Well, it’s that time again – the yearly “best of” lists have started appearing, and yearly readers and critics polls have either come out or are immanent. I’ve been working on putting together a list of my favorite albums of the year for quite some time, and I’ve got a few more to add to the list. Listed in alphabetical order by first/band name, and including a short review, here’s a list of a handful of albums that I really dig that I think deserve attention from listeners and critics alike. (These have all been added to my favorites of 2014 page.)
Adam Schroeder, Let’s, (Capri) – A swinging, sophisticated and thoroughly enjoyable date, Let’s showcases Schroeder’s meaty bari sax tone, individual voice, and strong melodicism. From the funky “Just Clap Your Hands” – which could mistaken for a classic Blue Note cut – and the easy swingers “In the Middle of a Kiss” and “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” to uptempo originals that showcase his nimble fingers and lithe phrasing, Schroeder is a player and composer that everybody should check out. And it doesn’t get much better than his rhythm section: Anthony Wilson (guitar), John Clayton (bass), Jeff Hamilton (drums).
Ben Flocks, Battle Mountain – Holy crap, I listened to this a ton this summer. A diverse mix of Americana (“Tennessee Waltz”; “Shenandoah”), standards (“Polka Dots and Moonbeams”), originals, Lead Belly’s “Silver City Bound,” and pop tunes. Gorgeous, raucous, tender, catchy, bittersweet, but above all: memorable and unshakeable.
Bobby Avey, Authority Melts From Me (Whirlwind Recordings) – Pianist Avey traveled to Haiti to learn about Haitian culture and music, which this captivating, demanding, and rewarding album results from. It’s a 53 minute suite with three long-form tracks separated by two shorter interludes. Avey’s writing is rhythmically and metrically complex, which is a tribute to how rock solid and effortless bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Jordan Perlson make things sound. Miguel Zenon and Ben Monder do the bulk of the soloing; it’s impossible to go wrong by writing killer charts and having Zenon and Monder go off. This is some heavy writing and playing.
Clarence Penn & Penn Station, Monk: The Lost Files (Origin) – Drummer Clarence Penn’s latest is a super hip and contemporary update on eleven Monk tunes. Along with saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, pianist Vega, bassist Yasuhi Nakamura, and Gerald Clayton on Rhodes for one track, Penn reworked Monk’s tunes – sometimes shifting accents to create a new rhythmic feel, or disguising the tune altogether. In doing so, he has breathed fresh life into and offered new ways to hear compositions that everybody knows and that have been played to death – No easy feat.
Matt Wilson Quartet with John Medeski, Gathering Call (Palmetto) – This sure is a playful romp. Features a front line of cornetist Kirk Knuffke (who I’ve been listening to a ton recently) and tenor saxophonist Jeff Lederer, whose big, Coleman Hawkins/Texas-tenor sound is a cool contrast to the more contemporary approach of the other soloists. Medeski on piano here, rather than the organ he’s better known for (he’s not afraid to get a little dissonant), and Chris Lightcap on bass. Laced with dashes of bebop, Horace Silver funk, Ornette, ECMish introspection, and a cover of Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy”, make Gathering Call a robust and rigorous album that is as fun as it is approachable.
Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, Live Snakes (Accurate) – This is a pure “dance party in my pants” record. Yup, I said it. Recorded at several live performances with various personnel combinations, this album bounces and grooves through twelve cuts, and features plenty of polyphonic saxophone and trumpet soloing. The second line “Parade,” and the group’s cover of “Caravan” are particularly tasty. Prepare to shake yo’ ass.