By Martin Smith | 31 December 2015
We asked our friends and readers to send us their five favourite tracks/albums of 2015. Some did just that, others included their favourite gigs, films, books…
But it’s all good – there is a real eclectic mix of dance, rock, folk, indie, RnB and hip hop. We hope you enjoy it.
JULIA HOLTER: musician and song writer, she has just released a luscious album Have you in my wilderness
1. Joni Mitchell: Court And Spark
I first heard this when I was in high school, it was a new sound for me. It’s slightly jazzy, slightly funky and those sounds began to actually be very exciting for me despite what everyone else might have thought. The songs are very relatable for someone of that age, even though they were written by an older person. You take a song like ‘People’s Parties’ and the psychologies and the stories within the songs: it’s fascinating to me.
2. Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me
3. Jessica Pratt: On Your Own Love Again
4. M.I.A.: Arular
5. Linda Perhacs: Parallelograms
YARON STAVI: Musician/bass played with David Gilmore, Robert Wyatt, Phil Manzanera, Nigel Kennedy and Gilad Atzmon.
1. Pink Floyd: The Endless River
2. David Gilmore: Rattle that Lock
3. Adele: 25
4. John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (The Complete Masters)
5. The Beatles: 1+
LIZ WHEATLEY DJ Urban Jazz Radio 2.0
1. Kamasi Washington gig at the London Jazz Festival
This gig was sublime, the kind where you walk out feeling like your soul is uplifted. I’m not sure what else I can say that will do it justice. The whole band was superb, the arrangements were beautiful. Given that you may not have gone to the gig, fortunately you can buy The Epic album
2. Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly
I was considering which track to highlight but realised every time I put this album on I listen to it from beginning to end and that’s precisely how it works best. Drawing on soul, funk and jazz, whilst making important political points this is a definite contender for album of the year
3. Leela James at the Jazz Cafe
I first saw Leela James perform 10 years ago when her debut album, A Change Is Gonna Come was released and she was fantastic. So when she finally announced her next visit I was straight on it. She’s one of the most dynamic performers you’ll see, hardly pausing during her set and delivering great soul. Just in case it’s another decade before she returns, have a listen to her duet with Anthony Hamilton, Say That, on her most recent album
4. Amy (documentary):
I was initially apprehensive about seeing a large screen car crash of someone’s life, but I thought this documentary brought home the pressures on an artist, and how they can be turned so quickly into a commodity.
I’m looking forward to seeing Teedra Moses in January. Apparently she does a great live gig, and her album released a couple of months ago after a 10 year wait, Cognac and Conversations, is a pretty good piece of RnB. In April Method Man and Redman come to town and I’m planning to be at the front of the gig to greet them. Finally, GoGo Penguin who were the support for Kamasi Washington, have signed to Blue Note and are due to release an album in the first half of the year and I plan to be listening to that.
1. Nx Worries: Suede
2. The Internet: Special Affair
3. William Onyeabor: When the going is smooth & good
4. The Weekend: Tell Your Friends
5. Snoopzilla & Dam Funk: Faden Away
RUSS CHANDLER musician and band member – Steve White & the Protest Family and Walthamstow Folk Club
1. Mawkin : The Ties That Bind
Essesx based Mawkin have been a festival favorite on the folk scene for years. But I’ve often felt they’ve never quite realised the fire they’ve clearly had all along, especially on record. That’s put right spectacularly on this album. The playing was always top notch, but the band have got the hang of doing their own vocals and are really relishing them now, and Lee Richardson’s superb drumming and light, crisp production mean the band have finally unleashed the swagger and menace that’s always been lurking in the background.
2. Stick in the Wheel: From Here
I included Stick In The Wheel’s debut EP in my list last year but their first full album has exceed all expectations. The arrangements and playing are fine but really aren’t doing anything new, the material (with the exception of the self penned “Me n Becky” about the 2011 riots) not particularly unusual. But nothing can prepare you for the sheer ferocity of the delivery. Nicola Kearey’s vocal is downright confrontational and none of the band sound like you’d want to catch their eye in a pub. I wonder if this is the best marriage of traditional sources to a genuinely contemporary urban rhythm since Nic Jones Penguin Eggs back in 1980. Make no mistake, this album is a game changer.
3. Sergeant Buzfuz: Balloons for Thin Linda
A gorgeous album that completely took me by surprise. Lovely melodic folk rock arrangements but the songs, stories of ordinary people, often the broken and lost, just glow with love and compassion. This is the album Ray Davis has been trying to make for the last forty years.
