20 songs, 1 hr 52 min, 11 min reading time.
Been a while coming, I realise.
1) “Container Zero” – Powder Blue Tux
Find of the year, without question, was the work produced by Barney Hurley, about whom more later. His recent project – recent in the sense that it’s only 4 years old, because he works at his own pace – is Powder Blue Tux, by whom two tracks have so far surfaced. Mayfair, with contributions from Corduroy’s Addison brothers, is also a joy, but this knowingly Steely Dan influenced track was my play-to-death song of 2019. Michael Leonhart’s first-take trumpet solo is sublime.
Single: “Container Zero” (2016)
Label: Powder Blue Tux
2) “Feed The Chicken” – Redtenbacher’s Funkestra
Stefan Redtenbacher, the London-based bass player from the home of funk, Austria, has been bleeding groove for 25 years now. This has both Vulfpeck’s Cory Wong and the UK’s own Mike Outram both playing guitar on the same track! With these guitarists the ambassador of funk is really spoiling us.
Single: “Feed The Chicken” (2018)
Label: RSB Records
3) “Definition Of A Dog” – Esbjörn Svensson Trio
Svensson was just 44 when he died in a diving accident. Unlike pop and rock (and at the risk of generalisation), 44 is absolutely the peak of a jazz musician’s creative years. It was heartbreaking. As heard here, he could be playful as well as challenging.
Album: “From Gagarin’s Point of View” (1999)
Label: ACT Music + Vision
4) “Brooklyn Blues” – Dan Pugach Nonet
The highlights of a trip to New York a couple of years back was the house big band at the Village Vanguard, whose members included saxophonist Andrew Gould. Researching him led me to the Dan Pugach Nonet, led by an Israeli drummer.
Album: “Plus One” (2018)
Label: Dan Pugach
5) “London Gets Ready” – Oscar Peterson
If you want an example of how the world has changed, here’s a track from an album the Canadian pianist made as a celebration of the royal wedding of 1981. It’s a relatively rare treat to hear him on an electric keyboard.
Album: “A Royal Wedding Suite” (1981)
Label: Fantasy, Inc.
I think this album may be the only time I’ve heard Martin Taylor in a guitar duet and not been embarrassed for the other musician. Tommy Emmanuel absolutely holds his own. And they were both in their late 50s when they made this fabulous album.
7) “Babik” – Bireli Lagrene
Lagrene’s first appearances in the public eye were as a 13 year old Django Reinhardt facsimile, so an album called My Favourite Django suggested a return to that technically brilliant but rather pointless world. Instead, the album is Reinhardt compositions played in the fusion style Lagrene was employing in the 1990s. The contrast between his breakneck soloing and the somewhat wishy-washy backing is curious, but he is still exceptional.
Album: “My Favorite Django” (1995)
Label: Francis Dreyfus Music
8) “An Up Dawn” – Eliane Elias
It seems no playlist of mine would be complete without an Eliane Elias track. As usual these days, the album is generally too smooth and wishy-washy, but when she just sits and plays she can still let rip.
Album: “Dance Of Time” (2017)
Label: Concord Music Group
9) “Lucky Radio” – Samuel Purdey
Barney Hurley’s other project which I discovered last year – a mere 20 years after it came out – was Samuel Purdey. The album Musically Adrift is a sumptuous blend of influences like Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Earth Wind & Fire… need I go on? Album of the year. And that’s in a year when Friday came out (see below).
Album: “Musically Adrift” (1999)
Label: Tummy Touch Records
10) “Birdland” – Weather Report
An absolute cheat, as I’ve obviously owned Birdland for decades, but only bought the best of Weather Report last year. Included because it’s possible that there are people out there who don’t know it, and, as it did for me, it just might prove a great route into jazz for them.
Album: “The Best Of Weather Report” (2002)
Label: Sony Music Entertainment
11) “Believe In Love” – MF Robots
When Jan Kincaid fell out with his bandmates in Brand New Heavies, he went off and formed MF Robots. And it must be said, their first album, while not groundbreaking, is a lot more interesting than anything BNH have produced in recent times.
Album: “Music for Robots” (2018)
12) “Modern Day Heroes” – The Impossible Gentlemen
The Impossible Gentlemen are a bit of a jazz supergroup, featuring two Englishmen (Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker) and two Americans (Steve Rodby and Adam Nussbaum). This track really kicks into life a couple of minutes in, when Simcock and Walker trade sprightly, bluesy solos.
Album: “Internationally Recognised Aliens” (2013)
13) “Badger Cam” – Patchwork Jazz Orchestra
PJO are a 17-piece band of young British jazz musicians, all of whom record individually or in smaller groups, but who come together to make this huge, adventurous, exhilarating music.
Album: “The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes” (2019)
Label: Patchwork Jazz Orchestra
14) “Dear Prudence” – Brad Mehldau
I don’t imagine many people need an introduction to Brad Mehldau, but what may be less known is how frequently he interprets music from the pop idiom. He’s done wonderful things with Radiohead, and Paul Simon, and Elvis Costello, and many more. He failed to get much out of Wonderwall, but, you know, there’s a limit to what any musician can do starting with that sort of handicap.
Album: “Largo” (2002)
Label: Warner Records
15) “Theme From The Conversation” – David Shire
David Shire was responsible for two of the greatest pieces of film music of the 1970s, this appropriately haunting opening to the paranoid conspiracy thriller The Conversation, and the pumping, angular theme of The Taking Of Pelham 123, which could hardly be more different.
Album: “The Conversation – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (2001)
16) “Cacka Boom” – Ian Dury & The Blockheads
1997’s Mr Love Pants was the first Ian Dury & The Blockheads album for 17 years, and with Chaz Jankel back on board it’s hard not to conclude of those intervening years – pun intended – what a waste.
Album: “Mr Love Pants” (1998)
Label: Templemill Music
17) “When The Mud Men Come” – Monkey House
I’ve written at length previously about the wondrous Monkey House. Standout track from an entirely predictably glorious album.
Album: “Friday” (2019)
Label: Alma Records
18) “Owed To JC” – Mike Walker
I’ve been a bit slow off the mark with Mike Walker, who I only discovered relatively recently through his work with The Impossible Gentlemen (see above). His debut solo album from 2008 is an eclectic affair, including this mellow tribute to John Cooper Clarke.
Album: “Madhouse & the Whole Thing There” (2008)
Label: Hidden Idiom
19) “Devotion” – Courtney Pine
I’ve never properly investigated Courtney Pine, for reasons I couldn’t really explain. Probably because when I was discovering jazz, he was flavour of the month in the press and I didn’t want to fall for the hype. Which has been to do him a great disservice. Some catching up in order.
Album: “Devotion” (2004)
20) “A Place In Space” – Stanley Jordan
I’ll never forget seeing Jordan performing Eleanor Rigby on The Tube and having my 17-year-old mind blown. It’s on YouTube, in a grainy recording. He never really lived up to his extraordinary technique, and recordings became very sporadic and somewhat ambient and drippy. So it was nice to discover this album from 2008 and find that he still had a bit of spirit in him.
Album: “State of Nature” (2004)
Label: Mack Avenue Records