What Artist Did You Fall In Love With In 2015? Three staffers from NPR Music tell Audie Cornish about a futurist Congolese band, a couple of house-music Kiwis in London and the unreleased recordings of a pianist who dated Doris Duke.

What Artist Did You Fall In Love With In 2015?

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You like music? Love a good year-ender list of the best stuff? Oh, we have got lists for you. Top 10 favorite folk albums, top 10 favorite electronic albums, a playlist of more than 400 of the best songs of the year. All of that and more is at the NPR Music site. And to give us a little guidance, we have a crew here now to highlight a few of those favorites, beginning with NPR music producer and reporter Anastasia Tsioulcas. Welcome to the program, Anastasia.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie, good to be with you.

CORNISH: Also writer and editor Otis Hart. Hey there, Otis.

OTIS HART, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: And finally, our jazz producer, Patrick Jarenwattananon. Patrick, thanks for coming on the show.

PATRICK JARENWATTANANON, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: Now first, I want to just get a quick take about this year in music 'cause I have to admit, I was really focusing on pop this year. I was that person who suddenly was like, Justin Bieber, really an artist.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SORRY")

JUSTIN BIEBER: (Singing) Is it too late now to say sorry?

CORNISH: And I want to know for you guys, in your genres - Patrick, you're laughing at me. What to you kind of, like, encapsulates this year?

JARENWATTANANON: Well, I think the big story of the year in the jazz community was an artist from LA named Kamasi Washington. He managed to crack the mainstream providing a very classic sort of jazz.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAMASI WASHINGTON SONG)

JARENWATTANANON: A recording with a huge ensemble, with strings and voices and his own longtime working band, and that really resonated with people somewhat unexpectedly.

CORNISH: Otis, for you?

HART: You know, it's funny. I feel like in the electronic music world this year, jazz stuck its fingers in that pie as well. Maybe it was the natural cycle of just coming off something as hardened, as regimented as EDM, but a lot of underground dance producers have really embraced, like, the spontaneity and the virtuosity of jazz this year.

CORNISH: Anastasia.

TSIOULCAS: Well, it's funny because I feel like we're all sailing on the same trajectory. In global music, it was all about overlaps with electronic music and sort of twisting and warping traditional sounds into new forms. People like Ibeyi, the twins from a French-Cuban background, and the producer Four Tet, who integrated a lot of Indian classical music into his sound this year. It was all about sort of stretching and stretching and stretching.

CORNISH: Well, I want to follow up with your pick. I don't know if we're going to get any of that EDM electronic dance music feel here, but what music did you bring us today, Anastasia?

TSIOULCAS: I brought you a track that is very much dance music. It's from a group from Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, called "Mbongwana Star."

(SOUNDBITE OF MBONGWANA STAR SONG, "MALUKAYI")

TSIOULCAS: So you hear this dance rhythm, right? It's totally there and present. But there's sort of this glimmer of metallic clatter on top of it. And I've come to think of this as kind of dance music for the alienated.

CORNISH: Did you say music for the alienated?

TSIOULCAS: Kind of, yeah. I mean, it has that sort of - maybe it's just me superimposing my own (laughter) neuroses, right? But there's this sense to me of, like, this otherness and alienation. The album straddles both this rooted tradition and also this future music, and really plays with all these ideas in a really interesting way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MALUKAYI")

MBONGWANA STAR: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: Otis, I want to turn to you next because both you and Anastasia have brought us, like, really gorgeous produce - kind of dance music. Totally new discovery to you, right?

HART: Yeah, this is a group called Chaos in the CBD. They're a pair of brothers, Louis and Ben Helliker-Hales. They're originally from New Zealand, but they moved to the community in London called Peckham, hence the title of this song "Midnight In Peckham."

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAOS IN THE CBD SONG, "MIDNIGHT IN PECKHAM")

CORNISH: This sort of reminds me of the kind of chill '90s electronic music that I came up with. Is that (laughter) off the mark?

HART: Yeah. No, no, you're totally right. I think that 2015 will be remembered, at least in some dance circles, as sort of an instinctual reaction to the rise of EDM and sort of embracing softer, jazzier sounds.

CORNISH: And when you say EDM, you mean kind of, like, hard...

HART: ...Yeah...

CORNISH: ...Like, Skrillex kind of electronic dance music?

HART: Yeah, Skrillex and Diplo when they're not working with Justin Bieber.

CORNISH: Right (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAOS IN THE CBD SONG, "MIDNIGHT IN PECKHAM")

HART: This is, like, a live trumpet in the mix in this song. And just the idea of - you know, jazz is, like, the ultimate free-form type of music. So when you're looking to make something different from rigid beats, jazz is sort of an obvious destination to drift towards.

CORNISH: So what's up with the British electronic duets of brothers, right? I mean, the most famous, I guess, would be Disclosure. Their music helped introduce many people to the artist Sam Smith. But talk about kind of this formula coming out of this scene.

HART: There's essentially one instrument that you're both working with that really need to have a close connection with that other person to really make the music sing. So, you know, I've been exchanging e-mails with the brothers over the last couple of days, and when you're this collaborative and you have basically a computer software program to make the music, you have to be on the same wavelength.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAOS IN THE CBD SONG, "MIDNIGHT IN PECKHAM")

CORNISH: All right, well, since you mentioned jazz we want to end with our friend Patrick, who brings not something that's, like, new or under the radar, but something literally that was, like, hidden for a while.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOE CASTRO BIG BAND SONG, "FUNKY BLUES")

CORNISH: A box set of some jam sessions. Tell us about the artist.

JARENWATTANANON: Well, the pianist here is named Joe Castro. He's the leader of all these sessions. This guy was totally new to me. He may have been known by some - as an obscure musician by some historians. And I guess he was rather big in his day because he would host all these jam sessions at the mansion that he lived in with his romantic partner at the time, maybe the wealthiest woman in the world, Doris Duke. So this box set compiles some of those jam sessions and some other things.

CORNISH: And Doris Duke is this big, like, philanthropist and this heiress to a tobacco fortune. This is actually kind of a wild story - right? -about this artist and, I guess, how he was able to carry off this career.

JARENWATTANANON: Absolutely. I mean, he was the son of Mexican-American immigrants. Grew up in the Bay Area, discovered that what his real love was was jazz music. And he met all these musicians living out in Southern California. And he would bring them up to this mansion called Falcon Lair, they'd do all these jam sessions. Doris Duke actually helped him finance a record label that he began, it's called Clover Records, and that's an unreleased track that was recorded for Clover Records.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOE CASTRO BIG BAND SONG, "FUNKY BLUES")

JARENWATTANANON: So this song is called "Funky Blues," and the tenor saxophonist you're listening to is Teddy Edwards. Teddy Edwards was one of these West Coast saxophonists who was, you know - played in this strong vernacular tradition, one of the greats that Joe Castro actually hung out with on the regular. And this set just has this great large ensemble totality. And then you get to hear Joe Castro play, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOE CASTRO BIG BAND SONG, "FUNKY BLUES")

CORNISH: NPR jazz producer Patrick Jarenwattananon, thanks so much for bringing us this undiscovered bit of joy.

JARENWATTANANON: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: And Otis Hart, writer and editor NPR Music. Thank you for being here.

HART: Hey - anytime, Audie.

CORNISH: And finally, Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR music producer and reporter. Anastasia, thanks for bringing us this great pick.

TSIOULCAS: It's always great to chat with you, Audie. Thanks.

CORNISH: And if you want to hear more from this list about these artists, you can visit npr.org/music.

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