Tag Archives: pharoah sanders

Top Five Albums of 2021 – Nikhil’s List

31 Dec

Above all else in 2021, there are two disappointments that naturally loom heavy. I can’t say that they don’t put a damper on wrap-up lists like this or that I don’t personally wish they were better, but to focus on them is to lose sight of a year that has had some particularly bright moments for music. We had a stellar debut album, some top-notch jazz and the consolidation of a rapper who has unquestionably found himself.

5. Tyler, The Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

It’s still a little novel to see a mature Tyler. There was never any question when he started out that he was not only immensely talented but also a very intelligent and very sensitive young man, but did need to squint to see it through all the antics. Now, you would have to be blind to miss it.

Pairing with DJ Drama was a good start. The two feed off each other, each bringing out more fun, chaotic energy from the other and the occasional guest spot builds further upon that. It’s when he gets to telling stories though that the album is at its best though. His narrative of his friend’s girlfriend in “WILSHIRE” is one of the strongest stories that rap has ever dropped and the kind of thing that only Tyler could make. If you only listen to a single song from 2021, make it this one.

Read our full review here.

4. Low – HEY WHAT

I tend to see slowcore as soundscapes. They feel like murals, not miniatures. It’s music that you can see with unfocused eyes. HEY WHAT is music of that scale and yet intricate in its detail. There are thousands of thoughts, each expressed in tiny spaces. It’s very clever and very understated and somehow willing to reward you no matter how you approach it.

Read our full review here.

3. Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

I’m not young anymore. I haven’t even felt young in a long time. SOUR wears its youth on its sleeve. This is about coming of age, of throwing yourself at a boy who doesn’t treat you right and of feeling your feelings. Olivia Rodrigo goes from heartbroken to honest to gloriously petty with the speed and the intensity that only teenagers can bring to bear and she does it all with startlingly clever lyrics and undeniable music. SOUR is nothing short of a phenomenon.

Read our full review here.

2. Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey- Uneasy

You just can never really get a handle on Uneasy. This is an album that always stays just a little out of reach, that always keeps you just enough off balance that you cannot quite find your feet. It’s exhilarating in the way of an off-kilter roundabout and just as quick to leave you dizzy.

Jazz is at its best when it holds to its political roots and Uneasy does just that. It takes all of the disorientation that it builds with such intelligence and skill and uses that to remind you how unsettling the present day is and that icy water to the face is what makes this album truly excellent.

Read our full reveiw here.

1. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, London Symphony Orchestra – Promises

I’m honestly still a little surprised that this collaboration happened, but it’s not at all surprising that the pieces all fit together so well. This style of nature-infused, spiritual music has offshoots in all of the styles of music represented here. However, it’s still magical to see it all come together.

It’s evocative and yet fully detailed. You can feel the forest and every living being all at once and yet the austerity of nature gets tempered by a wonderfully human saxophone and so the whole lifts you further and further to the point where even the silence after the album finishes is suffused with its glow.

Read our full review here.

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Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, London Symphony Orchestra – Promises

10 Apr

There’s no shortage of high-powered collaboration in music and there’s such a range of them that it’s hard for anything to really take one by surprise, but you don’t come across a trio of producer, saxophonist and orchestra everyday. You don’t come across an album this good everyday either. The three meld beautifully. It feels like the intersection of three separate strains – the ambient production of something like Green by Hiroshi Yoshimura, the nature-inspired classical music of compositions like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and the spiritual jazz of people like Sun Ra and John Coltrane, both of whom Pharoah Sanders played with.

The album evokes lush, verdant scenes whether through Floating Points’ productions as in “Movement 7” or the Orchestra in “Movement 6.” This is not the jungle, because the jungle lacks the intensity of this music. The colors of these soundscapes are too bright, too intense to be nature. They instead capture the feel of nature at its most immersive and leave you with nothing to distract from it. It is that first moment of experiencing a new vista made into a full album.

It’s filled with detail though. The refrain that ripples throughout the album is distinctive and beautiful. It’s wonderfully open-ended and accents the ambient music very cleverly. You can also feel the presence of many different organisms in the music. There are little flourishes of background hollering and chirping that enliven the music and add depth.

It’s the saxophone that really brings the human element to this album though. Sanders’ jazz comes in hot and adds that heat to what might otherwise be a very austere album. He even vocalizes in “Movement 4” and that integrates beautifully with the ripples of the music. He doesn’t go for the sheets of sound you might expect, but instead plays pure, drawn-out notes that express so much in their tone. When he comes in at the 7th minute of “Movement 7” with a sax scream, it’s the perfect way to agitate the existing music. Pharoah Sanders brings such a strong voice to this collaboration and his saxophone is the most noticeable thing here.

This an astonishing addition to some of the more storied careers in music history, a very individual album and music of the absolute highest tier.

Joey DeFrancesco – In the Key of the Universe

14 Apr

There’s a lot to recommend in In The Key of the Universe. The musicians are all clearly highly skilled and it’s a very pleasant album to listen to. Unfortunately though, it lacks the spark that the best jazz albums all possess.

The album never quite falls into easy listening. It is traditional jazz, but just a little too familiar with resolutions that are a little too predictable.  Pieces like “Easier To Be” and “Inner Being” in particular are guilty of this. The entire album functions well in the background while you try some taxing work, but I want to see more from an album like this.

That is not to dismiss the entire album. The opening of “Vibrations In Blue” has a lot going on in a way that reminds me of some of my favorite Herbie Hancock compositions. The sax work in “The Creator Has A Master Plan” is similarly engaging (and surprisingly provided by the great Pharoah Sanders), even if the vocals in that song substantially jar. The tranquility of “A Path Through the Noise” wholly justifies the name. There’s so much undeniable virtuosity in this recording, but it just never stretches itself.

There’s a strong clarity to this album that makes it distinctly approachable and it’s a charming listen no matter your experience with jazz. It skews too far to the traditional though and lacks the fire and inspiration that would truly let it distinguish itself in a world already full of this strain of jazz.

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