By now, every media of note in the country has published their "best CDs of 2014" list, because they care that folks read them. Clearly, I don't; I haven't written anything here in a great while, because life changed, and writing about jazz didn't seem nearly as important to me as it had in 2005. Well, things change- I'm now teaching jazz for a living, something I certainly didn't see coming. (more on that... eventually) So, once and a while, I intend to write here about music again. And I figure a favorites of the year list is a good place to start...
Just to be clear, I use my language carefully- I just checked, and I've only heard 12 of the 50 CDs that made NPR's best of 2014 list. (I think it's safe to say that that A Blog Supreme passed the Village Voice as the go to for jazz a couple of years ago.) There are several CDs on that list that I'm excited to hear, and several that I don't give two sh&#*ts about. This is only a list of new music released in 2014 (so no Keith Jarrett reissue or the like). It's the music that moved me, as well as some general commentary. So here goes, in no special order:
EDIT: This post may be revised because, quietly a NEW ORNETTE COLEMAN record came out. Waiting for it to come... (h/t Hank Shteamer)
Taylor McFerrin: Early Riser: This was my favorite CD of the first half of the year, hands down. It defies easy category, except maybe "hazy". A fascinating, moody swirl of grooves and ambiance, held back only (ironically) by a start turn by Taylor's dad Bobby McFerrin. But by far the most cohesive album (a concept that is sadly dying) I heard.
D'Angelo (and the Vanguard), Black Messiah: Read Nick Payton on this album- I don't agree with him (mostly), but as usual it's the right kind of provocative. And while it's certainly not at the level of Voodoo, and it may be overproduced (too many years in the making will do that...) it's still a high point of my 2014 listening.
Jason Moran, All Rise: A Joyous Elegy to Fats Waller: The key word on this one for me is joyous- from the first horn hits it jumps out of the speakers, almost daring you not to dance. The playing is great, the singing is (mostly) great, and it's just FUN.
Side note: Ethan Iverson touches on this in a recent post- the mixed critical response to this album, while pretty predictable, was frustrating. I remember hearing Kevin Whitehead's review on NPR and having the hairs crawl on my back. I got that feeling again when I read the sidebar attached to it on NPR's Top 50 Jazz list ("too much fat and too little Fats"?) I don't care that critics don't like it, bit it frustrates me that in looking for Waller, they miss the other well Moran and producer Meshell N'Degeocello are drawing from, Fela Kuti. This album drips Fela, who, like Fats in his day, created a high point in rump-shaking music. And those grooves are about as far from "smooth jazz" as you can be. (OK, "Two Sleepy People" was way too sleepy, but you get one mulligan...) I found this oversight a little staggering, not that they didn't like it, but how wrong they got it.
Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, Landmarks: The last time I saw this band (too long ago!), I was struck by the way this band has come to create a particular sense of place in their music- so many of the guys here come from the deep south, and Blade is already a legend in New Orleans (and, I suppose, in every college music program too, but...) But listen to this album (or Mama Rosa, or any of the live recordings on Youtube) and it feels like the bayou. In a time when, due to the internet and the pace of life, it's easy to lose any specificity of place, to find it in such fantastic music is a gift.
Ambrose Akinmusure: the imagined savior is far easier to paint: I'll be honest, I heard his first CD, and his set at Newport two years ago, and the first thing I thought was "too much hype, not enough music." I expected a guy like Christian Scott, like (sorry all, I love his blog too!) Nick Payton, who while a really good player and writer and thinker, would never outpace the hype. I'm glad I gave him a second shot. This is a mature, fascinating, captivating record- bringing Becca Stevens and Theo Bleckman in to sing was a masterstroke, and the band is playing on a telepathic level. I hope Ambrose is allowed to continue to experiment and grow and develop, and I'm rooting for a wildly different, equally fascinating record from him in the not-too-distant future.
Ron Miles, Bill Frisell, Brian Blade, Circuit Rider: I liked their first trio record a couple of years ago, I love this one. Ron Miles continues to be, I think, one of the most slept on trumpeters on the planet. Blows a lot of guys who get a lot more hype (yes, including Ambrose, who I like) out of the water with his versatility, deep focused sound and phenomenal groove. Bostonians, hear him with the Bad Plus (and the also amazing Tim Berne and Sam Newsome) in January doing Ornette Coleman's strange and wonderful Science Fiction music in January.
Bonus EP: Sam Newsome plays Monk and Ellington Live (on ITunes for 1.99, a steal!) I first heard Sam on young lions recordings years ago, and didn't think much of it. Then he started really studying, and playing, solo saxophone, and has created something dramatic and otherworldly here.