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BEST OF 2017

Dear Readers,

As always, we offer suggestions about our currently favorite 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, and yet we do a lot.  For better or worse. Here’s to our Best of 2017.

Steve Koenig,


CANADIAN COMPOSERS SERIES. Linda Catlin Smith, Drifter; Martin Arnold, The Spjit Veleta; Isaiah Ceccarelli, Bow; Chiyoko Szlavnics, During a Lifetime; Marc Sabat, Harmony. Another Timbre at105-109. Five albums on six discs available separately, and 120-page book. Published 2017.

CLARINET. West Meets East. Clarinet music by western composers influenced by Chinese culture. Composers Justin Merritt, Matthias Mueller, Patrick Lenz, Edward J.F. Taylor, Paul Sanchez, Jun Quia/Jian Bing Hu, Scott Steele. With sheng and guzheng. Albany Records TR-1681. MP3/16Bit FLAC/ALAC, PDF. Published 2017.

DONAUESCHINGER MUSIKTAGE 2016.  Rebecca Saunders, Bernhard Gander, Martin Smolka, James Dillon, Franck Bedrossian, Martin Jaggi, Georg Friedrich Haas. NEOS 11716-17. SACDx2. Published 2017.

ETHIOPIA. Ethiopian Urban and Tribal Music-Mindanoo Mistiru / Gold from Wax.
Reissue of field recordings, originally on Lyrichord. Sub Rosa SR434. Digipack 2CD + 20-page booklet; 2LP black vinyl + insert. Published 2017.

GOMBERT, Nicolas (1495-1560). Motets II. Beauty Farm. Fra Bernardo FB-1612457. CDx2. Published 2016.

HAAS, Georg Friedrich; Jani CHRISTOU; Evan JOHNSON. Stille. Edition Musikfabrik 12. Haas: “Ich suchte, aber ich fand ihn nicht,” “… Wie stille brannte das Licht”; Johnson: “Die Bewegung der Augen”; Christou: “Anaparastasis III, The Pianist.” Wergo WER-68652. CD. Published 2017.

HUELGAS ENSEMBLE, Paul van Nevel. The Ear of the Huguenots. Works by Goudimel, Le Jeune, Maudit, Anonymous, Animuccia, Palestrina, de l’Estocart, Servin, and Costeley. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88985411762. CD. Published 2017. No website.

LUCIER, Alvin. Illuminated by the Moon. “I am sitting in a room” (1970); “Music for Solo Performer” (1965); “Charles Curtis” (2002); “Double Rainbow” (2016); “Nothing is Real (Strawberry Fields Forever)” (1990); “Braid” (2012); “Two Circles” (2012); “Hanover” (2015); “Step, Slide and Sustain” (2014). “One Arm Bandits” (2016). Limited edition (4 x LP, 1 CD, 120-page book). ZHdK Zürcher Hochschule der Künste 978-3-9906489-16-2. Published 2017.

MONGOLIA. An Anthology of Mongolian Khöömii. Buda Musique CDx2. Published 2017.

NØRGÅRD, Per. Early Piano Works. Niklas Sivelov, piano. DaCapo DK-0590. MP3, FLAC/ALAC. Published 2017.

OCKEGHEM, Johannes (c. 1420-1497). Masses. L’homme arme; Quinti toni. Beauty Farm. Fra Bernardo FB-1701743. CD. Published 2017.

OEHRING, Helmut. Angelus Novus II. NEOS 11700. CD. Published 2017.

SCELSI, Giacinto (1905-1988). Scelsi Collection Vol. 7.  Anna D'errico-piano, Marco Fusi-violino. “Suite n.6, I capricci di Ty,” Divertimento n.1 per violino e piano (First recording), “L'Ame ailée/L'Ame ouverte,” “Xnoybis.” Stradivarius STR-33807. CD. Published 2017. 

SCELSI, Giacinto (1905-1988). Music for Cello Solo. Marco Simonacci, cello. Good liner notes. Brilliant Classics BT-1225. CD, MP3, 16Bit-FLAC/ALAC, PDF. Published 2017.

