Listening Listfully 2020

No performance tonight

This New Year's Eve Moment is the occasion for which this blog still, on occasion, exists. It is the moment of the annual "Listening Listfully" list of the music that has appealed to me over the preceding year. 

In keeping with the practice of so many other, more reputable music-listers, I have abandoned any pretense of ranking this year.

What we have below is, by my reckoning, a list of 103 album-like music releases from 2020. 52 of them are listed in random order, as a sort of top tier, with commentary. The commentary frequently takes the form of embedded Twitter comments from the past year. The count is 52 because I adopted the practice of presenting them with album covers arranged in groups of four, and 52 is divisible by 4, don't you know. The first group of 52 is followed by another group of 51, arranged without further comment and in quasi-alphabetical [i.e., alphabetical by first word] order. I like the second 51 selections very nearly as much as the first 52, but one must draw lines somewheres.

All but a very few of the items on this list are available through Bandcamp, and many of my Twitter remarks were catalyzed by the laudable "Bandcamp Friday" initiative, which will continue into much of 2021. Each listing of a Bandcamp-available recording includes a link to its Bandcamp page. Buy music, please, always and frequently and particularly now. Streaming music is all right if you have bought that music first, or if you are listening once in contemplation of a possible purchase, or if you know you are never ever going to pay for that music apart from crumbs of crumbs and you are able to rationalize being all right with that. The convenience and portability of streaming services is grand and tempting, but the cumulative price is starving creators and the shedding of at least a little part of your soul. Proceed with circumspection.

That said, as a matter of foolish inconsistency, I have created a Spotify playlist of selections from most of the recordings catalogued below: "In My Mind These Are the Monster Hits"

For whatever reason, there is more jazz or jazz-adjacent or creative improvised music on this year's list than ever before, in large part because I ended up freely associating around the players and protegees of the Chicago Underground Quartet, triggered by the album that leads off the second group of four below. While working on this post, I found that Rolling Stone, of all places, tapped into that same source in summing up the year in that music, and I recommend that piece to you, which is here.
 
The same flawed, entirely subjective, and internally contradictory thing as it ever was, here begins the fifteenth edition of The List: 
 

Doug SeidelGornisht Helfen

This comes first, for the simple reason that I want to tell somebody!  about it.

It is a "pay what you will" item on Bandcamp, and at this writing has apparently attracted maybe a half-dozen paying customers in the history of the world. [I am one of them, though that is not apparent as it displays in my own browser.] Is it the "best" of the year? Other than giving this fool pleasure with great consistency, perhaps not. You, whoever you may be, should at least give it a spin. As I have written of it on the Bandcamp site:

I've come down to thinking of this slyly pleasurable recording as, like, "Eno & Cluster in a shack in the woods making cartoon music with Carl Stalling and Raymond Scott, and maybe David Lynch."
In theory it could be yours for free, but pay the man dammit.

This I believe.

Body MettaThe Work is Slow

"Top Drawer Racket" is a descriptor I started tossing about on Twitter in 2020. This is not the first recording to which I applied the term, but it is a fine exemplar. Critic and music writer Sasha Frere-Jones fronts Body Metta, on "right guitar." On the left: Grey McMurray, whose presence always signals quality [e.g., as one half of itsnotyouitsme with Caleb Burhans]. Melvin Gibbs and Greg Fox round out the rattletrap assemblage, and all combine such that any isle of shelter or quarantine in which you may have gone to earth will be satisfyingly full of noises.

Idris Ackamoor & the PyramidsShaman! 

The Pyramids' "When Will I See You Again?" is not the Three Degrees classic, but a lamentation of sudden loss by violence that resonates equally with seemingly endless swell of the late pandemic.

Mike Wexler with Synthetic Love Dream Mike Wexler with Synthetic Love Dream

 

Chicago Underground QuartetGood Days

This is the starting point for my personal Year of Chicago-centric Jazz.  Each of the players on this album - Rob Mazurek, Chad Taylor, Jeff Parker, and Josh Johnson - reappears once or more below, as does producer Chris Schlarb. Any stop along that road is savory, and any combination of some or all is a feast.

happy place tendrils

Top. Drawer. Racket. The recording that first earned that moniker. Drums and guitars, and more drums and more guitars, dodging obstacles through a perilous array of meters and tunings. Rock 'em, sock 'em satisfactions galore, and smart, too. Vocals provided in part by Charlotte Mundy, who reappears in the unillustrated portion of this list with a commendable multitracked turn as all three of Morton Feldman's "Three Voices".

Psychic TempleHouses of the Holy

Chris Schlarb produced the Chicago Underground Quartet album that triggered so much else on this list, so he is a sort of Founder of the Feast – or Leader of the List – for 2020. Here, under his performing identity as Psychic Temple, he offers a 21st Century equivalent to the double-disked, gatefolded vinyl rock extravaganzas of yesteryear, with a different set of collaborators on each "side": Chicago Underground Quartet on Side 2, contemporary L.A. rockers Cherry Glazerr [rusticating in a cabin out Joshua Tree way] on Side 1, reformed L.A. '80s American Guitarstarists The Dream Syndicate on Side 3, and East L.A. hiphopsmith Xololanxinxo drenched in Alice Coltrane chorales on Side 4. Shuffle it, play it, straight through, or pick a side: this is a true "record-record," of the sort embraced in R. Stevie Moore's 'Play Myself Some Music'.

Bec PlexusSticklip

 

Molly JoyceBreaking and Entering

As we say on Twitter:

"Thread."

A Girl Called EddyBeen Around

Ted Hearne, Saul WilliamsPlace

Tara Clerkin TrioTara Clerkin Trio

 

Moses BoydDark Matter

Beyond Chicago connections, another stream in the choices on this list flows from the still fermenting UK/London jazz scene, marked by incorporation of Afrobeat, dub, reggae, hip hop, and more. Moses Boyd's album arrived early in the year, and kept finding its way to my ears all the way to the end. Boyd reappears on this list as drummer in Tori Handsley's trio.

Sophia Subbayya VastekLili

Sam Amidon – Sam Amidon

I have not done the math, but if I ever made an Ultimate List of Listful Listening there is a fair chance that no musician would appear on it more frequently than Sam Amidon, whether as an essential element in Thomas Bartlett's Doveman or in his own name. He is a fascinating Twitter follow as well. Every Sam Amidon release is as Sam Amidon as it gets, and this is no exception [though, for the moment at least, my first choice is probably still The Following Mountain - #2 in 2017]

Jeff ParkerSuite for Max Brown

 

Leah KardosBird Rib

The String Orchestra of Brooklynafterimage

Bernhard Weber, John HollenbeckGrids

Christian Scott aTunde AdjuahAxiom

Recorded live at the Blue Note in New York in March, in the last days before everything shut down. There are slightly uncomfortable jokes about washing your hands and not sneezing on one another, and a characterization of the word "jazz" as "belittling and pejorative." Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah prefers "creative improvised music" – as would I, but for all those extra syllables. It is a strong set of whatever it is, with the leader frequently stepping back to allow the other members of the band to show their craft. 

Bob DylanRough and Rowdy Ways

Moor Mother, Nichole MitchellOffering

Emma-Jean ThackerayUm Yang

Rangy, spiritous UK jazz, recorded one take straight to disk in Haarlem. 

John Foxx & the MathsHowl

Elvis PerkinsCreation Myths

Chad Taylor TrioThe Daily Biological

Tristan PerichDrift Multiply

Rob Mazurek– Exploding Star Orchestra – Dimensional Stardust

This has proven to be a sound and correct recommendation:

NuminousThe Grey Land

Richard Valituttonocturnes and lullabies

Soundwalk Collective with Patti SmithPeradam

Chris Kallmyer – Gimmie Mountain Language

Light and Space guitar from the great Yonder.

Smoke FairiesDarkness Brings the Wonders Home

John HollenbeckSongs You Like a Lot

Third, presumably final, installment in the "Like A Lot" mythos. If you haven't been following it, you should - most particularly the soul-searing Jimmy Webb arrangements in Episode 1 - and if you have been following, you don't need me to tell you. Essential, any which  way.

Hubert Dupont, Antoine Berjeaut, Steve ArgüellesTrio Kosmos

French trumpeter Antoine Berjeaut released an under the radar, groove driven album with Makaya McCraven at the tail of 2019. Here, he features in an improvisational trio with electric bass, drums, and diverse atmosphères électroniques. End result spends time mostly in zones between "Silent" Miles and Jon Hassell. Do not sleep on it.

Matt BerningerSerpentine Prison

Irreversible EntanglementsWho Sent You?

Moor Mother throwing, or tearing, every last thing down over viciously incisive free jazz. That's it. That's the tweet. That's the answer. First IE album may be even better.

James Brandon Lewis, Chad TaylorLive in Willisau

This only came to my attention in the last moments of the year, just in time to find a place of honour on the List.
Saxophone. Drums. And on two rather lovely numbers: mbira.
Rhythm. Blues.
The essence of improvised creative music, there for all to absorb.
This year, nothing else has so captured the actions of Focusing and Making in the Moment, as they fly, in the moment of focusing and making.

Wowzer.

There is apparently a quintet recording coming in 2021 with Taylor and Lewis at the heart of it, and I canna' hardly wait.

Marc Sabat & the Harmonic Space OrchestraGioseffo Zarlino (2015​/​2019)

Tori HandsleyAs We Stand

Roomful of TeethJust Constellations

Wordless voices + persistent reverberation + just intonation tuning = a still spot in the churning turning cosmos.

Josh JohnsonFreedom Exercise

The "new kid" in this year's realization of the Chicago Underground Quartet, this is Josh Johnson's initial outing as a bandleader and it chugs and grooves scrumptiously.

Jacob CooperTerrain

Ambient art song.

Mary Halvorson’s Code GirlArtlessly Falling

This too has proven to be a sound and correct recommendation. May also contain non-negligible quantities of Top Drawer Racket.

Brother’s Testament4:7

Michael Vincent Waller A Song

Lucian Ban / John Surman / Mat Maneri – Transylvanian Folk Songs: The Bela Bartók Field Recordings

Tomeka Reid / Alexander Hawkins Shards and Constellations

Cello and piano. Mostly AACM-prov, plus Leroy Jenkins' "Albert Ayler…" & a luxe take on Muhal Richard Abrams' "Peace on You". 

 

 Sarah Kirkland Snider – Mass for the Endangered

Mass for the Endangered was originally commissioned and premiered through Trinity Church Wall Street as one of a series of new mass settings by contemporary composers. Sarah Kirkland Snider writing for singers is always a fine thing, and her Mass reunites her with poet Nathaniel Bellows from the 2015 song cycle Unremembered [#2 here that year]. A beautiful choral meditation on the fraught state of the bloom and buzz of non-human life.

Ambrose Akinmusireon the tender spot of every calloused moment

Stumped: this thing is terrific, but I cannot distill it down to tell you why. Take it on faith and listen.

Caetano Veloso and Ivan Sacerdote – Caetano Veloso and Ivan Sacerdote

Caetano Veloso's voice and guitar are as soothing a sound as exists, here joined by fluid and surprising clarinet from Ivan Sacerdote. Ted Gioia noted this one early in the year, wondering why it was getting so little attention. It's a mystery to me as well. Quietly crystalline comfort music.

Nubya GarciaSource

A superb player [saxophone], composer and bandleader, Nubya Garcia incorporates as globe-girdling a catalog of musics – anyone for cumbia? – as anyone in London into her full to bursting full-length debut.

~~~

BEST OF THE REST - 51 More Morsels

~NoisIs This ~Nois?

Aaron ParksLittle Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man

Alex SadnikSelf Portrait Delay

ArandelinBach

Arthur RussellThe Deer in The Forest: March 2, 1985 Live at Roulette

Bebel GilbertoAgora

Ben GoldbergPlague Diary

Carlos Nino & Miguel Atwood-FergusonChicago Waves

Caroline Davis and Rob Clearfield’s PersonaAnthems Live

Charles MingusCharles Mingus @ Bremen 1964 & 1975

Charlotte MundyMorton Feldman – Three Voices

Clarice Jensenthe experience of repetition as death

Cosmic Vibrations ft. Dwight TriblePathways and Passages

David Thomas BroughtonLive at the Rose Hill

David Tranchina Large-ish EnsembleThe Ogre

Gabriel Kahane, Oregon Symphonyemergency shelter intake form

Gavin Gamboa - RQM après-Berlioz

Giacomo FioreCatherine Lamb // point/wave

Imperial ValleyImperial Valley

J.R. Bohannon/Ben Greenberg/Ryley WalkerFor Michael Ripps

James Holden, Waclaw ZimpelLong Weekend EP

Jon HassellSeeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two)

JyotiMama You Can Bet!

Lakecia BenjaminPursuance: The Coltranes

Louise BockSketch for Winter VII - Abyss: For Cello

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic DogWhat I Did on My Long ‘Vacation’

Maria Pomianowska ProjectSukotherapy

Matt ChristensenMo Pussyfooting

Matthew Halsall – Salute to the Sun

Max de Wardener w/ Kit DownesMusic for Detuned Pianos

Michi WianckoPlanetary Candidate

Morgan GuerinThe Saga III

Nichole M. MitchellEarthSeed

Nick NortonLake Village Inn West

Oliver Coatesskins n slime

Pieta BrownWe Are Not Machines (triptych)

Roberto Carlos Lange - Kite Symphony, Four Variations

RollmottleIt’s a Miracle We’re All Still Alive

Roomful of TeethThe Ascendant

Sam GendelSatin Doll

Sunda ArcTides

Susan AlcornThe Heart Sutra (Arranged by Janel Leppin)

Taylor Swiftfolklore

The NecksThree

Thomas BartlettShelter

Tim MunroChristopher Cerrone: Liminal Highway

Travis LaPlante, Yarn/WireInner Garden

UncivilizedGarden

Van Huntfifti

XAlphabetland

yMusicEcstatic Science

~~~

Photo by the blogger: Off season foyer and escalator, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles.


Michelin Stars of Alderaan [work in progress]

Skies of america

I.

The speed of light is cruelly insufficient

Carrying its news so fast, as fast
as it can carry anything, or fast 
as we suspect a thing can carrièd be.

And still that news is always later than
When it was truly new. Consider if

you will the fates of stars: Those lights you see
This night may not be extant glowing spheres
of incandescent superfluminesce:

That nebuliscious Crab was once a star,
When you and I were lungfish, or far less.
It’s gone now: blown to glory’d vap'rous tatters.

They each and every one of them (the stars)
May be a long past loss whose passing we
Are learning late of, in this now, this night.

The others in our local area
have known as long in years as they are far
Far far from here in galaxies away

From us. And where they stand, they will not know
Whatever we may do until we too are gone:

This light this heat this night by then will be
As gone gone gone
As Alderaan -raan -raan,

Albeit less fictional.

II.

A poem is a story of its time.

I watched the television, and I thought:
Those young chefs on the Channel of All Foods,
Each evening striving to avoid the Chop….

Well no. I did not think it in those terms.
Begin again, speak straighter, lay it out.
Ahem:

There was a time, as recent as … last week?
But no … But last month, certainly? Yes, yes:

Within these recent (?) days, there was a time
When each night we could watch aspiring chefs
With dreams as big as Space, as big as those
Of them as lived on planets now consumed
By Death Stars or by neutron stars or some
such things. Those dreams - of making tasty foods
For others in your neighborhood or world;
For strangers, in perhaps for just the night;
For friends who come to see what you have made,
Or something for your family, just for them -

Those dreams were extant when that show was shot,
And when those chefs triumphant howled their joy
They thought they would indeed go home again
And open up their petite boîtes de rêve,
Their little foody dream boxes. But, no:

Since then, this world's gone wrong. A cruel star -
A Wormwood, if you will - has cast them out
And shut them down, and dreams are busted plates
And bolted doors, and rent come due and no,
No hope but in delay and clenching teeth
And laying low or lighting out, or [blank].

III. [bridge]

I wanted to tell a story of a bat,
But it proved a bad idea.

It began, I thought, like this:     

                                                           In Xanadu,
in caverns measureless to all men but the Khan, 
There lived a bat and all his family.

The Khan, withdrawn from Xanadu and dying,     
        [this was later]
Recalled how there had been a limpid night
The crescent moon and evening star had shone
so bright between them other skybound lights
seemed cast in shadow, while all earthborne things 
Were luminous, though seen in silhouette.

At ease beside a phosphorescent pool, 
The Khan sensed hovering wings

[the story would go on: the Khan would bond
with the fledermauskin, teaching it cosmology.
The little bat in its turn learns to drink down stars,
Their glory and their fearsomeness - it’s grand! -
And many centuries later the little bat’s descendants
(the story going on apace, you see, to our own day) 
are themselves drunk down by men, 
and thus
Become an Origin Story,
the one I thought to tell, as if it were novel,
as if it were interesting. Well, so much for that.]

To return

IV.

In Alderaan did Hollywood
a bounteous peaceful paradise decree,

And on the day on that world, or the night,
or noon, depending where one was aboard
that lovingly imaginary globe,
Those fond, imagined citizens awoke,
Or slept or stretched or ate or drank or dreamt
- I think of them as eating, drinking, dreaming - 
Or swooned or belched or muddled on their way
Or did whatever else they might, and then

A Crisis came and that's the end of that

. . .


Old Pappy Know-Good's Almanac

Darkly
The Platonic Form of the Good has a cold.
The Platonic Form of the Good is indisposed.
The Platonic Form of the Good regrets.

The Platonic Form of the Good says come back tomorrow.
The Platonic Form of the Good will not see you now.
The Platonic Form of the Good has no time for your nonsense.
The Platonic Form of the Good is up to none.

The Platonic Form of the Good was seen in a late model Citroën northbound on the Old Road outside Sørenberg,
driving in a circumspect manner perhaps intended not to call attention to itself,
but was spotted by an alert 12-year old nonetheless.
Authorities declined to give chase.

The Platonic Form of the Good comes for the Archbishop.
The Platonic Form of the Long Goodbye is long.
The Platonic Form of the Good Life is short.
A Platonic Thing Happened on the Way to the Form of the Good.
The Platonic Form of the Good left your cake out in the rain.

The Platonic Form of the Good is not behind the arras, has not taken the veil,
and cares not
for draperies or tapestries, textiles or quilting bees,
white sales or white sails.
The Platonic Form of the Good knows nothing. Knowing is a different portfolio.

I know nothing of the Platonic Form of the Good. Still I speculate. I will not cease from speculation.

The Platonic Form of the Good asks no questions and answers no questions and
thereby tells no lies.

We are all in this Platonic Form of the Good together.
Every Platonic Form of the Good for itself.
All Platonic Forms of the Good are the same, 
but each Platonic Form of the Good is the same after its own fashion.

The Platonic Form of the Good will not take your call, nor any other.
The Platonic Form of the Good disdains the Platonic Forms of the True and of the Beautiful.
Says it never knew them.
It denies Keats three times before each cock’s crow.

The Platonic Form of the Good settles back, ruefully shaking its cloud-topped head.
It offers you no frosty beverage. It asks no quarter.
The Platonic Form of the Good does not get out much anymore.
The Platonic Form of the Good does not get or spend.

The Platonic Form of the Good would hunt in packs, if it hunted,
and if there were more than one of it.
The Platonic Form of the Good prowls alone, humming jauntily
        They seek it here there
        through the neighborhood
        that damned Platonic
        Form of the Good.
The Platonic Form of the Good gains, from behind,
and is faster and closer than it appears.

The Platonic Form of a Good day to die is not itself Good, nor Platonic.
The Platonic Form of the Good would try to sell you something,
but does not stand to gain by it.
The Platonic Form of the Good is humorless, and no laughing matter.

There is no Platonic Form of the Merely Good Enough.
No good will come of this


Eurydice: Takes Upon the Mystery of Things

Life Isn't Fair  etc.

There are no happy stories about Orpheus.

At least, there are no such happy stories if you discount Offenbach’s vicious [and funny] send-up in Orphée aux enfers. There is humor inserted in the telling of it sometimes, but the actual Orpheus story is always, in the end, sad. 

There are very few stories at all about Eurydice, again with the limited exception that Eurydice is involved in that generally funny and happy tale re-spun by Offenbach. But enough of Offenbach. Eurydice’s story is, to the extent we tell it at all, also, inevitably, sad. And it remains true now:

There are no happy stories about Eurydice.

There are, however, beautiful stories about Eurydice, notwithstanding they will break your heart in the end.

Eurydice [composed by Matthew Aucoin; libretto by, and from the play by, Sarah Ruhl] is a very sad, but beautiful, Eurydice story. You would do well to lose yourself in it, for an evening or an afternoon, while it is here for three [or so] remaining performances in its premiere run at Los Angeles Opera, or eventually in New York when it makes its way next year to the co-commissioning Metropolitan Opera.

Ordinarily, I might talk about the production, the performances in and out th’ pit, things of that sort. On this occasion, I am more inclined to talk about the piece itself. To get a sense of the physical production - which, with the possible exception of that Scene 1 beach chairs and beach balls at the beach business, is solid as can be - you can watch this preview video:

So, then: Eurydice the opera is adapted from Eurydice the play, written by Sarah Ruhl in both cases. I have not seen or read the play, which has enjoyed an enthusiastic reception far and wide. The libretto, cut down from the theatrical text, works very well as an opera text. In fact, the job of connecting words and music has been done well enough that I have a hard time imagining this text working without the music.

For marketing purposes, at least, Eurydice has been postured as the Orpheus story “from Her point of view”. It is that, but it has always had larger concerns, even in its pre-opera life. The largest concern at work is the relations of daughters and fathers, and Sarah Ruhl has said repeatedly that a large part of the play’s origins lie in her search into her own relationship with her own father, who was lost to her in her twenties.

However the dramatic balances may may be struck in Eurydice the play, in Eurydice the opera Eurydice’s deceased, unnamed Father serves as the center, the linchpin of everything, in some ways overshadowing Eurydice herself. It is a marvelously made role that is filled to perfection in the premiere production by Rodney Gilfry.

Here is how the opera works:

Your basic Orpheus-and-Eurydice story is present and accounted for. They meet, they marry, she dies, he goes to the Underworld to retrieve her, he is permitted to take her back to the living so long as he does not look back to see her on their way out, he looks back to see her on their way out, she is lost again. From that point nothing gets better, in most any version, and that rule is rigorously observed here. However, those plot points mainly serve, somewhat like the poundings and drones and chitterings of the Underworld, merely as a ground on which the more interesting new wrinkles to the story play out.

We meet Orpheus and Eurydice on the day of their engagement. Orpheus, throughout, professes his love of, devotion to, and mastery over Music, but we hear no real examples of it. Orpheus the glorious musician is not the point of this opera. For that, you would want an opera with Orpheus in its title. Orpheus is a bit of a McGuffin, and only present because he is expected. In fact, for an opera, definitionally a drama built on music, Eurydice places a far greater value on written and spoken language. It is largely built on losing, and rediscovering, words words words, and the ways in which words preserve and transmit memory.

Eurydice dies. In this case, it comes when she falls down the stairs from the high high high apartment of a seedy plaidcoat sales thumper who is, ho ho, Hades, into whose company Eurydice has strayed while taking a break from her tedious wedding reception. Hades has come with the excuse that he bears a letter from Eurydice’s dead father. This is true: Eurydice’s father, dead to begin with, is apparently the only former person in the Underworld who has retained the ability to read, write, and, of highest importance, remember. He somehow did not drink deeply enough from Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, in which all new arrivals are given a dip, and which strips every other former mortal of their recall and expression.

The Ruhl/Aucoin Underworld is, without resort to Dantean tortures, singularly unpleasant. Hades, it turns out, is not so much a God of Death, meting out the end of life, as he is an officious and overworked lodging entrepreneur, to whom these guests are a pure nuisance. Deep Forgetting is the order of the day chez Hades, and should anyone be tempted to try recalling much of anything, a darkly comic trio of Stones [Big, Little, and Loud] stands ready to shout out orders ["Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!"] and gruffly drive off all articulated thought. Homer's Underworld is similarly miserable, but in a different vein: there, rather than losing all memory, the shades are pestered with the sporadic return of recollection of how much better it was, even at its worst, to have been not dead. 

After her fatal tumble, Eurydice proceeds via an elevator through a Lethean downpour to the afterlife. She forgets, most everything. Her father, however, having not been properly bleached of memory, knows her on sight. He applies himself, first with the “language of stones” that is all that the dead are allowed, to restore his daughter’s understanding. In the lexicon of death, there is no word for “father”, so he identifies as “her tree.” Incrementally, he nurses his daughter's vocabulary along until there is at last a blessed Recognition.

This is the center of the piece, and it is crafted with sensitivity and skill. By re-teaching her language, Eurydice’s father brings her back to the recognition of who she is, of who he is, and of who they have been together, and might now be again. To top it off, the Father celebrates their reunion by quoting Shakespeare. Specifically, he recites from King Lear Act 5, when Lear and Cordelia, their army defeated, are captured and consigned to prison. In that moment, Lear seeks, lucidly or not, to comfort his loyal and loving daughter by telling her tales of the jolly time they will have, just the two of them, in captivity:

We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we'll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out;
And take upon's the mystery of things.

Reader, this blogger shed discrete but real tears at this time. 

Alas, the slow restoration of lifelike thought is for naught. Orpheus arrives, the deal is made, he looks back and, suffice it to say, everyone that one might care about among these characters is far worse off at the end of the tale than at the beginning. For Eurydice and her father, as for Cordelia and Lear, the tragic slide can only be delayed so long. While Eurydice does return to the Underworld, her Father’s hopes for a future with his once lost daughter come to no more than Lear’s wishes for comfort in shared confinement. All ends sadly when [spoilerish Act III details redacted].

No, there are no happy Eurydice stories, but there is some comfort to be had, for we the as-yet still living, in knowing that there is now one more sad Eurydice story to share in.

~~~

“Life isn't fair, it's just fairer than death, that's all.”

—William Goldman,
    The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure: The "Good Parts" Version Abridged by William Goldman
    [It’s in the book, but not carried over entire to the film]

 


Listening Listfully 2019

Listful piano

Time is out of joint, per usual, but some things stay firmly fixed: yet again I must give way before my compulsion to present to you the only remaining recurrent feature of this dusty and neglected blog, "Listening Listfully", this Fool's annual catalogue of favorite album/EP-length recordings of the past year. A little of what you fancy does you good, or so it should.

This year's List has roughly 90 entries. The first 60 of those are roughly ranked: the rankings grow ever more imprecise as you go down the tally, but I am satisfied with the larger shape of the thing. The final group of 30 or so is alphabetical. I have long styled this blog as an "index of enthusiasms." That remains true of the List. These are personal favorites, as always, rather than "bests"—although I maintain that everything here is here because it is genuinely among the best things of the past year. 

I remarked upon a number of these recordings on Twitter over the year. Where appropriate, I have embedded copies of some of those tweets. When the tweets went out with Bandcamp player links embedded in them, I have omitted a standalone player in the interests of space.  When there is no tweet to rely on (and sometimes even when there is) I have appended some brief commentary on the first 20 selections. Where that commentary is especially brief, or where it is foregone altogether, it is likely a result of the desire to Get This Done so that it might post while it is yet still 2019 (at least in California). I gave up at Number 20.

    I learned the truth at twenty-one
    Commentary don't get it done

The same flawed, entirely subjective, and internally contradictory thing as it ever was, here begins the fourteenth edition of The List: 

1.    Isaac Schankler – Because Patterns

When all's said, Because Patterns emerged as my clear first choice, for a cluster of reasons. Chiefly, it is the "New Music" recording I played most frequently through the year, which I did because I dug it. 

I attended the premiere of the title piece in October, 2015, when it was part of an evening of microtonal and just intonation piano/keyboard music put together and performed by Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay, without whom the pianistic life of Los Angeles would be a poorer thing, in a madly terrific show at Boston Court Theater in Pasadena. The original version of "Because Patterns" was a duo for prepared pianos, and thoroughly delightful as such. If you listen closely, you will find flotsam allusive bits of that original still bobbing and bubbling and implicating through the heavily twitched, glitched, and processed version that appears on this release. The twitches and glitches, and the insertion of equally obscured bits of another piece ("Deep State", for bassist/composer Scott Worthington), are thoroughly appealing in themselves, and yield a commentary on a commentary on a commentary in a mirror through a fog. It is a deep and attractive mirror (and fog) indeed.

This is certainly one of the most 'Southern California' recordings to land at Number One on this List. Isaac Schankler teaches at Cal Poly Pomona these days, and has been the driver behind the People Inside Electronics performance series. The performers here are all current Southern Californians: Ray-Kallay, Worthington, pianist Nadia Shpachenko ["Future Feelings"], and violinist Sakura Tsai ["Mobile I"], all of whom are palimpsested to differing degrees by the composer's inquisitive, organic electronics. 

It keeps me coming back.

Lastly: when I went looking for appropriate Twitter commentary, I found this foreshadowing thread between Isaac Schankler [@piesaac] and meself. [Click through to the whole thread for maximal effect.]

2.    Caroline Davis – Alula
        &
        Caroline Davis & Rob Clearfield's Persona – Anthems

I have not done an audit, but my sense is that this year's List includes my highest proportion yet of jazz and jazz-ish releases. Caroline Davis's Alula leads that parade. I fell for it instantly, and my regard has not faltered. The composer, on alto saxophone, leads her trio (Matt Mitchell on synths, Greg Saunier on drums/percussion) through an arcing series of tunes inspired by a bird's wing. The transition, at the center, from the cacophonous "Lift" to the elegaic and beautiful "Coverts" is near perfect. 

Anthems, meanwhile, arrived on the scene (via jazz specialist Sunnyside Records) as a surprise lagniappe later in the year, a quartet session co-written and c0-led with keyboardist Rob Clearfield. It made sense to me to double it up as a shared entry with its high-flying predecessor.

Alula is a New Amsterdam Records release, and a useful reminder that while that label is most associated with New Music (and the now-obsolesced "alt-classical"), it has long supported a smaller, but choice, group of jazz artists, such as Darcy James Argue's Secret Society. (My 2018 Number One pick - John Hollenbeck's All Can Work - was also from New Am.)

I have been enthusing over New Amsterdam and its artists for a decade now, but this was a particularly good year for them: you will find fourteen of their releases scattered through this year's List. I will take this moment to give an unsolicited endorsement to the NewAm subscription program, which I joined last February. As the number of MewAm recordings here suggests, I am amply satisfied with that choice.

3.    Michael Vincent Waller – Moments

It occurs to me, as I write these comments, that the first half dozen or so recordings this year share a directness of emotional expression that (apparently) resonates strongly with me. (Isaac Shankler's pieces are a bit circumspect about it, but it is not far beneath the ironic distance of their surfaces.)  In this group, the prime example is Michael Vincent Waller's Moments. As with his prior collection Trajectories - which was my #1 choice 2017 - Moments is largely made up of solo piano pieces, played by R. Andrew Lee. And, as with Trajectories, I find it very difficult to write about. Everything I think of to say translates roughly to: "Listen to this. Listen to this! This is so, so, so, so beautiful."

So we'll leave it at that for now.

4.    Christopher Cerrone/wildUp – The Pieces That Fall to Earth

 

5.    Andrew Norman – Sustain
        [Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel]

6.    Caroline Shaw/Attacca Quartet – Orange

7.    Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Ancestral Recall

 

8.    “Blue” Gene Tyranny and Peter Gordon – Trust in Rock

 

9.    You Tell Me – You Tell Me

 

10.    Guma – Guma

11.    Tomeka Reid Quartet – Old New

Jazz Cello is the perfect thing you never knew you needed. Also featuring the gnomic, gnostic, never dull guitar stylings of Mary Halvorson.

12.    Caleb Burhans – Past Lives

 

13.    Caravan Palace – Chronologic

14.    Sudan Archives – Athena

Hip hop Violin is the new Jazz Cello? 

A superbly smart and sexy R&B record, among many other virtues. Ear-eating it like contraband popcorn, week after week.

15.    Jaimie Branch – FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise

Fiery, politically engaged, roaring bluesy jazz, marinated in Morricone, Masekela, and Mingus.

Also: more Jazz Cello [Lester St. Louis, in this case]. It's gonna be big.

16    Ryan Porter – Force for Good

More jazz: the Trombone Eminence of the West Coast Get Down, with as solid an outing as any groovy cat could wish.

17    Ezra Collective – You Can’t Steal My Joy

18    Mary Halvorson & John Dieterich – a tangle of stars

Do not question: just listen. 

19.    Nathan Schram – Oak & the Ghost

20.    Gavin Gamboa – 1416㎥ (Double Quartet Version)
          &
          Gavin Gamboa – When you come to a fork in the road take it

Gavin Gamboa throws new recordings out there on the Bandcamp, every month, pay what you will. It's unpredictable in form, in genre, and in the variance of your mileage and mine. These two items are placeholders for a general recommendation to remember him, and if you remember then follow.....

Beyond here lies ... more excellent music, but no further commentary

21.    Grey McMurray – Stay Up

22.    David T. Little – Agency

23.    Dan Trueman – Songs That Are Hard to Sing

24.    Sarah Tandy – Infection in the Sentence

25.    Ted Hearne – Hazy Heart Pump

26.    Dave Liebman, Dave Binney, Donny McCaslin & Samuel Blais – Four Visions

27.    Daniel Elms - Islandia

28.    Fay Victor – Barn Songs

29.    The Gloaming – The Gloaming 3

30.    Dave Douglas | Uri Caine | Andrew Cyrille – Devotion

31.    Arthur Russell – Iowa Dream

32.    Ashley Bathgate – Ash

33.    Eamon Fogarty – Blue Values

34.    Sam Wilkes – Live on the Green

35.    SUSS – High Line

36.    The Day – Midnight Parade

37.    Yarn/Wire, Esteli Gomez – Andrew McIntosh: We See the Flying Bird

38.    Ill Considered – Ill Considered 6

39.    Martin Hayes and Brooklyn Rider – The Butterfly

40.    Third Coast Percussion – Perpetulum

41.    William Brittelle – Spiritual America

42.    Aaron Siegel – A Great Many

43.    Boduf Songs – Abyss Versions

44.    Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett – Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett

45.    Efterklang – Aftid Sammen

46.    Nate Wooley – Columbia Icefield

47.    Rollmottle – It’s a Miracle We’re All Still Alive

48.    Sam Amidon – Fatal Flower Garden EP

49.    Erik Griswold & Camerata String Quartet – Hollows out of time

50.    Liam Byrne – Concrete

51.    John Vanderslice – The Cedars

52.    helming munkur – göetherdaemén

 

53.    David Lang & Mark Dion – anatomy theatre

54.    Clarice Jensen – Drone Studies

55.    Dexter Story – Bahir

56.    Nathalie Joachim - Fanm d'Ayiti
          [with Spektral Quartet]

57.    Devonte Hines, Third Coast Percussion – Fields

58.    School of Language – 45

59.    Iceland Symphony – Concurrence

60.    Vetiver – Up On High

 

 

But wait, there's more:

Numbers 61 through 90, in essentially alphabetical order

Nérija – Blume

Timo Andres – Work Songs

Joe Armon-Jones – Turn to Clear View

Beirut – Gallipoli

Calder Quartet – Beethoven Hillborg

CFCF – Liquid Colours

Lisa Coleman – Collage

Iestyn Davies, Fretwork – If: Michael Nyman, Henry Purcell

Devilish Dear – Appalish

Djabe, with Steve Hackett – Back to Sardinia

Exit North – Book of Romance and Dust

Binker Golding – Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers

Hackney Colliery Band – Collaborations, Vol. One

Ill Considered – Ill Considered 8

Jasper Quartet – The Kernis Project: Debussy

Kit Sebastian – Mantra Moderne

KOKOROKO – KOKOROKO

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti – In manus tuas

Travis LaPlante – human

Living Hour – Softer Faces

Mac Talla Nan Creag – The Sorrow of Derdriu

Mdou Moctar – Ilana: The Creator

Linda May Han Oh – Aventurine

Gemma Peacocke – Waves and Lines

Seabuckthorn – Crossing

Siggi Quartet – South of the Circle

Vanishing Twin – The Age of Immunology

Daniel Wohl - État

Sefi Zisling - Expanse

Peter Zummo – Deep Drive


Dionysian Hymn

IMG_20121113_175812

 

I done drunk
Myself to death
I done drunk
Myself to death
This heaving chest
Bereft of breath
It has done drunk
Itself to death

I have drank
Until I died
I have drank
Until I died
No donkey’s skin
Nor Nauga’s hide
Can save a soul
That drank and died

I did drink
And now it’s done
I did drink
And now it’s done
So red the moon
So dead the sun
So black my heart
That’s road is run

Hand me that glass
Full-filled with wine
Hand me that glass
Brim-full with wine
From Noah’s crop
That drink divine
The end is near
That end is mine

Amen, amen
Let’s drink again
Till then, till then
All men: amen
cin cin
cin cin
et fin
et fin


The Feral Parrots Fly in Pairs

Palm light birds

The feral parrots fly in pairs
Out and about over parks and arboreta
The feral parrots fly in pairs
In loud shouting clouds above Pasadena

Two's the rule
The rule is two
Two among other twos
or two untethered
Tree to tree or place to place
in mists and haze, or en plein air
Two's the rule 
The rule is two

Keeping company
one with the other
One with one other
and never another
Each of two
looking out for the one
that looks back at the one
of the two they are not

Their parents parents parents sprung from cages
    
freed by fire
Thrown on hot updrafts back into air
    
they had nearly forgot
Wings returned to winging
Throats returned to singing
But the world they now found was not the world that was one time their own
Not at all the world that their own forebears had known
Is their bond born of that history?

Finding themselves
unbound and untrammeled
what did they have
but the others of their kind
similarly suddenly
free and bereft

So each one found
    h
arbored in palms
    
beside parking lots
    o
r huddling adjacent 
    
in backyard eucalypts
that each must find one
with whom to fare forward
In duo soli

Two's the rule
The rule is two
Two among other twos
or two untethered
Keeping company
one with the other
One with one other
and never another
Each of two
looking out for the one
that looks back at the one
of the two they are not

Feathered creatures do not weep
whatever princes have written of doves
The feral parrots fly in pairs
for fear of parting without tears

The feral parrots fly in pairs
Out and about over parks and arboreta
The feral parrots fly in pairs
In loud shouting clouds above Pasadena

~~~


"The Kissed Mouth":
Words, for an Unrealized Song Cycle

DG Rossetti - Beata Beatrix - Art Institute of Chicago

At the end of 2012 and into early 2013, I wrote a group of verses intended for use in a song cycle. 

The project came my way through Garrett Shatzer, who has since retired from composition. Although he and I would eventually collaborate in 2014 on two other standalone choral songs — "Beset", which made its way to Rome, and "The Map of the Clock" for the Sacramento Youth Chorus [Attention choral directors: listen here, it's very good!] — but various things fell apart and that original song cycle never advanced to the point of actually being set to music. When Garrett stepped away from the composing game, the verses reverted to their author, this fool, and there they remain.

The original task was to craft a group of song texts linked thematically, to be set for two singers. Soprano and tenor voices were the plan, although I would be just as happy if either or both were pegged lower down: I am partial to mezzo sopranos and baritones, myself. No particular theme was suggested, and I soon inclined toward having the singers be characters and toward a set of songs knocking on the door of, if never quite gaining admittance to, the realm of chamber opera. The tenor part would be for a single character, but the soprano would have three.

I proposed the story of a man in Victorian England, who would be called upon of an evening by three apparitions. The man I settled upon was the poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whose life provided any number of candidates for the three soprano spirits. From that pool, I settled on Elizabeth Siddal, who modeled repeatedly for Rossetti and others of his Pre-Raphaelite circle, married Rossetti, and died; Jane Burden Morris, also a frequent Pre-Raphaelite model, who married William Morris but also carried on a longstanding relationship with Rossetti; and Beatrice Portinari, as idealized by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy, and as further idealized by Rossetti throughout his artistic career. Visions of these three appear to Rossetti as he is on the verge of death. He is granted by Beatrice a small personal apotheosis.

The title of the piece became The Kissed Mouth, derived from Boccaccio by way of a Rossetti painting, Boca Baciata, the principal model for which was Fanny Cornforth, who does not appear in these verses even though, of the women important to Rossetti, she is the one, apart from his sister Christina, most likely to have actually been near at the time of his death. As I remark elsewhere, Fanny Cornforth deserves some verses and music of her own one day.

I like The Kissed Mouth, and I am pleased to have had the occasion to write it. When the original project still had some prospect of coming to fruition, I did not circulate the text much beyond the potential participants in it. When its original purpose ended, I never got around to publishing it elsewhere, until now.

I have set up The Kissed Mouth on a group of pages separate from the main body of this blog. It can be read complete, at a single go, or it can be accessed through a page that links to its individual subsections, which are also linked to one another. There are even notes and some description of the sources for the bits of Rossetti's own poetry, and the allusions to Keats and Dante, that were incorporated into the fabric of the piece. As Beatrice sings near the end: Enter here!

 

A Self-Serving Message Directed to Composers: If you find anything here (or elsewhere in the Poetry postings on this blog) that strikes your fancy, or that gives you the impression that I might be able to concoct a text or ten that might be of use to you in your own projects, I am easy to find. Inquiries welcome. My dreams of becoming a freelance librettist refuse to die. Being as I am an aging white male myself, I have a particular interest in working with those who are not one or more or any of those things.

~~~

Photo:    Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, Art Institute of Chicago.

The Kissed Mouth © 2013 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.


Listening Listfully 2018

Flood piano 1937

Time is up, year is done, and once again it is time for the only remaining recurrent feature of this dusty and neglected blog, "Listening Listfully", my annual catalogue of the album/EP-length recordings released in the past twelvemonth that most particularly tickled my fancy.

I am particularly struck this year by how permeable the membranes continue to become between modes and genres, and how much I enjoy that multivalent intercursive flow. Jazz splashes on to folk, pop leaks through the interstices of whatever Classical may mean in these times, chocolate gets into peanut butter, "dogs and cats: living together!", and on and on. As Mr. Twin Sister would have it in the opening track of Salt [Number 6, infra]:

Keep on mixing, mix all people
Swirl enough and we'll all belong

This seamless web of musickes fascinates me. Historically, there has been a lot of contemporary classical/New Music at the upper ends of these lists, but this year there is no pure example in my Top 10, despite it having been a perfectly good year for such music. Nordic Affect, at Number 12, is the highest ranked straight-up example of the type - though you can make a good argument for Chris Kallmyer at Number 11, and there are elements and hints and implications sprinkled through the ostensible nonClassics above that. [I remarked eleven months ago that the entry point to John Hollenbeck's All Can Work, my eventual Number 1, "is not obviously a jazz piece at all: brass and winds sweep[ing] slow chords across chittering tuned percussion, in a manner akin to that of many a contemporary chamber group." Similar instances abound in the selections below.]

That said, all my old biases remain because heck! they work for me. The ruling biases include

  • a preference for music arranged into "albums" or their equivalent

  • a preference for buying and owning music (in the hope its creators might actually be compensated for their creations) over smash-and-grab streaming.

I feel more strongly than ever on that second point. I have a definite bias for music that can be accessed and purchased through Bandcamp, for the simple reason that it is the least intrusive middlething between listener and creator. Whenever possible, I have provided Bandcamp links to the music on this list. When there is no Bandcamp access, I have reluctantly embedded Spotify players because, while wicked, it provides ease of access to the listener. Anything Bandcampable can be bought through those Bandcamp players. For the rest, I've slipped in links to [cough cough] Amazon or, in some cases [Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Joe Garrison] to the musicians' own choice of independent distribution. However you choose to operate, I urge the rule, paraphrasing Dr. Frank N. Furter, "Don't stream it: Buy it."

The number and arrangement of the List is in constant flux. This year, I've numbered sixty choices, then added in an alphabetical listing of twenty or so more. As I said in 2016, "the List is like baseball: it could in theory go on without end." I am always one who hopes the music plays forever.

I style this blog as an index of enthusiasms. These are personal favorites, as always, rather than "bests"—although I maintain that everything here is here because it is genuinely among the best things of the past year, and not simply because I have enjoyed it. The rankings become increasingly imprecise with each step down the line.

For many of the selections on which I commented during the year via Twitter, I have embedded copies of some of those tweets. Others receive brief commentary here. Where that commentary is especially brief, it is a result of the desire to Get This Done so that it might post while it is still 2018 (at least in North America).

The same flawed, entirely subjective, and internally contradictory thing as it ever was, here begins the thirteenth edition of The List: 

 

1.   John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble - All Can Work

In a post in late January, I touted All Can Work as "The First Great Record of 2018," adding that it was "all but guaranteed a high-ranking spot on my personal List when the year is old and done." The prophecy is hereby fulfilled. As highly as I regard the other collections collected below, on returning to All Can Work after several months in which I had not listened to it I found that it remained my clear choice as the most roundly, fully, and firmly satisfying album of the year.

 

2.  Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

The token Big Popular Success on this year's List, Dirty Computer needs no recognition from me, but will get it anyway. Funky, filthy, free; bracing and embracing. Listening just once is not really an option. I do not think I played anything else on this page quite so frequently as I did Dirty Computer over the course of the year.

 

3.  Aidan O’Rourke – 365, Vol. 1 [featuring Kit Downes]

In 2013, author James Robertson set himself the task of writing one story each of the 365 days of the year, each story consisting of 365 words. Scottish fiddler/composer Aidan O'Rourke set himself the task of responding to one of those stories with a new composition each day for a year. This set of 22 pieces is the first of two contemplated releases of samplings from the result, on which O'Rourke shares in the harmonisation and playing with keyboardist Kit Downes [described by O'Rourke as drawing on "jazz and Ravel and church organ" which is plenty good enough for me]. It's a labyrinthine wonderment in which to get lost.

 

4.  You Are Wolf – Keld

You Are Wolf is composer/singer Kerry Andrews' solo project, messing about with folk and traditional material and squeezing it out through a mesh of contemporary and avant- techniques. The first You Are Wolf album drew themes from bird life. Keld is steeped deep in bodies of water of all sorts. Gorgeous and occasionally unnerving.

 

5.  Gabriel Kahane – Book of Travelers

The only album on this list that received a post of its own here this past year is sitting up there at #1. What has proven to be my only other musical post of 2018 went up roughly a week earlier, when I reported my thoughts on Gabriel Kahane's live performance of the songs that eventually saw release in August as Book of Travelers. I did not do a follow-up post when the recorded version appeared, though I certainly made mention on Twitter. Rather than reproduce one of my own tweets on this one, I will defer to Alex Ross of The New Yorker

 

6.  Mr. Twin Sister – Salt

First of two Unqualifiedly New York City bands in our top 10. I hear this music as the current iteration of that great NYC tradition of smart, if gawky, streetwise rock, following on from the likes of the Velvet Underground and [particularly] Talking Heads. I love this stuff. Note that the ordering between them is arbitrary; could easily have been vicey versey.

 

7.  Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Wapentak

I have been posting about Sweet Billy Pilgrim since at least 2005, and at least two or three SBP albums would place among my favorites of this wacky 21st century. As a band, Sweet Billy Pilgrim is now a duo: Tim Elsenburg, the permanent participant, now writes, plays, and sings with Jana Carpenter, who first appeared two albums back. The instruments are fewer, and more likely to be acoustic, and the production is less esoterically prog-inclined than once it was [no dishwasher samples], but there's no harm done: the less flamboyant atmosphere serves to reemphasize that quality songwriting has always been the band's strongest suit. The harmonies are frequently evocative of Richard and Linda Thompson, and they are well suited to the wistfully morose material.

 

8.  Ava Luna – Moon 2

Second of two Unqualifiedly New York City bands in our top 10. Cf. Mr. Twin Sister, supra, op. cit. I hear this music as the current iteration of that great NYC tradition of smart, if gawky, streetwise rock, following on from the likes of the Velvet Underground and [particularly] Talking Heads. I love this stuff. Note that the ordering between them is arbitrary; could easily have been vicey versey. I repeat myself when under stress I repeat myself

 

9.  The Gloaming – Live at the NCH

The very word 'gloaming' reverberates, echoes - the gloaming, the glimmer, the glitter, the glisten, the glamour - carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening, grass-lined rivers slipping through the shadows.

                --Joan Didion, Blue Nights

That quotation was intended to open an unfinished post about The Gloaming that has been hanging about among my drafts for nearly five years, in which time the band has released two additional albums. Now at least it won't go to waste.

The Gloaming is an Irish-American supergroup of sorts, containing Iarla Ó Lionaird, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and Thomas Bartlett. They work principally with Irish traditional music, buffed and polished with a combination of intensity, energy, not-quite-standard instrumentation, and random interjections of non-standard styles. Piano is, for example, not the most common of Irish traditional instruments (which tend to be more practical for the musician to carry from place to place), and Thomas Bartlett's piano is occasionally 'prepared'. 

This set, produced by Bartlett, draws on recordings from the band's annual sold-out residences at Dublin's National Concert Hall. It is a grand jam.

 

10.  Mary Halvorson – Code Girl

 

11.  Chris Kallmyer – Juniper

 

12.  Nordic Affect – H e (a) r

 

13.  Nicole Mitchell – maroon cloud 

 

14. Daníel Bjarnason – Collider

The latest collection of orchestral music from Daníel Bjarnason, including "Blow Bright", commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Bjarnason is very good at this orchestral writing thing.

 

15. Sam Wilkes – Wilkes

      Sam Gendel & Sam Wilkes – Music for Saxofone & Bass Guitar

I first became aware of saxophonist/guitarist Sam Gendel in 2017, via his appearance on Sam Amidon's The Following Mountain. These two selections feature him with bassist Sam Wilkes, in a duo setting and as the abundantly featured player on Wilkes's own band-based release. Swirling, austere, spiritual jazz grooves from L.A.

 

16.  MeShell Ndegocello – Ventriloquism

 

17.  The Industry; Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group – Lou Harrison: Young Caesar

Lou Harrison's 1971 opera Young Caesar might well be subtitled "There and Back Again: a Roman's Holiday." It follows the teenaged Julius Caesar as he works to advance in Roman society, under the tutelage of his aunt Julia, by way of arranged marriages, public priestly service, and eventually a position as a staffer to a general. On the eve of his first battle, from which he hopes to gain a reputation for bravery and perhaps some valuable salvage, Caesar is dispatched to the court of King Nicomedes of Bithynia, to press for the delivery of some promised ships. In Bithynia, however, Caesar's diplomatic mission is temporarily forgotten as he becomes in short the boon companion and lover of the wealthy and attractive King. In the end Caesar accomplishes his mission and reluctantly parts from the Nicomedes, knowing he will likely never return, and sails again for Rome. It is a tale of love, duty, power, sacrifice, regret, and freedom: in other words, perfect for opera.

In June, 2017, the Los Angeles Philharmonic staged a single, revelatory performance of Young Caesar, in an edition and production devised by Yuval Sharon and The Industry, preserved in this live recording. The opera had never had a really successful performance previously, often as not because of backers getting cold feet over the controversial (read: overtly gay) nature of the work and its themes. Earlier versions of the libretto are also reputed to have been dramatically or structurally turgid. The Industry/LA Phil version proved eminently performable, musically and dramatically, confirming Young Caesar as a major 20th century American opera.

For all the serious matters on its agenda, Young Caesar is also shot through with humor, particularly in the person of Bruce Vilanch as the narrator, and in the production's embrace of florid gestures toward camp, particularly in the "eroticon" staged for Caesar by his Bithynian host - complete with flying phalloi, which are not in evidence on the recording. What will be plainly evident to listeners is the marvelous invention of Lou Harrison's score, and particularly his incorporation of Asian percussion and gamelan tunings to contrast staid Establishment Rome with exotic, intoxicating Bithynia. 

 

18.  Jon Hassell – Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Vol. 1)

The first new Jon Hassell release in nearly a decade, collecting recent exemplars of the diverse global paths he has trod over the decades.

 

19.  Neneh Cherry – Broken Politics

 

20.  Field Music – Open Here

 

21.  Thomas Bartlett & Nico Muhly – Peter Pears: Balinese Ceremonial Music

The grain of sand in the pearl here is a set of three dual piano transcriptions of Balinese gamelan music by Colin McPhee, which he completed and played with Benjamin Britten when both were expatriates in Brooklyn circa 1941. Composer Nico Muhly and singer-songwriter/producer Thomas Bartlett [Doveman] play the McPhee pieces,as well as nine other songs musically and harmonically inspired by them. As a practical matter, this is three-quarters of a Doveman album in all but name, and welcome for that.

 

22.  Joe Garrison – The Broken Jar

23.  Gavin Gamboa – 1685: Shadow Owes Its Birth to Light

        Gavin Gamboa – Urgency Apparatus

        Gavin Gamboa – Lipolysis

 

24.  Anthony Roth Costanzo – ARC

 

25.  Steve Reich – Pulse / Quartet

 

26.  Kadhja Bonet – Childqueen

Ambitious orchestral singer-songwriterness, with echoes of Minnie Ripperton and more.

 

 27.  Ambrose Akinmusire – Origami Harvest

Genre defiance of the best kind, combining Akinmusire's jazz trumpet and small jazz group with the Mivos Quartet and rapper Kool A.D. This was a late and recent discovery, and might well have wound up higher on the list with a few more listens. 

 

28.  Foresteppe – Maeta

Samples derived from the forest and steppes of Siberia, abstracted and diffused and etherealized.

 

29.  Donny McCaslin – Blow.

From Bowie's last sax player. Rock-leaning New York jazz, to be played loud.

 

30.  Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth

Kamasi and friends doing what they do. Pssst: Some of the most interesting material is on the hidden third disc.

 

31.  Elvis Costello – Look Now

A very good mature period Costello album, with strong ties back to his Burt Bacharach collaboration, Painted from Memory.

 

32.  Leverage Models – Whites

Synthpop agitprop, kicking paradigms and taking names.

 

33.  Richard Swift – The Hex

Final release of the late Richard Swift. Sad pop made sadder by his loss.

 

34.  Scott Worthington – Orbit

A little bit Wandelweiser, a little bit drone.

 

35.  Psychic Temple (feat. Cherry Glazerr) – Houses of the Holy Vol. 1

First in a promised series of lightning speed collaborative recordings between Psychic Temple (Chris Schlarb) and a range of other bands. Just a shade darker and more savory than my tweet might suggest.

 

36.  The Lazy Lies – Less Talk More Action

Everything old is new again Brit Invasion-styled pop tunes, straight out of Barcelona.

 

37.  Bettye LaVette – Things Have Changed

 

38.  Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp – Sauvages Formes

A jazzlike orchestra, with strings, incorporating plenty of world music and club beats. 

 

 39.  Niechęć – Live at Jazz Club Hipnoza

Prog-Jazz from Poland. These live versions are enhanced in some cases by the presence of a King Crimson-emulating cello.

 

40.  Hilja – Cucina Povera

Sounds like Iceland – spaces expanding into spaces, wind strewn and cinder blown – but it's Finno-Glaswegian. Layered voice, field recordings, subtilectronica, and a relationship to language somewhere between Cocteau Twins and Sigur Ros: a mystic sophistic blend.

 

41.  BeachglassSunroom Sanctuary

Something in a tasty psychfolk vein, from Montreal.

 

42.  Aaron Martin – Touch Dissolves

Atmospheres and moonbeams.

 

43. My Brightest Diamond – A Million and One

Shara Nova, now with 32% more beats and danceability.

 

44. Philip Glass – Symphony No. 11

Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass. Most everything he has learned about orchestration over the years - which is a great deal - is on display here. Symphony No. 12 ["Lodger"] premieres January 2019 in Los Angeles.

 

45. LeStrange Viols – Æternum - Music of the Elizabethan Avant Garde from Add. MS 31390

Viols! Elizabethan repertoire! What more do you need to know?

 

46. Clarice Jensen – For This From That Will Be Filled

Cello and electronics and drones, oh my.

 

47. International Contemporary Ensemble – Aequa

A survey of recent works by Iceland's Anna Þorvaldsdóttir.

 

48. Angelique Kidjo – Remain in Light

Angelique Kidjo re-appropriates Talking Heads' Remain in Light for Africa, to excellent effect.

 

49. Duo Odeon – Specter: The Music of George Antheil

Although he was in fact American, I persist in thinking of George Antheil as French, largely because he composed the score to Fernand Leger's 1924 Dada film "Ballet Mécanique". I learned of my error when I tweeted about this recording. Although I got his Frenchness wrong, I otherwise stand by my assessment of Antheil's fine music.

 

50. Marc Mellits; New Music Detroit – Smoke

Groovy Fun with Minimalism. 

 

51. Astronauts, etc. – Living in Symbol

Sophisto bedroom pop from Oakland. 

 

52. Tammy Evans Yonce – Dreams Grow Like Slow Ice

New music for solo flute, much of it utilizing the glissando headjoint. 

 

53. Simon Jermyn + Ben Goldberg – Silence

A meditative jazz excursion.

 

54. Olden Yolk – Olden Yolk

Freak folk meets Belle & Sebastian? I dunno, but I like it.

 

55. Olivia Chaney – Shelter

Luxe contemporary folk, from a zone somewhere between June Tabor and Laura Marling, with a surprise cameo appearance by Henry Purcell. Arranged and produced with unfailing subtlety by Thomas Bartlett.

56. Subtle Degrees – A Dance That Empties

Abstract and expansive new music from the duo of tenor saxophonist Travis Laplante [Battle Trance] and percussionist Gerald Cleaver.

 

57. Sergey Akhunov – Victor Hugo’s Blank Page

A survey of new and previously released compositions from the Russian composer. 

 

58. The Hands Free – The Hands Free

 

59.The Nouveau Classical Project – Currents

New York based contemporary quintet offers up new compositions from David Bird, Olga Bell, and [my personal favorite here] Isaac Schankler.

 

60. Marc Ribot – Songs of Resistance 1942 – 2018

I am conflicted about this set, which likely accounts for it landing way down here at Number 60 while having induced from me a longer Twitter thread than anything else on the card.

 

~~~

Les mentions d'honneur. Chevaliers de l'ordre alphabétique:

Aizuri Quartet – Blueprinting [rising contemporary music string quartet with chops so sharp you may cut yourself just by listening]

Alex Crispin – Open Submission  [lovely ambient ambiences]

Arooj Aftab – Siren Islands [woven drones and atmospheres of mystery]

Baeilou – Inside Under EP [Singing cellist draws musical tools and styles from a list at least as long as your arm; hoping to hear more from her, soon.] 

Brad Mehldau – After Bach [Mehldau plays Bach, and constructs Bach-like structures of his own, to fine effect]

Crash Ensemble, et al. – Andrew Hamilton: Music for People 

Eiko Ishibashi – The Dream My Bones Dream [uncategorizable really I can't even]

Etienne Jaumet – 8 Regards Obliques [clubland takes on classic jazz tunes]

Jacob Greenberg – Hanging Gardens [exploring the connective tissue between Debussy and Schoenberg]

John Coltrane – Both Directions at Once [1963] [the "lost" album]

John Lindaman – Let the Power Fall Again [A revisitation/recreation of the core 1981 Frippertronics recordings, with the sort of rigor and exploratory respect typically reserved for, say, the Bach cello suites.]

Mammal Hands – Becoming EP [contains sweetly melanchoolic jazz-like substances]

[Medeski, Martin & Wood w/ Alarm Will Sound – Omnisphere [a live collaboration between the brainy witty jazz trio and the brainy witty new music orchestra; features a super rendering of Caleb Burhans' "o ye of little faith (do you know where your children are)"]

Padma Newsome – The Vanity of trees [songs from the wood]

 [Robbie Lee and Mary Halvorson – Seed Triangular [Two fine musicians exploring and improvising on instruments old and obscure to the point of being nigh hypothetical.]

St. Vincent –  MassEducation [stripped down piano versions, with Thomas Bartlett, of the songs from Masseduction]

Sunda Arc – Flicker [an EP of lushly twitchy electronica from a member of Mammal Hands]

The Necks – Body [goes quite satisfyingly to 11 for a bit, but ultimately thinks better of it]

The Righteous Yeah – Goodbye [From a subidentity of New Zealand guitarist Michael Morley, crepuscular symphonic loops somewhat in the vein of William Basinski]

The Righteous Yeah – Unknown Album [likewise]

Yoko Ono – Warzone [at 85, the artist revisits her music, including taking her own run at "Imagine"; produced by Thomas Bartlett]

Zeal and Ardour – Stranger Fruit [black metal field hollers, not because they are easy but because they are hard]

~~~

Lagniappe: favorite song of 2018 not on an album that made it on to the List.

 

