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BEST OF 2015

Dear Readers,

As always, we offer suggestions about recordings and give praise to the most memorable performances, as best we can; we can’t hear every CD, attend every show, nor be everywhere in the world.  We wish we could.  I’ve just had to downsize my collection and I’m shedding tears, but meanwhile, let’s doff our hats to our Best of 2015.

Steve Koenig,

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New York

Barry Altschul 3Dom Project.  Tales of the Unforeseen.  Bassist Joe Fonda and saxist Jon Irabagon join the veteran drummer for rich improvisations.  TUM CD 044.

The Katie Bull Project.  All Hot Bodies Radiate.  The saucy singer is supported here by the fine crew of Jeff Lederer, Landon Knoblock, Joe Fonda and George Schuller.  The boldness shown in her unique take on “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” is only one of thirteen delights on this solid disc.  Ashokan Indie AI 001.

Joseph Daley.  The Tuba Trio Chronicles.  The great tubist pays homage to the Sam Rivers tuba trio with Warren Smith, marimba, percussion; and Scott Robinson, saxes, bass flute, jazzophone, theremin, and waterphone.  JoDa Music 004.

Miles Davis.  At Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4. Columbia Legacy 88875081952, 4 CDs.,

Anthony De Mare.  Liasons: Reimagining Sondheim from the Piano.  The pianist known for doing Rzewski and other moderns presents a triple-CD set of various composers the likes of Duncan Sheik, Mary Ellen Childs, and Wynton Marsalis to Mark-Anthony Turnage refracting Sondheim songs through their own lenses.  You don’t need to know the Sondheim songs to get much pleasure from this marvelous project.  It has a 34-page booklet explaining everything.  ECM New Series 2470-72.,

Jad Fair & Jason Willett.  The Greatest Power.  No, not a gospel record but another delectable collection of short, quirky songs from Fair, leader of Half Japanese, with his pal Willette.  If you don’t know Jad Fair, imagine a cross between Daniel Johnston and Pere Ubu.  Dymaxion Groove. (no catalog number),

Satoko Fujii Tobira.  Yamiyo ni Karasu.   Pianist Fujii expands her New Trio (bassist Todd Nicholson and percussionist Takashi Itani) by adding trumpeter Natsuki Tamura.  Libra204-038.,,

Phil Haynes.  Sanctuary.  Five sets of solo percussion: wood hoop drum, cymbals on stands, and hand cymbals.  Subtle; rewards close listening.  Corner Store Jazz CSJ-0086.,

Jason Kao Hwang.  Voice.  Two sequences of poems by a variety of poets, with music composed by violinist Hwang with some room for improvisation, each set with a different ensemble.  “Lifelines” has mezzo Deanna Reyea, new to me, a fascinating voice and delivery, sort of improvised, sort of sprechtstimme.  The band includes Ken Filiano on bass, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn, and Andrew Drury on drums.  “Words of Our Own” features baritone Thomas Buckner, with Joe McPhee on tenor sax and pocket trumpet, William Parker on bass, Sang Won Park on kayagum and ajeng, and Hwang on viola.  Innova 938.,

ICP Orchestra.  East of the Sun.  The orchestra of the Instant Composers Pool, after last year’s 50-disc retrospective, come up with its first new single disc.  Mengelberg, Moore, Honsinger and company are as savory as ever.  ICP15.

Jon Irabagon.  Inaction Is An Action.  The excellent saxist in a riveting album of solo sopranino saxophone.  Irrabagast 005.

ist.  ist:new york, featuring john zorn. Recorded at Tonic, 2001. On the final track only, Zorn.  Harpist Rhodri Davies, bassist Simon Fell, cellist Mark Wastell.  You probably cherish them from various releases on the emanem label.  Confront CCS 40.,

Bobby Lance.  First Peace/ Rollin’ Man.   White NYC dude in Muscle Shoals, 1971.  File with Delaney and Bonnie.  Real Gone Music/Atlantic RGM-0332.

Juliette Gréco.  l’essentielle Gréco.  This might be all rather than some of the great French singer’s work.  Thirteen CDs, each with a different original label.  The booklet contains each song’s writers, and the label and number the song appeared on.  Decca/ Universal France 474 3165, 13CDs.

Guillaume Machaut.  Heinz Holliger.  Machaut-Transkriptionen.  Some unadulterated Machaut via the Hilliard Ensemble, and some of the great oboist Heinz Holliger’s transcriptions for four vocalists (the Hilliard) with three violas, with a nearly improvisatory modernist sound.  ECM New Series 2224.

