Tuesday, February 27, 2024

David Leon's "Bird's Eye"

I have long held that any musician can play with any other musician if the people involved listen and give each other space. For proof positive, one need look no further than this new album (out on Pyroclastic on March 8) by saxophonist/composer/improviser David Leon and his trio Bird's Eye (whose name provides the album's title). A Miami-born New Yorker of Cuban heritage, Leon undertook the study of Cuban rumba with Mexico City-based percussionist Manley "Piri" Lopez, virtually during the pandemic lockdown and later in person, along with Bird's Eye drummer Lesley Mok. Leon's interest in microtonal music led him to collaborate with the trio's third member, Korean gayageum player and vocalist DoYeon Kim.

The music on Bird's Eye doesn't have the percussive drive one might expect from an amalgam with Afro-Cuban roots although the clave is definitely in evidence at times, as on "Nothing Urgent, Just Unfortunate" (in this case, driven by Kim's gayageum -- a delicate instrument, but I once saw Jen Shyu pick one up and carry it while playing). Instead, their sound is light and spacious, almost like a conversation where you can hear the participants listening and considering their response. 

Leon is capable of Braxtonian angularity (as on the opening "You won't find it by yourself") or languorous lyricism (as on "to speak in flowers"). "A Night for Counting Stars" features Kim's vocal on a text by Korean poet Yun Dong-ju (a martyr of the resistance to Japanese occupation), with Kim and Leon weaving an intricate web of melody. Mok, who released their debut album The Living Collection on American Dreams last year, is the most subtle and intentional of percussionists, but also capable of stunning power; their full range is showcased on "Expressive Jargon I & III"). On that track, Leon shifts seamlessly between flute and alto. 

Apparently the members of Bird's Eye have made it a practice to cook and eat together as part of their rehearsal regimen. With that in mind, perhaps I might be excused for observing that this album is a savory blend of influences -- as Leon writes in the liners, "more gazpacho than ceviche." And we're on notice of three new talents to watch for. Pre-orders available now.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Things we like: Ezra Sturm/Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Lisa Cameron/Alex Cunningham, Jonathan Horne/Joshua Thomson

There's another Bandcamp Friday coming March 1, so I'd be remiss if I didn't load you up with recommendations of new tuneage, of which I have a couple.

I first became aware of the San Francisco-based experimental guitarist Ernesto Diaz-Infante via his work with Austin percussionist Lisa Cameron back in October. Since then, Diaz-Infante has released other work, including a tribute to the late saxophonist and improviser Jim Ryan. His most recent, and the first of three releases planned for this year, is The Escape, a collaboration with his son, guitarist/synthesist Ezra Sturm. (Ernesto's partner/Ezra's mother Marjorie Sturm joins on flute for one track.) Both father and son are active, busy players, Ezra laying down highly rhythmic electric drones while Ernesto explores the pure sound of his instruments, playing contrasting rhythms and textures (including slithering slide) against his son's explorations. On "Tears Before Chaos," Ezra uses a highly saturated sound to produce ringing chords which his father's acoustic scrapes and bumps against. "Safe in the Hamster Ball" finds both guitars in percussive mode, with Ezra's glisses and high register interjections approaching mania. An ever more abstract cross-generational conversation, filled with adventuresome invention.

The aforementioned Lisa Cameron and St. Louis-based violinist Alex Cunningham were at Grackle Art Gallery last April in a quartet with bassist Damon Smith and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Ruth Alexander.  The trio of Cameron, Cunningham, and Smith has previously recorded twice (Dawn Throws Its First Knife on Smith's Balance Point Acoustics label and the cassette-only Time Without Hours), but Chasms is the first release by Cameron and Cunningham as a duo. Like their live performance, the three long tracks presented here are dense soundscapes where it's hard at times -- particularly when Cameron applies her Nakatani bow to a cymbal, or Cunningham uses found objects to assault his amplified strings -- to tell exactly who's playing what. No matter. The dynamics shift from massive sound field to extreme close-up intimacy. The net effect, when the intensity is at its clangorous apogee, is the sound of a world very laboriously being turned. There is a tension here that, while it dissipates, is never released. These sound artists shake the listener out of their expectations and carry them into a dimension where friction creates light as well as heat.

