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Listening Listfully 2019

Listful piano

Time is out of joint, per usual, but some things stay firmly fixed: yet again I must give way before my compulsion to present to you the only remaining recurrent feature of this dusty and neglected blog, "Listening Listfully", this Fool's annual catalogue of favorite album/EP-length recordings of the past year. A little of what you fancy does you good, or so it should.

This year's List has roughly 90 entries. The first 60 of those are roughly ranked: the rankings grow ever more imprecise as you go down the tally, but I am satisfied with the larger shape of the thing. The final group of 30 or so is alphabetical. I have long styled this blog as an "index of enthusiasms." That remains true of the List. These are personal favorites, as always, rather than "bests"—although I maintain that everything here is here because it is genuinely among the best things of the past year. 

I remarked upon a number of these recordings on Twitter over the year. Where appropriate, I have embedded copies of some of those tweets. When the tweets went out with Bandcamp player links embedded in them, I have omitted a standalone player in the interests of space.  When there is no tweet to rely on (and sometimes even when there is) I have appended some brief commentary on the first 20 selections. Where that commentary is especially brief, or where it is foregone altogether, it is likely a result of the desire to Get This Done so that it might post while it is yet still 2019 (at least in California). I gave up at Number 20.

    I learned the truth at twenty-one
    Commentary don't get it done

The same flawed, entirely subjective, and internally contradictory thing as it ever was, here begins the fourteenth edition of The List: 

1.    Isaac Schankler – Because Patterns

When all's said, Because Patterns emerged as my clear first choice, for a cluster of reasons. Chiefly, it is the "New Music" recording I played most frequently through the year, which I did because I dug it. 

I attended the premiere of the title piece in October, 2015, when it was part of an evening of microtonal and just intonation piano/keyboard music put together and performed by Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay, without whom the pianistic life of Los Angeles would be a poorer thing, in a madly terrific show at Boston Court Theater in Pasadena. The original version of "Because Patterns" was a duo for prepared pianos, and thoroughly delightful as such. If you listen closely, you will find flotsam allusive bits of that original still bobbing and bubbling and implicating through the heavily twitched, glitched, and processed version that appears on this release. The twitches and glitches, and the insertion of equally obscured bits of another piece ("Deep State", for bassist/composer Scott Worthington), are thoroughly appealing in themselves, and yield a commentary on a commentary on a commentary in a mirror through a fog. It is a deep and attractive mirror (and fog) indeed.

This is certainly one of the most 'Southern California' recordings to land at Number One on this List. Isaac Schankler teaches at Cal Poly Pomona these days, and has been the driver behind the People Inside Electronics performance series. The performers here are all current Southern Californians: Ray-Kallay, Worthington, pianist Nadia Shpachenko ["Future Feelings"], and violinist Sakura Tsai ["Mobile I"], all of whom are palimpsested to differing degrees by the composer's inquisitive, organic electronics. 

It keeps me coming back.

Lastly: when I went looking for appropriate Twitter commentary, I found this foreshadowing thread between Isaac Schankler [@piesaac] and meself. [Click through to the whole thread for maximal effect.]

2.    Caroline Davis – Alula
        Caroline Davis & Rob Clearfield's Persona – Anthems

I have not done an audit, but my sense is that this year's List includes my highest proportion yet of jazz and jazz-ish releases. Caroline Davis's Alula leads that parade. I fell for it instantly, and my regard has not faltered. The composer, on alto saxophone, leads her trio (Matt Mitchell on synths, Greg Saunier on drums/percussion) through an arcing series of tunes inspired by a bird's wing. The transition, at the center, from the cacophonous "Lift" to the elegaic and beautiful "Coverts" is near perfect. 

Anthems, meanwhile, arrived on the scene (via jazz specialist Sunnyside Records) as a surprise lagniappe later in the year, a quartet session co-written and c0-led with keyboardist Rob Clearfield. It made sense to me to double it up as a shared entry with its high-flying predecessor.

Alula is a New Amsterdam Records release, and a useful reminder that while that label is most associated with New Music (and the now-obsolesced "alt-classical"), it has long supported a smaller, but choice, group of jazz artists, such as Darcy James Argue's Secret Society. (My 2018 Number One pick - John Hollenbeck's All Can Work - was also from New Am.)

I have been enthusing over New Amsterdam and its artists for a decade now, but this was a particularly good year for them: you will find fourteen of their releases scattered through this year's List. I will take this moment to give an unsolicited endorsement to the NewAm subscription program, which I joined last February. As the number of MewAm recordings here suggests, I am amply satisfied with that choice.

3.    Michael Vincent Waller – Moments

It occurs to me, as I write these comments, that the first half dozen or so recordings this year share a directness of emotional expression that (apparently) resonates strongly with me. (Isaac Shankler's pieces are a bit circumspect about it, but it is not far beneath the ironic distance of their surfaces.)  In this group, the prime example is Michael Vincent Waller's Moments. As with his prior collection Trajectories - which was my #1 choice 2017 - Moments is largely made up of solo piano pieces, played by R. Andrew Lee. And, as with Trajectories, I find it very difficult to write about. Everything I think of to say translates roughly to: "Listen to this. Listen to this! This is so, so, so, so beautiful."

So we'll leave it at that for now.

