This month would be Oscar month. But as with almost everything, Corona threw a spanner in the works. Mick Boskamp therefore came up with an alternative: the Oscars for best music.
Musically, 2020 was a surreal year. Just check it out. One of my great musical heroes, the legendary American multi-instrumentalist and singer Todd Rundgren, who has now been nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame for the third time, released a version of Flappie by Dutch comedian Youp van het Hek (Yes, you read that right). And I can never listen to one of the most beautiful songs ever (God Only Knows by The Beach Boys) without thinking about the horrible All You Need Is Love version by Deputy Prime Minister and Corona Minister Hugo de Jonge and the Mayor of Amsterdam Femke Halsema.
Also surreal, but in a positive sense, was the great music that was made and / or mixed in lockdown. But on the other hand, that could also be explained. Because what does an artist, DJ and / or producer who cannot perform? He dives into the studio to record music.
And so I ended up in music heaven last year, of which these are the icing on the cake. My personal 10 Oscars go to:
Vocal jazz album: Sunset In The Blue, Melody Gardot
She is a stunner. And with the first name of an expensive call girl and with the artwork of her penultimate (live) album on which she can be seen completely naked from behind, you would think that the American singer Melody Gardot has to rely on her appearance. Nothing is less true. She has a phenomenal, unique, jazzy voice, with which she sings stories with a head and a tail, and her own compositions have the potential to become classics. For her fifth album she managed to gather a dream team, consisting of Joni Mitchell producer Larry Klein, conductor and arranger Vince Mendoza and the legendary recording engineer Al Schmitt. What these great gentlemen have done especially well on is making Melody's voice sound like her lips are touching the microphone. On an album where an excellent duet with Sting is the least song, you mainly hear the easy listening jazz, which Frank Sinatra had the patent on, with a sultry bossa nova track here and there. I just can't get enough of this Melody.
Mixalbum: Frequencies 13, Dj B.O.B.
Talk about not getting enough. Suppose there was some sort of pedometer for the times you play an album. Then Frequencies 13 by Dj B.O.B. on Mixcloud have ensured that the hours of listening to music in 2020 would result in a perpendicular line upwards from the years before. I was not saturated with the choice of record, the sound and the technique of Bob van der Linden (as his real name is). Nowadays we hardly talk about mixing technique anymore, but anyone who knows a little bit about DJing must agree that what we hear here in the transitions between the tracks is pointe class gruppe eins, as the Germans indicate as something couldn't be better. And then we haven't even talked about the record choice. The tracks are current, but the feel is completely timeless and sexy. As if you add up all the years that dance has existed and reap the very best from it, resulting in an hour long deep house techno mix for the books.
Hands in the air track: Rosebud, Bookashade (John Digweed & Nick Muir Remix)
For someone who hardly dances, but swings internally like me, it might seem a bit strange to come up with a music Oscar for a hands in the air track. But what I mean is a song where you get goosebumps every time when that break comes and you already know in the back of your mind where that moment leads to. Total Mayhem. Rosebud by the industrious German duo Bookashade is a strong song, but it becomes a smashing song in the remix of Nick Muir and John Digweed. Every time I hear their version, I turn the volume up at the moment of the break. I don't know what it is. Is it the contradiction between beautiful and deadly? Or is it the unforgettable drum roll right before the beat comes back in? Well, the remix is priceless, so why wonder? And when I'm home alone at the supreme moment I raise my arms in the air. After making sure that the curtains are closed.
Latin album: Abricó-De-Macaco, Joāo Bosco
Downtempo album: EGLO.035, Danny Howells
British Top DJ Danny Howells and I have a history together. I am still proud that as a "director" I was allowed to have a share in his second mix album from 1998, entitled Nightlife Report 1: Mick Boskamp presents Danny Howells. In fact, it was his first mix album as it contained tracks of his own choosing, while his first calling card contained songs from the Jackpot label. When I first saw him, it was love at first sight. And love at first hearing, because Danny is a musical DJ who ingeniously reflects the preferences of his youth (70's disco, 80's new wave) in his electronic DJ and producer sound. Last year, Electronic Groove released a free downloadable downtempo mix from him on Soundcloud that was breathtaking. You expect a lazy sound, usually linked to downtempo, but this was a true cosmic trip, a feature film without images that kept you on the edge of your listening seat from start to finish. Beautiful, experimental, intense and extremely musical. A mix for the advanced, so to speak. It is a pity that Danny does not show what he is capable of more often. That is not a reproof, but just me being greedy.
Debut album: Breathe Deep, Oscar Jerome
In 2019, East London singer and guitarist Oscar Jerome released a live album that was recorded in Amsterdam's Bitterzoet. It was a kind of dress rehearsal for his first, real debut album, the magnificent Breathe Deep that was released last year and already blew my socks off during the first turn. What this 25-year-old all-rounder brings up in the 11 songs is pure genius. His songs range from jazz via hip hop to funk and from African and spiritual jazz to rhythm & blues and underground sixties sound. Could it be a bit wider perhaps? But the great thing about it is that he brings it all together seamlessly. In addition, Jerome is a fantastic guitarist and his voice sounds warm and emotional and he knows how to carry songs as well as giving them an unprecedented swing. I hold my heart for his next album, because a debut like this is admirable, but also sets the bar unprecedentedly high. We will see. For the time being, Breathe Deep can still come along.