SHEPPARD, John (c. 1515-1558). Media Vita. New recordings of the three pinnacles of Sheppard’s oeuvre: “Media vita,” “Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria,” and “Missa Cantate.”  Westminster Cathedral Choir, Martin Baker, conductor. Hyperion CDA68187. CD with liner notes by Jeremy Summerly, with English, French, and German. Published 2017.

TIBETAN. Men of Dharamsala. Yarlung Records YA-0902. MP3, FLAC/ALAC, PDF. Published 2017.

WOLMAN, Amnon, and Neil LEONARD. Security Vehicles Only. Live electronics, saxophone, poem by John Ashbery. XI Records. CD, Download. Published 2017.

WORLD. The Photographs of Charles Duvelle. Ethnomusicologist Charles Duvelle made field recordings in Africa, the Indian Ocean, Pacific Islands, and Southeast Asia. 296-page fine-art photography book with two CDs. 246 photographs, transcribed interview, Duvelle discography, Duvelle essay “Eastern Music in Black Africa.” Sublime Frequencies SF110. Published 2017.

XENAKIS, Iannis. Orchestral Works, Xenakis Edition 15. ”Metastaseis A” (first recording); “Terretektorh”; “Nomos Gamma.” Residentie Orkest The Hague, Arturo Tamayo, conductor. CD or Bluray. BLURAY version includes interview with Tamayo and Xenakis scholar Sharon Kanach. Mode Records, Mode-299. Published 2017. 

ZEITKRATZER. Serbian War Songs. With Svetlana Spajić, Dragana Tomić, and Obrad Milić. LPx2+Download. Published 2017.

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BEST OF 2017

Beacon, NY
Managing Editor

As it is every year, recordings are a trove of riches.  It's always next to impossible to narrow it down...the first draft gets it down to about 100 recordings.  In addition, choosing the best really implies you've heard all the rest.  Lifelong record nerd that I am, that was pretty much true in years past, not as much any longer.  Of the dizzying myriad choices, these are 20 that particularly moved me this year.

Rodrigo Amado - The Attic  (No Business)

Michaël Attias Quartet - Nerve Dance  (Clean Feed)

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Incidentals  (ECM)

David Binney - The Time Verses (Criss Cross)

Jaimie Branch - Fly Or Die  (International Anthem)

Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse - Morphogenesis  (Pi Recordings)

John Esposito Quintet - Lyra  (Sunjump)

Joe FiedlerLike, Strange  (Multiphonics Music)

Satoko Fujii, Wadada Leo Smith, Natsuki Tamura, Ikue Mori - Aspiration (Libra)

Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over  (ECM)

Joe McPhee, Pascal Niggenkemper, Stale Liavik Solberg - Imaginary Numbers (Clean Feed)

Simon Nabatov, Max Johnson, Michael Sarin - Free Reservoir  (Leo)

Miles OkazakiTrickster  (Pi Recordings)

Chris Potter - The Dreamer Is The Dream  (ECM)

Kevin Ripley - For The Next

Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures - Glare Of The Tiger  (M.O.D. Technologies)

Jamie Saft-Steve Swallow-Bobby Previte with Iggy Pop - Loneliness Road  (Rare Noise)

Matthew Shipp Quartet - Not Bound  (ForTune)

Alex Sipiagin - Moments Captured (Criss Cross) 

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New York

C.P.E. Bach.  Tangere: Fantasies, Sonatas, Rondos, Solfèges.  Alexei Lubimov, tangent piano (tangentenflügel).  Puts the “Harp” back in harpsichord, although this isn’t a harpsichord.  The liners explain the unusual sound: “When the keys are depressed, the strings are acted upon by narrow wooden slips.  Several different stops fuse the qualities of harpsichords, clavichords, pianofortes, and harps.”  Each individual work here is as delicious in its own way as a Scarlatti sonata.  ECM New Series 2112.

Anouar Brahem.  Blue Maqams.  The Tunisian oud player is joined by Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and Django Bates.  Anyone who’s ever liked a Rabih Abou-Khalil disc will need to have this blend of ECM-style jazz with Arab traditional.  ECM 2580.

