It has been a good year for new music with releases, acts both new and established have produced albums that not only sound great but are so musically inspiring that they’ve seen more playback than old favourites. We asked three reviewers to pick their favourites, a tough task but with a bit of soul searching this is what they picked. RB – Richard Barclay, RK – Reuben Klein, JK – Jason Kennedy.
Black Light is perfect an album and as fulfilling a musical experience as one could hope for. It creates chaos by being precise. I called it progressive Sufi music and believe it to be a gem that will energize and relax in equal measure. Sonar is the sound of progressive rock/jazz of the highest and most exquisite quality and Black Light is an album that will enrich the lives of people who listen to music rather than those who merely hear it.
‘Cass County’ is Don Henley’s first solo album in 15 years. Several years in the making, that unmistakable 68-year old Texan voice may no longer be as polished and effortless as it once was, but it has acquired a charming textured timbre that really suits this lyrically reflective style of music. More similar to early Eagles material than his popular solo albums, ‘Cass County’ is very much country at heart and features several duets with enduring country music legends. Most tracks are still underpinned by Henley the sage’s trademark lecturing wisdom, but this wisdom is delivered in a more endearing tone than in the past. While stand-out tracks include the bittersweet marriage timeline ‘Take A Picture Of This’ and poignant ‘Words Can Break Your Heart’, the whole album is an enriching listen, comforted by a beautiful production that is a delight to the ears. ‘Cass County’ is easily my No.2 album of 2015.
Ross Hammond is an American guitar player who makes some pretty raucous albums with a band but occasionally gets in touch with his sensitive side and picks up an acoustic guitar to lay down his finer feelings. Flight is up there with the work of John Fahey, Burt Jansch and Leo Kottke. It doesn’t sound flashy, was recorded in various non studio locations on a portable recorder and there appear to be no overdubs. As a result this is a breath of fresh air for the acoustic guitar lover, it kicks of with ‘Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen’ but I didn’t guess it, and carried on with a range of originals and standards that wash away your cares and take you to a higher place.
Late Night Tales
German pianist Nils Frahm is one of the most exciting artists working today. I discovered him through a YouTube performance of ‘Toilet Brushes’ and sought out Spaces, the album that features the track. That came out a few years back but it blew me away with the rich diversity of sounds that come from acoustic and electronic keyboards and the way that Frahm can do both the sublime and the gloriously intense.
Frahm’s compilation for Late Night Tales reveals the truly catholic nature of his taste, it has a 78 of Horowitz playing Flight of the Bumblebee alongside pieces by electronic artists like Four Tet, Boards of Canada and Dictaphone. The highlights include Nina Simone’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ and Frahm’s less than silent rendition of 4’33” the infamous John Cage piece.
This is bebop of the highest pedigree. With more energy and talent than some of the original musicians that it pays homage to. There is much here for those who are looking to discover what bebop is about and for the many who would like to be reminded why jazz as an art form is so unique. An uber album by uber musicians that will make any jazz lover uber happy.
Sounds of Life
Simone Sou, Guilherme Kastrup, Benjamin Taubkin
I reviewed Sounds Of Life in April and have listened to it on many occasions since then. It is not just a musical tour de force it is an album that reaffirms and confirms the reason why music has been a part of the human experience ever since homo sapiens started banging rocks together all those eons ago. It’s poetry played instead of being read and a musical force with wonderful and unique properties, in short this is a must have album.
Snarky Puppy & Metropole Orkest
Snarky Puppy is a big band in itself, 12 musicians in all lead by bass and Moog player Michael Teague, add in the Metropole Orkest from Holland and you have a substantial ensemble. The music they make on Sylva has shades of Weather Report and Steely Dan but for the most part is very much their own. It’s only jazz because it doesn’t fall into any other broad category, there are classical elements and even rock influences in the more powerful moments, of which there are many. It’s not the sweetest of recordings but neither is it nasty, you just need a relaxed system to make the most of its full glory. Big band with woodwind, electric guitars, keyboards and synth in the mix is a rare thing, but Teague manages to get it to take you places that little other music does.
‘XIV’ is the product of a band of ‘brothers’ reinvigorated by their recent touring reformations to support long-time bassist Mike Porcaro in his terminal fight against ALS, and is quite possibly their best album to date. The first half is a cohesive and hard-hitting explosion of energy marking the return of lead singer Joseph Williams who, despite a gap of almost 30 years since being the voice of the band, has never sounded so commanding. From the mustering ‘Running Out Of Time’ and viscerally impassioned ‘Burn’ to the acutely topical ‘Holy War’ and ‘Orphan’, these AOR veterans still have much to say about the world in which we live and firmly believe now is the time to say it. The second half of the album slows in pace and is more nuanced and reflective. It is quintessential Toto, with individual member’s trademark artistic flairs given more space to shine. In true Toto style, the album closes with a major curveball, the optimistic and epic ‘Great Expectations’ that contains almost seven minutes of unexpected twists and turns that fittingly encapsulate the band’s near 40-year survival through adversity. Toto ‘XIV’ is proudly my No.1 album of 2015.