Jonathan Horne is one of my guitar heroes. A purveyor of Sharrockian skronk and otherworldly inventions, he's a member of the transcontinental free jazz/hip-hop/metal juggernaut The Young Mothers; I saw him at Molten Plains Fest in December duetting with prepared guitar specialist Sandy Ewen (at the pre-show) and joining Austin drone rockers Water Damage for the festival finale. At this point he's had about ten surgeries to repair a severed tendon in his fretting arm, re-learning how to play each time with an inspiring tenacity. And he plays a Mosrite, like Nokie Edwards and Fred "Sonic" Smith. On Clandestine Flower, released last June on Personal Archives, he's paired with saxophonist Joshua Thomson from the expandable free jazz/"world music" duo Atlas Maior for a set of lyrical ambient improvised meditations, recorded inside an industrial tank. I haven't got the cassette yet, but I plan to snag one when the duo plays at the Grackle Art Gallery on March 1. They recently recorded in Austin with drummer extraordinaire Stefan Gonzalez (Trio Glossia, Dennis Gonzalez Legacy Band), and that trio, billed as Atlas Maior: Palindrome, will be at The Wild Detectives on February 29. Catch either or both shows and prepare thyself to deal with a miracle (as Rahsaan Roland Kirk once said).

Friday, February 23, 2024

Revisionist history (Loose canon updated)

This is an update to a list I made back in January 2018, this time not limiting the number per decade but choosing only one title per artist (I cheated with the Who, Hendrix, and Beefheart), limited to 100 total. Numerical order has no significance. Unsurprisingly, there are more from the '70s than any other decade. The golden age of anything is when you came in. And with that, let us be done with compulsive list making till at least the end of the decade. (On the web, you can see the stuff I added because the spacing becomes irregular even if the HTML looks identical. Thanks, Google!)

Teens
1) Laurie Anderson - Heart of a Dog
2) Chris Butler - Easy Life
3) Billy Bragg/Joe Henry - Shine A Light
4) Beck - Morning Phase
5) Mark Growden - Saint Judas
6) Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
7) D'Angelo - Black Messiah
8) Petra Haden - Goes To the Movies
9) They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy - Far From the Silvery Light
10) Richard Dawson - Peasant
11) Wendy Eisenberg - Auto 

Aughts
1) Brian Wilson - Smile
2) Hochimen - Totenlieder
3) Goodwin - S/T
4) Woodeye - Such Sweet Sorrow
5) Stumptone - Gravity Finally Released
6) Joe Strummer - Streetcore
7) Nels Cline - Coward
8) Yayhoos - Fear Not the Obvious
9) Top Secret...Shhh
10) Sonic's Rendezvous Band - box set

'90s
1) Frank Zappa - Civilization Phaze III
2) Sonny Sharrock - Ask the Ages
3) Turbonegro - Apocalypse Dudes
4) Sundays - Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
5) Freedy Johnston - This Perfect World
6) A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders
7) Living Colour - Time's Up
8) Wayne Kramer - The Hard Stuff
9) Charlie Haden/Quartet West - Haunted Heart
10) Mick Farren/Jack Lancaster - The Deathray Tapes
11) Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach - Painted from Memory
12) Mike Watt - Contemplating the Engine Room
13) Wilco - Being There

'80s
1) Lou Reed - New York
2) George Clinton - Computer Games
3) Ornette Coleman - In All Languages
4) Clash - Sandinista!
5) Captain Beefheart - Doc at the Radar Station
6) Gang of Four - Entertainment!
7) Ronald Shannon Jackson - Mandance
8) Minutemen - Double Nickels On the Dime
9) Husker Du - Zen Arcade
10) Power Tools - Strange Meeting
11) Jack DeJohnette - Special Edition
12) Bob Mould - Workbook
14) Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska
15) James "Blood" Ulmer - Odyssey
16) Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays - As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls

'70s
1) Stooges - Fun House
2) Who - Live At Leeds
3) The Band - S/T
4) Grateful Dead - American Beauty
5) Velvet Underground - Loaded
6) Jimi Hendrix - The Cry of Love
7) MC5 - High Time
8) Joni Mitchell - The Hissing of Summer Lawns
9) King Crimson - Red
10) Funkadelic - Maggot Brain
11) Arthur Blythe - Lennox Avenue Breakdown
12) Bola Sete - Ocean
13) Don Cherry - Relativity Suite
14) John Abercrombie - Gateway
15) Alice Cooper - Killer
16) Pete Townshend/Ronnie Lane - Rough Mix
17) The Rationals - S/T
18) Detroit - Featuring Mitch Ryder
19) Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
20) Sly and the Family Stone - There's A Riot Going On
21) Television - Marquee Moon
22) Neil Young - Decade
23) Little Feat - Waiting for Columbus
24) John Cale - Paris 1919
25) Stevie Wonder - Innervisions
26) Blue Oyster Cult - Tyranny and Mutation
27) Mott the Hoople - Mott
28) Flamin' Groovies - Teenage Head
29) Pretenders - S/T
30) Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells a Story
31) Thunderclap Newman - Hollywood Dream
32) Todd Rundgren - Something/Anything?
33) Move - Shazam!

