Not much more we could say about one of the best albums released in recent times. Kendrick continues his meteoric rise thru the ranks of hip hop royalty by enlisting a crew of top beat makers, jazz musicians, and collaborators to craft a varied and engaging record that serves the body and the mind in equal measure. From its opening bars, To Pimp A Butterfly seamlessly connects the dots between jazz, g-funk and hip hop, without forgetting the current state of ‘Hood Politics‘.
A much talked about album not just in jazz circles, The Epic, is exactly what the title suggests. A triple LP & CD with many monumental compositions of raw and undiluted jazz that takes as much inspiration from the music of the genre’s forbearers as it does from the thriving west coast beats scene. While the grandness of tunes such as Askim and Re Run Home is without a doubt breathtaking, it’s in the more stripped down cuts, like Isabelle, where this album hits peak beauty. We’re also diggin’ the southern soul infused cuts The Rhythm Changes and Cherokee. This is one to revisit for years to come.
Paris born drummer and producer Makaya McCraven was one of the best discoveries we made all year. In The Moment perfectly fits the jazz not jazz tradition of Chicago, where he currently resides, oozing with a hip hop aesthetic and a post-rock feel. And yes it must also be said, this record can also be categorized in the ‘influenced by J Dilla’ department. The album comprises 19 explorations and spontaneous compositions recorded during many live sessions with a rotating cast of Chicago’s finest, which were later assembled in the studio by Makaya himself.
Hotly tipped Aussie band Hiatus Kaiyote turned in an outstanding follow up to what was an impressive debut. It’s no wonder they’ve been given the seal of approval by the likes of Q-tip and Questlove, with their song crafting and complex arranging abilities in full force on Choose Your Weapon, while lead singer Nai Palm steals the show with her unique and shape-shifting voice. This record has future classic written all over it. Also recommended is the beautiful visual accompaniment to lead single Breathing Underwater.
One of our favorite MCs in recent times came back this year with a collaborative project entitled Dr. Yen Lo. A record that finds Brownsville’s Ka as cinematic as ever in the company of Preservation on production duties. Beats are scarce and barely found across the album’s 12 sombre cuts, but the sampling is exquisite, creating a solid foundation that fits Ka’s brooding tone and frenetic rhymes like a glove. The overall result is a dense and often psychedelic experience that warrants many a repeat listen.
Whilst the importance of Underground Resistance to the history of house and techno if often repeated, it’s rare to hear an artist today in whom their influence, and more importantly, their essence, can be heard. Now Salazar has his own sound, and yes he has history working with UR, but that soulful machine music sound is rarely heard as distinctly as it is here on Salazar’s first full length. Nostalgia aside, Chicanismo kicks that sweet spot, and hard. Melodic electronic music over some of the best rhythms to come out of the US house & techno scene for years. Chicanismo is worthy of its title, as Salazar effortless fuses latin rhythms with undeniably American Hi-Tech Soul. Favourites for us include Galaxy 2 Galaxy tribute/update, Vario 2 Vario and the deep latin (tech) soul of The Farce.
Halsall’s second full length outing with the Gondwana Orchestra set a new landmark for modern British jazz. Following their previous recording, which like much of Halsall’s work drew particular inspiration from spiritual jazz giants such as Alice Coltrane and his studies of Eastern music, Into Forever builds on that blueprint, whilst adding a big slice of soul and gospel, courtesy of singer-songwriter, Josephine Oniyama. This new marriage is a beautiful one, with Josephine’s strong songs supported by Halsall & co’s deep arrangements, such as on Only a Woman. However the majority of the album is still largely instrumental and exhibits a wide yet unified approach, from hard (The Land Of) to soft (Daan Park), to the particularly Eastern Longshan Temple. A vital album from the last year.
In 2015 it seemed spiritual jazz was in the ascendent. New compilations and reissues, sold out compilations, Kendrick and Kamasi drawing mainstream attention to music once mentioned in hushed tones. Among this uplifting throng of music came The Light Years of the Darkness by one Emanative and friends, dedicated to his love of the form. Crammed full of beautiful and loving versions of lesser-known gems, such as Alice Coltrane’s Om Supreme, aided by the wonderful Jessica Lauren on keys, Don Cherry & Ed Blackwell’s Makondi, featuring Fourtet, Pharoah Sanders’ Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah with The Pyramids and a firing version Sun Ra’s Rocket Number Nine with the underrated United Vibrations. Every track’s a killer, cop it now if you manage to find any copies gone astray.
