First the worrying news : the divide that is growing between the CD output by European labels as compared to US labels, not only the number of labels, but also the number of albums by label. With the exception of a few (AUM Fidelity, Porter, Delmark, ESP, ... ) the most relevant US labels are the initiative of the musicians themselves (Tzadik, Atavistic, Skirl, Screwgun, Firehouse 12, ...). (or are my worries ungrounded and is this all an illusion, created by lack of proximity?)
Since quite a lot of the music comes from American musicians, they have to resort more and more to European labels to get their voice heard. In Europe, and this despite the economic crisis, the output is quite good. Think of labels like Clean Feed, Leo Records, Not Two, NoBusiness, HatHut, Futura Marge, RogueArt, Jazzwerkstatt, Intakt, Creative Sources, Amirani, Kadima, MultiKulti, Fennomedia, FMR, Matchless, ECM, ILK, Ayler, ... and I'm of course missing some, so apologies for that. I have no explanation for this transatlantic difference, but the good news is that good music is still being released, regardless of the geographic location of the labels.
I hope they all get the revenue they deserve. Without the financial risks of these labels and without the passion of the people who run the labels, much of the great music that we enjoyed this year would have remained unheard.
And that's the good news. What a lot of new things we got this year, and what quality.
First, there is a tendency away from volume, moving into free minimalism or free lyricism, with musicians like the WHO trio, Lotte Anker, Samuel Blaser, Christian Lillinger, Torben Snekkestad, Katherine Young, ... who demonstrate that musical intensity and power can as equally be generated by subtlety and nuance.
Second, there are the acoustic sound sculpturers, who completely do away with melody and rhythm, and create the most unheard kind of aural vistas, sometimes hard to get into, sometimes with stunning results. Examples are Dans Les Arbres, Mokuto, Paura, Bill Dixon, Graveyards, Carl Ludwig Hübsch, Buffalo Collision, Cardinal, Ear&Now, Carl Maguire, ...
Third, there is the real free jazz, solidly rooted in jazz and blues, yet so perplexingly alive. This is where the icons shine : David S. Ware, Trio X, Joe McPhee, The Nu Band, Dennis González, Fred Anderson, Fonda/Stevens Group, ...
Fourth, there is the younger generation, bringing this free jazz a step further, closer to free improv, such as Nuts, Trespass Trio, Abdelhai Bennani, Rodrigo Amado, Demian Richardson, Transit, Aida Severo, setting a totally new context based with often stunning results. Jazz is alive and kickin'.
Fifth, rock music also remains an influence, with bands such as Fire!, The Godforgottens, Tyft, Luis Lopes, Quartet Offensive, AlasNoAxis. Eeach with their own style and approach, yet creating new musical possibilities.
So, lots of good music, in a blurring of genres, and one wonders what the label of "jazz" still means, but we're not going to open that debate here.
Here are my favorites of the year, in random order :
- Lotte Anker, Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver - Floating Islands
- Wadada Leo Smith & Jack DeJohnette - America
- David S. Ware Quartet - Live In Vilnius
- WHO Trio - Less Is More
- Barry Guy & Mats Gustafsson - Sinners, Rather Than Saints
- Joëlle Léandre & Jean-Luc Cappozzo - Live Aux Instants Chavires
- Tresspass Trio - Was There To Illuminate The Night Sky
- Paura - The Construction Of Fear
- Transit - Quadrologues
- Collective 4tet - Transition
I want to thank all the musicians and labels for the great music they released this year. Great moments of joy, sadness, anger and aesthetic beauty, and also - luckily - many moments of surprises, of new sounds, new sound combinations, full of creativity, expressivity and vision.
And then there is this blog. On January 11 of 2009, we celebrated the 200,000th visitor. Today, we have exceeded the 420,000 visitors. Thank you all for your ongoing interest.
Happy New Year to you all, music lovers!