S. Victor Aaron’s Best of 2015 (Part 4 of 4, Fusion Jazz): John McLaughlin, Chris Potter, Donny McCaslin, Jeff Lorber

That bestest of all hybrid genres, fusion jazz, is the ‘last but not least’ segment in this four-part series on favorite 2015 releases. And it isn’t the least in quality nor quantity this year as this was toughest to decide on which of such albums reviewed over the last year qualifies as the crème de la crème. The selections range from fusion in the typical sense, such as the two John McLaughlin-related albums, to a jazz fusion which blends jazz with various folk forms (Jeremy Udden and Nicolas Moreaux). And then there’s a trombone renaissance, too. I mean, literally.

Here are sixteen Best of 2015 choices, unranked except for number one, with a special shout-out to a reissue of a classic blast from the past. To read the full reviews on any of these, just click on the album titles…


Jacob Garchik – Ye Olde: Garchik — along with Brian Drye who leads the Bizingas album saluted down below — is part of a small but gumptious vanguard of trombone players who are bravely wading into areas of jazz and music in general previously alien to trombonists.

Starting with a daydream of imagining Brooklyn set in a medieval world, Garchik constructs a bedtime story with no words and lets the music that often rocks in its unique way do the talking, with one drummer (Vinnie Sperrazza) and three electric guitarists (Brandon Seabrook, Mary Halvorson, Jonathan Goldberger). Understanding the cutting-edge work that all of these participants are known for, this is a lineup you look at and surmise “there is no way that this record is going to be anything less than very good.” It’s more than ‘very good.’

Jacob Garchik could have well made this a spectacular record even if he had chosen to lead it with a ukulele or a kazoo. But he knew just what to do with his chosen weapon and along with the arsenal of musicians at his disposal made an album that rates high in innovation, imagery and chops. With those three things going for it, Ye Olde edges out a strong lineup for my favorite fusion jazz album of 2015.


THE BEST OF THE REST:

Chris Potter Underground – Imaginary Cities: Potter’s string quartet-supplemented project is ambitious, and even quite possibly the high-water mark of ambition so far in his career.

Spin Marvel featuring Nils Petter Molvær – Infolding:: One of the more successful jazz ventures into 21st century sonority of electronics that also retains everything that makes jazz such a dynamic, surprising music form.

Marc Cary – Rhodes Ahead Vol. 2: This isn’t about the Fender Rhodes as an ends onto itself, but a means by which Marc Cary realizes his kaleidoscopic concept of music on multiple planes.

Jeff Oster, featuring Nile Rodgers, Chuck Rainey + Bernard Purdie – next: By retaining all the soothing qualities of New Age while making it groove naturally, Oster has quietly pioneered a an organic kind of downtempo that sets it apart from everyone else operating in that space.

Donny McCaslin – Fast Future: McCaslin has long developed his own way of playing and composing, but he applies those ways into new — and increasingly contemporary — areas. The results tend to work out in an unforced and appealing way.

Steve Gadd – 70 Strong: A throwback of the best kind: the 1970s scene in New York that Gadd came into didn’t really get hung up on styles, the only question was “is it good?”, and Gadd had quickly become a vital part of whatever was good then. This album could be heard as a tribute to that spirit.

Denny Zeitlin and George Marsh – Riding The Moment: A demonstration of clinical psychiatrist Zeitlin’s understanding of intuition first hand, as a practitioner of jazz. There, too, his knowledge on the topic is at the doctorate level.

Brad Cheeseman Group – Brad Cheeseman Group: A debut that heralds the arrival of a bassist who brings fun and sophistication together like few others can, and perhaps no others have done on their first time out.

Jason Miles + Ingrid Jensen – Kind Of New: With fusion jazz having strayed so far from the roots laid down by Miles Davis, a record like Kind of New is a refreshing reconnect with the innovations he introduced some forty-five years ago.

Jeff Lorber Fusion – Step It Up: Step It Up is not merely a title just as ‘The Jeff Lorber Fusion’ isn’t merely a name. It’s a challenge, and Lorber with Jimmy Haslip rose up to meet it.

Animation featuring Bob Belden – Machine Language: Bob Belden will surely be remembered as a man who deeply respected the greats and the greatness of music history while pushing forward ambitiously with his own music. This final gift from Belden leaves no doubt that his adventurous spirit lives on. Hopefully, forever.

John McLaughlin – Black Light: McLaughlin with the help of his spirited band the 4th Dimension continues to incrementally pushing his craft forward and not stagnate. The fusion guitarist who has inspired generations of other accomplished fusion musicians and composers is still holding class.

Michael Cain – Sola: Calling to mind the highly telepathic collective Weather Report, Sola is three quarters sextet and one quarter trio, but one hundred percent the widely inclusive musical vision of talented keyboardist and composer Cain.

Bizingas – Eggs Up High: Never out of ideas or ways for his band of super avanteers to exploit them, Brian Drye does it again. Eggs Up High keeps the Bizingas’ creative zeal going strong.

Jeremy Udden and Nicolas Moreaux – Belleville Project: Udden’s quest to tear down the barriers between jazz and other idioms goes on, this time incorporating some elements of musical heritage from the other side of the Atlantic with the help of kindred soul and French bassist Moreaux.


REISSUE OF THE YEAR

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds Of Fire (Audio Fidelity Reissue): Of all the classic bands formed as a direct outgrowth of Miles Davis’ fusion experiments, none have had the most impact with so little music than the original incarnation of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Birds of Fire is their most innovative. The Audio Fidelity version of their finest album makes their innovations a little more manifest.



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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