Zen vibes and ice-cold killers; a wrap up of some of the best ambient Future Jazz tracks of the year.
Hello again friends, freaks and fans of future-jazz.
UK-based readers; there’s a good chance you’re waking up this morning feeling a little bit grubby having either held your nose and voted for a person or a specific policy or two you don’t quite agree with last night.
Fortunately, I find that the best remedy for such morning-after remorse is a selection of the haziest, horizontalist ambient records to hit the airwaves in 2019.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice it’s a Top 11 rather than a Top 10 – ‘cos on all these lists I wanted to give myself a chance to include a stone-cold killer that I didn’t have chance to feature elsewhere on the site just yet.
But don’t worry about little details like that. For now, simply adopt the lotus position, light an incense stick, hit the play button and ommmmmmm….
11. THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA: A CAGED BIRD / IMITATIONS OF LIFE
12 years since J.Swinscoe (not to be confused with a certain J. Swinson who you also might be reading a bit about today) and friends last released a ‘proper’ album, 2019 saw the return of one of jazz’s true pioneers as The Cinematic Orchestra’s album To Believe was released.
In my original review of A Caged Bird / Imitations of Life I noted how the lead single “uses the tried and tested, sweet-and-sour formula of the ‘Orchestra’s strings against Roots Manuva’s gravelly tones, while, at the same time introducing dance-influenced beats that wouldn’t be out of place at a Four Tet DJ set.”
Enjoy this lyric video…
10. HANIA RANI: EDEN
Gondwana Records are one of the leading lights in the world of future jazz and in 2019 they unearthed another diamond in the form of Polish pianist Hania Rani. Her album Esja was released to the sort of vast critical acclaim not usually reserved for music so sparse and minimal in its composition.
In my original review of Eden I noted how Gondwana founder Matthew Halsall “has discovered a transcendent talent; a classically-trained pianist able to evoke the sparseness of her native Bieszczady mountain landscape while teasing enough latent energy to keep you on the edge of your seat.”
Get lost in this official video…
09. JOE ARMON-JONES: ICY ROADS (STACKED)
If you’re not a fan of Ezra Collective, you’re not going to get on very well with these Best of 2019 lists, I’m afraid. Already confirmed as the winners of my ‘Charm Offensives’ category, the London collective’s keyboard player Joe Armon-Jones also released an album in 2019, Turn to Clear View which saw the ginger wizard seize centre stage.
Reviewing the LP’s launch single, in my original review of Icy Roads (Stacked) I commented on “how melodic Armon-Jones’ playing is. Sure, his phenomenal talent comes across as you hear those fingers dance across the keys but the track comes pre-loaded with a hookworm that will get lodged in your lug-holes.”
Hear more here…
08. LUCINDA CHUA: FEEL SOMETHING
FKA Twigs / K Á R Y Y N collaborator Lucinda Chua stepped out from the shadows in 2019, only to release the decidedly shady debut solo EP, Antidotes 1. It was a breath-taking affair. The restraint she exhibits throughout is both alluring and unbearably tense; the gaps between the notes and the sparseness of the arrangement masking the subtle manipulation going on in the background of each track.
In my original review of Feel Something I called the Milton Keynes native “a cello-wielding, classical music revolutionary, badass bi-atch being reborn before your very eyes.”
Watch her do so (in space?) and with a glorious flowing set of locks in this performance piece…
07. JHENÉ AIKO: TRIGGER PROTECTION MANTRA
Definitively the winner of the 2019 ‘track most likely to be played at a Buddhist temple’ category, former PBRnB pioneer Jhené Aiko returned with one of the least likely curveballs of the Future Jazz scene.
In my original review of Trigger Protection Mantra I swooned over how Ms. Aiko has “switched out trippin’ for transcendence and the result is a track that soothes straight off the bat and sounds simply wicked over headphones.”
Not that you should need a visual to aid your meditation, but the official offering is pretty trance-inducing if you want it…
06. YAATRI: PICK IT UP
So, this is my renegade choice in this category and not because I missed it but because it was only shared with me a week or two ago. Yaatri’s previous single Waiting for the Sun would likely have been a contender for this list anyway but, in Pick It Up the Leeds quintet sealed a sure-fire spot right at the last.
