LUCKY THIRTEEN: While wrapping up 2007 in music on disc, in the form of this annual cross-genre baker’s dozen list, we were struck by the fact that the rules of the game are rapidly changing.Radiohead‘s name-your-price release of In Rainbows, one of the year’s greatest and most artful hit releases, arrived not as a physical product but rather as a download and a brave new idea (well, not exactly new, considering similar concepts from Jane Siberry and Prince). For those yet to partake of the latest Radiohead treasure, get thee to an Internet portal.
If Radiohead is the great rock band in the world at the moment, Wilco must be the finest American rock band. We were treated to a powerful new album, Sky Blue Sky, and a memorable visit to the Santa Barbara Bowl. Lucinda Williams continued her run of poetic punches with West, and L.A.’s brilliant The Bird and the Bee invented a new musical cocktail, containing equal parts kitsch, jazz, ’60s pop, and ’00s irony (slip on “Fucking Boyfriend” for a fiendishly catchy jolt).
In jazz, the biggest news related to Joe Zawinul, the great, feisty, and free-spirited keyboardist for Weather Report and the Zawinul Syndicate. He passed away in September, at 75, and also released one of his more exciting albums, Brown Street, with the WDR Big Band. Here, at last, was some substantial jazz cred attached to Zawinul’s unique writing, persuasively addressing doubts from jazz’s anti-electronics bunch.
Keith Jarrett, our greatest living jazz pianist, released My Foolish Heart, a live recording with Gary Peacock and Jack De Johnette from 2001 of uncommon virtue and jazz history-hopping grace (check out his wild “Straight, No Chaser” and lustrous “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” and nod and weep). Another keyboardist coming out swinging this year was Herbie Hancock, whose disarmingly subtle and deep Joni Mitchell tribute record, River: The Joni Letters, exceeded all expectations (although his recent Campbell Hall show was an oddly bland, show biz-y disappointment). The Miles Davis archives continued to reveal more riches this year with the complete recordings from his On the Corner sessions, sounding hipper than ever.
Fans of ECM Records’ signature depth and lyricism have new reason to rejoice, thanks to a new generation of inspired Norwegians, including saxist Trygve Seim, accordionist Frode Haltli, and the intriguing keyboardist/composer Christian Wallumrod, whose quietly compelling recent release, The Zoo Is Far, takes us to a new, inviting, and introspective place. As one listens to this album, the world goes away for an hour, in the best way.
Herewith, in no particular order, is this year’s cornucopia of musical reasons to remain optimistic about culture and life in general. (1) Radiohead, In Rainbows; (2) Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch); (3) Bright Eyes, Cassadaga (Saddle Creek); (4) The Bird and the Bee (Regal); (5) Lucinda Williams, West (Lost Highway); (6) Keith Jarrett et al., My Foolish Heart (ECM); (7) Joe Zawinul and the WDR Big Band, Brown Street (Heads Up); (8) Tierney Sutton, On the Other Side (Telarc); (9) Christian Wallumrod Ensemble, The Zoo Is Far (ECM); (10) Herbie Hancock, River: The Joni Letters (Verve); (11) Terence Blanchard, A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina) (Blue Note); (12) Metheny Mehldau Quartet (Nonesuch); (13) Miles Davis, The Complete On the Corner Sessions (Columbia/Legacy).
TO-DOINGS: Two weeks ago, noted American oddball Eugene Chadbourne wielded his eccentric sounds and songs and effectively grabbed hold of Reds as the special guest of the venturesome biweekly “Experimental Music Night” series. Tonight, the series continues its cavalcade of stars with veteran Los Angeles contemporary music sparkplug Vinny Golia. Golia is at least a triple threat: He’s a multi-reed player blessed with ferocity and freedom; he’s a teacher; and he’s a great example of the tireless DIY situation-maker, as head of the 30-year-old Nine Winds label and numerous live situations down south. In that last capacity, in fact, Golia has helped to spawn the ambitions of scene-makers everywhere, including Santa Barbara’s own Colter Frazier and Rob Wallace, co-conspirators of this fine series.