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

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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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