I'm not going to flap my gums too extensively about the "year in music" or any of that hoohah. My hat is off to those who make it their business each year to slurp down a large percentage of the music industry's ever-expanding effluvia. I'm simply not up to the task.
I know that it is a waste of prime downloading time, but I'm the kinda guy that likes to go out to eat! And watch football and get caught up on old Sopranos seasons and maybe even read a book or two. stuff like that. Anyway, I couldn't begin to honestly essay the "ten best" or what have you. Heck, I only just heard that newest Fiery Furnaces full-length last week (and yeah, they are absolutely amazing, maybe my favorite rock (not rock) band since the demise of the beloved Royal Trux.) Micro trends? Don't look to me. I heard my very first screwed and chopped albums just this year. (the Banner ones are overrated -- gimme the originals -- but Da Unbreakables truly took on an added dimension; an already gloomy record rendered even MORE sinister.) I had a lot of fun going through the Teddy Wilson box set on Mosaic from 1997 though! And I'm really psyched because my brother received 2003's Johnny Cash Unearthed box set for Xmas, and I was able to rip it to my iPod before he went home. Yeah, as an elderly record collector, that's kinda how my years go these days: a little old, a little new, a little borrowed, a little DJ Screw. But in the interest of using this here blog thing as a kind of personal inventory, these are the moments in 2004 when music's singular burn was most acute:
1. Wolter Wierbos - solo trombone; June, the Hothouse, Chicago
This trombone master presented one of the greatest solo performances I've witnessed. The solo improvisor must grapple with a distinct set of challenges quite apart from those faced by more populous amalgamations. Groupings of players numbering 2 to 20 must be aware of constantly negotiating the delicate spaces between ego-directed insertion of novel sonic material and mere reactive dialogism. The solo player, however, must take great pains not to bore everyone to death! No but seriously, rare indeed is the improvisor who can pull off a solo performance without an over-reliance on extended techniques and other parlor tricks in order to sustain interest. It's a dicey proposition. Wierbos, the Dutch trombonist best known for his association with the long-running Instant Composers Pool, enthralled with a faultless romp across the expanse of the instrument's potentiality. No matter how far out he pushed the 'bone, he never lost sight of the strong rhythmic phrasing that informed the arc of his improvisation. Burbles and growls flecked the successions of long, swinging lines, before it all gave way to breathy pillow talk and Sam Nantonian plunger-play. During an extended digression midway through, circular breathing sustained a low glitchy rumble as breath and metal were subsumed by the vocabulary of the laptop. Astonishing.
2. Henry Threadgill's Zooid; December, the Hothouse, Chicago
As blogged below, the veteran multi-instrumentalist just gets better and better. Following on a series of outstanding yet sadly little-heard recordings released throughout the 90s, his writing continues to amaze and delight with its sensitivity to density and tone color, its fearless embrace of large ensembles and unorthodox instrumentation, and most importantly the gorgeous play of its intersecting polyrhythms. Where is this man's genius grant? MacArthur Foundation, are you listening to this shit??
3. Michael Mayer and Superpitcher; March, Smart Bar, Chicago
Mayer's Immer was a record that meant a lot to me in 2003, so this DJ set featuring two of the Kompakt label's finest was much anticipated. Everything conspired to make the night darn near perfect: good friends (including a new one! met my good friend Meg at this night); enthusiastic, swaying crowd whose energy never flagged; and most importantly a couple sets of banging, perfectly sequenced Teutonic romanticism. Towards the end, Mayer hit one of those peaks where you feel like you're gonna EXPLODE with presentness. One of those nights where you wish you had, like, three or four extra limbs. the Smart Bar doesn't have the best sound system in the world, but damn can it get LOUD.
4. Brian Wilson; October, Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
I'm not gonna get into SMiLE the record, other than to say: it's perfect, I couldn't have asked for more. The concert was loads of fun. It's rare that I get CHILLS at a gig these days, but "Sloop John B" and "Cabin Essence" did the trick. Turned to my pal Phil and we agreed: we simply couldn't believe we were sitting there in 2004 listening to the entirety of SMiLE being performed live, flawlessly. Chicago's Auditorium Theatre is just beautiful, btw; I'd never been there.
5. Ying Yang Twins - Me And My Brother CD (TVT)
While a 2003 release, I didn't pick this up until early 2004, but it pretty much soundtracked my last winter. I didn't feel all that alive this past year, truth be told. But I’ll never forget trudging throw snow and ambling aboard CTA buses and trains with the YYT’s bleak, brilliant electro joints in constant rotation, boom-bapping through my discman’s earbuds. Go and read Frank Kogan’s brilliant dissection of the album. (see how nice I was to include that link? It might take you a while to find the article otherwise, thanks to the Voice's recent SHITTY-BEYOND-BELIEF redesign.)
6. Hermeto Pascoal; October, Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago
The nutty blind Brazilian albino is still going strong, as evidenced by the crack band he assembled for this tour. His music continues to be informed with the good-natured playfulness and chromatic dancing that characterized his 70s stuff. His music kinda assaults you with information, big rushes of notes, quick staccato runs up and down, lots of unexpected formal shifts. I was reminded of nothing so much as my beloved prog-rock. No capes or dry ice to be seen, but with Pascoal you never know...
7. Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley; July, Grant Park, Chicago
Will wonders never cease. Chicago city government officially acknowledged its rich dance music legacy by adding a weekly house night to its annual summer dance series called, uh, 'Summerdance'. Previously comprised of salsa, tango and other upscale NPR-friendly forms, this year the series devoted Wednesdays to full-on pumping Chicago house. Man, this year there was nothing quite like heading down to Grant Park around 7 pm and listening to top DJs spin house out onto Michigan Avenue and beyond, gazing up at that wonderful skyline, all for FREE. And they sold beer too! You gotta love it. As daylight faded into night, the vibe verily was felt. Long-time house veteran Hurley presented my favorite set of the series.
8. Detroit Lions vs. Indianapolis Colts, Thanksgiving; November, Ford Field, Detroit
Let's forget about Peyton Manning's SIX TOUCHDOWN PASSES against the pathetic secondary of the men who don the Honolulu Blue and silver. The reason this entry is here is the music: folks, nothing compares to big ol' pop anthems blaring out in a football stadium. I don't care HOW bad the home team is getting shellacked. I will always love my Lions. My brother and I attend this Detroit tradition every year and its always a rocking good time. Trick Daddy's "Let's Go" accompanied the pre-game player introductions: GOOSEBUMPS. That thing sounds so great at football stadium volume, you have no idea. Halftime show was John Mellencamp. He was good! I've always liked John Mellencamp but I had never seen him before. If I die tomorrow, well, now I can at least say that I have. For 10 minutes at least. He did some crappy new song and then "R-O-C-K in the USA". But the jingoism was mercifully on the DL. No images of waving flags or any crap like that on the 'tron. Just a great rock tune by a decent singer. Everything felt ... right.
9. Eminem – “Mosh” video
Yeah, more goosebumps here. Hey, maybe I'm not dead after all! I'm kinda embarassed how much I fell in love with this thing, how EXCITING it all felt. The darn thing was getting played on MTV every half-hour on the hour! It was awesome! a revolution was brewing! Yeah, ok, the crushing reality of the situation became apparent within a matter of days. Jeez, Em, maybe you shoulda released the thing earlier than A WEEK before the freakin' election. Oh well, the only way we wouldn't have been stuck with another 4 years of that cocksucking asshole is if Jesus H. Christ himself showed up to stump for Kerry. Great video though. Oh, and the tune is cool too. I've never had a problem with Em's goth-rap, it rules.
10. John Cale; November, Boulder Theater, Boulder
Never saw the old Welsh trickster before. But there he was, in all his glory, playing songs from his most recent release, HoboSapiens. This was just one of many high points I shared on a much-needed cross-country excursion with my dear friend Charity. After the tragic events of November 2nd, I had to get the hell out of town and see me some red states up close and personal. Nebraska, thank you for your hospitality, I will never forget you. Part of the good vibe was no doubt down to the company but anyway, Cale was great. Feisty.
Least favorite moments? Shit dog, that's simple! All these people DYING. It does hit me hard when my heros die. That's something I've never been able to get past. Don't ask me why. I didn't cry when my paternal grandmother died, but I cried when George Harrison did. Emotions are a tricky business. This year, there were way too many deaths to delve into here. you've seen the laundry lists. We lost some absolute titans. It was brutal.
The two passings that hit me hardest were Steve Lacy and Malachi Favors. Two big, big, irreplacable heroes. the Art Ensemble of Chicago... yeah, they changed my life. but that's for another post. We dread these passings because they make us question the value of our own pursuits. Lacy pretty much considered THE master of his chosen instrument, and he got, what? An NYT obit, a weekend NPR feature? Yeah, those things are great, but ... christ. Did the overwhelming majority of music bloggers have word one to say in tribute to these great folks, even in passing? Of course not. It's all about breaking the next indie rock chancers or hot dubplate traxx -- didn't you get the memo? Well anyway. I'm heartened by the emergence of the new blogs that evince some listening skills, discernment, and wide-ranging love of ALL music from all spheres and walks of life: Peter Margasak's Worldly Disorientation
, Mike McGonigal's 'Buked and Scorned
, Scott Seward's Metal Fury
, and fellow ex-pat Michigander Chip Porter's The Suburbs Are Killing Us
chief among them. It's beautiful to see some folks giving attention to music ignored by the indie/beat folks (really just two sides of the same dorky coin, no matter how much invective the beatsters hurl at the indie kids.) They've inspired me to get up offa my own very ample ass and bleat about the musicians I love. I hope to present some tunes half as hot as those being serving up by these fine folks.
...and mere hours after we put 2004 to bed, the deaths continue, with the British composer, educator and performer Hugh Davies passing away on the 1st of January at the age of 61. (that's him above, bottom right.) His stint with the Music Improvisation Company
resulted in two official records that never fail to thrill. If improv has tended toward ossification through the years, well, here's two sparkling documents of the practice at its inception. It's really rather pathetic that neither the paper of record
nor the Guardian have even bothered to devote so much as a paragraph to this man's life. Check this: a search
of Davies's name at the Guardian turns up not a word about his passing, but DOES present an obituary that he himself wrote for fellow musician Daphne Oram
. Ain't that a bitch? The only bloggers that even gave a damn, so far as I can tell, were gentleman Jon Dale
and Joel H. Stencil
. just ...sad, really.
Everyone at all interested in those squiggly things that fly through the air and lick and suckle at your cilia, HAS to pick up that great Not Necessarily "English Music"
compilation on the Electronic Music Foundation record label. Two full CDs of ALL unreleased stuff from ALL the heavies, compiled by the Toopster. There is a great solo piece from Davies wherein the contact mics get put through their paces. but the whole 2CD set is wonderful. It's that good shit.
Download "Music for Three Springs" by Hugh Davies