These lists are always hugely subjective but these are new sounds I’ve loved listening to this year – and if you know what I like – there might be something for you to check out too! Probably not everything though; this is a diverse list! The order I’ve chosen is a little spurious -just how I feel today. Each of these is a personal favourite from a great musical year.
Weather Report – The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981
Of course Weather Report are one of my favourite ever bands but I always found this line-up (Shorter, Zawinul, Pastorius, Erskine, Thomas) veered slightly towards cliche and showiness live such as on the awful 8:30. Not on these recordings: pure invention, great musicality and groove for days. Essential!
2. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Sometimes with hip-hop, you have to get past the profanity to get to the profundity. And this is a profound album, lyrically and musically featuring Lamar’s brilliant storytelling, many of the musicians who also appeared on Kamasi Washington’s great album this year and a stunning guest spot from Rapsody on Complexion.
3. Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth
It surely says something about the positive state of hip-hop at the moment that I have two hip-hop records in my top ten. Either could have been number one to be honest. Lupe Fiasco is so intelligent, so lyrically brilliant that this one absorbs from start to finish. The wordplay on the 8 minute plus Mural is remarkable. This is also the first year my top ten has featured an album recommended by my son – this one!
4. Lalah Hathaway – Live
OK, the numbers in and order of this list have little meaning as this is one of the great live vocal albums ever. Lalah’s father Donny’s most celebrated album was a live album so it’s fitting that this is Lalah’s best so far. Simply the best singer out there today. Add Something from her collaboration with Snarky Puppy and you have a truly remarkable and unique body of work. I love this record and glad I helped crowdfund it.
5. Israel Houghton and New Breed – Covered: Alive in Asia
This is a great Gospel record. Such a brilliantly tight and inspired band and a rhythm section we could all learn from. This is a great live record and as meaningful as music gets.
6. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Truly brilliant jazz album from Kamasi who heralds from the fertile LA scene where musicians from electronic music, jazz and hip-hop are collaborating on great new music for the likes of label Brainfeeder. This is firmly a jazz record though. At first, releasing a ‘debut’ record which is a live triple album with strings and a choir seems audacious until you realise this is no ‘debut’, Kamasi has been honing his skills for a long time and even better, has the musical vision to make the Epic work. And work it does in the spirit of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sannders but contemporary. Essential.
7. FKA Twigs – Lp1 (2014)
Slight break of my own ‘rules’ here. This album is from 2014 but I only became aware of Twigs in 2015 and this is such a unique and brilliant album it deserved mention. A sonic masterpiece, highly personal writing and a unique use of her voice – I love this record. I have enjoyed first listens to 2015’s M3ll155x but the production hasn’t grabbed me in the same way.
8. Charli XCX – Sucker
Pop-punk has never been remotely anything I’ve considered listening to before but the energy and musicality of this record is undeniable. It captures the essence of youthful rebellion and sets it to the catchiest of pop tunes imaginable. While avowing to be ’90s’ the harmonic structures and pop song formats are very much from the 50s to the 70s. I love this record’s energy. ‘I don’t want to go to school, I just want to break the rules!’
9. Thundercat – The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam
Bassist Thundercat plays on three of my top ten: Kendrick’s record, Kamasi’s ‘The Epic’ and this of course -strictly speaking an EP rather than an album, although that distinction seems rather arbitrary in the digital age. Them Changes is the standout track for me in an absorbing and individual set.
10. Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet – Family First
Subtle and beautiful jazz record that sustains moods and atmospheres quite exquisitely. The version of Bob Marley’s Johnny Was is excellent.