Stuff That Stocking

 

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I’ve been reading through apocalyptic fiction since summer 2015, inspired in no small part by the stream of reissued material from the great experimental collective Fossil Aerosol Mining Project. If the 2016 political year has got you feeling like you need an inoculation against dread, you can’t do better than to read A Canticle for Leibowitz.

As a companion and a link between this remarkable novel and the remarkable sounds from FAMP, read my article “Sounds of Futures’ Past” at NewMusicBox; a contemplation on what our future sonic archeology might be, and exactly what of civilization we might leave behind to be pieced together by a future Order of St. Leibowitz.

Stuff That Stocking

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Are you a musician, or do you know any musicians?

My Moleskine music notebook is one of the two most valuable tools I have. I’ve got a bunch of different music notebooks, but this is the only one I carry around with me—the hard cover protects the interior, and the paper inside is nicely printed with light, thin ledger lines. Indispensable. The one above fits into a bag or backpack, there’s also a pocket size version that you can carry in a jacket, or cargo pants.

Of course, you need a writing instrument. I use and strongly recommend the Tornado Stealth mechanical pencil.

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I’ve been using one for over three years, and I’ve used nothing but this in all that time. Very sturdy and well-made (it’s metal, not like so many plastic ones) with a nice thick, soft lead that does everything. I love this and have given it as a gift, and will keep doing so. If you don’t like the basic black, you can get various colors and designs, including one with Einstein’s formulas for getting to the equation that energy is equal to mass times the speed of light squared.

Best Reanimations 2016

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The depth and range of 2016 reissues and archival releases was not as great as previous that of previous, years (especially 2015), but there were a small handful of such releases this year that were of rare quality and importance.

The most notable was Decca’s release of their Mozart 225 complete edition of his works. I’ve gone into more detail on this release here, and the short version is that this is the greatest collection of some of the greatest music in human civilization. The choice of performances is superior throughout, and if there is an emphasis on the new thinking that has come out of the Period Performance Practice movement, there is also a generous selection of wonderful performances that are historically important due to their sheer, exalted, quality. Round that out with fragments, works with unclear provenance, a good, short, hard-bound biography, and a new Köchel catalog, and this is a cornerstone collection for a serious classical music lover. But yes, it is expensive, and even with that cost it’s not perfect—my copy has a misprint in the booklet for opera and theater music. At this price, that type of quality control error should not happen, and it’s unclear to me if Decca will replace it, they don’t seem to have anything in the way of customer service.

(Note: Amazon price as of this posting, $340, is the best I’ve seen since it was released, and very close to the best pre-order price that had been available)

(Billboard reports that this is a surprise best-seller, moving more CDs than anything else released this year. This is misleading because they are multiplying the number of boxes sold—6,000 or so out of a total of 13,000 in this limited edition—by the 200 CDs contained within.)

For those sensitive to their budgets, there are still some amazing releases out within a wide price range. My favorites are:

Classical

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There were some good Bruckner boxes out this year too, but I’ll be writing about them in January.

Jazz

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  • Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance: Bootleg Series Vol. 5. On the surface this might seem to be only for the specialists—the complete tape from the session that produce the great Miles Smiles album. But that means you are there while arguably the greatest ensemble in jazz history puts together a classic recording on the fly. An indispensable look into jazz as process, full of invaluable insights into what made Miles such an unsurpassed band leader. It’s tremendously exciting and makes the original album sound even better.
  • The Complete Savoy Be-Bop Sessions, 1945–49. Savoy is best known as Charlie Parker’s label. But these 10 CDs from the vaults have everything else on the label from that period, vintage early bebop excursions from Dexter Gordon, Milt Jackson, Stan Getz, and many more. One marvelous track after another, complete with alternate takes and the typical excellent documentation from Mosaic.
  • Sun Ra, The Singles Volume 1. Sun Ra’s singles are more than just fodder for condescending hipster lifestyles, they are a Rosetta Stone that decodes American popular music. If you don’t already have the original Evidence collection, absolutely get this. And if you do have it, this new set from Strut has plenty of additional tracks recently unearthed.
  • UPDATED (Can’t believe I forgot this): Peter Erskine Trio: As It Was. This is a 4 CD collection from ECM, everything that this trio produced. Taken together, this series of albums from the 1990s make for a pinnacle of modern piano trio jazz, and the late English pianist John Taylor is simply outstanding on every track.
  • Arthur Blythe: In the Tradition/Lenox Avenue Breakdown/Illusions/Blythe Spirit. Four albums on two CDs, for $20. Lenox and Illusions are two of the greatest albums of the post-fusion era, testaments to the beautifully creative and vital music made on the Loft Jazz scene.
  • Searching for You: The Lost Singles of McVouty (1958–1974). On Resonance, Zev Feldman produced two important archival releases this year, covering Larry Young and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. He had his hand in this one too, and there’s little this year I enjoyed as much.

