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Today we present our reviewers top 10 albums of the year, and we also invite you to vote in the annual New Ears Awards.
The nominations for the award were made from compiling the lists below. This year, the blog writers are voting on the same choices, but in a separate poll. The award winner for both polls will be announced on January 1st.
Here, by the way, is a little known fact: it is not a simple act to come up with a top 10 list. There is teeth gnashing, tears of frustration, and sleepless nights over the difficult decisions that must be made, and then there is the haunting thought that these decisions will never be perfect. Choices are made with fairness in mind, with deference to a balance of labels, musicians, the new and the old, and all the other things that we can think will help as we craft our lists. This of course is stacked up against all of the albums we didn't get to write about, let alone listen to, throughout the year. Our list of albums for review topped 1600 this year - a new record, of course.
Regardless, thank you all for being a part of the Free Jazz Collective and supporting improvised music in general. The creative music community is a small and everyone plays a part whether it as a musician, promoter, writer/critic, listener, concert-goes, consumer, or a bit of each.
Now, don't forget to vote: https://goo.gl/forms/6ukhAsseuxeaCPHk1
List are presented in alphabetical order by reviewer's last name:
- Ken Vandermark - Momentum 1 (Audiographic Records)
A momentous occasion - Vandermark's week at the stone was a incredible week of music, the sets presented here of his less documented working groups are a must have.
- jaimie branch - Fly or Die (International Anthem)
With an accessible approach and a top notch band of current and ex-Chicagoan band-mates, branch has set the bar high with her debut album.
- Joe McPhee, Damon Smith, Alvin Fielder - Six Situations (Not Two)
Smith has said of his work with Fielder: "what emerged between Alvin and myself is a mix of total free improvisation with swinging quarter notes never far away." Add McPhee to the group and you have a killer trio!
- David S. Ware Trio - Live in New York, 2010 (AUM Fidelity)
Recorded at the Blue Note in NYC before Ware's passing, this set transcends his medical condition and shows a master at work.
- Ivo Perelman, Nate Wooley, Bradon Lopez, Gerald Cleaver – Octagon (Leo Records)
This list could be the top 10 Ivo Perelman albums of the year. The saxophonist is on a roll and the documentation from Leo Records will be an invaluable archive in perpetuity.
- Peter Brötzmann, Steve Swell, Paal Nilssen-Love - Live in Tel Aviv (Not Two)
I'm borrowing these words from Derek's review: "[this] recording boasts a dense, muscular, yet occasionally free-wheeling sound that, in many ways, perfectly encapsulates just what these three players are all about - namely, raw power and fierce creativity."
- Tim Berne - Incidentals (ECM)
I simply love Berne's music. Everything out of his horn and his compositional pen is an ear-bending adventure.
- John Butcher, John Edwards, Mark Sanders - Last Dream of the Morning (Relative Pitch)
These three British musicians cast a special spell on this release. Butcher trills, chirps, and lets loose with some thrilling passages.
- Gebhard Ullman, Oliver Potratz, Eric Schaefer - Das Kondensat (Why Play Jazz)
Electronics supplement, and sometimes supplant, the traditional instruments: samplers, loopers, and modular synth all play an important role here in creating a refreshing take on electro-acoustic free jazz.
- Paula Shocron / Germán Lamonega / Pablo Diaz - Tensegridad (Hatology)
This piano trio is making moving, creative, and thoughtful music, and working to foster an improvisational music scene in Buenos Aires.
- Dre Hocevar - Surface of Inscription (Clean Feed)
An album full of surprises without turning itself into a wall of sound. Dre Hocevar seams to be my artist of the year since he was also working with the next guy I chose an album from: Nate Wooley. Dre was on 'knknighgh' (also clean feed).
- Nate Wooley - Battle Pieces II (Relative Pitch)
Just one word: beautiful!
- Big Bold Back Bone - In search of the Merging Species (Shhpuma Records)
An exquisite mix of sound, noise and "music" over 40 minutes of intense listening.
- Robert Mazurek - Rome (clean feed)
- Thollem I Mazurek - Blind Curves and Box Canyons (relative pitch records)
Mazurek's sound is recognizable and new and changing at the same time.
- Trio Heinz Herbert - The Willisau Concert (Intakt)
- Lean Left - I forgot to breath (Trost)
Maybe because I hear memories of my old noise-rock bands...
- Mat Maneri, Evan Parker & Lucian Ban: Sounding Tears (clean feed)
Maybe it is worth to mention that my list tells me that clean feed is my label of the year .
Tom BurrisI truly believe the top two records on my list will be around for a long time to come. They contain music for the ages (assuming we still have ages in front of us – which is a pretty large assumption at this point in history). We Yankees need something to be proud of right now and for me, it's pretty much just this one thing: U.S. women artists fucking rule, dude.
- Nicole Mitchell – Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE, 2017)
The world Mitchell has been slowly building comes to fruition – and it is astonishing. Absolutely essential for every reader of this blog.
- jaime branch – Fly or Die (International Anthem, 2017)
Equally essential. It took a long time for branch to get here & maybe that's why her debut as a leader comes fully realized. A marvel of a record that doesn't take itself too seriously, even when it's smart as shit.
- Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp – The Art of Perelman/Shipp Vol.6: Saturn (Leo Records, 2017)
Possibly the new gold standard for duo recordings. Heaven.
- Wadada Leo Smith – Solo: Reflections & Meditations on Monk (TUM Records, 2017)
The minimalism of Monk goes extreme, one note at a time. Smith plays these tunes on the trumpet sounding a bit like we do when we hum along to Monk records. It's better than us.
- Mette Rasmussen/Tashi Dorji/Tyler Damon – To the Animal Kingdom (Trost, 2017)
The total fire sound clash that is Dorji & Damon adds Rasumussen to the inferno. What could go wrong? Nothing does – and that's the point.
