2018 was a strange year, globally, almost everything that could go wrong did. Fortunately, there was some great music. Here are the records that had the greatest impact on me.
Louis Cole – Time
I was hugely anticipating this and Louis of course didn’t let me down. A landmark album with so many incredible musical moments and deceptive lyrical depth. It’s mostly all Louis (and Genevieve) and all the better for that but every guest appearance shines too. Stunning album.
Jacob Collier – Djesse (Vol.1)
Collier might be musical marmite but for those of us that appreciate his brilliance, it seems very time we listen, we expand our musical consciousness. This album is exhilarating and a sheer musical rollercoaster. I love it.
The 8-Bit Big Band – Press Start
I didn’t grown up with videogames and they never drew me into their universe but even I am astounded by Charlie Rosen’s brilliant big band arrangements of videogame music. Belatedly, I have realised the huge influence of Japanese videogame composers on contemporary music and it feels like opening a window into another universe for me.
Lupe Fiasco – Drogas Wave
Hip-hop’s pre-eminent lyricist and philosopher, Lupe has brought out another classic. The concept album sections hand together superbly, and the album becomes a true epic with all the additional songs, loosely connected with the theme. The production is decent but the album is entirely about the brilliant lyrical concept and delivery. A true genius of wordplay and flow.
Georgia Anne Muldrow – Overload
Prolific producer, composer, musician and singer comes over as an even more left-field Badu at times on this – and I mean that as a compliment. Muldrow is her own person though and the production is superb and the songs communicating in a way that makes this her most accessible release yet.
Maisha – There is a Place
I had the good fortune to play with drummer bandleader Jake Long some years back. His band Maisha plays a contemporary afro-jazz that is both very London and global. Rising jazz stars Nubya Garcia and Shirley Tetteh feature and there are string arrangements and layers of percussion with nods to Pharoah Sanders, Ethiopian jazz and afrobeat.
Jacob Mann – Greatest Hits Volume 2 (EP)
Incredibly inventive jazz big band arrangements by Knower keyboardist and YouTube legend Jacob Mann. Completing the Knower connection, Louis Cole is on drums and Sam Wilkes on bass. It’s clever, it’s to the point and it’s worth including even at only 11 minutes long.
Kamaal Williams – The Return
Kamaal, aka Henry Wu, is back with an album of Rhodes-infused groovy funk-jazz. As one half of the Yussef Kamaal project, Kamaal Williams set expectations high and this album meets them head on.
Harriet Tubman – The Terror End of Beauty
Melvin Gibbs, J.T. Lewis and Brandon Ross continue to expand on Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies, reimagined as a future jazz Avant Garde power trio. The title is a nod to Sonny Sharrock’s dream of combining terror and beauty in music and there are feedback-laden nods to metal, dub and blues. Taking on Sharrock’s influence, it’s a superb record with a classic cover of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. Gibbs is superb throughout.
Steve Lawson – Beauty and Desolation
Lawson’s best work for years benefits from what seems like near-effortless control of electronics that go way beyond what was possible in the early days of looping. It’s melodically focussed and musically diverse.
Sam Wilkes – Wilkes
In the great tradition of bassist led albums that feature very little bass, the Knower bassist’s record eschews the intense funk grooves he is known for to explore atmosphere and ambience, providing unusual soundscapes as settings for improvisations by Sam Gendel and others. Gendel is superb on Alice Coltrane’s Welcome which opens the record.
Sam Gendel and Sam Wilkes – Music for Saxofone and Bass Guitar
As on the last album this is all about atmosphere and uses electronics to create soundscapes. The unhurried grooves and sounds have a power to transport you. Like Wilkes’ own record, it feels like a soundtrack to an imaginary film.
John Coltrane – Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album
While it wasn’t as essential as it was hyped to be, it was a hugely enjoyable release featuring the classic quartet at the peak of their powers. It has the feel of outtakes from the Crescent sessions and represents an era of Coltrane’s music that would reach its peak with A Love Supreme recorded the following year before Coltrane set off on yet another path forward.
Black Thought – Streams of Thought, Vol.1
Black Thought’s long-awaited solo EP benefitted from the brilliant production of 9th Wonder – surely hip-hop’s greatest current producer. Black Thought unleashes a constant flow, uninterrupted by chorus that’s hugely thrilling as he mixing cultural references, wordplay and internal rhyme.
The Internet – Hive Mind
This one hasn’t been on repeat for me as much I thought it would but it’s grooves and hooks drew me like crazy. The music is like the heir to the catchy groove of Chic allied to the songwriting brilliance of some truly unique individuals.
Justin Brown – Nyeusi
One of the leading young drummers on the New York scene, Born has played with Thundercat, Ambrose Akinmusire, Esperanza Spaulding and others. His debut album combines Weather Report inspired atmosphere-laden grooves with mostly electronic instrumentation that serves to anonymise the players and place the emphasis squarely on the music and Brown’s incredible drumming.