Everything Else

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  • Harry Bertoia: Complete Sonambient Collection. A marvelous box from Important Records. This beautifully remasters and documents the records sculptor Bertoia made playing his Sonambient sound sculptures. Hours of rich, mysterious, beautiful, and immersive sounds.
  • Machine Gun: Jimi Hendrix: The Filmore East First Show 12/31/1969. The complete first set of Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys. An amazing performance and unintended culmination of Jimi’s musical world: blues, soul, funk, and rock.
  • Led Zepellin, Complete BBC Sessions. While it might be hard to imagine you would want to hear five different performances of “Communications Breakdown” in the same collection, the playing here is so exciting and powerful that you will enjoy every one. Some spectacular moments in Zepellin’s history.
  • Hey Colossus: Dedicated to Uri Klanger. A compilation of fairly recent music that had limited release previously, this should serve as an ideal introduction to this noise band. Their sound is heavy and warm and completely exhilarating. Not a dull moment to be heard.

Stuff That Stocking

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For anyone who listens to music through smartphone or tablet, these Bluetooth headphones are an exponential upgrade over earbuds. The sound is excellent, close to that of my Sony studio monitor cans, and you can’t quite imagine how wonderful it is to be free of those danlings wire until you actually try it. Pairs with my iPhone immediately just by turning them on (no fussing with the system application) and they recharge via included USB cable. Once you have them, you will have a hard time imaging how you did without them.

Tip Jar

A gentle reminder, there is an ongoing fundraiser here at the Big City. Every little bit helps, even tiny donations.

If you can give more, I have many of what the public broadcasters call “premiums.” Since I’m below even subsistence level, your donation means a lot more to me, and if you can’t give any more to NPR since they got rid of jazz coverage, consider helping out here.

Hitting Amazon links for purchases helps, a few pennies go to me instead of their company. You can also buy my excellent book!

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Even more, treat yourself or a loved one to a signed, personalized copy. A donation of $20 (add $5 for expedited mailing if you need this in time for Christmas) gets you a copy with the inscription of your choice. It’s a way to give and get.

Thanks.

2016 Notes and Tones

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After listening to what is now close to 500 recordings with a 2016 release date, I feel like I’ve discovered some themes. Some of this is the elusive zeitgeist, what is on the minds of musical artists; some is longer term trends having to do with technology and pop culture; some may just be coincidence. But all were noticeable and satisfied my arbitrary criteria for a sample size.

Jeff Parker

Nothing sub rosa here, Parker has been around for a while and has been one of most interesting guitarists on the scene, creating his own niche in between jazz, rock, neo-soul, and improvised music. He’s living testament that there’s no real line between the popular and the avant-garde in African-American music, it’s all on a spectrum, and a pretty compact one at that.

His album The New Breed (International Anthem) made the most noise this year, and it is solid. I don’t love it though; the intentionally fragmented nature, while interesting, doesn’t really satisfy—the record wants to be both experimental and neatly controlled, and those are contradictory goals.

But there are two other recordings to his credit that are fine. One is a seemingly modest but actually deep solo record, Slight Freedom (Eremite), which has Parker exploring his own fascinating art. The other is drummer Matt Mayhall’s Tropes (Skirl), a tight, strong debut based around the trio of Mayhall, bassist Paul Bryan, and Parker (with various guests). Parker’s contributions are integral to the success of the disc, which is the best jazz debut of the year, and my regrets that I did not get this out of the pile for listening until after the deadline for Francis Davis’ Jazz Critics Poll. Both these are strongly recommended and on my extended list for best new releases.

Guitars

There’s been a longer term trend in the proliferation of terrific guitarists—and please don’t think of just jazz. Many of them play jazz, but they are playing in every sort of style and tradition Some are relatively new on the scene, others are established, and they keep putting out one solid record after another (or, like Parker, are important sidemen on other musicians’ records). Here are recordings from guitarists that I enjoyed this year and recommend:

Ask me on a different day, and any and all of these could be on my list of 52.

