On March 8th we once again celebrate International Women’s Day, and what better way to do so than to take a look at some of the exceptional albums recorded by women that have been featured in Jazz Views in the last 12 months. As with any list or article of this nature it is of course only a small representation of the incredible albums released by women musicians in this period of time.

In making the selection, I have chosen albums reviewed on the website since International Women’s Day in March last year up until the present, and the albums discussed here are mostly ones that I have had the pleasure in reviewing myself. The list at the foot of this article provides links to many more recordings that are worthy of further listening and discussion.

The first album in my selection is by Christine Tobin and her first after her return to Ireland. Christine and her musical and life partner Phil Robson had left the UK to move to New York in 2015. Their absence from the scene was sorely felt and it was great news to hear of their return, and even better news when the word was out that there was a new album about to be released. In a stunning album of original songs and a rather unusual line up featuring guitar, piano, violin and viola and uilleann pipes & whistles; and of course, Christine’s unique voice, Returning Weather was a triumphant and welcome return.

Claire Martin has been a mainstay of the UK jazz scene for some thirty years, and I cannot recall her having a bad or indifferent album. In fact, Claire’s discography covers a wide range of musical styles from contemporary small groups to collaborations with Stephane Grappelli, Kenny Barron, Richard Rodney Bennett and Jim Mullen.

Recently Claire has formed an extremely productive association with Stunt Records and one of the projects that produced some exceptional music, and placed the vocalist in a setting that suited her perfectly alongside the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a jazz trio.

Working with the arranger and conductor Scott Dunn, with I Watch You Sleep Claire has surely one of the finest albums of her career with a superb repertoire of standards impeccably arranged.

From an artist with an established career, it is also a joy to hear a well-crafted album by a young woman releasing her debut album, as was the case with Returning to Myself  by Laura Lontano as reviewer Isabel Marquez discovered. Writing of the album in May 2023 Isabel says that the “album is planted directly in the soil of nostalgia and authenticity, flourishing into a sentimental collection of beautifully written songs.”

An album that came my way of beautifully written songs was It’s All We Have by Sabino de Bari and Diana Torti. An intriguing marriage of the new and the old, played out beautifully by Sabino’s guitar and Diana’s beautiful voice as the couple embrace jazz, improvisation, contemporary classical and ancient music in an intoxicating and eclectic programme.

Vocalist, pianist and composer Fiona Ross is a force of nature who is determined to do things her own way. Over the course of seven albums, she has doggedly pursued her own musical path and in doing so has picked up accolades and awards along the way. Thoughts, Conversations and To Do Lists, Fiona once again straddles genres and also on this hugely enjoyable album expands the writing for the brass. The music has a feel good factor that is infectious, and while we will all relate to the album’s title I was prompted to write at the time of Fiona that “She may defy those who would seek to pigeonhole her music, and she comfortably straddles genres while refusing to conform,  and if this act of defiance may annoy the diehards and purists, for those who are willing to let Ross’s music convey its message, she will introduce the listener to the playground of life with the all the ups and downs that we encounter on the journey.”

One album that I found particularly inspiring as well as a joy to listen to was Look at Me Now! by Wilma Baan. This is all the more impressive and indeed inspirational, as Wilma reveals that for nearly forty years she has been living with a hearing impairment, and at one point considered giving up singing altogether. Rather than giving up, her vocals are now stronger than ever, and while Wilma may have chosen some well-known songs from the standards repertoire, she has been able to bring a little bit of herself to bear on each of the twelve songs in delightfully fresh and original interpretations.

Pianist Zoe Rahman produced what must be viewed as her most ambitious project to date with the wonderful Colour of Sound, a superb set of original compositions that mix Zoe’s flair for melody with complex rhythms arranged for sextet or septet. As Chris Baber writes in his review, “Zoe Rahman is a musician for whom the clumsy phrase ‘world music’ is apt. But what is striking is that the music is from her world, her experiences, and the melding musical genres, traditions, and styles in which she has steeped herself.”

2023 was a big year for rising star Emma Rawicz as she signed to the ACT imprint and saw the release of Chroma too much critical acclaim. The album is brim-full of imaginative compositions and excellent contributions from a top-notch band featuring another young star in the making in vocalist, Immy Churchill.

Sings The Charles Mingus/Joni Mitchell Songbook by Imogen Ryall is an album that I had trouble getting away from my CD player as it appeared to be on a constant loop. An album to get thoroughly immersed in and that continues to delight. A brave and ambitious project to take on compositions from Joni Mitchell’s recording Mingus that was itself poorly received yet Imogen transforms the music bringing to life and to the attention to a new generation of listeners yet to discover the original.

