For your consideration: Best jazz albums of 2015 Grammy voters missed

Carol Banks Weber - AXS Contributor
By: AXS Contributor Dec 16, 2015
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Wow, this is hard. The sheer scope of releases this year indicates that jazz is still alive and well, and vibrant, in the crazy competitive music scene. But picking the best jazz albums of 2015 is no walk in the park.

Grammy® voters had the unenviable task of going through over 21,000 submissions to narrow the field to the 2015 nominees announced on December 7 for 83 categories in 30 fields.

None of those nominees made this top 10 list. This list is special, just as deserving of recognition as the recently Grammy-nominated Joey Alexander, Christian McBride, and Joshua Redman. See for yourself.

  • Padme
    On its surface, the July 7, 2015 debut album by this young jazz pianist and composer (ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award) seems harm
    Shervin Lainez, used with permission

    On its surface, the July 7, 2015 debut album by this young jazz pianist and composer (ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award) seems harmless enough, a nice R&B funk blast on the opening, title track. But then you get into the layers, unending, complex, soft, floating one minute, hard-hitting the next, and with a human outreach embedded in those dense layers. Mind blown. With a full jazz band behind her, Caili O’Doherty romps, flies, and commands several ardent voices on piano, banking her own rhythms, yet never losing the rest of the audience who come for the vibe and the dance streaks. It’s all in there from this legit artist who lives her values.

  • Heartwork
    The May 26, 2015 album would not exist without its predecessor, Kwassman and Brother Spirit’s debut, Songs Of The Brother Spirit. Jazz
    Photo courtesy of Joshua Kwassman, used with permission

    The May 26, 2015 album would not exist without its predecessor, Kwassman and Brother Spirit’s debut, Songs Of The Brother Spirit. Jazz-fusion artists are notorious for pushing boundaries, but also for trying to jam every known and unknown style in there for effect. Multi-instrumentalist/composer Joshua Kwassman chose to go with substance over too many bizarre style combinations, although they are there with a purpose in some of the most non-traditional jazz instrumentation (cello, Chinese tom tom, glockenspiel, baritone acoustic). The best term to describe Heartwork is, contemporary hymn — designed to coax the listener to think and feel for others in worse shape. “HEARTWORK tells a story of human weakness and the internal struggles that we all face,” according to Kwassman, from a DL Media release.

  • Bend To The Light
    How rare it is to hear pure, unadulterated joy in fully integrated jazz, with all the Ts crossed and all the Is dotted. Lafayette Harris Jr.
    Anthony Nicolau, used with permission

    How rare it is to hear pure, unadulterated joy in fully integrated jazz, with all the Ts crossed and all the Is dotted. Lafayette Harris Jr. came out with the August 7, 2015, Airmen record, his seventh and most successful in conveying the artist’s unique, unbendable spirit, love and delight in all things. The pianist crosses every major genre with an innate sense of the melodic (“Geneva” lifts the rafters) and appreciation for spirit over technical prowess, although he is in fine possession of both. “Bending towards that positive energy in life is a lifelong goal for all of us and this music is inspired by that aspiration — especially the title cut,” Harris said in press for the record.

  • Kneedelus
    There’s nothing out there that sounds quite like this November 27, 2015 Brainfeeder album. Grammy-nominated rock band Kneebody and ele
    Photo courtesy of Kneebody, Daedelus, and DL Media, used with permission

    There’s nothing out there that sounds quite like this November 27, 2015 Brainfeeder album. Grammy-nominated rock band Kneebody and electronic maestro Daedelus throttle the standard style icons of rock to jazz to EDM, to even hip-hop, with help from L.A. producer Alfred Darlington. Kneebody keyboardist Adam Benjamin is no stranger to jazz explorations, having worked last year with Megadeth’s Chris Poland, Brand X’s Percy Jones, and saxophonist Frank Catalano on his ode to Coltrane in the Love Supreme Collective.

  • Many Faces Of Love
    British singer, 2006 BBC Jazz Award nominee, and fire for vocals, Polly Gibbons is already a household name in London. She’s yet to ge
    Photo courtesy of Polly Gibbons, used with permission

    British singer, 2006 BBC Jazz Award nominee, and fire for vocals, Polly Gibbons is already a household name in London. She’s yet to get such a foothold in the trickier, self-contained bait-clique of the States. Her February 3, 2015 U.S. debut on Resonance Records could and should improve the unfamiliar status considerably. She tears through familiar covers like a woman possessed with an inspired band full of known U.S. markers, including L.A. arranger/piano man, Tamir Hendelman, violinist Christian Howes, and Tierney Sutton’s drummer Ray Brinker.

