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Miss Ess: What is your pick for best release of 2008 so far?
John Garcia: Well, so far it is probably the rather weighty 4-CD box set on the Cleanfeed label that brought together multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton and guitarist Joe Morris together for the first time (Four Improvisations [Duo] 2007). Each disc is one solid uninterrupted hour of improvisation between these two masterful performers. They are both busy players that ironically have a keen sense of space, but they use that space very differently. Listening to them attempt to resolve those differences on the fly is big part of the fun of the album. The critic Whitney Balliett is credited with calling jazz "the sound of surprise." Under the best of circumstances, all great music has that quality somewhere.
Also, I am also still quite taken with the new album by the British folk group Rachel Unthank & The Winterset, Bairns. I wrote about it in the upcoming Music We Like (Fall 2008) and just as the Braxton/Morris album is complex and flitting, Unthank & Co. are relatively simple, slow-moving and austere. These qualities are their strength, vocally and instrumentally.
Oh yeah, and that Soft Machine DVD, Alive In Paris 1970 is pretty remarkable visually, musically and historically. It documents a performance by the rare quintet version of the band recorded for a then-new half-hour French TV music series. They were the first band featured in the series. Their set was so popular that they aired a second show using the unused footage they shot for the first show. Most of the cameras are onstage and backstage, so some of the angles are unusually intimate and intense. It is only slightly marred by the occasional overdubbed cheers and applause that, apparently, were used to disguise some of the sound editing that needed to be done. At least they resisted using the "psychedelic" special effects that intrude on so much documentary and televised footage of the period.