Let’s get straight to the point, Rapsody made the record of 2017, fulfilling the promise of previous albums and especially those incredible guest appearances with such as Kendrick Lamar with a brilliant hip-hop album – vital and enjoyable from start to finish. Lyrically, and in terms of delivery, Rapsody holds her own with anybody. What takes this great record to the next level, however, is the production from 9th Wonder and team – creating a synergy between music and rap at the highest level. Classic album.
Moving on…2017 also saw Thundercat release his best album by a significant distance. He’s grown as a musician, composer and singer and the track with Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins is a joy.
Vulfpeck were a band I only discovered this year, and having worked through their back catalogue, I looked forward to Mr Finish Line and enjoyed its laid-back grooves and catchy melodies and forgave them their quirkier self-referential moments.
Though for me, Damn lacked the sheer musicality, immediacy and powerful storytelling of 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, it remains a fine album with Kendrick Lamar further reinforcing his pre-eminent position in hip-hop.
Living Colour were a huge band for me in the 1980s. I can still remember the guttural impact of hearing Cult of Personality for the first time and seeing them live. Shade is a blues-drenched and powerful rock return.
I was only dimly aware of Ariana Grande‘s name before this year, and knew nothing of her music. But the live performances on the superbly organised televised Manchester concert in response to the terror attack had a vitality and authenticity few cause-led pop concerts manage. This led me to her album – a great pop album – you can hear the Mariah influence but the voice is her own and the songs and production reward repeated listening. And it has Nikki Minaj’s best guest feature of 2017 too.
I’ve always liked Little Dragon and all their records although perhaps 2014’s Nahuma Rubberband the least as it sounded more like a Yukimi Nagano solo album but, three years on, 2017’s Season High returned to a signature sound and an entrancing vibe.
The first jazz album on my list for 2017 is Gareth Lockrane‘s wonderfully vibrant big band album Fistfight at the Barndance. Gareth’s world-class compositions and flute playing draw you in and then there are the attractions of a top-class band with musicians such as Mark Outram on guitar.
Charlie Cawood is master of stringed instruments, as well as playing bass guitar in Knifeworld, he’s known for playing a great variety of stringed instruments from many of the world’s musical cultures. And he uses this to great effect on The Divine Abstract, transporting the listener through a wide range of moods. Compelling.
William Parker is a veteran double bassist who came up through the avant-garde jazz scene. He is known for playing with Cecil Parker, David Murray and Peter Brötzmann among others. Meditation/Resurrection is a wonderful double CD, recorded with two different quartets. Swinging mightily at times, exploratory at others, it’s an intense experience.
I also enjoyed albums by …
Vijay Iyer Sextet