Of Field)
10. Minco Eggersman – Kavkasia (Volkoren)
11. JD Allen – Radio Flyer (Savant)
12. Jamie Saft Trio – Loneliness Road (RareNoise)
13. Charles Lloyd New Quartet – Passin’ Thru (Blue Note)
14. DeJohnette/Grenadier/Medeski/Scofield – Hudson (Motéma)
15. Adrien Chicot – Playing In The Dark (Gaya Music Production)
16. Collocutor – The Search (On The Corner)
17. Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet – Jersey (AGATE/Motéma)
18. Daniel Herskedal – The Roc (Edition)
19. Cat Toren’s Human Kind (Private Press)
20. Tony Tixier – Life Of Sensitive Creatures (Whirlwind Recordings)

TEAM VIBE: Best of 2017 – Steve Williams

Steve’s 40 favourite albums of 2017:

(In no order)

Adrien Chicot – Playing In The Dark (Gaya Music Production)
Angles 9 – Disappeared Behind The Sun (Clean Feed)
Anne Quillier 6tet – Dusty Shelters (Label Pince-Oreilles)
Antonio Lizana – Oriente (Sony Music)
Black Motor – Branches (We Jazz)
Cat Toren’s Human Kind (Private Press)
Charles Lloyd New Quartet – Passin’ Thru (Blue Note)
Collocutor – The Search (On The Corner)
Esperanza Spalding – Exposure (Concord)
Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble – Monk Dreams, Hallucinations and Nightmares (Red Piano)
Georges-Edouard Nouel ‎– Chodo 1975 (Rebirth On Wax) Reissue
Ill Considered ‎– Ill Considered (Ill Considered Music)
Jaimie Branch – Fly or Die (International Anthem)
Khaled Kurbeh And Raman Khalef Ensemble – Aphorisms (Between Buttons)
Ludere – Retratos (Blaxtream)
Matteo Pastorino – Suite for Modigliani (Challenge)
Minco Eggersman – Kavkasia (Volkoren)
Nicole M. Mitchell & Haki R. Madhubuti – Liberation Narratives (Third World Press)
Nitin Sawhney – Live at Ronnie Scott’s (Gearbox)
Okay Temiz – Zikir (Ada Müzik) Reissue
Pacific Express ‎– Black Fire 1976 (Matsuli Music) Reissue
Robert Mitchell – A Vigil For Justice. A Vigil For Peace (Depth Of Field)
Salim Washington – Sankofa (Private Press)
Samuel Eagles’ SPIRIT – Ask, Seek, Knock (Whirlwind)
Shahin Novrasli – Emanation (Jazz Village)
Sibusile Xaba – Open Letter to Adoniah/Unlearning (Mushroom Hour)
Søren Nissen – Departures (Private Press)
Terje Gewelt – Wow And Flutter (Resonant Music)
Terje Rypdal – Bleak House 1968 (Round 2) Reissue
Terry Pack’s Trees – Heart of Oak (Symbol)
Timothy McNealy ‎– Funky Movement (Now-Again)
Tobias Meinhart – Silent Dreamer (Enja)
Tom Haines & The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra – Live (Private Press)
Tony Tixier – Life Of Sensitive Creatures (Whirlwind Recordings)
Toxic: Mat Walerian, Matthew Shipp, William Parker ‎– This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People (ESP Disk)
Uri Gurvich – Kinship (Jazz Family)
Verneri Pohjola – Pekka (Edition)
Wadada Leo Smith – Najwa (TUM)
Wildflower – Wildflower (Private Press)
Zephyr Avalon ‎– Zephyr Avalon (Beakerbox)

Robert Mitchell ‘A Vigil for Justice. A Vigil For Peace’ LP (Depth of Field) 5/5

Pianist/composer Robert Mitchell has produced one of his finest albums to date with the release of “A vigil for justice, a vigil for peace”. Having emerged as a musician with much promise through his involvement with Tomorrow’s Warriors, he has gone on to work with Courtney Pine, Steve Coleman, Iain Bellamy, Norma Winstone, Greg Osby, and Omar Puente among others, developing a formidable reputation along the way as a gifted pianist and composer.

It is fair to say that Mitchell has long since found his voice, but on this stunning release one can’t help thinking there is a fresh and inspiring clarity to that voice, the music and poetry being both poignant and pertinent to the times in which we live. The trio of Mitchell at the piano, Tom Mason on bass and Laurie Lowe on drums, sparkle with a life-affirming effervescence. The eight tunes presented here showcase the trio at the very top of their game, with Mitchell charting a course that takes the listener on a voyage of discovery, in both musical and literary terms.

