My list of the best albums of the year is very much shaped by the erratic local availability of CDs: if it’s on a medium-to-small US label it’s difficult to get hold of in Glasgow. My favourites of 2008 all involve British musicians, but that’s a reflection of what I’ve actually heard rather than down to chauvinism. They’re all fairly straightforward contemporary jazz rather than free improvisation or jazz/funk/folk fusion. For some reason there’s a preponderance of alto players.
Martin Speake, “Generations”. Inventive reworkings of standards. Speake and his band are able get something fresh and inventive from the material without distorting it out of shape. If I’d to single out one record as my best new release of 2008, this would be it.
Martina Almgren and Laura Macdonald, “Open Book”. “Women play jazz – music world in shock!” – the album of the headline. Both leaders write well above-average melodic compositions, and the band work really well as a unit.
Chris Biscoe, “Gone in the Air: the music of Eric Dolphy”. Recreates the spirit and general style of Dolphy without simply copying his playing. Tony Kofi is the second horn player
Brian Kellock featuring Julian Arguelles, “The Nine Mile Burn Sessions”. Mainly standards. Half solo piano, half duets. This is apparently the first of a series of releases on the new Thick-Skinned label, but it’s not clear from the way the sleeve note is worded if it’s a series of Kellock – Arguelles recordings, a series of recordings by Brian Kellock in different settings, or a series of releases by different artists.
I haven’t heard the Andersen/Smith/Vinaccia CD or the Norma Winstone’s Distances yet, but having heard both groups in concert recently they’re definitely on my shopping list.
Most frustrating CD of the year has to be Kenny Garrett’s “Sketches of MD”. Much of it is absolutely first-rate, but it’s spoiled by long passages where Garrett tries to get the audience to clap along and tell him if they are Happy People. It sounds as if it was a great gig, but the audience participation stuff is pretty tedious to listen to at home.