A rather impossible to find holy grail of Scandinavian jazz, Carsten Meinert’s 1968 To You album is a real slice of aural bliss. Opener Naima will please fans of Coltrane, as Meinert and co. stick close to the original, but manage to add extra twists and turns to make this a unique and beautiful rendition. The rest of the tunes are mostly written by Meinert himself, who as a young and budding bandleader was soaking up the influence of American jazz cats who had relocated to Copenhagen and were often found playing in local haunts. As expected, the spiritual vibes are aplenty on this one with Dansevise as the 12-minute storming centerpiece, perfectly complementing the slower ballads.
Perhaps the most off the beaten track record we heard all year, The Mystery Kindaichi Band was an unnamed, to our knowledge, ensemble tasked with creating a soundtrack to the TV series for fictional detective Kohsuke Kindaichi. We first heard about this record last winter when friend of CF, Porncop, pulled out an OG, albeit slightly warped, copy from his personal collection. Luckily for us, someone decided to either bootleg or reissue this in 2015. The music on the LP is decidedly funky, perhaps sounding a lot like your standard American or European soundtrack to a cop series from the 70s. However, there’s also some welcome Japanese flavor on some of the outstanding cuts, like on Yatsuhakamura (Eight Village Grave), which features the sound of a bamboo flute along with the funkiest of bass lines. Whether you find an OG or any of the recent reissues of this around, we recommend you pick it up on sight!
Wether or not Ghostface still has it as an MC is debatable, but the fact that the music on this record is pure magic is not. BBNG have been the talk of the town for their collaborations with new and old lyricists in recent times, and after listening to Sour Soul it’s no doubt everyone will want a piece of the Canadian trio of jazz musicians. The music on this album sounds like a return to the golden era of 70s Italian soundtracks and French & British library records, and we certainly can’t wait to hear what BBNG craft next.
Milton Wright’s classic soul LP, Friends and Buddies, got an important second look from Athens from the North last year, with the rare “original” version of Friends and Buddies released for the first time since 1975. To recap, in ‘75, Alston Records put out a stunning guitar led soul album, think Curtis or Bill Withers, but unique in its own right. However Milton or his label decided it didn’t sound modern enough, returning to the studio and adding synthesizers and some contemporary production touches, dropping the folky Nobody Can Touch You and more importantly adding the now ubiquitous rare groover, Keep It Up. That rare OG LP is now a holy grail of soul digging, so Athens did the right thing, re-releasing the original work on vinyl, with Keep It Up as an added bonus track, and combining both versions for the digital release. Too many cuts to mention but the likes of Friends and Buddies and Brothers & Sisters lit up our dance floors this year.
There’s a reason why we normally save our best of post to the beginning of the following year. This year that reason was the very late release of Kyle Hall’s follow up to his debut album The Boat Party back in 2013. Where his previous full length relied heavily on raw and abrasive textures, From Joy finds Hall in a more soulful mood. This is a collection of 8 outstanding cuts, all made pre-2010, that ooze plenty of futuristic jazz and funk with a heavy dancefloor flavor, both for the early and late hours of the party. Setting the tone with the broken beat fire of Damn! I’m Feeln Real Close, the album has enough intricacies and variety to keep headphone and home listeners interested the whole way thru. We are also loving the artwork by young visual artist James Grady.
The criminally unknown Universal Togetherness Band received some of the attention their uplifting brand of funk and boogie always deserved, with a brilliant and SOLID compilation, care of the Numero Group. Funky and rhythmic as you like, UTB ruled on too many dancefloors this year to mention, but this collection worked just as well at home or on headphones. This was one we came back to again and again to find cuts we’d forgotten about or overlooked. Straight out the bat with the life affirming Ain’t Gonna Cry, and ending with the sweet soul of I Want You. Let’s hope Numero continue bringing such beautiful music out of obscurity as was the case with this one.