4. Casandra Wilson: Coming Forth By Day
I’ve liked Casandra Wilson for years, but never really got what the fuss was about. This album put me straight and no mistake. A homage to Billie Holiday with a lush, jet black production, you get the sense that every note on this album was the culmination of the musicians lives to that point. I get it!
5. Jerry Lee Lewis: Live at the Star Club, Hamburg
This album has no connection with 2015 whatsoever, except I discovered it this year. Recorded in 1964 when the Killer was at a low ebb, disgraced by the scandal of his marriage to his thirteen year old cousin, playing second fiddle to Elvis as the king of rock ‘n roll and eclipsed by the Beatles and the British invasion. He steps on stage sounding like he has a point to prove. The result is one of the most exciting and extraordinary pieces of music ever captured on tape. Rolling Stone said it’s “…not an album, it’s a crime scene: Jerry Lee Lewis slaughters his rivals in a thirteen-song set that feels like one long convulsion.” Ferocious!
ROGER HUDDLE – One of the founders of Rock Against Racism
1. From Here: Stick in the Wheel
Just the best band in the land. Defining our traditional music in their own idiosyncratic way. Brilliant songs performed with passion.
2. Kamasi Washington: The Epic
Here’s coming at you — a freight train through an urban landscape — time travelling. Wonderful.
3. Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night
Life long fan of Bob’s songs, but these interpretations of Sinatra standards open another door to understanding lyric by a master musician.
4. Ensemble Signal: Music for 18 Musicians
A wonderful addition to the many recordings of Steve Reich’s masterpiece. Robust and hypnotic.
5. Joanna Newsom: Divers
Enigmatic and beautiful. A coming together of her voice and her music.
6. Surfjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell
There’s a joy to be drawn from sadness
7. Kara-Lis Coverdale & LXV: Sirens
Sound sculpture at its finest. Love getting lost inside.
8. Robert Glasper (trio live): Covered
A real intimacy exists between the musicians on this live recording. Capped of with a hard political listing track ‘I’m Dying of Thirst’.
9. Krystian Zimerman & Berliner Philharmoniker: Lutosławski, Piano Concerto and Syphiny No 2
A superb recording by pianist Krystian Zimerman of Polish composer Lutosławski’s late 20th century music. Simon Rattle conducts.
10. In joint 10th Christian Scott: Stretch Music & Darkstar Foam Island
Two signposts to the future.
ALISON ROSS musician pianist performed with Melody Gardot, The Futures and the Philadelphia Improvisation Orchestra
1.Aaron Diehl: Space Time Continuum
I really believe he is the best pianist out there – no trickery just beautiful post bop jazz.
2. Kamasi Washington: The Epic
I assume everyone has put this on their list, but it is one of the best albums out there – period. Echoes of Coltrane, Miles, jazz fusion and hip hop.
3. Jack DeJohnette: Made in Chicago
I’ve had the pleasure to sit in with Jack, he is a beautiful human being and this is a beautiful album.
4. Billie Holiday: The Centennial Collection
It is not the definitive collection of the Billie Holiday song book, but it is a great way to mark her 100th birthday.
Jose James: Yesterday I had the Blues (The music of Billie Holiday)
This is a wonderful tribute to Billie by this truly wonderful vocalist. The band is also cookin.
THE RESIDENT ADVISOR TEAM – their five songs of 2015
1. Fatima Yamaha: What’s A Girl To Do
2. Jack J: Thirstin’
3. Fit Siegel: Carmine
4. Kelela: Rewind
5. Dj Koze: XTC
Finton Carrick record collector
1. Richie Hawtin: From my mind to yours
2. Thundercat: The Beyond
3. Four Tet: Morning/Evening
4. Grime: Art Angels
5. Jammie XX: In Colour
NICK GRANT – musician and band member Public Sector
D’Angelo’s Black Messiah album came out early in the year. Maximum time to leave a mark. It’s a little too Prince-retro for me to be a great album but I played the final track Another Life continuously in my ears – and to others.
It’s all feel. Joyous falsetto vocals slouching behind Chris Dave’s beat. Sweet chord shifts. Multi-layered if almost indecipherable lyrics. Stylistics-evoking lead guitar. Just some of the aural delights. This will probably be my track of 2016 as well!
Marcus Miller’s Afrodeezia stayed in my car CD player for ages. The finest of what could truly be called world music. Jill Scott had some excellent cuts on her return to form Woman.
Kamasi Washington’s The Epic took my breath away. Scope, vivacity, virtuosity. It wasn’t until the band’s UK debut gig at The Barbican in November that I appreciated just how close-knit the musicians are as friends and neighbours from birth in LA. Drummer Ron Bruner and his brother bassist Thundercat could claim to be the leading practitioners of both instruments right now. But that would unduly belittle everyone else’s contribution. A truly great debut album by a real family band. The best since Family Stone.
