Listening Listfully 2019
December 31, 2019
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.]
Also, we can't exist without patterns. We desperately need patterns just to survive.— Isaac Schankler Hyphen (@piesaac) February 24, 2015
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.
40 tight minutes of lyrical, crunchy, of the moment jazz: flipping from feather light to heavy as the bottom of a well. I've listened through three times in rapid succession this morning, and I'm going right back in there. @caroenildavis @newamrecords https://t.co/rFpuuJesXs— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) May 11, 2019
Looks like 'someone' is fated to garner two (2) spots well up on my year-end favorite music list....— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) September 28, 2019
Rich, nutritious new music from @caroenildavis, working the languid/lyrical side of her particular waterfront, en quartet with pianist Rob Clearfield. https://t.co/g99y3gV0q9
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
Release Day Is Surely Come, so I need to weigh in one more time on @WildUp's @chriscerrone vocal music collection, "The Pieces That Fall to Earth".— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) July 27, 2019
It is rich and nutritious soul stuff, whatever your view of the soul.https://t.co/daGIuBAwLk
5. Andrew Norman – Sustain
[Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel]
Andrew Norman's "Sustain"— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) November 13, 2019
Live from Mexico City, earlier this very evening.@LAPhil @GustavoDudamel
Not the only truly great piece this brief Century has produced, but absolutely one of them.https://t.co/LFTQbURHoQ
It's a superb piece, and what I may like best about it is that, after 30 minutes of the orchestra slathering elaborate impasto across all surfaces of the hall, it blithely and politely shows itself out with an elegant 3-minute duet for microtuned pianos.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) September 1, 2019
6. Caroline Shaw/Attacca Quartet – Orange
I assure you:— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) February 27, 2019
you will be wanting this.
Maybe not today,
maybe not tomorrow,
but soon …
and for the rest of your life.
Rilly.@caroshawmusic @AttaccaQuartet @newamrecords @NonesuchRecordshttps://t.co/MESC7In3dR
7. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Ancestral Recall
Afro-futurist jazz of amplitude & heart with a Fourth World gratin on a bed of Big Easy. Taproot excellence running from the profound base of yr spine to the secret wrinkles of yr inner head.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) July 3, 2019
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah @cscottjazz https://t.co/hu2Y7u7Xs8
8. “Blue” Gene Tyranny and Peter Gordon – Trust in Rock
Enough politics.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) June 28, 2019
Can we talk about what a killer record this is?https://t.co/1xE6AcWnlF
9. You Tell Me – You Tell Me
Friends. I am thoroughly and abidingly fond of this popular music album of charming and clever songs from earlier in this year. I would hope that you might be [fond of it] as well.@youtellmetoo https://t.co/eZWYHgDC8F— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) May 22, 2019
10. Guma – Guma
Practically perfect in every way.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) March 18, 2019
If the Dead and the Dan, circa 1980, became one singularly elegant, smartly restrained and tasteful band … then entered the studio in 2018.
Kudos to mastermind T.J. Masters, to every player, and to @schlarb.https://t.co/StYLXLfj9Y
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
America needs this sadness every night@Pluckbro https://t.co/f5AUnJRlJI— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) April 2, 2019
13. Caravan Palace – Chronologic
Untethered from all undue seriousness.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) September 14, 2019
"Chronologic" is @caravanpalace being their best selves, and therefore a heap of le club buzzy hotpopness pour tous les jours et toutes les nuits.https://t.co/fNeGRmzcGE
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
Today's fresh adventure in The New UK Jazz is "You Can't Steal My Joy", just out from @EzraCollective . Certified free of Endgame or GoT spoliers.https://t.co/tBJeqjK9KK— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) April 28, 2019
18 Mary Halvorson & John Dieterich – a tangle of stars
Do not question: just listen.
19. Nathan Schram – Oak & the Ghost
A Cosmic Tonne of new music releasing tomorrow.— George Wallace (@foolintheforest) November 15, 2019
Do not sleep on this in the crowd:
Nathan Schram @schramnate 'Oak & the Ghost'.
Vonnegut-adjacent chamber music full of grit and pluck and vigor and drive and divers pleasaunte glories. Recommended heartily.https://t.co/FNC6IRX05Y
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
KOKOROKO – KOKOROKO
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