16 January 2013


A dozen discs on heavy rotation this year:

Bon Iver: For Emma (forever ago) [Jagjaguwar, 2008]. The poetics of falling. The soundtrack to the book I've been writing.

Anthony Braxton: Willisau (Quartet) [hatART, 1991]. Long promised as a re-release, ridiculously scarce and dear, I'd never heard these until I chanced on an affordable copy in a Toronto record store. I'd always figured the four discs could never actually live up to my imagination of how great they were, but they exceed dreams: tight and exploded all at once. Everyone — Braxton, Marilyn Crispell, Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway — are working together, in a particular creative situation that they seem to know is transient. The document should be an inspiration to the possibilities of "le passage de quelques personnes à travers une assez courte unité de temps [the passage of a few persons through a rather brief unity of time]," as Guy Debord would say.

Death Cab for Cutie: "Summer Skin," Plans [Barsuk, 2005]. Is to U2s "Sunday Bloody Sunday" as Steely Dan's "FM" is to the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter." No static at all.

Marco Eneidi Coalition: st [Botticelli, 1994]. All out. With the stupendous Raphe Malik, plus Jackson Krall, William Parker and Glenn Spearman.

Foton Quartet: Zomo Hall [Not Two, 2010]. Jakub Cywinski, Gerard Lebik, Artur Majewski, and Wojciech Romanowski. Atmospheric, yes, but in the sense that the music might be inseparable from the fabric of the world: inevitable, necessary, natural, about — at any moment — to collapse in ruin.

Darius Jones: Grass Roots [Aum Fidelity, 2012]. From 2009 to 2012, Jones released a trilogy (Man'ish Boy; Big Gurl; and Book of Mæ'bul) that has some kind of autobiographical epic trajectory about the history of music which to be honest I don't really understand, but they're all absolutely solid. This may or may not be part of that project (?), but it's really solid too.

Mbira (Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet and flugelhorn, Pheeroan AkLaff on percussion, and Min Xiao-Fen on pipa): Dark Lady Of The Sonnets [Tum, 2011]. This is the one disc I've gone back to most often in the last year. Chthonic solidity and cosmic ethereality set the poles between which alert intellectualism and soulful spirituality converse. Like safely hearing pure structure — Kali's skeleton — dance.

Eve Risser, Benjamin Duboc and Edward Perraud: En Corps [Dark Tree, 2012]. Game changing.

Trespass Trio [Martin Küchen, Raymond Strid, Per Zanussi]: two discs, "...was there to illuminate the night sky" [Clean Feed, 2009] and Bruder Beda [Clean Feed, 2012]: anxiety, rage, threat, sustain — but all without a moment of histrionics. Maximum emotion with minimal noise, as if a kind of existential sorrow had hypnotized itself.

Rosa Luxembourg New Quintet: Night Asylum [Not Two, 2010]. Uncontainable energy, unclassifiable idioms, unidentifiable instruments — in other words, pure anarchism. Plus erudite musicology. But wait: what was the old quartet?? There's clearly research to be done....

Wadada Leo Smith: 10 Freedom Summers [Cuneiform, 2012]. Most important jazz project of the decade: recorded here as a four-disc magnum opus that manages to be as musically interesting in the particulars as its ambitions are sweeping. Truly monumental but never fatuous or pompous, I'm assuming (and hoping) it will take me the next decade to really work through it.

Nate Wooley (any number of discs — I've been into him in the way I used to be into Dave Douglas, who for a while could do no harm — but for the record I'll pick STEM [Clean Feed, 2012], where he teams up with the Red Trio: Hernâni Faustino, Gabriel Ferrandini, and Rodrigo Pinheiro). Structure, encounter and (what sets this apart from other equally cerebral, interesting, engaging and exciting improvisations) a drive to each piece that can only be utopian.

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