- Hear In Now - Not Living in Fear (International Anthem, 2017)
The best album so far by this incredible string trio.
- Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far From Over (ECM Records, 2017)
Vijay is popular. This is a great disc.
- Jason Stein – Lucille! (Delmark, 2017)
I couldn't have loved a Stein record more than 2011's The Story This Time – or so I thought.
- Rempis/Piet/Daisy – Hit the Ground Running (Aerophonic, 2017)
Inspired performance from this Chicago trio. All proceeds of this download-only recording benefit Refugee One, “a local Chicago-based organization that creates opportunity for refugees fleeing war, terror, and persecution to build new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance.”
- Chamber 4 – City of Light (Clean Feed, 2017)
Beautiful textures that move slowly and fold in on themselves perform a ballet solely for listening. Godspeed You! Dream Chamber.
*Eve Risser & Kaja Draksler – To Pianos (Clean Feed, 2017)
Risser & Draksler are joined at the brain and create the greatest horror movie soundtrack ever recorded. European women artists are pretty badass too.
Stuart BroomerNot really a “best of,” but recordings of special interest and quality. There’s no numerical order intended, but weddings and collisions of inner (embouchure, dialects, circuit boards) and outer worlds (a mausoleum, a cityscape, a nuclear plant) may be an underlying theme.
- Gonçalo Almeida/Rodrigo Amado/Marco Franco - The Attic (No Business)
This ad hoc grouping of Portuguese musicians at SMUP, Parede, is a rare and concentrated thing, free jazz burning with its original vision.
- Yves Charuest/ Agustí Fernandez / Nicolas Caloia/ Peter Valsamis - Stir (Tour de Bras).
The great Catalan pianist forms a fine quartet with three Montreal musicians deserving of wider recognition. It’s highlighted by the complementary contrasts of Charuest’s brilliant alto saxophone—laconically lyrical, subtly determined—and Fernandez’ titanic piano.
- Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York - Fukushima (Libra).
Working in a tradition that runs from Ellington through Mingus and Sun Ra, Fujii welds protest and vision as well as composition and improvisation in a work of galvanizing power for a 13-piece orchestra first assembled 20 years ago.
- Joëlle Léandre / Phil Minton - Léandre / Minton (Fou).
Wildly, playfully, darkly mad, funny and inventive, here two people compress a year’s worth of craziness into one forty-minute episode.
- Wade Matthews/ Abdul Moimême – Lisbon: 10 Sound Portraits (Creative Sources) Improvisation and documentation of a city disappear into one another.
- Neuköllner Modelle (Bertrand Denzler/ Joel Grip/ Sven-Åke Johansson) - Sektion 1-2 (Umlaut); Neuköllner Modelle and Alexander von Schlippenbach) - Sektion 3-7 (Umlaut).
This is an unusual two-part release that spreads over media from LP to CD as well as 2016 to 2017, all of it from the same club residency and an idea of neighborhood: contemporary free jazz with great energy, joy and camaraderie. Denzler is a major voice, something at times overlooked because of the range of his activity.
- Evan Parker (with Mark Nauseef and Tomas Gouband) - As the Wind (psi).
This came out late in 2016 and seems to have been overlooked; however, it’s superb music any year, a soundworld at once abstract and intimate, with every sound spontaneously presenting itself with acute detail and a sense of inevitability. Gouband’s (literal) rock music is as resonant and ethereal in company as it is alone.
- Sun Ra - The Magic City (Cosmic Myth Records).
A fine restoration of Sun Ra’s central work from 1965—a brooding, revelatory, explosive orchestral meditation on the “magic city” of Birmingham, Alabama, futurity and mind.
- Akio Suzuki/ John Butcher - Immediate Landscapes (Ftarri).
Previously unreleased documents of a 2006 tour of Scotland and the Orkneys: the two interact with the reverberations and other sonic mutations of an ice house, a mausoleum, a reservoir and an oil tank.
- Nate Wooley - The Complete Syllables Music (Pleasure of the Text Records).
On four CDs, Wooley pursues the fundamental notion of “talking trumpets” through embouchure formation based on the International Phonetic Alphabet. Music pitched at a permanent edge.
- Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over (ECM)
- Stephan Crump, Ingrid Laubrock, Cory Smythe - Planktonic Finales (Intakt)
- Craig Taborn - Daylight Ghosts (ECM)
- Fabian Almazan - Alcanza (Biophilia)
- Nick Mazzarella and Tomeka Reid - Signaling (Nessa)
- Tyshawn Sorey - Verisimilitude (Pi)
- Trespass Trio - Spirit of Pitesti (Clean Feed)
- Chamber 4 - City of Light (Clean Feed)
- Tomas Fujiwara - Triple Double (Firehouse 12)
- Trio Heinz Herbert - Willisau Concert (Intakt)
Lee Rice Epstein
- Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York – Fukushima (Libra, 2017)
As southern and central California were struck by horrible wild fires (the Thomas fire continues to spread as I write this), Satoko Fujii's incredible Fukushima arrived as the most relevant, and powerful, work of the year.
- Mette Rasmussen, Tashi Dorji, and Tyler Damon - To the Animal Kingdom (Trost, 2017)
Damon and Dorji released a really great duo album last year, and with the addition of Rasmussen they reach stellar new heights.
- Ikue Mori - Obelisk (Tzadik, 2017)
This one oddly seemed to fly under the radar, but the debut recording of Mori's Obelisk group (with Okkyung Lee, Jim Black and Sylvie Courvoisier) is a major event.
- Eve Risser & Kaja Draksler - To Pianos (Clean Feed, 2017)
This pairing of two marvels of piano and prepared piano far exceeded any expectations I had. The best piano recording of the year.
- Kate Gentile - Mannequines (Skirl, 2017)An incredible debut filled with a baker’s dozen of Gentile’s knotty compositions.
