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
11-20 (in alphabetical order)
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
21-30 (in alphabetical order)
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)