Favourite Records of 2014

It’s that time of year again: list-making time!

A lot of good music came out this year, so here are some of my favourite records of 2014:

Autobahn The River (Independent)
A bass-less trio from Toronto, featuring James Hill, Jeff LaRochelle (featured on the BCG’s Mixed Messages), and Ian Wright. Beautiful, colourful improvised music with great group interaction. Check out the whole thing at Bandcamp.

Brian Blade Landmarks (Blue Note)
This has possibly been my most-listened-to record of the year. Blade, Melvin Butler, Jon Cowherd, Chris Thomas, Myron Walden, Jeff Parker and Marvin Sewell make some absolutely gorgeous sounds, with wonderful writing from Blade. Highlight: “Ark.La.Tex.”

D’Angelo & the Vanguard Black Messiah (RCA)
14 years later, it’s finally here. And it’s dope.

Dirty Loops Loopified (Verve)
Over-the-top, explosive pop-r&b-fusion. The covers they had originally shared on Youtube were all very exciting, but I was glad to see the trio focus on original pop-based music for their debut record. Great production, killer chops, catchy tunes. Highlights: “Hit Me,” “Wake Me Up,” “Accidentally In Love”

Eric Harland Vipassana (GSI)
Harland plays on a lot of great records, but as a bandleader, I had only heard Harland’s previous record, Voyager: Live by Night (a fantastic album). This record with Walter Smith III, Taylor Eigsti, Julian Lage, Nir Felder, Harish Raghavan and Chris Turner is solid with a lot of different flavours. Highlights: “Raghavan,” “Singularis”

Kimbra The Golden Echo (Warner Bros.)
Kimbra is one of the best things happening in modern pop music. It took me a while to warm up to the first single “90s Music,” but this record is killer and features a bevy of talented musicians. Highlights: “Rescue Him,” “Love in High Places”

Mehliana Taming the Dragon (Nonesuch)
Arguably two of the best musicians in jazz right now, this duo with Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana simultaneously has great grooves, some great atmosphere/textural playing, and no gratuitous displays of chops. Highlights: “Taming the Dragon,” “Hungry Ghost”

Rich Brown Between Heaviness & Here (Addo)
Rich is one of the most musical, lyrical electric bassists out there and his first solo record is a welcome change from the standard solo bass landscape. Tightly created, musically unique pieces demonstrate Rich’s melodic approach without focusing on chops. I only wish it were longer. Highlights: “Twice,” “The Traveller”

Snarky Puppy We Like it Here (GroundUP)
Snarky + Larnell Lewis on drums + some of League’s best writing to date. Highlights: “Shofukan,” “Lingus”

Unbuttoned Planes (Independent)
Another Toronto band, Unbuttoned’s Planes is a masterfully produced pop/R&B record featuring some great local talent. Check out the music video for “Listening to Me” on Youtube.

Walter Smith III Still Casual (Independent)
Although I’m missing a few releases in Smith’s catalogue, his first record Casually Introducing got a lot of spins from me and I was excited to hear about his new record. Tight compositions with great playing from Smith, Taylor Eigsti, Matt Stevens, Harish Raghavan, Kendrick Scott and Ambrose Akinmusire. Highlights: “Foretold You,” “Processional”