This is a list of my favorites among all the recordings I heard for the first time this year, not of things commercially released in 2015 (same rules as my books list). I commend you to Ted Gioia’s best of 2015 list for something more current; the list below is purely a product of my own idiosyncratic listening habits. Unsurprisingly, it’s heavy on the jazz, but I have a few other things in there to mix it up. Alphabetical by artist:
- Henry “Red” Allen – World On A String. One of the definitive statements of swing era jazz, never mind that it was recorded in 1957 rather than 1937. Incredibly creative solos from Allen and collaborators, including Coleman Hawkins and Buster Bailey.
- Gary Clark, Jr. – Live. A charming young man with a straight-up monstrous guitar sound; while his studio records feel a bit overproduced, this bluesy live setting is ideal. The ghost of Hendrix is definitely hovering nearby, but he would be smiling I think.
- The Gladiators – Studio One Singles. A long string of roots reggae classics; this collection is more consistent than either their album Trenchtown Mix Up, or the other widely-available collection Bongo Red.
- Ice Cube – Death Certificate. When the NWA movie came out this year I went back to the records, and the truth is that NWA’s songs don’t hold up that well these days. Ice Cube’s solo stuff really does, however. And somehow I missed this one the first time around: funky, slamming production and hard-hitting rhymes.
- Andrew Jaume – Merapi. A French jazz saxophonist and guitarist improvise with a Javanese gamelan orchestra in a rare but successful mixing of the traditions. A completely ravishing sound; I had been waiting for this album, without knowing it, for years.
- Thelonious Monk – Big Band And Quartet In Concert. Despite having been a Monk fan for many years, I am still discovering great recordings: the long, complex big band arrangements are unique and wonderful, and the quartet statements are definitive.
- Tiny Parham – 1928-1930. An unjustly neglected figure of 1920s jazz, Parham’s complex arrangements draw on the same well of exotic “jungle” effects as early Ellington.
- Ernest Ranglin – Jazz Jamaica From The Workshop. A 1962 session featuring several Jamaican giants playing not instrumental reggae but proper jazz. The guitar virtuoso Ernest Ranglin is the star; he would go on to fruitfully combine jazz with reggae on albums like Memories of Barber Mack, which I also enjoyed a lot.
- Moacir Santos – Coisas. Wonderful jazzy miniatures by a largish ensemble led by the Brazilian composer, from 1965. Far superior to his 1970s outings on Blue Note.
- Sly Stone – I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-70. The mellow, minimalist funk of Fresh-era Sly Stone is one of the great sounds in pop music. This collection of singles is like discovering a whole new Sly album from that crucial period; essential.
- Taumbu – Encantado. My most random musical discovery of the year (heard it on the radio in Mexico), a really lovely and creative album of Latin jazz.
- Lucky Thompson – Tricotism. Thompson is one of my favorite tenor saxophonists, with a flat-out gorgeous sound. This classic session features him with minimal accompaniment, the better to showcase his tone.
- Hozan Yamamoto – Ginkai (Silver World). A Japanese shakuhachi master joins a jazz group for an atmospheric mixing of the traditions. Obscure but worth searching out.
For reference, here’s a link to my 2014 music list.