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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Kuzu - Lift to Drag (Medium Sound, 2019) ****½

By Taylor McDowell

When two atomic nuclei fuse, it is often accompanied by the release of huge amounts of energy. The result can be both beautiful and violent, like the fusion that occurs at the center of our own Sun. I think Kuzu was formed with similar results. The Tashi Dorji-Tyler Damon axis has alone proven to be one of the more earthshaking guitar/drum duos in recent years. It’s become clear that they have found a genuine camaraderie in one another, as any of their records will testify to. In the other corner, there is Dave Rempis - that indefatigable force of nature coming out of Chicago. He’s got a creative well, no, geyser that has resulted in high-volumes of seriously good music from a number of seriously good projects.

Dorji (guitar), Damon (drums and percussion) and Rempis (saxophones) joined forces in 2017 with brilliant results. Their debut, Hiljaisuus (Astral Spirits, 2018) was a very well-received ass-kicking that quickly became a favorite - rightfully voted third in the 2018 Happy New Ears polls. It was the gorgeously harsh intersection of incendiary free jazz and noise rock. Ironically, their initial meeting was supposed to be just a one-time ordeal. But, according to Damon in an interview , they knew they had something special after recording Hiljaisuus. A tour of Texas and the East Coast ensued in the fall of 2018, which brings us to Lift to Drag.

Taken from a performance at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center in Buffalo, Lift to Drag consists of 80-minutes of improvisation at its finest. The two extended tracks leave ample room for this trio to seize rhythmic or melodic ideas, construct wild grooves from it, only to burn it down in strident anarchy. It’s a glorious process to witness. The first track, “Spilled Out,” begins ominously with Damon malleting out a steady rhythm on toms. Rempis joins in on tenor, oozing melodic lines, while Dorji feels out a similar path playing single-note runs with an eastern flair. The whole thing begins to boil in a captivating Persian-like groove until it erupts into a maelstrom of overdriven guitar and thrashing toms, crescendoing at around the 13-minute mark. Damon is going nuts, provoking the tethered animal that is Dorji’s snarling guitar, while Rempis screams and bellows. Oh, the raw emotion! Dorji utilizes feedback and distortion to engulf any remaining silence that might escape Damon’s impenetrable wall. Other times, Dorji’s picking becomes metered and percussive - letting hollow, metallic notes ring out to create a drone. A great example of this occurs around 19:20, when Dorji plays a droning bass under a Geiger counter picking pattern. Damon, a masterful purveyor of groove, lays down a satisfying swing while Rempis sings a vibrato-laden melody in a fashion reminiscent of Elvin and Trane.

Rempis switches to baritone, and the group begins the second set, titled “Carried Away,” in hushed tones. After a couple of minutes of quieter ruminations, Rempis cuts loose a battle cry that opens to gates to mayhem. One thing I can’t help but notice is how Dorji seems to offer more melodic material on Lift to Drag than he does in Hiljaisuus, in addition to the rhythmic, percussive and textural elements. It’s another facet of his playing that helps drive the mood at any given time, and also makes him a good sparring partner for Rempis’s melodicism. A great example of this takes form around the 12-minute mark. Rempis (on alto now) and Dorji mutually agree on a tonal palette. Rempis’s playing, with a warm and articulated tone, is simply gorgeous and unforgiving all at once. Dorji introduces a slow, staggering bass melody that perfectly compliments Rempis’s lines while contrasting Damon’s triumphant and tumultuous thundering. Damon is thirsty for blood though, and drives the piece to a breaking point until he drops out, leaving Rempis and Dorji to wander through the ruins and ashes. It takes some rebuilding, quiet at first, even becoming a bit ecstatic. But dynamics shift often with this group, and I often forget where the hell we even came from because the present is so engrossing.

I’m not going to lie, I would feel pretty betrayed if Kuzu were actually a one-time ordeal. They’re that good. And it’s clear that the magic they first experienced on Hiljaisuus is the real deal because Lift to Drag really cleans up. If you’re even slightly intrigued what a cutting-edge, hard-driving trio should sound like, then pick up both of their records now.

Lift to Drag was available as a limited cassette tape, but is still available as a digital download.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Mario Pavone's Dialect Trio - Philosophy (Clean Feed Records, 2019) ****

By Olle Lawson

“A lesson about how to live in society.” (Liner Notes.)

Double bassist Mario Pavone’s latest album Philosophy could equally have been entitled ‘Aphorisms’ considering how concise these eight mini manifestos are. Pavone is a selfless leader who none the less stamps his authorial mark on all of his multifaceted line-ups. This is the third Dialect Trio LP with pianist Matt Mitchell – best known for his work with Tim Berne – and the inimitable Tyshawn Sorey.

The opening track 8/18/18. – named for the day the record was cut – is Philosophy’s calling card tune: a classic, sprightly Pavone head that sets up a path for Mitchell to bring the piano to the fore. I was surprised to hear such straight-ahead clarity here but two minutes in the trio winds together finding its collective centrifugal force, suddenly locking in to an utterly contemporary intricacy. Mitchell even ascends to that Bill Evans ‘singing’ upper register before Mario signs his statement with a paced, probing mid-range solo.

The title-track whirls open with an Ellingtoned locomotive piano, bringing a distinct New York vibe as Sorey’s drumming spits and rolls, moving into hypnotically breaking down the beat, before ushering the whistle-call motif back in.

'Circles' by Annette Peacock was most memorably showcased on Paul Bley’s ultra-modern ’67 ECM release Ballads (with whom Pavone played ’68 -’72). This version maintains the beauty and melancholy minimalism inherent in the writing, whilst equalling the original’s crystalline, intervallic spaciousness; though with an additional warmth from Sorey’s detailed brush work.

A second Peacock tune – 'The Beginning' – is boiled down here to a hundred-and-three second rampage predicated on Sorey’s tumbling vortex of drums with Mitchell firing notes in all directions; the bass running and punching beneath.

'Everything There Is' – the center piece of the album – is an evolving triangular improvisation from all three members of the Dialect Trio. A never-resting interplay revolving around an oblique central tension. Mitchell’s upward swirls mapped out with sparse bass prods and underpinned with interwoven maelstromic drumming that both swaggers and provokes. This is Sorey at his finest – and for me the strongest piece on the album.

With its classic bass walk, 'Two Thirds Radial' elicits a distinct swing – Mario audibly vocalizing at the feel-point, as the band pulls from the beat.

The opening head of 'Iskmix' is archetypal Pavone: bouncing and rousing before slowing into a more complex interlocking dialogue.

At seventy-nine (it’s hard to believe from the recorded evidence here; and the ongoing work rate) Pavone retains a knotted, woody, punchy bass tone with a propulsive muscularity and relentlessly solid precision – playing with a vitality and energy of someone less than half his age. His looping, descending bass line on Noka, comprehensively deconstructed by Mitchell, brings the LP to a close.
Equal now to Pavone’s preceding Arc Trio, Philosophy presents the Dialect Trio in their most concentrated form: tightly principled dialogues, sculpted back to the essentials with structured, enquiring intensity. We should all be taking notes.

Special mention to Clean Feed, for the pitch perfect art work.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Free Jazz Collective’s Top 101 Recordings Of The 2010s

We asked the Free Jazz Collective to submit up to 100 of their favorite recordings originally released between 2010 and 2019, so long as the recordings fit the spirit of the blog. Contributors were encouraged to weight the recordings by ranking them, to result in a more impactful, ranked list. We compiled their individual lists to only include recordings submitted by more than one contributor, in the spirit of collective consensus, resulting in 101 entries. For technical reasons, please click the button to read to the article.

*Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Meet The Experimental Vocal Artists #4

By Eyal Hareuveni

Danish Randi Pontoppidan, British Phil Minton, German Ute Wassermann, Dutch Jaap Blonk and Slovenian Irena Z. Tomažin keep expanding the frontiers of the human vocals. 

Randi Pontoppidan - Rooms (Chant Records, 2019) ****½

Danish experimental vocalist-sound poet-composer-improviser-educator Randi Pontoppidan has worked with some of the greatest bass players of our times - Greg Cohen (their duo, Event Horizon, released its debut album, Space Geode on Chant, 2018), Joëlle Leánder and Jamaaladeen Tacuma as well as with Danish poet Morten Søndergaard, sax hero Lotte Anker and pianist Jakob Davidsen. She is also in-demand vocalist in the contemporary classical world, working with Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices and performing works by Steve Reich, David Lang, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage.
Pontoppidan’s first solo album Rooms finds her exploring many rooms of her own, tp paraphrase Virrginia Woolf, using only her voice, filtered through various loops and electronic effects and machines. Pontoppidan reaches the outer limits and the deepest secrets of her own voice - processed, multiplied and layered, and sketches an arresting series of imaginative and highly nuanced soundscapes, ranging from the angelic and spiritual (“Hush of Expectation”, “Mari Si”), to playful sound poetry (“Dunh”), abstract industrial sounds (“Industrious - Moving Castle”), icy, sparse minimalism (“Arctic”, “Tidal”), Reich-ian tribal pulse (“Dis Appearence”) and hymnal and meditative (“Dreamy”). When the listening experience of Rooms takes over - and it happens quite fast, you may forget that all these colorful, suggestive sounds are made only by a human voice. You may feel abducted by friendly aliens, gifted with a thousand, singing tongues, tempting and charming in many magical, wordless languages, and happy to share their untimely, infinite wisdom with the attentive listeners.

More: Youtube | Soundcloud

Randi Pontoppidan & Christian Rønn - Head Space (Chant, 2020) ***

Pontoppidan returns with Head Space, a meeting with fellow Danish electro-acoustic composer-improviser Christian Rønn, known from the free jazz trio Blind Mans Band, who plays here on the Wurlitzer piano and electronics. Pontoppidan and Rønn claim that the combination of her heady, vocal-improvisations and electronics and his fierce amplified Wurlitzer “took off to the hemisphere.” 
Pontoppidan and Rønn have choose to travel in loose and barren atmospheric landscapes, letting Pontoppidan operatic vocal flights disperse slowly and gently into thin space, echoed by the sparse, resonating Wurlitzer sounds of Rønn. The most interesting pieces are the ones that subvert this monotonous, deserted attitude, where the dynamics gravitate towards more tense, noisy collisions as on “Waterproof”, “Udspring” and “Gamma”. 

Speak Easy - @ Konfrontationen (Confront Records, 2019) ****

Speak Easy is the quartet of British vocal artist Phil Minton with German vocal artist-sound poet Ute Wassermann, who adds bird whistles to her vocals, percussionist Martin Blume, and Vienna-based Thomas Lehn on analogue EMS synthesizer. This free-improvising quartet has been active since 2008 and released its debut album, Backchats (Creative Sources, 2009), a live recording from Bochum, Germany from March 2008, followed by a DVD, The Loft Concert (PanRec, 2009), documenting a performance from a day later. The sophomore album is another live recording, captured at the Austrian Konfrontationen festival in Nickelsdorf on July 2016.

The audience of the Konfrontationen festival is the perfect one for this kind of eccentric quartet, familiar with all its musicians and eager to be startled and amazed by more and more eccentricities. And Speak Easy (a nickname for secret, intimate bars who sold drinks during the prohibition ban on alcohol in the United States, 1920-1933) provides exactly this recipe - 52 minutes of “Speechless”, a wild, funny, intense piece, one that never ceases to offer weird sonic inventions and strange yet emphatic dynamics. No doubt, Minton, Wassermann, Blume and Lehn found their very own way of speaking - urgent, easy, touching, intoxicating, sometimes with subtle, explosive noises, but always ready to share their most intimate secrets and teach their new languages to the curious, adventurous listeners. 

Ute Wassermann, Jaap Blonk & Michael Vorfeld (Kontrans, 2019) ***½*

Dutch experimental vocal artist-sound poet-electronics player Jaap Blonk’s own label, Kontrans, has a line of releases - improvisors - that documents his free-improvised meeting with like-minded musicians. Kontrans has released Blonk’s meetings with Mats Gustafsson and Michael Zerang, Maja Ratkje, Jeb Bishop and Frank Rosaly.

This release documents Blonk’s meeting with Berlin-based, fellow experimental vocal artist Ute Wassermann, who also plays on assorted whistles, “kutu wapa, frog buzzer and mirliton” and percussionist and visual artist Michael Vorfeld, who adds to his arsenal string instrument and light bulbs. It was recorded at AudioCue Tonlabor, Berlin, on March 2018. Like Rooms, this trio also offers 13 distinct pieces, but contrary to the introspective, reserved atmosphere of Rooms, this trio experiments with the wild, weird and noisy. These three hyperactive and reckless adults - alien bards, as one of the pieces is titled - play an endless, dadaist tag while soaring higher and higher into their sonic universes, Luckily, Wasserman, Blonk and Vorfeld share the same kind of humor and like risk-taking, hectic games. These three improvisers even succeed to create a surprising intimacy, but sometimes you may want to ask them to slow down a bit. 

JeJaWeDa - Pioneer Works, Vol. 1 + Pioneer Works, vol. 2 (Balance Point Acoustics, 2019) ***½*

This new quartet JaJeWeDa features trombonist JEb Bishop, JAap Blonk, both adds electronics, plus the powerful rhythm section of percussionist WEsel Walter and double bass player DAmon Smith. The quartet  debuted in the spring of 2019 with a series of concerts in the Northeast of the USA, but Blonk had collaborated before with Smith (North of Blanco and Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut-und Klanggedichte 1916 (Six Sound Poems, 1916), both released by Balance Point Acoustics, 2014). The new quartet debut releases - Pioneer works Vol. 1, a disc with a booklet of artworks by Blonk, and Pioneer works Vol. 2, a cassette with an unpublished sound poetry score by Blonk from 2001 (and a lime green tape), were released before a short autumn tour of the quartet.

The first volume, recorded at Pioneer Works, New York on March 2019, offers a wild, noisy, funny and urgent, free-improvising quartet where Blonk employs his vocals as another instrument, competing with the strong personalities and impressive sense of invention of Walter, Bishop and Smith, as all sound as getting closer and closer to a sonic meltdown. After a short “Warm Up”, all dive into the 30-minutes of “Work Out” where anything can happen and does happen, a total freak out of possessed dynamics. JaJeWeDa is supposed to “Cool Down” on the last piece, but this option does not exist in this quartet manual, and we get another playful, dadaist piece that by no means succeeds to exhaust the quartet’s energy. The second volume, recorded at the same place, same date, suggests a loose, structured texture. It often sounds like an eccentric, chamber texture. Blonk is the natural leader and main protagonist, staging a mix of fairy-horror tale with his hyperactive, playful comrades. 

More: Youtube

Irena Z. Tomažin - Cmok v grlu / Lump In The Throat (Sploh, 2019) ***1/*

Slovenian Irena Z. Tomažin experiments with fragmented vocals and bodily sounds produced between-with-after-at the realization of the voice. Her voice is deliberately morphed into extended noises with repetitive movements of the tongue, soft palate, throat muscles, teeth and air in micro resonating spaces of the oral cavity. The first, brief 11 pieces reflect Tomažin’s latest experiments with her voice, while the last, extended five improvisations are taken from her audiovisual installation piece, “Faces Of Voices # Noise’”, a production of MoTA – Museum For Transitory Art. This material was transformed and re-composed for Cmok v grlu / Lump In The Throat, her fourth album.