Rob Mazurek and the Exploding Star Orchestra.  Galactic Parables: Volume 1.  Sun Ra-touched texts and a psych-jazz big band.  Rich listening.
Cuneiform Rune 409/410.,

Van Morrison.  Astral Weeks (expanded).  Mandatory (re)purchase due to the alternate takes (“Madame George,” “Beside You”) and extended release of “Slim Slow Slider” and especially “Ballerina,” which show what an amazingly improvisatory singer Van Morrison is.  Collectors want to know: The Japanese WPCR-75419 has the olive Warner label, but with the Warner-7Arts escutcheon whereas this new one has the WB escutcheon.  Oddly, the textured paper cover to this new one has the W7 logo on the cover, which the other issues don’t.  The liner notes are more than excellent and give good credit to our friends bassist Richard Davis and vibraphonist Warren Smith, Jr.  See below re sound quality.  Warner Bros. R2 551312.

Van Morrison.  His Band And The Street Choir (expanded).  Van’s third Warner album is given a remaster.  Compared to the Japanese remaster WPRC-75421 from a few years back, the sound is different but not necessarily better.  The new ones sound a wee bit mushy, and the Japanese issues highlight individual instruments and, for whatever reasons, get you more involved; edge-of-your-seat.  Van fans will need this new issue for the truly fine five alternate tracks, so much better than the weak ones appearing on the Moondance multi-disc set from last year.  Warner Bros. R2 551313.

Mural.  Tempo.  Three sets recorded in the Rothko Chapel. 
Jim Denley, winds; Kim Kyhr, twelve-string guitar, zither; Ingar Zach, gran cassa, percussion.  Not Morton Feldman-like at all, but slowly shifting acoustic and electronic patterns of sound, with many changes.  This is a follow-up to a single-disc limited edition put out by the Rothko Gallery itself.
Sofa547. 3CD.,,

Ivo Perelman, Mat Maneri and Tanya Kalmanovich.  Villa-Lobos Suite.  Free improvisations from Perelman with two violas inspired by Villa-Lobos, but not using any of his music or sound palette.  Leo CD LR 742.

Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp.  Callas.  The sax/piano duo in free improvisations, which later were dedicated to various Maria Callas heroines.  Leo LR CD LR 728/719, 2 CDs.

Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp.  Complementary Colors.  A lower-keyed set of beautiful improvisations.  Leo CD LR 744.,,

Le Rex.  Wild Man.  A Swiss quintet of two saxes, trombone, tuba and drums, create a very second-line sound that will have your face grinning and your ass moving.,

Tom Robinson.  Only The Now. 
In which our hero gives is a dozen brief songs, each of them exciting in a rock or cabaret way.  Not a weak one in the bunch.  It’s good to have Tom back is such good form.  Lyrics included.  Castaway Northwest/ Absolute CNRCD1.

Andy Sheppard Quartet.  Surrounded By Sea.  Okay, so this sounds like the 1970s-80s Jan Garbarek group.  That’s a good thing.  ECM 2432.,

Sly and The Family Stone.  Live At The Fillmore East: October 4th & 5th, 1968.  From before the album Stand! Sly’s was a good-time rock and soul band, with the same line-up they always had.  Excitement abounds through all four discs. Excellent tape, but at a few random times there are balance problems.  Doesn’t matter: no album this year gave me as much joy.  All Sly fans must own this.  Exclamation mark.  Yellow Epic label replicas.  Sony/Epic/Legacy 88843023712.,

Small Faces.  The Decca Years: 1965-1967.  I heard bits and pieces of this collection and was surprised that I didn’t already know how riveting these guys were, even when doing old blues covers.  I also didn’t know that “Whole Lotta Love” was not written by Led Zeppelin.  Great chunky 6x8” box containing 5 CDs (with a lift-up ribbon) in individual picture sleeves, various full-size original Decca labels, photo cards and an excellent,(approximately 60-page book.  Plus, it wasn’t expensive.  There is some overlap between tracks on the five CDs: Greatest Hits, Small Faces, From The Beginning, Rarities & Outtakes, and BBC Sessions.  Decca/Universal (UK) 473 429-6, 5 CDs.

