Wednesday, December 22, 2010

#s 20-16

Still with me? Another nibble now from the big list before we break for the holidays. More to follow in the week in between...

20. Aram Shelton Quartet, These Times

I detailed my Shelton fixation back in August. Let me only add that, after spending the last few weeks mildly obsessed with Lee Konitz At Storyville -- featuring another altoist captured at a fairly early point in his career, and with a new-ish band -- how wonderful it has been, over the last several years, to have a prejudice of mine dismantled brick by brick. For years I couldn't hear an alto playing modern jazz without comparing it to Parker's -- and judging it lacking. Same sort of thing occured with Coltrane, of course, before I fought my way out of that. But Shelton's playing has been refreshing for me in this way -- it sounds not like a pale imitation of anything, but like a single sincere, probing voice. Konitz, of course, is/was a different voice, too, and while listening the other night it occured to me that I was finally hearing these guys as players first, altos only secondarily. Might not sound like much, but it feels like a big deal to me.

19. Male Bonding, Nothing Hurts

An album that probably won't stand the test of time, quite honestly, but damn fun just the same, with crunch and harmonies sufficient to remind one of an old warhorse that will appear way, way up this list, just you wait.

18. Wolf Parade, Expo 86

Maybe the indie band of these times -- remember when we thought that'd be Modest Mouse? -- has a third album worth considering in terms of its place in the discography. When I guess at what bands I'll still be listening to in 10 years I feel pretty certain these guys will be one of the few. What the mid-40s me will hear when he listens back will be a dialing back of the prog tendencies that surfaced on At Mount Zoomer, and a move to a more free range rock. Bigger drums, keys more in service of the tunes than vice versa, and something I can't quite place that has me feeling more Bowie than Springsteen (the latter having felt like a major touchstone for the first record). This is a damn good record, even if there won't be as many songs plucked to populate mixes (or playlists?) in the years that follow its release.

17. Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up, Actionspeak

Inside-out postbop from drummer Fujiwara and his band, with much of the out provided by guitarist Mary Halvorson, who's no stranger to this blog (her quartet's Saturn Sings was in fact a near-miss for this year's list). I'm a sucker for stuff that sounds like mid-'60s Blue Note avant-bop (think along the Bobby Hutcherson - Andrew Hill - Jackie McLean axis). This approaches that, but for Halvorson's appealingly unique lines, which veer toward off-kilter, but never topple into the realm of queer-for-queer's sake. Bracing, engaging stuff.

16. Pernice Brothers, Goodbye, Killer

"Ah, there he is," the reader is saying, "Pernice had to show up sometime." Because yes, okay, if Joe Pernice slaps his name on just about anything in a calendar year, he can be certain of at least one thing: it will show up on TiOM's list at year's end. I'm reliable like that. But so is Pernice reliable: you can count on his records featuring sharp songwriting, beautiful pop arrangements, and that gorgeous voice. On Goodbye, Killer, the arrangements are a smidge less baroque, a bit more pared back, a bit more... rock than on some of his more recent outings. But in the end, there he is, good old Pernice. Come to think of it, in his steadiness and reliability he is very much like that other hero of mine.

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