My Year In Music – 2015 Edition

When most people do their best of lists for music they tend to focus on music released in that year but I thought in my first attempt at a review of my music listening I would include all my music purchases for that year. That’s not to say I haven’t included albums released this year but they are vastly outnumbered by those that weren’t released this year.

I should say right off the bat that I barely listen to any radio, with my most of my musical interaction coming through the various music podcasts I listen to on a weekly basis. These include All Songs Considered, Alt Latino, In The Groove, Jazz and Beyond, Microphone Check, Soundcheck and Tiny Desk Concerts.

I have tried to break down my 2015 listening under relevant subject headings which sort of indicates my style of music purchasing. I tend to focus on one type of music or a group of music before I get distracted by something else and get dragged in a different direction.

Continuing on a theme of sorts

When I wasn’t listening to jazz, 2014 was a very much Wu-Tang Clan inspired year and towards the end of that year I was exploring many of the early solo projects by its members such as “Liquid Swords” by GZA, “Six Feet Deep” by Gravediggaz and “Supreme Clientele” by Ghostface Killah.

So it was with a bit of excitement when I heard Ghostface Killah would be releasing “36 Seasons” towards the end of 2014, and would continue the Tony Starks theme from the aforementioned “Supreme Clientele” which I enjoyed so much and is still on regular rotation in my car. It wasn’t until early 2015 that I was able to find it in stores here in Australia but it was worth the wait. Whilst not up there with “Supreme Clientele” in terms of a complete overall package I am happy it is now part of my collection. It is interesting concept album of sorts that is properly explained in this excellent episode of the Song Exploder podcast. My favourite track is “Battlefield” which sets up the whole album beautifully.

This past year has been a profilic one for Ghostface Killah and when I heard he was releasing an album with Canadian jazz trio, BadBadNotGood or BBNG for short on “Sour Soul” my instant reaction was that I had to get a hold of considering my recent love of all things jazz and Wu-Tang. The album is solid collaboration but sometimes it feels like this is more of  a vehicle for the Wu-Tang Clan alumni with BBNG providing the backing soundtrack, a soundtrack that had so much potential but unfortunately didn’t quite deliver as I had hoped.

A trip to America

March saw myself and my better half take a trip to the USA, taking in New York, New Orleans, Palm Springs and San Francisco. When I returned home a stack of new music purchases came with me most notably from New Orleans and San Francisco.

The purchases were mostly in relation to My Jazz Odyssey that I had been undertaking since 2013 with the Louisana Music Factory in New Orleans and Amoeba Records in San Francisco proving to be my best sources. I was a little disappointed by New York in that I thought there would be more music stores but I didn’t happen upon any of note although I may have been looking in all the wrong places.

In terms of “My Jazz Odyssey” my additions to the collection included offerings from Charles Mingus (Cornell 1964), Ornette Coleman (Dancing In Your Head), Cassandra Wilson (Travelling Miles), Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto (Getz/Gilberto), Pharoah Sanders (Karma) and Duke Ellington (Ellington at Newport 1956).

Probably the standout purchase from my point of view was Ornette Coleman’s “Dancing In Your Head”, which is so hard to find, but more importantly from a musical point of view is a massive head trip. Both variations of a “Theme From A Symphony” were my favourite tracks from this album.

A visit to New Orleans wouldn’t have been complete without buying some of the local produce and that came in the form of Tuba Skinny’s “Pyramind Strut” and “Owl Call Blues” and Shotgun Jazz Band’s “Algiers Strut”. Also I couldn’t pass up on picking up a Kermit Ruffins album as well.

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Tuba Skinny performing on the streets of New Orleans

We did manage to catch Tuba Skinny playing in the street, which is the only place where they play, with both themselves and the Shotgun Jazz Band playing a more traditional style of New Orleans jazz which one can’t help but be in a good mood following a listen. We also took in a performance from Roland Guerin at Snug Harbour which was an eye catching performance from the front row.

Revisiting some old favourites

This past year also saw me return to some old favourites in the form of Interpol (El Pintor), José González (Vestiges and Claws)  and TV on the Radio (Seeds). To be honest nothing really stood out from the Interpol album and it may be that my interest in them is fading. Meanwhile it was good to finally to see González finally release his first studio album in eight years and it made me go back and listen to his earlier two albums once again to reacquaint myself with one of my favourite artists from the mid-2000s.

Vestiges and Claws in many respects is not much different from Gonzalez’s earlier albums, in fact they are eerily similar and from my point of view that is a good thing. This time there is lack of any covers, which were delightful interludes on his earlier albums.

Strictly speaking TV on the Radio’s “Seeds” appeared in late 2014 but I didn’t get my hands on it until early 2015 and was my first purchase of the year. I don’t think there hasn’t been a bad TVOTR album and this one was no exception. As I much like TVOTR I must admit that I don’t listen them to as much as I should. Standout track was “Happy Idiot”.

Restoring the balance (somewhat)

I would be the first to admit that my music collection is largely dominated by male artists. I cannot put my finger on why it is the case but 2015 saw me purchase a trio of impressive albums from female artists which may go some way to restoring some sort of balance.

I finally got around to obtaining what many people considered to be one of the best albums of 2014, St Vincent’s self titled album and it left me wondering  why I hadn’t bitten the bullet earlier. Probably what finally saw me over the line in terms was hearing her talk on a Talkhouse podcast with Gang of Four’s Andy Gill and finding out in the process that she had done an instructional video on how to do the football trick called the rainbow flick. I can see why many did consider it to be the best albums from the previous year as it such a complete well-rounded work without a false step. Also guaranteed to put me in a good mood when it gets a play and it goes without saying my favourite track from that album is “Birth In Reverse“.

