My favorite things in 2014: reminiscing on the year in jazz

Happy New Year everyone, and best wishes for 2015!

Through the years, I’ve always admired the special loyalty and relentless commitment front_Dianne Reeves splashthat artists apply to their craft. With this idea in mind, I sat myself down and wrote this column about what I found to be some of the most fascinating songs/albums/artists/concerts of 2014.

For several years running I’ve listed my “best of,” both for my column and various polls. However, recently I’ve been reluctant to participate in too many “critic polls,” with the exception of DownBeat’s Critics Poll. Why? I don’t have a good answer. I’d just rather not follow the usual path.

JamesOnJazzsquareLately, I’ve been inclined to ponder an interesting question that I read somewhere: What is it about sameness that draws us, and how could we begin to have that kind of attraction to change?

Sometimes that requires that you break things, which almost always requires courage.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I thought about looking beyond what I know and what that requires. Then, pianist Vijay Iyer’s eagerly awaited February 2015 ECM album title, Break Stuff, came to mind. This is the first new album I will listen to this year.

But, let’s rewind a moment. As I reflected on the year in music for 2014, I was struck by the artists who boldly stood out from the pack, or at least in my mind garnered my undivided attention.

While listening to WBGO 88.3 FM, I heard a number of artist interviews that highlighted songs from albums that were standouts for me. Other times, I just heard songs that were played repeatedly that seemed to stick.

Omer Avital’s album New Song (Motema) with the track “Hafla” is one. The music made me want to dance every time I heard it. No wonder: During an interview with WBGO’s Michael Bourne, Omer said it means “party” in Arabic.

Another song that drew my attention was a lovely arrangement of “Blue in Green” featured on Turn Out the Stars (What If? Music) with the Mark Wind Quartet and the 36-piece Orchestra Filamonica Marchigiana, a tribute to pianist Bill Evans. The album was recorded live at the Theatro Rossini in Pesaro, Italy. Again, it was fun to listen to Bourne’s interview with Mark Wind about the music.

This past year, I found gold with new music by Orrin Evans, Michael LeDonne, Curtis Stigers, Dianne Reeves, Bria Skonberg and Sean Jones. “In My Soul” from Evans, “I Love Music” by LeDonne, “Hooray for Love” by Stigers,” Dianne Reeves with “Wild Rose,” “Let’s Go All In” by Skonberg, and “Interior Motive” by Jones were all songs that resonated with me.

Particularly, I enjoyed the Chick Corea Trio album Trilogy (Concord) with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. That CD stays on repeat, just like Beautiful Life (Concord) from Dianne Reeves.

I enjoyed getting to know the music of trumpeter Marquis Hall who won the Thelonious Monk International Trumpet Competition, and I look forward to checking out the new album Things of That Particular Nature (Sunnyside) by trumpeter Duane Eubanks. Also, I’m interested in saxophonist Steve Wilson’s new album Hand. Cannot. Erase. due out on Kscope.

The concerts that I had the most fun at this year included Dianne Reeves at the Amsterdam during the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, the Rebirth Brass Band, and Chick Corea at the Dakota.

Listening and watching online brought some thrills, too, such as discovering Johnny O’Neal at the new club Mezzrow as part of the new NPR Jazz Night in America radio program. Seeing the Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis live via Livestream in St. Louis was cool as well. However, witnessing the orchestra in action live at Orchestra Hall was even more memorable.

Inevitably, there were several other excellent albums by artists old and new that I may have missed in 2014, yet I’m satisfied with what I did experience.

As for 2015, I’m looking forward to learning more as I continue my venture into the social media world. In addition, my priority is to support artists by not only attending live concerts and writing about them, but also by buying their albums and then sharing my thoughts about the music with readers — or should I say followers? Well, both.

I still consider the experience an honor and a privilege. The journey continues…

Robin James welcomes reader responses to and on Twitter at: @Robin_James1.