As good of a year as it was for pop and rock music, it was even better for jazz and blues. My goodness, there was a lot of material to choose from. As usual, the list that follows isn't in any particular order, though my two favorites appear at the end. Yes, two. I just couldn't decide.
Neil Haverstick - Stick Man: Electric Music for 19 and 34 Tone Guitars
To the neophyte, microtonal music can seem less than accessible. Yeah, tones show up that the western ear just isn't used to. On Stick Man, Haverstick takes microtonality and uses it in many contexts, not just 'jazz.' This is important because I've heard albums that focus so much on the 'theory' that the result seems a little dry and pedantic. Well, give compositions like 34 Fjord a listen. The elongated tones floating in from all directions mask the surprise to follow — a full-on rock guitar freakout.
Tyshawn Sorey - Koan
Mr. Sorey accomplishes the rare frontman task, that of not pushing his instrument into the foreground. Sorey's drumkit is an equal player along with the bass and guitar. Koan is full of slowly-evolving soundscapes that don't reveal their structure for quite a while. This approach might be irritating to some but it made my ears focus intently on the direction being taken (or being intimated). Terrific stuff that's hard to categorize.
Bill Frisell - Disfarmer
Bill, you seem to draw from an endless pool of Americana. From Jimmy Rogers to Ornette Coleman, it's all there and it never seems to get old. It's isn't often that music can be rooted in the old-timey tradition and yet seem so modern.
Seth Walker - Leap Of Faith
Walker's stuff is rightly thought of as blues. When I first listened to this record I was stunned into silence by Lay Down (River Of Faith). It's blues with a big load of gospel passion. It's one of the best things I've heard this year.
(Originally featured in a Friday Morning Listen)
Nicholas Urie Large Ensemble - Excerpts From An Online Dating Service
On Nicholas Urie's MySpace page, we're informed that "This isn't your grandma's big band!" No kidding. With lyrics taken from actual online dating service recordings, the thematic content would make grandma raise those eyebrows. I was hooked upon hearing "Bad Girl?", which starts off with a kind of standard dating service introduction: "I am a forty-two year old/Good looking and sexy...". By the composition's end we have mentions of "good 'ol fashioned discipline" as well as "spanking fun." It's just good, clean family entertainment.