It’s that time of year again when we check out the best of what we’ve heard here at Cosmic Jazz over the last twelve months. This has been another great year for jazz – clearly following up the impact of Kamasi Washington’s 2015 The Epic. I’ve lost count of the number of recent Twitter features that promote the strength of this new relationship between contemporary jazz and a hip hop sensibility. Much of this began with saxophonist Terrace Martin’s appearance on 2015’s jazz-inflected Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Donny McCaslin’s contribution to David Bowie’s BlackStar. Of course, this has happened before but that shouldn’t stop us using this resurgence to promote new jazz.
So here we are with the first round of our Best of 2016 – but we actually began with a reissue from our label of the year, Strut. After two excellent Sun Ra anthologies in previous years (one curated by Gilles Peterson), Strut excelled themselves with The Singles, a 3CD chronological collection of – yes – all of the singles released by Sun Ra and related groups. Sun Ra released numerous 45 RPM singles over his long career, and this is a definitive collection of the singles released by Sun Ra across his illustrious career from 1952 to 1991. As with his LPs, most 45s were only pressed in small runs and have since become extremely rare and sought after. Some have only been discovered in physical form in recent years; some were planned and penciled but allegedly never made it to vinyl and some appeared as one-off magazine singles and posthumous releases. We selected the earliest track of all, Ra’s first recording of his spoken word track I Am an Instrument, followed by the seasonal It’s Christmas Time before diving into more Strut goodness from the resurrected Pyramids and their excellent album We All Be Africans.
New British jazz came from new duo Yussef Kamal followed by Bill Laurance, keyboard player with Snarky Puppy who came featured later in the show. More British jazz followed – first, from trumpeter Laura Jurd and her new group Dinosaur and then piano trio GoGo Penguin, now signed to Blue Note. We had more trio action from Brad Mehldau with his superb take on Lennon/McCartney’s And I Love Her followed by a track from German guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel’s excellent ECM release Rising Grace.
We ended the show with Jazzwise’s magazine’s choice of best new release of 2016 – a track from the excellent Tim Garland album One. We missed this album on its arrival in May, but Garland’s band should have alerted us to what was in store. Garland is Wayne Shorter-like in a number of ways: he’s an elegant composer as well as having a unique and different voice on both tenor and soprano saxophones. One sees him in the company of Jason Rebello on keys, Ant Law on guitar and Asaf Sirkis on drums with percussion from Egyptian Hossam Ramzy on three tracks.
- Sun Ra – I Am an Instrument from The Singles 1952-91
- The Qualities – It’s Christmas Time from The Singles 1952-91
- Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids – Rhapsody in Berlin from We All Be Africans
- Yussef Kamal – Black Focus from Black Focus
- Bill Laurance – SOTI from Aftersun
- Dinosaur – Living, Breathing from Dinosaur
- Snarky Puppy – Tarova from Culcha Vulcha
- Go Go Penguin – Weird Cat from Man Made Object
- Brad Mehldau – And I Love Her from Blues and Ballads
- Wolfgang Muthspiel – Wolfgang’s Waltz from Rising Grace
- Tim Garland – Colours of Night from One