Friday, February 09, 2024

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

best of 2023: table of contents

Here, please find links to DFSBP's annual rundown of my favorite music of the year, in five parts:

1. Overall top 11, with introductory remarks and disclaimers

2. Jazz top 11

3. Honorable mentions and historical titles, all genres in play

4. Live shows

5. Assorted other shout-outs and a few farewells

Thank you for reading!

PS: As usual the archives of yearly top 10 lists — both all-genre and jazz-only — have been updated with the new entries.

best of 2023, pt. 5: final shout-outs and farewells

[This is part 5 of 5 of the DFSBP 2023 rundown; find the other parts here.]

A few other assorted shout-outs:

The best pop song I heard this year was Tyla's serene, sensuous "Water" (just listen). That Blink-182 ballad really grew on me as well!

The best music book I read this year was Aidan Levy's encyclopedic yet somehow compulsively readable Saxophone Colossus, with nods to Michael Azerrad's newly annotated version of his definitive Nirvana bio Come as You Are, the latest volume in Jeremy Pelt's invaluable Griot interview-compendium series, illuminating memoirs by Henry Threadgill and Geddy Lee, Ray Padgett's engrossing Bob Dylan sideman tome Pledging My Time, and Alex Pappademas and Joan LeMay's hysterical and profoundly insightful Steely Dan companion Quantum Criminals

The best music doc I saw this year was The Drum Also Waltzes, Sam Pollard and Ben Shapiro's sensitive, unflinching chronicling of the life and work of Max Roach.

The best music Substack I kept up with this year was Vinnie Sperrazza's Chronicles, clearly the product of a soul-deep devotion to drumming, jazz and the miracle of music, with nods to Jake Malooley's unreasonably entertaining Steely Dan deep dive Expanding Dan, Nate Chinen's 360-degree jazz forum The Gig, and Piotr Orlov and Steve Smith's respective indefatigable NYC-focused resources on music both live and recorded, Dada Strain and Night After Night.  

Oh, and I wrote a lot less this year than I would have liked, but I'm really proud of this Tony Williams Lifetime deep dive for Pitchfork (thank you Jeremy D. Larson for the assignment!) and this Bandcamp Daily interview with death-metal visionary and Demilich mastermind Antti Boman.

Some other year-end lists/recaps I've enjoyed as I've made my way around the web in recent weeks:

John Delzoppo (also mentioned above but ICYMI!)
Melanie Loves Death Metal
Calder Hannan // Metal Music Theory
Last Rites crew
Rolling Stone crew
Machine Music
Nate Chinen
Giovanni Russonello
Phil Freeman // Ugly Beauty


And a moment of remembrance and tribute for a few personal heroes:

Tony Oxley, a beacon of truth and individuality who dreamed up a new universe of percussion.

Wayne Shorter, the eternal explorer, fun-loving enigma and composer nonpareil. 

Peter Brötzmann, the unrepentant extremist with a poet's heart.

Robbie Robertson, the guitar-wielding bard who showed America its deep-rooted song.

Richard Davis, the greatest bassist who ever lived.


Lon "Spoth" Hackett, bassist for Sulaco, a long-running Rochester outfit deeply dedicated to its depraved art, a fearless hybrid of noise rock and technical death metal. Following his death in May, they recorded the last two songs they wrote with him and released an excellent two-song single (fittingly titled Spoth) in his honor. Check this one out and explore the back catalog as well.

Chuck Stern, a contemporary and fellow traveler in the New York scene. I didn't know him well, but I shared bills and sat across tables from him on many occasions, and he was both a tirelessly driven creator and an unusually kind person. We will miss you, Chuck. For more on his impact and his output, see these words and this survey by his lifelong friend and collaborator Charlie Looker.

best of 2023, pt. 3: honorable mentions and historical titles

[This is part 3 of 5 of the DFSBP 2023 rundown; find the other parts here.]

10 honorable mentions

Other 2023 releases — not cited anywhere in the overall or jazz rundowns — that I think are great and worth your time:

Autopsy, Ashes, Organs, Blood and Crypts (Peaceville)

A flood of death-metal legacy acts released new albums this year, including my perennial faves Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Incantation and Suffocation, but while I dug all those records and look forward to spending more time with them, from where I'm sitting, the best 2023 album by an iconic death-metal band was this one right here. Colossally heavy and fueled by the still-feral spirit of true lifers Chris Reifert, Danny Coralles and Eric Cutler. Huge kudos to these dudes for keeping the new material flowing in a nostalgia-fixated scene.

Mutoid Man, Mutants (Sargent House)

As I mentioned in the prelude to this year-end survey, I really fell hard for Cave In this year, and that led to a wider exploration of Stephen Brodsky's gifts. Mutoid Man are a truly radical band, in the adolescent, dirt-bikes-and-half-pipes sense. They're fast and hyperactive and relentlessly anthemic, and they just seem to keep getting better at churning out these action-packed hardcore-meets-thrash nuggets.

Calling Hours, Say Less (Revelation)

During the past few years, I've stumbled across a handful of '90s or early-2000s underground-rock records that have really turned my world around. Near or at the top of that list is Farside's The Monroe Doctrine, which sounds something like a post-hardcore Hüsker Dü — just the perfect combination of sophisticated songcraft and basement-show energy. And one of that band's two singer-songwriters, the immensely talented Michael "Popeye" Vogelsang, resurfaced this year on a goddamn great EP that capitalizes on all his familiar gifts. I'd recommend this to anyone who loves not just Farside, but also ALL and any other smart, sophisticated poppy-yet-punky-but-not-exactly-pop-punk rock you could name.

Zulu, A New Tomorrow (Flatspot)
A true vanguard band, Zulu unite the far-flung diaspora of Black music here, from chilled-out R&B to amped-up hardcore, into a glorious whole, sometimes excoriating, sometimes soothing and always riveting.

