Mark Bacon’s Best Recordings of 2010

 
Jason Moran — Ten

A shockingly gifted pianist with an endless thirst for experimentation, Moran returns to a trio format after recording with guitarist Marvin Sewell for two records, and the results are devastating. Blasting out with “Blue Blocks” built on a driving rhythm from drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen, Moran’s keyboard stutters and gathers strength, finally resembling two pianos locked in a joyful duet. “Feedback Pt. 2″ shows Moran’s taste for sonic adventure remains intact as a Jimi Hendrix sample is twisted into a metallic whisper as the trio swirls through an ephemeral ballad.

Moran further honors his influences with a takes on Jaki Byard’s “To Bob Vatel of Paris” and “Play to Live,” a contemplative, restless piece Moran wrote with Andrew Hill. Also offering takes on classical composer,Leonard Bernstein, with a brilliant reading of “Big Stuff,” “Ten” is an unpredictable, imaginative ride.

Mike Reed’s People, Places and Things — Stories and Negotiations

Recorded live in Chicago’s Millennium Park in summer 2008, Stories and Negotiations is the latest installment in drummer/composer Mike Reed’s People, Places and Things project. Commissioned by The Jazz Institute’s Made in Chicago series, it completes a trilogy of recordings devoted to a remarkable – but often overlooked – era in Chicago music: the years between 1954 and 1960, when the jam-session culture of the city’s hard bop scene began to seed the collective avant-garde of the AACM and everything that followed. Reed convened his working quartet, which features saxophonist Greg Ward, tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman and bassist Jason Roebke, and invited frequent guest trombonist Jeb Bishop back to the bandstand. But for this album, he also solicited the horns of three jazz masters whose playing and personalities defined the late ’50s in Chicago: Art Hoyle, Julian Priester and Ira Sullivan.

Seu Jorge e Almaz – Seu Jorge e Almaz

Right off the bat, you will be struck by how completely different the records sounds compared to any other released this year. Completely honest, raw and powerful. Many may know vocalist Seu Jorge from Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic or Fernando Meirelles City Of God, but Mr. Jorge is a Brasilian singer who weaves magic through the Samba, to paraphrase a well-known Seu Jorge quote. However, this project is about a band: Almaz. Drummer Pupillo and guitarist Lucio Maia from the stalwart Nação Zumbi; bassist and composer Antonio Pinto from the soundstages of movies starring Seu Jorge. They came together naturally to record a song for a Walter Salles film; they enjoyed the experience so much that they recorded an entire album of music that inspired them. Songs famous within the Brazilian diaspora (Tim Maia, Jorge Ben) mesh with classic American (Roy Ayers, Michael Jackson) and European (Kraftwerk, Cane and Abel) soul songs begging for a bit of psychedelic samba. The recording is both warm and dark; psychedelic and yet grounded, uplifting but at times somber. To listen to it is to join them in the studio, where the the music is foremost at every scintillating moment.

Mary Halvorsen Quintet – Saturn Sings

Mary Halvorson is the most future-seeking guitarist working right now, thinking out loud on her instrument on a level most couldn’t comprehend. But Halvorson’s compositions display that exploration with a telepathic connection between her fingers and the sound, making Saturn Sings her strongest document to date. The overall sound is tamer than some of the earlier work (e.g., the trio record, Dragon’s Head, a best of selection of mine from 2008,) but her compelling technique still shines through. The tunes are highly listenable and as always with Ms. Halvorson, there are some absolutely brilliant guitar passages. The addition of trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition winner and jazz bad boy Jon Irabagon, takes her sound to new, refreshing and funkier heights. A record jazz guitar aficionados should not miss.

John Ellis & Double Wide – Puppet Mischief

Music fans looking for a sheer aural delight from 2010 should look no further than this delightful project. On his sixth album, and second with the Double-Wide quartet, saxophonist John Ellis channels New Orleans via his New York base, although the album is really true to his inspiration of fun fairs and clowns, since it takes off on odd tangents at times, as on “Dubinland Carnival,” which has a decidedly woozy edge to the sound, verging on the surreal. The sousaphone bass of Matt Perrine features heavily throughout, as does the harmonica work of guest Gregoire Maret. Ellis himself contributes tenor and bass clarinet, and there’s a definite tightness to the group, more apparent than on their last disc. The tunes, all by Ellis, are very playful, adding odd little quotes to the music, then jarring off into the unfamiliar, and taking strange, circuitous routes back. But the scenic way works here, adding to the unusual atmosphere of the disc. It’s one to satisfy fans of the band, and brings something a little different to modern jazz while still referring back to its roots.

