Monday, November 18, 2019

Obligatory end of year top tens (yes, plural)

I don't get invited to vote in the Village Voice Pazz & Jop thing anymore, which is fine. I am done writing for money. (Yes, I hate being edited that much.) And invariably, no sooner do I post one of these than I get something else I should have included. I'll let you know if I do. Meanwhile, it was a pretty good year.

Albums (not all of which I reviewed):

1) Peter Laughner, Peter Laughner (Smog Veil): My most anticipated release of the decade didn't disappoint, revealing its subject, a prophet without honor in his short life, as a more multi-faceted guitarist-songwriter-interpreter-bandleader than the legend would have you believe (not just a punk precursor, he, although he was that, too, with Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu).
2) Bill Frisell, Harmony (Blue Note): Frisell's too country for some, but he just might be my favorite son of Jim Hall (dig his two ECM albums of duets with bassist Thomas Morgan), and I find his ever-greater simplicity and lyricism irresistible. This has Petra Haden (seek out their unjustly ignored 2004 duo CD, and 2011's Windmills of Your Mind with Paul Motian) singing "On the Street Where You Live," "Lush Life," and "Red River Valley," as well as Frisell's originals, which have the same ethereal quality as his electric sound. I've listened to this more than anything else on this list.
3) J. Graves, Marathon (No label): Smart yet rawly emotive post-punk from a Portland-based performer who's new to me, but has the goods.
4) Charley Crockett, The Valley (Son of Davy): Recorded right before he went in for life-saving open-heart surgery, this is my favorite record yet by this energetic and engaging Dallasite with Nawlins roots (and drawl) who understands that country, blues, and R&B are a lot more alike than they're different.
5) Mdou Moctar, Ilana the Creator (Sahel Sounds): A lot of great guitarists and bands have come out of the West African Sahara, and Moctar -- star of the Tuareg-language remake of Purple Rain -- has the best tone of them all, sounding at times like a Saharan Hendrix, at others like '80s Sonny Sharrock. But it's his band's sinuous groove that makes this music hypnotic. Great live performer, too.
6) Laurie Anderson, Tenzin Choegyal, Jesse Paris Smith, Songs from the Bardo (Smithsonian Folkways): Anderson continues her exploration of mortality, grief and loss with this series of readings from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, accompanied by music that can be used to conjure a meditative state. A record for special (ritual) occasions.
7) Sunwatchers, Illegal Moves (Trouble In Mind): I'm not a big jam band fan, but this NYC instrumental foursome deals in free jazz (including a steaming cover of Alice Coltrane's "Ptah, the El Daoud"), psychedelia, prog, and noise in a way that could give the genre a good name.
8) Pinkish Black, Concept Unification (Relapse): The most advanced material yet from Fort Worth's own dark, heavy experimental duo. The 12-minute "Next Solution" sounds to these feedback-scorched ears like the best thing they've done.
9) Magma, Zess (Seventh): The long-lived French sci-fi prog/jazz-rock outfit finally gets around to recording this 40-year-old masterpiece, and it sounds for all the world like a Kobaian soul record.
10) Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah, Ancestral Recall (Ropeadope): The prolific and ambitious New Orleans trumpet king follows up 2017's sprawling Centennial Trilogy with a double LP's worth of tunes and grooves that blend hip-hop, jazz, and African percussion seamlessly.

Singles

1) Tahiti, "Light Blue Room" (Digital). Ex-PPT/Awkquarius rapper gets real on the subject of Parkinson's disease, with which he was diagnosed in 2015.

Reissues

1) Don Cherry, S/T (aka "Brown Rice") (A&M): The golden age of anything is when you came in, so lately I've been wallowing in mid-to-late '70s jazz, of which this LP is a sterling exemplar. Part of a surge of creativity by the well-traveled Ornette familiar that also included Eternal Now (great proto world music, reissued as Tibet with Moki Cherry's beautiful tapestries inexplicably replaced on the cover by a pic of suit-wearing Don playing trumpet, which he doesn't on that record), Hear & Now (more flagrantly commercial and thus, more dated), and the first Old and New Dreams album. Spiritual avant jazz trance music with Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins.
2) Makaya McCraven, In the Moment (International Anthem): A high-water mark of jazz/hip-hop confluence, the result of a year-long club residency, proving Chicago hasn't lost a step since the heyday of Sun Ra and AACM.
3) Turbonegro, Apocalypse Dudes (Indie Recordings): The best hard rock record of the '90s (even if you can go track by track playing "spot the influences") by a pack of Norwegian despoilers who were never quite as good again.
4) Sonny Sharrock, Ask the Ages (Hive Mind): As close as we were going to get to a new Coltrane record back in '91, the great free jazz guitarist teams with Pharaoh Sanders and Elvin Jones for a 47-minute exorcism.
5) Captain Beefheart, Trout Mask Replica (Third Man): Kudos to Jack White for this 50th anniversary restoration of Don Van Vliet's abrasive masterpiece. This took some doing, as one of the original master reels was damaged beyond repair in storage (at least it didn't burn up in the Universal Hollywood fire). Sounds to me as though this version has the instruments slightly higher in the mix than earlier versions. They even had the original cover photo to work with. Liners give Drumbo credit he was previously denied, and they even include the lyric sheet that my mid-'70s repress didn't have.

Live (chronological, more or less): I went to more shows this year than I have in awhile, so of course I saw more gooduns.

1) Joe Ely at the Haltom Theater. He's put a few miles on the odometer since I saw him open for the Clash twice back in '79, but he's kept his voice and grown into his stories. Best song: "Borderless Love" ("There's no need for a wall").
2) Charley Crockett at the Kessler and the Ridglea Theater. A little tentative at the Kessler, following open heart surgery, but back on his game by the Ridglea, which turned into an all-star revue with guest shots by Leon Bridges and Vincent Neil Emerson.
3) Peter Brotzmann/Heather Leigh at The Wild Detectives. A relatively subdued and lyrical Brotz can still roar when he wants to. And it sold out. Yes, there's an audience for creative music in North Texas!
4) Phorids at Panther City Vinyl. Hardcore punks play their debut show in a record store.
5) Pinkish Black at Panther City Vinyl.
6) Mdou Moctar at Deep Ellum Art Company.
7) Monks of Saturnalia at Revelers Hall (twice). Gregg Prickett's Mingus/Ayler inspired quintet is my favorite band o' the moment. Can't wait till they record.
8) Bill Pohl at Grackle Art Gallery. Best performance I've ever seen by Fort Worth's own prog rock guitar virtuoso. The scaled-down presentation reveals the subtleties beneath the stunning playing.
9) Doc Strange, Ty Macklin, and Tahiti at Top Ten Records.
10) James Hall, Jean-Luc Vila, and Amanda Kana at Grackle Art Gallery.

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