Mark Saleski’s Best of 2013 (Jazz): Bill Frisell, Mary Halvorson, Mort Weiss, John Zorn, Pat Metheny

People like to make that joke about jazz not being dead — no, it just smells funny; har, har … oh, so clever — or they cling to the belief that nothing new has happened since (insert favorite jazz icon here: Armstrong, Ellington, Davis, Coltrane) changed everything. Sorry, I’m not buying it. The jazz and improvised music world provided us with an embarrassment of riches this year. Somehow, I ended up with ten entries, though getting up to 20 would have been easy.



Dawn Of Midi – Dysnomia

I debated about whether this should go on the not-so-jazzy list but category aside, this is one fascinating chunk of music. Think (a little) of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Nik Bartsch. It sounds like electro-acoustic music, except that there’s no actual electrons involved.

Matthew Shipp – Greatest Hits

I don’t often recommend best-of albums to the uninitiated, because I’ve got this thing about listening to songs in their original context. The thing is, you’d have to listen to eleven albums to put yourself in (my self-imposed) listening chair. Instead, there’s this collection, which does a terrific job of presenting Shipp’s whole story, from his compositional skills to his piano dynamics to his use of electro-acoustic environments.

Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette – Somewhere

For some people, the magic of this trio is gone. Or maybe it never existed in the first place. I am not one of those people. The interplay between these guys adds lift to the “ordinary” songs that you perhaps thought were just worn out.

Totem – Voices of Grain

Pulverizing shards of sound. It’s a good thing. Bruce Eisenbeil and company never fail to disappoint. Some folks can’t deal with music that appears to lack structure. My ears love searching for the relationships between all of the colliding energies.

Rhys Chatham – Harmonie Du Soir

Like Dawn of Midi, I was drawn into repeat listenings of this release because every time I listened, new details emerged. And those details are buried in a kind of rock-oriented chamber music, then a huge 70-piece brass ensemble, and then finally, a re-recording of the classic Chatham piece “Drastic Classism.”

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Taylor Ho Bynum – Navigation

Four (very) different versions of Bynum’s composition “Navigation.” The differences arise when the players switch to the next composed element, choosing which “module” to play and how to play it. I spent many a listening session trying to determine when a particular section was revisited…and I had to give up. It’s not that I’m somehow soothed by the presence of structure, but more that curiosity got the better of me.

Bill Frisell – Big Sur

First, there’s the idea of Bill Frisell hanging out at the Glen Deven Ranch at Big Sur. Then, there’s the music that emerged. Most of the compositions are much shorter than usual, giving the impression of a string of vignettes, as if Bill was facing a different direction as he wrote, looking out over the vistas of Big Sur.

Mary Halvorson Septet – Illusionary Sea

It was nice to see Halvorson’s quirky guitar style and compositional bent extended to a larger ensemble. Also, she’s become one of my favorite guitar players, so a year-end list without her seemed out of the question.

Mort Weiss – A Giant Step Out And Back

After listening to Mort’s “free jazz” album, I started to think of Mort as a sort of jazz raconteur, by way of the clarinet. This record features completely improvised pieces, a few well-known tunes that have been smooshed out of shape, and the free-association, I-don’t-really-know-what-the-hell-this-is vocal track Talkin’ About It. Not intended for use by small children.

Pat Metheny/John Zorn – Tap

It was at first kind of surprising to discover that there was a mutual admiration society between Pat Metheny and John Zorn. And I’ll be the first to admit that I wondering what this pairing would come up with. Well, they came up with my favorite jazz record of the year. Metheny was clearly inspired by Zorn’s compositions.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • http://www.smsjazz.com mort weiss

    Thank you Mark- your thoughts have always meant alot to me! Mort

  • http://www.wgtd.org Sam Chell

    Mort, Congratulations on making a list of the year’s best. During this age of exponentially growing, overwhelming product, it’s especially hard to get noticed, let alone singled out and honored. For their own protection, jazz writers are prone than ever to return to the lists of the usual suspects. You know– Keith’s most recent recorded earthshaking event, Ornette’s renunciation of harmolodics and to rhythm, or recordings by the most recently departed musicians (Chico Hamilton, Jim Hall, Cedar, Gloria Lynne), or the latest, most comprehesive reissue of the “Complete Kinds of of Blue,” or the recently discovered bootleg tape of a Bill Evans’ set issued on CD, pristine vinyl (at 4 X the price) or 8-track (though streaming is everyone’s preference.

    It seems that what caught the writer’s attention was the unaccompanied spoken track. I can add my voice (if 2 comprise a chorus) to the sentiment that you are playing musical raconteur on this recording. (I’ve had to listen to it episodically–in my study upstairs, my stereo in the basement, the radio in my Lincoln, and finally the radio in my wife’s Mazda. I’m currently waiting to get new spectacles so I can relocate the disc and listen to it analytically in a single sitting before offering a review.

    But the spoken track, especially if multiplied and inserted between each of the musical conceptions, could be just the “recitative” the listener requires to gain access to the music. Jazz listeners, even the self-proclaimed anarchists and ultra-eclectics, require categories and labels before engaging a strange event (isn’t that what reality is, according to Einstein, a spatial-temporal event?) We’re approaching the 4th dimension here, but the listener still wants to know whether what he’s experiencing is to the radically right of the Tea Party or the neo-progressive left of ACORN.

    Or maybe listeners simply want the raconteur to give them the “whole” story, which is where intermittent verbal tracks become introductory Entr’actes, inviting us to enter each new chapter. In spite of your more-than-a-hint that this would be your final project, it strikes me as the potential start of a beautiful friendship.

  • http://www.smsjazz.com mort weiss

    Thanks for the imput Sam-you know that I have & do hold you and your opinions in the highest esteem! Mort

  • http://www.smsjazz.com mort weiss

    HMMMMM maybe i’ll do una mas?????? Mort

    • S. Victor Aaron

      “Mort Meets Brotz”