The music is interspersed with Mitchell’s original poetry. There are seven poems, narrated by Thami Hlabangana and HKB Finn. The poetry is not only inspired by the challenges we face as a nation that has somewhat lost its way, but also as human beings and our need to question and examine our relationships, from within ourselves and outwardly looking and searching, on a humane level, asking how we view and interact with others, and challenging how we all have so much untapped potential that could bring about change in a positive and peaceful way. Mitchell’s words are provocative yet contemplative; reflecting a troubled political climate and an uncertainty that lies beneath the surface of most people’s lives.

On first listen I wasn’t too sure as to how well the spoken word sat alongside the music. But the more I listened, the more I realised that the words and music, viewed as a whole, are indeed as important as each other. There is a connectedness, an interactive involvement that brings two art forms together in a cohesive and creative way.

Mitchell draws influence from many musical styles in his playing; jazz, latin, funk, blues, classical… all components that go towards making the pianist what he is; a truly original virtuoso. Melodies are often pushed towards surprising destinations, versatile styles weave patterns of magic that enliven and delight, his controlled virtuosity singing songs within songs, portraying thoughts within thoughts and summoning light from dark, a rainbow of colour washing away grey clouds. There is hope within his voice. An acknowledgment of difficulty met head on in a confident, compassionate and ultimately uplifting way.

Undoubtedly one of the highlights of 2017, this is an album that has so much going for it that it really is a “must-have” for any jazz enthusiast’s collection.

Mike Gates

Chet Baker ‘Three Albums Plus’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

Eulogised and lambasted in equal measure, the ever photogenic Chet Baker led both a vigorous and tragic life (especially the effect that drug addiction had upon him), but the music here focuses on a relatively short period between 1958 and 1962 when the quality of the music was still consistently high. In fact he extended his repertoire well beyond the stereotypical image of the west coast ‘cool school’ musician, which was always a limiting description of Baker, and indeed of many who practiced their trade on the American west coast. The first CD starts off with Chet on the other side of the United States, in New York and presents an altogether different persona, with Baker playing with the ‘hot’ musicians of the Big Apple. He is in fine form, surrounded by a stellar group of musicians including tenorist Johnny Griffin, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Philly Joe Jones and pianist Al Haig. A selection of standards are interpreted with panache and of these ‘Polka dots and moonbeams’ stands out, as does a take on Miles’ ‘Solar’, while there is great subtlety in the reading of ‘When lights are low’. A second album from New York, ‘Chet’, is included and divided over the two CD’s, with a repetition of bass and drummer added to by no less than Bill Evans on piano, Kenny Burrell on guitar, Herbie Mann on flute and Pepper Adams on baritone saxophone. The Great American songbook is the pretext for some scintillating music of which ‘How high the moon’, ‘If you could see me know’, and ‘You, the night and the music’ are stand out versions. The second CD focuses attention away from America and onto Chet’s recordings made in Italy. They feature an array of top European musicians and, ‘Chet is back’, is a sumptuous album recorded in Rome in 1962, with Belgians René Thomas and Bobby Jaspar both present. A real personal favourite of this writer is pianist Amedeo Tommasi’s superb composition, ‘Ballata in forma di blues’, that here takes on a wonderful modal interpretation. Almost as strong are an uptempo take on Parker’s, ‘Barbados’, and some moody balladry work on, ‘These foolish eyes’, and, ‘Over the rainbow’. Rounding off the Italian recordings are three bonus cuts from Rome between 1959 and 1962 with an all-Italian musician accompaniment. Chet Baker recorded film soundtrack music also when in Italy that has recently been re-issued.

English language liner notes to all three albums provide useful historical context to the recordings.

