2020 NPR Jazz Critics Poll

Happy new year and best wishes to everyone for a significant upgrade for 2021!  This is my final reflection on a decidedly terrible 2020.

The 2020 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll has now been published and Francis Davis has again let me chime in.  Go buy all of this great music!

The overview results are here

Davis’ commentary is here

…and my contribution is here

My favorite part of this poll is reading each of the contributor’s picks, which can be done here

 

My best of 2020 are as follows…

NEW RELEASES

Craig Taborn’s Junk Magic, Compass Confusion (Pyroclastic)

Jennifer Curtis and Tyshawn Sorey, Invisible Ritual (Tundra)

WHO Trio, STRELL The Music of Billy Strayhorn & Duke Ellington (Clean Feed)

Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl, Artlessly Falling (Firehouse 12)

Susan Alcorn, Pedernal (Relative Pitch)

The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, Soundpath (Clean Feed)

Ingrid Laubrock, Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt (Intakt)

Ron Miles, Rainbow Sign (Blue Note)

Steph Richards, Supersense (Northern Spy)

Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra, Dimensional Stardust (International Anthem/Nonesuch)

 

REISSUES

Charles Mingus, @ Bremen 1964 & 1975 (Sunnyside)

Theloinious Monk, Palo Alto (Impulse)

Ivan Zagni and Steve Garden, Trouble Spots (Rattle Echo)

 

VOCAL

Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl, Artlessly Falling (Firehouse 12)

 

DEBUT

Emi Makabe, Anniversary (Greenleaf)

 

LATIN

Aruán Ortiz with Andrew Cyrille and Mauricio Herrera, Inside Rhythmic Falls (Intakt)

Craig Taborn’s Junk Magic, Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl, and Joshua Van Tassel

Artist: Craig Taborn’s Junk Magic

Title: Compass Confusion

Label: Pyroclastic Records

Release Date: 10/30/20

Personnel: Chris Speed – saxophone; Erik Fratzke – bass; Mat Maneri – viola; David King – drums; Craig Taborn – piano, keyboard and synthesizer

Impression: Compass Confusion detonates at the junction of Partch Parkway and Autechre Avenue forming it’s own superhighway, and then curtly curtsies as the most satisfying listening experience of 2020.

More Info: Craig Taborn’s sitePyroclastic Records and Compass Confusion page

Listen Here:

Buy Here: Bandcamp

 

 

Artist: Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl

Title: Artlessly Falling

Label: Firehouse 12 Records

Release Date: 10/30/20

Personnel: Amirtha Kidambi – voice; Maria Grand – tenor saxophone, voice; Adam O’Farrill – trumpet; Mary Halvorson – guitar; Michael Formanek – bass; Tomas Fujiwara – drums, beer cans on track 2; Robert Wyatt – voice on tracks 1, 3, 5

Impression: Just when we were convinced the core of Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl couldn’t be improved upon, along comes the improbable and inspired inclusion of Robert Wyatt on guest vocals, one of so few utter delights of 2020 – though technically recorded in 2019, so maybe 2020 is actually all bad – only November will tell.

More Info: Mary Halvorson’s site and Firehouse 12 Records site

Listen Here:

Buy Here: Bandcamp

 

 

Artist: Joshua Van Tassel

Title: Dance Music Volume II: More Songs For Slow Motion

Label: Backward Music

Release Date: 09/11/20

Personnel: Joshua Van Tassel – Ondea, Therevox, piano, vibraphone, field recordings, electronics; The Venuti String Quartet: Drew Jurecka – Violin Rebekah Wolkstein – Violin Lydia Muchinsky- Cello Shannon Knights – Viola

Impression: Horrendous acts of hatred and villainy have begotten great beauty: Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, Picasso’s Guernica, and Basinskis The Disintegration Loops are now joined by Van Tassel’s Dance Music Volume II: More Songs For Slow Motion.

More Info: Joshua Van Tassel site

Listen Here:

Buy Here: Bandcamp

 

Live Music in Louisville, 03/09/19 – Tyshawn Sorey world premier performed by Louisville Orchestra

A very unique opportunity has presented itself to music fans in the Louisville, Ky area: experience a top-shelf, world premier performance of one of the most important living composers…right down the block!