Another female artist that grabbed my attention was Camilo Moreno, who I discovered through Alt Latino which became my first foray into the world alternative latin music. Fortunately for me 2015 saw Moreno release “Mala Madre”, which was one of my favourite albums of the year. It is such a well rounded album with barely a miss on it however the standout track is definitely “Libres y Estupidos”, which is also one of my favourite tracks of the year and to top it all off the video that accompanies it is also a bit of a trip.

When an artist or album comes across my radar that intrigues me I tend to give it a first listen on Spotify to see if I really want to make that leap of faith. When it came it to Torres’ new album “Sprinter” I am fairly sure that I listened to it two or three times but wasn’t still convinced by the album that many others had taken to heart. However what convinced me were some of her live performances of material from “Sprinter” which were a lot more edgier live than they appear on the album. My favourite track from the album is “Strange Hellos” and I would have liked to hear more of this heavier and louder sound throughout the album, something that comes through in her live performances.

A perfect combination

It must be said that I’m a sucker for anything that includes old radio recordings and Public Service Broadcasting’s “The Race For Space” has truly delivered in this respect. This type of album could easily becoming a gimmick but PSB have crafted an exceptional piece of work combing recordings from the space races of the 50s, 60s and 70s with live recorded music. This combination has been thoughtfully considered and the two quite separate elements compliment each other perfectly with the first three tracks “The Race For Space”, “Sputnik” and “Gargarin” hard to separate in terms of my favourite tracks from the album.

Music for a new arrival

This year was a fairly momentous one with the arrival of my first child in August. About two months earlier I had the thought that I should have a good selection of jazz music for her early years which lead me to this list from All About Jazz, which had all kinds of good recommendations. So in a matter of weeks it seemed I purchased “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, Duke Ellington’s “Three Suites”, Dizzy Gillespie’s “Live At Newport”,  “Brilliant Corners” by Thelonious Monk and “A Night In Tunisia” by Art Blakey and the Messengers. I also couldn’t resist getting “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by the the Vince Guaraldi Trio as well for the latter part of the year. Some of the albums on that list a classics, especially “Brilliant Corners” and “Live At Newport”, which coincidentally I like more than Duke Ellington’s equivalent album.

Alt Latino also did a great podcast on music for kids, mostly in Spanish, and out of that Ozomatli’s “Ozokids” has proved to be a winner with the track “Moose on the Loose” being particular popular with my little one. All Songs Considered also did an excellent podcast on “Songs for Newborns” and inspired by this I played John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” to my little one on the day after her birth albeit only through my iPhone which is all I had at hand in the hospital. Coincidentally this was also the first jazz album I properly listened to in My Jazz Odyssey, so there was a sense of symmetry to it all.

More Jazz Odyssey offerings

Speaking of the aforementioned odyssey of jazz as the year drew on I realised I was neglecting this list somewhat and the last quarter of the year saw me obtain music from Charlie Parker (Best of the Complete Live Performances on Savoy), Cecil Taylor (Conquistador), Archie Shepp (Four for Trane) and Miles Davis (Bag’s Groove). This of out of the one hundred albums I am aiming to obtain I now have thirty-seven of them with my aim to reach the half way mark by the end of 2016. Of these latest offerings my favourite was probably the offering from Charlie Parker, whom I had been intrigued by after reading the Miles Davis autobiography, in which he paints such a vivid picture of his fellow performer.

New release Jazz

After flirting with contemporary jazz in 2014 with my purchase of Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio’s excellent self-titled album this year I stepped it up a notch purchasing two albums released in 2015. These were Terence Blanchard’s “Breathless” and Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah’s “Stretch Music” and considering my trip earlier in the year to New Orleans it seemed only fitting that these two artists formed part of my further exploration into contemporary jazz and became part of my music collection

Both album’s are making political statements with Blanchard’s album title drawing it’s inspiration of sorts from Eric Garner’s last words whilst in a chokehold from a New York policeman. If I’m hearing it correctly “I can’t breathe” is sampled at the beginning of the opening track “Compared To What”. Whilst I think it could have been a bit shorter than it was, with the last couple of tracks seeming superfluous, overall it was good introduction to the work of Terence Blanchard.

It is very rare that jazz gets a mention on either All Songs Considered or their Tiny Desk Concerts but both Blanchard and Christian Scott appeared in one form or another on these programs which is a good thing in my opinion. The work of Christian Scott was unknown to me until he appeared in a Tiny Desk Concert with his band and his performance was one of the revelations of the year. It was such a great little concert that it inspired me to grab a copy of his latest album. The first thing that struck me about the album was how lush the sound was, especially the tracks featuring young flautist, Elena Pinderhughes. The combination of Scott’s trumpet and Pinderhughes’ flute on “Sunrise in Beijing” and “Liberation over Gangersterism” sounds brilliant and these are two of my favourite tracks on the album. It is great when you discover an artist out of the blue and to be rewarded with an incredible album is an added bonus.

2016 and beyond

We are almost a month into 2016 and in many respects I am a little late getting this piece written but already my music collection has grown with additions from Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington and Miles Davis. This year I am looking to expand my jazz listening into the present day although I will not neglect “My Jazz Odyssey” and already I have discovered some new artists who are releasing albums in the not too distant future. Hopefully 2016 will provide me with as good listening as 2015 did.

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