'60s
1) Who - Sell Out
2) Jeff Beck - Truth
3) Beatles - White Album
4) Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
5) James Brown - Live at the Apollo
6) Miles Davis - In A Silent Way
7) Jefferson Airplane - After Bathing At Baxter's
8) Zombies - Odessey and Oracle
9) Jimi Hendrix - Axis: Bold As Love
10) John Coltrane - A Love Supreme
11) Small Faces - Ogden's Nut Gone Flake
12) Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica
13) Blues Project - Projections
14) Animals - Animalization
15) Rolling Stones - Aftermath
16) Sir Douglas Quintet - Mendocino
17) Jethro Tull - Stand Up

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Max Kutner's "Partial Custody"

My candidate for the American guitarist most deserving of wider recognition: Max Kutner, Las Vegas native by way of Cal Arts, currently based in Brooklyn. Kutner's toured with Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and Oingo Boingo legacy bands, and is a regular on the NYC free improv scene. Back in 2022, he released an excellent quintet album, High Flavors, featuring his own compositions, recorded and mixed by Martin Bisi, that almost nobody noticed. At the time, I suspected it was partially because the album was only available in digital format, and lots of scribes of A Certain Age tend to prefer physical media, still.

On April 5, Los Angeles-based Orenda Records will release Partial Custody, 67 minutes of music comprising six new Kutner compositions and an arrangement of Brian Eno's "Bone Jump." It's the debut recording of a new trio, also called Partial Custody, that includes Ben Stapp on tuba and James Paul Nadien on drums and glockenspiel. The instrumentation is identical to an earlier band Kutner co-led, Evil Genius. But the original material here is all new, written over five days in the run-up to the recording of this album. And Kutner relied on his bandmates to bring their own voices and ideas to the music to achieve its full realization.

To pull in those of us who are still geeked on The Romance of the Artifact, Partial Custody is being distributed in a unique physical format, as well as your garden variety digital download. Vegas native Kutner is offering the album in the form of a casino chip bearing a QR code which links to a folder containing the tracks; a 12" x 12" poster and album information sheet are also included with the chip. This requires a leap of faith on the artist's part that folks who buy the chips aren't going to share the code around. It's a kind of social experiment: by modeling trust, can one cause others to behave in a trustworthy manner? It says a lot that Kutner presumes goodwill on the part of his audience.

Fortuitously, the review link arrived during a week when I'd been thinking a lot about tuba-centric bands I recall from the '70s (Sam Rivers, Arthur Blythe). Stapp, a composer in his own right, has all the fluency and facility of, say, Bob Stewart or Joe Daley, and is equally expressive whether reading or extemporizing. Nadien's a deft and imaginative percussionist. Together, the three form a perfectly balanced orchestral unit and vehicle for Kutner's complex, knotty compositions. 

The ruminative tone poem "Whatever Else the News Has Planned" serves as the curtain-raiser. The guitar plays a wending melody, punctuated by snare rolls, until the tuba emerges as the solo voice. There's a lot going on here, and the music's density increases the farther you get into the album. After the brief "Going," the album hits its first highlight with "Exaggeration Holmes." 

Starting out with a mutant funk groove, the piece's statistical density increases (one wonders if Nadien can play glockenspiel and drums simultaneously live) before taking on a heavier aspect, then a lighter one. Next, Kutner unleashes a face-melting solo -- tonally and texturally similar to Frank Zappa's signature '80s sound, with some of the yearning quality of FZ's mixolydian meditations, but with a melodic imagination that's uniquely Kutner's. Supported by Stapp's burbling tuba and Nadien's exuberant crash and thump, the net effect is like stumbling on a meet-up between Zappa, Jack Bruce, and Terry Bozzio in the emerald beyond. When the groove returns and gives way to still more thematic and textural shifts, it's astonishing to remember that they're doing all of this with only three instruments. Magic.

"The Bell Mimic" is an ambient study, with Stapp playing cavernous long tones and Kutner entering the sound world of Nels Cline and Bill Frisell to produce sounds like shifting tectonic plates and some head-spinning backwards looping. I'll admit to never having heard the original version of Eno's "Bone Jump," from 2010's Small Craft on a Milk Sea album. (I kind of bailed after Before and After Science, but Kutner's enough of an Eno fan to have once played an arrangement of "Discreet Music" for solo electric guitar.) Partial Custody's version of the piece starts out juxtaposing hypnotic, minimalist repetition against discordant noise, building to a thunderous heavy clangor of effects-laden tuba and guitar, then winding down with some science fiction sounds. 

