WHRV, VA. 2019 Top 10 albums of 2019
10. Jimmy Branly, Otmaro Ruiz, Jimmy Haslip – Elemental
More of a jazz fusion release played with soul, passion and commitment. Otmaro Ruiz is one of the most underrated pianist/keyboardist/writers playing today. All three musicians are masterful technicians performing beautifully orchestrated compositions. Drumming visionary Vinnie Colaiuta makes a guest appearance on two tracks, with oddly no mention of him anywhere on the CD liner notes, and they end up being the standout tracks. Endlessly creative drumming.
9. New Masters – Reworks Vol 1
Some of the younger to mid generation of players that merge beautifully, the modern styles and harmonic concepts of jazz with elements of gospel, funk, world and soft fusion. A very soulful mix of grooves with hip pockets established by the great and versatile drumming master Eric Harland. Reworks represents the versatility of modern jazz with a fresh perspective…away from the traditional swing rhythm.
8. Espoo Big Band – Espoo Suite
Another outstanding large jazz ensemble out of Finland. The writing and arranging are amazing. The playing is top notch. Fabulous soloists. I’ve always been impressed with the musicians coming out of Finland. They are well studied, rehearsed, technically proficient and they consistently produced great recordings.
7. Avishai Cohen – Arvoles
Bassist Avishai Cohen has established himself as one of leading figures playing the instrument. His technical prowess is formidable and his tone, big, warm and resonating. Equally impressive is his writing. His trio has established their sound and conceptual direction…complete with unique and complex metric demonstrations and melodic variation.
6. The Tierney Sutton Band – Screen Play
Vocalist Tierney Sutton continues to impress. The chemistry between her and the band reflects a level of comfortability that is only achieved through longevity. Pianist Christian Jacob is the perfect compliment to Tierney’s sense of pacing, space, tonal textures and dynamic variations. The trio is a strong working unit itself, so each enhance the other…weaving through sophisticated arrangements and managing to avoid the predictability of song selection all too common with vocal led recordings.
5. Marton Juhasz – Discovery
Marton Juhasz is a drummer/composer I wasn’t familiar with until this recording. His writing is ethereal, melodic and concept driven. He manages to merge beautifully the instrumental complexities with a highly creative use of vocalese. If you’re familiar with the sound of ECM Records then you would have an aural picture of where this record is coming from. As a drummer, he understands the importance of playing the song first, then the drums. Art music at its best.
4. Jane Bunnett and Maqueque – On Firm Ground
Saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett has been exploring the Afro-Cuban concepts for many years now. In addition to fantastic performances here she’s making a profound statement in featuring all Cuban woman in the makeup of the group. I love it!!! We don’t see or hear this often enough. Each musician is well studied and highly accomplished in their tradition of Afro-Cuban performance. The soul, passion and rhythmic variation you would come to expect in this style is well represented. You can’t be still listening to this one.
3. Bob Sheppard – The Fine Line
Bob Sheppard is one of the most highly respected and versatile saxophonists playing today. Equally adept on all the horns and flute, he creates thought provoking tonal layers in his compositions…. played with highly sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic story lines that manage to separate themselves smartly from and staying out of the predictable jazz trenches. Even with familiar material like People Make the World Go Round and I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, he incorporates new twists that bring the tunes back to the new. His sound and concepts are well represented here.
2. George Garzone, Peter Erskine, Alan Pasqua and Darek Oles – 3 Nights In L.A.
The standard jazz quartet featuring four of the best playing today. In some ways it’s a “blowing” session and in other ways it’s arranged but with hip looseness and openness that captures smartly the obvious love and respect each of these musicians have for each other. Trust too. At times having this much talent in one unit can present interesting challenges. Egos for example. Not here. That trust and respect is evident, so they listen to and feed off each other musically. Special moments on this record with some supremely talented musicians.
1. Chick Corea and the Spanish Heart Band – Antidote
Well, what can I say about Chick Corea that hasn’t been said before? He continues to amaze with endless creativity and unparalleled musicianship. The aural landscapes he’s able to create have set standards and influenced thousands of musicians all over the world. Revisiting the Spanish Heart concept brings him back to traditional Spanish roots with the foundation mostly built around flamenco. When you hear the remake of Armando’s Rumba there’s new life. He incorporated additional harmonic layers and rhythmic variation with considerably more improvisation. Moving to the title track featuring vocalist Ruben Blades, he turns to more traditional salsa over the montuno groove. Chick Corea’s versatility is remarkable. Truly, along with his very informed understanding of traditional concepts. He’s in his own league as a pianist AND as a composer and arranger. Probably the most complete musician representing these three categories to walk this planet. Antidote is my top pick of 2019.