S. Victor Aaron’s Top Unreviewed Records of 2014: Markus James, Deerhoof, Don Pullen

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…oh, and one more thing…

Earlier in December is that time when albums falling within four broad categories are selected as the best releases for the year. In pulling together these ‘best-of’ lists, I don’t consider every album I’ve listened to over the year, only those for which I’ve taken the time to write some sort of a review.

Every year, though, there are records I’ve listened to and liked a lot but for one reason or another, didn’t get a chance to review them. Though this isn’t the artist’s fault, these records got disqualified from qualifying for on of the ‘official’ year-end lists. That’s how this informal extra list got started, to give a proper recognition to these unreviewed albums worthy of strong recommendation before moving on to the new releases of the new year.

Below are a handful of 2014 releases that struck me the right way when listening to them and I had everyway intention of reviewing but never found the time. Most of them fall in the jazz realm, but this year there are a couple of nuggets that don’t. In no particular order are the Nifty Nine of 2014, with summarized takes on each of them.

Definitely not your run-of-the-mill fare here, and if that sounds appealing, give these Top Unreviewed Records of 2014 a listen.

Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita (Polyvinyl): San Francisco avant-indie rockers Deerhoof have long mastered the seemingly impossible task of merging noise rock with funk-pop and lo-fi with electronic quirks, and they do it again on La Isla Bonita. Here, they pull together all their multiple, clashing personalities and fashion something that’s readily embraceable either in spite of the fractured, garage growling guitars of John Dieterich/Ed Rodriguez and the quirky melodies and J-Pop vocals of Satomi Matsuzaki…or precisely because of those things. Whatever it is, it works. Again.

Matthew Yeakley – Clean Numbers and Dirty Words (Orenda): LA-based guitarist Yeakley decided to be ambitious from the get-go by simultaneously releasing not one but two debut albums, each with a slightly different line-up and all original compositions. Clean Numbers features a sax player while a trumpet serves as the foil to Yeakley’s guitar on Dirty Words. With a steady rhythm section of Matt Politano (piano/Rhodes), Cooper Appelt (electric bass) and Aaron McLendon (drums), Yeakley and his crew of Los Angeles’ finest make solid contemporary jazz that grooves (“A Place To Call Home”), bops (” Wish I Could’ve Known You Better”) and take chances (“Periculum N”). Yeakley’s polished guitar style is what we’ve come to expect from the town that gave us Larry and Lee. It’s a lot of music to drop on an unsuspecting public at once, but you can’t have too much of a good thing.

Michael Eaton – Individuation (Destiny): Here’s another astonishingly ambitious debut, this time by saxophonist and composer Michael Eaton. With trumpeter Jon Crowley on some tracks and mentor Dave Liebman on others, Eaton combines sophistication modern jazz principles with minimalism and West African conventions. He even had Brad Whiteley play a prepared piano for some tracks. The results aren’t nearly as convoluted as it sounds, the performances Individuation come off like well-oiled machinery.

Chelsey Green and the Green Project – The Green Room (self-released): Green is another newcomer, a violinist whose got the chops, but also shows a lot of ability as a composer, arranger and even as a vocalist (“Autumn Leaves”). Her brand of contemporary jazz is too energetic and dynamic to be called ‘smooth’ but retains a crossover appeal. The Green Room is full-length debut plenty strong enough to keep me interested in what she’s going to come up with next.

Markus James – Head For The Hills (Firenze): A real student of traditional West African music, James illuminates the connection between the blues — particularly the Hill Country blues of Northern Mississippi — and those ancestral forms. For each song, he’s accompanied by only a drummer, such as Junior Kimbrough’s son Kinney, Calvin Johnson, who’s played for Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, Aubrey “Bill” Turner and Jessie Mae Hemphill’s drummer R.L. Boyce. James’, however, plays all kinds of instruments, such as electric slide, 3 string cigar box, gourd banjo, slide dulcimer, acoustic guitar, harmonica, beatbox, and a snakeskin-covered one-string diddley bow. These recordings were made all across rural localities in Mississippi (and at James’ Northern California home), on front porches, barns and carports. It’s as raw and authentic as it sounds, but hardly moldy. “Nomo,” for instance, struts with cocky mindset the of a hip-hop song, and James’ ragged vocal resembles Luther Dickinson’s of the North Mississippi Allstars. Matter of fact, if you like the Allstars but are ready to dig deeper, Head For The Hills is your record.

Kalle Kalima & K-18 – Buñuel de Jour (TUM): Finnish guitarist Kalima makes his third album with a cinematic source of inspiration. This time it’s Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel (the first two such projects were tributes to Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch). Like the Lynch-inspired disc we covered a couple of years back, this one uses an odd assemblage of electric guitar, alto sax, accordion and double-bass. And no drums. Eric Dolphy and his brand of avant garde looms large here, too, and experimental rock pops up in unexpected places. It’s the whole weird freshness of the sound they make and the unpredictability of where the K-18 band goes with it which makes Buñuel de Jour such a rewarding listen when something completely different is on the listening agenda.

Chris Dundas, with Arild Andersen, Bendik Hofseth and Patrice Heral – Oslo Odyssey (BLM): Californian pianist Chris Dundas set out to make an ECM record on another label and so he went out and got Norwegian ECM bass legend Andersen to participate on this 2-CD endeavor, recorded it in Oslo with ECM engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug and even the CD artwork looks like classic ECM artwork. With another Norwegian, Hofseth, on sax and Andersen’s French drummer Heral handling the rhythms, this is not only trying to be an ECM record, it’s trying to be a Keith Jarrett European quartet ECM record. There are certainly echoes of that combo heard here — Hofseth’s sax is similar to Jan Garbarek’s — but Dundas is a more reserved pianist than Jarrett and that’s not a bad thing to be in this case. Most intriguing are the improv pieces that make up Disc 2; a lot of symmetry and cohesiveness for a group that was expressly assembled for this project. Coming fourteen years after his first album, Dundas makes the most of the intervening time to get the second one done right.

Don Pullen – Richard’s Tune (reissue, Sackville): The late, great Pullen began his career as a leader with this 1975 solo piano date, so it’s not entirely indicative of the discography that followed. Or is it? Pullen’s recognizable, paradoxically graceful/dense style is present on songs that Pullen composed himself. They’re songs of pensiveness, emotion, and at times — as with certain moments on “Suite (Sweet) Malcolm (Part 1: Memories and Gunshots)” — pure beauty. Pullen has been gone for twenty years, now, but his uniquely accessible approach to avant-garde using nothing but a piano and some songs stands the test of time.

Jason Adasiewicz’s Sun Rooms – From The Region (Delmark): Adasiewicz is probably the most important vibes player of the current generation, deploying the instrument so deftly into the outer regions of jazz with unrelenting inventiveness. No where does he do that so well than with his Sun Rooms trio. Now with the Norwegian Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (Scorch Trio, The Thing) replacing Nate McBride on bass and Mike Reed staying put on drums, From The Region continues the journey of probing the mysteries of Adasiewicz’s esoteric but swinging harmonies.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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