- Rob Mazurek - Chimeric Stoned Horn (Astral Spirits, 2017)
The splendid marriage of Mazurek and Marfa.
- jaimie branch - Fly or Die (International Anthem, 2017)
We all know why, but especially for the “leaves of grass / the storm / waltzer” triptych.
- Laura Cannell - Hunter Huntress Hawker (Brawl, 2017)Ever the experimental improviser, Cannell recorded this album "in the semi ruined church of Covehithe, which sits on a fast eroding cliff on the Suffolk Coast.”
- Made to Break - Trébuchet (Trost, 2017)
Passionate and daring, Made to Break's latest is amplified by Bob Weston's sharp production.
- Marcelo dos Reis - Cascas (Cipsela, 2017)
Like a lot of artists on my list (Fujii, Mori, Risser, Draksler, Vandermark, Halvorson, Mazurek) dos Reis released multiple albums that could have made my list, but his first solo album remained the high water mark.
*Sylvie Courvoisier & Mary Halvorson - Crop Circles (Relative Pitch, 2017)
This duet appeared early in the year, but I just kept going back to it. Some of Halvorson’s finest playing on record.
*Matt Mitchell plays Tim Berne - førage (Screwgun, 2017)
Mitchell reimagines and completely reinvents Berne’s music.
- The Dorf - Lux (Umland, 2017)
overwhelming and massive
- Chamber 4 - City Of Light (Clean Feed, 2017)
musical flock of starlings
- LAMA + Joachim Badenhorst - Metamorphosis (Clean Feed, 2017)
- Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot - Squish It! (Lumo Records, 2017)
wonderful, destabilising and creative quartet
- Sirius - Acoustic Main Suite Plus the Inner One (Clean Feed, 2017)
lyrical trumpet and percussion from Portugal
- Lotte Anker - Plodi (Klopotec, 2017)
only she can find this emotional depth in an alto
- Anemone - A Wing Dissolved In Light (No Business, 2017)
super star band delivers new vision
- Alexandra Grimal, Benjamin Duboc, Valentin Ceccaldi - Bambu (Ayler, 2017)
poetic, light of touch, sensitive
- Deniz Peeters & Simon Rose - Edith's Problem (Leo, 2017)
intimate, scintillating and dark piano and baritone sax duo
- Microtub - Bite Of The Orange (Sofa, 2017)slight ripples of deep sounds from the north
- Ruokangas-Estola-Roland – Self-Titled (Alba)
...This year’s surprise package…
- Oliwood – Euphoria (Enja)
...A great mix of improvisation and composed elements…
- Tim Berne’s Snakeoil – Incidentals (ECM)…The saxophonist explores an extended palette of colours…
- Carlos Bica & Azul– More Than This (Clean Feed)…A great album of understated beauty…
- Raoul Bjorkenheim Triad – Beyond (Eclipse Music)…A power trio with so much more…
- Michael Gregory Jackson – Spirit Signal Strata (Golden)…Amazing to hear this legend making explorative instrumentals again…
- Moster/Parker/Abrams/Herndon – Ran Do (Clean Feed)
…Chicago meets Scandinavia and sounding decisively European...
- Philip Gibbs – Infinite Spirit Perfect Now (Environmental Studies)…A complex and interesting set of solo pieces…
- Mark Dresser – Modicana (NoBusiness)
...Some vibrant solo playing from this free music stalwart…
- Noel Akchote – Complete Recordings (plays Anthony Braxton) (Solo Series)…Just for the sheer audacity!…
No attempt to summarize the best or the most important free-jazz, free-improv or free-whatever albums of 2017. Just another personal list of my favorite, free-spirited albums, in no specific order:
- Eve Risser / Kaja Draksler - To Pianos (Clean Feed)
These exceptional pianists offer some insights about how two pianos would wish to sound, with and without pianists.
- Made to Break - Trébuchet (Trost)
Ken Vandermark's most challenging group now, suggesting bold sonic dimensions, surprising dynamics and profound compositional ideas.
- Various Artists - Sky Music: A Tribute to Terje Rypdal (Rune Grammofon)
There is no better 70th birthday gift to the great, still influential Norwegian guitarist, with a stellar cast of guitarists: Henry Kaiser, Bill Frisell, David Torn, Jim O'Rourke and Scandinavians Hedvig Mollestad Thomasse, Raoul Björkenheim and Reine Fiske.
- Goran Kaifješ Subtropic Arkestra - The Reason Why Vol. 3 (Headspin Recordings)
Only this Swedish trumpeter can spin your heads with such tasty brew of Ethio-Jazz, Afrobeat and electronics wrapped in an astral free jazz arrangements.
- Mark Solborg / Christian Skjødt - Omdrejninger (Ilk Music)
A most inspiring work of sound art and composed and improvised parts that offers new insights with every listening experience.
- Anja Lechner / Agnès Vestermann - Valentin Silvestrov: Hieroglyphen der Nacht (ECM New Series)
You many know the German cellist Anja Lechner from her collaborations with pianists François Couturier. Ketil Bjørnstad and Vassilis Tsabropoulos. You may want to check this beautiful tribute to a great, contemporary Ukrainian composer.
- Isabelle Duthoit / Franz Hautzinger - Lily (Relative Pitch Records)
If you want to experience a sonic love conversation between an imaginative vocalist and trumpeter, also lovers in real life, this intriguing album may be the best one this year.
- Stéphan Oliva / Susanne Abbuehl / Øyvind Hegg-Lunde - Prince (Vision Fugitive)
A heartfelt, poetic exploration of the work of the American Jimmy Giuffre and his influence on Keith Jarrett and Don Cherry by a French pianist, Swiss vocalist and Norwegian percussionist.
