This is the second part of our five-part journey through the best jazz albums of 2015. Click here to read Part 1.
20. Henry Threadgill Zooid, In For A Penny, In For A Pound
This double CD showcases saxophonist/composer Threadgill’s long-running group Zooid, which includes guitarist Liberty Ellman, trombonist/tuba player Jose Davila, cellist Christopher Hoffman and drummer Elliott Kavee. It’s no mere blowing session, though; the group is performing a single epic work, with each group member granted a showcase track, and interstitial pieces reinforcing collective identity and compositional cohesion. As so often with Threadgill, the blend of abstraction and weird groove is at first impossible to decipher, but eventually draws the listener in and refuses to loosen its grip. As welcoming to brand-new listeners as to longtime Threadgill fans, this is a thrilling set.
19. John Raymond, Foreign Territory
Trumpeter John Raymond‘s second CD, Foreign Territory, features a great band: Dan Tepfer on piano, Joe Martin on bass, and Billy Hart on drums. While the pieces are all originals, they’re built on the bones of jazz standards—for example, “What Do You Hear” is based on “I Hear a Rhapsody,” while “Deeper” is a variant of “How Deep is the Ocean.” The music is melodic post-bop, performed by a studio-assembled group rather than a touring ensemble, though it’s not the collection of simplistic melodies and uninspired, blues-based choruses it could easily have become. There are plenty of surprises to keep a listener excited.
18. Blue Buddha, Blue Buddha
Blue Buddha is a supergroup of sorts, featuring saxophonist Louie Belogenis, trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Bill Laswell, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Belogenis is not only a Buddhist, but also a devotee of spiritually oriented free jazz – he’s played with Sunny Murray and William Parker, and was a member of drummer Rashied Ali’s group Prima Materia, interpreting the music of John Coltrane and Albert Ayler. The music on this album is spacious and meditative, exciting and beautiful, and the questing spirit of improvisation and free jazz courses through it at all times, retaining a respect for tradition even as new territory is explored.
17. Stephen Haynes, Pomegranate
Amazon – Bandcamp
Cornetist Stephen Haynes’ latest album features tuba player Ben Stapp, guitarist Joe Morris, bassist William Parker, and drummer Warren Smith. Pomegranate was conceived as a posthumous dedication to Bill Dixon, with whom Haynes studied and worked for 40 years. Parker and Smith also played with Dixon on several occasions. Pomegranate does not sound like a Bill Dixon album, but rather like an album that has taken some of Dixon’s ideas about orchestration, compositional technique, and collective interaction to heart and employed them in the creation of music that’s not only new—as in, you’ve never heard anything quite like this—but constantly shifting.
16. Dead Neanderthals, Endless Voids
Amazon – Bandcamp
Dutch sax-drums duo Dead Neanderthals have collaborated with other musicians several times in the past, but usually one at a time. This double disc is their most expansive effort ever, by far. A one-off live recording, it includes two guitars, electronics, string percussion, and additional saxophone—a total of eight musicians, creating a slow-crawling noise-doom epic that owes as much to Naked City’s Leng T’Che or Sunn O))) as to John Coltrane’s Ascension. On CD, it’s split in half; as a Bandcamp download, it’s a solid 81-minute slab, haunted and ominous and, eventually, loud and dark as hell.