My All-Star CD's of 2007: The Starters

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by Pico

Yesterday I revealed my second team selections of favorite CD’s from 2007. Now, we get into the really good stuff. Here is the Special Seven:

Robert Plant/Allison Krauss – Raising Sand
Niether Plant nor Krauss are the kind of artists whose records I run out and buy, but I’ve always appreciated the works of both. In coming together for this odd pairing of rock star with bluegrass star, producer T-Bone Burnett makes them meet somewhere in the middle that sounds both evocative and fresh at the same time. The sonic soundscape that Burnett creates combined with the proper reverence and delivery these two seasoned veterans provide the selections make Raising Sand a strong collection from beginning to end. Also mentioned in a Quickies article here.

Michael Brecker – Pilgrimage
The only risk of putting this album on a “best of” list is leaving myself open to charges of sentimentalism. Well damnit, I do miss Brecker, now gone for eleven months, but Pilgrimage still ranks as one of his grander efforts. It’s not distinctive from his other records for any departure from or progression of style. Rather, it’s just more consistent and features all the top drawer supporting musicians playing their “A” game for their soon-to-be-fallen comrade. Brecker seemed intent on going out with a strong effort; it’s hard to say this document of challenging bop is anything but. Read my full review here.

Porcupine Tree – Fear Of A Blank Planet
In the burgeoning field of neo-prog players, PT has stood out to me. They always seemed to write better material, play with more precision and avoid many of the excesses and quirkiness that often brings down other acts of this genre. But even The Tree at their best would remind you more of their seventies forebears than themselves. That’s all changed with Fear Of A Blank Planet, which is an announcement that they have completely come into their own. What’s more, they made a concept record that actually follows through on the commitment of coherence. I covered the title song in more detail here.

Blackfield – Blackfield II
Speaking of Porcupine Tree, its leader Steven Wilson was also busy with his Blackfield side project with Israeli rock star Aviv Geffen. While PT is Wilson’s more ambitious project where longer-form, challenging compositions and impeccable chops are the norm, Blackfield is the more radio-friendly outlet for his talents. Geffen shares Wilson’s penchant for melodic, memorable and well-constructed pop tunes and he indeed even wrote most of the material. But the remarkable thing is that despite all the obvious nods to U2 and Roger Waters within the four minute song format, it’s still compelling for repeated listens. In fact, this is the CD I’ve listened to more than any other CD this year. Wilson provides note-perfect production with sparse, anticipatory beginnings gently building up to grand, sweeping Pink Floydian choruses. If you’re looking for a sleeper pick in the realm of rock, Blackfield II is your choice. Also mentioned in a Quickies article here.

The Subdudes – Street Symphony
2007 saw a continuation of Katrina-inspired records, especially from musicians with ties to the Gulf South region like Bryan Lee, for instance. But the Subdudes have strong New Orleans roots themselves and in this first release recorded in the hurricane’s aftermath, they took a hard look at the American landscape in the wake of a domestic catastrophe with anger, hope and their trademark wit. Wrapped in good wholesome, handmade music Street Symphony is the most inspired kick-back record of the year. Read my full review here.

Robin Eubanks – Live, Vol. 1
Twelve months ago I never would have envisioned that two of the upcoming year’s best CD’s would be led by trombonists, but here I am with a second-team selection (Josh Roseman’s New Constellations) and this first-teamer from Robin Eubanks. And just like Roseman, Eubanks deftly combines technology and traditional trombone jazz into something often unpredictable but always intriguing. Likewise, he also chose to forgo the safety net and do it live. Robin gets extra points, however, for filling up his big sound with just himself and two other players and he brought along his immense composition skills honed from his gig with the Dave Holland Quintet. Safety net? Robin Eubanks doesn’t need no stinkin’ safety net! Read my full review here.

Manu Katché – Playground
You wouldn’t think that a in-demand drummer from France who backs up many big name rock and pop stars would be the same guy who makes subdued, sublime records of European jazz, but Manu Katché is that guy. Proving that his widely acclaimed ECM label debut Neighbourhood was no fluke, Katché again writes beautiful, thoughtful melodies and gets more mileage out of propelling his acoustic band from behind than getting out front and risk submerging the vibe of these pretty songs. With releases like Playground, Katché ensures the continued viability of ECM for many years to come. Read my full review here.

Coming soon: The 2007 MVP!

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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