My favorite musical discoveries of 2023
03 January 2024
Another year, and again I feel the desire to share a top half-dozen of what my quirky musical tastes ran into this year. As usual, my musical journeys are focused on the interaction of jazz and world music, and include material you're not likely to find on most popular lists. I include links to pages on Bandcamp so you can have a listen to see if any of these also appeal to you
Badinyaa Kumoo by Sona Jobarteh
sample track: Musolou
The kora is a distinctive instrument of West Africa, with a sound that reminds me both of the harp and the lute. Not just is Sona Jobarteh the first female griot kora player, she is also an adventurous singer and composer, mixing the ethereal sound of the kora with the ever-inventive rhythms of West Africa.
The New Day Bends Light by Erica Seguine and Shon Baker Orchestra
sample track: States
I've been digging more into the world of modern big-band jazz, discovering more bands finding ways to ways to exploit the traditional large-scale jazz orchestra. The New Day Bends Light includes a inspirations from British folk reels and and tango, in the collaborative work of Erica Seguine and Shon Baker. The album is produced by Darcy James Argue, a well-regarded bandleader whose new album, Dynamic Maximum Tension, would have been my pick had the die rolled even.
Kinva by Kinva
sample track: Vyidy Ivanku
Kinva is a piano trio that blends the modern jazz trio approach with Ukrainian folk music. Pianist Anastasia Litvinyuk and drummer Igor Gnydyn were pioneers of jazz in Lviv before they hurriedly left for Poland after the invasion with their young daughter. Given these events, the way their music melds these styles brings an extra poignancy.
Flower on Fire by Afro-Andean Funk
sample track: Wake Up
A mix of African funk and traditional music of the Andes, with plenty of inspiration and collaboration from the broader world of music. The band is led by the collaboration between Peruvian Araceli Poma and the American bassist Matt Geraghty. If you enjoy these foot-tapping rhythms then another album to look at is Vapor by Bixiga 70.
Cloud Horizons by Kathryn Tickell and The Darkening
sample track: Caelestis
I've been listening to Kathryn Tickell since the 90's, when she appeared on the music scene playing the rarely seen Northumbrian smallpipes. But what's kept me listening to her over the years is more than that distinctive sound, but the way she's constantly pushed the boundaries of British folk music. Her latest band is no exception, and this album is a splendid mix of traditional styles and modern developments.
Fleeting Adventure by Andrew Tuttle
sample track: New Breakfast Habit
My tastes in jazz often lead me to music that is as much about texture as it is about melody, but I rarely go further into the world of ambient music. An exception this year is Andrew Tuttle, which I could best describe as an ambient bluegrass. It's a distinctive soundscape of banjos and slide guitars, and I would never have placed its source as being Brisbane.
When I write these annual posts, I prefer to suggest music that I suspect most readers won't have come across. This does fit my listening, as I don't listen to much music that's anywhere near the mainstream. But this year I do have to mention a new album by a mainstream artist I've been following for as long as I've been paying attention to music: i/o by Peter Gabriel. He's released the album gradually over this year, and I'm glad to see that age hasn't hindered his ability to compose and perform some great music. It's been two decades since he last released an album. This gives me hope that another British composer/performer, who had a duet on a past album of his, will also break her too-long silence.
As usual, my main sources for this music has been Dave Sumner's monthly columns on best jazz on Bandcamp Daily, and James Catchpole's OK Jazz podcasts. But recently a new, or rather old, source has appeared for me. Back in the 2000s, when I had a trip to Britain, I'd always hunt out a copy of the magazine Songlines, for its coverage of world music and included CD. I got out of the habit, but this year finally rediscovered the Songlines online presence, and bought a subscription so I can enjoy its suggestions again.