There are no words, melody or rhythm, at least not in any conventional sense of these concepts, but pure, highly adventurous, expressive and often unworldly and enigmatic sound art that keeps pushing for more edgy frontiers. Tomažin sounds on the first 11 pieces as willing to communicate only in her own terms. The other five pieces offer more complex and elaborate soundscapes, stressing how far and profound is her vocal artistry. These pieces move from the mysterious and silent “Zataknjeno za zobmi” to the spoiled and playful “Drobovje ust", the extraterrestrial chat of “Klic meduze”, the emotional lament of “Črna ovca” and the cryptic choir of “Neko drugo krdelo” 

More: Youtube

Friday, December 27, 2019

Sylvain Kassap & Benjamin Duboc - Le Funambule (Dark Tree, 2019) ****

By Dan Sorrells

One of the many unfortunate consequences of the shuttering of the Improvised Beings and Ayler* labels is the loss of two champions of bassist Benjamin Duboc’s music. A third champion—Dark Tree Records—soldiers on, and it’s wonderful to see Duboc’s name again on their latest release. Duboc is a perennial favorite, but reedist Sylvain Kassap is new to me. He’s been an accomplished player and composer in improvised and contemporary music since the late 1970s, and on Le Funambule he sports an assured and fluid voice on clarinet and bass clarinet.

Duboc’s sonorous arco and Kassap’s almost translucent clarinet tone share much in sonic character, and on the opening track “Vers le Bleu,” Kassap gradually lures Duboc out of shadowy murmurs and into more melodic territory. Eventually they arrive exactly where the track’s title suggests: winding a course through more modern sounds toward a remarkable reading of the blues. It sets the benchmark for an improvised performance that extends beyond sympathy into empathy—even telepathy. Moment to moment, both players mirror moods, colors, and emotions with an elastic responsiveness that suggests a single musical mind. They race up and down the peaks and valleys of “C’est Narcisse Qui Danse,” and trace the serpentine coils of the long “Le Ventre de Socrate” until Duboc finally stumbles into a brisk line that Kassap absolutely revels in. It’s organic, lyrical, consistently engaging music.

In sharing a title with Genet’s “The Tightrope Walker” there’s both an obvious metaphor for the act of improvising and a subtler resonance with Genet’s ideas about an artist performing for his own image of himself as an artist (“Curious project: to dream himself, to make this dream perceptible that will become a dream once again, in other heads!”). The improviser may fleetly walk that line between self-indulgence and selfless offering, but here, if Duboc and Kassap’s performance is for themselves, then we’re lucky to be able to eavesdrop.

*Although following a Facebook post on November 29th, stay tuned…

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Cyanobacteria & Hübsch - Are You an Orchid or a Dandelion? (Toxo Records, 2019) ****

By Stef

The liner notes describe the music as "music evoked from an underworld and only whispered to the surface", and this is actually quite an accurate description. Italian musicians Renato Grieco on drums and Francesco Gregoretti welcome German tuba player Carl Ludwig Hübsch for an otherworldly trio - or is it underworldly? - that produces the lightest of sounds from their heavy instruments, creating a sensation of organic growth and interaction.

Gregoretti is an avant-garde percussionist who has several bands with similar names: "Grizzly Imploded", "Strongly Imploded" and "Oddly Imploded" (with a recent album on Shhpuma). Renato Grieco's discography is more limited, with more releases as the sound engineer than as a musician, but in a context like this, that may be an advantage. Hübsch no longer needs introduction, appearing with his tuba and idiosyncratic view on music on more than 120 albums. 

The title of the album refers to a book by pediatrician Dr. Tom Boyce on education, starting from the premise "that some people are like dandelions — able to thrive in just about any environment. Others are more like orchids: when conditions are harsh, they tend to wilt. But when conditions are right, they actually do even better than their hardier peers". 

On the five tracks, they answer the question by presenting other flowers and plants, each with their own nature and complexity, showing that there is more to this world than stereotypes. 
  • Epiphyte  a plant that grows on another plant, especially one that is not parasitic
  • Calotropis is a genus of flowering plants in the dogbane family
  • Solanum is a large and diverse genus of flowering plants, which include three food crops of high economic importance, the potato, the tomato and the eggplant
  • Camellia is a genus of flowering plants in the family Theaceae
  • Silene acaulis, known as moss campion or cushion pink, is a small mountain-dwelling wildflower that is common all over the high arctic and tundra in the higher mountains of Eurasia and North America
As mentioned in other albums on which Hübsch performs, the music could be the soundtrack of the undergrowth in tropical forests, slowly growing, unfolding, entertwining, branching in different directions, unpredictable yet without loosing its essence, giving cover to skittering critters and creatures. Like nature, music is endless, impossible to categorise or to fathom: it can only be experienced and savored. 

This will not be for everyone's ears, but if you're open to uncommon sounds, there is a lot to enjoy here. 

Eric Stern (1965 - 2019)

Eric Stern introducing at Eric's House of Improv
We are sad to report that Eric Stern, 54, a contributor to the blog, passed away earlier this month. Eric had been dealing with serious health issues for a number of years, but did not let it damper his enthusiasm for live (and recorded) music. Over the past year or so, Eric had been organizing "Eric's House of Improv", a concert series in New York City, and just hosted a concert by pianist Satoko Fujii the night that he passed.

Eric was a humanitarian and a lawyer. He and his wife Christina lived in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. They moved to the city from their hometown in New Hyde Park, Long Island in the 1980s and Eric quickly fell into the downtown music scene. Aside from his great passion for seeing and listening to improvised music, Eric ran a law practice in Hoboken, NJ and performed pro-bono legal work for AIDS victims in NYC. He also helped with rescue animals, often taking in homeless cats and dogs to foster.

Eric's love of music was a driving passion. He often traveled with his friends Bruce Gallanter of Downtown Music Gallery and Mike Panico from Relative Pitch Records to festivals in Canada and Europe, and helped with executive production of several of Relative Pitch recordings until Mike's untimely death last year. Following this, he began organizing a music series, welcoming a number of musicians who did not often play in New York, like Simon Nabatov, Urs Leimgruber, Lotte Anker, Frode Gjerstad, and many other, linking them up with New York based musicians like Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver and Brandon Lopez (to just name a few).

To underscore how music shaped Eric's life, he decided to open his law practice in Hoboken, NJ (which is just a short subway ride from where he lived in NYC) because of the legendary record store Pier Platters and of course the vaunted rock club Maxwells, both of which closed in 1995. Maxwells had a brief second, third, and fourth life, but finally closed for good in 2018.

An anecdote that captures his spirit well comes from his wife who said that in the early 90s, while on a trip to Rome, Eric discovered a record store with a stock of hard to find New Zealand vinyl. She writes "while I was checking out a historic site, he went record-shopping and spent more than $500 to build his New Zealand collection. We had no money left for the rest of the trip plus we had to buy an additional large suitcase to get the records home. Typical Eric"

Before he passed away, Eric shared with us his top 10 recordings of the year, which he said was difficult to figure out of the many many many excellent recordings that came out in 2019.

Our condolences to Eric's family and friends, his enthusiasm and genuine love for the music and musicians will be missed.

- Paul Acquaro

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Free Jazz Blog's 2019 Top 10s

Anthony Braxton, No. 289
This past year has been a dynamic one for the blog: we welcomed a bunch of new ears to the collective, received over 2000 recordings and requests for reviews, and counted over 1.63 million pageviews. We reported on festivals in the USA (Big Ears, No Idea, Vision Fest and Winter Jazz Fest) and Europe (Wels Unlimited, Jazz em Agosto, Jazzfest Berlin, A L'arme, Jazz Festival Saarbrücken) and even attended a few others, but in disguise. As always, the incredible amount of excellent new recordings, from the established masters to the newcomers, along with a plethora of historical recordings and issues continues to humble and astound.