- Greg Saunier / Mary Halvorson / Ron Miles - New American Songbook, Volume 1 (Sounds American)Prolific guitarist Mary Halvorson has released 7 albums this year (according to her website), but somehow this chamber trio with master trumpeter Ron Miles and Deerhoof’s drummer Greg Saunier has won my heart. You can find here covers of themes from Star Wars and The Partridge Family, songs of Fiona Apple and The Beach Boys and pieces of Gary Peacock and Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn.
- Yannis Kyriakides - Subvoice (Unsounds)
You may know this Greek composer-sound artist from his collaboration with The Ex’ guitarist Andy Moor or his sonic adaption of William Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’. You should explore his orchestral works that investigate into ideas of voice and language.
- Ryuichi Sakamoto - async (Commons)
The Japanese master presents his most emotional and personal solo work after recovering from a battle with cancer.
Mats Gustafsson - Discaholics! Record Collector Confessions, Volume 1 (Marhaug Forlag) and John Corbett - Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium (Duke University Press)Both books suggest some useful, therapeutic ideas for the many ones who struggle with this common addiction.
Rick JoinesThe musicians who made these albums know how to get out of the way when music desires to reveal its essence. Unshackled from preconceptions of composition and improvisation, they know the authenticity of the music—and of themselves as musicians—is more important than conforming to any definition of “free” or “jazz.” This is music without cliché or artifice. It does not exist to entertain—in the background or as a distraction. It often seems strange and unfamiliar, but when we slow down, it teaches us how to listen and how “to dwell within the truth that his happening in the work,” as Heidegger says. This music contemplates; it reflects, it thinks—and it sweeps us into its drift, transporting all of us out of the habitual mundane, beyond ourselves, up into the luminous.
Depending on the week, any of these albums could have been at the top of my 2017 list, so please hit “shuffle” and play.
- Chamber 4 — City of Light (Clean Feed, 2017)
Théo Ceccaldi (violin), Valentin Ceccaldi (cello), Marcelo Dos Reis (guitar), and Luís Vicente (trumpet): every intensely layered moment of this album amazes. I love how the classical chamber music quartet transforms into this wild journey, which features some truly fearsome screaming.
- Kołakowski / Wykpisz / Korelus — Schönberg (For Tune, 2017)
The barely six minutes of Arnold Schönberg’s Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19, are the ground upon which Mateusz Kołakowski (piano), Alan Wykpisz (bass), and Bartłomiej Korelus (drums) work. Inspired by Schönberg’s little intellectual parables, this trio makes atonal abstraction swing.
- Kyle Motl Trio w/Kjell Nordeson & Tobin Chodos — Panjandrums (Self, 2017)
Endlessly inventive improvisatory imagination combines with brilliance of technique and execution. The music made by Motl, Nordeson, and Chodos—solo and in combos—is all terrific.
- Zack Clark — Random Acts of Order (Clean Feed, 2017)
Zack Clarke’s trio, with Henry Fraser on bass and Dré Hočevar drums, weaves through an ever-evolving improvised maze of jazz, drone, electronica, and noise. “The mind roamed as a moth roams,” as Wallace Stevens might say.
- Danny Kamins, Damon Smith, Alvin Fielder, and Joe Hertenstein — After Effects (FMR Records, 2017)
I am a fan of innovative bass players, of baritone sax, and of extended technique: this quartet hits all my sweet spots.
- Peter Evans, Agustí Fernandez, Mats Gustafsson — A Quietness of Water (Not Two Records, 2017)For these masters of extended technique, technique is never an end in itself. Evans, Fernandez, and Gustafsson push the limits of their instruments and of their bodies to produce disquieting and difficult music for brave souls: not for the faint of heart.
- Achim Kaufmann and Olie Brice — Of Tides (Babel Label, 2017)
We talk a lot about “interplay” and “conversation” when reviewing free jazz, and this record is a master class in those concepts and in the power of a duo.
- Jo Berger Myhre and Ólafur Björn Ólafsson —The Third Script (Hubro, 2017)
Sweeping Arctic gorgeousness: atmospheric, beastly, mystical, and deeply human.
- Hang Em High: Bond, Lucien Dubuis, and Alfred Vogel — Tres Testostones (Gig Ant, 2017)
Inspired by the greatness that was Morphine, this trio—James Radek Bond, Lucien Dubuis, and Alfred Vogel—creates intensely fun jams. Alfred Vogel is a powerhouse who works the subtleties of his genius in many contexts.
Connor KurtzSo, 2017 in jazz and improvised music:
- Keith Rowe & Michael Pisaro - 13 Thirteen (Erstwhile Records)
The 140 minute duo recording brings together one of the most prominent electroacoustic improvisers with one of the most prominent avant-garde contemporary composers to create a beast which takes liberally from both worlds, creating something fresh, exciting and massive. It's hard to say exactly what 13 Thirteen is trying to say, but it feels extremely important.
- William Parker & Stefano Scodanibbio - Bass Duo (Centering Records)
This archived recording documents a performance by a jazz bassist with a minimalist composer bassist to create music that belongs to neither genre, but recalls clearly why the two are great.
- Johan Berthling, Martin Küchen & Steve Noble - Threnody, at the Gates (Trost Records)
This album is simply some of the most exciting jazz I've heard in a while. It's abstract and multi-faceted, but constantly invigorating and powerful.
- Masahide Tokunaga - Bwoouunn: Fleeting Excitement (Ftarri)
Japanese avant-garde saxophonist Masahide Tokunaga is one of the most original acoustic performers in the world right now, and this solo recording is his best yet.
- Yan Jun & Ben Owen - swimming salt 游泳的盐 (Organized Music From Thessaloniki)
This minimal improvisation for electronics contains little more than tones and static, but is endlessly endearing in its movement and (very modern) interplay. Despite feeling so cold and lifeless, the nature of the improvisation maintains a sense of playfulness which keeps it from becoming an academic bore.
