Everyone knows "My Way," the Paul Anka-penned opus that Frank Sinatra turned into a wallowing sermon about mistakes that were sort of made. "Regrets," Ol' Blue Eyes intones, "I've had a few, but then again too few to mention." Not me. In 2014, why didn't I write about that awesome new album by the Nigerian drummer-composer Tony Allen? And why didn't I give praise to that indelible release by Sarajevo singer Amira Medunjanin? Three words: "Not too late."
As we say goodbye to 2014, here's a roundup of the year's best releases that came my way. Notice the caveat "came my way." The albums that entered my milieu were all jazz and global music. I've narrowed them down to seven big releases for the 14th year of the 21st century. Without further ado (but with adieu, as in "adieu to 2014"), here are the best global and jazz albums that almost never made it to the virtual pages of KQED Arts.
7. Amira Medunjanin -- Silk & Stone
Aided by instruments like the oud and kanun that give her songs a visceral punch, Amira Medunjanin reaches soulful heights with traditional Balkan songs. On tunes like "Sto Te Nema," you feel the sorrow of centuries, while "Elena Kerko" transports the listener to a place that's alive with jazzy feelings, as if skipping into a new frontier.
6. Omar Sosa -- Senses
With this album, recorded in 2012 at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center in Troy, New York, the Cuban-American reconfirms his status as one of his generation's most adroit pianists and composers. Not quite 50, Sosa lives in that space where classical, jazz, and Latin music dance around the edges of songs that find their way to moving conclusions.
5. Sibelius Academy Folk Big Band -- FBB
In two decades of writing about music, I've never encountered an album this playful, this infectious, and this Finnish. Based in Finland, the Sibelius Academy Folk Big Band has more than 40 members, and – somehow, playing without a conductor – they coordinate their voices, and their kanteles, violins, accordions, guitars, and other instruments into a cohesive buffet that makes you want to dance, Sound of Music style. FBB is their first album. It won't be their last.
4. Warren Cuccurullo and Ustad Sultan Khan -- The Master
On this pairing between India's greatest sarangi player and the guitarist who fueled Duran Duran and Frank Zappa's band, the atmosphere is thick with the subcontinent's beautiful traditions and Cuccurullo's moody strings and electronics. Some of the songs get stuck in a kind of musical no-man's land, but when the album connects – as it does on the opening song "The Lost Master" – there's nothing like it. Khan, who died in 2011, never got to hear the released version of the album, which was recorded in 1998.
3. Pedro Luis Ferrer -- Final
From his birthplace of Cuba, Pedro Luis Ferrer has produced a series of acoustic albums through the years that are self-contained pastiches of Cuban culture and Ferrer's life. Ferrer calls his music changuisa, and he usually records with family members, including his daughter Lena, whose resonant voice complements Ferrer's and gives his releases – including Final – a generous familiarity that is beautiful to hear.
2. Atash -- Everything Is Music
Ars Mundi Productions
Based in Austin, Texas, Atash is the embodiment of global music that knows no borders. Iranian-born Mohammad Firoozi ignites Atash with his deeply felt words, Florida native Jason McKenzie drives the songs with tabla and other drums, Indian sitarist Indrajit Banerjee adds his acclaimed sounds, Guinean balafon and djembe player Aboubacar Sylla gives voice to his inspiring instruments, musical director Roberto Paolo Riggio provides the strings (violin, viola, oud) – and that's really just the start. From this album's very first song, Atash gets things moving and keeps it there for the better part of a long, long hour.
1. Tony Allen -- Film of Life
You can hear the influence of Fela Kuti and Afrobeat on this electrifying album, and that's for a good reason: Tony Allen is Afrobeat, the drummer who was Fela's counterpoint in the Afrobeat movement that defined Nigerian music in the 1970s. But Allen goes way beyond Afrobeat here, with influences from Jamaica, Europe, and America fitting into a modern stew that veers from psychedelic to flat-out funky. Allen even sings, lending his voice to an album that deserves the highest possible accolades.
So, there you go. Here's to a year of no regrets in 2015.