Albums of the year 2017

Feature

Albums of the year 2017
Monday, December 18, 2017

It's been a bumper year for great new albums, so much so that we have had to expand our list to thirteen titles all guaranteed to make your system sing and your soul ascend. With pretty well all the important genres covered there should be something for all tastes let alone the adventurous musical explorations of our dear readers. So check them out and let us know what you think were the best of 2017.

Angela Gheorghiu
Eternamente The Verismo Album

Warner Classics
To me, soprano Angela Gheorghiu has one of the most angelic human voices in classical music. In this first studio recording in six years she focuses on Italian composers of the generation that followed Verdi. Although it is quite different from the Puccini heroines with which she made her reputation, for me she succeeded, especially in the lighter pieces. ‘Vissi d’arte’ from Puccini’s Tosca, ‘Ed Ora Conoscetela’ from Leoncavallo’s La Boheme and the title track by Angelo Mascheroni make me return to this album again and again.
Jan de Jeu

Anouar Brahem
Blue Maqams

ECM
Anouar Brahem plays the oud, a North African variant on the lute with 11 or 13 strings, and he is very good indeed, up there with Bill Evans IMHO. Here he’s joined by Dave Holland (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums) and pianist Django Bates, world class musicians to a man. It's an occasionally more jazzy departure for Brahem but it's essence is the sheer depth and beauty of his playing, a state of affairs enhanced by the creativity of the other musicians. Not least the piano which works so well in this context and sounds so different to Bates' latest solo release on the same label that it's not easy to hear the same musician.
As with ECM releases in general Blue Maqams has super silent backgrounds and very natural sounding reverb, in essence it is pristine but full of tonal diversity. Jazzers will love 'Boom Dia Rio' while the more sensitive will be entranced by 'La Nuit', but the whole album is a joy.
Jason Kennedy

Charles Lloyd
Passin’ Thru 

Blue Note
One the last truly great journeymen in modern jazz, Charles comes back with an enchanting live performance showcasing his brilliant New Quartet which he has led for over ten years. Lloyd’s east/west spiritual fusions are eagerly met by Jason Moran’s angular piano ruminations and the band waltzes through highs and lows with an elegance and lightness of touch second to none.
Charles Imperatori

Club D’elf
Live At Club Helsinki

Face Pelt Records
It is hard to describe the style of the second album that features John Medeski. He is a part of a very unusual line up that includes Brahim Fribgane (oud, cajon, vocals), Duke Levine (guitar), Mister Rourke (DJ), Mike Rivard (bass) and Dean Johnston (drums).
It offers a definition of what’s funky in an all encompassing fashion that marries the beats of the Atlas mountains with modern jazz funk. It has enough energy to light an American midwestern town for the next 50 years and is a hoot at the same time. The quality of the musicianship is jaw dropping, a master class in jamming of the most alluring and incredible kind. Fill your stockings with captivating funky rhythms for the end of year boozefest.
Reuben Klein

David Gilmour
Live At Pompeii

Columbia
The pinnacle of David Gilmour’s 2016 worldwide Rattle That Lock tour was playing the amphitheatre at Pompeii.  It was the first public performance at the venue since AD 79 when Vesuvius erupted and destroyed the Roman city, and of course marked the 45th anniversary of Pink Floyd recording there.  With a thoughtful set-list of old and new material, Gilmour uses Pompeii’s palpable history and atmosphere to excellent effect, not only sculpting his classic soundscapes to befit the ancient ruins, but also injecting energy and spontaneity into the tracks from his latest solo effort, whose meanings turn profound within the gladiatorial venue. His performance on this release is laudable; it’s inspiring to see a true guitar genius still at the top of his game despite his advancing years. Thumbs up for the sound production too which captures the live vibe extremely well, providing crystal clear (though slightly etched) sonics with superb instrument separation and impressive dynamic impact for a recent release.
Richard Barclay

DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield
Hudson

Motéma
I reviewed this album earlier in the month. It’s a gem that must be purchased for any jazz lover who is on your Christmas (or Hanukah) list of “what to get for her/him”. Jack DeJohnette (drums), Larry Grenadier (bass), John Medeski (keyboards) and John Scofield (guitar) have gathered to offer a jazz elder’s statement of a rare and terrifically enjoyable magnitude. The album is peppered with homages to famous tracks from Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, The Band and Bob Dylan. This is a musical tour de force by talented players at the top of their game.
Reuben Klein