Natasha Seale’s Ellington Seale’d: Live at Crazy Coqs is not a full album, but it should have been! The EP only contains five songs, but they are superbly recorded and catch a fine band that were on fire that night and leaves one wishing for more.

Displaying a continuous and steady artistic growth, vocalist Lauren Bush released her third album Tide Risestowards the end of 2023. An assured outing with a nice mix of contemporary songs, standards and a couple of originals, Lauren is gaining in stature with each new release, and as I wrote at the time “Another step forward for Lauren in a hugely enjoyable set that sees her setting the bar increasingly higher.”

Saxophonist Nicole Johänntgen likes to shake things up a little and having recently released a duet album with guitarist Jack DeSalvo, two solo saxophone albums and now Labyrinth with an instrumentation of saxophone, tuba and percussion in a programme of original compositions that will delight an astonish in equal measures.

Fellow saxophonist Tori Freestone in partnership with pianist Alycona Mick released their second ‘duo’ recording, Make One Little Room An Everywhere that features some fearless improvising not just form Tori and Alycona but also vocalists Brigitte Beraha and Natacha Atlas.

Another album that really caught my attention and that fires on all cylinders is the excellent Face to Face by Nikki Iles and the NDR Big Band. Eight original compositions and arrangements by Nikki that quite rightly put her on a pedestal placing her right up there with Vince Mendoza and Maria Schneider. A world class composer and arranger, I stand by my comments that “It says much for the state of the arts in the UK that that after being awarded an BEM for services to music that Nikki has to seek much of her work away from these shores, and in order to get this wonderful music performed that she has had to enlist the services of the NDR Big Band in Germany. We can only be grateful that Nikki has the courage and commitment to keep producing such fine works as this, and British labels like Edition have the foresight to release them.”

As we progress through 2024 there have already been spate of albums that really deserve to be heard and will more than likely end up on the end of years Best Albums list, but why wait until then? Irish vocalist Stella Bass released her second album Look For The Silver Lining a decade after her debut! The wait was well worth it, and with the support of the Johnny Taylor Trio has recorded a stunning album of standards and and original songs that is absolutely top draw.

Another album that took me pleasantly by surprise is Primary Colours by Germana Stella La Sorsa is a set of original songs accompanied by an organ trio that is anything but conventional. The songs are all carefully crafted and cleverly arranged. The organ trio does not so much roar as purr, and yes, the music swings with some solid solos. However, it is Germana’s vocals that captivated me, her wordless vocalising is impeccably nuanced, and she is also a fine lyricist.

Taking us close to this year’s International Women’s Day is the release last week of pianist Lynne Arriale’s new album Being Human. Presenting ten new compositions and her new trio, Arriale reminds us in her emotionally charged pieces just what it is to be human and the emotions that we all experience.

Links to reviews and recommended albums:

Christine Tobin – Returning Weather

Scott Dunn with Claire Martin and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – I Watch You Sleep

Keith and Julie Tippett – Couple in Spirit: Sound on Stone

Keiko Matsui – Euphoria

Laura Lantano- Returning to Myself

Sabino de Bari & Diana Torti – It’s All We Have

Fiona Ross – Thoughts, Conversations and To Do Lists

Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loueke – Lean in

Sylvie Courvoisier & Cory Smythe – The Rite of Spring – Spectre d’un songe

Zoe Rahman – Colour of Sound

Wilma Baan – Look At Me Now!

Emma Rawicz – Chroma

Sinikka Langeland – Wind And Sun

Imogen Ryall – Sings The Charles Mingus/Joni Mitchell Songbook

Natasha Seale – Ellington Seale’d: Live at Crazy Coqs

Rebecca Poole – Dreamers Ball

Lauren Bush – Tide Rises

Alison Crockett – Echoes of an Era Redux: My Father’s Record Collection Vol 1

Nicole Johänntgen – Labyrinth

Tori Freestone & Alcyona Mick – Make One Little Room An Everywhere

Nikki Iles & NDR Big Band – Face to Face

Anita Wardell & Dave McEvoy – Stars

Stella Bass – Look For The Silver Lining

June Yun – Enlightenment-Solid Waves

Sarah L. King – Fire Horse

Julia Werup – Dear Frances

Shuteen Erdenebaatar Quartet – Rising Sun

Germana Stella La Sorsa – Primary Colours

Lynne Arriale Trio – Being Human