The Best Jazz of 2014

by Will Layman and John Garratt

18 December 2014

 

Chat Noir to John McLaughlin


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Chat Noir

Elec3cities

(RareNoise)

Review [8.May.2014]

Chat Noir
Elec3cities

To say that Chat Noir plays jazz is a bit like saying Pizza Hut specializes in breadsticks. There’s too much other stuff on the menu for you to stuff your stomach with cheese-dusted bread, although that is a highlight for many customers. Chat Noir serves a maddeningly appealing buffet of jazz, post-rock, trip-hop, and electronica and Elec3cities finds them excelling in all concerned areas. This Italian trio deserves to be on a best-of-2014 list somewhere, and this is as good a place as any for people to hopefully pick up on its brilliance. John Garratt

 

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Mark de Clive-Lowe

Church

(Mashibeats/Ropeadope)

Review [17.Jul.2014]

Mark de Clive-Lowe
Church


Ease is a tell-tale sign of a master mashup artist. If a musician’s work doesn’t constantly stutter with the sound of effort, then there is hope for a new genre of music. Mark de Clive-Lowe has been steadily tending to and mining from a nexus where jazz and electronics meet for a while now, and his reputation as a producer precedes him. Church is an album filled with bright colors and charged circuitry, leading one to believe it’s the product of a meticulous studio hermit. Yet a bulk of the album fell together within two days, demonstrating de Clive-Lowe’s gift of not overreaching. Church is an electronic/organic keeper. John Garratt

 

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Doctor Magnum

Magnum Carta Holy Grail

(Self-Released)

Review [29.Apr.2014]

Doctor Magnum
Magnum Carta Holy Grail


Doctor Magnum is a relatively new band that doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously. As far as I’m concerned, Doctor Magnum can record their next album in their underwear for all I care. The group’s hybrid of smooth jazz with funky hip-hop beats raises the question of why this genre crossover wasn’t scouted even further after Guru’s death (was Buckshot LeFonque shamed into retirement?). Doctor Magnum’s debut release Magnum Carta Holy Grail is chock full of these insistent little moments that stay with you long after you’ve given up on what label you should give the music. Jazz that swings is good, but you can’t neglect the art of the dirty groove either. John Garratt

 

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Dave Douglas and Uri Caine

Present Joys

(Greenleaf)

Review [25.Jul.2014]

Dave Douglas and Uri Caine
Present Joys


This is the first-ever recorded set of duets between Dave Douglas and his longtime collaborator, pianist Uri Caine. The material, however, is unique: songs either from or inspired by the American “shape-note singing” tradition. Drawn from hymnals such as The Sacred Harp, Ye Olde New England Psalm Tunes, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, this source material boasts a simplicity and direct beauty that Douglas and Caine spin into adventurous variations. In some ways, then, this recording is a successor to Be Still from Douglas’s quintet, another example of jazz improvisors taking off from a slightly different old American source. It can be too easy to embrace the tendency of adventurous musicians to move back to lyricism and tradition, but Present Joys is not a retreat from bold playing at all. It swings, it flies free, it hunts down feeling inside of the listener. Dave Douglas and Uri Caine are good enough to stand up to making “pretty” music, even traditional music. They pass the test here and come out still surprising us. Will Layman

 

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Darius Jones and Matthew Shipp

Cosmic Leider: The Darkseid Recital

(Aum Fidelity)

Review [4.Sep.2014]

Darius Jones and Matthew Shipp
Cosmic Leider: The Darkseid Recital


This is the second collection of duets between the singular pianist and this rising alto saxophonist, whose utterly incomparable vocal quartet album, The Oversoul Manuel, was 2014’s most daring project, but maybe not “jazz”. Focused and highly structured, the tunes of the Darkseid Recital are nevertheless entirely improvised. Jones contributes his gorgeous tone and steely sound on the alto saxophone, a player who uses total control of his instrument to make clear that any “funny notes” he plays are intended and fully felt. Shipp is equally intentional and powerful in his pianistic attack. Like his partner, he purposefully conjures harmonies, intervals, and phrases that sit outside standard jazz tradition, but they all have a clear logic of their own—a beauty, in fact, that comes partly from jagged originality. As ever with Matthew Shipp and apparently now also with Darius Jones, our assumptions about what it means for jazz to “sound good” are challenged and expanded, hearing structure amidst dissonance and beauty in surprise. Will Layman

 

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John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension

The Boston Record

(Abstract Logix)

Review [7.Aug.2014]

John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension
The Boston Record


It’s become criminally easy to forget that fusion rocks. Just the genre’s name alone should remind us all that jazz is fusing with something else, and the the verb “fuse” is a much more exciting one than “combine”. And while younger bands probably need to woodshed for God-knows-how-long before capturing fusion’s optimal intensity, guitarist John McLaughlin and his 4th Dimension captured that proverbial lightening in their collective bottle right away. The Boston Record documents the 4th Dimension’s set with songs from To the One, Now Here This and the Mahavishnu Orchestra barnstormer “You Know You Know”. McLaughlin may have entered his 70s, but he’s pushing his band at a rate of a musician half his age. John Garratt

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