S. Victor Aaron’s Mid-Year Best of 2013 (Avant Garde and Experimental Jazz): Ben Goldberg, Ceramic Dog

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In years past, I’ve called this the “whack jazz” list and this time we’re going to call it “avant garde and experimental jazz,” but any music that goes too far outside the bounds of convention gets lumped into its own category. It’s an area I spend a lot of time immersed in, because this kind of music more than others presents puzzles to figure out, and the freedom and innovation found here is tends to be more intense.

I made these nine selections without regard to anything but how well they struck me, but this list turned out to be an embarrassment of riches for one Ches Smith: the deft drummer leads on one and appears on four more. He’s even on an album led by another drummer, Mike Pride. That’s domination, folks. He might not make a lot of trips up to the podium in next year’s Grammys ceremony, but if I were running it, Smith would have to come wearing cross-training sneakers.

Other drummers like Gerald Cleaver and the aforementioned Pride got nods, too. It’s too soon to say if this is the Year of the Drummer, but it may qualify as the Half-Year for the beatmakers.

Here’s the whole list, unranked and unordered. Click on the embedded links to find more complete lowdowns on the winning releases…


Ben Goldberg – Unfold Ordinary Mind: Goldberg revels in putting together clashing styles that your mind tells you aren’t congruent but your heart is demanding your mind to explain why. Also worthwile checking out is the companion release, Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues.

Slobber Pup – Black Aces: They managed to capture the essence of a time when lines between rock, blues, funk and jazz were blurry and musicians were good enough to tackle it all at once. Slobber Pup is more than good enough.

Rob Mazurek Octet – Skull Sesisons: Mazurek and his Octet are doing to improvised, avant-garde jazz what Getz and Gilberto did with mainstream jazz and mainstream Brazilian music.

Black Host – Life in the Sugar Candle Mines: Cleaver has always thrived on the edge of jazz, but with the help of this ensemble, he goes straight into the abyss.

Ceramic Dog – Your Turn: A boatload of fun, even when they’re angry at something or someone or themselves. And within this left-field punk rock aesthetic, it’s surprisingly diverse.

Curtis Hasselbring – Number Stations: Number Stations is Hasselbring at his most enterprising. Like a good novel, each song is a chapter that thickens the plot and goes off in an unexpected directions

Ivo Perelman with the Matthew Shipp Trio – The Edge: Perelman’s meeting with Shipp’s full trio is one of the most satisfying of his recent collaborations with Shipp, because both leader and trio have leveraged each others strengths very effectively.

Ches Smith and These Arches – Hammered: This is as good as it should be, the real discovery from this record is about its mastermind. Ches Smith has become as legitimate in the leader and composer roles as he’s long achieved as a bandmember.

Mike Pride – Drummer’s Corpse: the relentlessness, the noise piece of the half hour title track is hypnotic; like a train wreck, it’s a sonic spectacle that’s too spectacular to turn away from.

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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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