Krallice, Mass Cathexis 2 — The Kinetic Infinite + Porous Resonance Abyss (self-released)

Speaking of vanguard bands! I'm going to take the liberty of quoting myself here, since I'm not sure I can better capture my feelings re: existing in the same timeline as this crew and their roughly biannual output: "One of the greatest feelings in contemporary music is being blindsided a couple times a year by the frenzied imagination and relentless progression of this band. 'Prolific' is one thing, but this isn’t just about quantity; it’s about raising the bar every single time. A privilege to witness/partake!" Mass Cathexis 2 continues their wild ongoing collab with Neurosis member Dave Edwardson, while The Kinetic Infinite and Porous Resonance Abyss further their journey into the furthest reaches of mind-expanding space-prog.

Andre 3000, New Blue Sun (Epic)

In some ways this one seemed more like a cultural event / discussion topic than an album. The dialogue surrounding it was lively, thought-provoking and at times, as in Harmony Holiday's reading, downright brilliant. And though it might be impossible to fully clear away all the context and focus on this simply as a sonic experience, no one could say that Andre 3000 and his collaborators didn't make every effort to cultivate that sort of sound-bath serenity.

Tamio Shiraishi, Subway Stations in Queens (Otoroku)

Call me crazy but I honestly see a strong parallel between New Blue Sun and this, just in the sense of "a document of one man's almost worshipful devotion to his chosen instrument." In Andre's case, the flute (or, more specifically, an electronic variant thereof); in Tamio Shiraishi's case, the alto saxophone, which he employs in the most personal of ways. For years, the indefatigable avant-jazz fan, documentor, facilitator Kevin Reilly, owner of the prolific and vital Relative Pitch label, has been filming Shiraishi's regular trips down into the NYC subway to play his horn. From what I can tell, this isn't busking, nor is it really practice, nor is it quite performance; it seems more like communion. And the results, pairing Shiraishi's trademark piercing, fluttering squeals, which (I believe) harness a register above the horn's natural range, with the faint sounds of traffic above and the arrivals and departures of trains, are hauntingly gorgeous. The same goes for this verité audio compilation, which seems to me like a sort of ultimate document of that unique desolation that somehow manages to persist within the city's constant commotion. 

Sunwatchers, Music Is Victory Over Time (Trouble in Mind)

Consciousness-raising punk-jazz, alternately blaring and meditative, that occasionally arrives at similar zones to the aforementioned Mendoza Hoff triumph but via a totally different path. Imagine the 1966 Albert Ayler band multiplied by early-aughts DIY shred heroes Ecstatic Sunshine, and that puts you somewhere in the ballpark of this joyful noise. I really need to see this band live, stat. (For more in this fruitful musical interzone, check out "Second Freedom: Every God Needs a Witness," the latest offering from New Freedom Sound, Jawbox drummer Zach Barocas' fascinating and aptly named minimalism-meets-avant-jazz-meets-ecstatic-chant ensemble.)

Imelda Marcos, Agita (self-released)

Can't remember how or where I stumbled across this four-song EP from Chicago outfit Imelda Marcos (formerly featuring a vocalist; now an instrumental two-piece), but it drew me in instantly. Burly noise-prog — emphasis on the noise — that combines the live-wire charge and DIY virtuosity of the great early-to-mid-2000s avant-rock duos (Hella definitely come to mind) with the massive asymmetrical groove of Meshuggah and sprinkles of Battles-y sleekness. Abrasive as hell yet also unabashedly fun and compulsively body-moving. I imagine that this music absolutely detonates in the live setting, and I hope to witness that go down someday, but in the meantime, this is a ripping and brutally effective release.

And lastly, Significance, the latest effort by my ever-brilliant/-prolific friend Nick Podgurski's shapeshifting Feast of the Epiphany project. Rich, moving, layered art pop, centered on Nick's exacting yet highly emotive croon — in a way some of the most conventional music he's ever made, but still embodying that otherworldly, unclassifiable quality that marks all his work. Truly a must-hear. (And many thanks to my friend John D. for reminding me about this one, which got lost in the year-end shuffle — his year-end recap and playlist are always worth perusing!)


historical top 10 (+1)

Here are 10 historical titles (either reissues or newly issued material from the vault) I loved this year, in no particular order, plus one additional plug:

Abdul Wadud, By Myself (Gotta Groove)
This, for me, is really one of the greatest albums, full stop. And this reissue is a godsend. It was an enormous honor and pleasure to provide some context for the Times.

Fred Anderson, The Milwaukee Tapes, Vol. 2 (Corbett vs. Dempsey)
Despite having been something of a Fred Anderson completist in the past, the first volume of The Milwaukee Tapes, issued way back in 2000, flew under my radar. Thankful to have another crack at this body of work via a very welcome sequel, because this band, with trumpeter Billy Brimfield, bassist Larry Hayrod and drummer Hank (later to be known as Hamid) Drake, is just pure delight. A must-hear for any Fred fan.

Barry Altschul, David Izenzon and Perry Robinson, Stop Time: Live at Prince Street, 1978 (NoBusiness)
For all I know, this trio only existed for one night in October 1978, but man, do they sound great. Altschul is in his most swinging mode here, and Robinson, always an up-for-anything improviser, sounds totally in the zone riding the groove provided by the drummer and the brilliant, underdocumented bassist Izenzon. This is another one, like the Leap Day Trio disc in the jazz top 10 above, that really embodies that eternal freebop groove. Glorious fly-on-the-wall sonics on this one too — grateful that NoBusiness saw fit to put it out.

Milford Graves with Arthur Doyle and Hugh Glover,  Children of the Forest (Black Editions)
The Milford Graves archives are starting to bear fruit via Black Editions and we are oh, so, lucky. This stuff, roughly contemporaneous to the celebrated Bäbi, is absolutely searing, documenting the late genius Milford Graves both solo and alongside truly simpatico saxophone and multi-instrumental extremists Arthur Doyle and Hugh Glover. Graves was one of one, surely one of the most mind-blowing and spirit-lifting percussionists the world has known, and this material captures him at peak strength. Hear and be healed.