Elliott Carter.  Late Works.  32-page booklet in English.  These world-famous musicians, some known only as mainstream classical artists, all have these works in their blood.  Each piece is played with panache and understanding.  A must-have.  Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano: all except Instances); Colin Currie (percussion: Controversies); Isabelle Faust (violin: Epigrams); Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello: Epigrams); Birmingham Contemporary Music Group; BBC Symphony Orchestra/Oliver Knussen (Dialogues, Dialogues II, Controversies).  32-page booklet in English.  Ondine ODE 1296-2.

Club d’Elf.  Live At Club Helsinki.  The promo material described this group as a “Boston-based, Moroccan-dosed dub-jazz collective” which includes John Medeski.  They cover all those bases very well.  By the way, Club Helsinki is in upstate New York.  Face Pelt 5003, 2CDs.

Dover Quartet.  Voices of Defiance.  Simon Laks: SQ3; Shostakovich SQ2; Viktor Ullman: SQ3.  73:06. Çedille CDR 90000 173.  Laks is the one new to most people.  In their excellent PSCNY concert this season, Laks was the highlight.,,

Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan.  Small Town.  The double bassist partners the guitarist in Frisell-style Americana (with a lagniappe of “Goldfinger”) live at the Village Vanguard.  Their performance of these works at Roulette was a highlight of the year.  ECM 2525.

Satoko Fujii.  Invisible Hand.  The “pure” Fujii, two discs of solo works that have the intensity and focus (but not the sound) of Keith Jarrett at his finest, plus I don’t think he ever plays inside the piano, harp-like or pizzicato.  Some of these pieces have appeared on her various ensemble albums.  Very different from her first solo album, Something About Water, twenty years ago, which was mostly pastels.  Cortez Sound CSJ0001/0002, 2CDs.

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York.  Fukushima.  Fujii puts out so many records, at least five in 2017 alone, that it’s hard to keep track of them.  (That’s what I used to say about Evan Parker and Paul Dunmall.)  This composition, motivated by the nuclear accident at Fukushima as a result of an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, starts out with soft whistling and whooshing sounds, probably through mouthpieces.  As the piece slowly builds (there are five sections) it takes on a dirge-like sound and movement, making me think of Bengt Berger’s classic Bitter Funeral Beer (ECM).  The orchestra is composed entirely of heavy-hitters.  I’ll list them just by last name, the last one just by his first:  Noriega, Eskelin, Malaby, Laster, Ballou, Robertson, Tamura, Sellers, Fiedler, Hasselbring, (N.) Cline, Takeishi, and Ches.  Again, I think Fujii’s NYO is my favorite of her several orchestras, but that’s only until I hear a different one.  Fukushima is an instant classic.  Luckily for us, if not for our wallets, Fujii will be celebrating her 60th birthday by releasing a new album each month of 2018.  Libra 214-044.,

J Hacha de ZolaAntipatico.  Hacha de Zola’s voice is given echo the way they did for Jim Morrison, and he often phrases that way too, but exaggerated.  Yearning rock ballads, rock cumbia, bits of prog and Zep make a tasty cazuela.  The press release says it’s his third album; Discogs lists only one CD-r.  There’s a fun “biography” on YouTube, and a few tracks.  Co-conspirators include Ralph Carney, Frank London, Stefan Zaniuk’s Gato Loco and other in/outsiders.  Caballo Negro (no catalog number given).

Rich Halley and Carson HalleyThe Wild.  Intense sax/drums duo free improvisations.  Don’t overlook this one.  First audition it on Spotify, then buy.  Pine Eagle 010.

Barbara Hannigan.  Crazy Girl Crazy.  This crazy soprano, singing and conducting, has made a brilliant, crazy sequence of Berio’s Sequenza II (for solo voice), Berg’s Lulu Suite, and a suite of several Gershwin tunes, cleverly arranged with Bergian sonorities by Hannigan and Bill Elliott.  The DVD is useless except for visually answering my question of where the male vocal choir comes in during the Gershwin; they’re members of the orchestra, each musician listed by name in the credits.  The thick booklet contains complete texts for all three works.  Alpha 293, CD + DVD.  

