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Top Ten Albums of 2014

(Disclaimer:  The appreciation of music is a highly personal and intimate experience. Our top ten list reflects the albums that meant the most to the staff at KMHD.  For 2014, these were the releases that we played the most on the air.  There were some tough choices made, and plenty of excellent albums that had to be left off this list.)

2014 is nearly done, another year in the books and another year of jazz being a powerful and relevant cultural force across the globe. 

Sixty years ago, the first Newport Jazz Festival was held.  In 1964, Song For My Father blared from radios across the country.  Forty years ago, Duke Ellington left the stage for the final time.  1984 saw smooth jazz rear its characterless head.  The last twenty years have been good to jazz, sculpting it into a powerful force once again.  2014 was a very good year for this music and we believe these ten albums illustrate that point perfectly.

GoGo Penguin “v2.0”

Kudos to the city of Manchester, England and the Gondwana label once again for crafting another album of the year.  Last year we became enthralled by the spiritual beauty of Mathew Halsall’s album and this year it’s the moody world of GoGo Penguin.  GoGo Penguin is first and foremost a jazz trio, but also steeped in electronic sounds, flirting with trip-hop and indie rock. The album cover offers nothing. No band name or album title. This is a case of “you can judge a book by its cover,” because the artwork is as minimal as the band itself. However, the title v2.0 makes sense because it’s GoGo Penguin’s sophomore release.   It’s also a radical leap forward artistically from their first album.  So much so that it garnered a Mercury Prize nomination in the UK, which is no small accomplishment.  The record could be the musical soundtrack of a Michel Gondry film. There’s enough familiarity for jazz beginners and enough technical ability and prowess for the seasoned jazz fan. The record is a rich, intimate journey of tenderness and rough patches, love and pain, light and dark. So emotionally jarring and captivating, this is why it has made the #1 for 2014. - Jessica Rand

 Jason Moran “All Rise: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller”

Normally, Jason Moran’s forte is the most progressive of progressive Jazz. So, eyebrows were raised a bit when he announced he’d be releasing a tribute album - a tribute album – to Fats Waller. Tribute albums can be hit or miss (for obvious reasons), but tackling one of the most beloved composers and personalities in Jazz history is a whole other, daunting task. But Moran was up to it, and he took his own love of Waller’s material and made a tribute his way. Aided by the soft, yet powerful voice of Meshell Ndegeocello – Moran transforms standards like “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “This Joint is Jumpin’” into modern, unique songs that hint at Jazz’s future, while giving a solid nod to it’s past. We think Fats would really like this one. - Matt Fleeger


Sometimes it’s good to be bad.  In the case of the trio of young jazz musicians from Toronto, Canada known as BADBADNOTGOOD, their music school instructors did not appreciate their enthusiasm for hip-hop tunes.  Luckily, they pressed on, bringing a modern sensibility to the jazz trio format.  Their newest album, “3”, marks their first recording of all original material but the jazz-hop sound remains intact.  These youngsters groove rather than swing, infusing the bumping rhythms with a dark moodiness, perfect for late nights of expansive listening.  They may not be the first jazz musicians to incorporate the sound of hip-hop, but they are currently the torch bearers. - Derek Smith

The Bad Plus “Inevitable Western”

Nine months ago progressive-jazz rabble-rousers, the Bad Plus, took on the task of recreating Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. If you’ll remember, that’s the extremely controversial work that caused a Parisian riot in 1913. And the Bad Plus’ version was just as genre-defying as one could expect from a trio of rogue jazz cowboys.   Which brings us to Inevitable Western. The new record showcases the 14-year-old group returning to their roots, with a hint of relief after their previous undertaking. The songs range from fiery and intense to dream-like with the guiding piano of Ethan Iverson leading the charge. The new Bad Plus is quintessentially Bad Plus: it pushes the limits of jazz, while remaining sophisticated, hip, and energetic.  - Jessica Rand

 Skalpel “Transit”