  • Exploring Mars
    Granted, this particular album goes better with the L.A. pianist/composer’s live Discovery Project — a multi-media concert serie
    Photo courtesy of Josh Nelson, used with permission

    Granted, this particular album goes better with the L.A. pianist/composer’s live Discovery Project — a multi-media concert series gaining favor throughout the West Coast. Everybody’s favorite sideman, Josh Nelson has been slowly, steadily gaining exposure as an accomplished, creative mastermind of both the narrative and the musical — the equivalent of a Jazz Imagineer (his father worked as a Disney Imagineer, so no wonder). With the release of this February 17, 2015 album, Nelson cuts across ambient, soundtrack extremes, capturing the mood, the literal, and the soulful possibilities as a movie director, Foley artist, and conductor. Yes, his love song, “How You Loved Me On Mars,” featuring Kathleen Grace (No Place To Fall) on vocals, deserves as much visible radio attention as Adele’s latest, overhyped 25. And yes, the grunt work of “Solis Lacus, The Eye Of Mars” and “Syrtis Major, The Hourglass Sea” thrusts the listener eye to eye with the Red Planet’s desolate landscape firsthand. But there is so much more going on in the sonic snapshots of man, machine, and alien connection that invites the listener to imagine along with the musician visionary.

  • Maiden’s Voyage
    This August 7, 2015 release rises above labels, styles, chord progressions, and who played with who to reach into the listener’s soul
    Artwork courtesy of Catherine Marie Charlton, used with permission

    This August 7, 2015 release rises above labels, styles, chord progressions, and who played with who to reach into the listener’s soul with an empathic spirit. Mostly classical in feel — Catherine Marie Charlton’s origins as a pianist — the album also remembers the jazz in small, quiet, quality doses: Flugelhornist Jeff Oster gently turning those “Autumn Leaves” into memories, Charlton herself accomplishing a miraculous feat on the spare and narrow, “All That I Feel,” by what she does not play — the jazz in between a glimpse of her broken, healing classically drenched heart. The Grammy voters, and perhaps the world as a whole, would never have the patience to sit and wait for Charlton’s Maiden’s Voyage to speak quietly to their soul or quiet their spirits. Their loss.

  • Traveler
    This February 17, 2015 release combines an easy smooth jazz flow with global moods in original compositions that conjure up a wanderlust for
    JoAnn Rollins, used with permission

    This February 17, 2015 release combines an easy smooth jazz flow with global moods in original compositions that conjure up a wanderlust for exotic parts unknown. An international, contemporary jazz star, Lawson Rollins rolls up his sleeves for his fifth album to bring places like Madrid, Berlin, Paris, and the Bayou to life from sense memory. Ironically, the most heartfelt song remains, “Journey Home,” where the global guitarist never leaves the vast imagination of his own “state of mind… For me, it’s the most fully expressive composition on the album and one that really captures in music my feelings about homecoming in the larger sense, not just returning to one’s physical house.”

  • Lines & Crosscurrents
    If you didn’t live in or near Köln, Germany, or knew of Florian Ross already through strong word of mouth, you’d never have come
    Photo courtesy of Florian Ross, used with permission

    If you didn’t live in or near Köln, Germany, or knew of Florian Ross already through strong word of mouth, you’d never have come across this January 15, 2015 release of his with pedal steel guitarist Markus Segschneider. An exceptionally detailed and experimentally inclined keyboardist, composer, and conductor of big bands, Ross also returned to his comfort zone in a quintet (Niels Klein — clarinets, tenor; David Helm — acoustic bass; Fabian Arends — drums) for this reconfiguration of European free jazz that forces the listener to appreciate the thought that went into the modal-heavy movements.

  • trioKAIT
    Released on July 31, 2015, the pianist/composer’s third album showcases a new trio with electric bassist Cooper Appelt and drummer&nbs
    Peter Figen, used with permission

    Released on July 31, 2015, the pianist/composer’s third album showcases a new trio with electric bassist Cooper Appelt and drummer Jake Reed, as well as a departure from her 2012 classical-jazz album, Mountain Suite. Kait Dunton used Twitter to alert fans and critics months earlier about her return to the funky jazz-fusion in her wheelhouse, yet with a “fresh perspective to the classic piano trio format,” exploring “modern genres such as fusion, R&B, and EDM — but with primarily acoustic instruments — excluding Cooper’s ’63 P-Bass!” Those who heard Dunton’s enormously enveloping Mountain Suite quintet floating and charging on clouds would definitely attest to the fresh, modern departure.

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