Best Albums of 2014

Music Review

8 Dec 2014
various artists
Best Albums of 2014
ACT
Formats also available: various
various

Iiro Rantala String Trio
Anyone With A Heart
ACT

This is musical magic encapsulated and way beyond classification. It has all the chutzpah, creativity, wit and cheerful essence with which one can transform a gray day into a colourful one. It is jazz, blues and central European folk music interwoven with sheer inspiration. A unique emotional experience that deserves to be heard by as many music lovers as possible. Reuben Klein

A second opinion
This album likely wouldn’t have even been on my radar as recently as a couple of years ago, let alone made it into my top three picks of the year. However classical-jazz crossover is a genre that is becoming increasingly present on my playlists, a sure sign that my musical horizons are finally broadening. Anyone With A Heart sees composer and pianist Iiro Rantala team up with violinist Adam Baldych and cellist Asja Valcic to create and present in classical piano trio form a delightful collection of gems, all of which are original excluding a homage to the much loved Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
Free from stylistic limitations, melodies are the emotive foundation of this album, they are what makes it play from the heart and into the soul. The synergy and interplay between the trio feels incredibly natural, and whilst free in spirit remains unpretentious without even the slightest hint of self-indulgence. I would challenge anyone with a heart not to experience a profound emotional response when listening to this masterful creation. It is the ‘must-own’ album of 2014, regardless of your musical background or preferences. Richard Barclay


Joachim Kühn Birthday Edition
Trio Kühn Humair Jenny-Clark

Europeana
ACT

Imagine what would have happen if Dvorak and Bela Bartok asked Gil Evans to join them in creating a piece that merges European folk music played to perfection by an orchestra that contains jazz musicians. This album offers a broad musical statement that’s recorded to perfection and is beguiling and entertaining in equal amounts. Not to be missed! Reuben Klein

Marcotulli & Biondini Duo Art
La Strada Invisibile
ACT

Piano and accordion combined to produce a musical spell. From blues to funky rock rhythms, from classical to Nino Rota melodies. Romance and greed. You'd never imagine that two keyboards can fill such a large space with flowing music and energy. Audiophonic charm and intrigue of the most superlative type. Reuben Klein

Beverley Craven
Change Of Heart
Right Track

My runner up for best CD of 2014 was recorded by Beverley Craven and called Change Of Heart. Beverley has been a favourite right from her first album on, but she was never so open about her personal life before. Change Of Heart deals with the past and opens up her future to us. The recording is good, but not exceptional on most tracks and it consists of up tempo tracks interspersed with slow songs. Next to her piano, the band surrounds her with tight bass, playful percussion and more. Love to play this one because it often reminds me of her first album. René vanEs

Isabelle Boulay
Merci Serge Reggiani
Universal

This is heavy stuff if you do not understand the French language, but a delight to listen to nonetheless. It contains Isabelle Boulay’s take on the songs of the Italian/French composer Serge Reggiani. A man who captured the way of life in France, boiling it down to its essence; living in small villages, street life, to love and be loved. Isabelle has a very good voice and is one of those singers that only needs acoustic backing for her performance to capture your full attention. The band uses typical French instruments including accordion, guitar and piano. And there reinforce Reggiani’s compositions. Isabelle tender style of singing often reminds me of Juliette Gréco, yet she can albe be powerful and feminine. A recording to listen to late at night, no matter if you fully understand what she sings. For those who love France it’s a must have, it will transport you to exquisite restaurants where lovers meet, to the streets of Paris and to the countryside. René vanEs

Stacey Kent
The Changing Lights
Warner Jazz

The best album this year for me (actually released at the end of 2013) and played far too much during reviewing is The Changing Lights by Stacey Kent. This American singer, who lives with her British husband and saxophone player Jim Tomlinson, sings in English, French and Portuguese. No matter that the recordings where made in Sussex, England, she captures her love for Brazil and France in her songs. From the first note you hear how much effort has been made with the recording. There’s no loudness war here, each and every instrument shines. Stacey’s voice is admirable, light in tone, sometimes even childish, yet she will open your ears and conquer your heart. This album will bring sun to rainy afternoons, enlighten your pleasant evening or send you to bed with a smile on your face. Recording quality is excellent and beautiful voice plus the best band members she could wish for makes for a great sound. I love it every time, no matter how often I listen to it and it has seen a lot of use over the past year. Being not only a true music lover but also a devoted audiophile, this is the stuff to determine a system’s performance for voice, clarity, image and naturalness. René vanEs

