Horns, Improvisations and Wonderful Glitches
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The Best Jazz and Experimental Albums of 2018
I have a couple more of these features to put out...
IN THIS PHOTO: Julia Holter/PHOTO CREDIT: Gabriel Green
and I am keen to explore Pop and a couple of other genres. I think Jazz and Experimental music is not given the same appreciation as other genres - and Jazz especially is still seen as one of these niche and rather if-you’re-in-the-right-mood types of music. The modern crop is much more accessible and varied than some of the older Jazz icons. I have loved seeing the best of Jazz in 2018 but there have also been some great Experimental albums released too. It might seem odd putting these genres together but they do share similarities and, as I say, both sides of music that are not given as much love and plaudit as you’d like. To honour that, here is a selection of Jazz and Experimental albums that have helped make 2018’s music scene...
IN THIS PHOTO: Kamasi Washington/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
RICH and truly stunning.
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images
Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
Date of Release: 22nd June, 2018
Label: Young Turks
Producer: Kamasi Washington
“Earth opener ‘Fists of Fury’ is a fantastic entry-point on this epic journey. It is easily the most immediate track on this record to hook the listener into the next two and a half hours (should you have the time to sit through it all in one sitting) with a brilliantly funky groove and a melody line that will become instantly lodged into the synapses. Meanwhile, Heaven opener ‘The Space Traveller’s Lullaby’ instantly creates the spacey, spiritualised side of the record to a head, with a beautiful vocal-choir performance rising and falling with the music. ‘Street Fighter Mas’ features an irresistible funky beat, helped no less by Washington’s long-time collaborator and the other current hot jazz pioneer (though coming at it from a completely different angle) Thundercat.
Heaven & Earth is ultimately yet another example of Washington’s incredible prowess behind the saxophone but also as a composer. Hopefully Washington’s music is a launch pad for a jazz revival in which the whole genre enjoys success, as it is worth remembering there is an incredible slew of talent out there to discover. This writer included, after recently witnessing this sheer power of Washington and his band The Next Step, there’s a whole world I am excited to discover. But for now, Heaven & Earth is a pretty damn great place to start” – Drowned in Sound
Standout Tracks: Testify/Street Fighter Mas/The Psalmist
Finest Cut: Fists of Fury
Meitei – Kwaidan
Date of Release: 30th January, 2018
“‘Kwaidan’ is a spellbindingly curious study in the “lost" art of Japanese ghost story-telling and horror folklore, marking the sublime first release on Singapore’s bijou Evening Chants imprint.
Inspired by living in Kyoto for the past two years, ‘Kwaidan’ - a form of Japanese ghost story - is focussed on musically crafting a form of “Japanese Mood”, or Meitei. Taking this word as his moniker, Meitei becomes his subject in a pointed effort to revive or at least keep this artform alive, using a combination of frayed, enigmatic backdrops to tactfully limn a specific mood.
The delicate approach and febrile, shapeshifting results recall to our ears the subtly suggestive sound sets of Sugai Ken as much as Jan Jelinek at his dreamiest, conjuring winding passages of crackle and shimmering subaquatic chords, finding beauty lurking in the low key and peripheral, spectral and metaphysical realms...” – Boomkat
Standout Tracks: Curio/JIZO/Shoji
Finest Cut: SAZANAMI
Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is a Reptile
Date of Release: 30th March, 2018
Label: Impulse! Records
Producer: Shabaka Hutchings/Dilip Harris
“Kinetic and thrilling as the uptempo blasts are, where Your Queen shines is on the slower pieces, revealing that Hutchings can purr, murmur and wax lyrical as well. With another up-and-coming British jazz star Nubya Garcia, the two twine around each other on “My Queen Is Yaa Asantewaa” (for queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire if you’re not up on your black studies) each pushing the other to range further and deeper, every line a mix of fire and eloquence. The drums slow to a sacred, nyabinghi heartbeat on “My Queen Is Nanny Of The Maroons” and Cross’s tuba wades deep into dub bass territory as Hutchings offers up his most poignant solo, one that need not rise above a whisper to prove that this Jamaican national hero and Your Queen as a whole is worthy of national worship” – SPIN
Standout Tracks: My Queen Is Ada Eastman/My Queen Is Anna Julia Cooper/My Queen Is Nanny of the Maroons
Finest Cut: My Queen Is Yaa Asantewaa
Park Jiha – Communion
Date of Release: 2nd March, 2018
“Both the title track and ‘The Longing Of The Yawning Divide’ have a crystalline sense of magic realism about them, their musical lineage resting neither in the folk-tradition of their instruments nor fully in the world of the varied styles they occupy.