Archie Shepp, Derailleur: The 1964 Demo (Triple Point)
Who could have known? A previously unknown-to-me — and to most of the world? — demo recording teaming epochal saxist Archie Shepp with the cult-favorite "School Days" band featuring Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, Denis Charles and, here, bassist Arthur Harper, issued by Triple Point, the always-revelatory free-jazz archival effort headed up by my friend and mentor Ben Young. This sounds as exciting coming out of the speakers as it does on paper, and that's saying a lot.

Abilene, Endee Burial (Landland Colportage)
For me, Hoover were one of the great bands of the past 30 years, and though it's a shame they were short-lived, it's a blessing that their demise spawned so much excellent music, from the Crownhate Ruin, whose own elusive, explosive early material saw low-key reissue last year, to the outstanding Regulator Watts and later Abilene, a slower-burning but still enthralling outfit fronted by Alex Dunham. This box reissues their entire body of work, and its mix of dubby, near-abstract drift and incendiary post-hardcore-meets-postbop (dig the trumpet work by Hoover/Crownhate bass master Fred Erskine) retains its mystery and steely edge.

Derek Bailey and Paul Motian, Duo in Concert (Frozen Reeds)
Another "Who knew?" windfall. The feel of the centerpiece concert, recorded in Groningen, the Netherlands, in 1990, is charmingly choppy, with Motian having no problem matching Bailey's signature stubborn angularity, and refreshingly subtle, with neither player seeming to feel much need to generate climaxes so much as a continuous unhurried flow. (While we're on the subject of Bailey, don't miss a new Otoroku reissue of The Topography of the Lungs, the guitarist's stupendously ornery 1970 meeting with Evan Parker and Han Bennink.)

John Fahey, Proofs and Refutations (Drag City)
John Fahey is a musical hero of mine, and I love pretty much every period of his work. The '90s stuff, marked by outstanding Table of the Elements releases like Womblife and Georgia Stomps, Atlanta Struts and Other Contemporary Dance Favorites is especially out there and still underrated, so this compilation of self-recorded material from that era is most welcome. It's most definitely a mixed bag, featuring both peculiar vocal experiments (some sounding a lot like Fahey's attempt at throat-singing) and fascinating electroacoustic collages, pairing that signature Fahey guitar sound with oddball soundscapes and/or corrosive distortion. A portrait of a endlessly curious and uncompromising mind.

John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy, Evenings at the Village Gate (Impulse)
The early (i.e., pre–Jimmy Garrison) Coltrane quartet, plus Eric Dolphy, live in summer '61, a few months before the band's legendary Vanguard recordings. It's easy to become a little desensitized to the constant stream of archival Trane, but any quality time spent with this will quickly remedy that. Elvin's drums are especially present on this one. Crank up "Impressions" and let it rip.

Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit, Mass Hysterism in Another Situation (Black Editions)
To quote a favorite Mr. Show sketch, alright, buckle the fuck up... This is simply the greatest noise album that I personally have ever heard, sounding even more electrifying to me now than it did back in 2010 when I first enthused about it here. A howling wind tunnel of relentlessly pounding drums and shrieking feedback. As chaotic as the Wadud is serene.

Lastly, the Bill Laswell Bassmatter subscription on Bandcamp is very much worth your time, offering an enormous trove of unreleased archival material from his countless projects (including unheard Last Exit!) and assisting a wildly prolific visionary in a time of need. 

best of 2023, pt. 1: prelude and overall top 10 (+1)

[This is part 1 of 5 of the DFSBP 2023 rundown; find the other parts here.]

Thank you as always if you've found your way to this obscure corner of the web. Obviously this is not exactly an active blog, but I keep it up and running so as to provide an open forum for (extremely) occasional posts like the following. I deeply appreciate any attention you've seen fit to bestow. Before we proceed further, a quick note that I am posting a fair amount on Instagram these days, after having mostly put my Twitter account on ice. Find me there if so inclined!

Just to get right to the point here, the most impactful music of 2023, for me, arrived via an album and a live show, and if you take away nothing else from the below, I'd urge you to make note of these.

First, Inman, a new release by the Alberta singer-songwriter Richard Inman. I can't remember exactly where I first stumbled across Inman's name, several years back, but I'm pretty sure it was in a year-end list on a metal blog, which makes sense since Inman has ties to the heavy-music underground. (Michigan label Bindrune Recordings recently reissued his first two albums, with artwork by Austin Lunn, the mastermind of renowned black-metal outfit Panopticon, and I think it may have been a Lunn-list that originally tipped me off.)

Anyway, Inman is not a metal artist; he's a singer-songwriter, in a mode that could be called country, though that maybe ought to just be called classic. I can't really overstate the degree to which these songs have arrested me, left me stunned with their bleak beauty, their plainspoken poetry, their harsh truth. This is ancient-feeling balladeer kind of stuff, one man with a guitar and his guileless yet richly expressive voice, a mountain of regrets and a closet full of demons. The themes of intemperance, lost love, the rambling life are ageless, but the details fixed in a specific time and place (see the way the narrator in opening track "Nothing More Than Nothing" describes a harrowing life spent "driving tow truck for the county"). Hard to say how much of this is autobiographical, though Inman gave a hint when he released this album, exclusively via Bandcamp, back in March. "This is a limited digital release available for the month of March 2023!" he wrote at the time. "These songs range from 6 or 7 years to a few months old.  I don't remember a lot of them and a lot are just to [sic] personal to play live. Fill your boots while you can folks!" 

True to his word, Inman pulled the album down afterward, for a period of months, before recently making it available again. During the time that it was unavailable (i.e., to anyone who hadn't purchased it during the initial offering), I made a point of sending the songs to a few close friends. It was a constant frustration that the music wasn't streaming, because I wanted to tip off a lot of other folks as well. Anyway, all I can say is, be grateful it's back, and, if the above sounds at all intriguing to you, I urge you to buy it immediately before it vanishes again. Inman put out two other releases this year, a "proper" album, streaming and all, called Life Without Your Love and an EP called Hell of Daydream, and I very much enjoy both, as I've enjoyed the past couple Inman full-lengths, but there is something special about Inman. I'm no expert in country music, or I might have an apt comparison closer at hand (I did throw out Townes Van Zandt and Springsteen's Nebraska as touchstones when recommending the album to friends), but the truth is that this is some of the most resonant singer-songwriter music I've ever heard. It feels like these songs have always been there. I've been learning to sing and play a couple of them in recent weeks (on piano, in simplified form) and I may just continue through the whole album — nothing fancy, just a few chords, cyclical forms, but there is so, so much here. This isn't going to be a record you throw on in the background — believe me, I've tried, and more than a few times found myself choking up. This is the real stuff.

Second, a live set by Botch at New York's Webster Hall back in October. I've said it before in various places, but I unreservedly celebrate the ongoing wave of band reunions sweeping the underground. (Can't wait for Orchid in May!) One big reason is that I missed a lot of these bands completely the first time around, or simply didn't give them their proper due. I had heard We Are the Romans, Botch's final and most celebrated full-length, a few times over the years. I liked it, but I honestly didn't think much of it. But my interest was re-piqued when the Seattle quartet reemerged last year with their first new song in 20 years, and the metal/hardcore/etc. community went absolutely berserk. So when they announced a reunion tour earlier this year, after having initially stipulated that they would *not be officially reviving the band, I decided to grab myself a ticket and see what the fuss was about. 

It turns out that the fuss was about one of the most intense and inventive heavy bands of our time. As I wrote after the show, I'm honestly not sure I've ever witnessed a tighter band. An absolutely staggering show, and I had their records on repeat for weeks after. It turns out that their 1998 debut, America Nervoso, is as good if not better than Romans. These guys were/are absolute surgeons of controlled chaos — surely akin to contemporaries and fellow innovators like Dillinger Escape Plan, but with a gravity and grace that I'd also liken to Meshuggah. (Could it be that Botch are actually a better band than either of these other two, all factors considered? I'm not making any proclamations, but a case could be made...) I'm honestly a little embarrassed that I wasn't familiar enough with them at the time to properly situate them in my personal math-rock pantheon, as compiled here back in 2010, but hey, you assimilate knowledge as you're able. I'm really not sure what the future holds for Botch, who recently wrapped a string of U.S. dates, but if you get the chance to see them at any point in the future, you must seize it. And I would say the same of Deadguy, a roughly contemporary band currently gigging regularly here and abroad as part of their own recent-ish reunion. I likewise missed them completely during their initial run but have since come to understand why their lone LP, 1995's Fixation on a Co-Worker, is likewise considered a classic of deranged hardcore-adjacent heaviness. 


And with those marquee mentions out of the way, on to some more celebration and acknowledgement of the music that mattered to me this year, with a few caveats attached. I won't belabor the point, but as I disclaimer-ed here two years ago, keeping up with new music in an orderly way during the past 12 months has been, for me, impossible, amid other commitments, priorities and endeavors, including but not limited to a new full-time job and a move upstate. I sometimes agonize over this shortcoming, mainly because I don't take it for granted that various parties (labels, publicists and artists themselves) still go out of their way to share new music with me. For that I say THANK YOU. I will always want to stay as current as I can, and though I'm never going to be able to make time for everything, I remain as attentive as I can be. By now my zones of taste and preference are pretty well established on the record, so I make no claim to anything remotely resembling comprehensiveness. I check out what I check out, along with the generous amount of older music that I'm constantly making my way through. (This year I've had meaningful sustained moments with, among others, Lungfish, Cave In — Heavy Pendulum, goddamn! Jupiter, goddamn!! — Hammerhead/Vaz — speaking of, don't sleep on this very cool quasi-archival Gaswar release, a recently augmented '90s recording that pairs the Vaz brotherhood with former Melvins/Cows bassist Kevin Rutmanis — the Fucking Champs and veteran prog-doom power trio Stinking Lizaveta, who have a new album out, Anthems and Phantoms, that's as gritty, primal, tough, imaginative and straight-up life-affirming as anything they've ever put out; strongly recommended, along with every other record in their robust catalog.) And some of the new music makes its way through and actually achieves some sort escape velocity, transitioning in the rarest of cases from "I'm digging this in the moment" to "Wow, this is actually becoming part of the regular rotation..." Often, this year, live music was where it was at for me this year (more on that below), not to mention playing music myself, both alone and with new collaborators. But there were exceptions. So here's a rundown (and see above for the table of contents, which will guide you to the various components of this survey), with Bandcamp links where applicable. Hope you find something you dig in here! See you again here same time next year if not sooner.


overall top 10 (+1)*

1. Richard Inman, Inman (self-released)
2. Scream, DC Special (Dischord)
3. Foo Fighters, But Here We Are (Roswell)
4. Queens of the Stone Age, In Times New Roman… (Matador)
5. Mendoza Hoff Revels, Echolocation (AUM Fidelity)
6. Khanate, To Be Cruel (Sacred Bones)
7. Jeromes Dream, The Gray in Between (Iodine)
8. John Zorn, Full Fathom Five (Tzadik)
9. James Brandon Lewis, Eye of I (Anti-)
10. Tomb Mold, The Enduring Spirit (20 Buck Spin)

 (*After revisiting it this week, I've decided that Metallica's 72 Seasons deserves a place among this top tier, so I'm bumping it up from its original spot on the honorable mentions list and expanding this list to 11. See blurb below.)

Hopefully I've already made an ample case for the Inman. Beyond that:

The Scream album was a real surprise. They've always been a band I've been more aware of than actually familiar with. But during a recent Dischord catalog dive, undertaken for this survey I was honored to put together for Shfl and also related to purely-for-pleasure listening, this one hit me hard. My friend and consummate Dischord scholar Joe aptly called this a sort of Hackney Diamonds for the D.C./Dischord scene, and I think what he was getting at is this idea of a celebration/summation of a certain set of musical values, undertaken by scene vets with the help of old compatriots. While the Stones album — which I also really dug!— only features a handful of guests, DC Special is a true ensemble-cast effort, teaming the classic Scream lineup of Pete and Franz Stahl, Skeeter Thompson and drummer Kent Stax (who sadly died of cancer a couple months before the album's release) with a bunch of their pals from the Dischord community. What really sells the whole concept, though, is the strength and variety of the material, which roams from hardcore to reggae to straight-up anthemic rock & roll in a charmingly care-free way. It's a great-sounding record too, and no surprise, since it's one of the last to be recorded at the longtime Arlington, VA, location of Dischord's own sonic temple, Inner Ear, by the great Don Zientara. Just a terrific listen, with high replay value.

Interestingly, one of the aforementioned guests on DC Special is none other than Dave Grohl, whose brief stint in Scream would help launch him to eventual omnipresent rock stardom. I haven't always vibed with the Foo Fighters, but that's changed in a major way in recent years. At this point, I completely get why they're as big as they are, and celebrate them as one of the great rock bands of the era. This record, clearly informed by the shocking and sudden 2022 death of Taylor Hawkins (and the lesser-publicized passing of Grohl's mom), stands with the best of the back catalog. These songs just effortlessly work, both in terms of emotional punch and shout-along catchiness. 

Another band Dave Grohl has collaborated with over the years comes in at #3. There's really nothing especially new going on here, but I've been a huge QOTSA fan for years, and this record only sustains and amplifies my conviction that they too are among the best we have. This one took a sec to grow on me but really clicked into place after I caught them live over the summer. No one writes rock songs as stylish, sexy and stealthily devastating as Josh Homme, and there are, I think, some future classics here, including "Paper Machete," "Emotion Sickness" and "Carnavoyeur."

The Mendoza Hoff Revels album is like catnip for me, a disciple of the far-reaching, ahem, Heavy Metal Bebop aesthetic. But beyond my natural disposition to love a record that combines stomping, distorted crunch with anything-goes improv, this is just extremely well done, with memorable compositions balancing out gloriously unbridled blowing, and highlighted by what may be the production job of the year (by Jim Clouse at Brooklyn's Park West Studios): warm, massive and gritty as hell. I'm sure that, like me, if you've been following these extremely accomplished and prolific players during the past 10/15 years or so, you weren't surprised in the least that Ava Mendoza, Devin Hoff, Ches Smith (note that Smith and Hoff's long-running duo Good for Cows feels like a key antecedent of this project; check 2010's Audumla especially) and James Brandon Lewis came up with something this awesome. Note: Caught a killer live set by the Revels earlier this month, and you'll have another chance at Winter Jazzfest in Jan!

Ah, Khanate... Think of their surprise return this way: A new installment of a classic horror-movie franchise drops out of nowhere, and manages to scare the shit out of you all over again despite the fact that you basically know exactly what's coming. This band is simply one of the great extreme art projects of our time, in any medium, and we're so lucky they're back at it. 

All the screamo masters are reuniting, and I am, as they say, here for it. As with Botch above, it's been a thrill to catch all these bands within the past few years (Saetia, City of Caterpillar, Gospel, pg. 99, etc.) and finally grasp what the fuss was all about. Jeromes Dream are the ones leading the pack for me, not least because I think their new music is excellent. The Gray in Between is, simply, a symphony of euphoric harshness, not to mention genuinely effective songcraft, that demonstrates why JD are one of the most revered acts in their wing of the underground. Kudos to them for really anteing up with their reunion and meaningfully adding to their formidable legacy. Note: Caught them for the second time this year, with the demented and arresting Elizabeth Colour Wheel, and they're a monumentally heavy, near-overwhelming live presence. See them on their 2024 run if you can! 

Like many, I'm still reeling from the Great Tzadik Streaming Drop of 2023, which really felt major, in the sense of reminding us all just how much there is to savor in that enormous catalog. You could obviously spend years sifting through the John Zorn offerings alone, but amid the flood, don't sleep on the new releases. Full Fathom Five is one of three new full-lengths this year by the band known as Incerto (featuring guitarist Julian Lage and bassist Jorge Roeder from the current Masada lineup, as well as pianist Brian Marsella and drummer Ches Smith, making his second appearance on this here top 10 — check him out as well on the ass-kicking latest from Ceramic Dog, Connection, which, as I belatedly catch up to it now, I'm realizing may be something of an avant-rock masterpiece…), and it's just masterful — a real mood, as they say, a sort of mystical chamber-prog-postbop hybrid inspired by the night imagery found in Shakespeare's plays. Lovely and mysterious and at times sumptuously spooky, with plenty of room for these virtuosos to let loose.

Keeping up with James Brandon Lewis' output is likewise a full-time pursuit these days, and it seems like every year, one or more of his records, whether as leader or sideman, ends up in strong contention for me. Obviously he's a huge asset to Echolocation above, and of his two major leader statements of the year (the other being his Mahalia Jackson tribute For Mahalia, With Love), this one also hit me hard. JBL has led too many noteworthy power trios to catalog (for example, the one with Luke Stewart and Trae Crudup featured on 2016's No Filter, or the one with Josh Werner and Chad Taylor that I caught this past spring as part of a perfectly matched double bill with the Messthetics), and here comes another one on his Anti- debut, with Christopher Hoffman on cello and Max Jaffe on drums. While the other JBL three-pieces I've heard have focused more on funky drive, this one achieves a deep cyclical flow that works just as well in or out of metric time. But without slighting the vital contributions of the supporting players here — Hoffman, Jaffe, cornetist Kirk Knuffke and on the roof-raising finale, the Messthetics themselves, i.e., Fugazi brothers-in-rhythm Joe Lally and Brendan Canty and polymathic shredder Anthony Pirog — it's the focus and directness of JBL's writing/bandleading here that makes the album great. His compositions have the strength and conviction of mantras and the stickiness of great folk songs, potent enough to gather steam over the duration of pieces like "Within You Are Answers" and "The Blues Still Blossoms," where the band keeps passing the themes around, lifting them higher and higher (with the same being true of the covers here, most notably a stirring version of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free"). As with the Inman album at the top of this list, many of the tracks here feel like instant canon to me.

As anyone with even a passing interest in extreme metal knows, we're in the midst of a death-metal renaissance, and for me (and I'm hardly alone!), Tomb Mold are one of a handful of bands who are really leading the charge. Their evolution from a more stripped-down, meat-and-potatoes sound to something more high-tech across their first three albums is well-documented, but they really took a quantum leap on The Enduring Spirit. I honestly wasn't sure how much I liked the change during my early spins of this record (honestly I missed what guitarist Derrick Vella once called "the more ignorant sections of our repertoire," referring to their early penchant for bludgeoning riffs that slammed you around like some kind of Cro-Magnon wrestler). But I quickly realized I needed to cut loose the baggage of my expectations because these guys were so clearly on a mission. Yes, this album is relentless fussy and detail-packed but when it wants to be, it's simultaneously as aggressive as anything they've done before. This is not one I'm throwing on every day, but every time I do, I'm sort of shocked and delighted that a genre I've been following for 30+ years just keeps hurtling onward into the future. IMO, kind of impossible to sit with this one and not come away with the notion that death metal is one of the great musical frontiers of our time, where some of the brightest minds are dreaming up boundless worlds of wonder. Inspiring as hell.

I am and will always be a Metallica die-hard, and I love the old and new stuff alike. I really think they've been on a roll of late, and this one might be even better than 2016's Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, which I loved. I didn't return to this one quite as much as I thought I would throughout the year, which is really the only reason it didn't originally find its way to my top 10, but now that I'm revisiting it, I'm realizing that it absolutely deserves mention among my other favorites of the year. There are some truly great, worthy Metallica songs on this thing ("You Must Burn!," "Shadows Follow," the title track) and at this point in their career, that's really saying something. 

To elaborate a little more on what I love about this album: As with Hardwired and Death Magnetic, the arrangements here can sometimes feel overstuffed, the songs creeping up around (or past) the six-minute mark when four minutes might have sufficed, but I'm starting to see that move back toward …And Justice for All–ish maximalism after the leaner style of the Black Album and Load/ReLoad as a real asset. What I hear in that tendency now is a reflection of the band's sheer joy in songwriting at this stage in their career. They just love stacking up riffs and parts and creating these massive Erector-set constructions that while sometimes a little unwieldy, always find some kind of center in a big chorus hook or fist-pumping riff. Metallica absolutely do not need to making new music at all, let alone putting this much care and effort into their songwriting. Even if I disagree with them completely, I obviously understand on some level why many purists have long ago written this band off, but as a fan of 30+ years, it's almost impossible for me to imagine hearing 72 Seasons and not feeling the presence of some of that old magic. To drill down a little: for me, this record is really the best of both Metallica worlds — the catchiness of the Black Album plus the complexity of the baroque thrash years. Not to mention the fact that I think James Hetfield is singing as well as he has on record since the early '90s. There's really not one song I don't dig (right now feeling the mid-album twofer of "Crown of Barbed Wire" and "Chasing Light). Looking forward to many more spins of this one!

best of 2023, pt. 4: 15 best live shows

[This is part 4 of 5 of the DFSBP 2023 rundown; find the other parts here.]

15 great live shows:

For these, where applicable, I'm linking night-of/morning-after commentary/documentation in lieu of fresh commentary, as my memory is not what it used to be! (Note: I've omitted any gigs mentioned in passing in the companion album survey.)

David Murray Quartet with Marta Sanchez, Luke Stewart and Kassa Overall @ Village Vanguard (Jan. 19)

Ron Carter Foursight Quartet with Jimmy Greene, Renee Rosnes and Payton Crossley @ Blue Note (Jan. 24)

Everyone Asked About You @ Numero Twenty fest; Palace Theatre, L.A. (Feb. 20)

Loved catching all the heavy hitters and old faves at this fest, including the outstanding Rex and Karate, who I'd seen in more intimate confines the prior year, the explosive Unwound and the splendidly grooving Ui, but honestly EAAY, a recently reunited quartet from Little Rock, Arkansas, came along and stole the show with their ragged, bittersweet, heart-rendingly emotive sound. This was really magical to witness and I became an instant convert. See them live if at all possible and check out the Numero discography release. (This Washed Up Emo podcast episode is a great companion listen.)

Afterbirth + Thaetas @ Amityville Music Hall (March 3)

A knockout bill of futuristic death metal. Two tremendous live bands that you should catch any chance you get. See also Afterbirth's bizarre, diverse and gloriously unfettered new opus In But Not Of.

Brandee Younger Trio @ Public Records (April 7)

Pure aural luxury.

Sprain @ RecordBar; Kansas City, MO (June 14)

Punishing avant-garde extremity. Major bummer that this band decided to call it quits in 2023, shortly after unveiling their latest severe, unsparing art-rock dispatch The Lamb as Effigy

Misfits @ Prudential Center (July 8)
One of the great rock songbooks, blown up to arena size. Glenn's pipes are once again in top form after a few iffy years. 

Bill Frisell with Greg Tardy, Gerald Clayton and Johnathan Blake @ Vanguard  (Aug. 11)

Shakti @ Capitol Theater; Port Chester, NY (Aug. 19) 

Joe Lovano's Trio Tapestry with Marilyn Crispell, Carmen Castaldi @ Village Vanguard (Aug 24)

Ex Hex @ Colony; Woodstock, NY (Sept. 5)

Fired-up rock & roll excellence from the legendary Mary Timony & Co.

Bonnie "Prince" Billy @ Tubby's; Kingston, NY (Sept. 29)

A roller-coaster opening to the fifth-anniversary festivities at Tubby's, in which Bonnie's Friday headlining appearance was initially canceled due to inclement weather. Miraculously, he pushed through, landing in NYC and making the journey up north to Kingston, arriving sometime around midnight to offer up a masterful solo acoustic set to an intimate crowd.

On the Might of Princes @ Amityville Music Hall (Sept. 30)

Messa + Maggot Heart @ Le Poisson Rouge (Oct. 17)

Trevor Watts with Jamie Harris @ Tubby's (Oct. 29)

Since moving upstate, I've been reaping the benefits of my friend Clifford Allen's excellent Hudson Valley show curation / scene cultivation via his So, What Do You Think? series. This edition with former Spontaneous Music Ensemble saxist Trevor Watts was especially cool, but I also loved the Gold Sparkle Band / Cisco Bradley edition from September. (And big congrats to Clifford as well on the 2023 publication of his excellent Matthew Shipp study, The Singularity Codex!)

best of 2023, pt. 2: jazz top 11

[This is part 2 of 5 of the DFSBP 2023 rundown; find the other parts here.]

jazz top 11

I'm going to get a little creative with the math here, due to the simple fact that I submitted my ballot for the annual Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll (results of which should be online in early January) before I really got my ears around James Brandon Lewis' Eye of I, cited and discussed in the overall top 10 above. If I had spent more time with that album before the deadline, I would have absolutely made space for it, probably in the #2 spot, but… that is not what transpired, revealing yet again the fundamental arbitrariness of listmaking! So, not wanting to penalize any of the 2023 jazz albums I did initially choose, I'm just going to list 11 albums here and call it a day.

1. Mendoza Hoff Revels, Echolocation (Aum Fidelity)
2. James Brandon Lewis, Eye of I (Anti-)
3. Christian McBride’s New Jawn, Prime (Mack Avenue)
4. Joe Farnsworth, In What Direction Are You Headed? (Smoke Sessions)
5. John Zorn, Full Fathom Five (Tzadik)
6. Jason Moran, From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Yes)
7. The Schrimps, Ain’t No Saint (Intakt)
8. Ambrose Akinmusire, Beauty Is Enough (Origami Harvest)
9. Kate Gentile, Find Letter X (Pi)
10. jaimie branch, Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die (​(​world war​)​) (International Anthem)
11. Leap Day Trio, Live at the Cafe Bohemia (Giant Step Arts / Little (i) Music)

We'll leave aside the Mendoza Hoff, the JBL and the Zorn since they're dealt with in the overall top 10, as well as the McBride, which I discussed in passing in this New York Times profile of the bass maestro earlier in the year. (Is New Jawn his best band ever? From my vantage point, yes!) Regarding the other picks:

Each year, Joe Farnsworth looks more and more like one of the jazz scene's sturdiest anchors, a true ambassador of goodwill and precious passed-down-from-the-masters, learned-on-the-gig knowledge (check out this great Farnsworth interview by Morgan Enos for more on all of that). What's cool about this album is that it enriches and subtly complicates his typical role of Mr. Straight Ahead. It's a Joe Farnsworth record, so obviously it swings like mad, but the variety of the material and ingenious combination of players (hard to think of another place where you'd hear Immanuel Wilkins, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Julius Rodriguez and Robert Hurst together…) gives it just the right amount of unexpected wrinkles. Check out the backbeat funk of the Harold Mabern–penned title track, the hushed bossa nova vibe of "Terra Nova" or the floating waltz-time feel of his own reading of "Someday We'll All Be Free" (a fascinating point of comparison with the JBL version of the same tune on Eye of I). Throughout, Rosenwinkel and Wilkins make for a thrilling pair, sharing a gift for liquid-toned lyricism.

Every Jason Moran record is an event, and that's especially true of From the Dancehall to the Battlefield. Having seen the piece live this summer — one of the most compelling concerts and/or live happenings of any kind that I witnessed all year — it's hard for me to consider the music apart from the multimedia presentation of this impressionistic evocation of the life and work of pioneering ragtime/proto-jazz bandleader James Reese Europe, complete with costumes, projections and creative staging. But the record itself is a brilliant manifestation of the "from ragtime to no time" ethos that Moran has been steadily fortifying for around 25 years now — classicism, modernism and the future all swirled together. You get the feeling that Moran's mentor Jaki Byard would have been exceedingly proud of a work like this. 

I generally love Jim Black's bandleading efforts, especially Alasnoaxis and the piano trio he launched more recently. His latest project is a Berlin-based quartet featuring European players who are all new to me: Asger Nissen on alto sax, Julius Gawlik on tenor, and Felix Henkelhausen on bass. Black's familiar sonic fingerprint is here — deliberately off-kilter funk, playful abstraction, disarmingly plaintive themes — but to my ears, there's an increased emphasis here on conventional swing (i.e., of the "ting ting-ta-ting" variety). The results lean at times toward a nimble, post-Ornette-y sort of freebop, with the two saxes scampering around the sound field, and it all sounds absolutely great.

One of our finest contemporary trumpeters, performing an improvised solo concert in a Paris cathedral. That's the sales pitch on Beauty Is Enough, and the record absolutely lives up to whatever lofty expectations that description might evoke. It's really a joy to hear Ambrose Akinmusire staking out a particular sonic territory in each of these pieces — patient and spacious on "Cora Campbell," say, or busy and staccato on "Achilles," or achingly delicate on "Carvin." — and just feeling it out, seeing where it takes him. The resonance of the church itself is also a major asset. This is the kind of album that really makes you wish you were there during the performance, and it sounds so damn good, it practically fulfills that wish. (The other 2023 Akinmusire disc, Owl Song, a trio with Bill Frisell and Herlin Riley, is lovely as well!)