Natsuki Tamura and Alexander Frangenheim.  Nax.  The intrepid trumpeter meets and improvises with the doublebassist in Berlin.  Creative Sources 280CD.,

Richard Thompson.  Still.  Get the double-disc edition; it’s more than worth the two dollar difference.  All the songs are strong; I’m a Thompson freak, but not uncritical.  Beeswing/Fantasy Fan-37477-02.,

Yell At Eels.  In Quiet Waters.  In which the Dennis González clan’s ensemble of DG plus two sons give a smoking performance in Dallas.  Fortune 0046 033.

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Beacon, NY
Managing Editor

Ah, what a love/hate thing compiling this list each year proves to be.  Love, for the artists and many great recordings from which to choose.  Hate, in that it seems impossible to narrow the list down to any less than about 75 discs.  The concept of a “top 10” went out the window years ago, so these are but 40 of the recordings that moved me this year.

Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet - Intents & Purposes.  enja

Rodrigo Amado - This Is Our Language.  Not Two!mw922/hh0u3

Michael Bates Northern Spy.  Stereophonic

Karl Berger & Kirk Knuffke - Moon. NoBusiness

Michael Bisio - Accortet.  Relative Pitch

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - You've Been Watching Me.  ECM

Samuel Blaser Quartet - Spring Rain.  Whirlwind

Bobby Bradford & John Carter Quintet - NoUTurn Live In Pasadena, 1975.  Dark Tree

Daniel Carter & Federico Ughi - Extra Room.  577 Records

Carlo Costa's Acustica - Strata.  Neither/Nor

Chris Dingman - The Subliminal and the Sublime.  Inner Arts Initiative

Andrew Drury - Content Provider.  Soup and Sound

Harris Eisenstadt - Canada Day IV.  Songlines

Joe Fiedler Trio - I'm In.  Multiphonics Music

Milford Graves & Bill Laswell - Space,Time Redemption.  TUM

Devin Gray - RelativE ResonancE.  skirl

Mary Halvorson - Meltframe.  Firehouse 12

Ross Hammond - Lowburn

Joel Harrison 5 - Spirit House.  Whirlwind

Stephen Haynes - Pomegranate.  New Atlantis

Joe Hertenstein - HNH2.  Clean Feed

Jason Kao Hwang - Voice.  Innova

Jon Irabagon - Behind the Sky.  Irabbagast Records

Rocco John Quartet - Embrace The Change.  Unseen Rain

Max Johnson Trio - Something Familiar.  Fresh Sound New Talent

Henry Kaiser & Ray Russell The Celestial Squid.  Cuneiform

Chris Kelsey & Lewis Porter - Free, Kelsey-Porter Duo Plays Ornette vol 1.   Tzazz Krytyk

Kirk Knuffke - Lamplighter.  Fresh Sound New Talent

Matt Lavelle's 12 Houses - Solidarity.   Unseen Rain

Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth - Epicenter.  Clean Feed

Nick Mazzarella Trio - Ultraviolet.   International Anthem Recording Company

Joe McPhee - Alone Together, The Solo Ensemble Recordings 1974 & 1979.  Corbett vs. Dempsey

Billy Mintz - The 2 bass Band... Live.  Thirteenth Note

Ben Monder - Amorphae.  ECM

William Parker - For Those Who Are, Still.  AUM Fidelity

Eric Person feat. Shinnosuke Takahashi - Duoscope.  Distinction

Tomeka Reid Quartet.
  Thirsty Ear

Adam Rogers & David Binney - R & B.  Criss Cross

Jamie Saft - Ticonderoga.  Clean Feed

The Spanish Donkey - Raoul.  Rarenoise

Kamasi Washington - The Epic.  Brainfeeder

Weather Report - The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981.  Legacy

Nate Wooley Quintet - (Dance To) The Early Music.  Clean Feed

Liner notes:  John Kelman, for John Abercrombie - The First Quartet.  ECM

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Ethnomusicologist, composer, improviser

In alphabetical order:

BALLON, Severine. Solitude. Cello works by Rebecca Saunders-“Solitude”; Mauro Lanza-“La Bataille De Caresme Et De Charnage”; James Dillon-“Parjanya-Vata”; Liza Lim-“Invisibility”; and Thierry Blondeau-“Black Bird.” Brussels: Outhere SA; Aeon. AECD1647.

BUTCHER, John, and Andy Moor. Experiments with a Leaf. Amsterdam: Unsounds. 48U. Recorded 2013, published 2015.

