Top 10 New Or New To Me Jazz Albums of 2014, The Best Year For Jazz In Recent Memory, and That’s The Gospel Truth, According to Shane

20Dec14

Last year, when brother Ty asked me if I’d like to guest post for CKTK, I declined because, honestly, it would’ve been hard to come up with even a Top 5. This year, there were exactly 10 really memorable jazz albums for me. One thing I’ve noticed about the list this year is that it is more genre-bending than in years past, which I’m not sure whether is a reflection of my tastes or the direction of jazz. This year, I’ve added an “Accessibility” rating to each album, which refers to an album’s approachability to those who maybe don’t always “get” jazz but haven’t given up.

Also, if you’d like to follow along with your ears, and you aren’t morally opposed to basically stealing music from artists (or are but are weak-willed and Hell-bound like me), check out my Spotify playlist, which features one or two tracks from each album on my list, from 10 to 1. (And then go buy their music!)

10) Mark Turner Quartet – Lathe of Heaven

10

Turner is a very intellectual saxophonist who took awhile for me to appreciate. Like, it took me about ten years to start to like him. But more and more I’m convinced that he has one of the most distinct voices in jazz. His lines are noodly, exploratory, and whimsical, but lack conviction. But damn, they’re interesting! He goes places others don’t. This is a pretty strange project. Very restrained, careful, almost chamber-like music. It does sound a little tired sometimes. I’m not quite sure why I like it. Maybe because I don’t understand it. It’s terribly hard to describe. Listen for yourself; I’m not your monkey.

Accessibility: 1/5

9) Melissa Aldana – & Crash Trio

9

One of the people heavily influenced by the aforementioned Mark Turner is Melissa Aldana, a tenor saxophonist from Chile. A lady! From Chile, playing jazz sax! And she’s wonderful! Very articulate, fun lines that stretch my ears, backed by a very energetic and interactive rhythm section. She’s one of my favorite fresh voices in jazz these days.

Accessibility: 2/5

8) New West Guitar Group – Big City

8

Okay, full disclosure, I used to play with one of these guys back in high school. But I’m fairly certain this would be on the list regardless. Actually, no, it probably wouldn’t, because I likely wouldn’t have heard of these guys. Which is a tragedy. I’m such a believer in this group and what they have done, namely making their top-notch jazz training accessible and fun. It’s a trio of guitarists playing a combination of originals and covers. I’d recommend this to just about anybody. So excited to see where the project goes next.

Accessibility: 5/5

7) David Binney – Anacapa

7

My favorite album yet from a very interesting musician. His songs are full of energy, and his songwriting is quite unique but still very engaging. This is a pretty epic album.

Accessibility: 3/5

6) Eric Harland – Vipassana

6

Very cool blending of jazz and R&B. Far better than Robert Glasper’s Black Radio train wreck from a couple years ago.

Accessibility: 4/5

5) James Farm – City Folk

5

A pretty wonderful, easy-to-like album with substance. Heavy pop influence, with very singable original melodies, and plenty of mood.

Accessibility: 3/5

4) Becca Stevens – Weightless

What a discovery! This is an old album, but I’m mentioning it because everyone needs to listen to it. This is the kind of pop/folk music that should be Top 40—it’s something anyone can like, but is actually, objectively good from a musical standpoint.

Accessibility: 5/5

3) Pat Metheny Unity Group – Kin

3

A bajillion Grammys and four decades later, Pat is still the deserving rock star of jazz. He’s always pushing himself, always out-doing himself with something new, often more epic or conceptual. For better or worse, he’s inspired a generation or two or three of jazz musicians. You can hear his influence in half the modern jazz stuff you hear. This is one of his best albums (I’m not just saying that), and successfully combines many elements to his career in one—his sweeping cinematic Pat Metheny Group style, his one-man-band Orchestrion, and a more straight-ahead jazz format. Chris Potter is perhaps the greatest living saxophonist. Seeing them in concert last year was one of the pinnacles of music for me. Pure joy for three hours that didn’t let up.

Accessibility: 3/5

 

2) Brian Blade Fellowship – Landmarks

2

Wow. This could be my favorite jazz group in the world now. All these musicians are involved in multiple projects, but every several years, they gather to record and tour with their labor of love, the Fellowship. And it truly is a fellowship. It feels like church in the best possible way: there is reverence, fun, generosity, and ecstasy. But not just any kind of church; a black southern gospel church. (The bandleader, Brian Blade, is a PK of a black southern gospel church, so he knows what’s up.) And speaking of generous, the pianist from the group, Jon Cowherd, released his album, Mercy, about the same time. It serves as a sister album to the Fellowship, with a similar style and most of the same musicians.

Accessibility: 4/5

 

1) Mehliana: Taming the Dragon

Project3

The hippest, nastiest thing I’ve heard in my life. Brad Mehldau plays shameless synths/samples with a badass rising star drummer Mark Guiliana. I wasn’t expecting to like this at all, but it’s one of my favorite things Brad Mehldau’s ever done. It takes you places. It’s just done so well, I can’t help but embrace the grime. Nothing like it. I’m heartbroken that I missed the tour.

Accessibility: 3/5

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