Singers

First, I want to express some disappointment. As someone with a man-crush on Kurt Elling, his appearance on Branford Marsalis’ Upward Spiral never captured my attention, and I find his Christmas disc hard going. But there were other fine releases from singers that had the balance of artistry and creativity that I seek—I want my singers to be good musicians! Try these, they are all terrific:

Seriously swinging, musical singing from all the above. Everyone should hear Bertault sing “The Peacocks“ in French.

Labels

This was a strong year for Sunnyside records. I have several of their releases in my top 52, and you’ll find a couple of the vocalists there. Other keepers are Andrew Cyrille and Bill McHenry’s duet album, Proximity, Dan Blake’s tough-as-nails The Digging, and two records with a south of the Trump wall flavor, Edward Simon’s Latin American Songbook, and Argentum from Carlos Franzetti.

ECM is by default one of the major labels, but their output this year took nothing for granted and was impressive even by their consistent standards. I do go against some of the consensus favorites, like Michael Formanek’s The Distance, which I found wan, but they had a run of fine records in that typical ECM style that carved out a space between improvisation and contemporary classical control. Along with the release on my best of list:

ECM also had several excellent classical and new music releases, those you will find in a forthcoming post.

The Hits Just Keep on Hittin’

Some late year miscellany before I post more on the year in music:

  • Already Dead Tapes was one of our recommended labels in the October issue of the Rail, and starting today they have a “Any 3 Tapes for $10” sale going on at the Bandcamp page. That’s three tapes for the price of two, and the label has 235 releases so far in its catalogue. Recent picks are the latest from Lost Trail, and a set of remixes of Public Speaking, who’s on our roster of recommended gigs for December.
  • The wildly quirky label Hausu Mountain is putting out an intriguing recording this Friday (digitally, vinyl comes in January). Mortal, from Quicksails, is some kind of combination of modular synthesis and free jazz, and I am dying to hear the whole thing after I got through the track below.
  • You can now read an article I wrote for New Music Box, “When Jazz Was Cool,” a look at the cool we lost, and how jazz was once the mass media soundtrack of the hippest of the hip. Of course, there’s Miles …

52 Pick-Up: Best NewMusic 2016

52 of the best new releases of the year, 52 out of the the 430 (as of this writing) new releases I listened to. Every year I fiddle with how to make and present these lists, and the idea here is obvious; one record to every week. For this I used the criteria of releases that I would gladly listen to, non-stop, for an entire week. That is, music that not only satisfied critical thinking, but that was a complete pleasure in the way it swamped critical thinking and just occupied the pleasure centers of my mind and body. Each note or sound was like a brick in a marvelous structure, and I wanted to hear it being built, piece by piece, over and over again. I could add an “honorable mentions” list with recordings that could move in an out of my 52, depending on mood, but I’ll that for the comments section, if anyone cares to discuss this.

I’ve placed this in rough genres that should be self-explanatory (“Popular” is any music that can be placed in a popular music category, from metal to hip hop; “New Classical” is music in that classical tradition that was both composed in the last generation or two and newly heard on recording). If you compare the Jazz/Blues below to my best jazz post, you’ll see some differences: the previous post was for Francis Davis’ categories, here I’m using mine, and I differentiate between musicians playing jazz and jazz musicians improvising in non-jazz idioms.

(Note that these are unranked because the criteria gives them equal value. Also note that I will have a separate list of for reissues and archival recordings.)

Ambient/Drone

Classical

Electronic

Improvisation

Jazz/Blues

New Classical

Popular Styles

Again, this list could be longer, but without limits I never would have gotten to the end. There are more worthy releases this year that I’ll get to in an upcoming post on notes and trends of 2016. Happy listening.

Fundraising FUNSTRAVAGANZA!

Overstocked and begging

The return of a (gladly?/sadly?) irregular event, when I put out the begging bowl and ask for your modest and generous donations so I can keep this thing going.

This is your extra money, of course, your magazine subscription or public radio money, even just change from the couch. Anything and everything helps. And if you’ve found anything worthwhile through this site, it’s a validation for me. As always, the best way to support the site is to buy my book, and/or make Amazon purchases through the links you find here. No extra cost to you, it just takes a tiny bit of the money that would go to Jeff Bezos and redistributes it downard, if you’re into that kind of thing.

To donate via PayPal, just hit the button above or the one at the bottom of this post, or use this link.

And speaking of public radio, I’ve got premiums! Choice items to give away as a thank you note for donations!

$20 gets you a signed, personalized copy of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. Add a note in the PayPal telling me how you want it personalized. I have 17 of these total.