Tim Stenhouse

Reverend Gary Davis ‘Three Albums Plus’ 2CD (Avid Roots) 5/5

A seminal figure in the folk revival movement of the 1960’s, the Reverend Gary Davis was born in South Carolina where early on he listened to the country folk blues, but it was when he moved to New York in the 1940’s that his career began in earnest. Davis both preached and performed on the street corners of Harlem. He recorded sporadically during the 1940’s, but it was from the 1950’s that his work started to be recognised more widely and subsequently he attracted a following. This fine anthology of albums comprises his third album for Bluesville, the blues offshoot of the Prestige jazz label, a Smithsonian Folkways classic in ‘Pure religion and bad company’, otherwise known as ‘Harlem Street Songs’, plus some tasty extras. The earliest recordings date from 1956 and is a heady mix of adapting traditional gospel songs coupled with Davis’ own compositions. The latter are a testimony to the faith that he carried within and were communicated to a new generation that had come to the singer via discovering the blues. They include ‘Oh Lord, search my heart’, ‘Get right church’ and ‘Keep your lamps trimmed and burning’. If anything, the Smithsonian album, dating from 1959, is even more devotional in outlook, and this time all were originals and classics of the genre, including the title track, ‘Pure religion’, ‘Candy man’, ‘Devil’s dream’, and a rousing ‘Runnin’ to the judgement’. Cramming in so much music onto two CD’s was no easy task and, in the endeavour, the Bluesville recording, ‘Say no to the devil’, is divided up onto the end of the first CD and the beginning of the second which slightly impairs listening to the album in one take. Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in 1961, Davis had by now become a consummate musician and performed on several guitars, including six and twelve string, plus harmonica and vocals. Once again the all original set had a strong religious content, with ‘Bad company brought me here’ indicating his own conversion to the faith and ‘Lord, I looked down the road’ his long reflection on becoming a servant and latter-day disciple of the Lord. A second album was recorded at Englewood Cliffs in 1961, ‘A little more faith’, and the same message is further conveyed with conviction, and of these, ‘Motherless child’, ‘I’m glad I’m in that number’, and ‘God’s gonna separate’, are among the many highlights of a consistently strong album Those recorded for Bluesville have the added bonus of the premium quality of sound. A fine all round introduction to the good Reverend Davis and extremely handy to find all these albums in one place. Thanks be to the Lord for that musical decision.

Tim Stenhouse

Richard Galliano and Thierry Escaich ‘Aria’ (Milan) 4/5

As much of a classical as a jazz release, this album pairs together a Swiss-French classical church organist, Thierry Escaich, with ace accordion player, Richard Galliano. It is, moreover, recorded in the unlikely setting of the French church of Bern in Switzerland on a church organ of which the origins go all the way back to 1726. Those expecting a jazz trio to accompany Galliano will be in for an unexpected surprise here, The tone is far more reverential and downbeat, though highly entertaining for all that and a totally new setting in which to hear the virtuoso instrumentalist. A refined and relaxed reading of the, ‘Adagio’, composed by Galliano starts off proceedings and the repertoire is surprisingly varied and refreshing too.

Where the classical and improvisational aspects come together in wonderful harmony is on, ‘La follia’, a well known early music piece that has been performed at a significantly faster pace by the likes of Jordi Savall, but here is treated to a more minimalist and, ultimately, significantly slower tempo, and yet it works a treat. The piece begins in classical mode, then suddenly is transformed into an improvised passage, before returning back into a more sedate number. Elsewhere, the J.S. Bach composition, ‘Sicilian’, is beautifully stated by Gallian, while a fitting tribute to the departed Claude Nougaro is the pretext for, ‘Tango pour Claude’, and Galliano’s mentor and major inspiration, Astor Piazzolla, is paid homage to on, ‘Tanti anni prima’.

The bi-lingual inner sleeve notes are worthy of comment. In particular, the opening paragraph translated into English is worthy of a separate prize for the most inventive use of language to promote an unusual pairing of musicians such as Escaich and Galliano. It begins thus: ‘Once upon a time the accordion-frog met the organ-cow!’ Only a French native speaker with a florid use of his/her native language and a deep sense of creative thinking could start off with a liner note in that frame of mind. Chapeau, monsieur! Hats off, Sir!

Tim Stenhouse

Alborosie ‘Soul Pirate Acoustic’ (Geejam Music) 5/5

I have to make a confession here. Going back a few years when Alborosie was unleashing a stream of singles I was not totally convinced. Not sure why. Perhaps it was his Buju-esque baritone resonances or a trend in the first decade of the new millennium when European artists tried to outdo Jamaicans by in some ways claiming the best Reggae was coming out of Europe and not Jamaica. That last argument never really washed with me. After a few listens and spins though Alborosie totally grew on me, particularly after his 2nd solo LP ‘Escape from Babylon (2009) which as a sophomore work had some powerful songs on it. So going back to go forward Alborosie now unleashes an unblemished rendition of 9 of the songs from his first release called ‘Soul Pirate Acoustic’. It certainly is a different set although melodically the songs are all the same. The approach of much less machines and more a totally live vibe giving this release a different kind of ambience which works so well on many musical levels Folky, Ambient and of course Reggae. Throughout the release your mind kind of goes back to the originals as well but these totally stripped down versions in many ways sound like new arrangements/songs with a different kind of mystical urgency. ‘Herbalist’ for example with a complete Nyabingi aesthetic has a mournful quality which was lacking on the original version. The same applies to ‘Police’ and ‘Kingston Town’. Additionally the acoustic vibe allows the vocals to come so much more to the forefront in a more natural and intimate manner. Imagine being on top of the hills somewhere in Jamaica, with ‘firewood burning in the night’ (as Bob did say) musicians gathering with Alborosie completing the circle singing long into the night until sunrise. That’s how I picture this new release. As something more personal, Alborosie close up, hearing every vowel, every syllable, and every note.

It is a hard thing to totally re-interpolate these songs and I am not sure how hardened Albo fans will see it, having been weaned on big sounds made for huge sound systems. There is an ethereal-magical feel to this which although the original versions still remain totally banging tunes, here they are taken somewhere else, to if you like a quieter more intimate place . Personally I look forward to a summer sunset selection to play some of these songs by the shore – any one for Alborosie Chillout?

Haji Mike

Danakil ‘Meets OnDubGround’ (Baco) 5/5

An ultra digital yet may I say a lush sounding production with enticing blends of UK Dub & Dubstep, French Dub, New reggae & Electrodub, Hip Hop and Hip Dub delivered by French reggae band Danakil (founded 2001) and French production and dub mix outfit OnDubGround (founded 2004) with vocal duties provided by a host of collaborators featuring both underground and uptown MCs & singers alongside the distinctive vocals of Balik from Danakil. Also starring German singer Patrice, New York resident and MC Jamalski, Miscellaneous & Adam Paris, Nattali Rize, Green Cross (who released an album with OnDubGround back in 2013), Sir Wilson, Flavia Coelho,Brahim, also starring Jamaica’s Anthony B and Joseph Cotton.

So without further ado.. This album immediately intrigued me from the moment I first gave it a spin through a couple of weeks back as I began to namecheck certain underground dub artists in my head whilst listening, artists like Panda Dub, Mayd Hubb, Joe Pilgrim, Golden Galaxies, Robo Bass Hi Fi, Don Fe and many other underground luminaries came to mind as the tunes progressed, the similarities in production and its delivery with the above named artists is uncanny, Well basically this album leans heavily on remixes of past tracks by Danakil with the styles of the remixes submerging original Danakil pieces into the multi sub genre dub underground that OnDubGround are respected members of like the track entitled ’33 Mars’ with it’s Don Goliath style remix vibe (albeit this album produced without the loudness wars in mind as Don Goliath is infamous for) an uptempo stomper with vocals by Joseph Cotton & Danakil’s Balik -this track a remix of Danakil’s ’32 Mars’ from their album ‘La Rue Raisonne’ from a couple of years back and thankfully with this remix version keeping the original guitar hook line at the fore. “A change is gonna come” sings Jamaican veteran Joseph cotton as he guests and indeed it does with next piece ‘Parisian Dub’ which isn’t a dub, it’s a remix featuring German singjay/MC Patrice riding a slow forboding hip hop beat accompanied by ‘lazer lights in a field’ synth hooks and string sections, its original title being ‘Paris la Nuit’ also from long player ‘La Rue Raisonne’ although if it wern’t for the recognisable vocal hooks and a couple of other elements from the orig piece it could be a completely different tune altogether, I would like to say at this point that the word remix perhaps should be changed to ‘reworking of’ with so many replacement elements such as the synths & drum patterns taking the place of the original instruments but in their (the remixes) defence it has to, for the Danakil new reggae/modern roots sound to be able to submerge and blend fuller into this era’s underground vibes.. It also depends on one’s definition of ‘remix’ and on this album one cannot delightfully submerge deeper than to listen to the ultra internet radio friendly piece entitled ‘Nuff Power’ featuring Green Cross, it is at this time that my name checking episode makes a reappearance.. If you really dig the album ‘Rub It Better’ by General Public (circa ’95) then you will adore this tune, a dancehall mover, an uptown groover, nothing is smoother, an uptempo all sexes footapper, seriously it really has a feel good vibe about it. This is an album void of repetitive genre, you will hear many different dub and club sub genres including the electrodub from the wonderful Remix/reworking composition entitled ‘Butterflies’ which does not bare much resemblance to Danakil’s original ‘Papillons’ it has to be said except for a slight hint of vocal recognition (I honestly cannot be sure at this moment) but it is niceness. Panda Dub’s ‘The Lost Ship’ album springs to mind whilst listening to this track.