DENYER, Frank. Whispers. More wonderful music from Denyer, including a piece incorporating the sounds of an axe chopping wood.  The axe part was performed by the late Bob Gilmore, one of the finest writers on music, and author of the album’s liner notes. Sheffield, UK: Another Timbre. AT82. Published 2015.

EXPERIMENTALSTUDIO. 40 Years Anthology Vol. 1, 2. Volume 1 has works by Cristóbal Halffter, Brian Ferneyhough, André Richard, and Detlef Heusinger. Volume 2 has works by Chaya Czernowin and Mark Andre. Compositions from the SouthWest Radio ExperimentalStudio. Munich: NEOS. NEOS-11515 and 11516. Published 2015.

FOI. Songs of the Empty Place: The Memorial Poetry of the Foi of the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea, by James F. Weiner and Don Niles. Book and sound recordings (click “media files”) available for free download from the publisher. Canberra: Australian National University Press. ISBN 9781925022230 (Online). Published 2015.

GRAMSS, Sebastian. Thinking of... Stefano Scodanibbio. Mainz: Wergo. Splendid tribute album performed by ten bassists, as well as a duet with Scodanibbio and Gramss. Published 2015.

GUSH. The March. Mats Gustafsson-soprano and tenor saxophone, Sten Sandell-piano and voice, Raymond Strid-drums, cymbals and percussion. 25th anniversary celebration of this supergroup, recorded in 2013, published in 2015. Malmo, Sweden: Konvoj Records. (No catalog number.)

HOSOKAWA Toshio. Toshio Hosokawa. “Voyage VIII, X” “Stunden-Blumen,” “Arc Song,” “Lied.” Works for European instruments, plus a piece for shakuhachi and European instruments. Mainz: Wergo. WER-6860-2. Published 2015.

IRAN. Qashqayi Music-Ashuqlar Muqamlari. Volume 49 of the great Seires “Regional Music of Iran.” “Performances by the last survivors of the generation of Qashqayi Ashuqs.” Tehran: Mahoor Institute of Culture and Arts. Copyright 2014.

ITALIA: Verdi, Scelsi, Nono, Pizzetti, Petrassi. SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart, Marcus Creed. Neuhausen, Germany: Haenssler Classic. [No website!]

NUNNS, Richard, and Mark Lockett. Redaction. Nunns, highly regarded expert on Maori instruments, is joined by percussionist Mark Lockett and inspired with photographs by Veronica Hodkinson. Auckland: Rattle. RAT-D060.

ROSENBOOM, David. Naked Curvature: Four Memories of the Daimon (A Whispered Opera). An hour-long, “whispered chamber opera/concerto grosso for six instrumentalists, whispering voices, electronics and interactive computer software.” Excellent liner notes with extensive score excerpts. New York: Tzadik. #4009. 

SCELSI, Giacinto. Scelsi Collection Vol. 6. Roberto Fabbriciani plays the world premiere recording of “Tetraktys,” along with “Maknongan’ (two versions, one on bass flute and the other on octobass flute), “Pwyll,” “Hyxos,” and “Quays.” Milano: Stradivarius. STR-33806.

SCHLIPPENBACH, Alexander von. Features. Schlippenbach Trio: Alexander von Schlip-penbach, Evan Parker, Paul Lovens. Recorded 2013, published 2015. Liner notes by Bert Noglik. Zurich: Intakt Records. CD-250.

SCHNEBEL, Dieter. Schnebel Andante Con Moto: A Portrait. Mainz: Wergo. MV-8125. DVD. 90-minute film plus 20-minute interview. PAL format.

TENNEY, James. Arbor Vitae. These are the complete string quartets and quintets of James Tenney, including the world premiere recording of his last—and perhaps most remarkable—work, “Arbor Vitae.” This is a revolutionary composition, using multiple tuning systems in the way tree branches grow.  In a moving article published in Contemporary Music Review, Michael Winter describes how important the completion of the piece was to Tenney, how he helped him complete it, and the tuning systems devised by Tenney. I discovered this very late, perhaps because the album was issued under the performers’ name, Quatuor Bozzini, with the composer’s name only in small print at the bottom left corner. Collection QB. CQB-0806. Published 2008.   

YANOMAMI. Lost Shadows: In Defense of the Soul. Yanomami Shamanism, Songs, Ritual, 1978. Extraordinary field recordings from Venezuela. Recordings and 40-page booklet by David Toop. Brussels: Sub Rosa. SR379.

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