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As you see from the picture above, I have many collections of CDs to give away. These are combinations of promos I get, duplicates, and things from my library I’m just not going to listen to anymore. Everything is used but completely playable (as a collector I take care of things), and nothing is bad, in fact there is a lot of objectively great music, and certainly things to please everyone. If you’re wondering why I am giving away classic records, like Bernstein’s Beethoven cycle, it’s because I have too much of somethings: I have EIGHTEEN other Beethoven cycles, including one of Bernstein’s, likewise I have more Mahler and Bruckner than I can reasonably pay attention to. I’ve portioned them out into some amazing bundles:

$30 gets you a Grab Bag of 10 randomly selected CDs, some combination of jazz, classical, new/experimental music, all release within the past few years. I can put together at least a dozen of these.

$50 gets you a BOX SET(!!!) grab bag. I have five of these:

• Symphonies 1: Beethoven: Complete Symphonies, Leonard Bernstein & Vienna Philharmonic; Mahler: Complete Symphonies, various artists (the Naxos set); Bruckner: The Symphonies, Roberto Paternostro, Wurttemberg Philharmonic Reutlingen; Dvorak: Complete Symphonies, Otmar Suitner, Staatskapelle Berlin; Vaughan Williams: The Symphonies, Leonard Slatkin, Philharmonia; Mozart: The Symphonies, Trevor Pinnock, English Baroque Soloists.

• Symphonies 2: Beethoven: Symphonies 1 - 9, Roger Norrington, London Classical Players; Mahler: Complete Symphonies, Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic; Bruckner: Symphonies 1 - 9, Günter Wand, Kölner Rudfunk; Schubert: Complete Symphonies, Franz Brüggen, Orchestra of the 18th Century, Sibelius: Symphonies 1 - 7, von Karajan/Kammu, Berlin Philharmonic, Mozart: The Symphonies, Karl Böhm, Berlin Philharmonic.

• Orchestral/Chamber: Bartók: Orchestral Music, Ivan Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra, soloists; Mozart: Complete Piano Concertos, John Elliot Gardiner, Malcolm Bilson, English Baroque Soloists; Beethoven: Complete String Quartets, Alban Berg Quartet; Satie: Complete Piano Music, Cristina Ariagno; Sibelius: Complete Piano Music, Annette Servadei; Mozart: Piano Sonatas, Mitsuko Uchida.

• Mozart/Opera: Mozart: Complete String Quartets, Talich Quartet; Mozart: The Divertimenti For Wind Instruments, Wind Soloists of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Mozart: Idomeneo, John Elliot Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists; Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress, John Elliot Gardiner, London Symphony Orchestra; Monteverdi: Complete Operas, Sergio Vartolo, Various, *Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte*, Arnold Östman, Drottingholm Court Theater Orchestra, Various.

$75 or more, I have one of three amazing collections for you:

• Led Zeppelin: Definitive Collection. All 10 original Atlantic albums in a nicely sinister black box.

• Domenico Scarlatti: Complete Keyboard Sonatas. Played by Richard Lester on Nimbus, all seven multi-disc sets together.

• Igor Stravinsky: The Recorded Legacy. The original 1997 collection from Sony, with complete documentation and the black slipcase that encloses the 22 CDs (out of print)—that's it at the bottom of the picture.

Recorded Legacy at Bottom

(Stravinsky is spoken for thanks to a generous donation)

Donation amounts above included the shipping and the “handling” bullshit. Give what you can, if you can, and enjoy the site.

Hedgehog, Not Fox

 

My internet friends (though I have shaken Andy Lee’s hand) at the Irritable Hedgehog label are discounting most of the catalogue for the next month. If you’re not familiar with this (essentially two-man) operation, they specialize—but are not exclusive to—in lesser-known musical minimal and post-minimal composers, and have issued a number of top-notch recordings.

The markdowns are on CDs, which are now the same cost as digital downloads (and the advantage of buying through Bandcamp is that you get an immediate digital download while you wait for your CDs to come). The only thing not on sale is the majestic boxed set recording of Dennis Johnson’s November, but that leaves plenty of terrific music. My personal recommendations are:

Adrian Knight: Obsessions

 

Jürg Frey: Piano Music

 

Dave Seidel: ~60 Hz

 

William Duckworth: The Time Curve Preludes

 

While you’re checking out their list, grab a free download of recording of a recent concert by the Ensemble of Irreproducible Outcomes. Just go to this link:

http://recordings.irritablehedgehog.com/yum

and use the code: a3n7–5usz

Just order by January 1. Enjoy.