Atlanta based street photographer Chip Simone
I couldn’t find a website for Chip Simone’s work but a google search shows many sites that host a good selection of his images.
Matthias Heiderich is one of my new favourite photographers, especially with his colour photos of Berlin.
Excellent portrait work by French photographer Denis Rouvre
Australian photographer Ward Roberts is capable of conjuring up quite wonderful images from very little.
Spanish photographer Miquel Llonch
When the Esjborn Svensson Trio (EST) first came onto the jazz scene in the mid 1990s they reinvigorated the classic piano jazz trio and the positive effects are still being felt more than 20 years later. Nearly half of my choices this year are that format.
Little did I expect that four years after the tragic death of Esjborn Svensson my album of the year would be by EST. 301 is the second posthumously released EST album and like it’s predecessor, Leucocyte, was recorded in 2007 in Sydney but never finally mixed. Both albums show the exciting direction the band was taking with greater use of electronics and distortion. It is often beautiful, always fascinating, and expertly played by all three. I believe it to be EST’s finest work.
Of the post-EST trios one of my favourites is Michael Wollny’s [em] who this year released their finest work to date. They are an inventive and exciting trio, especially live. Short, punchy, occasionally hard rocking and intriguing in their covers (which include Mahler and Kraftwerk).
Vijay Iyer‘s excellent trio also released perhaps their best album so far, which given the high quality of the earlier releases is saying something. Another one of my favourite bands Espen Eriksen Trio released another excellent album. New to me was David Kikoski, though I since discovered this was something like his 20th album as a leader, who with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts delivered a special record. Veteran Ahmad Jamal proved he has still got it even in his 80s. Yet another young Scandinavian trio Moskus recalled In The Country and Tord Gustavsen, who also continued to develop his sound this time, thankfully, minus the vocals.
I’m not a fan of vocal jazz but this year a number of very different vocal jazz albums caught my attention. Jens Thomas recorded an album of covers of AC/DC songs which really worked. Neneh Cherry teamed up with avant garde Scandinavian jazz band The Thing, covering the likes of Suicide and The Stooges. Albanian singer Elina Duni has a beautiful voice and it works lovely in a jazz setting. And Swede Jessica Pilnas recorded a fine tribute to Peggy Lee.
Once again a lot of interesting jazz came out of the UK. Neil Cowley Trio, Matthew Halsall and Dave Stapleton all added strings and, surprisingly, it worked very well. Portico Quartet and Get The Blessing both successfully took their sound further away from jazz, whilst keeping one foot in the jazz world, and it will be fascinating to see where they go next. Phronesis cemented their position as the UK’s finest jazz band. Newcomers Roller Trio, the brilliantly named Go Go Penguin, trumpeter Laura Jurd, saxophonist George Crowley and pianist Dominic Marshall show that the future of British jazz is in good hands. And Beats and Pieces are another exciting contemporary big band.
Bassist Marc Johnson teamed up with pianist Eliane Elias, supported by drummer Joey Baron and saxophonist Joe Lovano for a near perfect lyrical, beautifully played record which owes a debt to Bill Evans.
A year without a new Necks album can feel a long time but fortunately Plaistow were there to [partly] fill the gap. Like the Necks they allow their music to unfold subtly, locking into neat grooves.
Elsewhere other highlights included pianist Roberto Fonsesca‘s mix of jazz, Cuban, and West African music, hard working Chicago cornet player Rob Mazurek‘s latest, trumpeter Christian Scott with an ambitious double album, Aruan Ortiz/Michael Janisch Quintet with an exhilirating (and exhausting) live set, Nik Bartsch’s Ronin live, Polish violinst Adam Baldych who teamed up with the cream of Scandinavian jazz musicians for an album of great interplay and even greater solos. The same two elements also made Michael Formanek‘s latest so strong (especially the performances of Craig Taborn).
Food, confirmed their place as one of the most interesting acts around. Now officially a duo (Iain Ballamy on sax and Thomas Stronen on drums and electronics) they are supported by Christian Fennesz and Eivind Aarset on guitar and electronics, Prakash Sontakke on slide-guitar and vocals, and Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet.
Finally a special mention for the record label ACT who released four of my top ten albums this year and also around 6 others that I greatly enjoyed. They are perhaps the strongest label in jazz right now. And they have great album covers too.
1. Esjborn Svensson Trio (E.S.T.) – 301
2. Marc Johnson / Eliane Elias – Swept Away
3. Michael Wollny’s [em] – Wasted and Wanted
4. Vijay Iyer – Accelerando
5. Plaistow – Lacrimosa
6. Phronesis – Walking Dark
7. Dave Stapleton – Flight
8. Espen Eriksen Trio – What Took You So Long
9. David Kikoski Trio – Consequences
10. Adam Baldych and the Baltic Gang – Imaginary Room
Beats and Pieces Big Band – Big Ideas
Neneh Cherry and The Thing – The Cherry Thing
George Crowley Quartet – Paper Universe
Elina Duni Quartet - Matane Malit
Food – Mercurial Balm
Ahmad Jamal – Blue Moon
Rob Mazurek Pulsar Quartet - Stellar Pulsations
Portico Quartet – Portico Quartet
Roller Trio – Roller Trio
Christian Scott - Christian aTunde Adjuah
Nil Bartsch’s Ronin – Live
Neil Cowley Trio – The Face of Mount Molehill
Roberto Fonsesca – Yo
Michael Formanek – Small Places
Get The Blessing – OCDC
GoGo Penguin – Fanfares
Matthew Halsall – Fletcher Moss Park
Moskus - Salmesykkel
Aruan Ortiz/Michael Janisch Quintet - Banned In London
Jens Thomas and Verneri Pohjola – Speed of Grace (A Tribute to AC/DC)
It’s that time of the year again. Below are my favourite albums of 2012. Jazz albums will follow later.