Sons of Kemet – Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do
Shabaka Hutchings returned to his Sons Of Kemet project once again and did not disappoint. Continuing on from 2013’s Burn, on Lest We Forget What We Came Here to Do, Shabaka & co. continued to explore common threads between Caribbean music, Sub-Saharan African jazz, Ethiopian jazz and more besides into a unique sound that is truly their own. As before, Shabaka on tenor sax and bass clarinet is joined by two drummers – Tom Skinner (Hello Skinny) & Seb Rochford (Polar Bear), and new member Theon Cross on tuba. The brass and drums combo naturally fires stomping tracks such as In the Castle of My Skin and Tiger, but our weapon of choice here is the solemn Mo’ Wiser, one of our favourite cuts this year and a perfect bridge between the the marching spiritual jazz of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble & Ethiopian jazz masters such as Mulatu Astatke. Lighten up your January with this LP if you missed it last year.
FRIENDS & COLLABORATORS
Pete On The Corner – OtC Records – London
Art + Sound by Sounds of the Universe
Out of Addis by Eastern Connection
Karl Hector & the Malcouns – Can’t stand the Pressure
Patrick Cowley – Muscle Up
Senegal 70 (Sonic Gems From The 70s) by Analog Africa
Raul Monsalve – Monsalve Y Los Forajidos – Paris
Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
Thundercat – The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam
Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Augusto Bracho y Moises de Martin – Pajarera Vertical
Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs
Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa
Meridian Brothers – Los Suicidas
Cabaret Contemporain – Moondog
Marc Ducret Trio+3 – Métatonal
Flávio Seixlack – Suppadupa – São Paulo
Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp A Butterfly
Kamasi Washington — The Epic
The Internet — Ego Death
D’Angelo & The Vanguard — Black Messiah
Jim O’Rourke — Simple Songs
Sons of Kemet — Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do
Chassol — Big Sun
Erykah Badu — But You Caint Use My Phone
Matana Roberts — Coin Coin Chapter Three
Hiatus Kaiyote — Choose Your Weapon
Andrew Devlon – Level Party – NYC
DJ Richard – Grind
Hunee – Hunch Music
John FM – Where My Roots Lie
Future – DS2
Aurora Halal – Shapeshifter
Galcher Lustwerk – Parlay
Keita Sano – Holding New Cards
Suzanne Kraft – Talk From Home
Shanti Celeste – Being
Allergy Season – Side Effects May Include:
Jon Santino – Uncle Tony’s Donut Shoppe – Orlando, FL
BOSQ – Celestial Strut
Quantic Presents The Western Transient – A New Constellation
Mickey – Eye Witness
Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Tuxedo – Tuxedo
Floating Points – Elaenia
St. Germain – St. Germain
Reginald Omas Mamode IV – We Are The Universe EP
Benjamin – Arriving
Wayne Snow – Rosie
Wildcookie – Cookie Dough
Khruangbin – The Universe Smiles Upon You
Butcher Brown – Grown Folk
Bastien Keb – Dinking in the Shadows of Zizou
Ruby Rushton – Two For Joy
Georgia Anne Muldrow – A Thoughtiverse Unmarred
Electric Jalaba – Merhaba
Beat Spacek – Modern Streets
Black Milk – If There’s A Hell Below Instrumentals
Ibeyi – Ibeyi
Jeen Bassa – Time Waves
Cara Stacy – Things That Grow
Floating Points – Elaenia
Neo Muyanga – Toro Tse Sekete (A Myriad Dreams)
Ogoya Nengo and the Dodo Women’s Group – Rang’ala
Sons of Kemet – Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do
Thandi Ntuli – The Offering
Derek Gripper – One Night On Earth
Card On Spokes – Comet Song
Card On Spokes ft. Okmalumkoolkat and Nonku Phiri – On The Low
Dego & Kaidi – Adam Rock Dissed!!
Dego & Kaidi – Orbiting Uhura
Georgia Anne Muldrow – Sans Vacay
Lesego Rampolokeng – The Ungovernable (excerpt)
Maalem Mahmoud Guinia & Floating Points – Mimoun Marhaba
Mo Kolours – Sumerian Mother
Nonku Phiri – Things We Do On The Weekend
Shabaka Hutchings – Octavia (for string quartet and clarinet)
Wu15 – The Anthem