Matty Harris Double Septet.  A thirty-five minute composition (or is it a suite, or are they four separate compositions?) with improvisation, by reedman Harris.  Vinny Golia in in the ensemble.  pfMENTUM PFMCD093.  Also available in vinyl.,

Eric Hofbauer Quintet.  Reminiscing In Tempo (Prehistoric Jazz, Volume 4).  A striking arrangement for quintet of Duke Ellington’s extended masterpiece, with some spaces for improvisation, in gorgeous sound.  Guitarist Hofbauer had to transcribe the unpublished work.  About his arrangement, he writes, “My basic blueprint was: trumpet is the trumpet section, clarinet is the saxes, cello is the trombone, and then guitar and drums is the rhythm section.”  I’ve played this disc more frequently than any other I’ve acquired this year.  Previous releases in the series, all of which I’m excitedly anticipating audition include Ives’ Three Places In New England, Messiaen’s Quatuor pour le fin du temps, and Igor’s The Rite Of Spring.  Live excerpts of these can be seen and heard on Youtube.  A marvelous EP in a beautiful art deco letterpress folio and insert.  Creative Nation Music cnm030.

Charles Ives.  Three Places In New England, Orchestral Set No.2, New England Holidays.  Seattle SO, Ludovic Morlot, cond.  Seattle Symphony Media SSM1015.  I’ve been in love with Ives my whole adult life, and I bought the Stokowski Phase 4 LP of Orchestral Set No.2 at Papyrus Books near Columbia University, and have been transfixed ever since.  Some critics say Morlot smoothes out Ives’ edges, others say he brings clarity of line.  They’re both right, and whether you like Ives or don’t know his orchestral work, these performances are must-haves.  It’s a shame their Ives symphonies are each coupled with works by other composers.

Philippe Jarrousky.  La Storia di Orfeo.  My favorite countertenor comes up with another excellent project, telling the story of Orpheus using a mash-up of work by Monteverdi, Sartorio and Rossi.  It flows beautifully, is co-sung with soprano Emőke Baráth, and comes with Italian lyrics facing English translations.  Erato 0190295851903.,

Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.  Handful of Keys.  The orchestra swings, of course, but the title refers to individual solo turns by each pianist: Dick Hyman, Myra Melford, Joey Alexander, Dan Nimmer, Isaiah J. Thompson and the wonderful, underknown Helen Sung.  Blue Engine B#0010.,

Billy Jones.  Three’s A Crowd.  Drummer Billy Jones, previously unknown to me, strikes a hit with an all-duo album, each track solid and tasty.  Excellent sound, as befits a label of an audio engineering company.  Acoustical Concepts.,

György Kurtág.  Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir.  42 tracks of savory work by the great contemporary Hungarian miniaturist, including Messages of the Late Miss R. Troussova for soprano and chamber ensemble which I first heard and made me fall for Kurtág when I bought a Supraphon LP on a whim in a store in Madrid circa 1982.  The two longer works (around 17 minutes each) are the 2010 Colindá Baladá for tenor solo, chorus and chamber ensemble; and Samuel Beckett: What is the Word for alto solo, voices and chamber ensembles dispersed in space from 1991.  Poets include Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, and Rimma Dalos.  Performers include cellist Jean_Guihen Queyras, Asko/Schónberg Ensemble and the Netherlands Radio Choir conducted by the venerable Reinbert de Leeuw.  ECM New Series 2505-07, 3 CDs with a 92-page booklet including notes by Paul Griffith, texts with English translations, and an interview with de Leeuw.

George Li.  Live At The Mariinsky.  Haydn: Sonata in B minor, Hob.XVI:32; Chopin: Sonata 2; Rachmaninov: Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Liszt, Consolation No. 3; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.  68:56.  Warner 0190295812942.  Great programming played with spirit.,

Gustav Mahler.  Symphonies 1-9.  Lorin Maazel, Philharmonia Orchestra.  I was in the minority opinion in my greatly enjoying Maazel’s Vienna Phil CBS/Sony set.  This new one has received mixed reviews.  I especially enjoy the first three.  Usually available for a good price at Amazon Marketplace.  Signum SIGCD363, 15 CDs.,

Björn Meyer.  Provenance.  Meyer plays twelve solos on six-string electric bass guitar and acoustic bass guitar.  It has the feeling and sound of the earliest, gorgeous ECM solo guitar records.  ECM 2566.

