Jan. 10, 2003
So here comes the obligatory "Top Whateverthenumberis"
end-of-year chart, right? Well, sort of.
I have to confess that I've always been pretty ambivalent about these
things, though the reason why they exist is pretty obvious - and sometimes
they can be useful, too.
The reason for the present chart, however, is really simple: since CloudsandClocks
launched on Nov. 26, most of the albums whose release preceded the birth
of this webzine stood no chance of being reviewed. And so...
First, there are quite a few albums that I haven't seen reviewed anywhere
else, so I think that a bit of exposure (albeit admittedly minimal)
won't hurt. Second, there are some that have been reviewed, but that
in my opinion were not taken as seriously as they deserved. Third, this
chart should tell readers about my priorities, so they'll easily know
where I stay.
Please notice that this chart doesn't represent a "Best Of".
Some of these albums definitely suffer from some flaws - though, obviously,
none so severe as to make them "average". All are required
listening: "albums that matter", so to speak, each presenting
a unique, highly personal perspective on music. I've also included some
In alphabetical order, of course...
Curlew album that I ever bought (on vinyl), in 1985. The Fred Frith
connection, of course, at a time when it was useful for discovering
good things. Listening to this (clearly remastered) CD I was surprised
by how interesting it was - not that I hadn't liked it much the first
time, it just seems that, generally speaking, in the meantime I've learned
to settle for less. Fine compositions, first-rate playing, a very varied
album - those who consider, say, Tortoise as a groundbreaking group
should definitely listen to this CD. Some unreleased live material -
same songs, a different line-up.
for electrified drums with a strong, clear sense of form. Highly original
approach, very musical results. A landmark recording.
heard him on various CDs, it was only when I saw him play with the Ab
Baars Trio + Roswell Rudd and with the Henneman String Quartet at the
Controindicazioni Festival in Rome in October 2001 that I really appreciated
Wilbert de Joode. This is his solo bass CD. Seventeen (brief) pieces,
each with a clear focus. Improvisation of the "Dutch school",
which requires (and definitely repays) attentive listening.
Shouting/So Much Laughter
double live album from the little folksinger from Buffalo. Seems quite
a few reviewers long for the days of solo guitar and vocals, when things
were simpler. The old energy is still there, but I like her new agile
- and definitely more versatile and nuanced - vocal phrasing, her hard-won
maturity in composing, the funky rhythm section and the horns. And how
come an artist who sells - I don't know, two hundred thousand? - gets
so little press? (Your guess is as good as mine.)
Solo: Live in Tokyo
for John Greaves dates from the days when he was "only" the
bass player in Henry Cow. His subsequent solo albums of songs were a
revelation, and I'm really saddened by the fact that they are quite
underappreciated. This is a very good place to start: his piano and
vocals in a live setting, beautifully recorded, intense. (This came
out - Japan only - in 1998 and was distributed abroad at the end of
2001 - but I bought it in January 2002, so it qualifies.)
Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton
a perfect world, this would be the art of the (piano) trio in 2002.
It flows like a charm, the compositions are beautiful, the interplay
superb, the recording perfect. Innovative, intelligent, accessible.
In a word: fresh. Get it immediately.
at the top of his game in a live setting. His "rock" quartet,
so to speak. Tense, intense. First CD already released in 1985, plus
another (a bit less clearly recorded) featuring unreleased versions
of different songs by the same line-up. Very revealing liner notes.
Has it really been ten years since her last CD of songs? This is adult
stuff for grown-ups (of all ages, obviously). Quite a bit bleaker than
I had expected. The usual meticulous approach to composition and vocal
delivery, excellent recorded sound, some very fine players, sympathetic
production by Wayne Horvitz. Need I say more?
Oh My Dog!
thing about the Instant Composers Pool is that nowadays it's considered
by some like a part of the landscape (and, these days, maybe a bit predictable?)
while the rest of the world hasn't got the slightest idea about it.