Louisville’s majestic Kentucky Center for the Arts will host the Louisville Orchestra under the direction of Teddy Abrams Saturday, March 9 at 8 p.m. as they present the world premier of commissioned piece, For Bill Dixon and A. Spencer Barefield by Dr. Tyshawn SoreyThe performance will feature soloists trumpeter Ansyn Banks and guitarist Craig Wagner.

Also on the bill are another LO world premier by Gabriel Evens called Run For It, Michael Tilson Thomas’ Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. 

No-brainer and highest possible recommendation here, folks…

learn more about the composer at Tyshawn Sorey’s website and buy tickets here!

Also, buy Sorey’s most recent release Pillars (that I wrote about here) at bandcamp as well as his earlier releases on Pi Recordings at bandcamp

The 2018 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll

Happy new year and best wishes to everyone for a brilliant 2019!  Before I break the slumber and write some new reviews, I’d like to look back at the best of 2018…

The 2018 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll is out, and Francis Davis let me contribute again this year.

The overview results are here

Davis’ commentary is here

and my contribution is here

My best of 2018 are as follows…

 

NEW RELEASES

Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret, The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12)

Cécile McLorin Salvant, The Window (Mack Avenue)

Mary Halvorson, Code Girl (Firehouse 12)

Poline Renou, Matthieu Donarier, and Sylvain Lemêtre, Adieu Mes Très Belles (Yolk)

Tyshawn Sorey, Pillars (Firehouse 12)

Michael Formanek & Elusion Quartet, Time Like This (Intakt)

Sungjae Son, Near East Quartet (ECM)

Dan Weiss, Starebaby (Pi)

Nick Millevoi’s Desertion Trio with Jamie Saft, Midtown Tilt (Shhpuma)

Snowpoet, Thought You Knew (Edition)

 

REISSUES

John Coltrane, 1963: New Directions (Impulse!)

Alice Coltrane, Carnegie Hall ’71 (Hi Hat)

Keith Jarrett, La Fenice (ECM)

 

VOCAL

Cécile McLorin Salvant, The Window (Mack Avenue)

 

DEBUT

WildSonicBlooms, Where We Overlap (Rattle)

 

LATIN

David Virelles, Igbó Alákorin (The Singer’s Grove) Vol. I and II (Pi) *

 

* somehow, my vote for David Virelles’ excellent Igbó Alákorin (The Singer’s Grove) Vol. I and II didn’t make it onto the list.

 

Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret, Albatre, Wayne Horvitz, Adam Hopkins, and Casey Golden

Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret – The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12)

One thing is for sure: you’d be hard pressed to gather a more impressive group of players/improvisers than Bay-area pianist/composer Myra Melford has done with her Snowy Egret project.  As she has said, “I really feel like it’s the vehicle that expresses where I am as a composer, performer, and bandleader right now”. It is only with such a remarkable vehicle that a group of artist can so seemingly effortlessly navigate the improvisational and compositional terrain that SE explores on The Other Side of Air.

For their second release together, Melford and company have run the gamut through what a quintet is capable, covering territories from the sublime to the revved-up to the ridiculous. These five are so locked in to these compositions and to each other that it is beyond clairvoyance at times.

I love how on a number of these pieces, Melford has created divisions or movements in which one or two soloists are featured: micro concertos, almost! It is in these moments, as on “Attic” (greatest bass solo of 2018?) and “Living Music” (Ellman and Sorey tear it up), that a very rare transcendence takes place.  Some very inspired work here, for sure.

learn more at Firehouse 12 Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Albatre – The Fall of the Damned (ShhPuma)

Relentless, aggressive, cathartic, concerted, guitar-less, and odd meters are apt descriptors of The Fall of the Damned, the new album by Rotterdam-based Albatre. And this is just what the doctor ordered to fight the chaotic dumpster fire that is 2018.

