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Chris May's Best Albums Of 2022

Chris May's Best Albums Of 2022

Courtesy Chris Knight


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It was a good year for jazz, as the world recovered from The Great Pause and bands got together once more for real-time live recordings. Twelve of 2022's absolute top albums are presented here, half of them new recordings, the other half reissues or previously unreleased archive items.

Number One Best New Album Of 2022

Oded Tzur
ECM Records

Oded Tzur's 2020 album, Here Be Dragons, the Israeli-born, New York-based tenor saxophonist's first release on ECM, triggered an eruption of purple prose. Some critics suggested that the quartet led by Tzur (pictured above) was the inheritor of the mantle of John Coltrane's classic quartet. That might have been over the top, and was certainly premature, but in general the praise was justified. The good news is that the follow-up, Isabela, is even better. Tender lyricism is punctuated by crescendos of full-throated vocalized passion, an intoxicating and uplifting combination, and Tzur's genius absorption of raga is spoken like his formative influence, the great Dexter Gordon, might have spoken it. Also worth noting: Isabela is barely over thirty-five minutes long (all four of Tzur's albums have been as concise, if not more so). In an age of digitally bloated playing times, that is something else for which Tzur is to be congratulated.

Best New Albums Of 2022: Runners Up

Ilaria Capalbo
Bluenord Records

Bassist Ilaria Capalbo was born, bred and buttered in Italy but spends much of her time in Sweden, where she assembled the quintet which recorded Karthago. It is in effect a suite inspired by the lost North African city of Carthage, elegiac and sometimes poignant, but never mournful and always lyrical and intensely, shimmeringly beautiful. There are occasional solos but they are brief; the emphasis throughout is on group playing, which flows back and forth between arranged and improvised sections, both of which feature high degrees of counterpoint and collective interaction. Karthago, released in January 2021, was Capalbo's debut and its follow-up already seems long overdue.

Laura Jurd
The Big Friendly Album
Big Friendly Records

London-based trumpeter/cornetist Laura Jurd's fourth album under her own name (she has recorded another three albums with her quartet Dinosaur) is a big hearted, feel-good romp, which does not preclude cerebral engagement but which wears its complexities so lightly that one barely notices them. The material draws from folk traditions, particularly those reflecting Jurd's Scottish heritage. The album was planned, she says, as a move from the concert hall to the street, and the three-horn frontline (cornet, euphonium and tuba) is arranged to accentuate the informal vibe. The Big Friendly Album is aptly named; if it is possible to smile while playing the cornet, one senses Jurd would have been doing so, broadly, during recording.

The Comet Is Coming
Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam
Impulse! Records

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (King Shabaka), synths maven Dan Leavers (Danalogue) and drummer Maxwell Hallett (Betamax) were students at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama. As alumni, they formed The Comet Is Coming. To jumble allusions with as much abandon as the trio approach their cosmic jazz-rock, their continuing mission has been to seek out new soundworlds and to boldly go where no musician has gone before. Like their earlier albums, Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam will divide the jazz community. Some will deny that it is jazz. Others will not care how it is categorised. Whatever you call it, it will shave your ass.

Alina Bzhezhinska
BBE Records

On her debut album, Inspiration (Ubuntu, 2018), the Ukrainian-born, London-based harpist Alina Bzhezhinska demonstrated that she had oodles of soul, a quality not usually associated with harpists, who can be a tad wafty. She locks further on to this strength on Reflections, in the manner of her playing, her choice of material and her arrangements. There are hip hop beats, funk beats and backbeats in general. The material itself, which places great store in melody, is a mixture of originals and tunes written by or associated with John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby.

Tom Skinner
Voices Of Bishara
Brownswood/International Anthem/Nonesuch

Probably still best known as a member of the late lamented Sons of Kemet, the drummer Tom Skinner has lit up avantist British jazz for around twenty years. Remarkably, Voices Of Bishara is his first album under his own name. The lineup, a quintet, includes Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia, playing together on record for the first time, bassist Tom Herbert and cellist Kareem Dayes. As jazz supergroups go, this is the coyote's cojones. The music is by turns tumultuous, when Hutchings and Garcia unleash their broken-note strewn tenors, and meditative, when Hutchings switches to bass clarinet, Garcia to flute, and Dayes's sonorous cello steps forward. "Bishara" is an Arabic word meaning "good news" and this album delivers oodles of it.

Honourable Mentions
Soweto Kinch White Juju (Soweto Kinch Recordings); Dr John Things Happen That Way (Rounder Records); Nduduzo Makhathini In The Spirit Of Ntu (Blue Note Africa); Majamisty TriO Wind Rose (Majamisty); Binker and Moses Feeding The Machine (Gearbox); Mike Moreno Standards From Film (Criss Cross); Elan Mehler There Is A Dance (Newvelle).