"Dancing to the Dead Beat" was the last piece written, on the eve of the sessions. Its sedately meditative opening serves as a showcase for Stapp's fluid facility. Kutner uses a clean tone to play with bluesy lyricism, but "out" -- like Grant Green on the moon. The piece evolves through more changes; a military waltz gives way to dub reggae before a punishing fuzz drone slashes its way in and drives the intensity up for a spell, before things wind down pensively to a unison close.

"Jet Plane" is the album closer, 24 minutes of relentless forward motion, repeating figures that are deconstructed, then reconstructed, and breakneck drumming. There's enough variation in the twists and turns the music takes that the time flies by as fleetly as Stapp's blinding runs (how can he play that fast on that instrument?) until all is subsumed under a wave of random oscillation, radio chatter, and feedback meltdown, and catharsis is achieved.

An early candidate for my album of the year, this is. Kutner says he wants to tour this band. I'm thinking interest could be found in Houston, Austin, Denton, and Dallas. We live in hope. Pre-orders happening now.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Oak Cliff, 2.15.2024


The first thing I'll say about tonight's show at The Wild Detectives is how refreshing it was to hear two sets of music without electrical amplification. Now, I'm no Luddite and I love a loud electric guitar as much as the next person with tinnitus from standing in front of great big amps, but there is nothing like experiencing the thrill of feeling the vibrations from drum heads, reeds, and strings vibrating your solar plexus without any intervening technology.

The program consisted of two duos: two Chrises, preceded by two basses. A first time duo of Chris Pitsiokos on alto and Chris Corsano on drums erupted out of the gate with kinetic force that continued unabated for pretty much the duration of their set. The Berlin-based Pitsiokos moves a big column of air through his horn to power a volcanic flow of ideas sustained by circular breathing wonderment. (That which I can't comprehend but know is real I call magic.) His robust sound reminded me of Henry Threadgill (whose birthday it was) writing about the difference between the tenor (a blues horn) and alto (made for testifying and speaking in tongues). Pitsiokos interrupted the glossolalia to take the music to a mellow Johnny Hodges space, replete with warm vibrato, before ramping up the energy again.

A buddy of mine in San Diego had seen Corsano last week in a trio with Mike Watt and Joe Baiza, and he told me to expect intensity. But nothing could have prepared me for the experience of watching Corsano at work behind his kit from five feet away. He can play more with one hand (one or two sticks) than any drummer I ever witnessed, and he's thinking ten times as fast -- switching between sticks and beaters, looking around for a cymbal or other percussion implement to toss on top of a drum, using the rubber tips on the grips of one pair of sticks to rub against the heads, another stick with the metal disc from a tambourine attached. He even had a pedal for the bottom head of his floor tom. Cat used everything available to make music. An invigorating set. They're at Rubber Gloves tomorrow night with Trio Glossia. You owe it to yourself.

Opening set was by bassists Matthew Frerck (speaking of Trio Glossia) and Aaron Gonzalez, playing together for the first time in seven years. The sound of two upright basses on the wooden floor was a particular delight. Frerck and Gonzalez used the full array of techniques available -- arco, pizzicato, false harmonics, percussive sounds, playing every area of the instrument, following each other (and at times trying to unfollow, Frerck said), moving from spontaneously created counterpoint to harsh scraping sounds. I'd like to hear more of this duo. Frerck had a digital recorder running; I hope the recording came out. Best Thursday night in awhile. And now, to bed.

Monday, February 12, 2024

FTW, 2.10-11.2024

I was recently reminded that Sarah Ruth Alexander was the first musician to play at the Grackle Art Gallery, a house in my neighborhood that over the past eight years has become the place to go in my city to hear music I dig. So it was fitting that she was performing there when we stopped in to see our friend Martha Anderson's art as part of the current exhibit. 

As much as I dig Sarah's work in ensembles -- a duo performance she did with Joshua Miller (Same Brain, Trio Glossia) at Grackle last year was a nice object lesson in how to do non-idiomatic improv with small instruments -- it's her solo performances that are my favorites. This time, her announced theme was "questions," and she started out by using some electronic treatments including a Kaoss pad on her pellucid and splendidly controlled voice to craft a sonic bed, then responded to the sounds so produced. She used the piano and organ patches on her keyboard, including some dissonance and surprise pitch-bending, to create different moods -- a human scale psychedelic dreamscape, and a very satisfying 30-minute excursion. My wife isn't a huge fan of experimental music, but says Sarah is an exception. Then we visited with the Oakhurst crew before heading home to our geriatric cat.

