Updated: Jan 10, 2020
2019 was an incredible year for jazz, but also for the wider music world. Our contributors and writers have worked hard to pick through countless records from throughout the year to bring you a definitive guide into what we've been digging this year. Here are our 2019 picks:
Kojey Radical - Cashmere Tears (Asylum Records UK, 13 September)
MOBO-nominated rapper Kojey Radical returned in 2019 to release his first project since signing with Asylum Records. Cashmere Tears acutely touches upon Kojey’s battle with depression, mental health as well as dealing with self-expectations. Lyrically it’s superb, an outpouring of Kojey’s heart and soul, whilst instrumentally it’s brilliant, an indication of the producing prowess of Swindle. Two years after his last project, Kojey has moulded nothing short of a musical masterstroke.
Favourite Songs - 2020; Can't Go Back; Eleven
Raphael Saadiq - Jimmy Lee (Columbia, 23 August)
Beautiful, heart-wrenching and tragic. His first full-length album since 2011, Raphael Saadiq’s Jimmy Lee is a tribute to his elder brother, who terribly lost his battle with drug abuse, and three other siblings he has lost over the years. With Saadiq describing it as the album he didn’t want to make, this deluge of emotion and pain is a personal insight which is so closely felt that it’s hard not to be stirred whilst listening to this record. Although it’s amazing to see the GRAMMY-winning artist release music again, it is also awful for it to have happened under these circumstances.
Favourite Songs - This World is Drunk; My Walk; Rikers Island
Little Simz - GREY Area (Age 101 Music, 1 March)
Bold, expressive, and provocative. Little Simz’s Mercury-prize nominated third full-length release is absolutely class. The 25-year-old’s record is an extremely expressive album, exploring themes of gender equality, dealing with her quarter-life crisis as well as grappling with her mental demons. Planted firmly within a universal period of confusion, Little Simz’s GREY Area offers an introspective journey as well as a panoramic examination of wider British society.
Favourite Songs - Offence; Wounds feat. Chronixx; Flowers feat. Michael Kiwanuka
Parviz - Zerzura (Omena Records, 21 June)
Zerzura is only four tracks long but they are all timeless bangers. This is by far the best cross-genre selection of songs I have heard, as there is such a fantastic mixture of house and jazz in each track that make these songs both perfect for an underground sweat pit of a club booming through a phat sound system, or for soothing you on a nice sunny day chilling in the park. Despite Parviz’s magnificent ability to mix both samples and his own playing of instruments into these tracks, this album has received no major attention from the jazz or DJ circles in the slightest which is hugely frustrating considering the obvious quality that exudes from every note of each track. The mood’s Parviz has created for self-reflection in this late-night percussive jazz story takes you from bouncy happiness to a serene state, then melancholy feelings, and pushed into a surreal atmospheric nostalgia and repeatedly back to pure joy. I implore you, Parviz, to continue making music like this - Zerzura is legendary.
Favourite Songs - Odalisque Au Fauteuil Noir, Lunar Baedeker Odious Oasis
Saul - Murmurations (Rhythm Section International, 26 September)
The duo of Barney Whittaker (Footshooter) and Jack Stephenson-Oliver (Vels Trio) have collaborated on their new project Saul, creating a stunning mix of tracks that give homage to garage, jungle, breakbeat and jazz influences. Having met in Brighton through various jams and both relocated to south-east London, they have a distinct London sound with the crisp electronic rhythms generated from Whittaker’s drums and programming to the elegant keys and synths allowing Stephenson-Oliver’s jazz feel to come through and allow for the songs to feel right in a chillout session as much as in a club. ‘Ping Pong’ exudes their style the best, and they have Steam Down’s Brother Portrait and Poppy Ajudha providing some compelling vocals to add to the diversity of this inventive EP - it seems only right to have Murmurations come out on Rhythm Section who seem to consistently produce these kind of gems.
Favourite Songs - Ping Pong, Shitbird, Slow Man
Anderson .Paak - Ventura (Aftermath Entertainment/12 Tone Music, 12 April)
After being graced with ‘Malibu’ in 2016, an album that fuses hip hop with disco, soul and jazz, I felt everything else Anderson .Paak had released thereafter fell slightly short. That is until ‘Ventura’ in April 2019 which brought the euphoria back to his music. Every track is gloriously funky, like the classics of ‘Malibu’. Paak announced that he was given more freedom with ‘Ventura’ than he had with 2018’s ‘Oxnard’ and it really shows. With ‘King James’ we’re given the tight horns like with ‘Am I Wrong’ from 2016, and the album also gives us the emotive and soulful tracks like ‘Make it Better’. Anderson .Paak proves in this album that he is a fantastic performer, songwriter, producer and collaborator, as it features such prestigious names as Andre 3000, Smokey Robinson and Brandy. ‘Ventura’ is an accessible album that transcends genre, but is built on foundations of hip hop, disco, soul and jazz. One of the top albums of the year, without a doubt.
Favourite Songs - King James, Make it Better (feat. Smokey Robinson), Come Home (feat. Andre 3000), Jet Black (feat. Brandy)
Nia Andrews - No Place is Safe (World Galaxy Records, 21 June)
Nia Andrews emerges from the vocal tradition of Solange’s ‘A Seat at the Table’ which she herself features in. Her debut album, ‘No Place is Safe’, is a perfect exemplifier of her talent as a singer and songwriter. The album opens with rippling keys beneath two of her vocal tracks in ‘The Road (Intro)’ before the melancholic but grooving bassline in ‘Linger’. The albums shifts from slower and sadder tunes, rich with strings and guitars, to more upbeat soulful tracks like ‘The Ceiling’ and ‘Seems So’, the latter I discovered on Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide FM. Andrews perfectly captures the balance between neo-soul and R&B and is surely one of the most exciting talents in the field.
Favourite songs - Seems So, Linger, The Ceiling, Cleo and the King
Biig Piig - A World Without Snooze, Vol.2 (Self-released, 22 March)
Biig Piig, a.k.a Jess Smyth, brought up in Cork and Marbella, brings a fresh ambience to neo-soul. Singing and rapping, her voice is intimate and beautiful, with words sometimes in English and sometimes Spanish. The EP is warm and calming with neat hip hop beats and soothing keys to provide a minimalist groove. The vocals are what shines the most with Biig Piig going between soft singing, double tracking, speaking and rapping. The track ‘Vete’ features her words in Spanish, showing her fluency and the musical quality of the language itself. This fantastic EP is a teaser of more to come from Biig Piig.
Favourite songs - Vete, Casio
You can buy all of the albums mentioned in the article via the links below: