An Other 'Best Music of 2016' List

Posted by Rick Frystak, December 31, 2016 01:45pm | Post a Comment


by Rick Frystak

Here in The Choice Bin, the wealth of superior new music that I get to be exposed to is just staggering.
The wealth of music around this whole planet is astounding, limited only by one's desires, with each new release or deep-dug reissue a shiny object for us to be drawn to. Walk into an Amoeba, an indie record store or check into some genre-specific internet radio and real college radio and you'll know what I mean. And this year was no exception for those who actively seek out new and old sounds and enjoy doing so.

As a youth I was glued to my AM and then FM radio, listening to Rock, Soul, Jazz and 20th Century Classical revelation. Some hosts would even compare hi-fi gear live on the air, using the latest LP cuts. We waited impatiently for stuff we'd heard to arrive at the 3 or 4 record stores in the vicinity. Then I rode to the record shop and bought my favorites, back then in mono for $1 cheaper, and later driving into Westwood for some small-label LP or expensive import that was a must-have. 

With the passing of many of our heroes so devastating, each moment of immersing oneself in their language and legacy is a precious one. And of course, there are the highly talented younger artists that bring a fresh, but well-informed element to their work and sometimes usher in new eras. Compelling, unfamiliar music seems to be discovered by me daily. Then to hear someone say, ''...nothing's happening musically now'', just sounds goofy. 

So, herein, an 'Other' list is in order, with the memorable titles I preferred this past year, with highlighted links for the artists mentioned, perhaps with the hope that they are the sorts of things that you won't find on other, ''Best of 2016'' lists now, in no particular order:

Terje Rypdal, Waves (Vinyl reissue)
ECM Records is actively pressing their back catalog on audiophile wax, a cause for celebration itself. Norwegian electric guitarist Terje Rypdal has a sound all his own. Searing but not shattering, loose but situated, broiling yet icy guitar leads with whammy bar flying over synth pads, jostling with trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, some hip drum machine and highlighting ECM dynamic drummer Jon Christensen, this 1978 session is one for the ages, now on heavy audiophile vinyl mastered direct from the analogue tape. 

Ben Monder
, Amorphae
I've been a fan of east coast guitarist Ben Monder for years, and now he's signed to ECM, and a gem of a CD this is, from back in January. Imagine for a moment, Jim Hall, Mary Halvorson and Pat Metheny's test tube baby. Ben is better, his own style well in hand. With Andrew Cyrille's pensive percussion, Pete Rende doing soundscapes and the late Paul Motian on traps duetting with Ben on a couple of earlier takes, including, ''Oh, What a Beautiful Morning'', one could say 'they don't make 'em like this very often'.

Daniel Lanois/Rocco Deluca,
Goodbye To Language 
The grand decomposition and re-assembly of Danny's pedal steel guitar while doping the faders, buttons and dials. Beatless, dubbed out neo-Musique Concrete sending the Buddy Emmons zealots running for the 'Eject' button. Slides and bends hovering in a purgatory of stewed major/minor gridlock, then getting the hell out and burning down the left-behinds. Intoxicating beauty, soaring and ping-ponging into a steel Valhalla. Essential.

Michel Benita / Ethics
, River Silver
Hypnotic, airy ''jazz'' with mood and melody, non-cliches, reverberant riffs (Eivind Aarset) coloring the view, coming full circle, then another reverberant, lovely flugelhorn riff that’s steady and soulful (a koto). Mr. Benita is a bassist from Algiers, so the feet in the ground is always present, swinging in it's own way. Temple drum tempo, too, thrilling ECM sound, and I’m playing this record over and over. Perfect title.

Weather Report,
The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981
WR were in great shape at this time — ’78 to ’81, Jaco, Joe, Wayne and new drummer Peter Erskine. Quite excited to be a part of this band, Erskine recorded everything and now has put together a bunch of the best cassettes of those tours and had them mastered, and here they are in a 4-CD package. Smoking gigs just oozing with energy and dry-ice fog, the band never played better. Lots of their greatest tracks, with lots of little arrangement changes and substitutions, including a long Zawinul acoustic piano solo, which is rare on a WR record. It’s a killer document.

Ola Gjello, Ola Gjello
Exquisite choral and piano pieces with some orchestra, soaring with modern harmony that goes straight to the heart, a la Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre.

Norwegian composer Gjello creates a huge, delicious wave of sound performed by Gjello and acclaimed vocalists Tenebrae and Voces8. We're into it.

Sun Ra Arkestra
To Those Of Earth...And Other Worlds
Continuing Strut Records' inspired Sun Ra compilations is DJ/Vinyl collector Gilles Peterson's hand-picked 2-LP assemblage of tracks from Ra's over 125-LP back catalog. This had to be an arduous, yet thrilling task to even agree to. Remarkable and impressive compilation, like a big show of Ra's back in the day, with the emphasis on the melodic cuts. Even the wild, dissonant tracks have a certain engaging quality. I have 35 El Saturn releases, but I could just play this twofer! Spot-on, Mr. Peterson!