Where has the Polish nu-jazz duo known as Skalpel been for the last decade?  The nine year gap between their second and third album seems timeless because they sound as relevant as ever.  Transit sees these masters of sampling crafting a more organic approach to song creation, conjuring an album rich with textures and density but never at the expense of melody.  Their first two records featured the wholesale appropriation of classic Polish jazz from the 60’s and 70’s, cutting snippets of the past into new soundscapes.  2014 finds Skalpel relying less on the past and more on their own imaginations.  The acoustic meets the electronic in a pairing that makes for one of the most compelling listens of the year.  Headphones not required for this one but highly recommended if you want to hear every nuance each song has to offer. - Derek Smith

Regina Carter “Southern Comfort”

Cheap whiskey, slumbering southerners, and stifling, humid weather are maybe what come to mind when you hear the words “southern comfort.” Violinist Regina Carter’s latest outing, Southern Comfort, is wrought with lazy Southern blues, tinged with gospel and old spiritual melodies, Appalachian children’s tunes, and call-and-response work songs.   For this record, Carter poured through the Smithsonian’s giant collection of American folk music and set out to write modern jazz pieces honoring the American folk tradition, and her father, whose family was deeply rooted in the American South. Carter teamed up with the forward-thinking vibraphonist Stefon Harris to arrange the record and together they’ve created a jazz-fusion project that might actually change your perception of Southern Comfort from the cheap whisky to the South’s great folk traditions. - Jessica Rand

Click below to hear a KMHD exclusive interview with Regina Carter:


The Souljazz Orchestra “Inner Fire”

Jazz has always loved to steal from other cultures and genres.  The Canadian collective The Souljazz Orchestra are a crew of master thieves, and Inner Fire is their biggest heist to date.  The album has a diversity as rich as it’s members, bringing the sound of afro-beat, spiritual jazz, rhumba, ethio-jazz and more into a bubbling stew that never sounds overcooked.  This is the sound of jazz music for the soul, music to stir up the emotions and fire the consciousness.  From the resurrection of Andy Bey’s powerful spiritual jazz groover, “Celestial Blues”to the pronounced march of “East Flows the River”, this album is a welcome reminder that music does not have to live in the background. - Derek Smith 

 Get The Blessing “Lope and Antilope”

We’ve been fans of Get the Blessing since first hearing their unique blend of avant-garde horns and pulsing drum and bass about 3 years back. On “Lope and Antelope” the quartet takes this sound to the next level. Applying Drums, Bass, Trumpet and Saxophone to a myriad array of effects pedals and delays – the band creates a sound that can only be described as “future Jazz.” And what a bright future it is. Their angular, catchy, funky approach to improvised music (with obvious nods to Ornette Coleman) is instantly accessible, even for folks who aren’t all that familiar with American improvised music. - Matt Fleeger

 Henry Butler - Steven Bernstein & The Hot 9 “Viper’s Drag”

Trad Jazz can be a tough sell to (some) younger audiences. The rhythms created in the 20’s and 30’s of ragtime can sound pretty dated to modern music fans more acclimated to the 4 part beat that dominates songs found in today’s most popular music. These challenges are what make the new record from Stephen Bernstein and Henry Butler so impressive. Here, you’ll find re-vamped versions of music that is (in some cases) almost 100 years old. Bernstein and Butler funk things up a bit, without losing the essence of the repertoire they’re playing. - Matt Fleeger

 Toco “Memoria”

Sometimes the relentless rain and darkness of winter can make us forget what a warm, sunny day feels like.  Tomaz di Cunto aka Toco will jog your memory with his bright and airy take on bossa nova.  A native Brazilian, Toco, now creates his sonic cocktails in Milan, Italy.  His songs provide a perfect link to the the golden age of bossa nova, sounding vintage without seeming like cheap copies.  With modern touches such as a bubbling Fender Rhodes to complement his intimate melodies, Memoria is an album to be welcomed like an old friend.  Once it ends, put it on again. - Derek Smith