It’s time to get the High Fives under way for 2015 and, in a break with tradition, I’m handing over the opening slot to one of our guests, Neil Sheasby, bass player and co-songwriter with one of The Riot Squad’s favourite bands, Stone Foundation. The band have had a great year with the release of their superb album “A Life Unlimited” (guest vocal from Graham Parker, no less), a Japanese tour and some high profile UK gigs. Neil’s observations on music are always interesting, so it’s a pleasure to let him have the first High Five this year.

 

Kamasi WashingtonKAMASI WASHINGTON – “THE EPIC”

A record that pretty much defined my summer, for a few weeks I didn’t play much else. It is actually one of those albums that the more you listen to it, the more it will give you in return. It’s quite a sprawling, challenging recording set over three discs and clocking in at around three hours so it’s hard to digest all in one sitting but its depth, beauty and sheer ambition is unlike any other album I have heard in recent times. It could easily sit alongside the jazz heavyweights such as Coltrane’s output for impulse & Atlantic. Probably more accessible though. It has a timeless quality to it and an underlying spiritual vibe, funky too. I was lucky enough to catch his recent London gig and the playing was just on another level, astonishing stuff. Inspiring. He also led me to Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” album (Kamasi plays on it) which is a great modern hip hop record again pushing & re-defining the boundaries of that particular genre.

 

New OrderTHE NU-NOSTALGIA !

I think 2015 has been a strong year for new releases and new music in general, it’s been encouraging.I’ve really enjoyed new albums from artists I hadn’t previously heard of like Ryley Walker whose “Primrose Green” album evokes traces of John Martyn & Tim Buckley; also the Julia Holter record is an interesting listen but I must admit the real surprises of the year have lain with the rejuvenation of established arists that have made really unexpected returns to former glories. New Order’s “Music Complete” album was a real eye opener, easily their best since 1989’s Technique. It’s a real triumph; Peter Hook free too! They should be proud of  such a complete piece of work after all these years, it was a bona fide pleasant surprise to my ears, I’d about written them off.

Also this year there’s been great new albums from Joe Jackson (“Fast Forward) and Squeeze (“Cradle to the Grave”) that are fit to stand alongside any of their previous highlights.

 

A Man in a Hurry“A MAN IN A HURRY”

This is a film about the relatively short life of British Jazz genius Tubby Hayes. It was made by two good friends of mine, Mark Baxter & Lee Cogswell and it’s a fascinating profile and made with much affection for its subject, narrated by Martin Freeman and it includes commentary & interviews with Sir Peter Blake, Spike Wells, Robert Elms, Simon Spillett and Ed Piller amongst others. I’ve known Mark for several years now and from day one he always had a burning desire to create a fitting documentary as a testament to Tubby’s life & music, he’s more than succeeded, I’m so pleased for him & Lee. It’s a fantastic little film and one that had me running for the records again.

Me and a mate recently attended the London launch party for its DVD release and on the train home it had us talking passionately about London & the Soho jazz scenes through the years, the clothes and the clubs, the DJ’s, bands, singers etc.That’s the tell-tale sign that “A Man in a Hurry” film had served its purpose all right.

 

Isley BrothersTHE ISLEY BROTHERS BOX SET

Released earlier this year The RCA Victor and T-Neck albums all housed together in a 22 CD box set. It spans the Isleys career from 1959 up to 1983 taking in all those classic mid 70’s albums as well as a previously unreleased live album recorded at Bearsville Sound Studios. It’s an absolute beauty and really highlights the often overlooked genius of The Isley Brothers. Ronald, Ernie and Rudolph began with Doo-wop roots and evolved marvellously through classic Soul, Funk and even disco

It’s an incredible collection, once I get immersed in it, I’m in there for days on end. Brilliant stuff.

 

You Know my NameYOU KNOW MY NAME: THE LOVERS, THE DREAMERS AND BOBBY SCOTT

A compelling & fascinating read by one of my favourite writers, Kevin Pearce. It’s actually the first book I have ever read from start to finish on my phone, it was my companion whilst on holiday this summer. Not many will be familiar with the name of Bobby Scott but it’s probably safe to say that you would have certainly heard his work.