The original post-modernists? Just listen, then make up your mind.
unpretentious little album that - given time - quietly reveals its considerable
charms. Mostly acoustic 12-string guitar plus acoustic and electric
bass, some vocals and quite a few nice instrumental touches that on
first hearing it's very easy to overlook. Quite traditional, yes, but
never tired nor stale.
rough for craftspersons who prize bridges and whose vocals don't shout
"drama!" on MTV. Complex emotions portrayed by clear, perceptive
thinking and intelligent, mature delivery.
been kind to the music played by this underappreciated line-up. These
are unreleased live tapes from '72, not hi-fi but definitely listenable.
Agile, uncluttered, distinctive music for guitar, electric piano, bass
and Robert Wyatt's highly personal drums and vocals. Still sounding
fresh and adventurous to me.
Air With Guests
dynamic duo from Sweden is back with another live CD. My favourite Mats/Morgan
album is still the double The Music or the Money from 1997: the first
CD sporting fine, adventurous songs, the second with its tricky, knotty,
complex instrumentals. On Air With Guests avoids the fusionoid lengthy
keyboard solos that made Live (2001) a bit less than I had expected.
To call this music "progressive" would do it a disservice.
Think: Zappa - astute listeners will notice quite a few things pointing
to the late Maestro. Nice cameo by Jimmy Ågren, whose solo album
Glass Finger Ghost remains an undiscovered gem.
Mitchell & The Note Factory
For My Sister
"new guys from Chicago" appear to be losing whatever steam
they had in the first place, the "old guard" is alive and
well, thank you very much. Having seen The Note Factory live (what happened
to that planned live CD, guys?) I can attest this line-up can play anything.
And they definitely do on this one. While the "noisy" tracks
(just joking) are merely excellent, it's the chamber-like stuff (think:
flute, percussions, two pianos) that's the highlight of the album.
Moore/Peggy Lee/Dylan van der Schyff
A live recording
from the 2000 Vancouver Jazz Festival, for me this improvised trio CD
was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. Peggy Lee's cello
moves with a fine compositional logic, while frequent collaborator van
der Schyff contributes nicely on drums. The give-and-take with Moore's
clarinet and alto is excellent. (By the way, is it just my impression,
or do we take this guy for granted a bit too often? Playing with assurance
doesn't equal playing safe!) At a bit more than half-an-hour, it's the
perfect length, too.
- and more than a bit disturbing - that most professional critics didn't
seem to "get" this album at all. Didn't they have the time?
Was this album not a "priority"? Nobody in the biz really
cares whether they live or die? You tell me. Meanwhile, I stand by my
share some of my colleagues' enthusiasm for the kind of electronic music
where one is never quite sure whether one is listening to the music
on the CD or to the electrical current running inside the amplifier.
This CD by a Berlin improv collective walks the fine line between giving
you the whole picture and inviting you to connect the dots. Quite successfully,
It's a mystery
to me how some people who liked his improvised stuff on those "impossible"
guitars could find him any less interesting when playing the daxophone
(yep, that's the name of the instrument he invented/built). No new territory
here - which is not a bad thing by itself, but I find the time-aligned
events in the digital domain that are oh so practical in everyday life
to be quite detrimental to that beautiful sense of rubato that made
those melodies really breath. Back to analogue?
Phantom Of The Theatre
music seems often in danger of collapsing under its own weight. These
short pieces written for theatre (a concept that usually prepares me
for the worst) are a success: big on musical variety, definitely austere
yet in a way quite playful, with an intelligent use of voices... lots
of good stuff on this CD. Please overlook the cover.
Popped The Two Lips
One of my
favourite composers and instrumentalists starting from the Air days.
I've never been too convinced by the fusion overtones of his electric
groups, so it's with great pleasure that I listened to this one: flute,
alto, cello, tuba, drums, oud, acoustic guitar. The acerbic tone, the
"lateral" thinking, the use of space... it's all here, uncluttered.
(Yes, on the cover it says "2001" but I bought it last February.)
... by nineteen
acoustic guitarists. Some well known (Fred Frith, Richard Thompson,
Henry Kaiser), some "almost famous" (Mike Keneally), some
I knew (Duck Baker, Janet Feder), some I didn't (Steffen Basho-Junghans,
whose piece I liked a lot). I'm usually not too keen on compilations,
but this definitely works - on quite a few levels.
strut in Meters territory + lots of Hammond B-3 + angular themes by
Horvitz = a fun album with brains.
| Jan. 10, 2003