This is the first in a series of short articles about the best records I listened to last month during my period of extreme writer’s block.
Take Me to the Alley by Gregory Porter
I’m not particularly fond of vocal jazz. I usually only partake when something particularly interesting, instrumentally, melodically or harmonically, is featured heavily. It was for these reasons that I enjoyed Esperanza Spalding’s record from earlier this year. Gregory Porter is a notable exception to this rule due to his overpoweringly brilliant vocal performances. If you’re looking for experimentation or complexity in this record, then look elsewhere, but if you are content (like I was) to simply bask in the deep, rippling vocal delivery that Porter pours into every track, then this is the album for you. Expect a warm, autumnal, acoustic sound that comforts rather than challenges.
Standout Track: ‘Holding On’
Spark and Echo by Mark Lettieri
Spark and Echo is the newest project from Snarky Puppy guitarist, Mark Lettieri. It is also, far and away, my favourite solo release from a member of the band this year (just edging ahead of Bill Laurance’s Aftersun, and far eclipsing Cory Henry’s disappointing solo release, The Revival). This is a jazz guitar record with heavy funk, rock and pop influences, which features some of the most fun, lively and original compositions I’ve heard all year. Lettieri outdoes himself here with track after track of dexterous, emotive and jubilant guitar playing. Despite his ability, Lettieri never hogs the spotlight, as Spark and Echo features fantastic performances from the other band members: Shaun Marin (keys), Jason ‘JT’ Thomas (drums), Wes Stephenson (bass), Bobby Sparks (synths) and Milo Deering (misc. strings). To top it all off, Spark and Echo features a phenomenal, tongue-in-cheek cover of Tears For Fears’ ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, which perfectly demonstrates the overwhelming sense of merriment that seeps out of this record’s every pore.
Standout Track: ‘Goonsquad’ / ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’
Floa by Mammal Hands
Mammal Hands’ sophomore album is very similar in style to 2014’s Animalia. For the uninitiated, Mammal Hands is, aesthetically, a jazz trio, comprised of a saxophonist, pianist and a drummer. No bass. The trio makes up for the lack of bass with a lot of low piano register and a series of very strong rhythms provided by all three musicians.
Floa is another dive by Mammal Hands into the murky line they’ve drawn between cool jazz and dance music, with each track showcasing strong, catchy melodies and a sense of rhythm that bypasses the brain and heads strait for the feet. Their jazzy aesthetic is supported by subtle, yet effective, harmonic diversions and complex interplay between instruments.
Standout Track: ‘In the Treetops’
One by Tim Garland
This record features another jazz ensemble without a bass player. Tim Garland (Soprano/Tenor saxophone) and his band mates more than make up for this by flooding your ears with sound to create nine delightfully textured jazz compositions. Garland’s soprano playing is phenomenal. He produces a very rounded and smooth tone that gracefully cuts through the mix to soar, triumphantly above the rest of the band. That’s not to say that the other musicians are deprived of chances to shine. The opening track, for example, features one of the best solos on the record from pianist, Jason Rebello. The musicians on this recording, very clearly, bring out the best in each other. When listening to One, I got the sense that playing together is a very natural thing for these four, as they produced a very beautiful and organic sound. One is absolutely one of this year’s jazz highlights.
Standout Track: ‘Bright New Year’