We've tried to cover as much as we can on the Free Jazz Blog, and today, we look back over the year with our annual gathering of the collective's top ten recordings of the year. Twenty one contributors, 219 recordings (this is one list of nine, can you spot it?), and 144 unique entries.  We have entered the recordings into a spreadsheet, calculated the top recordings, and now the collective will now be voting on the album of the year from this list of the top 15. We'll present the winner of our poll on January 1. Here is the list:

  • Anna Webber - Clockwise (Pi Recordings)
  • Bill Dixon & Cecil Taylor - Duets 1992 (Triple Point Records)
  • Christian Lillinger: Open Form for Society (Plaist)
  • David Torn, Tim Berne & Ches Smith - Sun Of Goldfinger (ECM)
  • Derek Bailey/Han Bennink/Evan Parker - Topographie Parisienne, Dunois, April 3d, 1981 (Fou Records)
  • Eliane Radigue- Occam Ocean 2 (Shiiin)*(review forthcoming)
  • Fire! Orchestra - Arrival (Rune Grammofon)
  • Jaimie Branch - Fly Or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise (International Anthem)
  • James Brandon Lewis - An UnRuly Manifesto (Relative Pitch)
  • Jessica Pavone String Ensemble - Brick and Mortar (Birdwatcher Records)
  • Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation Records)
  • Microtub - Chronic Shift (Bohemian Drips)
  • Nate Wooley - Columbia Icefield (Northern Spy)
  • Susan Alcorn, Joe McPhee & Ken Vandermark - Invitation To a Dream (Astral Spirits)
  • Whit Dickey / The Tao Quartets - Box of Light & Peace Planet (AUM Fidelity)
Obviously, these kinds of things aren't without biases, intended or (most often) not. So it's at this time of year that we also like to make our new ears resolution to listen to as much as possible, across and irrespective of boundaries. As you enjoy the year end holidays and take a little break from the whirlwind around you, check out what the collective has been listening to and please let us know about your own essential albums of the year.
- Paul

Paul Acquaro

This list doesn't account for archival releases like all of those great Company albums, Bill Dixon & Cecil Taylor's Duets 1992, or the lovely Peter Kowald Duo's re-release, but for better or worse, here goes:

  • Rodrigo Amado & Chris Corsano- No Place to Fall (Astral Spirits, 2019)
  • Ken Vandermark - Momentum 4 - Consequent Duos 2015-2019 (Audiographic, 2019)
  • Tomeka Reid - Old New (Cuneiform, 2019)
  • James Brandon Lewis - An UnRuly Manifesto (Relative Pitch, 2019)
  • Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan - Epistrophy (ECM, 2019)
  • Angelika Niescer, Christopher Tordini, Gerald Gleaver. Jonathan Finlayson - New York Trio (Intakt, 2019)
  • Jaimie Branch - Fly or Die II - Bird Dogs of Paradise (International Anthem, 2019)
  • João Lencastre’s Communion 3 - Song(s) of Hope (Clean Feed, 2019)
  • Basement Research — Impromptus and Other Short Stories (WhyPlayJazz, 2019)
  • SLD Trio - El Contorno Del Espacio (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2019)

Kian Banihashemi

  • Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation, 2019)
  • Oren Ambarchi - Simian Angel (Mego, 2019)
  • Fennesz - Agora (Touch, 2019)
  • Ralph Alessi - Imaginary Friends (ECM, 2019)
  • Fire! Orchestra - Arrival (Rune Grammofon, 2019)
  • Mary Lattimore & Mac McCaughan - New Rain Duets (Three Lobed Recordings, 2019)
  • Félicia Atkinson - The Flower and the Vessel (Shelter Press, 2019)
  • Tyshawn Sorey & Marilyn Crispell - The Adornment of Time (Pi, 2019)
  • Joe McPhee / John Butcher - At the Hill of James Magee (Trost, 2019)
  • DKV Trio & Joe McPhee - The Fire Each Time (Not Two, 2019)

 Stuart Broomer

These are definitely not ranked (How do people even do that?), each instead being individually cherished.
  • Microtub Chronic Shift (Ace Tunes/Bohemian Drips) -Three microtonal tubists (Robin Hayward, Peder Simonsen and Martin Taxt) are special enough; heard in a Berlin water tank, with synthesizer tones added, they combine severe and gentle notions of beauty.
  • Anthony Braxton New Haven (Quartet) 2014 (Firehouse 12) - These four, hour-long, quartet improvisations with Taylor Ho Bynum, Nels Cline and Greg Saunier find their own edges, musical languages simultaneously clashing, complementing and extending the possibilities.
  • Evan Parker/ Matt Wright Trance + Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf (Intakt) - Amid a bevy of brilliant Parker sessions released in 2019, this one develops its own lyricism, compounded of memory, electricity and echo.
  • Phil Minton/ John Butcher/ Gino Robair Blasphemious Fragments (Rastascan) - Three musicians with histories invent a music without one. Its processes suggest gene splitting, a continuous stream of splices of different sonic bits—collective genius and a new idea of the musical organism.
  • Bertrand Denzler Arc (Potlatch) - A dream of strings (“bow…with both hair and wood”) continues decades of reveries on the independent life of sound.
  • Patrick Brennan/ Abdul Moimeme Terraphonia (Creative Sources) - Two musicians from different planes of there arrive in their own utopian hear.
  • Petter Eldh Koma Saxo (We Jazz) - If you think free jazz is further freed when run backwards, you’ll appreciate bassist/producer Eldh, drummer Christian Lillinger and saxophonists Otis Sandsjö, Jonas Kullhammar and Mikko Innanen cutting and pasting, honking and wailing, mixing and maxing spell and collage.
  • Zlatko Kaucic Quintet Morning Patches (fundacja słuchaj) - Collectively improvised music that sounds composed (in the best possible way, achieving a perfect collective form). Among the group’s distinguished members, Michael Moore and Albert Cirera bring ideally unrelated saxophone sounds to the project.
  • Nate Wooley Columbia Icefield (Northern Spy) - Wondrously Apollonian music from a quartet with guitarist Mary Halvorson, slide guitarist Susan Alcorn and drummer Ryan Sawyer.
  • From Wolves to Whales Strandwal (Aerophonic)  - On this two-CD set of a Netherlands performance, Nate Wooley, Dave Rempis, Pascal Niggenkemper and Chris Corsano play multi-dimensional free jazz with as much form and passion as anyone might hope for.