Number One Best Reissue/Archive Album Of 2022

Horace Silver
Live New York Revisited

Recorded in New York 1964-66, Live New York Revisited includes some of the most exalted performances in Horace Silver's catalogue. It is further elevated by the CD mastering by the Ezz-thetics label's sonic jedi Michael Brändli, whose work in effect amounts to full-on audio restoration. Three of the tunes are from Song For My Father (Blue Note, 1964) and are performed by the band which played them on that album: "Song For My Father," "The Natives Are Restless Tonight" and "Que Pasa" never sounded better. The same is true of "Señor Blues" from 6 Pieces Of Silver (Blue Note, 1957), the title track from Tokyo Blues (Blue Note, 1962), and "African Queen" from The Cape Verdean Blues (Blue Note, 1965). Joe Henderson's work throughout is amongst his finest ever. If one only had one Silver album in the library, this would be the one to have.

Best Reissue/Archive Albums Of 2022: Runners Up

Grand Union Orchestra
Made By Human Hands
Redgold Records

Made By Human Hands is a greatest hits compilation celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Grand Union Orchestra, which has mentored many young London jazz musicians over four decades and is approximately aligned with the grassroots organisations Tomorrow's Warriors and Kinetika Bloco. The ensemble was founded by trombonist, keyboardist, composer and community activist Tony Haynes, who continues to lead it in 2022. Haynes' extra-musical mission is the promotion of a world free of racial and economic injustices through a multi-cultural form of orchestral jazz. The album touches down in Jamaica, Trinidad, Ghana, Guinea, Cuba, Puerto Rico, India, Brazil, Turkey, China, Bengal, Portugal and its hometown, London. The sixteen tracks are all upbeat and up-tempo. Perfect party music and a joy from start to finish.

Albert Ayler
Elemental Music

There are lovingly curated box sets and there is Albert Ayler's Revelations: The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings. The 5 x LP / 4 x CD set documents in full the two concerts Ayler gave at the high-end arts facility in Provence, France in July 1970, just four months before he passed. Everything about the package is near perfect, from the sonics through to the hundred-page booklet which project producer Zev Feldman put together. The full range of Ayler's aesthetic is on display, from Spirits (Debut, 1964) through to the late-period Impulse albums. There is also a considerable amount of material, including the six "Revelations," that was never recorded elsewhere. The audiences go absolutely wild. As well they might. This was a blinder of a gig.

Thelonious Monk
Celebrating 75 Years Of His First Recordings Revisited

More stellar archive curation from the Swiss label Ezz-thethics' founder and artistic director, Werner X. Uehlinger, and its sonic jedi Michael Brändli. The tracks were all released by Blue Note in 2001 on the Thelonious Monk CDs Genius Of Modern Music, Volume One and Genius Of Modern Music, Volume Two and the Milt Jackson CD Wizard Of The Vibes. Since then, audio technology has advanced spectacularly and these historic tracks are prime candidates for replatforming. Indeed, so good is the audio restoration that it is at times almost like hearing the recordings for the first time.

Miles Davis
2nd Session 1956 Revisited

All of which is also true of the Miles Davis collection 2nd Session 1956 Revisited. In 1956, in the process of moving from Prestige to Columbia, Davis fulfilled his contractual obligations to Prestige with two epic recording sessions with his quintet with tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Prestige then drip fed the recordings on to the market between 1957 and 1961 on the albums Cookin', Relaxin', Workin' and Steamin'. As the title suggests, 2nd Session 1956 Revisited comes from Davis' second marathon session. The album sequences the twelve tracks in the order in which they were recorded that October day.

Mike Westbrook
London Bridge Live In Zurich 1990
Westbrook Records

Viewed from the left-hand side of the Atlantic, Mike Westbrook is probably Britain's best kept secret. A composer, pianist and tubaist—above all, composer—since the late 1960s Westbrook has released upwards of fifty albums. These range from jazz rock through to jazz and contemporary-classical fusions such as the music on the 2 x CD London Bridge Live In Zurich 1990, which is performed by an eleven-piece jazz orchestra augmented by a thirty-five piece chamber orchestra and the singer Kate Westbrook, his wife. Westbrook wrote the two and a half hour suite in five parts, touching on key moments in twentieth century European history such as the 1914-18 war and the collapse of the Soviet empire in the 1980s. The music is monumental, in the best sense, its vibe spanning gentle intimacy on to the cruelty of authoritarianism (in "Wenceslas Square" and "Berlin Wall") and the horror of war (in "Picardie").

Honourable Mentions
John Coltrane Song Of Praise: New York 1965 Revisited (Ezz-thetics); Jim Hall It's Nice To Be With You: In Berlin (MPS); Sun Ra Lanquidity (Strut); Joe Henderson Mirror Mirror (MPS).

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