Difficult choice, but definitely not Mark Guiliana electro-band at Rich Mix. He should stick to jazz. Walked out after 20 mins self-indulgent tripe.
The O’Jays then Frankie Beverley/Maze closing out the New Orleans Jazz Festival Congo stage final day was a dream come true.
D’Angelo’s mesmerising vocal interplay with his backing vocalists in Brum was astonishing.
At Ronnie Scott’s Lalah Hathaway sang beautifully. On another night Chucho Valdes showed that his right hand is as fast as anyone’s at 74. Years not mph that is.
Snarky Puppy’s Hammersmith Apollo gig has probably the best ever sound I have heard in such ex-cinema venues. At any moment you could distinctly pick out each musician’s work. Which of course was excellent.
Christian McBride’s Trio was also acoustically stunning sans mics in Wigmore Hall.
Terence Blanchard was majestic in both New Orleans and London. But another trumpeter gets my nod as best single performance this year. Christian Scott with his Stretch Music band played New Orleans a week after riots in Baltimore. He explained in some detail his own police harassment culminating in his 2010 track KKPD which he then played furiously with uncle Donald Harrison joining in for the last five minutes on sax.
It’s probably no surprise that two great trumpeters like Blanchard and Scott – whose instrument has roused armies to battle for centuries – should be heralding resistance against continuing injustices into 2016.
There has been a weekly late-night Sunday session in The Prince of Wales pub Kilburn for a very long time. Like thirty years. For two hours you get quality soul/funk/jazz/blues/soca/reggae/samba with an ever-changing roster of great session musicians. For free. They like you to buy a raffle ticket for a bottle of Wray and Nephews, and the manager bungs an unknown payment. But it is essentially a labour of love.
Regulars include Mick Eave on tenor who has recently re-recorded sets with Georgie Fame in Abbey Road that they originally cut in the 1960s. Singer Root Jackson had a hit single in 60s also with wife Jenny – and others since. Steve Winwood’s current drummer Richard Bailey (ex-Incognito/Jeff Beck) sits in often. Bassist and musical arranger Michael Bailey – no relation – plays with so many London bands. Keyboardist Felix Ruiz played in Trinidad on David Rudder’s soca hits.
Sadly this session is gonna be monthly from now on, but a new weekly session with same players has just started at nearby Cock Tavern, Kilburn High Road on Thursdays. See you there sometime?
‘Robopop’ is what The New Yorker magazine staff writer John Seabrook labels the dominant music format of our time. His new book The Song Machine: Inside The Hit Factory covers some obvious historical ground that will be already familiar to readers of this blog who will also wince at his own default notion of critical authenticity in music – classic (predominantly white) rock!
But his top journalistic standards mean that he dishes up plenty of revealing insights especially about the current Swedish domination of hit production and distribution. Think Britney’s Baby One More Time or Flo Rida’s Right Round. 25% of Billboard’s 2014 Top 100 tunes were written and/or produced by Swedes and Spotify accounts for a major share of global consumption since its development in Stockholm. There is also telling analysis of KPOP, Rihanna, Katy Perry and the Taylor Swift phenomenon. Worth a punt with any Xmas book tokens.
MARTIN SMITH – Dream Deferred
Putting aside the two most important albums of the year – Kamasi Washington and Kendrick Lemar, these are my favourite slabs of vinyl this year.
1. Suzanne Kraft: Talk from Home
This is beautifully crafted ambient music that takes you to island paradises and back again. Haunting rifts, deft guitar work and simple melodies create music I can’t get out of my head. My album of the year.
2. Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear
It was a toss up between this album and Sufjan Steven’s latest offering. For me the ex Fleet Foxes drummer just pips it. I Love You Honeybear sounds like a meeting of the Beach Boys on ketamine and Neil Young on MDMA in a deserted church – exciting, always on the edge and with a hint of danger. The album also contains a couple of political nuggets.
3. Gloria Ann Taylor: Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing
This is in my opinion the most important reissue of the year. It contains the highlights of Gloria Ann Taylor’s brief career – 1971 -1977. This is deep soul with a dubby psychedelic twist. If you love your soul music you need this album in your life.
4. Bugge Wesseltoft: Bugge and Friends
No boundaries, no genres, just exciting music – that’s what you get with Bugge Wesseltoft. This year’s release is one of his best albums.
5. Floating Points: Elaenia
Floating Points fuses jazz, ambient electronica with subtle dance elements. On first listen it washes over you but it is a slow burner, an album that rewards with each play.
THAT’S ALL FOLKS HAPPY 2016