2010 | Year End Lists

To music journalists, dedicated fans, and a swarm of other zealots, the end of each year entails making a “best albums of the year” list.  To mark the occasion, Ars Nova Workshop asked several musicians playing in Philadelphia for our 2010 - 2011 season to contribute their lists and the responses appear below.  Among their selections were numerous records by artists and ensembles also performing this season, including those by Ideal Bread, Gerald Cleaver, Tom Rainey, Marc Ribot, Tomas Fujiwara, Mary Halvorson and, featured on almost every list submitted, the superb ECM release by the Michael Formanek Quartet, The Rub and Spare Change.

Evan Parker/Sten Sandell - Psalms
This is one of the few times that I heard a record and actually said to myself "This is the best record of the year.”  I usually don't think like that, but I have continually come back to this since Evan gave it to me on tour this summer.  Tenor saxophone and pipe organ.  The level of engagement on this record is exactly what I always want in an improv record and so rarely get.  From beginning to end, both Evan and Sten are completely melding into one strange, somewhat electro-acoustic voice.  That's an oversimplification, though, because there is a warmth to the record that is the first thing that attracted me to it. 

Alvin Curran - The Works 1970s
I always have to include one New World release, as that is who pays my bills and puts up with my shit.  This year is way too tough as they have put out a ton of good stuff and I'm guessing that the upcoming December release of the Merce Cunningham box set is going to rule my world, but I love Alvin Curran and especially this sort of pre-foghorn era stuff.  This is a three disc set of his solo recordings from the 70s and it's a fascinating mixture of minimalism of the type being practiced by Tom Johnson or even a stripped down Steve Reich, combined with elements of static drone, ecstatic vocalizing and just weirdo electronics.  These pieces have that kind of mid-70s meditative feel, without ever dipping into new age. 

Chris Riggs/Liz Allbee - Forced Collapse
This is an LP by guitarist Chris Riggs of Graveyards and Liz Allbee of No Sugar on trumpet.  I got this in the mail from Chris this year and I wanted to not be into it.  I don't know why, maybe just professional jealousy of Liz or wanting to do more playing with Chris than I've gotten to do in the past couple of years?  Anyway, it didn't last long.  Sometimes something if just so good, you can't even hate on it.  This record is that good.  I'm sure it's sold out by now, but if you can track down a copy, do it.  I think Chris and Liz are too of the baddest musicians around and both are just now starting to get some love, so you should jump on the bandwagon.

Walter Marchetti - La Caccia/Natura Morta
This isn't really a 2010 record, but something I discovered this year, so I'll add it here.  I found a double cd set of these Cramps label pieces of Marchetti's in the back of a record store in Ann Arbor, Michigan this year.  I'm a huge Marchetti fan, so it was a tremendous score for $20, especially since Alga Marghen re-released the same pieces recently (with a couple of additions) for about $150.  That in itself would be enough to count for the best of the year, but the music is totally incredible, conceptually (as I think it always is for Marchetti), but also musically (not always the case).

Branford Marsalis - The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born
This is simply a rediscovery in 2010.  I've always thought that the best way to really hear what a jazz musician is made of is to really listen to what they do at medium tempos.  Fast tempos are just bluster and muscle memory most of the time.  Slow tempos can too easily drag into some kind of nostalgia or chewing of the musical scenery.  Medium tempos really reveal how a player structures their improvisation and how they think about harmony, rhythm, and melody.  Along those lines, I’m hearing this trio record in a totally new way lately.  Branford is what he is.  I'm not saying we need a renaissance of his music, but this record proved to me that it isn't flash.  There's some heavy duty thought in his solos and he's not always making the easy musical decisions.

Nate Wooley will perform with C. Spencer Yeh, Okkyung Lee and a special guest percussionist on March 5, 2011 at Vox Populi.

Jeremiah Cymerman - Under a Blue Grey Sky
Congs For Brums - Noise To Men
Michael Formanek Quartet - The Rub and Spare Change
Jason Moran - Ten
Tomas Fujiwara & Taylor Ho Bynum - Stepwise
Jon Irabagon - Foxy
Marc Ribot - Silent Movies
Laurie Anderson - Homeland
Ideal Bread - Transmit: Volume 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy
Mostly Other People Do The Killing - Forty Fort

Mary Halvorson performed at The Rotunda with Ches Smith & These Arches on Dec. 8, 2010 and with Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up on Dec. 16, 2010. She will be playing on April 27, 2011 with The New Mellow Edwards at International House Philadelphia and on May 7, 2011 with the Tom Rainey Trio.