Roscoe MitchellBells For The South Side.  Three trio ensembles, all playing combinations of Mitchell’s powerful lower-case sound and high energy music.   Roscoe Mitchell, James Fei, Hugh Ragin,Tyshawn Sorey, Craig Taborn, Jaribu Shahid, William Winant, Kikanju Baku anc Tani Tabbal.  ECM 2594/95, 2 CDs.                         

André Navarra, cello.  Prague Recordings: The Complete Supraphon Recordings 1953-1966.  Works by Brahms, Schumann, Bloch, Prokofiev, Beethoven, Boccherini, Martinů , Honegger, d’Hereloix, Ravel, Lalo, Kodály, Respighi.  SU 4229-2, 5 CDs.

Yoko Ono.  Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band and Fly.  Chimera Music/Secretly Canadian SC281 and SC282.  Yoko’s two first solo albums retain the power and magic every time I play them.  These sound slightly better than the Ryko CD reissues, and have slightly less air but slightly tighter bass than the original US LP pressings.  Both cleverly come with Grapefruit labels, a parody of the Apple labels.  (Yoko’s classic book is titled Grapefruit.) Original inner sleeves and inserts in thick cardboard sleeves.  My Secretly Canadian vinyl copies had silent surfaces.  If you like these, also reissued are the rockier/poppier Approximately Infinite Universe and Feeling The Space.  (Caveat emptor: certain editions of Fly and Feeling The Space are on white vinyl, others on black.),,

Ed Palermo Big Band.  The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren.  Continues Palermo’s delving into Zappa’s catalog, making it a living, breathing thing not consigned only to the original Mothers albums.  Joyous and intriguing.  As the title alludes, the songs are equally from Zappa and Todd Rundgren.  Great fun.  Cuneiform RUNE 440.,    

Noah Preminger.  Meditations on Freedom.  The saxophonist released this quartet performance on Trump’s Inauguration Day and features a very wistful “A Change Is Going To Come.”  Dylan’s “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” and George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth.” Dry Bridge Records 005.

Otis Redding.  Live At The Whiskey A Go Go: The Complete Recordings.  Stax/Volt recorded Otis at the Whiskey April 8-10, 1966, and only now do we get to hear the tasty fruits.  If you like Otis at all, this is a must-have.  Cool cover and package design.  Volt STX-39646-02, CDs in slipcase.,

The Seen.  Archive, Volumes 1-V 2005-2009.  Mostly subtle, lower-case sound by ensembles including people like Dominic Lash, Phil Durrant, John Butcher, David Toop, Rhodri Davies, Wolfgang Fuchs, Bertrand Denzler, Burkhard Beins, et al. on bassist and cellist Mark Wastell’s label Confront Collectors Series cos 78.  5 CDs, 5 postcards with liner notes, metal box.  

Jackie Shane.  Any Other Way.  The ‘60s soul singer’s six 45s and a few unreleased tracks, and a second CD of a live show.  A non-campy transgendered artist, openly so, way before most people could deal with the concept, with Ms. Shane’s story in her own words.  Numero Group 067, slipcase, hardbound book of 80-page with all-English notes with plenty of photos, 2 short CDs.  

Bill Simenson Orchestra.  Big Alpaca.  The website says he’s been performing with this ensemble since 2012.  A good reason to visit Minneapolis, this band is tight, loose when it needs to be, and Simenson’s writing ranges from film-noir to Stan Kenton and beyond.

David Virelles.  Gnosis.  With Román Diaz and the Nosotros Ensemble.  Afro-Cuban chants, hypnotic songs, meditative solos.  Not diluted ‘world music,’ but fully-fused ethnic jazz.  ECM 2526.

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