In a couple of previous posts of the blog I had the pleasure to speak about the best Jazz albums of the year centered on guitar and piano. Now that the year is approaching its conclusion, I take the opportunity to show which have been the most interesting releases – and the single songs – developed around wind instruments: saxophones, trumpets and clarinets.
I’ve reviewed all the best jazz albums released so far in 2017 and I came out with a selection of 9 songs from as many LPs. The resulting mixtape features legends such as Charles LLoyd and Markus Stockhausen, but also younger and more “revolutionary” musicians like Kamasi Washington, Avishai Cohen (the trumpeter) and Nicolas Kummert.
The 9 tracks that I’ve selected to represent the beauty of wind instruments in 2017 are:
- Dark and Oppressive Loop by Anne Quillier Sextet
- Into Action by Vijay Iyer Sextet
- Thought by SLOWFOX
- Gnossienne by Nicolas Kummert
- 340 Down by Avishai Cohen
- Choral am Ende der Reise by Markus Stockhausen
- Benjamin by Verneri Pohjola
- How Can I Tell You by Charles Lloyd New Quartet
- Perspective by Kamasi Washington
Here you can access the mixtape with the selected tracks.
Enjoy the compilation, and you can find below more information on the artists and their selected tracks.
Dusty Shelters, the second album from the young French pianist and music writer Anne Quillier, features a trio of impressive wind instrument musicians: Pierre Horckmans on bass clarinets, Aurélien Joly on trumpet and Grégory Sallet on saxophones. The three artists manage to create an incredible variety of harmonies through a game of chases, contrasts and also some conceptual (mathematical) that definitely enhance the peculiarities of each one of the instruments. The song included in the compilation, Dark and Oppressive Loop, presents us with a simple rhythmic and syncopic base made by bass, piano and drum, on top of which the three musicians are free to unleash their musical creativity and to create the unique blend of sounds and styles which is one of the secret recipes of this fantastic album.
Talented American pianist and composer Vijay Iyer released this year a wonderful album with an interesting formation featuring two saxophonist (Steve Lehman and Mark Shim) and also American cornetist Graham Haynes. The LP, Far From Over, emerged immediately as one of the best releases of the year in Jazz and mostly because of the intriguing and “daring” harmonies that the lineup manages to build in most of the songs. As I had the opportunity to say in a previous post of the blog, the music of Far From Over often reminds of Stravinsky’s revolutionary music in his famous ballet burlesque Petrushka. The track which I selected from Iyer’s last album is named Into Action, and it represents a clear example of the unstable and beautiful balance that the two saxophones can create together throughout the song.
SLOWFOX is the recent jazz project founded by German double bass virtuoso Sebastian Gramss. The project is basically a jazz / avant-garde trio featuring saxophonist Hayden Chisholm and pianist Philip Zoubek. The three skilled musicians have released on last May the second album of the project, named Gentle Giants, which is an excellent testimony of the current status of contemporary chamber music. The track wich I selected for the compilation, Thought, is basically divided into two main parts: an atmospheric and somewhat alarming beginning in which the saxophone is used to create an unstable and turbulent sonic background, which opens the way to a more familiar counterpoing among the instruments of the trio. In this last part of the song, the sax becomes softer and warmer, perfect to support the development of the many musical lines of the piece.
Many words have been said in this blog about La Diversité, the new album by Belgian jazz singer and tenor saxophonist Nicolas Kummert. In what remains one of the most interesting Jazz releases of 2017, the young artist is supported by a number of talented musicians such as Benin-born guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke, who gave a special touch of Africanism to many of the songs of the album. The track from the album that has been selected for the compilation is Gnossienne, an interesting re-interpretation of Eric Satie’s masterpiece, which here assumes exotic and sometimes ghostly resonances.
Defined by many as one of the best trumpeters of his generation, Avishai Cohen released this year a new album for ECM, named Cross My Palm With Silver, which follows and somehow expand the emotional and impressionistic style of jazz he introduced in his previous (and in my opinion superior) album Into The Silence. With his latest releases, the skilful Israeli musician is clearly lookingto define a special and unique roadmap for his music, which is today already far from what we heard in his debut works. The style of Cohen’s last album, here represented by the song 340 Down, is absolutely minimal, full of pauses and reflections, complex and sometimes cerebral. The final result, in spite of everything, is engaging despite it requires maximum concentration to be fully appreciated.
German trumpeter and composer Markus Stockhausen released this year a new enty in his long discography of incredible and fascinating works. Far Into The Stars, his new album, is a further testimony to the artist’s ability of creating delicate and fascinating atmsopheres where no sound is ever dissonant with the former one, and all the instruments works organically for the definition of engaging and emotional layers of melodies. The beauty of its trumpet resides in my opinion in two distinct aspects: the crystalline purity of the sound that Stockhausen can generate with his instrument, and his special style of music which is deeply marked by an evident classic background. Both the two aspects are represented here in the piece called Choral am Ende der Reise, from the new album.
Benjamin by Finnish jazz musician Verneri Pohjola it’s a beautiful tune picked up from his last record, Pekka, where the trumpeter reinterprets the music of his late father, Pekka Pohjola, who was a (locally) acclaimed and revered prog-rock bassist and composer. Pohjola’s style merges jazz with rock and other disparate influences on top of articulated and sometimes dissonant musical constructions. The song selected for the collection is one of my current favorites within the album, with its slow and incessant rhythm over which the melodic lines of the various instruments develop. The sound of Pohjola’s trumpet here is particularly interesting, rough and almost acid, which in my opinion fits perfectly with the atmospheres evoked by the song.
After many experimental and innovative artists, with the saxophone of American jazz legend Charles Lloyd we eventually enter in the comfort zone of the compilation. The jazzist from Tennessee has found a new vein of creativity and in the last years he has produced a sequence of beautiful albums with support from many different musicians. His last effort, Passin’ Thru, is basically the live recording of a concert he played with his quartet on the summer of 2016. The album in itself is a celebration of the unique and strong connection that the players achieved in the last years. The song selected for this collection, How Can I Tell You, allows us to enjoy the magical sound of Lloyd’s saxophone, which is here free to travel alongside the melodic lines drawn by his faithful companions.
American jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington is a musician who doesn’t need many introductions after the seismic shock he produced two years in the Jazz scene with his debut work as band leader, the triple disc The Epic. This work didn’t just confirm to the world the style and talent of the artist, but with the bold and extravagant duration of 173 minutes it has become a universal and timeless declaration of love for jazz. This year the Californian artist came back with a smaller work, the EP Harmony of Difference, which is basically a suite of five pieces initially composed as part of a multimedia exhibition. Washinton music, and his wonderful tenor sax in particular, still shows the elements of universality and joy which made us get in love with his style. The track included in the selection, Perspective, is built around a catchy and funky melody, and in its central section lets us appreciate again the unique sounds which Kamasi manages to create with his sax.