- Samo Salamon Sextet - The Colours Suite (Clean Feed)
The Colours Suite is a live recording of a ton of avant-garde jazz fun. The sextet, which includes two drummers, perform masterfully, yet youthfully, and all get their own comfortably placed times to shine.
- suzueri & Fiona Lee - Ftarri de Solos (Ftarri)
Ftarri de Solos is a split between Japanese improv newbies suzueri and Fiona Lee, and immediately proves them both to be some of the most worthwhile and innovative improvisers to follow in upcoming years.
- Toshimaru Nakamura & Martin Taxt - Listening to the footsteps of living ones who are still on the ground (Ftarri)
Nakamura's famous no-input mixing board is used to process a live tuba performance from Martin Taxt, creating a complex mess of sound which often borders upon being harsh noise.
- Sam Sfirri & Taku Unami - zymology (Hibari Music)zymology is an hour of avant-garde ultra-reductionist improvisation by Sam Sfirri and Taku Unami, who spend more time crumpling paper and starting washing machines than they do playing their instruments. Although it is a fairly serious and conceptual work, it maintains a certain homeliness which grants some listenability.
- Ikue Mori - Obelisk (Tzadik)
It's hard for me to imagine a modern jazz quartet more exciting than Ikue Mori, Jim Black, Sylvie Courvoisier and Okkyung Lee, and their music comes far from disappointing.
- Hiroyuki Ura, Kenichi Kanazawa & Satoko Inoue - Scores (Ftarri)
Scores is a composition by Hiroyuki Ura which explores the metal sound sculptures of Kenichi Kanazawa. The music is combined with gorgeous and sparse piano melodies, and soft synthesized ambience. Scores is a breath of fresh air into Tokyo's Onkyo scene that's as relaxing as it is difficult.
- Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity - Live In Europe – (Clean Feed Records, 2017)
One of the true highlights for me this year. From a conceptual perspective it’s a very nice approach. 3 live concerts on 3 CD’s with the trio transforming into a quartet and quintet. Some songs are heard more than once which allows the listener to hear how these musicians treat material when additional instruments are added to the mix. But most importantly I absolutely adore how Nilssen and his energetic companions twist, turn and reinvent ideas. Fearless, bold and full of energy is the summary.
- Se Och Hör - Se Mig Hör Mig Känn Mig - (Signal And Sound Records, 2017) (Not reviewed on FJB, per December 13 – write-up in progress)
Everything Anna Högberg is involved in seems to turn into gold. Se Och Hör (Watch And Listen) latest album Se Mig Hör Mig Känn Mig (See me, Hear me, Feel me) is no exception. Vibraphonist Mattias Ståhl makes this album something extra. An album full of life!
- James Blood Ulmer & The Thing – Baby Talk (Trost, 2017)
This was not reviewed as a five star by yours truly, but maybe I was too conservative with my grade, being a new reviewer and all. Anyway, I keep returning to this album whenever I need an injection of untamed and raw free jazz. As I say; "Mats a day keeps the doctor away."
- Jaimie Branch - Fly Or Die (International Anthem, 2017)
This is probably my favorite album this year in terms of how it’s been recorded. Dave Vettraino & David Allen has done a spectacular job, period. The music is to die for…or fly for. The title of this album is spot on. The music feels like it’s now or never. It needs to be captured and delivered or it’s going to be lost forever.
- Peter Evans / Agustí Fernandez / Mats Gustafsson — A Quietness of Water (Not Two Records, 2017)
This is one scary album, yet I can’t stay away from listening a bit more. This is a completely new language for me and it’s mesmerizing!
- Martin Küchen - Lieber Heiland, Laß und Sterben (Sofa Music, 2017)
Alone in a very old room in a cathedral, Küchen invites me to connect titles with sounds, to allow feelings to come and to go and to dare being alone.
- Ken Vandermark - Momentum 1: The Stone (Catalytic Sound, 2017)
The giant Vandermark. What can one say that hasn’t been said already? This box is a delight from start to finish. It’s such a treat to have and to hear. A monumental release.
- Marker – Wired For Sound (Catalytic Sound, 2017)
A new group with Vandermark! Freaky funky rock-n’-swing axed to pieces, chopped to bits, mowed down and then put back together.
- Albert Cirera / Hernâni Faustino / Gabriel Ferrandini / Agustí Fernández - Before The Silence (No Business Records, 2016)
Vibrant, passionate and energetic, yet not without lyricism. This album is beautifully recorded and is full of interesting layers to dive into as a listener.
- Joe McPhee / Damon Smith / Alvin Fielder - Six Situations (Not Two Records, 2017)
Free jazz and improvisation of the highest order. I love how this group moves in and out of structures and ideas without any restraints. The beat is always there, yet the group has no problem moving into individual excursions far out.
- Joshua Abrams Natural Information Society - Simultonality (Eremite)
Scaling back from 2015's double-LP Magnetoception, Abrams & co. offer another hypnotic set of organic loops and grooves. Don't miss the Ari Brown feature at the end.
- Amok Amor - We Know Not What We Do (Intakt)
Peter Evans, Wanja Slavin, Petter Eldh, and Christian Lillinger deliver a set of tightly plotted, expertly navigated tunes. Lillinger's stop-start drumming is the perfect complement to Evans's punchy trumpet work.
- jaimie branch - Fly or Die (International Anthem)
The debut of the year—bold and compact, but with holistic variety, from the writing to the playing to the production. What else is there to say? Branch flies.
- Kate Gentile - Mannequins (Skirl)Another bold debut, one that would easily bear the weight of more attention. Percussionist Gentile is joined by Matt Mitchell, Jeremy Viner (tenor, clarinet), and Adam Hopkins (bass) for over an hour of challenging, exciting music.
- Hear In Now - Not Living in Fear (International Anthem)"Breathtaking" is the word I keep coming back to. Whether tilting toward experimentalism or melodicism, Tomeka Reid, Mazz Swift, and Silvia Bolognesi play with fire and wit.
- Irreversible Entanglements - Irreversible Entanglements (International Anthem)
While Camae Ayewa's incisive recitations give this burning, necessary album the core of its power, it wouldn't quite come off without top performances from Keir Neuringer, Aquiles Navarro, Luke Stewart, and Tchester Holmes, too.
- Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over (ECM)
Lives up to expectations, and then some. These pieces expand Iyer's musical persona and give his sextet ample opportunity to wow.
- Roscoe Mitchell - Bells for the South Side (ECM)
Mills might have tried to bump him earlier this year, but this album shows—if there was any question—that the multi-reedist has plenty more to teach. As varied as his best work has always been, these compositions are fun and serious by turns, always awesome.
- Bill Orcutt - Bill Orcutt (Palilalia)
Is the mid-career self-titled album a way of wiping the slate clean? What about when it's full of standards, traditional songs, and Christmas carols? Either way, this album of solo guitar pieces comes across as fresh and urgent as anything.
- Andrew Smiley - Dispersal (Astral Spirits)And one more debut. Smiley takes the stage alone for this brave half-hour bout of wordless singing and guitar. Earnest and raw.
David MenestresLike all lists, this one should be taken with a healthy dose of salt. This isn’t a reflection of the best albums released this year, it’s a reflection of the very small subset of that group that I actually managed to listen to. For instance, I still haven’t heard that Jamie Branch album that I’m sure will be on almost everyone else’s list. And about the ordering: it goes from solo performance to larger groups. I have no idea how to place these albums one above the other, this seemed like a good solution.
- Nate Wooley – The Complete Syllables Music (Pleasure of the Text Records)
A deep and fascinating plunge into solo trumpet work, pushing the trumpet into new realms of being.
- Proprioception – Alex Ward (Weekertoft)
My second favorite solo release of the year featuring one of the my favorite instruments, the clarinet, with and without amplification.
- William Parker & Stefano Scodanibbio – Bass Duo (Aum Fidelity)A one off meeting between two of the greatest bass players of the last fifty years.
- Leila Bordreuil & Zach Rowden – Hollow (No Rent Records)
Bass and cello and cello and bass, with the greatest PR line I’ve ever seen: “For fans of Morton Feldman and Richard Ramirez alike.”
- Hear In Now – Not Living In Fear (International Anthem)
The best trio I heard this year, refreshing and new. Looking forward to hearing this trio grow for many years to come.
- Han-earl Park, Dominic Lash, Mark Sanders, Caroline Pugh - Sirene 1009 (Buster and Friends)
As I said in my review “a fierce, adventurous band that goes where most bands don’t.”
- Nicole Mitchell – Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE Records)
The ever illuminating Mitchell blazing a path into the future.
- Roscoe Mitchell – Bells for the South Side (ECM)
I decided there would only be one album per label and this is my favorite ECM release this year.
- Matt Mitchell – A Pouting Grimace (PI)
One of the most ambitious albums of the year.
- Alice Coltrane - World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane (Luka Bop)
The one reissue I listened to more than anything else.
- Wadada Leo Smith – Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (TUM, 2017) / Najwa (TUM, 2017)
Two distinct records that can be seen as a double album, presenting two complementary aspects of Smith’s uncompromising musical vision. Simply stunning.
- Roscoe Mitchell – Bells for the South Side (ECM, 2017)
Another master of creative music who refuses to play it safe. The old slogan of the Art Ensemble – Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future – has never been so fitting.
- Irreversible Entanglements – S/T (International Anthem, 2017)
Free Jazz rediscovers its vocation as social music. A furious, poignant, and ultimately necessary album for these troubled times.
- Nicole Mitchell – Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE, 2017)
Afrofuturism for the 21st century: with Mandorla Awakening Mitchell has created a strange, fascinating, and simply beautiful new musical world.
- Lisa Mezzacappa – avantNOIR (Clean Feed, 2017)Virtuoso, inventive and utterly captivating – a clever homage to the noir canon from one of the most interesting new voices of the West Coast jazz scene.
- Otomo Yoshihide / Hiroshi Yamazaki / Evan Parker – 14.11.16 (Otoroku, 2017)East meets West in this live recording from Otoroku’s download only series. Free improvisation of the highest caliber.
- The Necks – Unfold (Ideologic Organ, 2017)
Listening to The Necks is like being abducted by aliens – you come back transformed, but you don’t know exactly how. Thirty years later, the mystery remains.
- Hear in Now – Not Living in Fear (International Anthem, 2017)
Three inventive musicians/composers – and fearless improvisers – present a highly original vision of what jazz is, and what it will be.
- Miles Okazaki – Trickster (Pi Recordings, 2017)
Geometric grooves and oblique improvisations from four modern jazz masters – a game of mirrors where nothing is what it seems.
- Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza – Azioni/Reazioni 1967–1969 (Die Schachtel, 2017)A monumental release to celebrate one of the most important ensembles in the history of free improvisation. Essential.
- ANEMONE - A Wing Dissolved In Light (NoBusiness, 2017)
Ego-less, collective improvisation at it's best
- CARTER/GUERINNAU - Couleur De L'Exil (Improvising Beings, 2017)A dramatic and impressive dialogue
- Tony Conrad - Ten Years Alive On The Infinite Plain (Superior Viaduct, 2017)
The best archival recording of 2017. T.Conrad is deeply missed
- Neuköllner Modelle : Denzler, Grip, Johansson, V. Schlippenbach – Sektion 3-7 (Umlaut, 2017)Looking into the future through the past
- Akira Sakata & Manuel Mota & Giovanni Di Domenico & Mathieu Calleja – Jomon (Holidays Records, 2017)
Sakata's fire is always strong, even with new but fine artists
- Mama Luma - s/t (Krapp's Tapes/noise below, 2017)
Lo-fi, noise, free jazz, piano music, whatever
- David S. Ware Trio – Live In New York, 2010 (AUM Fidelity, 2017)David S. Ware is not from the past, but comes from the future
- Nicole Mitchell – Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE Records, 2017)
A holistic vision of contemporary black music
- Yves Charuest, Agusti Fernandez, Nicolas Caloia, Peter Valsamis – Stir (tour de bras, 2017)
Out of the blue, one of the best quartets of 2017
- Sun Ra And His Arkestra Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold - s/t (Superior Viaduct, 2017)
The burning saxophone of Pharoah added to a collective that had no boundaries
- Irreversible Entanglements - Irreversible Entanglements (International Anthem, 2017)
- Nicole Mitchell - Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE, 2017)
- Jaimie Branch - Fly or Die (International Anthem, 2017)
- Isabelle Duthoit & Franz Hautzinger - Lily (Relative Pitch, 2017)
- Kate Gentile - Mannequins (Skirl, 2017)
- Hear In Now - Not Living in Fear (International Anthem, 2017)
- Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo - Peace (Libra, 2017)
- Áine O’Dwyer - Gallarais (MIE, 2017)
- Eve Risser and Kaja Draksler - To Pianos (Clean Feed, 2017)
- Mary Halvorson Quartet - Paimon: The Book of Angels Volume 32 (Tzadik, 2017)
It’s only fitting then for my top 10 of such a year to be dominated by female-lead acts which crafted exhilarating music. Mary Halvorson’s quartet closed John Zorn’s Book of Angels songbook with one of its best entries. Eve Risser, Kaja Draksler, Satoko Fujii, and Áine O’Dwyer spoiled us with their continued musical triumphs. Hear in Now with Tomeka Reid, Silvia Bolognesi, and Mazz Swift flowed between free jazz/improv, modern composition, and folk. Isabelle Duthoit showcased her amazing vocal expressiveness, while Kate Gentile and Jaimie Branch stepped up into the limelight with two potent debuts. But it was Nicole Mitchell and Irreversible Entanglements with Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother) that created this year’s masterpieces, their afrofuturism-imbued, philosophically and politically charged music connecting the past, present, and future, warning us and showing us the path forward.
- Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp - The Art of Perelman/Shipp (8 CDs) (Leo, 2017)
I’ve ignored Perelman for a long time - what a mistake. His eight CDs with his favorite collaborator Matthew Shipp plus guests is another proof of his current rush of creativity. My favorite is "Nr. 4: Hyperion"
- Roscoe Mitchell - Bells From the South Side (ECM, 2017)
Mitchell works with the developments of thoughts and he loves depth, Craig Taborn once said. This goes for this performance with members of his different trios at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art as well.
- Vijay Iyer - Far From Over (ECM, 2017)
This is not a free jazz album - in fact it’s almost mainstream - but the music here is so well-constructed, so full of commitment, so excellently played, that it’s absolutely joyful to listen to.
- jaimie branch - Fly Or Die (International Anthem, 2017)
Simply the newcomer of the year - a trumpeter who is aware of her own sound, supported by a great band (Tomeka Reid, Jason Adjemian, Josh Berman, Chad Taylor and others)
- Nate Wooley - The Complete Syllables Music (Pleasure Of The Text Records, 2017)
For many years I felt uncomfortable with our Happy New Ears Award for “the most innovative listening experience“. This is one indeed. Four CDs pure Wooley: solo trumpet, tapes and effects.
- Evan Parker, Mikołaj Trzaska, John Edwards, Mark Sanders — City Fall - Live at Cafe Oto (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2016)
It’s a 2016 album, but it was released on 12/23/2016, so nobody could have it on last year’s lists. The best rhythm section at the moment supports two European first rate saxophonists in top form.
- Anemone - A Wing Dissolved In Light (NoBusiness, 2017)
A quintet which unites musicians from three continents, each from different countries. All the more, the musicians represent different generations of improvised music. It’s as if they had played together for years.
- Wadada Leo Smith - Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (TUM, 2017)
The compositions of a true master played by a true master. There’s no Top Ten list without an album by Wadada Leo Smith.
- Pat Thomas - The Elephant Clock of Al Jazari (Otoroku, 2017)
Among the many excellent pianists on the scene at the moment, Pat Thomas’ solo albums stand out. Full of surprise, the music is hard to categorize. This is my favorite one so far.
- Kate Gentile - Mannequins (Skirl, 2017)
Another newcomer album (at least the first under her name), in this case by a drummer. Superbly composed material prepares the ground for wild improvisations. No wonder if you have Matt Mitchell (p), Jeremy Viner (sax) and Adam Hopkins (b) in the band.
- Mount Eerie: A Crow Looked On Me (P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd, 2017)
Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum lost his wife, musician and artist Geneviève Carée, who was also the mother of their two-year-old child, to cancer. This is a reflection on her memory, but also on what it means to keep living. One of the most touching albums I’ve ever heard.
- There were many this year: Joe McPhee and Paal Nilssen-Love in Weikersheim; Dave Rempis, Nate Wooley, Pascal Niggenkemper and Chris Corsano in Schorndorf; Ballister in Bonn; Agustì Fernandez and Lucia Martinez in Wiesbaden, but nothing can compete with Nate Wooley’s Seven Storey Mountain Orchestra at the A L’arme Festival in Berlin. The huge supergroup including American and Berlin-located musicians created an atmosphere of immense tightness and drama. After the show you could hear the musicians freaking out in the backstage room.
- Bill Orcutt - Bill Orcutt (Palilalia Records, 2017)
Way too short.
- Wadada Leo Smith - Solo: Reflections And Meditations On Monk (TUM Records, 2017)
From one master of Afro-American music to another.
- James Blood Ulmer with The Thing - Baby Talk (Trost Records, 2017)
Eclectic, yet exciting combination. Harmolodics meet free jazz vikings.