Another vocal collaborator Sir Wilson frankly shines on the piece entitled ‘Something’ a purist digital steppa complete with those wonderful bass tones & bass manipulation control.
and MC Jamalski equally shines on the piece ‘Tell Dem’ as he delivers crucial patter over a niceness blend of digidub meets modern reggae, a pulsating beat with a serious message.
I cannot help thinking of ‘Witness The Fitness’ by Roots Manuva from way back in time for some reason when I play the track ‘J’attends La Nuit’ featuring Miscellaneous and Adam Paris, it’s not quite as heavy in production as Mr.Manuva yet what a cool ride. An outstanding vocal over a lucious hip hop riddim track, an almost complete different version from the original by Danakil (J’attends le jour from their album La Rue Raisonne) and just as crucial.
The album’s play out piece is entitled ‘World Of Dub’.. Why on earth the auto tune/vocal effects on their voices? Why oh why do people still use it this horrible invention, for this and this alone the album loses a point, Well this album is hovering on a five out of five special at this point in time but that autotune on the voices could be responsible for blowing it.. But then, who am I to dictate what a producer should do, freedom of choice, freedom of expression, yet none the less (and again) a very cool lolloping Roots Manuva vibe.
The bass line on the piece entitled ‘Blowing With The Wind’ is top ranking, although it’s a synth bass programmed in, it has that joy to it, that bass run that hits the belly after travelling up from the floorboards feeling, with its eastern influence prevailing throughout the track. I would love to hear fellow undergrounder and super bass player ‘Yabass’ hook up with this bass line sometime.

Released just a few weeks ago to critical acclaim on Danakil’s own French independent label Baco Records (since 2011) – and a label not worthy of underestimation – this is a radio and club friendly DJ pick n mix affair giving the listener sous sol and commercial uptown sonic pleasure with a track listing on offer that is sure to evoke many a “rewind my selector” from the crowd and ‘false start’ moments during playouts. It is a thriller of an album, no filla.

A prehaps (to some hardcore fans of Danakil) surprising collaboration between these two well-respected camps considering their respective musical backdrops, c’est une collaboration exemplaire between Danakil and OnDubGround.
A very enjoyable album for one’s ears to round off this 2017 reggae & dub year. In oversight it’s all been done before, nothing groundbreaking but it’s my album of the year, and it’s a feel good 13 tracker 5/5.

Gibsy Rhodes

Ron Miles ‘I Am A Man’ (Enja Yellowbird) 4/5

Denver-based cornet player Ron Miles has something of a low profile in the world of jazz and is, perhaps, better known as a sideman who has graced many a jazz musician’s albums. The 2002 duet album, ‘Heaven’, with guitarist Bill Frisell, introduced Miles to an appreciative audience and subsequently, Miles has recorded as a leader in tandem with both Frisell and, more latterly with bassist Thomas Morgan, with previous recordings being the 2012 ‘Quintet’ album and the ‘Circuit Rider’ recording from 2014. This new album, co-produced by Miles and Colin Bricker, captures an outstanding line-up of musicians including Jason Moran on piano and Brian Blade on drums in reflective mode. If anything the subdued, introspective nature of the music and the calibre of the musicians involved might indicate either an ECM, or Nonesuch production, but it is in fact on Enja Yellowbird. The all-original compositions have a folk-derived influence and that, allied with the clean sounding cornet that Miles creates, makes at once for a hugely enjoyable and relaxed listening experience.

On the laconic opener and title track, the music hints at 1960’s Miles Davis from his freer mid-1960’s period, yet underneath it all an optimistic tone is struck. One of the endearing features of this piece and, indeed the album as a whole, is how piano and cornet operate in unison, with the inventive use of drumming by Blade throughout. Moody ballads are a feature of this album, with the hypnotic melody of ‘Darken My Door’, a clear highlight. Frisell is in his element improvising on ‘Mother Juggler’. The title track itself is in reference to a well publicised proclamation in 1968 from the civil rights era when African-American sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, protested at being mistreated by the management. Rooted in the socio-political demands of that era, the music has a timeless quality.

Ron Miles is one of a small coterie of jazz musicians who have found their own niche by both performing as artists and lecturing on the music they love, in his case returning to his native Denver, Colorado, in order to do so. Miles studied under both Lester Bowie and Ornette Coleman and first became a jazz musician during the 1980’s when a form of neo-bop was then in vogue. An eleven page lengthy set of inner sleeve notes is written by National Public Radio commentator Michelle Mercier who does a fine job of providing a biographical overview of Ron Miles. This all-original set of compositions is strongly recommended and may just creep into the end of year ‘Best of’s’.

Tim Stenhouse