Well, my status as a "critic" will be met with snickers and rightly so, but when one of the leading jazz writers asks for my input on a list for NPR Music, how can I say no? Just to be clear, I'm really terrible at these things, invariably forgetting albums, and the rankings here were part of the conditions of the poll, I'd rather have these LP's seen as some of the best records of the year in an unranked format. Davis also asked for best vocal and best Latin recordings, but since I rarely listen to either of those genres I had to take a pass. Here goes...
•Your choices for this year’s ten best New Releases (albums released between last Thanksgiving and this, give or take) listed in descending order one-through-ten.
John Zorn - Valentine’s Day
Audio One - The Midwest School
Steve Lehman - Mise en Abime
Lean Left - Live at the Area Sismica
Eric Revis - In Memory of Things Yet Unseen
Brandon Seabrook - Sylphid Vitalizers
Marc Ribot Trio - Live at the Village Vanguard
Nels Cline Singers - Macroscope
Chicago Underground Duo - Locus
Raoul Björkenheim - Ecstasy
•Your top-three Reissues or Historical albums, again listed in descending order
John Coltrane - Live at Temple University
Miles Davis - Miles at the Fillmore 1970
Sonny Simmons - Leaving Knowledge Wisdom and Brilliance
A confluence of issues have led to me not being able to blog more regularly. I really want to keep slogging on so I'd like to use the weekly format that Tom Hull uses so effectively and recap the music that I have been listening to during the week. So, with no further ado....
Wilco - What's Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014 (Nonesuch, 2014) After the "alt-country" powerhouse Uncle Tupelo imploded in the early 1990's, vocalist and guitarist Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco, discarding any pigeonholes and developing into a powerful rock 'n' roll band. Their earlier years are captured on the first disc leading with the poppy "Box Full of Letters" and the grinding rock of "I Got You (at the end of the Century)" and "Monday." They also write some moody and enigmatic music on "Misunderstood" and "Via Chicago." When Nels Cline joined the group they now had a genuine guitar hero which power the witty "I am Trying to Break Your Heart" and "Handshake Drugs." While fans will always quibble (where is "Bull Black Nova"!?!) the selection is really well chosen, featuring the band's most familiar songs and including excellent album tracks as well.
Avishai Cohen's Triveni - Dark Nights (Anzic Records, 2014) Avishai Cohen is a trumpeter (not to be confused with the bassist of the same name) originally from Israel but now living in the United States after attending the Berklee School of music. On this album he is joined by Omer Avital on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums and guests like his clarinetist sister Anat on "Betray" which also uses electronic effects to excellent effect. There are two jazz standards, a subtle and mournful bass and trumpet duet on "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and the quieter nature of their music is also explored on Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life." The album concludes with a swinging version of "I Fall In Love Too Easily" with guests Gerald Clayton on piano and Keren Ann on vocals.
The Rolling Stones - From the Vault: Hampton Coliseum (Eagle Rock, 2014) The Rolling Stones join the ranks of The Grateful Dead and King Crimson in regularly releasing concerts and rare recordings from their archives. This concert was originally a pay-per-view event from Virginia, and is presented here as two audio CD's and a DVD of the original broadcast. It's quite a value for Stones fans as well, clocking in at nearly 2.5 hours both in audio and video. They were at the end of a 50 concert grind following the Tattoo You LP and mix some of the new material with older classics. Right from the start they juxtapose a tentative "Under My Thumb" and piano driven "Let's Spend the Night Together" with funkier tracks like "Shattered" and "When the Whip Comes Down." There are a few gaffs and Mick Jagger desperately tries to keep both the live and TV audience engaged, but overall when the group hits its stride this is a worthy addition to the canon.
We truly live in interesting times when the best rock 'n' roll album of the year (IMHO) is made by a group of open minded jazz musicians. The trio on this particular album is Trevor Dunn on bass and bass guitar, Marc Ribot on electric guitar and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. They are playing a series of John Zorn compositions, which are given individual names but also fall into a larger "Enigma" suite. With Zorn's bottomless imagination and the facility of these these first rate players, there comes music that truly defines genre, except for that which goes for the throat whether as a take no prisoner's free jazz outfit, or as a hell for leather rock band that could eat alive, bones and all, any of the poseurs on the current rock and pop scene. Zorn's name is front and center on the label, because he picked the players and wrote the material. Like Duke Ellington, Zorn will write for individual musicians and play to their strengths, like on this album of caustic and thrilling music. The sounds are somewhat akin to what you may hear on an album by Ribot's Ceramic Dog band, and like that group, the music here is filled with wit and fun. Valentine's Day - amazon.com
The fiftieth anniversary of the release of Eric Dolphy's ultimate masterpiece Out to Lunch and his tragic death in Berlin have spurred a wave of attention to his work and a number of tribute albums including this one. Pianists Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach lead a large band in providing fresh arrangements of some of Dolphy's most well known pieces. They open with one of his early compositions, "Les" which features a spritely saxophone solo with horns riffing happily in the background. There is an interlude of bass clarinet, one of the instruments that Dolphy was a master of, and then fine sections of horns and brass and then piano, bass and drums. Eric Dolphy's tribute to Thelonious Monk, "Hat and Beard" follows with some fascinating piano work, percussive and deeply ingrained with the lowest notes of the instrument. The tune is taken at length, developing a suite like structure with the soloists and full ensemble hinting at the melody throughout. The music loses a little bit of 0it's edge during the middle of album (a live recording) but builds back up to speed with "Miss Ann". Horns swirl playfully with the melody, backed with urgent drumming by Han Bennink, who played a session with Dolphy as young man in 1964. Saxophones whoop as the fire is further stoked by a swinging piano solo and a hot duet of saxophone and drums. Finally, "Out to Lunch" brings the proceedings to a rousing conclusion, featuring a righteous Bennink drum solo developing into the rattling march that Tony Williams used on the original recording. The wonderful melody is finally stated and then the horns take the music to the heavens. This is a fitting tribute to Eric Dolphy's memory, he was one of the most unique and talented musicians in jazz history and his compositions sound as fresh as anything being written today. So Long, Eric! - Homage to Eric Dolphy - amazon.com
This is another relatively rare Sun Ra LP that focuses on Ra's investigation into many of the new types of electronic keyboards coming into existence during the late 1960's. Sun Ra's love of science and technology extended far beyond his Afro-Futurist worldview into the use of the most up to date musical technology. There is a smaller band on this recording than many of his other Arkestra recordings, but the usual suspects like Marshall Allen and John Gilmore on saxophone make their presence felt. Moog synthesizers were all the rage in progressive rock circles at this time, but no one developed them to their full potential quite like Sun Ra. Using a bank of keyboards he was able to conjure the eerie texture of the title track, and "Intergalactic 2" where the two saxophones are panned to the far edge of the soundstage, while Ra works like mad the rest of the way. It is on the two final lengthy pieces "Code of Interdependence" and "Space Probe" that things get truly and delightfully unhinged. Sun Ra takes the bleeps and bloops you might have heard from a satellite of the early years of the space program and stretches and pulls them though his keyboard until he makes music that sounds like a lava lamp crossed with a theremin. He is taking this technology that seems primitive to us today and uses it to create music that is otherworldly and stands with his finest work. My Brother the Wind Vol. 1 - iTunes.