With luck, all our British jazz musicians are enjoying mince pies and warming drinks in the bosoms of their families, rather than being up there on the bandstand this week, so it’s time to look back on the year and what they have done in the recording studio.
Here is my top 10:
10. Ma The Last: This quartet is saxophonist Tom Challenger, drummer Dave Smith, organist Ross Stanley and electronic manipulator Matt Calvert. For the range and richness of the textures, atmospheres and grooves, the most interesting band working in the industrial rock-jazz field.
9. Neil Yates Five Countries: Trumpeter Neil Yates has straddled the jazz and folk genres for a while now. Here he works with Romanian acoustic guitarist Zsolt Bende and Irish bodhran player Cormac Byrne, and the results are truly lovely, taking inspiration from the music and landscape of Scotland, Ireland, Romania and more.
8. Phil Robson The Immeasurable Code: The guitarist continues to show what a strong composer and conceptualist he is in addition to wielding the mighty axe.
7. Kairos 4tet Statement of Intent: As enjoyable a ride as the band’s first disc, Kairos Moment. The band feels even tighter, probably as a result of quite a bit of touring, and the character of saxophonist Adam Waldmann’s music is even more defined. His compositions are strong with not necessarily just one good tune apiece.
6. Empirical Elements Of Truth: Another strong outing from the quartet that last time around were reflecting upon Eric Dolphy. Here they are reflecting on their own place in British society and in the international music world. The whole affair is infused with great energy.
5. Kit Downes Quiet Tiger: The trio of Kit, double bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren is once again the band and its solo elements, while saxophone, clarinet and cello act as a kind of backdrop to the action. They set off the trio rather than interact with it, and give Downes the chance to write some strangely enigmatic charts.
4. Gwilym Simcock Good Days At Schloss Elmau: Playing solo piano, Simcock gets to explore all his influences and musical education, feeding not only his jazz improvisations but also his classical background into these eight solo pieces.
3. Sid Peacock’s Surge La Fête: Composer Sid Peacock is the ringmaster of contemporary British jazz, and the 16-piece Surge is his circus. To hear the band in full cry is to visualise the full troupe piled pyramid-high and wide on the creaking but sturdy frame of a recycled bike making its way across a high wire.
2. Julian Siegel Urban Theme Park: This music just envelops the listener with a big bearhug. I think it has something to do not only with the individual musicianship but it has to do with the equally impossible to explain energy and joy that is created communally by these four musicians.
1. The Impossible Gentlemen: The first recording by this perfectly balanced transatlantic band – guitarist Mike Walker and pianist Gwilym Simcock from this side of the pond; drummer Adam Nussbaum and electric bassist Steve Swallow from the other side – is one of the most exciting and satisfying collaborations for a very long time.