1. Spinning by Lynn Baker. From Azure Intention, 2010, OA2
Finally: a great, widely available recording from this seriously under-recorded composer and performer. Lynn has been lighting up stages for decades as a killer tenor player, and has long been the jazz studies director at the University of Denver's Lamont School of Music, my alma mater. I saw Lynn perform with a wide variety of ensembles during my time in Denver, played in several school combos under his tutelage, and did a semester of my composition studies with him, too. Though Lynn can play experimental music, and he's perfectly comfortable in free improv or guided improvisation situations, this record focuses on his mature compositional approach. Since Other Music tends to explore and celebrate eclectic approaches, I chose one of the most "out" compositions on this disc, "Spinning." Alternating between chromatic odd-time and swinging sections, this track offers a taste of Lynn's great tone, confident phrasing, and mastery of the wide vocabulary that falls generally into the "jazz" idiom. I have a recording of a live Bluebird Theatre show from a '99 Lynn ensemble that I hope to digitize and play on Other Music soon to show what he can do with some even more left-field approaches...
2. Seven Sigils by John Zorn. From Ipissimus, 2010, Tzadik.
Pardon my alliteration, but "Spinning" segues sublimely into "Seven Sigils," the lead track on Zorn's latest Moonchild Ensemble release. I've been a Zorn fanatic for a very long time, but I must admit I've not been as consistently excited about his '00 releases compared to the fireworks of his 80s and 90s work. Fortunately, he pulled out a majorly interesting work for my ears in 2009's "Femina," a return to the "file card" or "index card" compositional technique employed in such classics as his "Godard," "Spillane," and "Forbidden Fruit" that we played a few weeks ago. 2010's "Ipissimus" strikes gold again, somehow evoking both the dangerous energy of his legendary Naked City ensemble along with the rich harmonic vocabulary of the original Masada quartet. Some of the Moonchild ensemble recordings started to lose momentum for me, but Ipissimus strikes hard and never lets go. It's exciting to hear how much aggression Zorn can still unleash after many gentler forays into almost lounge/exotica territory in recent years.
I haven't seen any live footage of material from Ipissimus yet, but here's a look at the early trio incarnation of Moonchild:
3. Blinded by Blood of Heroes. From Blood of Heroes, 2010 Ohm Resistance.
Another NYC stalwart whose voluminous series of recordings has lost a little consistency over time, Bill Laswell returns to form with Blood of Heroes, a sort of industrial spinoff of his other recent (and excellent) ensemble, Method of Defiance. This album occupies a strange aural universe between industrial and dub camps, with the contribution of guitarist Justin Broadrick providing some very Godflesh-like atmospheres. If Laswell and Zorn keep this up, the '10 decade looks to be another exciting series of creative innovations.
4. Eruption by Dennis Caplinger. From Strummin With the Devil, 2006, CmH Records.
To follow last week's DLR tune in Spanish, here's another Van Halen-related oddity: a rendition of Eddie's famous guitar solo "Eruption" on banjo! I think Dennis Caplinger does a great job interpreting this piece for banjo. but the severe staccato attack associated with the instrument doesn't generally represent the smooth legato of a distorted electric guitar. And, of course, there is no whammy bar. Stll, an interesting track from an album that also features a bluegrass take on "Jump" with Diamond Dave himself on vocals. That's a guy who will enthusiastically try anything! In fact, here it is:
5. Cosmetics by Foetus. From Hide, 2010, Ectopic Ents.
Yet another NYC scene veteran with yet another stellar new release, the new Foetus album includes some operatic vocal passages that bring an industrial version of Magma to mind. The compositions are dense and dark as always, and Thirwell shows no signs of losing his edge, having continued to bring his Foetus, Steroid Maximus, and Manorexia projects to new heights. His recent album of music he composed for the Venture Brothers is phenomenal, too. It's going to take a lot of spins to get this album all the way into my head--and it's going to be a painful pleasure.
6. Froth by Tyft. From Smell the Difference, 2009, Skirl Records
I don't know a lot about this ensemble, other than it's sort of a compliment to Andrew D'Angelo's Morthana ensemble. D'Angelo plays for Skirl, and guitarist Hilmar Jensson returns the favor in Morthana. This music retains the aggropunkjazz approach favored by so many NYC downtown scene musicians, but the compositions also feature a lot of nicely-composed sections--more sophisticated than the usual "head and improv on the form" routine by far. If you like a little metal with your prog-jazz, this album is essential.
Here's a live version of this track featuring the core trio. Damn fine:
7. Pagode-Enredo Dos Tempos Do Medo by Tom Ze. From Estudando O Pagode, vinyl reissue, 2010 Luaka Bop.
I've played a Tom Ze track on the show recently, but here's another from my favorite album of his in celebration of the release of a new Tom Ze vinyl box set by Luaka Bop: Studies of Tom Ze: Explaining Things So I Can Confuse You.
The three "study" records included in this box have never been released domestically on vinyl, and "Estudando a Bossa" hadn't been released domestically at all. They sound truly beautiful on a nice turntable--I've barely been able to listen to anything else since this box arrived. The box also includes a 7'' with two live tracks when Tortoise was his backing band on tour, and a classic interview with Ze, David Byrne, and Arto Lindsay, a great essay (though the must-read essay on Tom Ze remains JG Rollefson's "Tom Ze's Fabrication Defect and the 'Esthetics of Plagiarism': A Postmodern/Postcolonial 'Cannibalist Manifesto"). This will almost certainly be my vote for the best release of 2010, reissue or otherwise--not bad for a year that's rounding out nicely for great releases!