Communion closes on a high with ‘The First Time I Sat Across From You’. A (supposedly) improvised flute passage whirls and winds as the dulcimer pulse behind it becomes ever more chaotic until at last it dissipates, leaving us only with the touching, mysticising sounds of plucked strings.
Park Jiha has composed, performed and produced an album that treats clarity with the utmost respect, in that it realises that with lucidity comes an understanding of calamity and disorder. The world she has created succeeds because of that understanding. So much music that tries to fuse the traditional with the contemporary fails because of an idolisation of its parts; Communion idolises nothing, and is all the more tangible and engaging for that” – The Quietus
Standout Tracks: Accumulation of Time/Sounds Heard from the Moon/All Souls’ Day
Finest Cut: Communion
Amnesia Scanner – Another Life
Date of Release: 7th September, 2018
“To end where Another Life begins, “AS Symetriba” sounds like the pixelated din emanating from that notorious video of cyber goths dancing under a bridge, their tassels twirling over the neon gas masks and jet-black goatees. The devious gesture Amnesia Scanner are making in this sonic contiguity here — and more generally throughout Another Life — is a wry one, at least as old as Duchamp: a mockery of authorship and a robbery of the value that it conducts between concept and object.
But this is a shitty simile — and Amnesia Scanner know it. While Duchamp’s toilet stood on a pedestal in a gallery unused and unusable, Amnesia Scanner’s toilet invites us to dance like those goths and their fingerless gloves, invites us to use it, invites us to shit in it. If the art kids with the bowl cuts and the dangly earrings don’t want to let loose when the beat explodes into clattering syncopation and flanged exuberance, then let them keep their distance, let them hold it in, let them shit their pants while the toilet bowl gleams right in front of them” – Tiny Mix Tapes
Standout Tracks: AS A.W.O.L/AS Too Wrong/AS Faceless
Finest Cut: AS Symmetribal
Eartheater – Irisiri
Date of Release: 8th June, 2018
“The ability to turn her voice into a chimera of sound helps Drewchin explore her own embodiment as a site of various inhuman pleasures and intensities that is built on the back of her dance and video performances. On the “ghost track” video only release of ‘Claustra’, Drewchin contorts her own body into a crab-like humanoid, scuttling around a graveyard, while on the video trailer for Irisiri, she is digitally portrayed as a weird animatronic centaur. Throughout Irisiri Drewchin is preoccupied by her body’s component and functions, such as on “inclined” here she talks of “piercing without penetration, before demanding you to “suck her bile”. She compares herself to a snowman on ‘Inhale Baby’, licking herself till she melts before declaring in a roboting manner that “there’s so much stuff coming out of my skirt”. The final tract, ‘OS In Vitro’ takes the amalgamation of body and technology to a near pure cyborgian level. Yet Drewchin still insists on retaining her body as something that is not a quantified object as her digitised voice declares: “Computer, this body is a mystery / These tits are just a side effect / You can’t compute her/ You don’t decide for my chemical”.
Irisiri is an album that explores the concepts of femininity, technology and the how many non-conforming bodies end up falling between the cracks in the seemingly implacable poles of gender, sex and the human, all her songs display seemingly disparate contrasts of surrealist wordplay, with organic, fragile tones and cold, machinist grind, as she pieces and stitches them into idiosyncratic little monsters that at times bewilders, but ultimately beguiles you with their curiosity and playfulness” – The Quietus
Standout Tracks: Not Worried/Curtains/Slyly Child
Finest Cut: Peripheral
Julia Holter – Aviary
Date of Release: 26th October, 2018
Label: Domino Recording Company
Producers: Julia Holter/Kenny Gilmore
“The majority of Aviary is designed to be mused on mindfully, but there are a handful of more immediate moments. The spellbindingly brilliant I Shall Love 2 builds gradually into a chamber-pop ballad, whose droning quality and sense of childlike disarray recalls the Velvet Underground. Whether is a jaunty piece of electrified post-punk, while Les Jeux to You features jolly staccato singing in broken English that resembles odd Euro-pop from the 1970s. Holter doesn’t drop quite enough of these joyful crumbs to cajole the listener through the entirety of this 90-minute epic – yet there remains a glut of beauty and braininess in store for those willing to stick around” – The Guardian
Standout Tracks: Voce Simul/Another Dream/I Shall Love 1
Finest Cut: Turn the Light On
Tony Bennett & Diana Krall – Love Is Here to Stay
Date of Release: 14th September, 2018
Producers: Dae Bennett/Bill Charlap
“Their rapport is established on ’S Wonderful, with Bennett chuckling softly at Krall’s accented phrasing and Krall quietly scatting beneath him on their return chorus. Charlap even tosses in a cheeky quote from Clap Yo’ Hands. The discursive piano playing on the bluesy My One and Only draws some tasty jazz phrasing from both singers, who also give a warm maiden reading of I’ve Got a Crush On You.