Defeated Sanity - Chapters Of Repugnance
Ancient Wound - The Winterholder
Stargazer - A Great Work Of Ages
Bastard Noise - A Culture Of Monsters
Weasel Walter Septet – Invasion

Mick Barr performed on Nov. 4, 2010 at Kung Fu Necktie.

Michael Formanek Quartet - The Rub and Spare Change
Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
Steve Coleman and Five Elements - Harvesting Semblances and Affinities
Markus Schwartz and Lakou Brooklyn - Equinox
Tony Malaby's Tamarindo and Wadada Leo Smith Live
Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up - Actionspeak
Gerald Cleaver's Uncle June - Be It As I See It

Ches Smith & These Arches performed on Nov. 18, 2010 at The Rotunda.  He will be playing on April 27, 2011 with The New Mellow Edwards at International House Philadelphia.

Josh Abrams - Natural Information
Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hebert & Gerald Cleaver - Book of Three
Michael Formanek Quartet - The Rub and Spare Change
Mary Halvorson Quintet - Saturn Sings
Tom Rainey Trio - PoolSchool

Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up performed on Dec. 16, 2010 at The Rotunda.

Fille Qui Mousse - Trixie Stapleton 291
Pan Sonic & Keiji Haino - Synergy Between Mercy and Self-Annihilation Overturned
Anton Bruhin - Deux Pipes
Autechre  - Oversteps
Group Doueh - Beatte Harab

C. Spencer Yeh will perform on March 5, 2011 with Nate Wooley, Okkyung Lee and a special guest percussionist at Vox Populi, and on March 23, 2011 with Wally Shoup and Ben Hall at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery.

Marc Ducret - La Sense de la Marche and Qui Parle?
I, and I assume many other fans of 'modern' 'jazz', know Marc as a guitarist primarily from his long-time association with Tim Berne. These two records, released on French labels, were new to me this year. Both feature mid-size ensembles, the former record being an incredibly precise live recording while the latter consists of mind-blowing studio constructions. The compositional depth and expansive, explosive playing on both of these records provide an utter feast - if they had been released in the US years ago they'd be considered classics by now. Don't sleep!

Dan Weiss Trio - Timshel
The drummer Dan Weiss has led this trio for several years - it features pianist Jacob Sacks and the bassist Thomas Morgan. Those who have seen Dan play are familiar with his mastery of the drumset and tabla as demonstrated in groups led by David Binney and Rudresh Mahanthappa. In his trio, however, he often explores more introspective territory, drawing especially on his love of classical music. This record is presented more or less as a suite and has many moments of quiet profundity.

Ches Smith and These Arches - Finally Out of My Hands
These Arches is tenor player Tony Malaby, guitarist Mary Halvorson, Andrea Parkins on accordion and electronics, and the drummer and leader Ches Smith. I saw this group play four times over the past 18 months: all the gigs were great and each one exploded the possibilities raised by the previous one. This group is as bombastic as Dan Weiss' is delicate. Many of the compositions are little fragments intended to catapult the musicians into the ether.

Michael Formanek - The Rub and Spare Change
Bassist Michael Formanek's new group includes Tim Berne, Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver. It is my favorite group of his - the players are so mutually sympathetic that it seems like they can take his compositions anywhere. Also, his compositions have a 'standards'-like familiarity while often simultaneously being very abstract.

Bob Drake - The Shunned Country
Bob composed, played, sung, and recorded this entire record: 52 short songs about scary things. Edward Gorey meets avant garde country rock, lots of banjo. Addictive, the kind of songs that I wake up at 3AM thinking about.

Elliott Smith - Figure 8
I was very late to the Elliott Smith party, not really “getting it” until this year. I love it all, but this one is the most perfectly realized for me. This apparently is not the consensus opinion. The major songwriter of his time.

Cardiacs - Guns
The best album by one of the best bands ever. I've had this record for 10 years and I still listen to it a ton. I keep playing it for everyone because no one seems to know it, and everyone for whom I've played it freaks out over it. Psychedelic, heavy, and unremittingly catchy.

Matt Mitchell performed on Thursday, June 24 at Philadelphia Art Alliance with Tim Berne’s Los Totopos, and on Tuesday, April 23 with Matt Mitchell’s Central Chain.

R. Kelly - Love Letter
Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
John Hebert - Spiritual Lover
Joe Morris and Nate Wooley - Tooth and Nail
Paul Motian - Lost In A Dream
Jon Irabagon - Foxy
Kirk Knuffke - Amnesia Brown
Bob Dylan - The Witmark Demos 1962-1964
Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth - Deluxe
Rick Ross - Teflon Don

Mike Pride’s From Bacteria To Boys will perform at Philadelphia Art Alliance on Jan. 13.