 Tom Burris

I feel like there are so many albums that I still haven't heard... I left out all new releases of old material, so no Coltrane, Cecil, Derek Bailey, Dolphy, etc. These were the ones I heard the most in 2019.
  • Tim Daisy’s Vox 4 - Roman Poems (Relay, 2019) - Please welcome Macie Stewart to the Vox project, who helps turn the venture into a whole new animal. Absolutely stunning performances from everyone & stands as my favorite Daisy recording to date.
  • Jaimie Branch - Fly Or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise (International Anthem, 2019) - God bless Jaimie Branch (and Moor Mother too) for calling out the evil bastards of the world consistently and relentlessly. Psychedelia with its middle finger way up high. How ironic that it still feels like a sonic hug that makes my sad ol’ heart swell with admiration.
  • Susan Alcorn, Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark - Invitation To A Dream (Astral Spirits, 2019) - Happy New Ears, everyone! Magical and consistently surprising on every level. A goddamn marvel.
  • Nick Mozzarella Trio - Counterbalance (Astral Spirits, 2019) - A classically free jazz trio record that is deep, mature, and aged to perfection.
  • Bill Orcutt - Odds Against Tomorrow (Palilalia, 2019) - Orcutt digs deeper into the old weird America and her blues on his latest solo album of idiosyncratic four-string stunners. Best one yet.
  • Kuzu - Lift To Drag (Medium Sound, 2019) - Aren’t cassettes supposed to be inferior? This huge oversight on the part of Kuzu and Medium Sound sets them up for spectacular failure. We win!
  • Whit Dickey / The Tao Quartets - Box of Light & Peace Planet (AUM Fidelity, 2019) - Two quartets, two discs, yin/yang. A thing of sprawling beauty.
  • Rodrigo Amado & Chris Corsano - No Place To Fall (Astral Spirits, 2019) - A thoughtful joyride through a monster truck rally. Great driving music, particularly if you’re prone to road rage.
  • Art Ensemble of Chicago - We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration (Pi Recordings, 2019) - Exceeds all expectations. This set also reminds you - in case you forgot for five seconds - that this year belongs to Moor Mother.
  • Fire! Orchestra - Arrival (Rune Grammofon, 2019) - Arrival is the most beautiful work I’ve heard from Fire! Orchestra. I find that it pairs well with that new FKA Twigs album, for those of you who like to dip into the pop music pool.

 Troy Dostert

  • Anna Webber, Clockwise (Pi)
  • Mark Dresser Seven, Ain’t Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You (Clean Feed)
  • Kris Davis, Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic)
  • Iro Haarla, Ulf Krokfors and Barry Altschul, Around Again: The Music of Carla Bley (TUM)
  • DKV and Joe McPhee, The Fire Each Time (Not Two)
  • Gabriel Zucker, Weighting (ESP-Disk)
  • Steve Baczkowski, Brandon Lopez and Chris Corsano, Old Smoke (Relative Pitch)
  • Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer, The Transitory Poems (ECM)
  • Steph Richards, Take the Neon Lights (Birdwatcher)
  • Sylvie Courvoisier and Mark Feldman, Time Gone Out (Intakt)

Lee Rice Epstein

  • Nate Wooley - Columbia Icefield (Northern Spy, 2019)
  • Anna Webber - Clockwise (Pi Recordings, 2019)
  • David Torn, Tim Berne, Ches Smith - Sun of Goldfinger (ECM, 2019)
  • Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation, 2019)
  • Susan Alcorn, Joe McPhee & Ken Vandermark - Invitation To a Dream (Astral Spirits, 2019)
  • Evan Parker & Paul G. Smyth - Calenture and Light Leaks (Weekertoft, 2019)
  • Whit Dickey Tao Quartets - Peace Planet/Box of Light (AUM Fidelity, 2019)
  • Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society - Mandatory Reality (Eremite, 2019)
  • Moppa Elliott - Jazz Band/Rock Band/Dance Band (Hot Cup, 2019)
  • Angelika Niescier - New York Trio (Intakt, 2019)

 Spencer Friedman

  • J Pavone String Ensemble - Brick and Mortar (Birdwatcher Records, 2019) - A remarkable compositional work from a vital string voice - gorgeous, delicate musicianship
  • Thurston Moore - Spirit Counsel (The Daydream Library Series, 2019) - Quite possibly the most significant music of his career. Bewildering in scope and execution, just incredible
  • Eliane Radigue- Occam Ocean 2 (Shiiin, 2019) - A stunning work from the master. Serene yet unnerving, perfect soundtrack for long subway rides
  • Lea Bertucci- Resonant Field (Resonant Field, 2019) - Another brilliant release from Bertucci, who expands her inimitable sound, resonant in many ways
  • Bill Orcutt - Odds Against Tomorrow (Palilalia Records, 2019) - Another stellar session from Orcutt -- tender and fierce
  • 75 Dollar Bill - I Was Real (Thin Wrist, 2019) - The duo's most impressive record to date -- confident, exuberant and downright fun 
  • Jaimie Branch - Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise (International Anthem, 2019) - Branch's Fly or Die follow up does indeed not disappoint. A scorching record, with some of the best playing from 2019
  • Mary Halvorson and John Dieterich- a tangle of stars (New Amsterdam Records, 2019) - A vast, nearly "prog" album from these two guitar giants. Spirited, inventive songwriting
  • John McCowen - Mundanas I-V (Edition Wandelweiser, 2019) - Bold reed duo music -- quiet but powerful
  • Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society - Mandatory Reality (Eremite, 2019) - Another terrific release from this essential group, perhaps more focused than ever

 Stef Gijssels

  • Bill Dixon & Cecil Taylor - Duets 1992 (Triple Point Records, 2019)
  • David Torn, Tim Berne & Ches Smith - Sun Of Goldfinger (ECM, 2019)
  • Pak Yan Lau & Lionel Malric - Duo Pour 454 Chordes (El Negocito, 2018)
  • Angles 9 - Beyond Us (Clean Feed, 2019)
  • Sei Miguel - O Carro de Fogo de Sei Miguel (Clean Feed, 2019)
  • Simon Rose & Steve Noble - North Sea Night (Not Two, 2019)
  • DKV Trio & Joe McPhee ‎– The Fire Each Time (Not Two, 2019)
  • Eve Risser - Après un Rêve (Clean Feed, 2019)
  • Ken Vandermark's Marker - New Industries (Audiographic, 2019)
  • Marcelo dos Reis, Valentin Ceccaldi, Marco Franco and Luís Vicente - Points (Multikulti, 2019)

 Colin Green

  • Whit Dickey, Tao Quartets — Peace Planet & Box of Light (AUM, 2019) - Two outstanding quartets earthed by Dickey’s drumming.
  • Fire! Orchestra — Arrival (Rune Grammofon, 2019) - Great songwriting continues to flourish in settings that linger in the memory.
  • Fictive Five — Anything is Possible (Clean Feed, 2019) - A restive quintet that provides us with clues rather than explanations.
  • Matt Mitchell — Phalanx Ambassadors (Pi Recordings 2019) - Controlled exuberance, ripplingly intricate, walking a line between impulse and calculation.
  • The Attic (Rodrigo Amado, Goncalo Almeida, Onno Govaert) — Summer Bummer (NoBusiness, 2019) - A churning, roiling trio with an unerring sense of dramatic thrust.
  • Basement Research — Impromptus and Other Short Stories (WhyPlayJazz, 2019) - Thoughtful arrangements, full of colour and bristling with energy.
  • William Parker, Rob Brown, Cooper-Moore, Hamid Drake - In Order to Survive ‎– Live / Shapeshifter (AUM, 2019) - Music that unfolds seamlessly under its own momentum.
  • Dave Rempis, Joshua Abrams, Avreeayl Ra + Jim Baker — Apsis (Aerophonic, 2019) - Another well-oiled ensemble from the persistently inventive Rempis and friends.
  • Andrew Barker & John Dikeman — All Things are Possible (Phantom Ear Music, 2018) - Dikeman continues to impress in duets for tenor and drums that flicker and spark.
  • The Way Ahead — Bells, Ghosts and Other Saints (Clean Feed, 2019) - Alluring textures and imaginative soloing from this septet, and even some free jazz hocketing.

 Steven Griffith

  • Derek Bailey, Han Bennink & Evan Parker - Topographie Parisienne (Fou Records, 2019) - This stimulated me to really listen to the topography of the lungs for the first time (there's uncredited Bennink trumpet playing on the first cut). This is like an archeological dig revealing unexpected treasures.
  • Marker - New Industries (Audiographic Records, 2019) - I like how Vandermark recorded the studio disc a couple days after a short tour. That's the way Bob Wills used to record the Tiffany transcripts he'd use to promote the Texas Playboys on his radio stations, albeit after much longer tours.
  • Tim Daisy's Vox 4 - Roman Poems (Relay Recordings, 2019) - I thought it was impossible to improve on Vox Arcana's Caro's Song. Then they added Macie Stewart.
  • Brötzmann, Schlippenbach, Bennink - Fifty Years After... (Trost Records, 2019) - When I first saw this my reaction was "I hope it really cranks". Like that was in doubt.
  • Michael Formanek Very Practical Trio - Even Better (Intakt Records, 2019) - I'd wanted to hear Berne and Halvorson in a small group setting for quite a while.
  • Blue Shroud Band - Intensegrity: The Small Formations / Odes and Meditations for Cecil Taylor (Not Two, 2019) - Admittedly I've been a fanboy of Guy's small formations for most of the decade.
  • Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity - To Whom Who Keeps a Record (Odin, 2019) - I get extreme enjoyment out of every release from this band.
  • Paal Nilssen-Love & Ken Vandermark - Screen Off (PNL Records, 2019) - Lasse Marhaug deserves co billing for mashing tracks of varying quality together to create something greater than the sum.
  • Joe McPhee & John Butcher - At the Hill of James Magee (Trost Records, 2019) - Conceptually intriguing and well executed.
  • Okkyung Lee - Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel.Flower.Bird) (Tzadik, 2018) - One of those impossible to categorize releases that piques Zorn's interest that we're all better for having.

 Eyal Hareuveni

  • Nate Wooley - Columbia Icefield (Northern Spy) - Moving, emotional piece that corresponds with personal memories and world politics and keeps resonating long after. With pedal steel master Susan Alcorn and guitarist Mary Halvorson.
  • Susan Alcorn / Joe McPhee / Ken Vandermark - Invitation To A Dream (Astral Spirits) - Another one with Alcorn. Joe McPhee belief that sometimes ”Music provides its own rational” is fully justified in the beautiful, free-improvisations of this trio.
  • Fire! Orchestra - Arrival (Rune Grammofon) - The chamber version of Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra. Lyrical and touching. You can’t resist the cover of Chic (via Robert Wyatt) “At Last I Am Free”.
  • Per 'Texas' Johansson/Torbjörn Zetterberg/Konrad Agnas - Orakel (Moserobie) - Reeds player Per “Texas” Johansson is one of the best kept secrets of the Nordic scene. This album may convince you to find out what you have been missing all this time.
  • Emmeluth’s Amoeba - Chimaera (Øra Fonogram) - Danish sax player proves to be one of the promising voices in the Nordic scene, leading her powerful quartet on its sophomore album (and being recruited by Paal Nilssen-Love to his Large Unit.
  • Brötzmann, Schlippenbach & Bennink - Fifty Years After... (Live at the Lila Eule, Bremen, 26/05/2018) (Trost) - These three lions have seen all, been all over and played with all the usual suspects, for more than fifty years, and still have the passion, power, fire and, obviously, wisdom.
  • Toh-Kichi - Baikamo (Libra) - The most unlikely duo in Japanese free music - pianist Satoko Fujii and drummer Tatsuya Yoshida (of Ruins) return more than a decade after their Vulcan quartet and their Toh-Kichi duo disbanded, fully charged with fresh ultra-volcanic energy. 
  • Frances-Marie Uitti & Elliott Sharp - Peregrinations (zOaR) - More than twenty years after their first free-improvised duet, cellist Frances-Marie Uitti and prolific guitarist-sax player-composer return to another round of beautifully imaginative and nuanced duets. 
  • Sunn O))) - Life Metal (Southern Lord) - Stephen O’Malley says that distortion is important “because it’s showing decay in real time somehow”. You can easily get addicted to Sunn O))) meditative-distorted-metal drones.
  • Vilhelm Bromander & Fredrik Rasten - ...For Some Reason That Escapes Us (Differ) - More drones, but of the lyrical-melancholic kind by this fine duo of Swedish double bass player and fantastic Norwegian guitarist.
  • Reissue:
    The Quintet - Events 1998-1999 (PNL) - 
    Historical 5-discs box that chronicles a turning point in the Norwegian jazz, the rise of new lions generation headed by Paal Nilssen-Love that still learns and collaborate with the elders sax player Carl Magnus Neumann and double bass player Bjørnar Andresen.

 William Kautz

  • Tyshawn Sorey - The Adornment of Time (Pi Recordings)
  • Steph Richards - Take the Neon Lights (Birdwatcher)
  • William Parker/In Order to Survive - Live Shapeshifter (AUM Fidelity)
  • Elder Ones - From Untruth (Northern Spy)
  • Nick Fraser, Kris Davis and Tony Malaby - Zoning (Astral Spirits)
  • David S. Ware New Quartet-Live at Theatre Garonne 2008 (AUM Fidelity)
  • Matt Mitchell-Phalanx Ambassadors (Pi Recordings)
  • Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society-Mandatory Reality (Eremite)
  • Matana Roberts-  Coin Coin Chapter 4: Memphis (Constellation)
  • Sarah Belle Reid - Underneath and Sonder (pfMENTUM)

 Taylor McDowell

  • Chris Corsano, Bill Nace, Steve Baczkowski - Mystic Beings (Open Mouth, 2018) - I'll start my list with a late 2018 guitar/sax/drums album that melted my face off the first time I heard it, and still does to this day. An explosive yet coherent exploration of timbre, energy, and noise.
  • Arashi - Jikan (PNL Records, 2019) - This is an inspired, take no prisoners live set from one of the fieriest working trios. Can't get enough of them.
  • DKV & Joe McPhee - The Fire Each Time (Not Two, 2019) - McPhee is a perfect companion to this well-oiled machine. Six CDs of music here, yet every minute is a thrill.
  • Evan Parker & Paul G. Smyth - Calenture and Light Leaks (Weekertoft, 2019) - Easily one of the finest duo statements I've heard and my favorite Parker release from the last few years. Mesmerizing.
  • Peter Brotzmann & Heather Leigh - South Moon Under (s/r, 2019) - This is the soundtrack to my early morning walks, or for watching birds fly. Sounds weird? Seriously, go try it.
  • David Torn, Tim Berne, Ches Smith - Sun of Goldfinger (ECM, 2019) - I still remember the first time listening to this. It felt like the passing of a hurricane overhead, at the moment the eye passes by and the storm surges again.
  • Vijay Iyer & Craig Taborn - The Transitory Poems (ECM, 2019) - Iyer and Taborn connect on such an intimate level here. Twenty fingers and 176 keys, but they perform as a single organism.
  • Susan Alcorn, Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark - Invitation to a Dream (Astral Spirits, 2019) - McPhee and Vandermark must have impressed me this year, as did pedal steel guitarists. I really hope to hear more from this trio.
  • Stephan Crump, Ingrid Laubrock, Cory Smythe - Channels (Intakt, 2019) - I get the feeling that these three were meant to play together. Egoless, fluid, conversational, confident - like listening to three longtime friends banter.
  • Kuzu - Lift to Drag (Medium Sound, 2019) - I'll bookend my list with an end-of-the-year guitar/sax/drums record that really bites. This one thrashes hard and grooves harder, and yet I seem to hear new things with each listen.

 Dave Menestres

  • Fay Victor - Barn Songs (Northern Spy)
  • Andrea Parkins & Matthew Ostrowski - Elective Affinities (Infrequent Seams)
  • Nick Dunston - Atlantic Extraction (Out of Your Head)
  • Jessica Ackerley - A New Kind of Water (self released, see also ESSi’s Vital Creatures on Ramp Local)
  • The Art Ensemble of Chicago - We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration (Pi Recordings)
  • Somersaults - Numerology of Birdsongs (West Hill)
  • J. Pavone String Ensemble - Brick and Mortar (Birdwatcher Records)
  • Bill Orcutt - Odds Against Tomorrow (Palilalia)
  • Catherine Sikora - Warrior (self released)
  • Angel Bat Dawid - The Oracle (International Anthem)

     Nick Metzger

    My Top 10 are listed below in no particular order. I didn’t include any reissues or archive recordings, although this has been a year of many terrific instances of such. I’ve also found my subscription to Kevin Drumm’s Bandcamp page to be worth more than the price of admission (which is almost nothing, all things considered) much to the detriment of my reviewing responsibilities.

    • Christian Lillinger’s Open Form For Society (Plaist)
    • Ben Stapp & Joe Morris featuring Stephen Haynes – Mind Creature Sound Dasein (Fundacja Słuchaj)
    • Rose/Noble – North Sea Night (Not Two)
    • O Carro De Fogo De Sei Miguel (Clean Feed)
    • Mark Morgan – Department of Heraldry (Open Mouth)
    • Denzler/Grip/Johansson – Zyklus 1 (SAJ Records)
    • Parker/Guy/Lytton - Concert in Vilnius (No Business)
    • William Parker's In Order to Survive - Live/Shapeshifter (AUM Fidelity)
    • Microtub - Chronic Shift (Bohemian Drips)
    • Flin van Hemmen – Casting Spells & The Coves (Neither/Nor)

     Gregg Miller

    • JaJaWeDa - Pioneer Works vol. 1 (Balance Point Acoustics, 2019) - Jeb Bishop, Jaap Blank, Weasel Walter, Damon Smith. Trombone/percussion/bass/electronics and some demented yelling. Messy and joyful in a DIY way. There is some serious love here. These people are making music because they have to. The rambunctiousness here brings to mind the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Message to our Folks: “[police whistle] Get in line!”
    • Gordon Grdina / Matthew Shipp / Mark Helias - Skin and Bones (Not Two Records, 2019) - Guitar/Oud, Piano, Bass/Clarinet - From delicate and gentle to frenetic. Fully improvised; mostly pointillistic. They played an amazing set at the Royal Room in Seattle in 2018, and this studio recording captures the work they were doing.
    • The Selva (Clean Feed, 2019) - Ricardo Jacinto (cello), Gonçalo Almeida (double bass) and Nuno Marão (percussion) create a very compelling, bristling vibe. A minimalist template foregrounds dynamics, densities and hypnotic repetition.
    • IPT Trio - Diffractions (For Tune, 2019) - Szymon Wójciński (piano, keyboards), Jakub Bańdur (violin), Jakub Gucik (cello) together provide an engrossing, creative-classical listen. Think Yiddish-lilting movie music of an urbane family gathering turned spooky.
    • Sonar w/David Torn - Transceportation Vol. 1 (RareNoiseRecords, 2019) - On the metal/prog. rock side of improvisation, with its portentous moodiness and head-bobbing odd time signatures. I almost hate it. But some of you head-bangers are going to love it.
    • Rafael Toral / Mars Williams / Tim Daisy - Elevation (Relay Recordings, 2019) - Deliberate sounds and silence, clicks and whistles, random yet melodic, the occasional harsh mush. Incidental music for the free noise fan.
    • Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation Records, 2019) - Theatrical free form jazz/poetry at its finest. Dig it; it’s a great project. Who doesn’t love a series?
    • Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton - Concert in Vilnius (NoBusiness Records, 2019) - Sax, bass, drums. Masters of the craft doing their thing, recorded live. Nothing precious here, everything vital.
    • Geometry, Geometry of Distance (Glacial Erratic, 2019) - Joe Morris (guitar), Tomeka Reid (cello), Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet) and Kyoko Kitamura (voice). Sincere, collective improvisation. Musicality, virtuosity, and fearlessness.
    • Apologist, Reception (Marginal Frequency, 2019) - Live processing: Ambient found sound noise clusters over synth.

     Fotis Nikolakopoulos

    • Derek Bailey/Han Bennink/Evan Parker - Topographie Parisienne, Dunois, April 3d, 1981 (Fou Records) - Masayuki Takayanagi's April Is The Cruellest Month might be the reissue of the year, but this is the archival recording of 2019. First, in chronological order, meeting of those three, after Topography Of The Lungs. What more to say?
    • Valentina Magaletti & Julian Sartorius - Sulla Pelle (Marionette) - A percussion duo very rich in colours and timbres. A whole world of different-not necessarily percussion-sounds
    • Rachel Musson, Pat Thomas, Mark Sanders - Shifa - Live At Cafe Oto (577 records) - The best release from the 577 record's wonderful catalog so far. The interaction of the trio is mesmerizing
    • Christine Abdelnour & Chris Corsano - Quand Fond La Neige, Où Va Le Blanc? (Relative Pitch Records) - The best free jazz duo of 2019. Chris Corsano of course but here Christine Abdelnour is an equal the very least
    • XT - Palina'tufa (Empty Editions) - This is new music for sure.And Seymour Wright is proving to be a visionary saxophonist. One of my two favorites for 2019
    • The Clandestine Quartet - One For The Fossa, Two For The Wolverine (ThirtyThree ThirtyThree Records) - The second of my favorites fro 2019.From free rock to free jazz blowouts, i will not try to categorize it
    • Sakata, Yermenoglou, Di Domenico, Damianidis - Hōryū-Ji (Mr. Nakayasi, El Negocito Records‎, S7 records) - Akira Sakata, the east Asia every day man who turns into a demon with the sax, along three great musicians.Masterpiece...
    • Bloor - Drolleries (Astral Spirits, Monofonus Press) - Sam Weinberg is my favorite sax player at the moment.We should hear more from and for him.This trio took me by surprise and blew me away
    • Minton/Butcher/Robair - Blasphemious Fragments (Rastascan records) - Really now, do you need my comments for those three?
    • Marco Serrato, Francesco Covarino - Bestemmia (Raw Tonk records) - Raw Tonk's catalog keeps pushing sounds beyond our well known limits. This release is a subtle explosion.

     Anthony Poscic

    • Matana Roberts - COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation Records, 2019)
    • Angel Bat Dawid - The Oracle (International Anthem, 2019)
    • Jessica Pavone String Ensemble - Brick and Mortar (Birdwatch Records, 2019)
    • Anna Webber - Clockwise (Pi Recordings, 2019)
    • Sloth Racket - Dismantle Yourself (Luminous Records, 2019)
    • David Torn, Tim Berne, Ches Smith - Sun of Goldfinger (ECM, 2019)
    • Stephan Crump, Ingrid Laubrock, Cory Smythe - Channels (Intakt, 2019)
    • Nate Wooley - Columbia Icefield (Northern Spy, 2019)
    • Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society - Mandatory Reality (Eremite Records, 2019)
    • Matt Mitchell - Phalanx Ambassadors (Pi Recordings, 2019)

    Keith Prosk

    2019 was my first full year contributing to the blog, and I certainly feel that I’ve grown from that experience: my writing comes more quickly and (I hope) is more cohesive - or even coherent; my ears hear more and my analysis is (again, I hope) becoming more thorough; and I feel more aware of what is happening now in this music. The year almost seemed like it had a recurring motif of loss. It began with the deaths of AACM founders Joseph Jarman and Alvin Fielder within the first 10 days. Echoes of 2018’s losses rippled through it, with Michael Bisio, Kirk Knuffke, and Fred Lonberg-Holm releasing a tribute to Relative Pitch founder Mike Panico in Requiem for A New York Slice (Iluso) and Triple Point releasing Duets 1992 from Cecil Taylor and Bill Dixon, two recordings full of passion that could have easily made this list. Damon Smith released his first solo recording, Winter Solos (Balance Point Acoustics), in dedication to Robert Ryman, who died this year and was a student of Lennie Tristano before developing into a painter. And Nate Wooley’s Sound American publication series began issuing high-quality physical copies, with its 22nd issue focusing on Lee Hyla and the concept of loss, which unfortunately, perhaps ironically, my new labrador puppy shred to pieces. But as 2019 fades to 2020, there’s a lot to look forward to. Specifically, Anthony Braxton will be celebrating his 75th birthday, hopefully with recordings of his yet unreleased ZIM and Thunder Music systems. I’m hotly anticipating the followup to Macie Stewart and Lia Kohl’s Pocket Full of Bees (Astral Spirits), another recording that could be on this list. I’m looking forward to having more time to better familiarize myself with the crazy amount of quality material that Ken Vandermark released this year. To wince for the recordings that I missed here, but hopefully discover later. To find musicians new to me and new musicians and the words to do them justice. And finally, to revisit these ten awe-inspiring recordings again and again.

    • John McCowen - Mundanas I-V (Edition Wandelweiser)
    • Microtub - Chronic Shift (Bohemian Drips)
    • Éliane Radigue - Occam Ocean 2 (Shiiin)
    • Anthony Braxton - GTM (Syntax) 2017 (New Braxton House)
    • Klaus Lang & Golden Fur - Beissel (Another Timbre)
    • Robin Hayward - Words of Paradise (Edition Telemark)
    • Jessica Pavone String Ensemble - Brick and Mortar (Birdwatcher)
    • Carl Testa - Sway Prototypes Volumes 1 & 2 (self-released)
    • Werner Dafeldecker - Small Worlds (Edition Telemark)
    • Bertrand Denzler/CoÔ - Arc (Potlatch)

    Martin Schray

    • Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (CTS, 2019) - I’ve always been fascinated by this project, which is so unique in the jazz world. The fact that Roberts is always able to add new musical aspects to this concept is just fascinating. And I’m always looking forward to what’s coming next.
    • Jaimie Branch: Fly Or Die II: Bird Dogs Of Paradise (International Anthem, 2019) - The expectations were immensely high since the predecessor to this album is one of the best releases of the decade. That Branch’s new album is in no way inferior to Fly or Die I says it all.
    • Christian Lillinger: Open Form for Society (Plaist, 2019) - A band that consists of three pianos, two basses, two vibraphones, a cello and a drummer has certainly been unheard. To me, Christian Lillinger is the most interesting musician on the scene for the second year in a row.
    • Bill Dixon/Cecil Taylor: Duets 1992 (Triple Point Records, 2019) - It took a long time for this album to come and it fulfils all the expectations. You hear a somehow atypical Taylor, the way he reacts to Dixon’s open sound opens up new perspectives on the music of the maestro.
    • James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto (Relative Pitch, 2019) - James Brandon Lewis is like a young Archie Shepp, his tenor sound is reminiscent of the fire music of the 1960s. His quintet with Jaimie Branch on trumpet is a match made in heaven.
    • Fire! Orchestra: Arrival (Rune Grammofon, 2019) - Fire! have almost completely rebuilt their orchestra, strings have replaced some of the horns. Their version of Chic’s “At Least I Am Free“ is my track of the year (next to Jaimie Branch's "A Prayer for Amerikkka Part 1 & 2").
    • DKV Trio & Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time (Not Two, 2019) - A programmatic title. I wonder how these guys (Joe McPhee celebrated his 80th birthday this year) keep being so surprising and exciting after all these years.
    • Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble: Where Future Unfolds (International Anthem, 2019) - Free Jazz has turned to become more political again. This album, which uses samples from the Civil Rights era, is characteristic of this trend.
    • David S. Ware Trio: The Balance (AUM Fidelity, 2019) - David S. Ware was constantly looking for the divine in his music and he was also looking for a balance in this life, which was the basis to create the jubilant music he played. This album is another perfect example of this.
    • Kuzu: Lift To Drag (Medium Sound, 2019) - At first it was just a cassette release, but it's now available as a download as well. Regardless, what matters is the music: 70 minutes of wonderful high energy free jazz. No end-of-the-year-top-ten is complete without Dave Rempis.

     Sammy Stein

    • Fire! Orchestra -Arrival (Rune Grammofon) - Mats is just packed with energy and Fire! deliver free music like no other ensemble.
    • Silvia Bolognesia - alive shouts (Fonterossa) - a great mix of style, tempo, energy and unfettered joy
    • Ivo Perelman - Ineffable Joy (ESP) - a special and beautiful recording
    • Peter Brotzmann/Heather Leigh - South Moon Under (s/r) - power, challenges and daring defy convention.
    • Ivo Perelmann Strings 3 (Leo) - A great combination of musicians with Perelmann leading but also sharing space and the creations are breathtaking.
    • Michael Janisch - Worlds Collide (Whirlwind) - wonderful, well developed tracks
    • William Parker's In Order To Survive (AUM Fidelity) - just great with references to so many style but with Parker's individuality sewn seamlessly in.
    • Polyorchard - Black Mountain (Out and Gone) - free flowing, free sharing jazz ranging from serendipity to annihilation - just as it should be.
    • Olie Brice - Numerology of Birdsong (Westhill) - different yet strangely engaging - each listen reveals more
    • Peter Brotzmann - ' I Surrender Dear' (Trost) - a beautiful link between Peter of then and the Peter of now. It explains a lot if you listen.

    Eric Stern

    • Whit Dickey/Tao Quartets - Box Of Light/Peace Planet (Aum Fidelity, 2019)
    • William Parker/In Order To Survive - Live Shapeshifter (Aum Fidelity, 2019)
    • James Brandon Lewis - An Unruly Manifesto (Relative Pitch Records, 2019)
    • Mary Halvorson and John Dieterich- a tangle of stars (New Amsterdam Records, 2019)
    • Dave Rempis, Brandon Lopez, Ryan Packard - The Early Bird Gets (Aerophone, 2019)
    • Radical Empathy Trio - Reality and other imaginary places (Astral Spirits, 2019)
    • Nick Dunston - Atlantic Extraction (Out of Your Head, 2019)
    • Jessica Pavone String Ensemble - Brick and Mortar (Birdwatcher Records, 2019)
    • Brotzmann, Schlippenbach, Bennink - Fifty Years After... (Trost Records, 2019)
    • Simon Nabatov Quintet - Last Minute Theory (Clean Feed, 2019)

     Phil Stringer

    • Susan Alcorn / Joe McPhee / Ken Vandermark - Invitation To A Dream (Astral Spirits)
    • Susan Alcorn/Chris Corsano/Bill Nace – Live at Rotunda (Open Mouth 59/Live at #6)
      Thought about
    • The Art Ensemble of Chicago - We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration (Pi Recordings)
      It, what's important
    • Fire! Orchestra - Arrival (Rune Grammofon)
      To me about these
    • Rachel Musson/Pat Thomas/Mark Sanders - Shifa - Live at Cafe Oto (577 Records)Choices is that they all
    • William Parker/In Order to Survive - Live/Shapeshifter (AUM Fidelity)Speak to me in different voices
    • Joe Mcphee/John Butcher - At the Hill of James Magee (Trost)But there is a unity of purpose
    • N.O.Moore/John Edwards/Eddie Prevost - Darkened Yet Shone (Matchless Recordings)And spirit that is always uplifting and that
    • The Quintet - Events 1998-1999 (PNL)Susan Alcorn is a phenomenal pedal steel guitarist.