The Best Jazz of 2014

by Will Layman and John Garratt

18 December 2014

 

Jason Moran to Mark Turner


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Jason Moran

All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller

(Blue Note)

Review [26.Sep.2014]

Jason Moran
All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller

This collaboration between jazz pianist Moran and singer/bassist MeShell Ndegeocello, who has navigated the grey area between popular music and jazz, refracts the music of Fats Waller through a modern lens. Conceived as a dance party to reflect Waller’s legacy as a “provocateur”, All Rise ranges from sultry funk to cubist modern jazz, and it avoids sounding over-familiar even as it uses songs that we’ve heard countless “modern jazz” version of already. Moran and Ndegeocello have enlisted not only Moran’s band (“Bandwagon”), but also a diverse array of talent including funk drummer Charles Haynes, several vocalists in addition to Ndegeocello, vanguard saxophonist Steve Lehman, and the engineer Bob Power, who helped to fashion the studio sound of hip-hop through his work with A Tribe Called Quest and the Roots. The result is a flat-out joy that samples a dozen rhythmic attacks as it proves that today’s jazz is without boundaries even as it interprets its tradition. Will Layman

 

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PRISM Quartet

People’s Emergency Center

(Innova)

PRISM Quartet
People’s Emergency Center


People’s Emergency Center finds PRISM Quartet “frontman” Matthew Levy stepping out of the shadows, though not in a way that you would think. After spending their career collecting pieces to perform from outsiders, PRISM has now recorded a double album of Levy originals. I’d be shortchanging it to say that it’s “too big to fail”. No, People’s Emergency Center is too awesome to do anything else but succeed. Beefed up by the presence of Tim Ries, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Jason Moran, Richard Belcastro, Ben Monder Jay Anderson, Bill Stewart and François Zayas, Levy and his three sax partners are almost reaching out to grab chamber jazz greatness. John Garratt

 

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Marc Ribot Trio

Live at the Village Vanguard

(Pi)

Review [16.Jun.2014]

Marc Ribot Trio
Live at the Village Vanguard


Albums with this title have quite a historical hurdle to clear, but this unique modern guitarist goes straight at the challenge with a gutsy trio and a willingness to tackle material both melodic and beyond the stratosphere. With bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor, Ribot records two mature Coltrane tunes (“Dearly Beloved” and “Sun Ship”), two Alber Ayler compositions (“The Wizard” and “Bells”), and two “American songbook” standards (“Old Man River” and “I’m Confessin’”). Ribot harnesses a guitar sound that can be pretty and can be raw, and always emotional. Some of the music is raucous and some is tender, but it’s all about what’s real and feeling. The scramble of “Sun Ship” feels as right as “Old Man River”, and it is certainly just as clearly a product of the great jazz tradition, which simply asks the musicians to play in the moment against both the elastic rhythm and the released feeling that rhythm makes possible. In year when there was plenty of great jazz guitar music from many sources, this disc seems most timeless. Will Layman

 

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Louis Sclavis Quartet

Silk and Salt Melodies

(ECM)

Review [31.Oct.2014]

Louis Sclavis Quartet
Silk and Salt Melodies


Reedist Louis Sclavis has continued his search for the most sublime currents of the Third Stream/Fourth World and for that we should be grateful. Without that sense of dissatisfaction, we would never have had the note-perfect Silk and Salt Melodies, chamber jazz at its finest. With Benjamin Moussay on piano, Gilles Coronado on guitar and Keyvan Chemirani on percussion, Sclavis’s compositions take flight in a dream state where consecutive listens can only improve upon the nine masterpieces. Silk and Salt Melodies isn’t just one of the best jazz releases of the year, it’s one of the best releases, period. John Garratt

 

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Mark Turner Quartet

Lathe of Heaven

(ECM)

Review [13.Oct.2014]

Mark Turner Quartet
Lathe of Heaven


A lathe is a tool that creates shapes. When the protagonist in Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Lathe of Heaven fell asleep, the dreams in his head altered reality on the outside. His subconscious was not playing with existing shapes, it was creating new ones for which the outside world was not prepared. This may be a high-minded way to perceive musicians, especially a quartet that names its album after Le Guin’s novel, but saxophonist Mark Turner has been walking the talk since the early ‘90s and Lathe of Heaven is a hypnotic demonstration of his quartet’s telepathic abilities. And we as listeners owe it to ourselves to keep an eye on Israeli-born trumpeter Avishai Cohen, a musician who carries the sound as prominently as Turner. John Garratt


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