Musical achievement: Bunker, John Digweed
Almost a year ago, when Corona was starting to hold us in a hold, I had John Digweed on the phone, who told me that on Saturdays he would be coming from his home studio with a series of live streams for his fans on Facebook. Normally it would have flown around the world three times, but Covid-19 kept the stars on the ground. And if music is second nature to you and you have your fans high, as is the case with John, then you are looking for another way to get what you want. We are now a year later and - you won't believe it - there have been 37 Saturday Bunker Sessions, which can now be followed via Mixcloud Live. If you want to listen to the mixes, you have to subscribe to John Digweed Live for next to nothing (click on Bunker above the photo). May last year I interviewed John. On Bunker he said:
'For the shows I wanted to have a nice slow build and bring the energy up during the set. I usually spent a couple of hours going through my folders and pulling out old and new tracks. Then on the night I look at it like it was a fresh painting and try and make sense of the tracks in front of me. I feel like I am playing at a house party, so I try and create moments within the mix and have a good amount of feel good tracks that wrap around you. I have been blown away by all the feedback and comments, so I am glad it has given some people enjoyment while we are in lockdown.'
A year later I heard most of the Bunker sessions. And it is almost shocking that John knows how to surprise and fascinate me time and again. Bunker is the perfect band-aid through these troubled times and by far the best musical achievement of the year, perhaps even from this just-started new decennium.
Jazz album: Jackets XL, Yellowjackets
When it comes to music, I'm an omnivore, just like with food. I like dance, rock, pop, latin, jazz and fusion jazz. As far as the latter genre is concerned, I have been a fan of Yellowjackets for about 45 years (!). I have all the albums of the quartet and the Jackets XL released on November 5 last year (on my birthday!) Is number 25. Since the departure of alto saxophonist Marc Russo in 1990 and the arrival of tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer in the same year, the sound of the Jackets became less fusion and more straight forward jazz. But that did not spoil the fun. On the contrary. As a loyal listener I was evaluating along with keyboardist Russel Ferrante (also listen to his beautiful, recent trio album), saxophonist Mintzer, drummer William Kennedy and Australian bassist Dane Alderson, who only joined in 2015 (and followed up Felix Pastorius, the son of Jaco Pastorius, who in turn replaced Jimmy Haslip). And then a special album was released at the end of last year, perhaps because it was the 25th. The title says it all. On Jackets XL they are accompanied by the excellent German WDR Big Band. The album only contains a few new tracks. What you hear is mostly a cross-section from the band's breathtaking catalog. But don't expect polished tracks with some brass work from a big band behind them, because this has clearly been thought about. For example, on a number of songs we hear Mintzer playing on the EWI, an electronic wind instrument. You hardly heard him playing the EWI on the penultimate albums. It seems to me a plan to make the classic big band sound downright electrifying. What a special foursome this is!
Single: My Future, Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish is the only artist that both our daughter and I are passionate about. I often fondly remember the time Leela and I were on our way in the car and we sang Bad Guy on Spotify together. This year Billie did not release an album, but a number of singles, of which My Future will prove to be a classic for the future. In this song wrapped in a beautiful jazzy, funky melody, about how important it is to love yourself first and then someone else, you hear how ridiculously good this young woman is. My single of the year.
Best overall album: Quattro, John Digweed
And last but not to least my best album since Corona. Till now. Can I do it after I've already gifted him twice with a personal music Oscar? I must do it, otherwise I would be doing both myself and John short. Because Quattro is without a doubt the most complete piece of music that came out last year. The beautifully designed package consists of three incredibly well mixed albums full of beautiful dance music plus an album with deep layered soundscapes by John and his musical partner Nick Muir. In my review of a year ago I wrote:
When, after listening to Juxtaposition a few times I texted to Nick Muir: 'I love Juxtaposition! Tripped out to the max. I like my downtempo music with a little bite. And this is just what the doctor ordered! ', He sends me back:' Great stuff Mick, you totally get it. In a parallel universe you're a musician. '
But I am not a musician. I am a journalist. A journalist who writes that Quattro can be placed at the top of the list of albums mentioned in this review, titles that in my opinion could not be better for a long time. If you want to make someone or yourself happy in these difficult times with something beautiful and unique, then I can wholeheartedly recommend this masterpiece by a DJ / producer / musician to the best of its ability.
And now it appears that almost a year later the album hasn't lost any of its strength and urgency. To make it extra festive Quattro 2 was released week (read my review after the weekend). Yes, even life in times of crisis can be enjoyable.