Daniel Bachman, Daniel Bachman
Luscious, post-Fahey acoustic guitar simplicity that's progressing along with each album into something better than the last. Young Bachman hits a homer again here, with a rich, fingerpicked steel sound on the 6 & 12, sometimes with a slide and a couple with his electronic drone machine. The sound of each guitar is up front, with a great mic. Something about his playing is so charming and subdued for such a technical player, every note counting, statements made, purpose in his ideas. You'll have to enjoy his website, videos, too. He has many projects discographically, but he's really advancing into something now, and needs close attention. 

Solo Andata, In The Lens
Sublime ''ambient'' sound pieces, to which their 12K label description reads, ''...(In The Lens) was born from recordings found in the interstices of decades-old hard drives, lost email threads from disused accounts, and forgotten samples recorded on cassette dictaphones.'' A, ''narcotic haze'', not available in any pharmacy or street corner (sorry), this exceptional thing is my AMBIENT BOMB of late. The duo of Kane Ikin and Paul Fiocco make it happen.

Willamette, Diminished Composition
Another electro-acoustic gem, vinyl only. Joseph Yonker and brothers Davin and Kevin Chong make up the group of men experimenting with distant sounds, dreams of memory, nostalgic echoes reminding, Cuisineart-ed orchestral timbres and ''drone'', to make a warmly fresh sounding, ''ambient'' project, their 3rd. What else can I say? Top drawer in my dresser.

Buddy Rich
, The Solos

I just got this in 2016. THEE man for all ages, quite possibly the best drummer ever (did I just say that?). Here we have JUST drum solos (not a 'clam' in the bunch) by the maestro, edited out of live gig tapes, just astonishing technique and style, and melody, ideas coming rapid fire to entertain and blow the minds of the audience, just killing it more each minute, with that SMILE! Remember when Buddy used to let Johnny Carson win all their drum battles?

Ensemble Dal Niente
, Balter/Saunier
Gleaming, original chamber music by this Chicagoan ensemble who've worked with (New Music composer) George Lewis, Anthony Braxton, and on this CD the group composers Marcus Balter and Greg Saunier, drummer for the band Deerfoot. Sparkling, melodic pieces with crisp dissonance, paired with lovely harmony. Saunier has quite a career ahead of him.

Keith Jarrett
, A Multitude Of Angels
4-CD box of Keith's 1996 enticing solo piano improvisations in the longer style he used to do. He has since gone on to prefer to mold ideas quickly and move on, so these harken back to, say, the Sunbear Concerts era. His "Danny Boy'' here just kills me. What more can one say about the maestro? Chops, imagination, stamina. Hours of fun!

Richard Skelton
Verse of Birds
Composer and publisher Skelton's fascinating, minimalist compositions sounding like bowed violins and cellos skittering sul Ponticello, when in actuality it is field recordings from the west coast of Ireland through 3 seasons. Non-melodies become Skelton's own wonderous, harmonic style. 2-CD set.

Various Artists, Burkina Faso Box Set

Spectacular audio and visual document of the the music of Burkina Faso (below Mali and 100km northwest of Nigeria). Reed zithers, mouth harps and the fantastic side-long balafon tracks will have you jumping around the room. Dazzling LP-sized photo booklet takes me right there. The box is internet only, but the single volumes are out separately here without the fabulous booklet. Sublime Frequencies does it again.

Sinikka Langeland,
The Magical Forest
Sinikka plays the kantele, a Finnish zither-type harpa and sings in a very exotic, airy ensemble sound. This remarkable project gathers together folks like Arve Henriksen and Anders Jormin, along with vocalists Trio Mediaeval, bringing forth an introspective folk/jazz sounding quite unique and alluring. I've enjoyed much of the music from the Netherlands, and this is strikingly original. Scrumptious stereo sound seals the deal.

Jakob Bro
, Streams
Mr. Bro is a Danish electric guitarist, reminding me of a sort of Bill Frisell on an acid/Valium drip. I love the long tones, and melodic concepts always informing these guys' playing, compositions effortless blending with improvisation. Joey Baron's traps and Thomas Morgan's double bass entwine themselves within the spacey layers. Again, the quite awesome sound!


Goldmund, Sometimes (Vinyl version)

So simple, akin to sitting down at mom's piano in the living room while she's baking, or a soundtrack to a time-lapse film of a cocoon opening, only to have the butterfly in a cage, but the bars are too wide and the butterfly escapes. And there's something about the stylus moving through the grooves on this record that supports such fatuous images. I heart it.

Recommended Mentions:
The Grass-Tops Recordings reissues of Robbie Basho's, Visions of the Country and The Art of the Six and Twelve Steel String Guitar, originally on a Windham Hill division; King Crimson, Live in TorontoRichard Bona, HeritageJason RebelloHeld. and all the Laraaji stuff coming out. 

Additionally, I also relished some titles to be found on other Amoeblogger's Best-Of lists; 
Highly recommended:
David Bowie, Blackstar,(Amoebite) Rizan Said, King of Keyboard (Gomez Comes Alive!), Johann Johannsson, Orphee, (Brad), The Caretaker, Everywhere at the End of Time, (Chris C.)

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