Top 10 2008 — to date

The commercial record industry may be in free-fall, but fresh cds continue to arrive in hopes of review, in undaunted quantity. From the year’s first month, these get my attention.

And the Grammy for Album of the Year goes for the first time I can ever remember to an album I actually listen to for pleasure and recommend: Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters. OK!! But what’s new?
In the first 30 days of 2008, 100 cds arrived in the mail or via personal-handoff for professional consideration. Hard at already assigned work and personal appearances presenting my book and performance video clips of Miles Ornette Cecil, I’ve not thoroughly digested any of them — and aren’t het officially released. But quick sampling and piqued interest moves these to the top of my Listen! pile:
Lionel Loueke, Karibu — the West African mostly-acoustic guitarist and understated vocalist has been mentored by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, both guests on his Blue Note debut; charming, softspoken, gently yet insistently rhythmic, easy to like music.
Maceo Parker, Roots & Grooves — Avatar of the squealing and squiggling r&b alto sax (shout out to Louis Jordan!), Parker pays tribute to his onetime employer Ray Charles with eight covers (but he really needn’t sing so much) and goes “back to funk” in a expertly recorded tight live show that ought to and does make you move.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Avatar — Romantic pianist-composer of distinguished Cuban lineage, moving and brilliantly virtuosic, trying to balance complexity and musicality, with a new quintet and repertoire at initial hearing showy, simmering, moody, tender, playful (a dedication to John McLaughlin?).
Elliott Sharp’s Terraplane, Forgery — Sharpest electric blues/slide ‘n’ out guitarist of the East Village, E# plays gritty and witty with poet Tracie Morris on “How The Crescent City Got Bleached,” belter Eric Mingus on other tracks, horns and slyly off-beat touches (“War Between The States,” “Haditha”). Forgery will do ’til the real thing comes along, and is perfect for Capt. Beefheart fans.
Cuong Vu, Vu-Tet — Most subversive of current trumpeters, fast and powerful but unconventionally slipping genre-limits, Cuong Vu uses repetition, electronics, slurred and half-valve effects in close collaboration of tenor saxist Chris Speed, drummer Ted Poor, electric bassist Stomu Takeishi; some tunes turn somersaults, others float like clouds.
Topographies of the Dark, Sound Improvisations by Ghanaian instrument inventor Nii Noi Norty and percussionist Nii Otoo Annan with Steven Feld, Alex Coke, Jefferson Voorhees — Music only native to itself, by West Africans collaborate with Creative Opportunity Orchestra (Austin) reedsman Coke on flute, bass flute, soprano sax, Vorhees playing traps and Feld, MacArthur Fellow ethnomusicologist of fascinating projects (forest walks and family guitar bands of New Guinea, bells of Western Europe and the Balkans) on a rhythm box. Haunting, ruminative, graceful even when bombastic or timbrally unusual.
Robert Irving III, New Momentum — Miles Davis’ main man in the early ’80s , this Chicago-born keyboardist’s first album under his own name since 1989, mostly on acoustic grand piano, lyricism reflecting influences of Herbie Hancock and maybe Ahmad Jamal.
Paul Hanson, Frolic in the Land of Plenty — Pyrotechnic bassoon improvisation, daring the jazz-rock continuum like a double-reed Mahavishnu, yes with those sorts of powerhouse post-bop/fusion ensembles and a high sheen surface (Dennis Chambers drumming on some tracks).
Jason Kao Hwang/Edge, Stories Before Within — Composition and improv variations by under-acclaimed New York violin and violaist Hwang, who draws on his experience and individualism to cast microtonal studies, with splendid cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, thick-toned bassist Ken Filiano and Andrew Drury, drums.
Auktyon with veteran Marc Ribot, John Medeski, Ned Rothenberg, Frank London and bassist Vladimir Volkov heading up a cast of Russians, Girls Sing — quirky, post-punk freak-folk freely ignoring borders.
Also tempting from their covers/personnel: electric trumpeter Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra (led by Rob Mazurek); alto saxist Loren Stillman, Blind Date with ultra-supportive pianist Gary Versace, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron; Orlando “Puntilla” Rios, A Tribute to Gonzalo Asencio, “Tio Tom” (Afro-Cuban rumba, all singing and percussion); trumpeter Steven Bernstein’s third volume of reconsidered Jewish music, Diaspora Suite; Umalali The Garifuna Women’s Project from Caribbean/Central America; tenor saxophonist Kyle Brenders’ solo Flows and Intensities, the Chicago quartet of pianist Jim Baker, drummer Steve Hunt, bassist/guitarist Brian Sandstrom, saxophonist Mars Williams, Extraodrinary Popular Delusions. And much more . . .
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  1. Tony says

    While there are many tasty picks here, the Bill Dixon definitely has my attention. Will we ever see his “Intents & Purposes? reissued?
    HM: Don’t hold your breath — Dixon’s sole? release under his own name in the ’60s was issued on RCA, a label which has now become BMG and almost completely abandoned its huge and historic jazz and Latin American catalogs (and its classical recordings, too).

  2. Max says

    Ooooh, nice way to work in some gratuitous and self-aggrandizing plugs! Hats off to you, sir — not many people would be that shameless.
    HM: Shamelessness seems to be deriguer in this format, no? Did I spell deriguer right?

  3. Jane St. Clair says

    I was so glad to read your words about Herbie Hancock’s “River.” I felt the same way. It reminded me of the year Joni Mitchell won best album Grammy for “Turbulent Indigo.” Such a righteous win, and still you could tell by her expression at the podium how surprised she was to have won it. She has been a huge inspiration to me for many years, in terms of lyric writing. Herbie Hancock’s ongoing creative incarnations continue to inspire me every decade, and Larry Klein has really approached mastery in terms of production where gorgeous vocals meet sophisticated lyrics: starting with Joni, then Shawn Colvin and Julia Fordham, and now Madeline Peyroux and Luciana Souza. It’s an affirmation to see these incredible talents acknowledged when it happens, like it did the night of the Grammys this year.