There are two solo tracks. Accompanied only by Charlap, Krall sings But Not For Me with unforced fragility. As with the best interpreters of this ballad she understands how its lyrics use humour to push home the pathos. It’s a spine-tingling performance. Bennett does Who Cares? with his usual elan, effortlessly varying tempo and texture. Like Gershwin, Krall and Bennett’s lovely music is here to stay” – The Times
Standout Tracks: My One and Only/I Got Rhythm/Do It Again
Finest Cut: Love Is Here to Stay
Cécile McLorin Salvant – The Window
Date of Release: 28th September, 2018
Label: Mack Avenue Records
“Salvant has found a fine match in Fortner, a New Orleans native who has played with the likes of Wynton Marsalis, John Scofield, and Paul Simon. He doesn’t accompany her so much as join in the conversation she’s having with these songs, occasionally even arguing with her about them. He toggles between the blues and jazz and classical figures with dizzying fluidity during “I’ve Got Your Number,” while his tectonic bass chords for “By Myself” make it seem like the ground is constantly shifting beneath Salvant. And when it comes to songs, it is: Salvant sings with the understanding that no tune is ever set in stone, even one as frequently sung as “Somewhere.” On The Window, she excels at keeping every possibility open all at once” – Pitchfork
Standout Tracks: By Myself/Obsession/Wild Is Love
Finest Cut: One Step Ahead
Brad Mehldau Trio – Seymour Reads the Constitution!
Date of Release: 19th May, 2018
Producers: Brad Mehldau
“The influence is especially felt on the aptly named Mehldau original "Spiral," in which the pianist lays down a descending circular theme in a roiling time signature that has the dreamy feel of riding on a train with your eyes closed. They conjure an equally Jarrett-esque vibe on their sophisticated reading of Sam Rivers' classic "Beatrice," with Mehldau moving in and out of tonality during his kinetic, serpentine solo. As intense as that track can be, it never gets out of hand. In fact, much of the album has a balmy, laid-back quality as if it were recorded during a sunny afternoon at home. That sunny atmosphere is also at the core of the title track, in which Mehldau and Grenadier often share the melody, bumping up against each other in a bluesy dance. Elsewhere, they launch into a sprightly rendition of the Lerner & Loewe standard "Almost Like Being in Love" and offer up a bright, waltz-like take on the Beach Boys' "Friends," the latter of which is so friendly you can almost sense Mehldau and his bandmates smiling at each other” – AllMusic
Standout Tracks: Spiral/De-Dah/Great Day
Finest Cut: Almost Like Being in Love
Heather Leigh and Peter Brötzmann – Sparrow Nights
Date of Release: 26th October, 2018
Label: Trost Records
“Peter Brötzmann has spent more than 50 years repping the aggro fringe of free jazz. But the saxophonist behind famously abrasive Sixties sessions such as Machine Gun has always been a more nuanced player than his reputation as an air-raid-siren screamer would suggest. That’s why Sparrow Nights is a revelation. The 77-year-old German improviser has rarely sounded more vulnerable than he does on this set of atmospheric studio-recorded duets with American-born pedal-steel guitarist Heather Leigh, his frequent foil in recent years.
Many Brötzmann collaborators have engaged him in gladiator-style combat, as heard on another recent release from the saxist’s aptly named power trio Full Blast. Leigh instead emphasizes negative space. Set against her echoey, meditative swirls or harsh, pealing distortion (textures she combines with otherworldly vocals on a new solo album), Brötzmann — blowing hoarse laments or rough wails on a bevy of reeds, from bass sax to contra-alto clarinet and his customary tenor — often sounds like he’s interacting with the elements. The setting’s sparseness foregrounds the forlorn existential-blues pathos that’s been at the heart of his performances for decades. If Machine Gunwas Brötzmann’s steely catharsis, Sparrow Nights is the haunted aftermath” – Rolling Stone
Standout Tracks: Summer Rain/Sparrow Nights/At First Sight
Finest Cut: This Word Love