The following day, I was back to participate in the Second Sunday Improv Jam, which on this occasion was the opener for Kavin Allenson's retirement party. Kavin's the fella who makes the Grackle music happen, and a fine guitarist himself. Usual suspects like Mark Cook, Robert Kramer, and Darrin Kobetich were absent (DaKobe showed up later), but Mark Hyde was present with his Partscaster, and I attempted to play repeating figures for folks to test their pedalboards on. (This kind of reminded me of when Pete Bollinger and I used to play the four chords to "Maggot Brain" for half an hour while encouraging his son Nick to blow lead. The last time I saw Nick, he gave me a CD he'd made. He sounded just like me if I played Christian death metal.) After awhile I got up and let another fella play my guitar, like I used to do with Lee Allen at the Wreck Room. My right hand fingers were unhappy with me for hybrid picking after not touching a guitar for a month.

Hopefully Kavin will enjoy his retirement and get to travel and play out more. He, Linda Little, and Matt Sacks have created a nice little locus of community for creative types here in a city that can sure use it. (Respect also to Arts Fifth Avenue and South Side Preservation Hall.) Long may they run.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

21st century jazz (after Nate Chinen)

At the end of his 2018 book Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century, Nate Chinen lists 129 albums that he deems "essential." Of necessity (because I'm not on as many mailing lists as Nate), this will be shorter, and I have adhered to his practice of only one listing per leader. Not surprisingly, my list skews toward performers I've seen live, which I suppose means that it's influenced by where I live. (If I lived in Brooklyn, say, my head would probably explode from all the choices.) And yes, I skipped a few years. Will fill them in if something occurs to me later.

2001

Jason Moran  -- Black Stars (Blue Note). The venerable multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers returns to Blue Note in the company of a fiery trio led by a pianist who came out of Houston Arts Magnet High School and learned from the stride-to-Cecil master, Jaki Byard. The revered elder and the young firebrands mesh well together.

Peter Brotzmann -- Never Too Late But Always Too Early (Eremite). The German saxophonist had a rep as a flamethrower from his 1968 classic Machine Gun to the unremitting high energy of '80s Lower Manhattan supergroup Last Exit. He sounds earthier in the company of NYC bassist William Parker and Chicago drummer Hamid Drake; although he breathes some fire here, all kinds of expression are explored in the course of this concert double CD.

The Thing with Joe McPhee -- She Knows (Crazy Wisdom, reissued on Hat Hut). The power trio of Swedish tenorman Mats Gustafsson and the Norwegian engine room of Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on bass meets the estimable American trumpeter-tenorist McPhee and bonds over their mutual affinity for Ayler, Ornette, and Cherry. An easy way into his and their large discographies.

Wayne Shorter -- Footprints Live! (Verve). The most cerebral of composing tenorists had a late career resurgence with the quartet of pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade. It seemed to me like Wayne was trying to push these musicians to create on the stand, the way Miles Davis had with the quintet Wayne was part of.

2002

I got fired from my soul destroying corporate gig a couple of days after witnessing the rock show that would serve as the energy model for every show Stoogeaphilia ever played. The rest of the year was consumed by playing pickup blues gigs and attempting to find my feet writing about local music for the alt-weekly.

2003

Sam Rivers -- Celebration (Posi-Tone) After the NYC loft scene he'd championed died out, the master improviser toured with Dizzy Gillespie and landed in Florida. In the late '90s, he cut three sterling big band records -- two for RCA with all-star ensembles, one for his own label with the band he formed of moonlighting theme park musos. The core of that band was a pair of multi-instrumentalists: Doug Mathews on basses and bass clarinet and Anthony Cole on drums, tenor, and piano. As a trio with the leader's tenor, soprano, flute, and piano, they surpassed the flexibility of his great '70s bands.

Science Friction -- The Sublime And (Thirsty Ear, reissued on Screwgun). Altoist Tim Berne is a composer who specializes in lengthy compositions that wend their way through multiple themes, with lots of room for improvisation. Here he's joined by three of his most creative accomplices: Marc Ducret on guitar, Craig Taborn on keys, and Tom Rainey on drums.

2004

Charlie Haden -- Not in Our Name (Verve). In the wake of the US invasion of Iraq, the bassist-composer reconvened his Liberation Music Orchestra, this time to play a selection of skewed patriotic themes and the Bowie-Metheny-Mays composition "This Is Not America," with Bill Frisell's " Throughout" for momentarily relief and Barber's "Adagio" for all the dead yet to come. Now, with our democracy under threat, this music remains topical, goddammit.

Don Byron -- Ivey-Divey (Blue Note). Once the clarinet of choice for the Lower Manhattan weirdos, noted for his propensity to play klezmer music, Byron plays it relatively straight-ahead here on a set of Tin Pan Alley standards, originals, and a couple of Miles Davis tunes (you never heard "In a Silent Way" like this), in the company of Jason Moran and Jack DeJohnette.

Hard Cell -- Feign (Screwgun). Another Tim Berne project, basically Science Friction minus guitar. Craig Taborn owns this record.

2005-2006

I'd quit the paper and was working for an ad agency (big mistake), also holding down a Wednesday night house band gig at the Wreck Room, my favorite rawk dump of all ti-i-ime. So no time for writing reviews. (During this period I was asked to interview Dewey Redman for the public library's oral history project. I begged off. The next time I heard from the person who'd asked was when they sent me Dewey's NYT obituary.)

2007

Dennis Gonzalez/João Paulo -- Scapegrace (Clean Feed). First meeting of the deeply spiritual Dallas trumpeter and a Portuguese pianist. A record of lyrical beauty. There's a YouTube video of these two playing in the square of a Portuguese village that reminds me of a scene from Cinema Paradiso.

Fieldwork  -- Door (Pi Recordings). Third album by a co-op trio formed by pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Steve Lehman, first with drummer Tyshawn Sorey -- who wrote six of 11 compositions and clearly dominated the proceedings. Even then, you could tell he was going places.

2008

Nels Cline -- Coward (Cryptogramophone). This is one where the "only one per leader" rule really hurts. As much as I love the orchestrated easy listening homage Lovers and the duo record Room with Julian Lage (some the best guitaring I ever witnessed live), this overdubbed solo record was the one that really pulled me in (after first hearing Cline on the first two Mike Watt solo albums). "Rod Poole's Gradual Ascent to Heaven" is worth the price of admission by itself.

Linda Oh -- Entry (No label). Debut from the Malaysian-Australian bassist, playing her originals and covering the Red Hot Chili Peppers (sorry!) with a trio including trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. Oh would go on to work with Dave Douglas, Pat Metheny, Terri Lyne Carrington, Vijay Iyer, and her own bands.

2009

Paradoxical Frog -- S/T (Clean Feed). The trio of Tyshawn Sorey (drums), Kris Davis (piano), and Ingrid Laubrock (saxophone) plays experimental compositions and free improv. The Canadian pianist Davis impressed early on with her ability to play with both Cecil Taylor-like intensity and classical delicacy. Later, she'd show her fluency and facility with jazz tradition. 

2010

Sonny Rollins -- Road Shows, Vol. 2 (Doxy). Trane changed the world, Sonny lived long enough to fulfill his potential (although he'd undoubtedly disagree). Once Rollins had control of his recording scene, he quit studios for good and began releasing a series of high quality concert recordings. This one, drawn mostly from his 80th birthday concert, is particularly noteworthy for a version of "Sonnymoon for Two" that includes a guest appearance by Ornette Coleman. Both men solo, then Sonny takes one in Ornette's style. Almost as good as the "Oleo" from Our Man In Jazz that featured Ornette's familiars Cherry and Higgins.

2011

Wadada Leo Smith -- Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform) -- Towards the end of a long spell in academia (at Cal Arts), Anthony Braxton's one time trumpet foil began a surge of creativity that continued unabated through the decade and beyond. This mammoth (four CDs) tribute to the Civil Rights movement includes pieces for Smith's Golden Quartet (or Quintet, with a second drummer) and a chamber music ensemble, both separately and, on a handful of tracks, together. Smith's accomplishment here is stunning, and earned him a Pulitzer Prize.

2012

Craig Taborn Trio -- Chants (ECM). Taborn has fewer records as a leader than any pianist of comparable stature, but he does loads of notable work as a side musician (I bent the "one per leader" rules to include Hard Cell's Feign). This trio, with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver, sounds a lot different than Taborn and Cleaver do with William Parker as the more rough-and-tumble Farmers By Nature. Goes to show how much one ingredient can change a recipe. Taborn's compositions and the group dynamic here are spellbinding.

Neneh Cherry & The Thing -- The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound). Dance music diva Cherry cut this album with the Scandinavian punk-jazz juggernaut, performing material that included covers of songs by MF Doom, Suicide, the Stooges (CD only), her stepfather Don Cherry, and Ornette's "What Reason Could I Give."

2014

Yells At Eels -- In Quiet Waters (For Tune). In 1999, punk rock siblings Aaron and Stefan Gonzalez coaxed their father, Dennis, out of musical retirement to form this family trio. From 2002 on, every time I saw them, they were fiercer and more astonishing, so it makes sense that this, their last recording, released on a Polish label ("where the most Dennis Gonzalez fans are," Stefan says) is probably their best (although French label Ayler released several fine ones). The iconic themes "Hymn for Julius Hemphill" and "Document for Walt Dickerson" get definitive readings here.

Zooid -- In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi). Henry Threadgill won a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for this scintillating chamber jazz suite, and a decade later I'm still striving to parse all its threads. Following very specific guidelines for improvisation, the musicians in Zooid sound less celebratory than those in Threadgill's precisely scored Sextett (one of the great bands of the '80s). But they (and the composer) keep me returning to this.

Max Johnson -- In the West (Clean Feed). NYC bassist Johnson shines at the helm of a quarter with Kris Davis on piano, Mike Pride on drums, and pedal steel innovator Susan Alcorn, playing three Johnson originals and an Ennio Morricone medley/homage.

Roscoe Mitchell, Sandy Ewen, Damon Smith, Weasel Walter -- A Railroad Spike Forms the Voice (Balance Point Acoustics). Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians eminence Mitchell is the biggest name here, but the real news is Ewen, a prepared guitar specialist from Houston via Brooklyn who's gone head to head with Keith Rowe and used to lead an all-woman large ensemble back in H-Town. Her trio with prolific bassist Smith and ex-Flying Luttenbacher percussionist Walter has several records out, all equally amazing. Her solo work is equally worthwhile; she approaches her instrument in a way that's unsurprising coming from a visual artist and architect, both of which she is.

2016

Jeff Parker -- The New Breed (International Anthem). A hip-hop/R&B/jazz hybrid from the Chicago Underground/Tortoise guitarist. One could easily be forgiven for thinking they were hearing a Soulquarians outtake. In a good way.

Tyshawn Sorey -- Verisimilitude (Pi). My pick for the artist of the Teens and the composer of his generation makes the piano trio sing symphonically, with Cory Smythe on piano and Chris Tordini on bass.

2018

Kris Davis, Craig Taborn -- Octopus (Pyroclastic). After duetting for a couple of tracks on Davis' 2016 album Duopoly, the two pianists recorded this album live on tour. They play together with remarkable sympathy and communication that can only come from deep listening. Hearing them play together on two successive nights (at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and Fort Worth's Museum of Modern Art) was the highlight of my listening year in 2022.

Wendy Eisenberg -- The Machinic Unconscious (Tzadik). A singular musical intelligence, my favorite guitarist of the moment can do a lot of things well. While I dig her several vocal albums of Gilberto-esque songcraft the most, she's also an uncommonly elegant noise improviser, as demonstrated by this trio recording with bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle) and drummer Ches Smith.

2019

Mary Halvorson's Code Girl -- Artlessly Falling (Firehouse 12). My favorite record by the new guitar voice of the Teens, on which producer David Breskin assigned her different poetic forms to use for the lyrics to each song. Best of all, Amirtha Kidambi is joined on vocals by Brit art rocker Robert Wyatt, who returned from retirement after five years to participate.

Thumbscrew -- Never Is Enough (Cuneiform). Halvorson-as-guitarist shines on this, the sixth outing with a cooperative trio that also serves as the core of her Code Girl Band: bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Thomas Fujiwara. Here they perform a set of compositions -- six by Formanek, three each by the others -- that were galvanized in the studio by concurrent work on an Anthony Braxton project. Limited edition vinyl includes a bonus side of live tracks.

The Young Mothers -- Morose (Self Sabotage). A mostly Texan sextet, led by bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (The Thing) and fronted by trumpeter-rapper Jawwaad Taylor, these guys mash up free jazz, hip-hop, and death metal and the result is pure fire. For proof, check the intense opener "Attica Black," or "Black Tar Caviar," where saxophonist Jason Jackson comes across like Archie Shepp channeling Coleman Hawkins before a black metal apocalypse sweeps away all in its path.

2020

Jaimie Branch -- Fly Or Die Live (International Anthem). A concert document of the complete suite from trumpeter-vocalist Branch's first two albums, this captures her quartet (cellist Lester St. Louis, bassist Jason Ajemian, Chicago Underground drummer Chad Taylor) in full flight. It also serves as a memorial since the leader's tragic death by drug overdose in 2022. "prayer for amerikkka pt. 1&2" and "love song" serve to remind us how much was lost.

William Parker -- Painter's Winter (AUM Fidelity). I missed out on most of NYC bassist Parker's work with Cecil Taylor and David S. Ware, and his solo discography is too dauntingly large for me to take on at this point. But of the albums I've heard, I like this trio date with trumpeter/multi-reedist Daniel Carter and drummer Hamid Drake best. The three musicians' multi-instrumental fluency gives their work here a textural variety that belies the size of their group. This barely edged out Mayan Space Station, which teams Parker with guitarist Eva Mendoza and drummer Gerald Cleaver for some Lifetime-y fusion fun. 

2021

Ingebrigt Haker Flaten -- Exit (Knarr) (Odin). Again, I've cheated on the "one entry per leader" thing, but what the hell. Haker Flaten's best known as an improviser, but his composing chops come to the fore on this episodic autobiographical suite, revisiting some of the places he's called home through the course of a peripatetic life. The octet includes altoist Mette Rasmussen, and the record has the feel of a masterpiece.

Zoh Amba -- O, Sun (Tzadik). Since she hit the Apple in late 2021, the Tennessean saxophone prodigy (24 this year) has made quite a stir, playing with and winning plaudits from veterans like William Parker, Tyshawn Sorey, Joe McPhee, Ra Kalam Bob Moses, and on this album, John Zorn. Of the several recordings that have emerged so far, this is my favorite. While less representative of what she does live, it works better as an album for me. And she's just getting started.

2022

Terri Lyne Carrington -- New Standards Vol. 1 (Candid). Carrington founded and leads the Berklee Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice, and won a Grammy for this album, released in conjunction with a sort of alternate Real Book featuring 101 lead sheets by women composers. An all-star lineup anchored by Kris Davis, Linda May Han Oh, and the leader plays selections composed by Abbey Lincoln, Carla Bley, and Marilyn Crispell, among others.

Patricia Brennan -- More Touch (Pyroclastic). Mallet percussion specialist Brennan leads a percussion heavy quartet -- trap set, hand drums, and bass, fronted by the leader's vibraphone and marimba -- through originals that blend jazz and classical influences with rhythms from the Afro-Cuban diaspora and her own native Veracruz, Mexico.

2023

Diatom Ribbons -- Live at the Village Vanguard (Pyroclastic). Pianist Kris Davis followed up the debut by this innovative group with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, turntablist Val Jeanty, and bassist Trevor Dunn with a live tour de force that features no repeats from the first album. Instead, there are new Davis compositions (including the three part "Bird Suite"), two different takes of Wayne Shorter's "Dolores," and a cover of Ronald Shannon Jackson's "Alice in the Congo" (which she played with Craig Taborn at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth). Julian Lage brings a different feel to the guitar chair Nels Cline and Marc Ribot filled on the previous album. Since this was recorded, Davis been touring with Dave Holland's quartet and has a new trio of her own (a first since 2013's hideously rare Waiting for You to Grow). 

Susan Alcorn Septeto del Sur -- Canto (Relative Pitch). Alcorn's a pedal steel virtuoso who took up free improvisation after encountering Pauline Oliveros and Dave Dove in Houston during the '90s. On this album, she's joined by Chilean folkloric and experimental musicians to perform a suite dedicated to the victims of that country's brutal Pinochet dictatorship. Music with an important message for a moment when authoritarianism is on the rise globally.

2024

Ches Smith -- Laugh Ash (Pyroclastic). Drummer extraordinaire for John Zorn, Tim Berne, and Marc Ribot reaches a new level with a set of compositions that boldly synthesize influences as disparate as minimalism, Haitian Vodou, Euro classicism, electronica, and hip-hop into a sound that has the shock of something really new.

A-a-and that's as much time as I'm going to give this. It's notable to me that this list, covering 24 years, contains fewer entries than the previous one covering only 17. I blame Chinen and his "one entry per leader rule," and my early affinity for certain artists, whom I listened to in extremis while trying to figure out what all this stuff meant. (I'm still doing so in some cases -- I'm looking at you, Mr. Threadgill.) Not all of it's blues-based, not all of it swings; I'm hoping the Marsalis/Crouch/Murray conservative impulse goes the way of the Whiplash bebop-as-competitive-athletic-event school of didacticism. These days, it seems the lines between jazz, pop (meaning rock and hip-hop, to me), and experimental music (composed or improvised) are being erased, and the trend is for musicians to follow Oliver Lake's injunction to "put all my food on the same plate." I can't wait to hear what comes next.