Esperanza Spalding
Emily's D+Evolution

Concord
Emily's D+Evolution is not what we have come to expect of Esperanza Spalding. Like the name in the title this is an alter ego creation that's far more intense and heavy than earlier works. It has powerful lyrics and superb tunes executed to a high standard in the soul-funk-rock style. At times she channels the spirit of Joni Mitchell, at others something approaching Funkadelic but it is always one voice, an intelligent voice that refuses to accept the inequities of the world.
Sound quality is good for the style of music, so it is compressed but not to an offensive for the most part – although the opening track might make you think otherwise. The opening and closing tracks are the weakest, the key songs start with ‘Judas’ and run through ‘Ebony and Ivy’, a stinging criticism of the racism in America's Ivy League colleges to ‘Noble Nobles’. Spalding is a virtuoso fretless bass player who can sing, arrange and pretty much everything else but she has a damn fine band too. This has been my long term favourite in 2017.
Jason Kennedy

Gregory Porter
Nat ‘King’ Cole & Me

Blue Note

In my dedicated listening room I have several LPs by Nat ‘King’ Cole. I treasure all of them and until recently I thought that no living soul would ever be able to deliver an alternative interpretation of his songs that would satisfy me the way the originals do. And then along came Mr. Gregory Porter with his fifth studio album. He will not be able to make me forget the Master but he is the first to make me listen to songs like ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘L-O-V-E’ without immediately thinking of Cole himself. Porter’s voice in combination with the arrangements of Vince Mendoza and the sound of the 60 instrument orchestra brings a ‘Smile’ to my face each time I listen to the album.
Jan de Jeu

Leif Ove Andsnes
Jean Sibelius

Sony
Until recently I only knew the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius for his symphonic work. However, Sibelius composed more than 150 works for piano as well.  Being a long-time admirer of his symphonies I was pleasantly surprised when I heard this CD on a Dutch classical radio station where it was voted CD of the week. Like Glenn Gould before him, Leif Ove Andsnes believes that the pieces that were composed between 1890 and 1929 have been overshadowed by the symphonic work for too long. It is much more accessible than the symphonic work. I love the relaxed way Leif Ove plays this melancholic music that sometimes reminds me of Chopin and Schumann. 
Jan de Jeu

Melanie de Biasio
Lilies

PIAS
I played a track from Melanie de Biaiso's 2013 album No Deal to the guys from Bowers & Wilkins R'n'D department when they brought some speakers over recently, two of them had written down the details within the first minute. It's a great recording of rather good music if you enjoy a bit of jazz noire. De Biasio released Lilies this year, an album she made in her home studio with keyboard player Pascal Mohy. It's musically personal, even sensuous at times and as she's an artist with both conviction and subtlety it's very listenable as a result. Lilies is not quite as inky black in its backgrounds as No Deal but offsets this with fabulous song writing and very intimate vocals. This is a dark and steamy album with the spirit of Billie Holiday or Nina Simone, yet it sounds like neither thanks to de Biasio's unique approach.
Jason Kennedy

National Symphony Orchestra
Españ
a (Binaural)
Chasing The Dragon
If you’ve been fortunate enough to experience a symphony orchestra in a concert hall, you’ll appreciate how exceptionally difficult it is to capture in a way that not only does justice to the intricacies, scale and emotional impact of the performance but also reflects the distinctive sonic qualities of the venue.  Mike Valentine is among a handful of recording engineers in high demand for their expertise in challenging recording environments. Valentine’s modus operandi is capturing maximum natural spaciousness whilst faithfully preserving the acoustic timbres of instruments, and in his most recent projects he uses a binaural microphone configuration to achieve this.  The rousing and impactful España in particular is a standout success from the Chasing The Dragon binaural range.  Its breathtaking sonics showcase what is possible when the art of science is done properly.  The binaural technology contributes favourably to the listening experience by capturing interchannel timing differences in a way that reveals a more natural ambience, depth and perspective that teleports you inside the very concert halls in which the recordings were made.  If you care passionately about sound quality and are curious about binaural, this Chasing The Dragon release comes highly recommended!
Richard Barclay

Schnellertollermeyer
Rights

Cuneiform
Just when you thought that nothing new could be written in modern ,contemporary music, this Swiss trio comes along and turns the tables upside down on anything you can think on. Having soaked up minimalism, Jazz-Rock energy and every other major progressive and avant-rock influence, this trio has stirred the pot to create a sonic picture where the links with all these disparate strands are clearly visible. The energy is quite simply infectious and the desire to play this album again and again remains undimmed.
Charles Imperatori

Thelonious Monk
Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960

Resonance Records
A surprise release after sitting in the vaults for fifty seven years, it confirms once again the timeless angular beauty of Monk’s music. Roger Vadim commissioned Monk to write new music for the film soundtrack but despite many attempts at getting him to write new material, Monk could only be relied to deliver a set of well known pieces from his repertoire. And yet this set again proves him to be one the most radically inventive musicians who have ever lived.
With only the added performance of Barney Wilen on tenor sax to his usual cohorts, the music here sounds astonishingly fresh and different as if he had written it  the very day of the recording. An absolute must if you love his music.
Charles Imperatori