There are more than a few comparisons that can be made between Albatre and Kevin Martin’s battering “God” project from the ’90s.  For starters, harshly effected drums, bass, and saxophone intent on relaying the paramount importance of rhythm take center stage on both. Philipp Ernsting, Gonçalo Almeida, and Hugo Costa convincingly bring the noise on said trio of instruments, respectively, but not respectfully. Compared to their terrific 2015 release, Nagual, there is an even more deliberate middle-finger-to-the-state-of-the-world vibe at play here, and it’s one that I can get behind.

Although these sounds are not necessarily for the faint of heart, they are a mollifying space to occupy as you plan your daily acts of resistance. Coincidently, albâtre is French for “alabaster”, the stone material artists have diligently chipped away at for millennia to immortalize greatness through sculpture. Viva L’Albatre!

learn more at SHHPuma and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Wayne Horvitz – The Snowghost Sessions (Songlines Recordings)

As a key member of Naked City, Pigpen, Zony Mash, and The President – bands who illustrated to me early on just how out music can be taken – Wayne Horvitz will always hold a special place in my consciousness. Since relocating from New York to Seattle in the late 80s, Horvitz has covered an absurd amount of musical territory from popular and experimental band-work, theater and dance pieces, chamber and orchestral writing, sound design, TV and soundtrack work and so on. It has been a full ride, indeed…and the ride continues.

SnowGhost is the relaxed, top-shelf recording studio in Whitefish, Montana where the sounds of Horvitz’s beautiful piano playing and electronically augmented keys, along with exceptional accompaniment from bassist Geoff Harper and drummer Eric Eagle were immaculately committed to tape (or disc). There is a filmic quality to The Snowghost Sessions, not because it requires an image to complete an artistic statement, but because it reveals imagery upon listening: a profile of a man falling down and getting back up again, a snapshot of the jarring yet taciturn winter that inevitably descends on the Midwest year after year, or a family gathered in silence, in mourning.

Like all the best art, The Snowghost Sessions improves with each listen, vying hard for the top spot on year-end lists that will be rampant before we know it. Kudos to Horvitz, Harper, and Eagle, and to Songlines Recordings for this gift.

learn more at Songlines Recordings and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Adam Hopkins – Crickets (Out Of Your Head Records)

Evidently, Adam Hopkins learned a great deal about how to play the bass (and likely much more) from luminary Michael Formanek and how to effectively lead a group (and likely much more) from heavy-hitters Henry Threadgill and John Hollenbeck, both in whose groups he has served time. Crickets is Hopkins’ first release under his own name, and what a fine and feisty romp it is.

The groundwork for much of the record is the mighty riff, delivered with potency by Hopkins and guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, and reflective of the influence of 80s and 90s punk/indie rock. Onto this framework Hopkins has grafted the triple-sax threat of Anna Webber, Ed Rosenberg, and Josh Sinton, deftly delivering glorious wails of charted lines and spirited solos over said riffage. Drummer Devin Gray completes the group with both agility and judicial backbeat, serving the music well at every step.

It’s heartening to see the DIY spirit of yesteryear alive and well as we do on Crickets – Out of Your Head Records is run by Hopkins and his friends – particularly at a time when the artist’s slice of the pie continues to shrink. PSA: remind a musician, especially with your wallet, that you are still listening and that what they do matters and they won’t go away.

learn more at Out of Your Head Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Casey Golden – Atlas (self-released)

For the better part of the past decade, pianist Casey Golden has been active in Australia, releasing well-received trio records with Bill Williams and drummer Ed Rodrigues, and more recently has begun to make a splash in London with his quartet with guitarist Alex Munk, bassist Henrik Jensen, and drummer Will Glaser.

The sensitivity that Golden and his UK quartet demonstrate in their interplay on their first release Atlas is undoubtedly impressive and is a considerable step forward for Golden. The tunes are just so agreeable and the playing is refreshingly in service of the music rather than the ego of the player. This is not to say that these four don’t have chops; quite to the contrary, these four can play.

Whatever Golden is up to in England agrees with him, and I look forward to more of the fruits of this creative activity in the future.

learn more at Casey Golden’s site and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon