TVD’s The Best of 2015: New Releases, Part Two

‘Tis the season to peruse a bevy of numbered rundowns as websites undergo deserved holiday breaks. As it was with previous TVD Best of lists, the releases below aren’t an all-encompassing pronouncement from an overstuffed armchair on high; instead they are merely a hierarchy of loosely paired favorites assembled and presented with cheer as the calendar swiftly runs out of days.

5. This Record Belongs to __________ | Best of lists (those not compiled by committee, anyway) are fittingly self-centered affairs, but here’s an entry pertaining to a better future. In his recent book of music-related stories and enthusiasms The Record Store of the Mind, Josh Rosenthal makes the following powerful observation: “You realize a certain portion of your used LP collection belonged to dead people with similar tastes as you. And all your records will someday belong to someone else.”

After biting the proverbial dust our platters need to go somewhere, and Third Man and Light in the Attic’s kid-appropriate record player and accompanying album are a significant step in insuring our LPs and 45s don’t end up at the Salvation Army or worse, in the landfill. Opening with Shel Silverstein and closing with Kermit the Frog, the disc features Carole King, Nilsson, Woody Guthrie, and a swell stretch of Ella Jenkins, Nina Simone, Vashti Bunyan, and Donovan; the twin grooves of The Pointer Sisters’ “Pinball Number Count” and Van Dyke Parks’ “Occapella” should go a long way toward nurturing taste.

4. Oneohtrix Point Never, Garden of Delete | Having previously only dabbled in Daniel Lopatin’s work, I wasn’t adequately prepared for the rigorous experimentation shaping Garden of Delete. Sonic contemporaneousness gets diced, stretched, layered and twisted into a warped environment that can be enjoyed without irony by lobes lacking a substantial relationship to currently popular pop and zeitgeist electronica.

What Lopatin is up to doesn’t really seem too far afield from the work of John Oswald (he of Plunderphonics and Plexure fame); both have specialized in extensively manipulating aural textures while retaining fluctuating levels or recognizable ambiance, though Oneohtrix Point Never’s stuff, at least here, isn’t sample-based and therefore inspires a less specific sense of familiarity. Ultimately, Garden of Delete is chopped and bent surrealism of a fine stripe.

3. The Necks, Vertigo | Tongues have been known to wag over the lifeless horse flogging supposedly plaguing the jazz form. Amongst the common (indeed, clichéd) topics raised is the hackneyed and/or innocuous nature of the piano trio. After all, keyboard, bass, and drums were once the favored tools of the cocktail lounge.

After hearing the Australian trio The Necks, other talkers have sometimes asserted that what they play “isn’t jazz.” Pianist Chris Abrahams, drummer Tony Buck, and bassist Lloyd Swanton have issued 18 albums since their terrific debut Sex way back in ’89; Vertigo is their latest and it’s as instrumentally captivating as ever. The Necks’ hypnotic approach shares a little with minimalism and a lot more with the drone universe, their sound fitting for deep or ambient listening. Consisting of one 44 minute track (split on the vinyl, natch), Vertigo is another masterwork from a sui generis group.

2. Mary Halvorson, Meltframe | In the trio there’s nowhere to hide; I’m not the only person fond of regurgitating this tidbit of wisdom, and in fact I stole it from somebody (can’t remember who). Of course there are degrees of openness and one can’t be more exposed than when creating alone. Meltframe started out as a solo guitar excursion into jazz standards, and the proceedings begin with Halvorson’s gnawing, at times angular note frenzied reading of Oliver Nelson’s “Cascades.”

However, the finished CD combines Duke, Ornette, McCoy Tyner, and Roscoe Mitchell pieces with those by Halvorson’s contemporaries Chris Lightcap, Noël Akchoté, and Tomas Fujiwara. Additionally, the standards include Annette Peacock’s “Blood” and Carla Bley’s “Ida Lupino,” choices nodding to gender trailblazers in an often (still) male-centric field. Consistently intense and technically proficient in the neighborhood of jaw dropping, Halvorson regularly conjures moments of ample beauty, particularly during Ellington’s “Solitude.”

1. Rob Mazurek, Exploding Star Orchestra Galactic Parables, Vol. 1 | From the artistry of one we advance into a bountiful large group document directed by the vastly talented trumpeter Rob Mazurek. Having emerged from the fertile Windy City improv scene roughly twenty years ago, he’s thrived in a variety of contexts (helping to found the Chicago Underground Collective) and led numerous bands; one of the most impressive has been Exploding Star Orchestra, their collaboration with the late trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon being amongst the stronger jazz efforts of the last decade.

In 2015, Galactic Parables, Vol. 1 takes the prize. Containing live dates from the Sant’Anna Arresi Jazz Festival in Sardegna, Italy and the Chicago Cultural Center spread across a gorgeously designed 3LP/2CD, it’s one part of a stated “epic science fiction opera” inspired by novelists Samuel R. Delaney and Stanislaw Lem, the music impacted by that great space theorist Sun Ra; his voice is fruitfully sampled herein.

Prominent in the weave is a non-bombastic recitation by Damon Locks, Galactic Parables reminiscent of the era where jazz openly interacted with the poetry of social consciousness; unsurprisingly, the late Amiri Baraka thoroughly enjoyed the set in Italy. Alongside the general influence of the New Thing there are threads of the AACM/Art Ensemble of Chicago, electric Miles, and even Brazilian music.

Rather than redundant, the two shows are complementary with often bold differences, and the playing from Mazurek, guitarist Jeff Parker, pianist Angelica Sanchez, drummers John Herndon and Chad Taylor, saxophonist-clarinetist Matthew Bauder, flautist-vocalist Nicole Mitchell, bass guitarist Matthew Lux and others is superb throughout. The whole of Galactic Parables, Vol. 1 is frequently brilliant, demanding while hospitable, and occasionally abstract but never unfocused; I can hardly wait for Vol. 2.

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