~~~

 FIN

 ~~~


I know this much is true

I know this much is true
according to

reports of eyewitnesses to reports from the scene

or presumed friends of the presumed eyewitnesses

not so much friends really
as acquaintances   
or
well-informed former acquaintances
who to be honest don't always follow them that closely
maybe half a dozen of those

two sources familiar with articles about the folks they heard had had the conversation

the gall bladder of a small pigeon,
distended and porpoise-shaped
with glints of mica

the usual suspects
the usual guilty parties
the ostensibly innocent parties
the lawyer of their lawyers’ lawyers
or a spokesperson for the aforesaid

you
wasn't it you I heard it from

a persistent patch of lint in the trap
seemingly burning but yet unconsumed
and still there each time I look

fox news, or maybe hedgehog news

three aides who later sought first aid after smacking heads as they were all three attempting to listen at one time at the relevant keyhole

a senior white horse souse

yo mama
mine as well

that little voice
you know the one yeah that one

from out the patch of lint

yeah that one


unicartograficorm

Alexander_Jamieson_Celestial_Atlas-Plate_25

The creatures that dwell in the margins of maps
are a destination in themselves
sought after sometime captured in glimpses
in sidelong nets and backhanded pitfalls
by trickery on reflection
via deception
or inveiglement

wishes are horses
horses are unicorns
manatees mermaids
rumors immaculate proof

what might one find
beneath the sargassum
what might one find
living its life
adrift on a plastic subcontinent

here there be Maps
of where here is
of where there was
here there be Maps
of what you will

will what you will make of it
seek and pursue
rise as you will or can
along the lifting and plastic lines of the compass rose


North from Lodi, Early December

All morning on the Interstate through fog
past cattle bathed in fog and maybe goats
recruited to crop down the marginal grass
of tracts of Interstate-adjacent homes

one drives all morning on the Interstate
past fog-blest cattle fog-bathed baby goats
past crops at dawn, distrait fog-margined grass
Those homes
This fog
The interstate
That grass

The speed and turbulence of all that drives
the Interstate sweeps all the roadbed clear
of fog. The fog holds off a bit, askance,
the driver's glance still barred beyond the marge.

The pavement seems so smooth, as smooth
As suede as fleece as milk as sheep as goats,
and on each side secreted by that fog
the grass-green grasses grow beneath the stock.

The grass grows green-o, rushing rushers rush
and still the fog sifts, self-absorbed and still

and mops the moist and misted eye that drives
all morning on the Interstate through fog.


John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble:
All Can Work

All can work

Hello, friend.

Have you received the good news? The news that the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble's All Can Work is the First Great Record of 2018?

I wrote as much on Twitter, don't you know, which is the truest of tokens of truth.

All Can Work releases today [January 26] via New Amsterdam Records, which is a perfect place for it, being as the album is in part a sly, gentle slap in the face to genre. It is a fundamentally fine jazz record that, often as not, sounds nothing like a "jazz record." (New Amsterdam, while commonly pegged as specializing in something such as "contemporaryAltNewClassical", eschews such labels and has a solid history of supporting releases from or adjacent to the "jazz" corner of the galaxy, e.g., Darcy James Argue's Secret Society and exotic creatures such as Will Mason Ensemble and Battle Trance.)

John Hollenbeck is a profluent drummer and composer, collaborating far and wide with groups both large and smaller. This is his third release with his own eponymous big band. All Can Work displays the core virtues that make a “great record”: it gives pleasure, it offers variety and surprise, it rewards repeat listening, and it is a satisfying whole, most particularly enjoyable when consumed, in sequence, as such. Those same virtues inform well-crafted live performances, in any genre, and All Can Work performed straight through would be a super solid show.

The curtain-raising "lud" is not obviously a jazz piece at all: brass and winds sweep slow chords across chittering tuned percussion, in a manner akin to that of many a contemporary chamber group. It serves to clear the aural palate nicely, in preparation for the first major course.

“All Can Work” is tribute and memorial to Laurie Frink—trumpeter, educator and mentor to many another player, and longtime Hollenbeck collaborator and band member—who died of cancer in 2013. It is a song, an excursive setting of words drawn from Frink's email messages to Hollenbeck, a sketch of a cherished friend and of a musician's love for her craft and companions (and theirs for her). Theo Bleckmann is the singer, guilelessly weaving through biography, joy, fear, surprise, speculatiove philosophy and more, to reach a simple and affecting farewell:

I’m
good

cool

I will miss you all and especially the music

There follow two non-Hollenbeck compositions with which Hollenbeck has his way as arranger/reinventor. “Elf” takes its title and raw musical material from a Billy Strayhorn piece, subsequently retooled through Duke Ellington as “Isfahan.” Themes that are straightforward in most prior versions are here smeared, reshaped and relished as a tumbling burble topped with high woodwind ululations.

Kenny Wheeler's “Heyoke” was originally a quartet piece [on Gnu High (ECM 1976), with Wheeler, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette], but it thrives in its new large-band manifestation. The original begins with an enticing melody, stated by Wheeler on flugelhorn and then passed and played with around the group for roughly ten minutes; there is a pause for breath, then an extended, more urgent and even more freely improvisatory segment of the same length, subsiding in roughly its last 45 seconds to a sort of clockwork tick-tock call and response motif. Hollenbeck’s re-version starts with that clockwork, extending and inflating it for more than five minutes before the lyrical “Heyoke” melody is allowed to surface, to shine a bit, and then to subside back into the primordial broth, adrift over some mellifluous Theo Bleckmann vocalise.

Three Hollenbeck originals follow. “this kiss”, per the composer, is drawn from Romeo and Juliet, foregrounding the exuberance of the Young Love plot, with the Violence and Death plot serving as a sort of lurking descant. In “from trees”, the preposition in the title is the important bit: the piece moves steadily away from forested things into a chiaroscuro-noir urban nightscape, easing through a slippery semi-waltz on its way to a chugging slow boogie of an ending. [Hollenbeck’s liner notes—which are interesting enough to warrant obtaining a physical copy in order to read them, but which I had not looked at before writing that sentence—reveal the inspiration for the piece to be the paintings of Piet Mondrian, and particularly the path from his early studies of trees to the grid paintings for which he is best known, in particular the late “Broadway Boogie Woogie”.]

Theo Bleckmann returns to words in “Long Swing Dream”, speaking rather than singing an extended excerpt from the diaries of Cary Grant, in which the actor describes and endorses his experiences with LSD, while the band in its lowest registers pulses beneath.

For an encore? A rousing and savory arrangement of Kraftwerk’s “The Model”, shimmying naughtily like a Weimar a-go-go show.

The year is new and the remaining months hold who knows what surprises musically, but All Can Work is all but guaranteed a high-ranking spot on my personal List when the year is old and done. I have been returning to it regularly for weeks now, and custom has thus far failed to stale its infinite variety. Definitely a keeper, recommended without hesitation for any with ears to hear it.

All Can Work releases via New Amsterdam Records on January 26, 2018. This post is based on recurrent listening to a review CD received from the label, but the blogger has since put his money where his post is by purchasing a digital copy.


Songs of a Railwayfarer:
Gabriel Kahane, 8980: Book of Travelers
Los Angeles 20 Jan 2018

Gabriel Kahane - Little Love [from 8980 Book of Travelers]

On the morning following the Presidential election in November, 2016, Gabriel Kahane elected to board a train and to travel the United States, talking with those he met. He traveled for thirteen days and covered, he says, 8980 miles, conversing in dining cars, in observation cars, on station platforms, and returning with the material for the songs that make up 8980: Book of Travelers. A recording is rumored to be coming some time this year. The performance version premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the BAM Next Wave Festival in November, 2017. On February 2, it will be presented at the University of Michigan. Last night, on the anniversary of the Inauguration that followed from the election that birthed it, Book of Travelers came to Los Angeles and the Theatre at Ace Hotel.

8980: Book of Travelers is, like The Ambassador before it, a collection of songs on a theme. It is a contemporary cousin to the mid 1970s work of Randy Newman (Sail AwayGood Old Boys, and Little Criminals) and of Joni Mitchell. It is a sort of counter-Hejira: where Joni Mitchell emphasizes travel as a means of escape, an active effort to become lost, Gabriel Kahane approaches it as a mode of inquiry, an effort to find something or other (cf. Paul Simon's "America"). In that, Book of Travelers connects with the tradition of writers taking to the road to find where it might lead, or what questions it might answer, as in Steinbeck's Travels With Charley or, in an entirely different vein, the latter portions of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Kahane's chosen musical style dials back somewhat the American Songbook grab-bag of Newman (and of The Ambassador) and in favor of accenting the stratum of art song that grounded his short-story-esque song cycle The Fiction Issue.

The musical forces and staging for 8980:Book of Travelers are less elaborate than for The Ambassador: just a grand piano and an angled ribbon of four projection screens behind. An autoharp was discretely embedded inside the piano, and used with similar discretion. Looping pedals and a vocal processor were used for a brief segment that evoked simultaneously Laurie Anderson and the helium-voiced sociopathic toon in Roger Rabbit. For the most part, Kahane simply sat, played and sang, with occasional brief remarks on the particular travelers from whom a song was born. 

I, for one, loved it:

Whether questions were answered or not on the singer's journey is uncertain. It is clear that, for Gabriel Kahane, the trip reaffirmed that the blending and exchange of human voices, whether in conversation or in song, is something of a good in itself, and that each of those voices is uniquely derived from a long and personal history. Where are we, as a nation? How did we get here? What can we or should we do, now that we are here? Book of Travelers does not presume to answer that sort of question, other than to suggest that it is through that exchange of voices, and in the understanding of one another's individual and overlayering histories, that any route to a method for the pursuit of an approach to such answers may be descried.

Because the Book of Travelers songs have, for the most part, not yet been released in a recorded version, most of us in the room were hearing them for the first time last night. Gabriel Kahane writes very well for his own voice, so that most of his words could be grasped on the fly. Still, there is no doubt that repeated listening will yield increasing returns. There is every reason to think that this Fool will be unable to resist writing about it again, if only by an amendment to this post, whenever a recording eventually enters the station.

In the meantime, two of these songs were sent out into the world in the latter part of 2017: "Little Love" and "November." "November" literally picks up where the concluding song on The Ambassador, "Union Station", left off, referencing "that last train from L.A." It begins in direct address to the listener with the words, "When last we spoke...", pointing toward the one-to-one conversations that are at the center of Book of Travelers. I had surmised, from this circumstantial evidence, that "November" would be the first song in the Book. I surmised incorrectly: it proved in performance to be the last song in the series. "Little Love" is a delicious little earworm of a song, performed straightforward as you please in concert without any projections or dramatic lighting, on the theme of growing fondly old together. I have previously expressed my particular fondness for "Little Love" on Twitter:

Both "Little Love" and "November" are currently accessible here:


Listening Listfully 2017

  Katzenfuge

 Time is up, year is done.

July 3 of 2018 will mark the ostensible 15th Anniversary of this blog. There were giants in those days, and I stared enviously up at their scabby brilliant knees. Who knows what I may push myself to do with this dear weary site in the coming year. I suspect there will be more poetry; I hope there will be something more frequently appealing as well.

So here we are again with "Listening Listfully", my catalogue of the album/EP-length recordings released in the past twelvemonth that most particularly tickled my fancy. Old school preferences underlie the thing: a preference for music arranged into "albums" or their equivalent, and a preference for buying and owning said music (in the hope its creators might actually be compensated for their creations) over smash-and-grab streaming. A random quantity of numbered choices in the mid-forties this year, followed by an unquantified miscellany because, as I said in 2016, "the List is like baseball: it could in theory go on without end."

I style this blog as an index of enthusiasms. These are personal favorites, as always, rather than "bests"—although I maintain that everything here is here because it is genuinely among the best things of the past year, and not simply because I have enjoyed it. The rankings become increasingly imprecise with each step down the line. I have provided commentary, of sorts, for the first fifteen on the list; it is a random stopping point, driven mostly by a desire to post this while it is still 2017 (at least in North America). There are inevitably many recordings of quality omitted, simply because I have yet to listen to them.

Flawed, entirely subjective, and internally contradictory as always, here begins the twelfth edition of The List: 

 

1.    Michael Vincent Waller - Trajectories

This is a beautiful recording. To hear it gives pleasure. Great, if quiet, pleasure. This music engages the lived and living world, and particularly the acts of receiving that world through the senses and of sifting through it in the mind, in dreams, or, if one insists, in the soul, and finds the essentials of that world to be, if only impurely, good and deserving of the engagement, and the engagement good and deserving of being shared. This is hardly the only task that music, or most any art, can choose to take on itself—this List, in any given year, is something of a demonstration of how many different things music can attempt to "do", including choosing to do nearly nothing—but it is a task that has always appealed to this particular listener. When I wrote about Michael Vincent Waller's first major collection, 2015's The South Shore, I invoked Baudelaire's phrase: luxe, calme et volupté. That still fits.

This collection focuses principally on works for solo piano, plus a pair of mid-length pieces for piano with cello. The pianist is R. Andrew Lee, best known for his recordings of adventurous minimalism and composers of Wanderweiser group. on the Irritable Hedgehog label. The cellist is Seth Parker Woods. The style and sensibility of the music is Waller's own, but it is easily associated with pianistic forebears such as Erik Satie (in particular), Harold Budd, and John Cage's "In a Landscape", with a dash of Gavin Bryars' string writing. Although it is not in general circulation (it was shared with supporters of one of his commissioning projects) Andy Lee has recorded a delicious collection of Satie and Satie-influenced piano, and that portion of his repertoire serves him well here. 

At the time of release, the composer and players presented a handful of live performances, including one I was able to attend in Santa Monica. The balding back side of my head is, blessedly, out of frame in this video of "Lines" from that set:

 

2.    Sam Amidon - The Following Mountain

In the opening moments of "Ghosts", Sam Amidon bellows "I'm all out of ideas!" He is mistaken. His work has been a fixture of this list for nigh on a decade now, and the ideas never stop. Built largely on gleanings from a single long guardedly improvisational recording session, the album is a slurry combining the folk, trad, banjo, fiddle, and shape note material one expects with Sam's longstanding interest in new music and in experimental and avant corners of jazz, with drummer Milford Graves as emissary and conduit. Sam Gendel [#6, below] and his saxophone bring additional savor. At this time, my personal favorite among Sam's albums, and a good précis of what makes all of them so rewarding.

 

3.    Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Bjarnason - Recurrence

The best full-orchestra album of 2017. Accept no substitutes. Composer Daníel Bjarnason conducts works by the current generation of Icelandic composers, including his own darkly surging "Emergence". (There is a superb version of that piece on his Bedroom Community debut, . This new version is better.)  Bjarnason co-curated (with Esa-Pekka Salonen) the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Reykjavik Festival in spring 2017, and most of these pieces turned up on one program or another. If any doubt remained, that Festival and this recording serve as compelling testimony to the creative variety and strength of Icelandic music at this time.

[Both Daníel Bjarnason and Anna Thorvaldsdottír also have pieces on Los Angeles Percussion Quartet's Beyond, #8 below.]

 

4.    Miles Mosley - Uprising

Miles Mosley plays bass in Kamasi Washington's band, and much of this material comes out of the West Coast Get Down sessions that eventually resulted in Washington's epic Coltranesque epic, The Epic. In Washington's band, Mosley does most everything one can with an upright bass: plucking, bending, bowing, and more. Rather than a jazz-jazz album, Uprising is a floor-shaking contemporary soul/R&B session. Mosley is an appealing singer, on the lines of Stevie Wonder's grittier side. Just when you wonder where all the bass is, you realize that what you may have thought was electric guitar, including the Hendrixy solos, is the bass. Plenty of bottom here, in every sense. [More West Coast Get Down-adjacent music appears below, from Kamasi Washington (#9) and Natasha Agrama (#11).]

 

5.    Slowdive - Slowdive

 I rediscovered a hitherto unrecalled fondness for shoegaze this year. This, the first new Slowdive album in 22 years, sealed the deal. Bathe in it.

 

6.    Sam Gendel - 4444

and Sam Gendel - HAT TRICK

and Sam Gendel - Double Expression

Sam Gendel, largely on saxophone, is an important contributor to Sam Amidon's The Following Mountain [#2, above]. On 4444, his first album under his own name (largely featuring his trio previously recorded under the name of Inga), largely foregoes saxophone in favor of lithe, swirling, bossa nova flavored guitar songs. It remakes any space quite attractively while it is playing, and the occasional gesture toward sociopolitical concerns led me to characterize it on Twitter as "José González, with thorns".

The vocal-free HAT TRICK and Double Expression return the saxophone to the foreground. The former is a three-track EP of Gendel solo improvisations, with loops and electronics, very much in the vein of Jon Hassell; the latter is nearly two and a half hours of material recorded live, in duo and trio formats, on a single afternoon in an apartment and on the sidewalks of L.A.'s Silver Lake neighborhood. In all of these settings, Gendel's groove is true.

[Although he does not, I believe, appear on Aromanticism (#10 below), Sam Gendel also plays in Moses Sumney's touring band.]

 

7.    Aaron Roche - HaHa HuHu

Recommended, for recondite strangeness, for grit & sparkling lint, for indwelling beauties.

 

8.    Los Angeles Percussion Quartet - Beyond

There is a good argument to be made that the U.S. is currently in something of a Golden Age of Percussion Ensembles. In composition and in performance, the music on this two-disc set is roughly as good as contemporary percussion music gets. Chris Cerrone's "Memory Palace" never fails to move me as a solo piece, and this rearrangement for quartet is my favorite version yet. Andrew McIntosh's disc-long "I Hold the Lion's Paw" is an quietly immersive amble through a vivid series of interior landscapes, a trip unto itself. I strongly suspect that I will look back someday and decide I have underrated Beyond in this ranking.

 

9.    Kamasi Washington - Harmony of Difference

A six-part jazz suite with Washington and band building and trading themes and solos, the whole structure bursting to accumulated glory in its final long segment. Supremely satisfying.

 

10.    Moses Sumney - Aromanticism

Moses Sumney's falsetto. Draperies of diaphanous sound. Love and sex and happiness and their alternatives, stewed, steamed, and seasoned in yearning. Harp. Did I mention that falsetto?

 

11.    Natasha Agrama - The Heart of Infinite Change

Although Natasha Agrama has West Coast Get Down connections,  and has sung with Kamasi Washington's band, there is no sign of Miles Mosley (#4 above) on bass. Instead, one must make do with Thundercat or with the singer's stepfather, Stanley Clarke. The bass chair nicely signifies the heady mix of youth and experience on this record. The other old lion on hand, in his final session, is the late George Duke. A beautifully spare version of "In a Sentimental Mood," with just Clarke and Duke and an occasional fingersnap for accompaniment, is the second best thing here. Best is a reworking of Joni Mitchell's reworking of Charles Mingus's homage to Lester Young, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," expanded into a tribute to the song's entire line descent, its focus shifting from New York to Los Angeles, to dazzling effect.

 

12.    The Knells - Knells II

 Progressive rock. Medieval polyphony. Two great tastes that continue to go great together in the hands of Andrew McKenna Lee and band. Really, you should try this.

 

13.    Donny McCaslin - Beyond Now 

David Bowie played saxophone himself in the early part of his career. Donny McCaslin has the distinction of being Bowie's last sax player, as part of the jazz-based band assembled for Blackstar. McCaslin's latest with his own longtime band includes two Bowie-Eno covers: "A Small Plot of Land" from Outside and a gripping and granitic version of "Warszawa" from Low, the latter seemingly filtered through the lens of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman." The blowing and swinging and escalating choruses on the remainder of the album are also of top blowing and swinging quality.

 

14.    The Mynabirds - BE HERE NOW

Laura Burhenn, rocking the #Resistance. Quite aside from its politics, this album satisfies in ways one used to be able almost to take for granted in American Rock Records.

 

15.    Psychic Temple - IV

Another waking dream narrative of Southern California musics. Chris Schlarb is a wizard at this.

 

Further in the way of item by item commentary affiant sayeth not, at this point in time. Affiant reserves the right perhaps to return and scribble post hoc commentary on some or all of the entrants below, all of which are worthy of your attention.

 

16.    R. Stevie Moore & Jason Falkner - Make It Be

  

17.    World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda

 

18.    Nadia Sirota - Tesselatum

  

19.    ensemble, et al. - The Slow Reveal

 

20.    The National - Sleep Well Beast

 

21.    Jean-Michel Blais & CFCF - Cascades

 

22.    Jasper String Quartet - Unbound

 

23.    Del Sol String Quartet - Dark Queen Mantra

 

24.    Scott Wollschleger: Soft Aberration

 

25.    The Tape Disaster - Oh! Myelin!

 

26.    Qasim Naqvi - FILM

;

 

27.    Theo Bleckmann - Elegy

 

 

 28.    Amir ElSaffar/Rivers of Sound - Not Two

 

29.    Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Courtenay Budd - David Del Tredici: Child Alice

 

30.    William Basinski - A Shadow in Time

 

31.    Kovtun - Infernal

 

32.    Choral Arts Initiative - How To Go On: Choral Music of Dale Trumbore

 

33.    Casey Dienel - Imitation of a Woman to Love

 

34.    The Dan Ryan - Guidance

 

35.    Denny Zeitlin & George Marsh - Expedition: Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvisations

 

36.    Sufjan Stevens/Nico Muhly/Bryce Dessner/James McAlister - Planetarium

 

37.    Liew Niyomkarn - Nº 3

 

38.    Conrad Winslow: The Perfect Nothing Catalog

 

 39.    Daniel Corral: Refractions

 

40.    Flower Crown - GLOW 

 

41.    Herod - Herod Plays Kraftwerk

 

 42.    Crash Ensemble - Ghosts

 

~~~

Miscellaneous extras: 

First, a selection of electronics, drones, and declamations, with a cover photo by ... me.

Gavin Gamboa - La Bibliothèque Fantastique

 

Next, the late Julius Eastman, whose rediscovery continues apace, in a 1974 live performance by himself with S.E.M. Ensemble, and in a hotchachacha 2017 cover version by Horse Lords.

 Julius Eastman: Joy Boy

 

Horse Lords - Julius Eastman: Stay On It [from Horse Lords' Mixtape IV]

 

 Some more Brazilians (to go with #25 and #31 above).

 Dialeto - Bartok in Rock

Devilish Dear - These Sunny Days

 Juna - Marina Goes to the Moon

 

Some single-piece [i.e., non-album release] new music in the somewhat classical vein.

Jonathan Morgan - Nick Norton: Elegy II

Los Angeles Percussion Quartet - Matt McBane: For Triangles

 

A handful of further jazz-related choices.

Morgan Guerin - The Saga II

 Dwight Trible - Inspirations

 DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield - Hudson

 

And no musical year can end well without a pair of Gabriel Kahane releases: three solo piano pieces, featuring Timo Andres, and two new songs.

 

With that, this blogger wishes for you all a fine and musical 2018. As the sage says, things can only get better.

 FIN

 ~~~