4.    Christopher Cerrone/wildUp – The Pieces That Fall to Earth


5.    Andrew Norman – Sustain
        [Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel]

6.    Caroline Shaw/Attacca Quartet – Orange

7.    Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Ancestral Recall


8.    “Blue” Gene Tyranny and Peter Gordon – Trust in Rock


9.    You Tell Me – You Tell Me


10.    Guma – Guma

11.    Tomeka Reid Quartet – Old New

Jazz Cello is the perfect thing you never knew you needed. Also featuring the gnomic, gnostic, never dull guitar stylings of Mary Halvorson.

12.    Caleb Burhans – Past Lives


13.    Caravan Palace – Chronologic

14.    Sudan Archives – Athena

Hip hop Violin is the new Jazz Cello? 

A superbly smart and sexy R&B record, among many other virtues. Ear-eating it like contraband popcorn, week after week.

15.    Jaimie Branch – FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise

Fiery, politically engaged, roaring bluesy jazz, marinated in Morricone, Masekela, and Mingus.

Also: more Jazz Cello [Lester St. Louis, in this case]. It's gonna be big.

16    Ryan Porter – Force for Good

More jazz: the Trombone Eminence of the West Coast Get Down, with as solid an outing as any groovy cat could wish.

17    Ezra Collective – You Can’t Steal My Joy

18    Mary Halvorson & John Dieterich – a tangle of stars

Do not question: just listen. 

19.    Nathan Schram – Oak & the Ghost

20.    Gavin Gamboa – 1416㎥ (Double Quartet Version)
          Gavin Gamboa – When you come to a fork in the road take it

Gavin Gamboa throws new recordings out there on the Bandcamp, every month, pay what you will. It's unpredictable in form, in genre, and in the variance of your mileage and mine. These two items are placeholders for a general recommendation to remember him, and if you remember then follow.....

Beyond here lies ... more excellent music, but no further commentary

21.    Grey McMurray – Stay Up

22.    David T. Little – Agency

23.    Dan Trueman – Songs That Are Hard to Sing

24.    Sarah Tandy – Infection in the Sentence

25.    Ted Hearne – Hazy Heart Pump

26.    Dave Liebman, Dave Binney, Donny McCaslin & Samuel Blais – Four Visions

27.    Daniel Elms - Islandia

28.    Fay Victor – Barn Songs

29.    The Gloaming – The Gloaming 3

30.    Dave Douglas | Uri Caine | Andrew Cyrille – Devotion

31.    Arthur Russell – Iowa Dream

32.    Ashley Bathgate – Ash

33.    Eamon Fogarty – Blue Values

34.    Sam Wilkes – Live on the Green

35.    SUSS – High Line

36.    The Day – Midnight Parade

37.    Yarn/Wire, Esteli Gomez – Andrew McIntosh: We See the Flying Bird

38.    Ill Considered – Ill Considered 6

39.    Martin Hayes and Brooklyn Rider – The Butterfly

40.    Third Coast Percussion – Perpetulum

41.    William Brittelle – Spiritual America

42.    Aaron Siegel – A Great Many

43.    Boduf Songs – Abyss Versions

44.    Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett – Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett

45.    Efterklang – Aftid Sammen

46.    Nate Wooley – Columbia Icefield

47.    Rollmottle – It’s a Miracle We’re All Still Alive

48.    Sam Amidon – Fatal Flower Garden EP

49.    Erik Griswold & Camerata String Quartet – Hollows out of time

50.    Liam Byrne – Concrete

51.    John Vanderslice – The Cedars

52.    helming munkur – göetherdaemén


53.    David Lang & Mark Dion – anatomy theatre

54.    Clarice Jensen – Drone Studies

55.    Dexter Story – Bahir

56.    Nathalie Joachim - Fanm d'Ayiti
          [with Spektral Quartet]

57.    Devonte Hines, Third Coast Percussion – Fields

58.    School of Language – 45

59.    Iceland Symphony – Concurrence

60.    Vetiver – Up On High



But wait, there's more:

Numbers 61 through 90, in essentially alphabetical order

Nérija – Blume

Timo Andres – Work Songs

Joe Armon-Jones – Turn to Clear View

Beirut – Gallipoli

Calder Quartet – Beethoven Hillborg

CFCF – Liquid Colours

Lisa Coleman – Collage

Iestyn Davies, Fretwork – If: Michael Nyman, Henry Purcell

Devilish Dear – Appalish

Djabe, with Steve Hackett – Back to Sardinia

Exit North – Book of Romance and Dust

Binker Golding – Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers

Hackney Colliery Band – Collaborations, Vol. One

Ill Considered – Ill Considered 8

Jasper Quartet – The Kernis Project: Debussy

Kit Sebastian – Mantra Moderne


Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti – In manus tuas

Travis LaPlante – human

Living Hour – Softer Faces

Mac Talla Nan Creag – The Sorrow of Derdriu

Mdou Moctar – Ilana: The Creator

Linda May Han Oh – Aventurine

Gemma Peacocke – Waves and Lines

Seabuckthorn – Crossing

Siggi Quartet – South of the Circle

Vanishing Twin – The Age of Immunology

Daniel Wohl - État

Sefi Zisling - Expanse

Peter Zummo – Deep Drive


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