- Ballister - Slag (Aerophonic Records, 2017) and Low Level Stink (Dropadisc, 2017)
Explosive free jazz unit.
- DKV Trio - Latitude 41.88 (Not Two Records, 2017)
> 20 years of improvising experience in the palm of your hand.
- jaimie branch - Fly Or Die (International Anthem Recording Company, 2017)
Outstanding leader debut.
- Mats Gustafsson & Craig Taborn - Ljubljana (Clean Feed, 2017)
Two masters at work.
- Chicago/London Underground - A Night Walking Through Mirrors (Cuneiform Records, 2017)Superb transatlantic collaboration.
- Mary Halvorson - Paimon: The Book Of Angels Volume 32 (Tzadik, 2017)
Engrossing final chapter.
- Konstrukt - Molto Bene (Holidays Records, 2016)
Tardy for the 2016 the end-of-year-lists. Music for heart, body, mind and soul.
Dan SorrellsThis was another excellent year for music, and choosing just ten albums was difficult. I could easily have doubled or tripled this list, which certainly exceeds the scope of “free jazz,” but contains music I think can be appreciated by many readers. In no particular order:
- Bill Orcutt – Bill Orcutt (Palilalia)
Orcutt’s first solo electric guitar release, a further refinement of his song demolitions and utterly idiosyncratic style.
- Alexandra Grimal, Benjamin Duboc, Valentin Ceccaldi – Bambú (Ayler)
An absurdly accomplished trio of French musicians that makes fascinating use of spoken word in their almost ceremonial improvisations.
- Mako Sica – Invocation (Instant Classic/Feeding Tube)
This Chicago trio pulls from a lot of familiar genres, but nevertheless make infectious music that’s difficult to pin down.
- La Tène– Tardive/Issime (Astral Spirits)
Hypnotic, rhythmic bliss in the form of hurdy gurdy, harmonium and percussion.
- The Pitch – Frozen Orchestra (Berlin) (Arbitrary)Shimmering psychedelic drones from this expanded version of The Pitch.
- Chiyoko Szlavnics – During A Lifetime (Another Timbre)Absorbing works from this Canadian composer, exploring the interactions of sine waves and the timbres of various instruments.
- Širom – I Can Be a Clay Snapper (tak:til)
This Slovenian trio restlessly cycles through instruments and melodies to create kaleidoscopic folk-inflected pieces.
- IKB – Ornithorhynchus Anatinus (Creative Sources)
Ernesto Rodrigues’ long-running ensemble returns with their sixth album. “Quiet music that you want to experience loudly.”
- Szilárd Mezei, Marina Džukljev, Vasco Trilla – Still Now (If You Still) (FMR)
“Music of furious virtuosity. It is an album that makes you hold your breath as you listen.”
- Abdul Moimême – Exosphere: Live at the Pantheon (Creative Sources)
Moimême’s custom dual-guitar setup, here in the resonant National Pantheon in Lisbon, produces sounds unlike anything else in improvised music.
- Matt Mitchell - A Pouting Grimace (Pi Recordings)
A Pouting Grimace takes all of the best qualities of Mitchell's previous work (especially the tremendous Vista Accumulation) and distills them into a stream-lined, endlessly inventive package. There's a lot going on here, and I'm still unraveling it all, but it's easily my favorite avant-garde jazz release of the year.
- jaimie branch - Fly or Die (International Anthem)
It's got all of the raw energy and attitude of a punk rock record, and there are tons of little moments on here that add up to so much more. In a genre where some artists can take themselves and their work a little too seriously (not always a bad thing, mind you), Fly or Die is refreshingly playful.
- Ivo Perelman, Matthew Ship & Nate Wooley - Philosopher's Stone (Leo Records)Being a fan of Perelman is both rewarding and challenging, and for the very same reason - namely, there's just so much quality material coming from Perelman each year that it's a bit daunting to try and tackle it all. I could have chosen a number of Perelman's other releases from this year, but Philosopher's Stone is particularly thrilling. Perelman and Wooley approach their respective instruments in different ways, sure, but they mesh together so damned well!
- Krokofant - Krokofant III (Rune Grammofon)
This became my go-to workout music for 2017. A wonderful hybrid of rock and improvisational jazz that delivers blow after blow after blow.
- Miles Okazaki - Trickster (Pi Recordings)This gets about as close to a "cool breeze" as a free(-ish) jazz album can. Okazaki's guitar figures can be dizzying in their melodic complexity, of course, but they go down smooth. Add a crack rhythm section and the always-great Craig Taborn, and you've got a winner.
- Cortex - Avant-Garde Party Music (Clean Feed)
With this one, you basically get what's on the tin: jazz that's playful, occasionally boisterous, and always adventurous. Cortex might have a well-worn formula they stick to, but there's a reason they haven't switched it up yet: it works.
- Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity - Live in Europe (Clean Feed)
I came to this one rather recently, but I can already tell it's a keeper. Freewheeling solos, tight interplay, and the kind of energy that you can only get in a live performance - it's all here, and it's all gold.
- Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far from Over (ECM)
Iyer continues to expand the scope of his compositions on Far from Over, and he does so with the help of some of the best players in the game.
- Big Bold Back Bone - In Search of Emerging Species (Clean Feed)
I was confused and disoriented by this record the first, second, and maybe even third time I heard it..but it continued to draw me back and offer up more of its treasures. Here we are at the end of 2017 and I still haven't excavated everything that's going on in this 40-minute slab of sound.
- Irreversible Entanglements - Irreversible Entanglements (International Anthem)I thought that I didn't enjoy spoken word with my free jazz, but this album changed all that; the words that Camae Ayewa spits, snarls, and occasionally screams may not be pretty, but damn if they don't punch you right in the gut at times. Combine that with a relentlessly powerful quartet, and you've got a record that just won't release its grip on you.