Paolo Nutini
Caustic Love
Atlantic Records

The third album of his career, and released almost five years after Sunny Side Up, Caustic Love displays a marked maturing in Paolo’s Nutini’s songwriting, arranging and vocal prowess. It explores grown-up themes framed in a dark and gritty soundscape that is built on a combination of soul and funk in their rawest states. I was not a fan of Paolo when he first emerged, but my appreciation has grown with each release. Caustic Love is without question his best to date and marks a genuine ‘coming of age’. From the grimy and downright groovy Scream (Funk My Life Up) to the dark and dystopian epic Iron Sky, the album’s fresh yet retro vibe and emotionally-charged lyrics will remain relevant for future generations and likely secure its status as a contemporary classic. Richard Barclay

Coldplay
Ghost Stories
Parlophone

I thought twice before revealing this album as my third choice, it seems that any mention of Coldplay these days triggers instant ridicule and derision. I am not a Coldplay fan especially, but have come to appreciate their continued progression in musical and sonic creativity through the years. Ghost Stories marks another significant change in direction for the band. It is much more atmospheric and chilled out than their previous album, Mylo Xyloto, which by comparison was mostly anthemic and arguably chaotic and disjointed in places. Largely inspired by lead singer’s Chris Martin’s reflections on the ending of his long-term relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow, Ghost Stories flows as a more cohesive body of work by portraying a hauntingly melancholic but cathartic theme throughout. Its mellowness provides listeners with a comforting environment in which to enjoy some much needed time for reflection, something we could all use more of in our frenetic lives.Richard Barclay

Wesseltoft Schwarze Berglund
Trialogue
Jazzland

I’m a big fan of Bugge Wesseltoft, Norway’s finest exponent of contemporary instrumental music, so the release this year of an album made with est bass player Dan Berglund and German DJ Henrik Schwarze was a cause for celebration. Unlike Duo the album he made with Schwarze in 2011 Trialogue is less beat driven and more subliminal, it incorporates a string quartet on some numbers but it’s the presence of Berglund’s double bass that alters the mood. Time will tell if it matches the brilliance of Duo but less than a month in the signs are very good, it gets better on every listen.
Trialogue shows Wesseltoft’s softer side, has radiant beauty and encourages drifting with the vibe The presence of strings give it a tonal depth that extends the emotional range of the compositions and gets them right on target. Jason Kennedy

Melanie de Biasio
No Deal
Play it Again Sam

Belgian chanteuse and flautist de Biasio has a sultry style that arrested me in my tracks when I heard her earlier in the year. She has the essence of Nina Simone and many other classic jazz singers but sounds entirely individual, even when singing the standard I’m Gonna Leave You. This is musique noire with a strong fifties feel but modern backing from a superbly nuanced band of keyboards, drums, bass and piano. They keep things spare much of the time and create powerful, expansive and atmospheric soundscapes behind the beguiling voice of singer whose soul sounds older than her twenty something years. Jason Kennedy

The John Aram Quartet with Kenny Wheeler
Saturday Night & Sunday Morning
Coup Perdu

Nottingham’s Coup Perdu went to great lengths with the artwork on this double vinyl release but the music itself is yet more spectacular. This is a contemporary take on Silitoe’s book and film of the sixties, complete with snippets of dialogue from the movie. Aram is a British trombonist living in Switzerland and he gathered a very hot combo to play this suite: Colin Vallon on piano, Andy Scherer on tenor sax and the late Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn alongside a very capable rhythm section. It’s a remarkable piece of work, a mix of contemporary and bebop styles with distinctly European vibe that shows Aram to be a composer of the first order. Jason Kennedy
 

Special mention
A commendation is required for two Brazilian musicians who at times threatened to hijack the very top spots. Benjamin Taubkin's Al Quantara & The Bridge and Clarice Assad's Imaginerium should be on the shortlists of all music lovers this Christmas. Their music is as innovative and musical as they are emotional and original.
FIP radio is a French state run radio station that can be heard online. It plays eclectic selections of a myriad musical styles that one can only but dream of hearing on this side of the channel over the airwaves. In my view it should be a part of mandatory music lessons in schools around the UK at least once a week. Reuben Klein