At this point, drummer Kate Gentile and pianist Matt Mitchell are effectively their own school of contemporary jazz, challenging listeners and themselves alike with gargantuan helpings of hypercomplex sound assemblage. Gentile's latest, which features Mitchell and reedist Jeremy Viner (both of whom appeared on her strong 2017 effort Mannequins) and bassist Kim Cass, spans three discs and clocks in at more than three hours. As with Gentile and Mitchell's 2021 Snark Horse box set, I'd be lying if I said I'd had time to properly digest all of what's here, but every time I've dipped in, I've been pretty much floored. The second disc is especially up my alley, being clearly informed by Gentile's avowed love of extreme metal. A track like "raze" here is without question one of the most superbly insane things I've heard all year, and is pure wish fulfillment for anyone [raises hand] who's ever wondered what a sonic collision between Tim Berne and Behold… the Arctopus, with a sprinkling of Magma, would sound like. It's fascinating to hear, in the span of a year, the metal/punk/etc. influence making its way into jazz in one way on, say, Echolocation, and in a completely other way here. And that's just one facet of what's afoot on this release, which also includes wild electroacoustic interludes and more, for lack of a better term, chamber-ish tracks that sound like a drum-equipped version of the Giuffre/Bley/Swallow trio 1,000 years in the future. (Note here: If this general musical zone appeals to you, definitely check out Capacious Aeration, Mitchell's recent duo release with reedist Anna Webber. And note to self: I really need to make some time for Gentile's disc with International Contemporary Ensemble, which seems on a quick sampling like the perfect counterpart to Find Letter X.)

"Gonna take over the world / Gonna gonna gonna take over the world," jaimie branch declares forcefully on "take over the world," a track from her third, possibly best and, as well all now know, sadly final album with her signature ensemble Fly or Die. And somehow, even though she's gone, you still believe her, so energizred is the rollicking punk-samba groove that breaks out once the piece gets going. During her roughly five years of peak bandleading activity, branch really seemed to alter the course not just of how jazz sounded but how it was received in the world. This music reached people, and Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war)) will stand forever as a testament to why, its eccentric but ever-inclusive blend of heady synth drone, texture-rich avant-Latin-/African-jazz, low-down funk, ecstatic dance-rock, homespun folk and more playing out like a standing invite to some sort of utopian carnival. Amid the pain of her loss, we're so lucky to have gotten one more complete statement. (Note: for context I recommend both this heartbreaking memorial piece by branch's sister Kate and this conversation I had with jaimie shortly before her passing, just as she was putting the finishing touches on this record.) 

Is there such a thing as a power trio in jazz? If there is, I feel like it might best connote the Rollins-indebted tradition of sax-bass-drum combos, a lineage definitely evoked by Leap Day Trio's excellent Live at Cafe Bohemia. Tenor player Jeff Lederer's avowed love for Ayler gives the record a certain kind of free-jazz lean at times, but basically this is a hard-swinging freebop effort: gritty, earthy, propulsive. Again, as with the Akinmusire, the sounds and textures here — including drummer Matt Wilson's "whoo" exclamations during Lederer's solos and the no-nonsense drive of his rhythmic mesh with rock-solid bassist Mimi Jones — really make you wish you were in the room (i.e., the briefly reopened new incarnation of legendary downtown jazz room the Cafe Bohemia) for this one. I'd love to hear more from this trio and, ideally, to catch them live at some point. This album simply rocks.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Dischord @ Shfl

 A new survey of great/essential titles on the legendary Dischord label, published over at Shfl.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Richard Davis

I'm hearing reports that Richard Davis has died. A musical titan and one of my biggest heroes in art. I just re-upped links to a 2010 radio tribute to him that my friend Russell Baker and I co-hosted on WKCR — see below. The show includes excerpts of a phone interview I conducted with Richard that year, in which he reflected on his work with Eric Dolphy, Van Morrison, Alan Dawson, Walt Dickerson, Bruce Springsteen and more.

He was such a lovely man, and his music will live forever.

Richard Davis - WKCR - I
Richard Davis - WKCR - II
Richard Davis - WKCR - III

Apologies for the poor audio quality of the interview segments — it was a phoner and I had to take what I could get. Hopefully those bits are still more or less intelligible.


And here's a second Richard Davis show, from later in 2010, that Russ and I co-hosted on WKCR, this time with Richard actually in studio with us. Per the format of WKCR's Wednesday night Musician's Show, he curated a fascinating selection of his more recent work, much of it unknown to me at the time, and offered his thoughts on the music and his collaborators during the breaks. 

Pardon the numerous and fairly arbitrary track divisions here — the CD-R I had this program stored on was formatted that way. But if you play it all in order, it should flow just fine. Enjoy!


 For more on Richard's role in the landmark Van Morrison album Astral Weeks, see this interview with producer Lewis Merenstein.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Peter Brötzmann interview, 2011

I'm reading reports that Peter Brötzmann has died. I haven't seen an official announcement, but his frequent collaborator Ken Vandermark has posted about it, which I'll take as confirmation of this terrible news.

I just want to say that his music has meant so much to me. He was a part of some of the most powerful sonic happenings I've ever heard live or on record. I've written a fair amount about him on this blog over the years. I was also fortunate enough to interview him a couple of times. The below is a conversation that originally ran on the Time Out New York blog in June of 2011, ahead of his appearance at the Vision Festival that year. I reached him via phone at home in Wuppertal, where he had recently performed, and he was so much fun to talk to — thoughtful, dryly funny and surprisingly warm. I'm posting this here for posterity, since it's long gone from the TONY site. 

Thank you for everything, Peter Brötzmann.