Beth Herrington’s vocals are even better than before – despite the clear pain conveyed in lyrics about a toxic relationship. Band leader Liam DeTar heads up the most beautiful middle section in which a lilting guitar line sings out to us in almost lyrical tones. And the supporting cast of Felix Bertulis-Webb (keyboard), Jona Tromp (drums), Joe Wilkes (bass) and Zuheb Ahmed Khan (tabla) are as on-point as ever.
It’s an excellent example of a band honing their craft; making music that does that most difficult of tricks – combining multifariousness with musicality in equal measure.
Hear more here…
05. PENGUIN CAFÉ: CHAPTER
Arthur Jeffes’ Penguin Café released fourth album Handfuls of Night in 2019 prompting those of us who were fans of his father’s Orchestra-monikered band to once again consult our navels about the ability of the son’s music to stand up to the scrutiny inevitably levelled at it. It delivered. And then some.
In my original, unusually pun-tastic review of Chapter I remarked on how the track marks “a new – ahem – chapter for the band and one which sees them finally break free and – if, not exactly, fly (as we all know penguins can’t) – at least forge its own footsteps, on its own two (webbed) feet.”
Enjoy the cinematic New York-shot video here…
04. YELFRIS VALDES: ANCESTRY
Cuban trumpet player Yelfris Valdés’ For the Ones… was one of the most diverse and soulful albums of the year for me and those two elements came directly to the fore on this track.
In my original review of Ancestry I praised the song’s ability to combine “groovy Latin American and African rhythms and percussion [with] psychedelic electronics [while] somehow managing to keep the essence of jazz throughout.”
Watch the following video in which the track’s vocalist Modou Toure features prominently…
03. TERRI LYNN CARRINGTON: TRAPPED IN THE AMERICAN DREAM
Massachusetts-born drummer Terri Lyne Carrington released – if not the easiest album to listen to – one of the most important in 2019. Crammed with as much biting political commentary as it is musicians of the highest calibre, it was this single – featuring the ‘vital’ and ‘visceral’ contribution of Kassa Overall that drew the most attention.
In my original review of Trapped in the American Dream I noted how “it’s going some when a jazz musician has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and Herbie Hancock and yet I’m able to confidently predict that their latest release will be their most formative work.”
This live video captures the power of the song’s message…
02. MARK DE CLIVE-LOWE: O-EDO NIHONBASHI
Jazz pianist and UK broken beat pioneer Mark de Clive-Lowe took a journey in 2019 as he explored his mother’s Japanese roots across two albums under the Heritage banner. The results were stunning and quite unlike anything else you’ll hear anywhere else as he interpreted traditional folk songs through his signature lens of dense drum programming and electronica-inflected jazz.
In my original review of O-Edo Nihonbashi I described the track as being a “voyage that feels as epic as the myths of warriors, dragon palaces and Heavenly Kings of which it speaks.”
Marvel at MdCL performing the track live…
01. MARIA CHIARA ARGIRÒ: NAUTILUS
And so we reach the top spot and I’d love to say I don’t do spoilers but anyone playing close attention back in August will recall me saying that, “in Nautilus, Argirò has released, undoubtedly, one of the tracks of the year. Full stop.”
So no excuses for being surprised at this piece’s elevated position in the order.
The London-based pianist bestowed her album Hidden Seas on the world in September and, as I noted in my original review of Nautilus it is an album full of “songs all named along the nautical theme [with] melodies that – like Nautilus – seem to mimic the seas’ every movement. It is a love letter to the ocean as well as a meditation on the ways in which it divides and yet connects us.”
Hear more here…
So there you have it, friends; the third in a five-week wrap up of the year.
You can listen to these Top 11 Peaceful Protests on the below Spotify playlist, specially-compiled just for you (and anyone else who reads this blog, of course.)
Check back next week when I’ll be revealing my Top 11 Guerrilla Warfare choices.
If you like what you hear (or even if you don’t), please engage in dialogue with me @45rpm_Reviews on Twitter. And, if you’d like to receive updates weekly, please subscribe to the email list to get these recommendations sent to your inbox weekly.
– SV –