Sunday, December 27, 2015

Top album picks of 2015!


I have let the blog go by the wayside a bit, seems like social media and the internet are moving in different directions, or maybe that's my own interests.  Anyways coming back to it in order to support some of my favorite artists who came out with records last year.  This is in no particular order, just ten great albums of 2015.

John Hollenbeck - Songs We Like

I always enjoy hearing Hollenbeck’s newest project, always has a way of sounding like himself while continuously moving into different directions, utilizing different ideas, and arranging other people’s music in new and exciting ways!  Another part of his music that I love is hearing the same piece arranged for small combo vs. large ensemble and what makes them different.  There’s nothing like getting to hear/see the process of a piece unfold, be it visual art or a musical composition.

Tim Berne - You've been watching me/Spare (with limited edition photos/drawings)

I was fortunate enough to hear the snake oil band when they came to Colorado with Dan Weiss instead of Ches Smith on drums in the last few years.  Comparisons are clich├ęd but I’m going to use one anyway (powering through it).  I think of this group as the “Miles Davis Second Quintet” of now.  There is a tried and true bandleader that leads with such a strong and creative force, known for his specific bands (Bloodcount, Hard Cell, Paraphrase Trio). This group has really been breaking into new ground with every new release, especially with the addition of Ryan Ferreira on guitar/electronics.  I can’t wait for the next release!

Matt Mitchell - Vista Accumulation

By extension a few years ago I downloaded some of Matt Mitchell’s bandcamp releases that are more in the free improv/noise/lowercase realm, and realized after listening to it why my ear has such a connection to his music.  I feel like a lot of jazz improvisers miss out on the sonic tradition of 20th century classical music, AMM, MEV, early electronic music experiments, etc... and when that’s part of the influence I’m immediately drawn in.  This new record is out of this world, and there’s few players that can make music at this level.  There's beautiful compositions, and an incredible band sound!  As a bass player I’m starting to see Chris Tordini playing with some of my favorite NYC musicians, can’t wait to hear more of this!

Ben Monder – Amorphae

I always find out about Monder’s releases well after the fact, but this is a diverse mix of through composed Monder, featuring some trios, duets and solos with Andrew Cyrille and Paul Motian!  Every Monder album is unique, and with the “ECM” sound clearly imprinted in the mix/mastering I love it.  I don’t know what ECM has been doing recently, but all my favorite artists are starting to release through them, keep it up Manfred Eicher!

Darius Jones - le bebe de bergitte (lost in translation)

Darius Jones is the organic soul of the music to my ear.  Every album/project/band I’ve heard recordings of digs deeper and deeper into something that I can’t put my finger on.  Darius was kind enough recently to tell me about his approach, and has only opened up my ears more and filled me with more questions after this latest release.  As I read Coleman Barks’ Rumi for soul nourishment, so do I feel when I listen to any record of his, and the newest one is no exception.  Meredith Monk is one of my favorite composers, and I don’t know if she’s an influence or not, but I hear a certain theatrical/compositional sound in this album that reminds me of her.  If they ever did work together it would me a beautiful melding of two creative spirits. 

John Zorn - Olympiad vol. 1 Dither Quartet/The Song Project

John Zorn keeps releasing project after project: filmworks, Masada, game pieces, 21st classical releases, solo organ improvisations and more.  The dither guitar quartet released a series of early game pieces, and supposedly start off a series of new recordings of older works, other than a few recent John Zorn guitar etudes/book of heads releases.  The dither quartet perfectly pays homage to the great free players of Derek Bailey and Eugene Chadbourne.  They capture the spirit of the game so well, and I'm glad there’s videos of this group online.   The Song Project is a collection of Zorn's music with lyrics written for the older pieces, recorded with different ensembles and vocalists, and released as multi-colored single 45s in a blue/green suede case.  The art/package of this is only matched by the Tim Berne “Spare” release with 100s of sketches and photos.  I’m happy to see art really coming back to album releases, seems an appropriate response to the streaming world we live in.

