1.) “Filtros” Los Guachos — Argentine composer Guillermo Klein has used this little big band, Los Guachos (“The Bastards,” in English), for even bigger ideas and compositions since 2003. Complex rhythms, intricate melodies and unique arrangements are signatures of their compositional style. Los Guachos has been the main vehicle for his musical ventures for over a decade and continues to be one of the most intriguing large ensembles active today. Klein continues Los Guachos’ series with, Filtros, the year’s best. The talent gathered here is phenomenal; an all-star aggregation. Expect the unexpected.
2.) “Set The Alarm For Monday” Bobby Previte & The New Bump — Drummer Bobby Previte’s Set the Alarm for Monday may not be the soundtrack to a classic film noir, though he and The New Bump evocatively conjure those moods. No stranger to the genre, Previte’s Bump the Renaissance band of the late 1980s was often described in cinematic terms and he was integral to composer John Zorn’s “Spillane,” an aural homage to the hardboiled fiction writer. Throughout the performance Previte masterfully directed the music: spurring and reeling it back with well-placed fills and frequently displacing grooves around the drumset, incorporating toms, rims and cowbells for percussive flair and variety. Not a retro pursuit, Previte’s thematic compositions nod to the past, but bristle with modern rhythmic and improvisatory sensibilities.
3.) “Film Noir” Carlos Franzetti & The City of Prague Philharmonic, featuring Andy Fusco — Film Noir with its darkly-lit settings, and brushstroked drums, walking bass, hushed-tone piano, shimmering strings, and most important that sexy, silken saxophone, is cinema’s most jazz-friendly genre. Recorded in Prague, backed by the City of Prague Philharmonic and lead soloist and ex-Buddy Rich sideman Andy Fusco on alto saxophone, Franzetti updates and reinterprets the film themes of Neal Hefti, Johnny Mandel, John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and more. The results of this project go far far beyond expectations. Fusco’s supple sax lines suggest Charlie Parker and Johnny Hodges, buoyed by the sensitive rhythm section, make you see the characters, plot lines, and scenes.
4.) “Dig Lazurus! Dig!” Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Dig Lazarus, Dig!, is, unbelievably, the Bad Seeds’ fourteenth studio album. It captures and sustains a level of casual insouciance throughout that makes it a standout. 2004’s Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus was terribly impressive, two albums of consistently high quality material. But it felt as if it was doing listeners good, rather than pleasing them. This record is flat out fun, a hang-over from the Grinderman sessions, with stunning results.
5.) “808s & Heartbreak” Kanye West — I have read so many comments stating “I wanted to hate this record prior to listening. Kanye’s using Auto-Tune.” I was among the choir. It so should not work. Instead, West delivers a pure pop break-up album. “Paranoid” is the year’s best single that isn’t, again underscoring the disconnect between what’s delivered by labels, and what is relevant. Guess “relevant” wins Grammy’s. On second thought, I get it. Never mind. Nobody else on a large scale is coming close to firing imaginations on this level. 808s grows on your ears like few records will.
6.) “The Cole Porter Mix” Patricia Barber — Patricia Barber’s vocal style has sometimes been described as “cool” , but I think this characterization confuses restraint in timbre with emotional restraint. Miles Davis’s use of the Harmon mute, particularly in the 1950’s, was similarly mischaracterized, and more than a few listeners got their ears singed when the mute came off. Interestingly, Miles has been an influence on Barber; perhaps more than any individual singer. Her vocal lines flow in a similar unbroken musical thought. And Barber’s three originals on the record can be fearlessly placed next to one of American Music’s Masters, Cole Porter.
7.) “Across The Crystal Sea” Danilo Perez — The cover says in fine print: “Arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman”. I think it would be more accurate to say that this is an Ogerman album with some help from Perez. The goal was to have Ogerman do another album like what he did for the Bill Evans With Symphony Orchestra album; a lush string orchestra right in the foreground. Perez and the rhythm section recorded their music in New York Sept., 2007. Ogerman and the orchestra recorded in Los Angeles three weeks later. But it sounds like Perez is accompanying the orchestra rather than the other way around. I like this record tons, more and more with each listen. I wholly recommend it. But I think you should know before you spend your money that 95% of your enjoyment will come from Claus Ogerman’s string orchetra rather than Danilo Perez’s jazz piano. Cassandra Wilson contributes two vocal tracks; stellar.
8.) “The Carter III” Lil Wayne — This New Orleans based artist, and self-proclaimed “greatest rapper alive,” may have the goods to back the boast on his latest label release. A disc that tops every free download he leaked in 2008. A patchwork and sometimes, baffling, pastiche of sounds that succeeds at almost every twist and turn. The Carter III is a glorious departure from Wayne’s usual barrage. Language advisory.
9.) “Kinsmen” Rudresh Mahanthappa — Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Kinsmen is the alto saxophonist’s deepest exploration yet of Indian music. Born to Indian immigrant parents, Mahanthappa’s unique style of improvisation, characterized by sharply articulated phrases and darting melodies, often sounds inspired by ragas. The music on the release, while not exactly Carnatic (South Indian) music, is a collaborative work between Mahanthappa and Kadri Gopalnath, the master of Carnatic saxophone. Their co-led group, the Dakshina Ensemble, uses Carnatic conventions as a foundation on which Mahanthappa composes original music inspired by jazz harmony and phrasing as well as ragas and tals. It’s not a fusion sound, rather a hybrid. The album is diverse and dramatic, with an effect to draw the listener into the ambiance of each piece, which then unfolds into sections of contrapuntal momentum, or solos that command the focus, allowing the accompanying musicians to fall out of the spotlight, holding steadfastly to complex grooves.
10.) “Early Reflections” The Bennie Maupin Quartet — Maupin is best known as the man who added the distinctive bass clarinet to Miles Davis’ landmark recording, “Bitches Brew.” In recent years, he’s been releasing a steady stream of beautiful recordings, and this may be the best so far. Working with a largely unknown collection of Polish musicians, Maupin sets each piece with a leit motif, and then gradually builds to beautiful and distinctive improvisations tied to the motif’s head. A gorgeous, thoughtful record.
“Provinciano” Fernando Huergo
“Juanesco y Su Combo” Juanesco y Su Combo
“Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit are the Very Best” (mixtape) The Very Best
“Dragon’s Head” Mary Halvorson Trio
“Recommended Tools” Donny McCaslin Trio
Best Video of the Year: “Flashing Lights” (NSFW) [Spike Jonze/Kanye West]