10. Bobby Previte, The Coalition of the Willing (Ropeadope)
Versatile drummer and leader Previte presents a political party record. Blues, funk, surf rock – it’s all in there, and informed equally by anger and elation.
9. Andrew Hill, Time Lines (Blue Note)
Most artists, once they have reached the stage of inspiring tributes (see #6), are content to rest on their laurels. Not so with Andrew Hill, who returns once again to Blue Note and records an album to stand alongside most any of his earlier output for the venerable label.
8. Various Artists, Congotronics 2: Buzz 'n Rumble From the Urb'n Jungle (Crammed Discs)
The term "world music" seems inadequate to the task of describing the ways in which musics borrow, warp, bend, steal, inspire, congeal and combine. By rights, it's all world music, right? But the most exciting musical things happening across the globe, it seems to me, are those most unexpected and unlikely combinations. Call it a remnant of colonialism or the foul stink of Western hegemony, but African musicians are particularly adept at these strange marriages. Witness the phenomenon of Congotronics (building upon the success of Konono #1’s album of that name), wherein Congolese players combine traditional instrumentation with improvised electronic amplification and electric guitars, producing something energetic and beautiful, honest and hopeful.
7. Dave Douglas, Meaning and Mystery (Greenleaf)
Had the Miles Davis Quintet of 1965-68 never disbanded, they might have made this record.
6. Nels Cline, New Monastery: A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill (Cryptogramophone)
Now a regular member of Wilco, Cline perhaps felt compelled to re-prove his mettle to the out-music crowd who were once his prime fan base. He chose wisely with the music of avant-bop pianist and composer Hill. A fantastic record.
5. Vandermark 5, A Discontinuous Line (Atavisitic)
Ken Vandermark’s apparent Faustian bargain continues to bear fruit.
4. Art Ensemble of Chicago, Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City: Live at Iridium (Pi)
After the deaths of members Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors, the remaining members of the AEC soldier on. Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell are joined by new conscripts Corey Wilkes (trumpet) and Jaribu Shahid (bass) on a live recording of bop-inflected experiments that represent further development in the group’s sound instead of a retread. Miraculously, this is essential Art Ensemble.
3. Evan Parker, Time Lapse (Tzadik)
Solo recordings, endlessly overdubbed, that sound like an orchestra and hold the listener’s attention more effectively than most full band recordings I heard this year. Parker’s sound – brittle, breathy, reedy and agile – layers well atop itself, creating banks and whorls of notes that invite exploration. If you’ve never been interested in solo recordings, check your reservations and listen to this.
2. Chicago Underground Duo, In Praise of Shadows (Thrill Jockey)
On In Praise of Shadows, Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor have created a sound which is less concerned with virtuosity than it is with texture and space. The two utilize a sizeable array of instruments to create layers of sound that are immersive and exotic; a tactile experience for the ears. Is it jazz? World music? Who cares, really – the references aren’t the point here, just sound for sound’s sake.
1. Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
It has been a decade since Ornette Colemn’s last release; it has been nearly half a century since he turned jazz on its ear with what he called harmolodics, and what the rest of the world came to know as free jazz. It feels far less academic than either term would imply – in practice, Coleman’s sound has always retained a soulful and bluesy human cry that is no less nimble or sincere now for his 76 years. How refreshing to have this master back! On Sound Grammar (the first release on his newly inaugurated label, also called Sound Grammar), he is joined by a pair of bassists, Greg Cohen and Tony Falanga, and his son Denardo Coleman on drums and percussion in a live setting, playing a program of new compositions (excepting “Song X”) that sound every bit as revelatory as his first recordings. Not for nothing is this website and compilation named after one of Coleman’s seminal recordings – it seemed appropriate given his return to recording. Let’s hope the establishment of his new label serves as the impetus to record far more frequently.