Terrell Stafford - Brotherlee - The Music of Lee Morgan

Swinging new release, these are some the best ones alive playing the standards.  You want to feel good, you want to dance, you want to be happy, and this will do it!  Terrell is one of the sweetest players in the business, on trumpet and as a person.  These guys play great arrangements of Lee’s book of tunes, and there’s not a lot of tributes to undersung trumpet players like Lee Morgan.  Buy the music, support the artist, it’s all money well spent! 

Kris Davis - Save Your Breath

This is the bass album of the year, four bass clarinets plus rhythm section with Jim Black on the drums!  At first glance it's like a modern day Henry Threadgill X-75 (4 basses, 4 sax/flutes/voice).  The writing for this low of frequencies is beautiful, haunting and exotic, not many composers’ could utilize this orchestration in such a creative and musical way.  Then it was first released it was on repeat every day for a long time.  I always like her projects, everyone of them sounds fresh to my ears with lots of varied musicians/instrumentation. Like so many great composers, she seemingly is always diving headfirst into new directions.

David Torn - Only Sky

If you haven’t heard David Torn you’re missing out! He came to Denver to do a free improv show with Tim Berne and Ches Smith a few years back (HQ video on youtube), playing one of my top 5 shows I’ve ever seen in my life.  I had no idea who he was until the show, and left a believer.  I’ve always loved the collaborations between him and Tim Berne over the years, and still feel like I’m barely scratching the surface with the musical giant that is David Torn.  Check out his sound world, you won’t want to leave!

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly

This year I became more politically involved, and have been trying to be more active in giving back and doing my part.  Simultaneously a friend recommended this record to me as the “free jazz” influenced record.  Now I wouldn’t describe it as that, but I hear it more as jazz influenced creative hip hop record that goes a lot of places.  Kendrick has a special flow to his sound, and I had to check out more of his stuff with other rappers and other projects to fully appreciate this.  He’s helping shine lights on what’s going on in the world today, and has a positive message to bring if you’ll listen.  

Ryan Adams  - 1989

This is my guilty pleasure album of the year, and by extension Taylor Swift.  I’ve been AB-ing the two 1989 records and found myself singing them to myself when I’m not realizing it.  I’ve always been a Ryan Adams’ fan, and I really like the idea of covering a huge project of someone else’s work and making it your own.  I like the idea of literal influence/transference, to also show the individuality in a person’s sound and approach.  Ryan Adams’ 1989 is exactly what I hoped it would be, now it’s time for Taylor Swift to cover one of his tunes!

Wilco - Star Wars 

This came as a free download, and now looking at the album length must have been a made for vinyl release.  I will eat up anything Wilco, they are my modern day Beatles, nothing better in the realm of rock and roll for me.  This is a  continuation of the newer Nels Cline era Wilco, high energy start to finish, keep em coming boys!  I did get the Tweedy release, and honestly enjoyed a live bootleg I heard much more than the studio release.  It didn’t seem like they finished the album, as if they gave up ¾ of the way through tracking.  Tweedy sounds great live, it’s just not worth it for me to buy the vinyl copy is all.

Matt Smiley – 30 Bananas (demo)

Last February some of my friends took part in a 30 day songwriting challenge, and I multi-track recorded a demo of 30 songs.  I hadn’t written rock music since high school, so it was a fun challenge to try to write that much music, and figure out a fast way to do it.  I used 4-5 books to generate lyrics (taking out phrases, re-wording them, mixing them around with my own words/phrases), mostly nonsense/surreal, and improvised tracks.  Musically I was thinking about this Joan Miro process, improvising the parts until it starts to form a shape, and then methodically planning it from there on out.  The tracks are rough in spots, but eventually would like to re-record part of it and officially release it.

Over the last few years I have been getting more and more burnt out on the modern jazz/new music coming out of NYC.  There’s a few releases I have heard that I won’t list that I wasn't as into, sometimes with some of my favorite players.  Not every record has to be 5 stars, and it’s better to try out new projects than to not.  As I get older I think it’s ok to enjoy whatever music you enjoy, and if it doesn’t hit you in that special way, then it doesn’t!  My favorite jazz now doesn’t always sound like “jazz,” and won’t get mainstream radio play (although I don’t see why not).  My favorite rock doesn’t always sound like “rock,” and by extension lots of the other “post-modern” music out there today.  Anyways it’s an exciting time to be alive, and there’s so much out there to hear and check out.



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