Marc Ribot - Silent Movies

Marc Ribot is widely recognized as one of the great guitar originals. His distinctively edgy and impassioned sound can be found on the original, and upcoming sequel, of Robert Plant/Alison Krauss’s Raising Sand, and the Elton John/Leon Russell collaboration from this year, plus scores of other popular recordings. A polar opposite of his last release, Party Intellectuals, Silent Movies is mostly filled with gorgeously contemplative compositions performed solo, with minimal overdubs. The album reflects Ribot’s fascination with movies and contains pieces intended to function as music for films; some adaptations of music he has written for film, some for movies that he scored that were never released, some for classic silent films that he scored for his own amusement, and some for films of his own imagination. The record is a masterpiece of Mr. Ribot’s endless imagination.

William Parker - I Plan To Stay A Believer, The Inside Songs Of Curtis Mayfield

In the liner notes, bassist William Parker describes what he calls the inside song: `Every song written or improvised has an inside song which lives in the shadows, in-between the sounds and silences and behind the words, pulsating, waiting to be reborn as a new song. In the 1960s during the civil rights movement there was a musical soundtrack in the background: Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Jackie McLean, John Coltrane. Curtis Mayfield was right in the middle directing his music to the cry of freedom.’ It’s all here in “I Plan to Stay a Believer,” the chronological song book of Curtis Mayfield, his early days with The Impressionsto the Superfly soundtrack, and New World Order from his last recording. Mr. Mayfield’s original socially relevant lyrics are augmented by Amiri Baraka, and on some selections Baraka does poetic voice overs with the lyrics.Lyrics are sung by Leena Conquest and a gospel choir, The New Life Tabernacle Generation of Praise is featured on “This is My Country,” a standout track on this highly original recording.

Vijay Iyer – Solo

By now, there can be no doubt that pianist-composer Vijay Iyer stands among the most daringly original jazz artists of the under-40 generation,” writes Howard Reich in the Chicago Tribune. The American-born son of Indian immigrants, Mr. Iyer was described by The Village Voice as “the most commanding pianist and composer to emerge in recent years,” by The New Yorker as one of “today’s most important pianists… extravagantly gifted,” and by the L.A. Weekly as “a boundless and deeply important young star.” After the phenomenal success of The Vijay Iyer Trio’s 2009 release “Historicity,” my 2009 pick for Record of the Year, Iyer returns with Solo. The document of Mr. Iyer’s continuing dialogue with history, both his own and that of the music to which he has dedicated his life, Solo encapsulates both Iyer’s career and his distinctive approach to his instrument. The diversity of Iyer’s experience infuses each note of Solo. Iyer’s own compositions, dominating the album’s second act, demonstrate how completely he has assimilated and brought his own vision to creative music. For Iyer, the new album embodies both departure and return. It is a monumental step forward and a defining moment in Vijay Iyer’s artistic life.

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest

Undeniably, Deerhunter’s finest recording to date; an achievement they have hinted at, and now delivered. This is an absurdly endearing record and even after the first listen you know that you are partaking of a dish to which you will return for more and more . No reason why Deerhunter and Bradford Cox in particular shouldn’t be names whispered in hushed and hallowed tones around the world of rock/indie music without fear of ridicule. “Halycon Digest” is an album rich, varied, accessible and beautiful. “Desire Lines” is an heir to Television’s “Marquee Moon,” for the 21st Century. Plus, the record contains 4 other radio ready singles.

Grinderman – Grinderman 2

The first thing that hits you about Grinderman 2 is that you’ve rarely heard anything like it. Their debut album did its job and marked a clear contrast with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Nick Cave & Co. forged a distinctly different way of working together. They cast off musical baggage, shrugged off accepted wisdom, and tested pre-conceptions about who they were as musicians. In the process, they took to the Bad Seeds hallowed legacy with a baseball bat. Their new album, combines the structured invention of their live performance and the unrestrained free for all of their studio improvisation. And they definitely know something about the art of writing songs. Grinderman 2 bears the hallmark of its rapturously received predecessor, yet is more open ended in its structure, more far reaching in its scope, and gloriously lost in its own transports of noise and rhythm.

HONORABLE MENTION FOR 2010:

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here
Trombone Shorty – Backatown
Das Racist – Sit Down, Man
Fight The Big Bull feat. Steven Bernstein – All Is Gladness In The Kingdom


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