It was a year of comebacks. Rodriguez was the subject of an excellent documentary “Searching for Sugarman” and a great accompanying soundtrack. Bill Fay released his first album since 1971 and it was a beautiful, spiritual work. Van Morrison and Neil Young have, of course, never been away but it sometimes felt like they had as in 15 years they had released little that I wanted to hear again. Yet both released strong albums in 2012. Beth Orton released her first album for six years and it is as good as her early works (which is very good). And Dr John at 72 showed the youngsters how its done
In Britain a few new bands showed real promise. Tribes delivered an album of indie-guitar-brit pop which offered nothing radically new but was full of good songs, well performed. Alt-J won the Mercury Prize with their debut album. But the stars were Django Django with their joyful, Beta Band influenced sound and indie-rock/post-rock Tall Ships.
Also in the UK Paul Buchanan stepped out of the Blue Nile with a gorgeous album of stripped back songs, each a masterpiece of short storytelling. The Guillemots promised four albums this year but only delivered one. Fortunately it’s very good, often reaching the highs of the band’s debut. There is more inventiveness in many of these songs than there is in most albums.
Whatever Neil Halstead does seems to be touched with something special – in Slowdive, Mojave 3, and as a solo artist. Like Paul Buchanan these are stripped back but powerful songs.
The feel good album of the year for me was Of Monsters and Men. The Icelandic band recall Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Arcade Fire with their joyous, sing along, soaring choruses and great harmonies.
When Brent Knopf left Menomena in 2011 I expected it to be the last I heard of the band yet they released Moms this year and it occasionally touched the highs of some of their earlier work. Knopf went one better: his new band Ramona Falls released their second album and it was excellent. Complex, intelligent, but melodic indie rock. In a similar category is Grizzly Bear who released their best album to date.
Also in the US The Shins continued their run of intelligent indie-rock. Beach House released another fine album, if at times it felt a bit safe. Calexico produced another fine album of their “it shouldn’t really work but it does” indie/tex mex mix. I’ve never been a huge White Stripes fan but was taken by Jack White‘s solo album.
Matthew E White is a fascinating figure. Last year he released one of my favourite jazz albums as part of Fight The Big Bull and was also involved in another project collaborating with folk singer David Karsten Daniels. This year he released a white soul / country / gospel influenced album which, like the Bill Fay, is spiritual though I have my suspicions that White’s tongue is a bit more in his cheek.
I’m not a huge fan of the falsetto in music but with Port St Willow it is combined with sparse sonic landscapes (think Sigur Ros) and it works beautifully.
Dan Deacon and Julia Holter are very different but at their heart have a combination of experimentation with melody. Deacon mixes electonics mix with strong percussion, brass and acoustics, layering sounds upon sounds in a dense fog of noise. It recalls the Flaming Lips, krautrock and Steve Reich. Holter’s is a gentler, well paced record of layered ambient soundscapes with poppy hooks over which is layered Holter’s beautiful voice and her occasionally obtuse lyrics. Laura Gibson offered her own slightly quirky take on folk
Finally, the conveyor belt of great music from Scandinavia continues. Efterklang released their finest album to date, an album recorded in an abandoned mining town in the Arctic Cirle. Sigur Ros‘s Valtari was perhaps their quietest work to date. Johann Johannsson‘s latest was a soundtrack which confirmed him as one of the finest modern composers around. Pinkunoizu combined folk, jazz, psychedelic rock, indie pop, krautrock, Animal Collective and lots more to create something quite unique and occasionally quite wonderful.
Django Django – Django Django
Efterklang – Piramida
Bill Fay – Life is People
Grizzly Bear – Shields
Guillemots – Hello Land
Dr John – Locked Down
Julia Holter – Ekstasis
Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal
Ramona Falls – Prophet
Tall Ships – Everything Touching
Beach House – Bloom
Paul Buchanan – Mid Air
Dan Deacon – America
Neil Halstead – Palindrome Hunches
Beth Orton – Sugaring Season
Port St Willow – Holiday
The Shins – Port of Morrow
Jack White – Blunderbuss
Matthew E White – Big Inner
Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
Oren Ambarchi – Audience of One
Calexico – Algiers
Adrian Crowley – I See Three Birds Flying
Laura Gibson – La Grande
Menomena – Moms
Van Morrison – Born To Sing
Pinkunoizu – Free Time!
Sigur Ros – Valtari
Tribes – Baby