Bobby composed, arranged, sang, produced and performed with countless artists including Marvin Gaye, Bobby Darin, Timi Yuro, Aretha Franklin, Chet Baker, Quincy Jones, Roland Kirk, Deodato, Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto and a cast of thousands more. Bobby Scott songs include “A Taste of Honey”, recorded by the Beatles, and the epic “He ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother” which The Hollies struck gold with (also check Donny Hathaway’s miraculous version) The only downer to reading this book is that it will seriously have you running back and forth to You Tube checking out song after song and of course in my case, being a hopeless music junkie, I ended up spending a small fortune on chasing up some of these spectacular sounds for my ever expanding collection.

I also read great autobiographies from Robert Wyatt, Bernard Sumner, Nile Rodgers, and somewhat refreshingly the Italian footballer Pirlo. I was a tad disappointed with the Grace Jones book, thought it would be more telling I think, then again Paul Morley was involved so no surprise I was underwhelmed.

I’m just about to begin Elvis Costello’s “Unfaithful music and Disappearing Ink”; looking forward to it…..

OK, let’s unleash the second Riot Squad contribution to our 2012 annual round-up.  This time it’s our Scottish correspondent, Louie Anderson, sharing his favourites from the last 12 months.  Don’t forget to keep an eye on MusicRiot next week to catch the Top 5s of some of Music Riot’s favourite artists of 2012; you might be surprised to discover who’s willing to share their favourites with us.

 

 

Bob Dylan – “Tempest”Product Details

Dylan’s 35th studio effort continues his rather strong (and bluesy) album streak which began with 1996’s” Time Out of Mind”. While not quite standing up to the majestic “Love and Theft” or “Modern Times”, it offers plenty in terms of both substance and listening. One of his longest albums, featuring the near fourteen-minute title track and numerous other hefty songs, it’s also one of his most lyrically dark (“I pay in blood, but not my own”). He bounces between romantic crooner, serial killer and elderly pervert, often embodying all at once (“Two-timing slim, who’s ever heard of him? I’ll drag his corpse through the mud”). Sprawling and scatter-brained, may come across as less of an album, more a collection of songs. Still great.

Death Grips – “The Money Store”Product Details

On Sacramento hip-hop outfit Death Grips’ first official studio album, and their first of two releases this year, they make little effort to hold anything back. And I mean anything; rawness, gruesome images, extremely impressive production and just straight-up incredible songs. A much more refined and focussed release in comparison with last year’s mixtape, “Exmilitary”. Amidst the dissonance and the noise and the shouting from chief-screamer MC Ride live some of the greatest refrains, choruses and general lyrics of the year. Vicious, surprisingly intellectual and complex and rather inaccessible but a hugely rewarding listen. I’M IN YOUR AREAAAAA.

Grimes – “Visions”Product Details

Throughout all articles written about Grimes this year, she’s been described as everything but human. And upon listening to “Visions”, her third solo studio album, one can hear why. Overlapping delayed melisma and airy synths mixed with a falsetto so light create a sound so delicate yet instantly memorable it seems as if you blew on the disc the music would disappear. When you strip the songs down to their beautiful melodies and chord patterns, you may be left with what might seem standard pop and yet, the absurdity of the lyrics combined with the sheer charisma of Grimes and the blissful production beg to differ. Nothing less than extraordinary.

Kendrick Lamar – “Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City”Product Details

This boy’s first major label album improves on the previous in every way, more varied and just generally better production, improved story-telling skills, better hooks and much more subtle in most ways. Described on its front cover as a movie, its narrative follows the growing up of Lamar in his hometown, Compton. The skits are sometimes genuinely funny and the songs are just straight up brilliant. Lamar’s flow and delivery is varied and the guest spots are equally good. None feel tacked on, not even Dr. Dre. Dr. Dre! The record manages to be catchy and accessible yet also relevant, powerful and never cheesy. A real achievement. There’s a lot up ahead for this guy.

Frank Ocean – “channel ORANGE”Product Details

Perhaps the bravest release of this year? Throws hip-hop’s standards and attitudes towards sexuality up in the air, as well standing as a strong, honest release out of context. However hyped-up it may have been due to Ocean’s confessional letter released prior, it delivers in every respect. Carefully orchestrated, written and produced, featuring some fantastic vocal performances from Frank himself, it’s clear how much heart, soul and thought has gone into every detail of the album. From lazy jazzy free-form explorations to standard sung-verse-rapped-chorus pop songs to nine-minute club sagas from Egypt, it’s all over the place. Yet it works perfectly and should make the artist proud in every respect. A bold step forward.